Thursday, March 27, 2008

Thrilling Thursday Things

Admittedly, you all know my life is dull as paste, right now. But, I have a small window of time and I plan to use it. Just try to stop me from typing. I have only little bits and pieces -- nothing seriously thrilling.

What I'm reading: A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

That's it. I've got some other books with bookmarks in them, but I haven't opened them, lately. Those of you who read Kookiejar's delicious dessert of a blog know that she recently read A Fraction of the Whole on my recommendation. I'm still puzzling over just what it was that sparked the thought that Kookie would love it, but anyway . . . Kookie read it. Kookie adored the book. Carrie is reading it because Kookie read it because I recommended it to her. So, I figured, "For crying out loud, I have to find out what's so great about that crazy book I recommended."

I'm on page 127 and I'm loving it. It's the wackiest, most brilliant and goofy book I've read in ages. I'd get through it even faster if I wasn't so wrecked from caring for my mom, but give me a few days.

What I'm doing: Boring Stuff

But, I still get to walk my sister's dog, now and then. That's fun.

One Thing I overheard: Names Have Been Changed to Protect the Innocent

I overheard a lovely young teen saying that a lady came through a drive-through window at the restaurant where said teen works. The lady wasn't much of a lady. In fact, she was giving them such a hard time that the drive-through teen said, "Let's squash her biscuits." Someone else squashed the Not-Really-a-Lady's biscuits, they plunked them into a box and sent them along with the rest of her drive-through purchase. I'm sure you've heard worse (spitting on rude customers' hamburgers seems to be a favorite) but it got me thinking . . .

If your biscuits are squashed, you may need an attitude adjustment.

Something to consider, right?

Fun stuff in my sister's house:

The Fridge

This is so funny. When you close the refrigerator door, it doesn't shut all the way. So, you have to give the door a kick at the bottom, where it doesn't quite seal without help. I'm gradually getting the hang of this. You put the milk back in the fridge, close the door, give it a kick. Open the door to get out the pickle jar, close the door, give it a kick. I've watched and the whole family does it like it's a reflex. When they get a new refrigerator, it's probably going to acquire a dent on the lower left corner of the door, just thanks to habit.

The Cranky Bed

I'm sleeping on my nephew's bed, which has a noisy headboard and a squeaky frame. I slept very, very badly for a few days and then I realized that every time I rolled over, things were banging (in addition to the creaks and squeaks and groans). So, I investigated and discovered that the lamp was banging against the wall and there was a bike flag that rattled every time I moved. My poor nephew. His entire room is going to be rearranged. Fortunately, he's off at the University of Oklahoma, so he doesn't have to endure the torment of my rearrangements (and the addition of the cutesy things, like that bright-colored box of tissues with daisies all over the sides).

Stupid Dreams: Dancing FBI Agents

I have extraordinarily vivid dreams, as some of you know (often prophetic). Because people seem to actually find them interesting, my husband bought me a Dream Log and I just used it for the first time, this week. I won't go into painstaking detail, but it involved a drug raid on a senator (who cleverly averted the agents' attention with a bunch of hinky old VHS tapes that rattled), loads of FBI agents in tuxes, a restaurant, a TV, and a few other exciting details. In the end, the FBI agents didn't find what they were looking for at the Senator's house, so they went off to a restaurant (all were dressed in tuxedos -- I love that), watched Dancing with the Stars and . . . well, a few of them got up to dance. One had stolen a wig head and wig from the senator's house because it was cute and he found it on a trash pile, so he figured it was fair game. The agent put the wig and holder on a pedestal. While dancing, another of the agents knocked the head over and inside was the stash of drugs they'd been searching for.

I love my brain.

Enough for now. I'm trying to squeeze in as much blog-hopping as possible, but am only managing to hit about 10 blogs before I run out of time, each day. I miss reading all the posts. Hope everyone is having a terrific week, discovering wonderful new books and enjoying whatever weather you're stuck with (it's nice here, but the dog really needs a bath).

Smiles to all!

Bookfool, whose window of time is closing fast

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tuesday, part 2

Yep, that was a good one. Let's try this again, shall we? The original title of my Tuesday post was "Tuesday Twaddle". And, then I realized I had very little to say. Apparently, by that point I'd already accidentally hit "enter" and published the word Tuesday. Just Tuesday. Tuesday was a bit of a blank, I confess.

But, having said that . . . .

I'm considering going on hiatus as my days are currently chopped into tiny windows between chores, while caring for my mother in my sister's home. And, I can't upload photos -- maybe I'll be able to do so on weekends, but I don't have time to take photos at the moment, anyway. What do you think? Put the blog on hold or just update when I can? I will also be unable to change my sidebar (except on weekends -- yeesh).

Bookishly speaking:

I finished a Life Class by Pat Barker. It's an ARC that I read for Estella's Revenge, so I'll hack away at a review, tonight, and get that sent for the April issue. I'll post a link when the time comes.

I went shopping. Since I'm having a crap week (and things are not set to improve), I decided to heck with the Book Diet. Fortunately for the budget, of the 4 books, 3 were only 99 cents, each. Here's what I got:

Junk Male by Brian Gallagher
1776 by David McCullough
The Complete Hoyle's Games (because I can't ever remember the rules of gin rummy) and
Claudine's House by Collette

Less than $9 for all. Not bad. I wish I could post a photo of the pile, but I cannot.

