Thursday, September 27, 2007

Wahoo! . . . oops . . . Thursday

This is not the first time my wahooing has been delayed, but this time it's partly Carl's fault, as Carl has a contest going and it involves visiting a heck of a lot of blogs, but it's worth it because . . . I want an alien poppet!!!! Actually, I've been having a lot of fun visiting new blogs and reading about spooky books (some of which I've never heard of), so Wahoo! for Carl's cool list of participants in the RIP II (that's Readers Imbibing Peril, for the uninitiated). You may consider Carl a bonus wahoo.

Other wahoos for Thursday, September 27 in the Year of our Lord 2007 (formerly Anno Domini, now known as the Common Era - is that weird to anyone else?):

1. Oh, no, not again. Another stinkin' butterfly? Well, yeah. Busy as I was (too busy to wahoo, obviously), yesterday was just the coolest day. I spotted and photographed three new butterflies for my photographic collection. This whole past week has been a great butterfly-spotting week. One white, lacy butterfly has so far defied identification. The butterfly below, however new to me, is known as a common sulphur. He's a very flitty type. Anyone who watches butterflies at length will quickly discover that some types are prone to opening their wings and politely posing, some seldom sit still at all, some keep their wings firmly slammed shut when they're not flying. This guy was the firmly-slammed type, so I had to capture him as he was moving between flowers. I think I did okay, considering the movement and the need to manually focus.

2. Wahoo for new books!! Always very wahooey, of course. I'm going to skip photographing my new acquisitions because:
a) I can't find the cover to the one I most recently had in my hands (see cardinal's comment about turning red, at top of post),
b) I didn't take a single photo today, not one. I hate creating small files and then having to delete them, so forget that, and
c) Fill in third reason if you can; I can't seem to come up three. Two seems somehow lacking.

Here's what I've recently acquired:

October by Richard B. Wright - gigantic, huggy thanks to Lotus, from whom I won this book
The Pursuit of Love in & Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford (PBS book - ugly and beat up, but I just want to read it so I'm not going to fret too much about the person who ignored my requested conditions . . . no, not me)
The Collection by Gioia Diliberto (ARC from Simon & Schuster)

3. Wahoo! for the fact that I've sent out more books than I've acquired, this week. That's very, very good news. My mother would be happy because she thinks I am completely insane for having such a walloping huge personal library. Speaking of whom . . .

4. I'm very pleased that my mother can't be bothered to read my blog because I'm pretty sure I'd never hear the end of what all is totally wrong with my life if she dropped by regularly. So, wahoo! for a techno-challenged mother.

5. Wahoo! for this nifty sight:

6. Wahoo! for cheap laminating machines. I'm going through one of my bookmark-making phases because I've gotten some nice, colorful, bookmark-appropriate (aka "easy to crop into bookmark shape") photographs, lately. It's just so darn fun.

When I'm not sitting at the computer, I think of all sorts of wonderful anecdotes that I want to share, but this is one of those weeks that they're just going whoop! out the brain, the moment I plunk into my little black chair, here. I stick to this chair, by the way. Either the chair really needs a cover or we seriously need to move into long-pants weather before I become peevish about that rip noise that involves my thighs and vinyl. Yeeow. Anyway, I'll try to at least scratch those anecdotes down when they come to mind. I'm also having an Attention Deficit Reading Week - one of those weeks that I can't seem to settle on one book and finish it so I wouldn't anticipate any reviews showing up right away.

Currently reading and putting down and picking up and putting down and reading a bit and flipping and sighing and checking the number of remaining pages and reading a bit more:

The Poseidon Adventure by Paul Gallico
The Collection by Gioia Diliberto
Haunted Castles of the World by Charles Coulombe, allegedly (haven't picked this one up in about a week, but it's still next to the bed and I swear I'm going to finish it)
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (the spaghetti and phone call scene is just a hoot)
50 Million Blog Entries for the RIP by a squillion authors

Wishing you a thrilling day, wherever you are.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Girl Named Zippy and She Got Up Off the Couch by Haven Kimmel

A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel
Copyright 2001
Doubleday (Memoir)
275 pages

On Christmas Eve, watching my parents got dressed for the party, I felt my stomach turn over with dread. There were a few things I had avoided facing that were now pressing down on me like snow clouds. 1) If Santa actually came down our chimney he would go straight into the coal stove, which had only a little round door in the front, not big enough for half of his fat, rosy face to get out. The larger ramifications of this I decided to avoid until some future date. 2) Even if Santa worked in such mysterious ways that he himself could get out of the red-hot coal stove, he could never get a piano through that hole, no matter how much I implored upon his mighty powers. 3) What if Santa was actually mad at me for asking him to carry such a thing as a piano all the way from the North Pole? What if flying it around caused one of the reindeer to founder, and Santa had to stop and shoot it in the head? How could I ever forgive myself?

A Girl Named Zippy is Haven Kimmel's first entry in a series of books about growing up in tiny Mooreland, Indiana. I've heard there's a third book but I'm too tired to go investigate.

Here's how I ended up reading A Girl Named Zippy - a book which I successfully ignored and walked past in a dozen bookstores for about a half-dozen years. I saw the title of Kimmel's second book, She Got Up Off the Couch (from now on, referred to as simply Couch). It just sounded like . . . well, like something I ought to do, myself. Except for the fact that we actually no longer own a couch. Point being, the title grabbed me and wouldn't let go. I wanted to read about how Kimmel's mother succeeded at breaking out of her rut. Because I'm trying not to buy books, I looked Couch up in the library, discovered Zippy next to it and checked them both out.

Now, here's where it gets tricky. I just couldn't figure out who all those people were, when I started reading Couch. So, I set it aside at page 26 and picked up Zippy. I absolutely loved Kimmel's writing style and enjoyed her reminiscences, once I began reading the first installment. I can't say I would have traded my family for hers - or her life. Adventurous as she was, I had a terrific childhood of my own. But, there were times I would have loved to step into her shoes. Or, I guess, her bare feet.

In general, it's about growing up poor but happy with a sharply intelligent but depressed mother who read book after book and did little else, a gambler father whose coming and going baffled everyone, and a much older brother and sister who were smart, good-looking and witty. All this in a town of 300 that was packed with what I'd refer to as characters. Kimmel makes everyone three-dimensional and memorable in a light-hearted, engaging and refreshing way. Midway through Zippy, I did get a little weary of Kimmel's "voice", but I was determined to move on to Couch and actually began to enjoy it, again, after a brief break when I couldn't read because I was on the road and then left the book in the car. I hate it when that happens.

I raced through Zippy to get to Couch and was actually kind of surprised when Kimmel ended Zippy on a very touching note that had me reaching for the tissues. On, then, to She Got Up Off the Couch . . .

She Got Up Off the Couch by Haven Kimmel
Copyright 2006
Free Press (a division of Simon & Schuster) Nonfiction
302 pages

Both Dan and Melinda were in the marching band with the director who they called Mr. M. Mr. M. was in all ways the model of a band director, and by that I mean he could have led an assault on an innocent nation, enslaved its peoples, and had them marching in pinwheels, all in the course of one profoundly hot afternoon.

