Thursday, August 28, 2008

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
Copyright 2005
Bloomsbury Publishing
Fiction/Young Adult Fantasy
336 pages
Author's website

Everyone groaned and complained, and Miri knew she should be miserable, too, but instead she felt wrapped up and hidden, a bright secret in a magpie's nest. She stared at the white nothingness outside the classroom window, cozy with her discovery of quarry-speech and anxious to understand it more.

Just by admitting she had them, the secrets pushed inside her, a snowmelt stream against a fallen branch, and the desire to share swept over her. She hesitated. Would Britta believe her? Or would she laugh? Miri thought of Dotor's saying, Never hesitate if you know its right. After months of ignoring Britta just for being a lowlander, at least she deserved Miri's trust.

Dotor always said, Thinking it's impossible makes it so. . . . Miri shoved her doubts away.

What led you to pick up this book? It was a total impulse purchase. I was looking for something light. The word "princess" is always a grabber and the book just happened to be on my mental wish list. I bought it while in Tulsa and started reading immediately.

Summarize the plot but don't give away the ending. Miri lives with her family on the slopes of Mount Eskel, where villagers work at pounding out the linder stone from the mountain. Small and delicate, Miri is not allowed to help in the quarry, for reasons unknown to her. When a chief delegate from the lowlands brings news that one of the local girls will be chosen as the future princess and all girls between the ages of 12 and 17 must attend a makeshift academy in preparation for royal life, Miri finds joy in learning and becomes involved in a fierce competition for the single spot as academy princess. But, does she really want to marry a total stranger? And, what exactly causes the fascinating connection between villagers known as "quarry-speech?"

What did you like most about the book? I liked many different facets of this book. I loved the fact that Miri loved learning, that I couldn't quite decide whether or not I wanted her to be princess (much less what she thought). The quarry-speech concept was fascinating and I loved the connections between people -- for better or worse, but especially the warmth of her family.

What did you think of the characters? They were a nice, well-rounded bunch. The friendships and in-fighting were believable. Some of the families were tight-knit, some not so. I thought the character development was excellent.

Share a favorite scene from the book. There were several wonderful action scenes, but I think one of my favorite moments was when Miri was let out of a closet after being punished for so long that she fell asleep on the floor of the closet and awoke to the horrifying sensation of a rat tugging on her hair. The reason she was released warmed my heart.

Recommended? Absolutely. I loved this book. I'd especially recommend to people who love fantasy with realistic characters and those who enjoy Young Adult books with a solid thematic element. It's comfortable reading but it's not completely lightweight. There are some really tense moments that I truly enjoyed. Love that edge-of-your-seat sensation.

Thanks to all who have left messages wishing us a fizzled storm!! Gustav is looking scary, at this point, so our thoughts and prayers are with those in Florida and all along the Gulf Goast, in the path of Gustav. We've bought battery-operated fans, batteries and some dry foods in Oklahoma, knowing the shelves will be bare at home. We always keep plenty of water during hurricane season, so that's one thing we don't have to worry about. In case of power outage, I'm going to assume I may not be online until about Wednesday, so I wish everyone a terrific week and happy reading!!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Another blankety-blank storm and a book

First, the storm. Here's the projected 5-day path of Tropical Storm Gustav:

Yes, of course. Monday. The day we're supposed to unload furniture is the day Gustav is set to wallop us. See the little indentation on the western side of Mississippi? That's us; smack in the middle of the current predicted path of Gustav. Big sigh. I'm soliciting prayers that Gustav will make a nice little jog and miss us entirely.

And, the book . . . The Importance of Being Married by Gemma Townley

This is the first of a trilogy based on Oscar Wilde's plays. Obviously, "The Importance of Being Earnest" is the basis for the story of Jessica Wild, a young woman who befriends elderly Grace Hampton while visiting her own grandmother at a nursing home. Jessica pretends she has fallen in love with her boss and married him, just to keep Grace happy. But, when Grace leaves Jess a large inheritance contingent on proving she is "Mrs. Milton", Jess and her friend Helen cook up a plan to make Anthony Milton fall in love with her quickly: Operation Marriage.