Things that are happening:

Yesterday, I was dragged by my sister's dog. I tried to walk him, but as it was my first dog-walking experience, ever, and the dog is extraordinarily energetic . . . well, I was dragged. I appreciated the dragging on the up-hill slopes, I confess. And, what is it with dogs and peeing on everything? How do they come up with that much pee? This is what our walk was like: run, run, full stop, sniff weed, pee, run, full stop, sniff pole, pee, run, run, run, bark at other dogs, sniff plant, pee, run, sniff dog, whine, race him along fence, run . . .

When the youngest was up here and walked my sister's dog, he said there was a table sitting at the curbside. On the table was a sign: "Free -- take it!" Buddy sniffed the table and . . . you've got it. Youngster said, "I wonder if the people who took the table were surprised about the smell."

My sister's family is pretty funny. Whilst down on the floor, searching for something in the fridge, my brother-in-law suddenly exclaimed, "Ewww! I thought we were past that!" I thought maybe he'd found something green and moldy. But, no, it was just that my sister had kissed him.

Off to read. Happy Tuesday, Part 2.

Bookfool, dragging and being dragged


Monday, March 24, 2008

Moving Forward: Taking the Lead in Your Life by Dave Pelzer

#28 Moving Forward: Taking the Lead in Your Life by Dave Pelzer
Release Date: 6/24/08
Center Street (a division of Hatchette Book Group)
192 pages
Finished 2/21/08

What led you to pick up this book? I requested a copy from Lori at Jane Wesman Public Relations (thank you, Lori!).

Summarize the plot but don't give away the ending. Pelzer is a motivational speaker and in this book he uses snippets of his own personal history and experiences, plus a few stories about people he has met on the road in order to describe how each of us has (frequently untapped) resources that we can use to take control of our lives.

What did you like most about the book? I liked his definition of "esteem". Basically, Pelzer says that self-esteem is an over-rated concept. If you can get out of bed and walk to the bathroom, you have esteem -- meaning that you obviously believe in yourself enough to be aware, "I can get up out of bed. I can walk to the bathroom." That's just one example, but his point is that we can do anything if we believe in ourselves. He describes the way parents and grandparents of Baby Boomers lived through wars, the Great Depression, and other major hardships. The words "self-esteem" were not a part of their vocabulary or a concept that had been given a name, at the time. They simply did what they had to do and got the job done. Pelzer's bottom line concept is that we need to stop hanging onto our frailties, using them as an excuse, and ignore the naysayers who will gladly tell us we can't or won't succeed. Instead, we need to do what we know is required to live the lives we want to lead.

What did you think of the characters? No characters, unless you count the author. He has a tiny bit of a chip on his shoulder -- probably for good reason -- and if I were to step in as his editor, I would work at helping him eliminate any negative vibes, regardless of where their aim is directed. Positive-thinking books, in my humble opinion, should be very, very focused and hyper-positive. However, I really feel like the author has his heart in the right place, his point was uniquely described and an excellent motivational concept, and that the book served its purpose. I've been mulling the book since I set it down and realize that it's already infected my thinking in a positive way.

Share a favorite scene from the book: I've already mentioned the self-esteem concept; when he first described his opinion of esteem, I liked it so much that I read that section aloud to my husband. Midway through the book there's an entire page that I marked, in which Pelzer describes how one should keep the faith, hold his/her head high, walk with confidence -- how important it is to show that one has belief in his self, abilities and (if applicable -- this was a sticky point, as he had someone complain about his use of the words "God bless") a higher power. That's the point at which I felt like the book really came together. While I do think he has a tendency to sometimes pick on people with power and money, it's important to note that he's been there, himself, and has made mistakes -- trying to appease his wife with gifts and vacations, rather than slowing down and giving her his presence, for example.

Thumbs up - A decent positive-thinking book. The concept is solid and I can visualize myself continuing to use his underlying "esteem" concept in my daily life.

In general:
A book about taking charge of your own life, letting go of the things that drag you down. Occasionally defensive (and the "crap chapter" about letting go of the bad in your life is a wee bit bizarre) but definitely worth reading. I plan to reread my copy, possibly repeatedly.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wahoo! Wednesday

This week, just a few happy things for Wahoo! Wednesday. Photo opportunities have been limited lately, unfortunately. And, it's raining and dreary, so not a good day to run out for last-minute snaps. Ah, well.

Eldest son, looking casually handsome in Memphis:

Youngest son with niece and her dog, Buddy. Note that the hair gives youngest son an extra 2-3" of height. He claims he'll get a haircut in May. Oh, baby. Teenagers are something.

Pretties in Oxford, MS:

Great photo taken by youngest, who made off with my camera and had fun while I was busy:

They were probably fascinated by the hair. Everyone notices his hair.

May the wahoos of life rain down upon you!


Monday, March 17, 2008

My Reading Week, Part 2: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and Alexander Botts

A continuation of last week's reads . . .