I had to include that quote because it is so completely accurate as a description of just about every band director I've ever encountered - with one exception. My junior high band director was a total sweetheart (the one who didn't throw music stands, not the other one) and, unfortunately, unbearably good-looking. Then again, I probably had at least a mini-crush on all the male teachers who weren't tremendously old, crotchety, annoying or weight-challenged. I think I just eliminated about 75%.

She Got Up Off the Couch picks up where A Girl Named Zippy ends, although I'm not certain exactly how old Kimmel was, at the point Zippy concluded. Around the end of Zippy, Kimmel's mother saw a commercial advertising CLEP tests (I don't think she ever refers to them directly as CLEPs, but that's my assumption), which we also knew of as "testing out" or acquiring college credits by proving you already had the knowledge required to earn them and avoiding the actual class requirements toward a degree. Her mother called a meeting of her prayer group and Mrs. Jarvis (Zippy's mom) then watched for a sign.

As Couch begins, Mrs. Jarvis receives that sign - a repeat of an anecdote from Zippy, but necessary for set-up - and she manages to test out of a whopping 40 hours, a full year's college credit. That alone is impressive, but the book goes on to describe how she managed to bum rides until she acquired a car, earned two degrees and began teaching. The title is a little misleading, though, as the book is really more of the same kind of storytelling as that of Zippy and not entirely about her mother. Rather, the book tells how Kimmel's life entered a new phase as her mother took charge and made some serious alterations that affected the entire family. I was accustomed to Kimmel's style, by the time I reopened Couch, so it was no big deal to me that she continued in the same vein. You get the full story of her mother's metamorphosis with some pretty fun reading about Zippy's life through 13 years of age.

This is one of my favorite bits, about her cat PeeDink:

I'd been the one to find the hat at Grant's last winter and it was like stumbling on a pile of rubies. It was just a white yarn bowl, like a white ball cut in half, elastic around the rim, but coming from the crown, where on a normal hat there'd be a puffy ball, there was a long red yarn braid. This was a hat that came with its own hair. I don't know why it hadn't been thought of before. In many ways it was better than my wig (which was a "fall," and so held on with a comb) because the cats were less likely to steal it. I couldn't count the number of times I'd seen my wig flying out the door in PeeDink's mouth. Sometimes he just sucked on it and sometimes he tried to kill it. I think it was a combination of a rat and a baby to him. Of course, he had fallen out of many a tree, and so his relationship with a wig was bound to be complicated.

And, two sentences from a cat story that is a little out of context but tickled me so much I actually had to put the book down for a minute:

I knew that on one morning her parents woke up and turned to give each other a kiss hello and at just that moment their cat, Snowball, raised his head between them and they ended up kissing his cat cheeks. That story had caused me to fall down laughing.

I can't say I'd give these two books my absolute highest rating, if I was into numbers (which, for some reason, I'm still avoiding - I just don't feel like assigning a rating, at the moment) but I'd definitely say they were both immensely entertaining and well worth the time. Just don't go into the reading of She Got Up Off the Couch expecting it to be a story that is only about Zippy's mother. It's not; it's about Zippy and her life. Her mother's action was the catalyst to change for everyone in Kimmel's family and served as the slate upon which their changing lives were sketched but Zippy herself was the chalk scribbling all over the chalkboard, so to speak. That's a terrible analogy. Oh, well. Like I said, I'm a little bone-weary, here.

Thumbs up to Haven Kimmel. I will definitely look for a third installment, if there is one, and dip into her fiction. I recommend both, but advise flipping through a bit to see if you like her voice before dragging either book home.

This was a good day, but a long one so Wahoo! Wednesday is about to morph into Thrilling Thursday. In other words, I'll do my wahooing tomorrow. I'm off to soak my weary self in a tub full of bubbles.

UPDATE: I can't bear it; the numbers are attacking me. I think both books were excellent and would rate them 4/5. Okay, now I can start the bathwater.

Bookfool Flunks Challenge, Film at 11

Once again, I'm in a Clean My Sidebar mood, so I've set aside the partially completed reviews of Haven Kimmel's books to wrap up the Cozy Mystery Challenge. The objective of this challenge, hosted by Kris at Not Enough Books, was to read as many cozy mysteries as possible during the month of September. I had hoped to knock a few more off my shelf, but I only managed to finish two:

Dying in Style by Elaine Viets
Mum's the Word by Kate Collins

It's not for lack of trying, though. I had a small stack of cozies that I attempted. I'd pick up one, read a few pages and sigh - not my thing, bad timing on this one - close it and try another. One had a bizarrely familiar setting, but I know I haven't read any from the series. Maybe I've tried it before and failed. The thing is, very few mysteries grab me and suck me in. I don't know why that is. Both of the books I managed to complete were by authors I've previously read. Since I've only managed to read two cozies, there are only a few days remaining in September and I have a few other books on the agenda, including an ARC that I need to read right away, I decided I'm finished with the challenge.

It's not a complete failure, however, as I posted both books to Paperback Swap and they were immediately requested. So, I got two off the shelf and I'm happy about that. I've decided I'm going to continue to try to squeeze in at least two cozies per month until I have them all out the door. Thanks a million to Kris for hosting the Cozy Mystery Challenge!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Moody Monday

Create your own Easter Egg

It's grungy outside - heavily overcast, muggy . . . too warm for the humidity level. Definitely not pumpkin weather. So, I don't really feel like saying much. For grins, I made an egg out of one of my Saturday butterfly photos at Dumpr. We went to a swim meet in Laurel, MS, on Saturday. It was hot and humid there, too. Blecch. Give me a good cold snap and I'll be a happy camper.

Brief book notes:

I'll be reviewing Lottery by Patricia Wood for Estella's Revenge, but I'll just tell you that I thought it was an excellent read. If you see it in the library, grab it. If you're passing by it in the store and not sure you want to fork out the money, pick it up and flip through. I thought it was the bees knees. Or something like that.

I finished A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel at the swim meet (review, later), between storms and kiddo events, while sitting on a curb under a tree in the parking lot. I had to dissuade a few fire ants and I got a little sun-pinked, but at least the wind blew a bit. Beside me were the lovely lantana bushes, where I took butterfly photos to fill the time. Hubby was snookered into helping with the timing, which was great. He's kind of bossy and I got to fill my afternoon in a way I thoroughly enjoy.

To snap butterflies, I walked around and around the lantana, following the open wings and playing with different lighting/backgrounds, then I sat down on the sidewalk to try to capture some wings lit up from behind. I managed to get quite a few photos I like and one especially wonderful skipper photo with sunlight glowing around the edges of his wings. He may become my next bookmark.

I'm reading the follow-up book to Zippy, which is entitled She Got Up Off the Couch. Should finish that one, tonight. I also began reading The Poseidon Adventure and it's much better than I expected. The S.S.Poseidon just overturned and scared the peawaddin' out of me - which, of course, makes it a perfect RIP II book.

Enough already. I'm going to go read. Have a good one.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Freaky Friday

I need a break from A Girl Named Zippy, so you get a free bonus post on two freaky things - one occurrence and one discovery.

1. Freaky Occurrence - I was bit by a neighborhood cat. This is bizarre because I have never, ever been bitten by a cat; cats love me. In fact, you've seen this particular feline many times if you're a regular reader; he's at the bottom of my blog and recently starred in the sad, butterfly-shredding-incident photo grid. He's a nice cat, but he likes attention and has been known to swipe out with a paw of needle-sharp claws if you ignore him. He's drawn blood before.