The opening of this book was bizarre and confusing, but once I got into it I enjoyed the fluffiness. And, then it started to get on my nerves. The plot was far, far too transparent and the heroine so dim that I kept thinking about a key-note speech I once heard that was specifically about heroines who are "too stupid to live". This book just didn't work for me. There were a few little quotes that made me smile, though:

Grandma preferred long, turgid books that gave her headaches. [p. 9]

Hesitantly, I pressed a button on the remote control, and my presentation flashed into life. I wanted to spend as long as possible on the first slide -- the one with the title on it -- because it was undoubtedly the best; once it left the screen, things would go downhill all the way. [p. 78]

A little image flashed into my head of Max and I talking for hours, of me making him laugh -- something I'd done only a few times but felt so rewarding because it was so hard -- of him letting me lean against him to get some sleep the day after a late night at the office . . . [p. 192]

The last quote reminded me of one of my greatest joys: those wonderful moments when my husband tips his head back and laughs at something I've said.

My copy of The Importance of Being Married is an advanced reader I just happened across at the library, so some of those quotes may have been changed (I hope so -- it should be "Max and me", shouldn't it?). I read the entire book but it was just too obvious and by p. 209 I'd made a note to myself about the annoying transparency of the plot. I've got to learn to give up on books that don't thrill me, but I was 2/3 of the way finished, by then! I had to plow on.

I'm iffy about recommending this book. If you can handle a wimpy heroine who can't figure out the obvious and you're in a total fluff mood . . . I suppose. But, it didn't do much for me. I have one more book by this author and I'll give her a second chance but I'm going with the 50-page rule.

I finished Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, last night, and loved it. Will try to post a quickie review of that one, tomorrow. And, I'm now really getting into Talk of the Town by Lisa Wingate -- the characters are great; this would be a good one for the Southern Reading Challenge.

On this day in Bookfool's Reading History, in 2004: I finished The Underground Man by Mick Jackson and started The Second Coming of Lucy Hatch by Marsha Moyer and The Restraint of Beasts by Magnus Mills.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Promise to Remember by Kathryn Cushman

A Promise to Remember by Kathryn Cushman
Copyright 2007
Bethany House Fiction/Christian
316 pages
Author's website

What led you to pick up this book? After reading Nancy Moser's historical account of Martha Washington's life in Washington's Lady, I decided that Christian fiction has made great strides and that I definitely desired to read more books written by Moser and/or published by Bethany House. Kathryn Cushman's book appealed to me from the moment I saw the cover. Thinking I'd just flip through it, I instead opened the book, read the first few lines and simply could not put the book down.

Summarize the plot but don't give away the ending. A Promise to Remember tells about two mothers whose lives intersect when their sons are both killed in the same car accident. Andie Phelps is wealthy and spends her time doing charitable work while Melanie Johnston is a struggling single mother. When Melanie sues Andie and her husband, people in their small town take sides and Melanie must deal with people whose belief systems clash with her own while Andie tries to make sense of her own life, marriage and faith.

Note about Christianity as a part of the story: Andie is a Christian and Melanie is not, although Melanie's deceased son Jeff was a Christian and so is her daughter Sarah. I found the book was honest about the fact that Christians are the same as everyone else: some are judgmental, some welcoming and open -- everyone is flawed in some way, regardless of what they believe. They're human, in other words, and with or without faith both women battled to make sense of their loss. So, again, I didn't find the book was overly preachy but that Christianity was shown simply as one facet of some of the characters' lives and that, even when surrounded by people of faith and with a core belief to lean on, one can feel very much alone.

What did you like most about the book? The characters seemed very real to me. Andie, wealthy as she is and in spite of appearances, is less comfortable with her life than Melanie. She has a lot of grief in her past and tries to use her own loss in a positive way (charity work) but she's a little bit of a wimp. She has let her perfectionist husband steamroller her into giving up painting -- the creative joy of her life -- and she lets some of the other wealthy women walk all over her. Melanie, on the other hand, is strong because she has no choice, but she's also damaged. She's my favorite because she's forthright and doesn't tippy-toe around anything; she simply speaks her mind.

Share a favorite scene from the book. It would give too much away if I mentioned the scene that meant the most to me, but I found the last 50 pages of the book particularly meaningful.

Recommended simply because I thought it was a very good read. I found that even though there were aspects of the book that I questioned (I'll get to that in a minute), the story pulled me along. I cared about what was going to happen to Andie and Melanie.