3. On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson - an ARC I picked up off of the "FREE BOOKS" cart I happened across at the library, one day. What a lucky find! A young adult fantasy, set to be released tomorrow (3/18/08), On the Edge, etc. is Book 1 in a series called The Wingfeather Saga. The cover adds the following: "Adventure, Peril, Lost Jewels And the Fearsome Toothy Cows of Skree." Also, from the cover blurb, on the back:

Once, in a cottage above the cliffs on the Dark Sea of Darkness, there lived three children and their trusty dog Nugget. Janner Igiby, his brother Tink, and their crippled sister, Leeli, are gifted children as all children are, loved well by a noble mother and ex-pirate grandfather. But they will need all their gifts and all that love to survive the evil pursuit of the venomous Fangs of Dang, who have crossed the Dark Sea to rule the land with malice. The Fangs seek the Igibys, who hold the secret to the lost legend and jewels of good King Wingfeather of the Shining Isle of Anniera.

Andrew Peterson spins a riveting tale of the Igibys' extraordinary journey. Full of characters rich in heart, smarts, and courage, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness presents a world of wonder and a tale children of all ages will cherish.

I'm going to skip the last bit, but they go on to say the book can be read aloud and discussed with families. Meaning, it's very family-friendly. There's some violence; the Fangs are very, very bad and think nothing of beating up on small children. I'm not sure I'd read it to a young, sensitive child or hand it to one who is prone to nightmares. But, On The Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness has a nice, straightforward good-versus-evil storyline. It's a bit predictable and yet it's so fun that the predictability didn't bother me. On the Edge, etc. is loaded with puns, contains a nicely rounded set of characters, is adventurous and sometimes quite funny. I loved the characters and will look forward to a second tale. My ARC cover is different than the cover shown -- the dragons are larger and it has an edge that looks like old, brown leather.

Since this book is an ARC, I wouldn't feel right quoting from it, but I have to tell you about the opening. The book begins with a history of the conquered land in which the story takes place and how the very first inhabitant woke up, stretched and said, "Well, here we are." Those first words were passed down for so long and through so many retellings that the land itself became known as Aerwiar. I read that paragraph aloud to everyone who came near me and they all chuckled.

Rating: Loads of fun and adventure, not a perfect tale -- a little simplistic and predictable -- but really quite a lovely story of hope, about being the captives in an occupied land and having the courage to do what one must do. I hope the book will be widely read and I will definitely watch for the second in the series. Big thumbs up.

And, last but not least (in fact, quite the opposite of "least") . . .

4. The Fabulous Saga of Alexander Botts and the Earthworm Tractor by William Hazlett Upson - Copyright 2001, the University of Vermont Bailey/Howe Library; short stories originally printed in the Saturday Evening Post, beginning in the 1920's and continuing for decades. This printing: Voyageur Press.

This is my kind of book. I think sometimes readers get stuck in heavier literature from decades past and forget that in every time period there have been folks with a great sense of humor. The Alexander Botts stories are a perfect example of fun, light storytelling written and published in another time period. Okay, well, there's a little cross-over for me (the author lived till the 70's and kept on chugging out Botts stories till he died -- which really puts a damper on the writing), but I'd never heard of Botts prior to spotting the book cover.

Author Upson "turned his work experience with the Holt Caterpillar Company into a second career" by writing the saga of happy-go-lucky tractor salesman Alexander Botts. The stories are printed in chronological order and written as a series of letters and telegrams between Botts and his boss, Henderson. In the first story, "I'm a Natural-Born Salesman," Botts writes to offer his services as a traveling salesman to The Farmer's Friend Tractor Company of Earthworm City, Illinois (later renamed Earthworm Tractor Company).

Botts is immediately hired, but as a service mechanic. When the salesman he is supposed to work with is sidelined by an appendicitis, Botts takes it upon himself to demonstrate the tractor on his own and chaos ensues. But, then Botts saves the day and is given the job as salesman. A similar pattern continues in each story: Botts must do a demonstration, something terrible happens, he sleeps on it or merely ponders for a time and comes up with a brilliant idea, then succeeds at his sale. There are evil salesmen from companies with inferior tractors, difficult customers, troublesome employees, tricky situations. Botts can be a bit of a bumbler, but he's definitely a natural-born salesman and he always comes through in the end. Some might dislike that repetition of theme; I loved it, simply because I felt I could enjoy each story even more knowing that everything was going to turn out okay.

Here's an excerpt from Botts' first report to his boss (in the form of a letter), explaining the customer's pressing need for Botts to go through with the tractor demonstration and how Botts began to operate the Earthworm:

NOTE: I will explain that I was sorry that Mr. Johnson had been unable to wait until afternoon, as I had intended to use the morning in practicing up on driving the machine. It is true, as I said in my letter, that I became familiar with Earthworm tractors when I was a member of a motorized artillery outfit in France, but as my job in the artillery was that of cook, and as I had never before sat in the seat of one of these tractors, I was not as familiar with the details of driving as I might have wished. However, I was pleased to see that the tractor seemed to have a clutch and gear shift like the automobiles I have often driven, and a pair of handle bars for steering very much like those of a tricycle I had operated in my early boyhood.

--from "I'm a Natural-Born Salesman"

And, of course, you know I had to love a book in which the word "wahoo" appears:

"We have shipped to Smedleytown one ten ton Earthworm Tractor equipped with the new Wahoo Improved High-power Double-Rotary Snowplow."