I was ignoring him, looking up into the sky. I'd petted his head, but not enough to satisfy him. Our backyard had the appearance of a horror movie, buried in blue-black birds, just before I walked outside with the camera. Above is the only snap I managed (probably from about 100 yards). Very possibly, my bright striped hoodie frightened them off. Regardless, the cat came to join me and when I quit petting his head he sank his teeth into my bare calf. Freaky.

It was after doctors' hours, so I sopped up the blood, washed the wound and put on antibiotic ointment and Sponge Bob bandages then printed out the cat's photo and hiked up the hill to ask if the neighbors knew who he belonged to. You know, just to make sure he's up on his shots. They pointed next door and said they thought that was Slim, although neither was certain, but the doorbell just produced a whole lot of doggy barking so I went home.

This morning, I overslept because I just had to stay up late to finish reading Lottery. And, then I called around to find out what government or local entity is in charge of helping folks locate the owners of beasts who bite. You would not believe the reaction, seriously. Those who thought they had an idea who to refer me to gave me numbers that didn't work or connected me with people who squeaked, "Ooooh, that's so weird!" Holy Toledo. After several hours of calling around and waiting for potential returned calls that never materialized, I tried another avenue and was chewed out by a nurse for not rushing to the ER. Like I'm going to pay that kind of money for plain old band-aids when I've got the good Sponge Bobs.

I'm supposed to get a tetanus booster in the morning. And, nobody knows who owns the cat, yet, but I have plenty of spectacular photos of him. That's him, at left, rushing to meet me just before he turned vampire. I love that picture at the bottom of my blog. He was watching a mockingbird. I'll let you know if I begin to drool on my keyboard, in the coming months. It seems highly unlikely, as he was just as happy as ever. I think the bite was a bit like when a big guy slugs you in the shoulder while he says, "Hey, buddy, how ya doin'?" and knocks you over. He's just a little too enthusiastic.

2. Freaky Discovery - Really, no so much freaky as interesting, in my humble opinion. Last year, I noticed that our black and white kitty, Spooky, ceased to meow on trips to the vet if I played the song A New York Christmas, one of my personal favorites from a compilation album I bought at Target for 75 cents at a January clearance sale. Earlier this year, I discovered that our now-deceased kitty, Sunshine, was quite fond of Carrie Underwood.

This week, I walked into my son's room to turn off the music he'd left running. I was surprised to hear Sarah McLachlan. Kiddo ignored her Christmas album, when I first played it, but after about 50 repeats, he began to hate it. So, I assumed he'd just left the iPod running. The next night . . . Sarah, again. Finally, I noticed kiddo turning the Christmas album on and had to ask what the deal was. "Spooky likes Sarah," he replied, pointing at our feline, who was happily curled up on the end of his mattress. "If I turn on Toby Mac, she's out of here, but she'll listen to Sarah all night."

I love it. Incidentally, Spooky also is quite fond of the didgeridoo as long as the husband doesn't practice one particular type of sound, which he refers to as "barking".

Okay, I think I can read now. But, I'm not looking forward to that tetanus shot. Hope everyone else avoids needles, this weekend. Nighty-night!

Wrap-ups of Non-Fiction Five and Armchair Traveler Challenges

I've decided to wrap up both the Non-Fiction Five and Armchair Traveler Challenges because I'm now focusing on the Cozy Mystery and RIP II.

Non-Fiction Five Wrap-up

The Non-Fiction Five Challenge involved reading 5 non-fiction books in five months. I read quite a bit of non-fiction anyway, so my goal was to try to read specific books that have been lingering on my shelves. The results were average. I read some from my list, but I still didn't manage to finish the ones I considered most important. It was a nice try, though! Here's what I read from May onward:

1. A Spoonful of Humor - Henry L. Lefevre - anecdotes written by an octogenarian
2. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo - Capt. Ted N. Lawson - WWII memoir
3. Prescription for Adventure: Bush Pilot Doctor - Naomi Gaede-Penner - memoir of a doctor who lived in Alaska
4. The Year of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion - a memoir of loss
5. Held at a Distance - Rebecca Haile - memoir of a woman who returned to her birth country to visit
6. If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name - Heather Lende - stories from a small town in Alaska
7. Blowing My Cover - Lindsay Moran - CIA Agent's memoir
8. Angels of a Lower Flight - *author's name removed, due to bad hits* - memoir of a former Pl*yb*y model who formed an organization to help children in Haiti
9. God is My Co-Pilot - Col. Robt. L. Scott - WWII memoir
10. Raising Ourselves - Velma Wallis - memoir of an Alaskan childhood

There seem to be some strong patterns in my non-fiction reading. Last year, we traveled to Alaska and I don't think anyone can leave Alaska without wanting to return, even if only by way of armchair traveling. It's a spectacular place with incredibly friendly residents. My son's swim club coach is from Juneau and he tells wonderful stories. While Bush Pilot Doctor was a bit disappointing because I wasn't expecting so many hunting stories (the medical stories are more interesting to me; hunting stories tend to turn my stomach a bit), I really enjoyed reading all three of the books set in Alaska. If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name was my personal favorite. Heather Lende writes in a way that makes you wish she lived next door.

Memoirs are a biggie, as you can see. I've sat in on discussions in which readers bemoan the fact that memoirs are often "self-indulgent". I found that was true in at least two cases: Held at a Distance and Blowing My Cover were both whiny and self-indulgent, although they were both interesting. I enjoyed the history in Held at a Distance and the inside look at CIA training in Blowing My Cover. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo was one of the most negative WWII memoirs I've read, but still fascinating. Joan Didion's surprise at her husband's sudden death from a cardiac problem known as the "widow maker" brought home the fact that even if your loved one lives with a dangerous heart condition for years, you can never really be prepared for someone to drop dead. And, Angels of a Lower Flight is an amazing tale of redemption that also serves as a lesson in how a person who has been through horrific experiences can turn her negatives into positives via the fearlessness her own suffering has created.

God is My Co-Pilot and A Spoonful of Humor were both written by men I would say probably were known as rascals, at some point in time. Both authors made me count my blessings that my boys were tame, by comparison, and both made me laugh a time or two. God is My Co-Pilot made my eyes glaze over, at times, but only because I didn't know the area he was describing and couldn't find a decent map, so the details of the geography he described went over my head. Since I finished the book, I've managed to locate a book of WWII that contains the maps I needed and describes the battles and region that Col. Scott described, so I'm definitely hanging onto it for a reread. The second half of the book was gripping.

Many thanks to Joy for hosting the Non-Fiction Five!

The Armchair Traveler Challenge goes on through December, but, as I've probably mentioned before (when I attempted to "un-challenge" myself), I'm really only able to balance about two challenges at a time. As I began reading with this challenge in mind, I realized that almost every book fits the description. Whether one goes armchair traveling to St. Louis (not too far) or Australia (the other side of the world, from our perspective), every book is an imaginative escape to somewhere. I read six before I ceased to link up to my reviews and mention location:

1. If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name - Heather Lende (Alaska)
2. Susannah Morrow - Megan Chase (Salem, Massachusetts)
3. While I Live - John Marsden (Australia)
4. Angels of a Lower Flight - *author's name removed* (Haiti)
5. The Ocean in the Closet - Yuko Taniguchi (San Francisco/Japan)
6. Consider This, Senora - Harriet Doerr (Mexico)

I also traveled to China when I read February Flowers, but it was a trudge to read and I disliked it so much that I didn't even bother to review it. Ticket to Tomorrow by Carol Cox took me to the Chicago World's Fair in the late 19th century - travel to both a unique time and place.

Some other titles, along with the places I armchair-traveled by reading them:

1. The Case of the Missing Books - Ian Samson (Northern Ireland)
2. Voyage - Adele Geras (inside a ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean)
3. Fever 1793 - Laurie Halse Anderson (Philadelphia, 1793, during a yellow fever epidemic)
4. Monkey Love - Brenda Scott Royce (New York City)
5. God is My Co-Pilot - Col. Robt. L. Scott (United States, Burma and the region around the Himalayas, where he flew transports and later fought as a fighter pilot)
6. Lottery - Patricia Wood (the state of Washington)

Only one book really didn't qualify: Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin. It was set in the "afterlife", not really a definable time or place. Even Alas, Babylon was a great traveling experience - to small-town Florida in the 1950's.

Thanks to Lesley for hosting this challenge, which helped encourage me to pay attention to where I'm traveling, whenever I crack open a new book.

I just finished Lottery by Patricia Wood, late last night and am currently reading She Got Up Off the Couch by Haven Kimmel.

If I have time, I'll tell you my freaky news, later on - maybe a Freaky Friday post - but I make no guarantees. I'm currently playing phone tag and on the verge of screaming, so I'll shut up. Hope everyone has a delightful weekend.

Bookfool, who prefers Mondays

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Three books and a couple of wahoos

Before I do anything else, I have to tell you the biggest wahoo of the week, thus far, and it's huge (it just happens to also be the miracle referred to, above). It's such an amazing miraculous, totally unexpected phenomenon that, honestly, I think y'all need to get a cup of water, sit down and steel yourselves before I tell you because you might just faint.

Ready? Everyone okay? Here's my huge, gigantic, mind-boggling wahoo: I renewed my driver's license in less than ten minutes. Whoa!!! Can you believe that? I was fully expecting to spend the entire morning with a number in my hand, in a room full of cranky people. I even brought three books to choose from while I waited. Instead, I walked in the door and not one person was seated in the waiting room. I reached for a number and the clerk said, "You can come on back here, ma'am." Is that freaky, or what?

Now, it wasn't a perfect experience. My vision has become better with age and I wanted to have the vision restriction removed; but, the clerk was talking to another clerk the whole time she typed and she ignored that request. Still, everything happened so fast that I was hard pressed to complain. So, wahoo for a miracle at the Driver's License Bureau - quick service!!!

I can't think of any other great wahoos, so I guess I'll throw in one stupid wahoo: Wahoo for butterflies. Told you it was stupid. I've probably also already used that one, but butterflies are absolutely everywhere in Vicksburg, right now, and pretty much the only thing I've been photographing (besides swimmers).

Don't worry, I didn't stick my nose near his wings; that's a cropped photo. And, now, a few brief reviews.

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin - 288 pages, Young Adult fiction
Copyright 2002, Square Fish

Fifteen-year-old Lizzie was certainly not expecting to die. It happened so fast. Now, she's on a cruise ship in her pajamas and the afterlife is . . . well, weird. Everyone ages backwards. Lizzie ends up living with a grandmother she never met during her real lifetime, and she slowly discovers that you have to use the life you're given, regardless of how long it may be or which direction you end up aging.

Elsewhere is a totally bizarre take on the afterlife. I thought the story was cute and Lizzie was pleasantly snarky without ever becoming annoying. But, the idea of aging backward really bothered me and I thought the author tried a little too hard to prove how clever she was. Still, it's a fun and original read. I enjoyed it and will read more by Zevin.

Raising Ourselves: A Gwich'in Coming of Age Story from the Yukon River by Velma Wallis - 212 pages, Nonfiction (memoir)
Copyright 2002, Epicenter Press

After Wallis wrote a tale her mother told her as a child (Two Old Women) and it became an international bestseller, she returned to the true story of her childhood. The tale of a native Alaskan childhood, Raising Ourselves tells about the loss of ancestral Gwich'in religion and traditions, the plague of alcoholism among natives and what it was like to grow up an impoverished child in a family with 13 children. A very illuminating memoir that helps to explain why - when white settlers brought their religion and disease to the Yukon - the pain of losing family members, friends and tradition caused the majority of the population to turn to alcohol for comfort. Raising Ourselves is sad, shocking and inspiring; it's amazing that Wallis managed to survive, much less become a bestselling author.

I ordered this book through Paperback Swap and the sender, Lexie, actually paid extra to get the book to me faster because she read my blog and knew I'd just had a birthday. So, enormous thanks and hugs to Lexie!!!

Mum's the Word by Kate Collins - 283 pages, fiction
Copyright 2002, Signet Mystery

Law-school dropout Abby Knight enjoys running her flower shop, Bloomers, and driving her vintage yellow Corvette. But, when an SUV driver rams her Corvette near the scene of a murder, she decides to hunt down the SUV's owner and find the murderer; she's convinced they're one and the same. The hunky local bar owner, a former cop, helps her out. A mix of police corruption, a powerful politician and a very nasty wife abuser mean danger for Abby at every turn.

Mum's the Word is the first in the Flower Shop Mystery series and my second read for the Cozy Mystery Challenge. I enjoyed it. Kate Collins has a nice, breezy style, which I find better than average (for this particular genre). However, I did think Collins left a couple of things unexplained.

I suppose Raising Ourselves and Elsewhere are books that I read justforthehelluvit.

Now reading: Lottery by Patricia Wood and, of course, Haunted Castles of the World when I feel like it and haven't set it down somewhere I'm not likely to find it.

Hohoho, Merry Wednesday! And, Happy Thursday to those of you who live in the future.

Bookfool with butterflies on the side

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Birthdays, Big Bangs, Bad Mornings and other Baloney

Yikes!! For today, you can forget all that baloney about not getting to the computer because of yard work. I got up late because of a very bad morning headache and the first thing I did after turning on the computer (because I'm definitely not up to hauling limbs, right now) was to promptly delete three messages. So, if you wrote a comment to me at the Alas, Babylon review post, please note that I might have cut and pasted it before replying. Fortunately, I'm currently set to receive notification when a comment appears so I will be able to sort of salvage those comments, although not entirely in their original form.

The eldest had a birthday, yesterday, and I think I mentioned that we met him for dinner and a little gifting on Sunday. Here he is in Jackson:

There are two completely different backgrounds in these photos because we attempted to eat at the Greek place, first, and after 30 minutes of watching our drinks drain and everyone else's waiter go past with food, we gave up and left. We're pretty sure our waitress lost our order because Keifer's is normally a restaurant with exceptional service. We drove to Corky's, where we received quick, friendly service and an excellent meal. By then, eldest had opened his gifts and stashed them away.

Of course, because he's related to a person who bowls with pears on her driveway, there was some entertainment involved when eldest pulled out a quarter and we took turns flicking it to make it spin like a top:

As I was sitting here, typing that first paragraph, I heard a very loud boom noise. Our power didn't go off, but I have a feeling that somewhere in the area there are lights out and possibly a fried squirrel.