--from "The Old Home Town"

More quotes (obviously, this was a many-Post-it book):

When all the plaster fell off the ceiling of Mike Zippke's dining room, and Mrs. Zippke stuck her head out of the window yelling murder, Jim was right on the job to point out that, after all, this is wartime, and think how much better off she was than people overseas that might have a bomb knock the whole house down. As the lady could think of no adequate reply to this, she shut up.

A little later George Miller's slightly senile Great Uncle Otto, desiring to take a quiet smoke in the sunshine, stepped absent-mindedly out the side door, dropped five feet, and landed in a heap on the pavement. As I was right on the job, however, I was able to pick the old gentleman up, dust him off, and boost him back into the house
before he knew what had happened. I then silenced his incipient complaints by handing him an excellent fifteen-cent cigar which I had just purchased for only twenty-six cents.

--from "Keep Moving, Captain Botts!"

Coming on top of everything else, it is the final grain of salt that causes the solution to reach a point of supersaturation, so that the camel is precipitated to the bottom of the test tube.

--from "Botts Gets a New Job"

We all know to what heights of eloquence a salesman can rise when he is hampered neither by facts nor information. And the eloquence is doubly convincing when the prospective purchaser is equally ignorant. Having sized up Mr. Bunker and Mr. Griggs in this keenly analytical manner, I was now ready to make a definite proposition.

--from "Botts and the Fire Bug"

Can you tell I loved this book? Well, I did. Fortunately for me, when I located this book and the second collection, Alexander Botts Rides Again, I was so taken by the combination of adorable titles, covers and the excerpts I read in the store that I thrust both of them into my husband's hands and encouraged him strongly to immediately purchase both, thus avoiding the pain of having to say that I'd bought two more books in March, myself. He bought them, since he forked over the cash. I know, it's pitiful but I'm sticking to that excuse 100%.

Rating: If you don't mind predictability and love a series of light-hearted, clean, funny, extremely family-friendly, old-fashioned tales with a hero who is truly a good guy, rush right out and get this book. Thumbs waaaaay up. I was so thrilled with it that I'm eager to see what else Voyageur Press has published.

In other news:

--The layout feature at this blog has resumed functioning. However, I've been so busy trying to get these reviews finished that my sidebar is still hopelessly outdated. I'll work on updating between loads of laundry, tonight. I can hear you all breathing a sigh of relief. "We'll be able to see what Bookfool is reading, again!" Well, true; it's important.

--The cat has now visited Tennessee, her 5th state. Also, we saw the eldest in his new apartment and the cat spent the night, there, this weekend. Don't ask me why the cat won primary placement in this paragraph. It's meaningless, honest. But, seriously, isn't it interesting that our cat has traveled farther than some humans do in their lifetime?

--On the way home from Memphis, we took a side trip to Oxford, MS, and briefly stopped to photograph the place we call the Bathtub Ranch. I think this may be one of my favorite places on the planet:

Hope to be back to blog-hopping, tomorrow! Happy Reading!

Bookfool, currently with blurred vision and in need of an early evening

Monday Malarkey: In Which Bookfool Begins to Describe Her Week of Reading

I managed to squeeze in 4 books, last week--2 awful, 2 fun. As much as I would have loved to set everything else besides blogging aside, that was a "no can do". But, still . . . I'll summarize what I read, starting with the first two books and continuing with the other two in a separate post:

1. When Lightning Strikes by Kristin Hannah - My first book by Hannah and probably not the best choice, but it cost me a mere quarter in the library sale and kept hollering at me till I gave in. Labeled simply "fiction", it's definitely romance with graphic scenes that are not family friendly. Copyrighted 1994/370 pages.

Alaina Costanza ("Lainie" - unfortunately, one of the most overused heroine nicknames in romantic fiction) has grown jaded and no longer assumes someday she'll find the man of her dreams. Lainie ignores the noisy storm outside and types away at her next novel to preoccupy herself while her daughter is away. When lightning strikes her computer, she is thrown 100 years backward in time, into the setting of her own Western novel, where she discovers that the evil villain and setting are not quite right. The villain has a tiny bit of heart, the hero never does quite save the day, and she's not waking up from the very vivid dream that has sucked her back in time (or so she assumes). When Lainie realizes the truth, she must figure out how to return to the future and her child.

First comment: No idea where they came up with that cover. A porch swing and a sunny spring day? Weird. Lainie gets zapped into the desert, kidnapped by her villain, dragged to the hideout, and they fight with each other until he decides to give in to his desire. Oh, geez, not that, again. I skipped the sex scenes and focused on what I liked best. Unfortunately, the book had a decent premise -- that the heroine's novel was based on her previous life, back when she was named Emily and married to Killian (the ranger-turned-bad-guy of Lainie's novel). The idea was that Lainie's heart's desire pulled her back in time. Somehow, Lainie must figure out how to bring Killian to the future in order to return to her daughter and remain with her true love. But, the story never quite came together.

Most of the way through the book I kept thinking the same thing: Why doesn't she ask him for a change of clothing and the opportunity to bathe? I was so bent on that issue (with everyone sweating in the desert) that it overshadowed the romance-- which was weak, at best. Also, there was a wardrobe concern. Lainie just kept on wearing her bright red sweater, all the way through the novel. Nobody gave her a less conspicuous shirt, even after the bank robbery, as they were pursued on horseback by the law. Between that and never asking for a bar of soap? Well, I just didn't buy the story.

Rating: Nyeh

2. Night Train by Martin Amis - Police procedural, copyright 1997

According to a reviewer at Amazon, Night Train was based on a poem, Sunny Prestatyn. I've never read the poem, so I can't comment upon that, other than to say that all of the parallels noted do ring a bell as far as the book's content.

Night Train tells about the investigation of Jennifer Rockwell's suicide. Rockwell was physically perfect, intelligent, happy, apparently a much-loved woman with a charmed life. Her suicide is baffling, but forensic tests prove that there are no other possibilities. Her death is complicated by the fact that Jennifer was the daughter of a police chief. Detective Mike Hoolihan (a female) is assigned the job of clearing Jennifer's case. And, Mike has her own connection to Jennifer, who helped Mike through a rough detoxification from alcohol. Mike tells the story of her investigation into Jennifer's death.

I bought Night Train on a whim when, once again, I couldn't find a copy of London Fields (the one Amis book I'm interested in reading). I read about half of Night Train and set it aside, last year. This week, I decided I needed to finish the book so I can get rid of it. And, that's about how I feel about it. Finished. Glad to get rid of it. Although, I must say that the characters were so vividly drawn that a 3-month gap between reading the first half and the last was no problem at all.

Rating: Uncommonly depressing skipster with some graphic scenes.

But, don't worry . . . things improve, soon!!

Coming up next:
On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson and
The Fabulous Saga of Alexander Botts and the Earthworm Tractor by William Hazlett Upson

Stay tuned!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Six-Word Title Meme

I know the image doesn't totally fit the post, but I love the cover of Circular Fifteen, above, so you're stuck with it.

Onward . . . I've been tagged twice for this meme, by Trish at Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'? and Stephanie at Stephanie's Confessions of a Book-a-holic. Thanks to both!

The Six-Word Memoir

I'm skipping the details that are usually at the top of this meme, simply because you can read them everywhere else. Also, I'm not going to tag anyone, this time, but feel free to tag yourself on my behalf.

Once I started writing down potential 6-word titles, I had trouble stopping. And, here's the funny thing -- most of them had very little to do with me because I was using it as yet another excuse to have fun being silly. Prime examples of how one can have far too much fun coming up with irrelevant 6-word titles:

Tie-Dyed Underwear Frequently Worn Backwards
The Lawyers Are Gone; Who's Next?
The Lizard Whisperer and Other Lies

And, a few titles that might work just fine:

Grandma Got Pancaked; Grandpa Ran Away
How to Wahoo on a Budget
Tree-Hugging Neo-Liberal Book Freak

Frankly, My Dear, You're Losing It

My favorite, though, and the one I'm sticking with:

Book Avalanche Kills Unknown Blogging Personality

It hasn't come true, yet, but it seems likely. Off to take the fish out of the oven. Have a peachy day!

Hungry Bookfool Eats Fish; Stay Tuned (yes, another 6-word title)

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Mini Reviews - Persuasion and The Last Single Woman in America

Persuasion and The Last Single Woman in America could not possibly be a more contrasting pair -- one about chaste, enduring love and another about what it means for one woman to be a single woman in America (moral ambiguity figures largely into the latter, in my opinion).

Persuasion by Jane Austen - Anne Elliott was engaged to and very much in love with the dashing but impoverished Frederick Wentworth. But, thanks to the persuasion of her most trusted mother-substitute friend, Lady Russell, she broke the engagement off, only to end up pining for Wentworth and slowly losing her youthful glow. Now, years later, the Elliott household is in upheaval after her father's careless handling of funds has forced the family to rent the estate and move to a humbler home in Bath.

The wife of the admiral who is renting the Elliott estate turns out to be none other than the sister of Frederick, now Captain Wentworth, who is home from the navy and independently wealthy. Age has brought self-awareness and a firm resolve to our heroine. Anne knows that, given a second chance with Wentworth, she would grab it with all her might. But, when they cross paths, there is pain and anger in Captain Wentworth's eyes. Thrown together and then pulled apart by numerous events, it seems unlikely that they'll ever resolve their differences. And, then, Anne has an interesting conversation with a mutual friend . . .

It took me quite a while to get into this particular Austen, but I eventually figured out the problem had to do with the edition, not the author. Commas and quote marks were thrown around willy-nilly, words misspelled, text tangled; and, the result was a difficult reading experience. But, once it became clear that the trouble was with the editing and not the story, I mentally reworded or figured out the correct structure and began to read apace.

As always with Austen, it was readily apparent how the book would end; and, yet, Jane did an excellent job of setting up road blocks and tormenting her heroine. Oh, the passion! I love Austen. While not my favorite from the Austen canon, Persuasion was an enjoyable diversion and well worth the time. I hate to admit it, but there was a point at which I was brought to tears. The Borders Classics version is a mess, though, unless my earlier crack about the book being published posthumously and the editor dying along with her is correct.

Thumbs up, of course.