Since I'm already at the computer, I think I'll take a break then try to blog-hop and begin my remaining reviews. There's no point in letting a wasted morning turn into a ruined afternoon.

Bookfool, with fingers crossed that the afternoon is an improvement

Monday, September 17, 2007

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank - RIP #1

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
Copyright 1959
Harper Perennial fiction
323 pages

Alas, Babylon is the tale of what could have happened if the Cold War between the United States and the U.S.S.R. in the 1950's had suddenly become a true nuclear holocaust. The book has become a classic of apocalyptic fiction, so there's a good bit of extra information in the "Modern Classics" printing shown in the image above - a foreword by science fiction author David Brin, a preface, a bio of the book's author, Pat Frank, plus a second afterward section that goes into further detail about the author's life and other works of the time period. I read them all and found every detail interesting. Nothing bored me or made me roll my eyes (just so you know).

I didn't know a lot about Alas, Babylon, apart from the fact that it was apocalyptic, going into the book. What surprised me most is that it's firmly entrenched in the time period. Instead of setting the book in the future, the author's goal was apparently to show what would happen "right now" (and the copyright date is 1959, so "now" was the late 50's) if the Cold War was to escalate into a third world war. The result is a fascinating look not only into the what-if of a potential nuclear war, but also into the time period in which the book was set. I think the book was worth the time spent reading, if only for a good view of the lifestyle, values and prejudices in small-town Florida in the 1950's. There are some sentiments similar to those we often see expressed, today:

"I keep the library open Saturdays. That's my only chance to get the young ones. Evenings and Sundays, they're paralyzed by TV."

Of course, the difference is that the television paralysis goes on 24 hours a day, now. Anyone remember the days when Sunday night was a special TV evening, thanks to "The Wonderful World of Disney"? And, Saturday mornings were cartoon time, but the moment "The Wide World of Sports" came on, Saturday TV was over for children? I'm not sure if those particular shows were on in 1959, but I do remember that television for children remained limited to within certain hours until the advent of The Disney Channel and all those other content-specific channels that have now been around for an entire generation's viewing.

Back to the book . . . The entire story takes place in a small town in central Florida. About the first 90 pages or so serve as the set-up, during which the reader meets the protagonist, Randy Bragg, his brother, his sister-in-law, neighbors, girlfriend and a few townspeople. Randy is a kind and basically good person who lives in a small section of the sprawling Bragg family home. His brother, Mark, is a military man and has expressed some concern about the potential of a nuclear war. To this end, the brothers have chosen words from a section of the book of Revelation in the King James Bible as the signal to indicate when danger is imminent. Mark signals the danger and sends his family to stay with Randy. And, within a short time, the bombs begin landing.

Here is where the book becomes gripping. As bombs fall and mushroom clouds sprout, radio chatter is limited to military use and the citizens are left in the dark, unsure (apart from the obvious) what exactly is happening. When the closest large city is hit, the source of power generation in tiny Fort Repose is lost. Fortunately, Randy has already begun collecting supplies and has a good start when the bombs begin to hit. So the protagonist is the most prepared of all the characters in the novel. The local doctor also helps stock Randy with medical supplies after the beginning of the war. As the fact that Fort Repose - if not the entire United States - has been thrown back in time by the loss of electricity, gas, radio, batteries, phone service and currency becomes obvious, the citizens begin to adapt.

At the beginning of the book, Randy is a little on the lazy side. He sits around in his pajamas and is just a bit of a lost soul. I loved this quote by his girlfriend:

"This place is no good for you, Randy. The air is like soup and the people are like noodles. You're vegetating. I don't want a vegetable. I want a man."

Of course, then the women end up serving the men tea cooked over the fire and a few other uncomfortable facts of life in the Fifties - chiefly a strong racial prejudice - are described. Annoying and shocking as they can be, the book is unflinchingly honest about life in that time period. The author also did a pretty stunning job of describing the effects of being thrown backwards in time. Some of us have, unfortunately, experienced that sudden isolation as power, telephone, cellular phone and radio service disappeared after Hurricane Katrina hit. It was every bit as upsetting and strange as Frank described. To this day, I don't think a lot of people realize that we actually had no idea how widespread the damage was for nearly 24 hours - contact with the outside world was that thoroughly cut off, grocery stores and citizens lost their entire refrigerated and frozen stock, dry foods and water disappeared as soon as the stores reopened, people fought over gas for generators. I can tell you that the book is realistic to the experience in many ways.

While I personally thought the reasoning for the nuclear war was extremely weak and there were a few things the author overlooked - bicycles, for example, I thought should have become a highly coveted possession and I wondered why nobody mentioned trying to harness the power of the nearby river, wind or sun as power sources - I thought Alas, Babylon was, overall, a spectacular look at what life could end up like in the event of widespread nuclear disaster. And, of course, it does serve as an excellent peek into history.

4/5 - clear writing, excellent story with only a few noticeable flaws and definitely deserving of its classic status in my humble opinion.

This is my first completed book for the RIP II Challenge.

Next up: reviews of Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin and Raising Ourselves: A Gwich'in Coming of Age Story from the Yukon River by Velma Wallis. I may make those mini-reviews - we'll see.

We're now in the mid- to upper-80's, but the daylight hours are comfortable enough (before the warmest part of the day hits) that I need to limit my computer time in order to get some major outdoor work accomplished. So, I may just dip in to write reviews and post occasionally, for the next few weeks. I'll apologize in advance, in case I'm unable to do much blog-hopping. We have to take advantage of decent weather while we've got it.

Later, bookish people!

Bookfool, feeling invigorated by the cooler air

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Pardon my absence

This was the first part of our day:

Kiddo did fantastic at today's swim meet. In that last photo, he was actually setting a record for his high school's swim team in the 200-meter freestyle.

This evening we attended the swim club banquet, where kiddo got 5 awards. And, then he dashed off to watch movies at a friend's house. I haven't read a single page, so I'm off to amend that. I'm now two book reviews behind as I've finished Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank and Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin. I hope to finish Raising Ourselves by Velma Wallis, before I cave in (but I wouldn't lay odds on my potential success).

Tomorrow, we're meeting eldest to celebrate his birthday a couple days early and then kiddo has some homework that we'll probably finish to a lot of whining noises, late at night. So, I'll just assume that I won't get to the reviews till Monday. Hope everyone's having a terrific weekend!

Bookfool, about done in

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Wahoo! Wednesday

Just when I thought my Wednesday was seriously going down the toilet, we drove past the fellow above. Can you believe that? I mean, talk about something to say, "wahoo" about!! I did not have my camera when we passed this fellow, but he was perched on a flag pole in front of a building that is literally just around the corner from our neighborhood. We drove home, grabbed the camera, and drove back - and he was still there. Wow. Totally awesome.

And, a few more wahoos!

1. No photo, but equally cool . . . Wahoo! for a cooking teenager. Yesterday, the kiddo refused to eat the meal prepared by Bookfool, the Mom. The conversation went something like this:

B: Supper!

K: I'm not eating fish. I'm not in the mood for fish; I told you that.

B: It's the only meal I'm fixing, so you can just starve if you don't eat it. (This sounded bizarrely familiar. Do all mothers repeat that sentence, at some point?)

K: (after moderate interval) I'm starving.

B: Not my problem. The fish is in the fridge.

K: I want macaroni.

B: You'll have to cook it yourself.

K: I hope you know where the fire extinguisher is.

Kiddo overfilled the pan with water and dropped one noodle on the burner (smoking noodles: very interesting and kind of smelly), but otherwise he did an excellent job. Bookfool, the Mom did, in fact, go out to the kitchen to make sure things went smoothly and to point out the location of the fire extinguisher.

2. Wahoo! for A Snow White Moment when one of these (a red admiral butterfly) landed . . . get this . . . in my hair.

I shook my head, though. Guess I'll never be Snow White.

3. Wahoo! for another great teenage moment - not involving my own kiddo. I had to work hard to hold in the laughs when I watched a very wahooey and hilarious automobile adventure, yesterday. One of the swimmers on kiddo's team has a rusty little battered Geo Metro - a tiny little bashed-up car. He tried to unlock the driver's-side door of the car but it didn't work. The other lock, apparently, also did not work from the outside. And, the car is a two-door. He jiggled the key, he fussed, he laughed and finally . . . he opened the hatchback. One of the other kids climbed in (it was almost a dive - so cute) and rolled down the driver's-side window of the car. The driver climbed in through the open window, unlocked the other door and everyone piled in. It was so fun to watch, I can't even tell you.

4. Wahoo! for my little lizard, playing peekaboo in the cannas:

5. Wahoo! for pillows. Have I ever said that, before? I love pillows. I got a new foam pillow, this week, (primarily because some of our other pillows have flattened out and are about as comfortable as rocks). It's so soft and perfect that I didn't want to get out of bed this morning. So, after dropping the kiddo off at school, I read until my eyes grew heavy and then took a nap. What a spoiled chick I am.

Speaking of reading, I finished Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank. Loved it!! Review forthcoming.

Next book? Not sure. I'm still reading bits and pieces of Haunted Castles of the World, when I remember. But I keep forgetting I'm reading it and occasionally I set it down and forget where I've left it. I'm that way, you know.

Wishing everyone a peachy week!

Bookfool, all glowy after her owl sighting

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
Released Aug. 28, 2007
Published by Bantam Books (a division of Random House)
290 intoxicating pages

First things first: Huge, smoochy thanks to Random House for publishing this magical book.

Second: I have to admit that I was so completely swept up in the story of Claire Waverley, her unusual family and their magical tree that I completely neglected to mark a single quote. But, I knew I was going to love Garden Spells from the first paragraph. So, I'll just quote the first paragraph. Please bear in mind that my copy is an advanced reader and the final copy could conceivably be different. But, I can't imagine why anyone would mess with it, so here you go:

Every smiley moon, without fail, Claire dreamed of her childhood. She always tried to stay awake those nights when the stars winked and the moon was just a cresting sliver smiling provocatively down at the world, the way pretty women on vintage billboards used to smile as they sold cigarettes and limeade. On those nights in the summer, Claire would garden by the light of the solar-powered footpath lamps, weeding and trimming the night bloomers - the moon vine and the angel's trumpet, the night jasmine and the flowering tobacco. These weren't a part of the Waverley legacy of edible flowers, but sleepless as she often was, Claire had added flowers to the garden to give her something to do at night when she was so wound up that frustration singed the edge of her nightgown and she set tiny fires with her fingertips.

I reread that paragraph twice when I first opened the book, I liked it so much. Garden Spells is the story of Claire Waverley. Alone in her large family home in Bascom, North Carolina, Claire runs a successful catering business. She uses herbs and flowers in her unusual recipes, each of which have specific purposes. Violets, for example, are supposed to induce calm, bring on happiness and ensure a good night's sleep.

Claire is a solitary woman and believes herself to be, for the most part, content. Then, her sister returns from a lengthy absence and a new neighbor baffles her with his affection, forcing her life into new directions.

I'm not going to say a great deal about this book because I don't want to ruin it, so I'll make just a few general comments:

1. I thought the story was totally captivating, but a few times I skidded to a halt because of a twisty sentence. In other words, sometimes the author's grammar left something to be desired. Hopefully, those problems have been fixed in the final copy.

2. Because I enjoyed the book so much, I wanted everyone else to love it and went rushing off to read other reviews. A few folks complained that the storyline was far too close to that of Practical Magic, but that seemed to be the only major complaint (apart from one or two who thought the writing was not spectacular). I haven't yet read Practical Magic, but I would have to agree that there's a similar quirkiness to that of the characters in the lone Alice Hoffman book I've read, Turtle Moon. Quirkiness is good; in a book with a Southern setting, it seems particularly fitting to me.

3. Even though I loved the first paragraph of Garden Spells, I admit to thinking that it wasn't as well-written as I'd hoped. And, yet, I loved the characters and their story so much that it didn't matter. There are times that the desire to savor lyrical language can take a backseat to the joy of escaping into a magical setting. That was the case - at least for me - with Garden Spells. I particularly loved the magical apple tree (which has quite a personality all its own) and its role in the denouement of the book. If I felt there was anything at all to complain about, it might be the fact that most of the characters' flaws are very mild. But, I just don't feel like complaining. I liked the book too much.

4. I enjoyed Garden Spells enough that I'll be bouncing in my little computer chair when the author finishes a second book.

Need I say more?

Apologies for my absence, this weekend. We were busy watching this nifty bunch of kids swim in the local meet hosted by my son's school:

And, then, I suppose the heat exacerbated the migraine I was already fighting, late in the week. Yesterday, I was immobilized by pain. Today, I'm relieved to have yesterday over with. I'll try to catch up on my blog-hopping, tomorrow.

Currently reading: Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank - hope to finish that one by tomorrow

Totally unexpected bonus inside a box with the ravioli-maker attachment hubby ordered:
The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland, and
A History of Costume by Carl Kohler

Seriously! Someone actually used books as padding for a ravioli-maker attachment box. Can you believe it? The husband's reaction was priceless (and unrepeatable).

Hope everyone had a terrific weekend!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Dying in Style by Elaine Viets

Dying in Style by Elaine Viets
Copyright 2005
Signet Fiction
268 pages, incl. shopping tips

"What about you, Josie?" Ivy said. "Do you have trouble getting good help?"
Josie studied Ivy's bland, blond face for
signs of malice, but didn't see any. The silly twit thought everyone had household help.
"My cleaning lady is so lazy," Josie said. "I ask her to do things, but she always has an excuse why she can't. I'm lucky she runs the vacuum cleaner and dusts. I can't fire her. She's a single mom."

Both Barrington mothers nodded their sypathy.

I'd love to fire me, Josie thought. I sure can't get me to clean the place.

Dying in Style is my first read for the Cozy Challenge hosted by Kris at Not Enough Books. In Dying in Style, professional mystery shopper Josie Marcus goes shopping at the exclusive Danessa stores in order to inform a potential buyer whether or not the investment would be worth their money. She does her job and then finds herself in a big mess when three people are murdered, shortly after Josie is confronted by Danessa. Josie looks guilty, so she must find the murderer in order to get herself off the hook.

I'm not really a big fan of mysteries, these days (I've gone through an awful lot of phases) but I really enjoy Elaine Viets. Her characters have a sense of humor and, as her books are of the "cozy" variety, there are never any overly nasty, graphic descriptions. Dying in Style is light reading, almost chick-littish in style and a nice, escapist read. I believe this particular book is the first in the Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper series. It includes a "Josie's shopping secrets", a brief guide to buying at reasonable prices.