The Last Single Girl in America by Cindy Guidry is the opposite of Austen. A set of essays covering an indefinite number of years of the author's life (thirty-something to forty-something), the writings are humorous but -- as is often true of humorous writing -- her tone quickly becomes predictable and annoying. The vast majority are, in my opinion, just flat offensive. I should probably have known, given the title, that I was going to end up reading about the sex life of yet another confused woman from the generation of have-it-alls. Do people really think we want to know about their sex lives? Yuck. Yuck, yuck, yuck. The vast majority of the essays in this book revolted me, to the point that I considered ditching it. And, to think, she let her mother read it.

What kept me from quitting? Every now and then, along came one of those rare gems that was both funny and wise. "Rare" being the operative word. Plus, I won the book in a drawing at Dewey's website and I felt obligated to read and review, as that was the commitment: sign up to try to win a book, agree to review. Fine. Done. But, it wasn't pleasant. Guidry is a New Orleans transplant, living in Los Angeles. The setting figures heavily into the essays and her life. It's a crazy place and she tries to be sane, but I think she's got her morals mixed up with her feminism and the end result is that she keeps falling in love, but then she's not really sure what exactly love is. And, she really, truly does not get that old saw, "Why buy the milk when you can have the cow for free?" Not at all.

Thumbs down. Not recommended and definitely not family friendly. The author's blurb describes her as a woman with "razor-sharp wit" and I should add that her sense of humor is biting -- very negative, in my opinion.

Totally different topic: I love, love, love this quote by Alaska's governor, Sarah Palin, who has just announced (to the surprise of everyone, including journalists who watch her closely) that she is seven months pregnant with her fifth child:

"To any critics who say a woman can't think and work and carry a baby at the same time, I'd just like to escort that Neanderthal back to the cave," Palin said.

This quote was cut and pasted from Star Captain's Daughter.

Next up: My version of the Six Word Memoir.

Bird break

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Wimpy Wednesday

Short post, gone wimpy. Because I had trouble getting to sleep and when I finally knocked off, I ended up in my recurring nightmare -- The Horror Story of the Humongous House. I think it's a suppressed-desire thing; I feel squashed into my home and long for a bigger house, so I end up dreaming about houses that are so huge, so immense, so mind-bogglingly over-sized that, in my dream (or nightmare; they seem more like nightmares to me) I suddenly realize that I've completely forgotten there's that second kitchen (as if) and it's slipped my mind that there's another stretch of house . . . with 8 or 12 or 20 extra bedrooms. Seriously, how weird is that? I once dreamed I lived in a house the size of a mall, complete with a theater.

Take a bite out of Estella's apple:

Before I shift into prattle mode (oops, too late) I should mention that the latest issue of Estella's Revenge is available for your reading pleasure. It's been up for a few days. Oh, well. Storms and flickering power and all that.

We were freezing, I swear. After Monday's storms, a cold front hit Mississippi and we got all the way down to the 30's. Honestly, we thought body parts were going to freeze and fall off. And, then it warmed up and stormed, again. Meanwhile, in Alaska, it's unseasonably warm. This is bad for the Iditarod racers, apparently. Also, a terrible sign of that global warming thing -- icecaps melting, flood, hurricanes, famine, end of the world. Yes, I actually do believe we humans are destroying our world and that we should plant more trees, but that's another story.

Moving right along . . . I have a lot of fun reading the Anchorage Daily News updates and viewing the Iditarod photos. The news in Alaska is just so different from ours. Where else can you read about and view moose walking in the street, bear stories, whale-hunt photo essays, corrupt politicians? Okay, it's not all different, but some Alaska news is very, very unique.

She's no longer with us, but we still love her. The cat, I mean. No, not the black one; she's fine. My delightful friend Cindi, who named a character after me in her novel (coolness!), told me about the Spay Day photo contest and suggested I enter. The prizes are nifty, but the two that interest me the most are the Nature's Miracle products (because the litter box has been in the house since Sunshine's illness, which was then followed closely by the malfunction of the kitty door) and the $5000 donation to a nonprofit organization participating in Spay Day. Neato. I chose to enter one of my favorite photos of our dearly departed Sunshine, here. And, here is Cindi's baby. Sign up and vote for them, please, if you feel so inclined. You can vote repeatedly. And, don't forget to enter your own fur friend's beautiful mug.

Next up: quickie reviews of Persuasion by Jane Austen and The Last Single Woman in America by Cindy Guidry. Because I'm wimped and it stormed (not conducive to photography) I'm skipping the wahoos for the week.

Currently reading:
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (yes, still)
Life Class by Pat Barker
When Lightning Strikes by Kristin Hannah (because I can't seem to concentrate on the others)
and the introduction of The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan (which Tara loved and which counts as my March book purchase).

Still can't update my sidebar because of Blogger Fits of Madness. Who knows why these things suddenly cease to function?

Off to bed. Talk later. Will try to catch up on blog-hopping soon. Wave, wave.

Bookfool (aka, Her Wimpiness)

Sunday, March 02, 2008

A Box Full of Sin, Sunday Stories, and a Lizard Invasion

I'm going to alter the date to make it look as if this was posted on Sunday, although it's really Monday. I'm sneaky that way.

First things first. In the Oh.My.Gosh. category, this box full of chocolate arrived from Nikki in Italy, Saturday afternoon:

Thank you, Nikki!!!!! Only one item was slightly melty, thanks to the fact that the postman walked the box to our doorstep. That would be the slightly mushed-looking KinderEgg on the left, which let me know with a quick sag that it was in need of a chilling. Hubby helpfully marched the box straight to the fridge. The days of chocolate puddles are coming, but not yet here. Good timing, eh?

I was in a hurry to photograph everything before I lost the sunlight, though, and look what I did: plunked the eggs on the grass upside-down. Ah, well. You get the idea.

For Sunday Indulgence, I read bits of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Murikami, Life Class by Pat Barker, and The Last Single Woman in America by Cindy Guidry (which is so offensive that I'm tempted to ditch it). I also managed to squeeze in two short stories:

I don't give away the endings in the following summaries, but skip both if you plan to read the stories soon, as they may contain spoilers.

Oddy and Id - from Virtual Unrealities: The Short Fiction of Alfred Bester. Set in a far distant future, the story describes the strange life of Odysseus Gaul, who was so named "in honor of Papa's favorite hero, and over Mama's desperate objections." In spite of frequently throwing himself in harm's way, Oddy is spared repeatedly by phenomenal good luck. Encouraged by all who know him, a turn comes when one of his college professors, while checking over Oddy's lab work, discovers that Oddy is not just lucky -- he's the opposite of accident-prone: he's good-luck prone. The impossible occurs simply by way of Oddy's desire for it to happen. Aware of Oddy's ability to effect events by mere desire, a group of professors set out to ensure that Oddy is taught in way that will cause him to absorb the best of morals. Imminent war, they reason, will then be prevented by ensuring Oddy's yearning for peace; and, only good will come of his natural ability. Unfortunately, there's more to Oddy's special talent than meets the eye.

Well, gosh. I heart Bester. It was seriously tempted to just toss everything else aside and keep chugging through Bester's short stories, but I kind of like reading short stories by different authors on Sunday, so I think I'll continue to hold back.

13 Phantasms - from 13 Phantasms and other stories by James P. Blaylock. A man by the name of Landers goes up to explore the attic of his rental house, where the widowed landlord has preserved 4 boxes belonging to her late husband and labeled with the single word, "Astounding". Inside, Landers discovers neatly stacked and well-preserved issues of Astounding Science Fiction from the 1940s. After reading one magazine from cover to cover, Landers merrily fills out an order form for a series of books entitled 13 Phantasms, sticks the first of 6 one-dollar installments in an envelope and mails it, expecting his dollar to disappear. Instead, the books soon arrive with a note -- What, the sender inquires, is the meaning of that 50-star flag on the stamp?

*End spoiler warning*

Like the movie The Lake House, 13 Phantasms is a story of time-traveling mail but with a unique twist. Again, I was tempted to ditch everything else and continue reading Blaylock's short stories, but I stopped myself. We'll see if I last till next Sunday. 13 Phantasms is a recent library-sale purchase. I had no idea what a lucky purchase I'd made!

An interesting aside: I have a sneaking suspicion that I read some Star Trek fan fiction by Blaylock in the 70's; the name sort of rings a bell. Since I only bought one book of Star Trek short stories and I still have it (both boys have claimed it at one point or another), I think it's a safe bet I'm remembering the author's name correctly.

And, the lizard invasion . . . The husband and I pulled into our driveway on Saturday and counted 1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . 4 . . . 5 lizards peeking out from the window shutters on our garage. Yes, of course I ran for the camera.

Coming up: A review of Persuasion by Jane Austen. But, we have a storm headed our way, so don't hold your breath.

Blogger funkiness: I'm currently unable to update my sidebar layout because of Blogger Gremlins. So, apologies in advance if the book covers don't change in sync with my reading, for a time. I know from experience that these things usually clear up within a week or two; hopefully, the problem won't last long.

Happy "Oops, it's Really Monday" from Bookfool

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Coma by Alex Garland

#21 The Coma by Alex Garland
Copyright 2004
Riverhead Books/Fiction
200 pages
Finished 3/1/08

What led you to pick up this book? The truth? I was digging through a cabinet in search of Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, which I may or may not own (I just don't remember) and came across The Coma whilst moving a pile to look at double-shelved books. The cover caught my eye because of a post at Jeremy Blachman's blog, which led me to The Book Design Review, where this post made me laugh. The images on the cover of The Coma are indicative of block-print illustrations inside, not silhouettes as shown in the post at The Book Design Review, but the black and white cover grabbed me because I just read the post about silhouette covers, two days ago.

Summarize the plot but don't give away the ending. An attempt to save a girl from having her purse snatched on the Tube ends in a beating that lands Carl in a coma. He eventually wakes to find that things are not quite right. Is he having blackouts? Is he still comatose? Or, is Carl simply dreaming?

What did you like most about the book? It was surreal and mind-bending without falling into total incomprehensibility.

What did you think of the characters? Carl seems incredibly logical for a fellow who is attempting to reason out whether he's actually conscious or not. I liked him for his logic and his willingness to stand up to help someone when he was clearly outnumbered. The rest of the characters were dubious, as the reader didn't know for certain whether they were real or figments of his imagination.