Thumbs Up. Very fun; and I plan to continue reading the series.

Yes, that's my rating. I haven't been feeling much like handing out numbers, lately. We'll see if that lasts.

As usual, I'm in the midst of the mom routine. Here are my pics of the day, so far:

All of the above were just snapped when I dropped off kiddo at the pool. If anyone can tell me of the name of the plant with the red blooms, it would be much appreciated. I need to plant one!! I watched that hummingbird, yesterday, as I was waiting for kiddo, sans camera. He only showed up briefly, while I was watching for him, but it's exciting to find a plant that attracts both hummingbirds and butterflies. I'm still learning where to locate critters to photograph, you know.

*UPDATE* - Jenclair has informed me that the plant in question is Turk's Cap. Thank you, Jenclair!!!

Still reading Garden Spells and Haunted Castles of the World, both of which I'm enjoying. Hope to finish Garden Spells by tomorrow, so that should be my next review.

Just FYI, Elaine Viets recommends totes from Strand Bookstore in her shopping tips. She says Gwyneth Paltrow carries a Strand tote (and they're affordable), so if you want to pretend you're a star, you can find the tote here.

Off to fetch the kiddo. Would someone in a cool climate please send me a breeze? Thank you in advance.

Bookfool, who has completely melted into a book-loving puddle

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Wahoo! Wednesday

It's raining in Vicksburg; I have two teenagers playing with the game unit my husband bought as an excuse for a birthday present, this weekend (yeah, right . . . I really longed for a game unit) and we're watching an animated weather map in lieu of proceeding on to the pool (because I figure I'll just have to fetch them when swimming is canceled, anyway, judging from the looks of that big yellow-and-red mess on the radar). In the meantime, I might as well do some wahooing. I'm trying to single-handedly turn the word "wahoo" into a verb. Think I'll succeed?

1. Maybe a little weird, but I'm very grateful that I'm not a butterfly after seeing the cat, below, turn the beautiful butterfly at upper right into the shredded mess shown in the two lower photos:

Yikes! It's hard to believe he managed to fly after that walloping. I was trying to move to a position that would allow me to photograph the butterfly and cat in the same frame when kitty boy leaped approximately five feet, grabbed the insect right off the leaf and munched down. I've seen quite a few butterflies with tattered wings, this week; now I know how they got in such terrible condition.

2. I'm glad I don't live in Mexico:

3. Wahoo for swim relays! I love watching the swim kids do relays. My son isn't in this particular photo, but it's one of my favorites from last week:

4. Wahoo for another great issue of Estella's Revenge!!! And, I'm not saying that just because I wrote some reviews. Relatives by birth or marriage should avoid my "confession" article, as it's probably distressing enough just reading this blog.

5. Wahoo for the ridiculous quantity of books I acquired, last week, all of which I am referring to as "birthday gifts," whether new, used or stolen. Just kidding about the "stolen" part.

Top to bottom:

Opus: 25 Years of His Sunday Best - Berke Breathed (the genuine gift from eldest)
The History of Love - Nicola Krauss (PBS - waited a year for this one)
Among Other Things I've Taken Up Smoking - Aoibheann Sweeney
The Septembers of Shiraz - Dalia Sofer
Salt - Jeremy Page
The Spanish Bow - Andromeda Romano-Lax
Last Night I Dreamed of Peace - Dang Thuy Tram
Vivaldi's Virgins - Barbara Quick
Lottery - Patricia Wood
An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England - Brock Clarke
---The last 8 books were ARCs I found on a cart that said "FREE BOOKS" at the library

Top to Bottom:

I Could Never Be So Lucky Again - Gen. James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle (PBS)
The Cobra and the Concubine - Bonnie Vanuk (thanks to Susan at West of Mars)
Stumbling on Happiness - Daniel Gilbert (actually bought this one at Borders)
Mr. Dixon Disappears - Ian Sansom (PBS)
Garden Spells - Sarah Addison Allen (ARC from library)
The Misalliance - Anita Brookner (library sale purchase - snuck that one in, yesterday)
Seven Loves - Valerie Trueblood (also thanks to Susan at West of Mars)
100 Oklahoma Outlaws, Gangsters and Lawmen: 1839-1939 (purchased at Sam's Club)
The Double Bind - Chris Bohjalian (PBS - I love PBS!)

Not pictured: The copy of Moloka'i that arrived in the mail, today - squeeeee! I love PBS!

Kiddo did have swim practice. We're home and the radar is becoming ominous, again, so I'll just hush. Up next will be a review of Dying in Style by Elaine Viets, which I finished this morning.

May your day be wahooey, wherever you are.


Monday, September 03, 2007

God is My Co-Pilot by Col. Robert L. Scott

God is My Co-Pilot by Col. Robert L. Scott (later, Brigadier Gen. Scott)
Copyright 1943 - my copy printed 1971
Ballantine Books
206 pages

For almost another hour we sat there glaring at one another, expecting every second that the jagged top of one of the Himalayas was coming through the clouds and into the cockpit. Try that some time while you are making two hundred miles an hour, when you can't see your wing tips--and just see if your hairs don't get grayer and grayer. Mine did.

God is My Co-Pilot is the memoir of a WWII Army combat pilot who served in Indo-China. Really, the above quote's a pretty funny quote, considering the fact that the author lived to the age of 97. His longevity certainly wasn't affected by his hair-raising (and graying) adventures. You can read a slightly outdated bio, here.

The book starts out in what I'm slowly figuring out is the typical pilot memoir format - a little of his childhood history, followed by training and then details of his experience during the war. This particular pilot was quite a rascal, even as a child. He fashioned his own hang-glider with canvas stolen from a church tent at the age of 12, jumped off a "high Colonial home in Macon, Georgia" and plummeted 67 feet, into a rose bush. Unfazed, he went on to buy his own airplane and talk a neighbor into teaching him how to fly - until the neighbor crashed Scott's plane and was killed. Whew! Glad he wasn't my kid!

After the initial bits about his childhood and training, including quite a few troublesome antics, "Scotty" ended up training pilots and transporting mail in the United States. He was a very determined man, though, and eventually ended up in a group that was scheduled to perform a secret mission. The Japanese were winning the war on the Pacific/Indo-China front, at the time, and disaster led to the cancellation of the mission. Instead, he and his fellow pilots ended up stationed in India, transporting parts across "the Hump" - the Himalayas. Eventually, though, Col. Scott managed to finagle himself a fighter plane and went off on missions against the enemy completely alone.

The point at which the author began describing his missions is about halfway through the book and that's where it really began to become gripping. Later moved closer to Japanese occupied Indo-China, Scott became a leader in General Chennault's fighting forces, the Flying Tigers. The tales of adventure during his time in this elite group of fighter pilots are absolutely amazing and definitely made it worth hanging in there with this book. Still, there were some yawn moments. He described his missions, particularly the geography, in painstaking detail. And, I'm an American - or a United Stater, or whatever we're supposed to call ourselves, now - so I don't really know my geography all that well. A good atlas would have been much appreciated. As it was, I eventually used Google Earth a bit and discovered, darn it, that Google Earth is not as great as I imagined. I finally trained myself to skim over the details that went over my head and continue to enjoy the meaty parts of the book. I'm going to hang onto this one for a future reread, though, and next time I'll have maps handy.

The book was written in 1943, when the war had not yet ended. Although my copy was published in 1971, it doesn't appear to have been edited or altered to reflect the fact that the war was long since over. I think that was incredibly sensible on the part of his editors as it gives the reader a genuine sense of immersion in the time and place. In fact, there are even some rather shocking racial slurs; and, his hatred for the enemy is almost tangible. I have no doubt that a 2007 printing of this book would be altered in places.

Back to the story . . . when the author was sent to India, the Allies were in bad shape. They had suffered major defeats, there were few airplanes or supplies and they were fighting a losing, mostly-defensive war. So his anger is somewhat understandable. At the same time, I found it rather difficult to read about his joy when he bombed trucks or boats and then strafed the soldiers who tried to escape. I've read about WWII from many angles, now, and the one thing that really jumps out at me is that everyone is essentially the same. We're all just humans. The horror of those being shot at and bombed on the ground or plummeting in a burning plane is universal. So, at times the book can be a little disturbing.

4/5 - sometimes gripping, sometimes a little dull but an excellent read, in general

Still reading:
Haunted Castles of the World - for the RIP II
Dying in Style - for the Cozy Challenge

Soon, soon - I will get that sidebar updated to reflect the latest challenges, oh, yes I will.

Photographed - a would-be car thief, trying to open the Honda door:

Thanks to all for the birthday wishes. I decided to call any book that entered my home, this week, a birthday present. That made the birthday appear to be a serious windfall, as I got received two books won in a blog contest, bought two, received 5 from Paperback Swap (two of which I'd had on my wish list for over a year - I'm almost out of points!), and happened across an ARC-giveaway at the library. I'll post a list or photos of my acquisitions, later.

Last night was a doozy. We emptied the linen closet, searching for a bedspread for eldest son's new bed, refolded and piled everything on the futon . . . and then I fell asleep on top of the piles when I realized my reading was disturbing the hubster's sleep and climbed on top to finish up God is My Co-Pilot. Since I'm known to have Princess-and-the-Pea problems (a fold in a pillowcase will literally keep me awake all night, if I can't figure out how to get it out of my way), it's shocking that I actually slept on piles of blankets, regardless of how neatly they were folded. And, here's the kicker - the bedspread we offered the kid was "too girly", after all that work digging through the linens. Apparently, I haven't taught him the "When you're broke, you accept what you're offered" adage well.

Gotta go,

Bookfool, who shows no other signs of royalty

Saturday, September 01, 2007

August Reads

Since it's my birthday and the males are all in temper-tantrum mode, I've decided I'll just hide out and write up a review of my August reads. Okay, wait, update on that . . . the eldest son has arrived home with (so far) my one and only gift and it's a very nice one. He also came bearing pastry, so I'm feeling better. The photos tucked into the side of this post were all taken outside my home, yesterday. Nature was in motion. The new header starring "Gray Kitty" (a very sweet neighborhood cat) was also taken yesterday, on our driveway. She was watching the butterflies.

My August Reads:

1. Taking the Plunge by Stacie Lewis - A fictionalized retelling of a real-life bride's angst as she prepares for a Detroit wedding to a Welsh man. There's less culture clash than grown-up temper tantrums between the parents and step-parents. ARC read for Estella's Revenge - the full review should be up in a few days.

2. Lesley Castle by Jane Austen - Three stories written during Austen's teen years, humorous and displaying a surprising grasp of social interaction in a light-hearted style that made for lots of smiles. My top favorite of the month.

3. Truth or Dare by Melanie Atkins - A paranormal romantic suspense set in an antebellum mansion, the story contains a witch, a zombie, a trio of vengeful ghosts, and a hunky guy with a gun. R-rated, but the story is enjoyable for its setting and its uniqueness. Would make a great book for the RIP II.

4. The Case of the Missing Books by Ian Sansom - A librarian travels to Northern Ireland to start a new job, but finds the library closed and the books missing. Not really so much a mystery as slapstick humor - terrific, light reading.

5. Life's a Beach by Claire Cook - A forty-something woman worries about the fact that she hasn't quite settled down or figured out what she loves doing and isn't sure whether her boyfriend is worth the effort. She has a sister anguishing over her upcoming 50th birthday and parents who are threatening to evict her from the apartment over their garage. Sometimes drags, but overall it's a pretty nice book with likable characters.

6. Voyage by Adele Geras - Historical young adult tale of life in steerage as passengers cross the Atlantic Ocean in search of new life in the United States. Review book for Estella's Revenge - full review should be posted in a few days. I liked it.

7. Shopaholic & Baby by Sophie Kinsella - Becky goes shopping for all the most useless (but cute) baby things, worries that her husband is having an affair with her doctor, and attempts to save the floundering store where she now works. Loved this one, after getting past the initial annoyance of all that shopping.

8. Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller - The friend of a teacher who has been caught having an affair with a 15-year-old student attempts to figure out what she was thinking by setting the events in logical order. Fascinating and well-written, very slow and thoughtful.

9. Everyman by Philip Roth - A man is buried and then the book reflects back on the deterioration of his health, his reflections about how he screwed up, and the loneliness that resulted. Thoroughly lacking in hope. I'm going to go back and put this one on my "not recommended" list; it's not worth the time. I'll give Roth another chance because the man can write, but this was the month's worst read.

10. Blizzard by George Stone - 1970's disaster story of a blizzard that won't end and the investigation into whether it was man-made - if so, who is responsible and how to stop it. Not a great deal of brain cells required, but well-crafted and intelligent, I thought. Makes for a great hot-weather brain break.

11. Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson - Young adult historical fiction; the story of a young girl's experience during the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 in Philadelphia. An excellent peek into the horror of an outbreak of disease at a time when its cause and proper treatment were not understood.

12. Monkey Love by Brenda Scott Royce - A hair-cutting, tax-preparing, typist-carpenter-comedian with a degree in primatology gets stuck babysitting a boa constrictor and a monkey, helping untangle her friends' love lives while trying to figure out her own and dealing with her crazy relatives. A really delightful, wacky, sweet, and unique story. I enjoyed this one thoroughly and gobbled it right down.

13. Life on the Refrigerator Door by Alice Kuipers - An ARC I found at the library, I expected something on the order of a cute, funny book in the vein of Meg Cabot's email books with a busy family leaving notes on the fridge. The book is, in fact, communication between a busy single mother and her daughter and it's both unsatisfying (too short - most pages contain only one brief note) and tremendously sad. In many cases, I found it difficult to believe that the two wouldn't bother to just talk to each other while they were going through a crisis. I'm not sure why anyone would publish a book like this; it seems pointlessly depressing. But, then, so does Everyman.

Overall, a terrific month. I read just over 3,000 pages. Kiddo talked me into watching a movie, last night, or I might have finished up the 14th book (God is My Co-Pilot). Hope to finish that one, tonight. I've also started reading Haunted Castles of the World by Charles Coulombe, my first read for the RIP II. I'll have to niche in a second book because Haunted Castles is best read in small doses. In fact, I think I'll go read right now. Grumpy husband has dashed off with eldest son and youngster has crashed. Methinks his week may have finally caught up with him.

May the rotten pears of your life be covered with beautiful butterflies.