Share a favorite scene from the book: I liked the point at which Carl decided that if he was comatose he could wake himself up with music or books, but he couldn't remember the right lyrics and the books contained only a few words. Here's an excerpt:

"Tough. That's all there is. But no problem, we'll move on to The Catcher in the Rye." I cleared my throat. 'Pretty phoney,' said Holden Caulfield. The End.' "

"Sir . . . " said the girl.

"Wait. I haven't gotten to Austen yet. 'It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in want of a woman is a man in need of things that a woman with needs can want to universally acknowledge.' " I closed the book with a snap. "It goes on in a similar vein for another three-hundred-odd pages. It makes you wonder why they teach it at school, don't you think?"

5/5 - Couldn't put it down.

In general:
Totally bizarre fun. Once I picked it up, I couldn't bear to set the book down till I'd finished it; and, fortunately, it was also an extremely fast-paced read. But, I do wish I hadn't begun reading the book at 11pm. Such things make a girl's head throb.

February 2008 Reads in a Nutshell

So that I can move on to my March reads and think myself caught up, I've chosen to post a nutshell-review post of February's reads. Abbreviations are as follows:
NF - Non-fiction
YA - Young Adult
ARC - Advanced Readers Copy

February Reads, in a Nutshell:

#8 - The World According to Mimi Smartypants by Mimi Smartypants (NF)
Blog entries by the pseudonymous Mimi, who records her experiences living, working, and loving in Chicago. She's a hoot, but Mimi can also be incredibly raunchy. I loved the book because it made me laugh.

#9 - Anonymous Lawyer by Jeremy Blachman (Contemporary Fiction)
The novelization of Blachman's fictional blog, a tale in which a cut-throat lawyer plots his path to the top, regardless of whom he must knock over in the process. Hilarious. I could not put this book down. It's wickedly fun reading.

#10 - Sailing Alone Around the World by Capt. Joshua Slocum (NF)
An account of the author's 3-year journey around the world, the first solo round-the-world trip. Stunningly adventurous and fascinating, a little heavy on the nautical terminology. The author had a great sense of humor.

#11 - The Giver by Lois Lowry (YA)
Futuristic tale about a boy who is chosen to inherit all of his village's memories, which are kept by the Giver, a man who lives in agony from the weight of the images he's unable to share. A beautiful story of courage and humanity.

#12 - Point Blank by Anthony Horowitz (YA)
The second in the Alex Rider spy series. I can't remember what it's about. Ugh. This particular series has exaggerated, almost clown-like characters and is wildly adventurous; you really have to work at shutting off disbelief to enjoy them because they're so utterly impossible. That impossibility factor also makes the novels a fun escape.

#13 - The Night Lives On by Walter Lord (NF)
An update of the author's classic account of the Titanic's sinking, focusing on what's been learned since Bob Ballard and crew discovered the ship's remains in 1985. A quick, fascinating read.

#14 - A Hawaiian Reader, Vol. 1, Ed. by A. Grove Day and Carl Stroven (mostly NF)
A collection of literary writings about Hawaii, mostly anecdotal and in chronological order, chosen for literary value, ability to evoke place and time, and interest. This book includes the tale of Captain Cook's discovery of the then-named "Sandwich Islands", an account of Cook's death, and writings by Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stephenson, Jack London and many others. Absolutely one of the best collections I've ever read; the book gives readers an excellent perspective of rapid cultural change since the time of Cook. Highly recommended.

#15 - The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo (YA)
A young boy who refuses to confront feelings after the death of his mother finds a tiger caged in the woods. A housekeeper at the hotel where he and his father live and a new friend help him face his grief while he ponders whether or not he should release the tiger. A little too sad for me, but I loved the characters.

#16 - Cotillion by Georgette Heyer (ARC/Regency Romance)
Young Kitty must marry one of her guardian's nephews in order to inherit a fortune. Check Estella's Revenge for a full review in the March issue, coming soon (I'll be sure to chime in when the new Estella issue has been posted).

#17 - A Night to Remember by Walter Lord (NF)
The classic tale of the sinking of the Titanic, including a passenger list. Excellent writing (well researched), a quick and absorbing read and pretty darned depressing.

#18 - Waiting to Surface by Emily Listfield (Contemporary Fiction/ARC)
A novelized version of the author's own experience when her estranged husband, an artist, disappeared during a trip to Florida. Decent writing, but I never warmed up to the protagonist and the book was an odd blend of tragedy with chick-littish moments.

#19 - Stardust by Neil Gaiman (Fantasy)
Young Tristran enters Faerie on a fantastic adventure when a dying king tosses a necklace into the sky and knocks a star to earth. The first Gaiman I've actually enjoyed. I thought the movie was better; the book is worth reading, though, in my humble opinion.

#20 - Dreadful Sorry by Kathryn Reiss (Time Travel Mystery/YA)
A young girl who irrationally fears water unravels the cause of her nightmares and aquaphobia when she moves into the setting of her recurring visions and begins to travel back in time mentally, seeing through the eyes of long-dead Clementine. A tremendously gripping, spooky read, unfortunately poorly written.

Coming up: A review of Coma by Alex Garland, a book I made the mistake of beginning at 11pm. I have a book hangover, but one that deserved the pain.

Bookfool, in need of nap