In general: My chief complaint is the timing. When the book opens up, less than a week has passed since the accident that took the lives of two teenage boys. I've been through a lot of loss in my life and I can't imagine that a mother who lost a child could function with any sense of normality after such a short time period. In fact, my mother's funeral didn't even take place until 5 or 6 days after her death and I recall waking up and crying the moment the loss of my father hit me, daily, for months. I didn't feel like myself for a good two years, after my father's sudden death.

The loss of a child is much more crippling than that of a parent, so I had trouble with the fact that both women seemed to be in better shape than expected. However, because the two women are not completely numb or totally unable to function, the story wasn't the painful read it could have been. There were only a few times that I bubbled up. When I first read the cover blurb, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to get through a book about that type of loss; but it was readable, if not accurate to the depth of emotions, and I'm very glad I read it. So far, Bethany House is 2 for 2.

Cover wars: There's been so much talk about covers, for better or worse, lately, that I think the cover of this book bears mentioning. Does the cover fit the book? Yes, except for the confident look of Andie, on the left. The two women pictured closely fit the physical descriptions of Andie and Melanie. There's an image of shattered glass that works well for the accident theme and both women eventually end up on a beach (both alone and with others). Very fitting design. Kudos to the cover illustrator.

Next up should be a review of Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, which I hope to finish reading this evening.

I'm going to go ahead and skip wahoos until I can think straight. I can't wait to get my last trip to OK over with and just settle into my own home for a while!!!

Happy thoughts all around!

Matrimony Giveaway - Sticky Post!! - Page down for recent posts

The winner of the drawing for a copy of Matrimony is . . .


Thanks to all who entered!! And, remember, the paperback version of Matrimony is slated to be released today, August 26!! If you missed my review, dash right over here to read about it.

Matrimony was a 2007 New York Times Notable book. And, it's also very good in Bookfool's opinion, for whatever that's worth.

I really enjoyed reading everyone's thoughts about the cover of this book. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Happy Reading!

Monday, August 25, 2008

The drive from Oklahoma and other jazz

I'm finally back in Mississippi! Squee! Yesterday was the big driving day, home from Tulsa. Above is the Lake Village Tourist Information Center in Arkansas (taken with my new phone camera, which is total crap but better than nothing), a regular bathroom break stop on the route home. It's hard to see, but the tropical storm was whipping up like crazy and there were lots of whitecaps (only one is visible -- don't ask me why; I'll just blame the camera). I walked into the building and the fellow who works there said, "Power's out." I said, "Okay, I guess I'll just have to use the bathroom in the dark, then!" Like I was going to wait for a McDonald's.

About a half-hour after Lake Village, I hit the tropical storm, around Lake Providence, Louisiana. Civil War buffs probably know the place the storm let loose: Soldiers' Rest in Lake Providence. Across the road from Soldiers' Rest is a cemetery that I'll have to check out someday -- a tomb with a carved marble soldier in Civil War regalia dominates the view from the road. From there on, I was occasionally mumbling at people who drove too fast or didn't bother to turn their headlights on as visibility dimmed. As I told Carrie K., at that point God cracked the tropical storm egg and out fell the yolk of yuck -- the kind of rain that windshield wipers simply can't keep up with. It was bracing. But, I made it home fine.

While in Oklahoma, I finished:

Copper Fire by Suzanne Woods Fisher (review here) and
The Importance of Being Married by Gemma Townley

I spent a lot of time on the road and very little time on the computer -- and I didn't even break out the laptop -- so I hand-wrote my review of A Promise to Remember and will try to get that typed up, tomorrow.

I'm finally really "getting" The Words of War (dispatches during the Civil War by reporters from The New York Times and The Charleston Mercury, along with a brief account of what historians say) by Donagh Bracken. Because I'm so thoroughly ignorant about the Civil War, I bought an atlas of battles, as I mentioned earlier. But, neither book is for those who are totally unfamiliar with either the geography or the personalities involved in the war; and I've had to really study the maps to figure out who was who and what was where. Fortunately, I'm a nerd and even though it has sometimes has felt a bit like "homework" reading the two books, the truth is that I always did like homework. My husband claims that's one of the keys to Bookfool: "You love learning more than anything."

Suddenly, everything began to click, this weekend. The problem was that I had to look back and forth, back and forth, figuring out who was on each side. I knew Grant was a Federal and Gettysburg is in Pennsylvania, as well as the fact that Port Gibson, MS, was, "too beautiful to burn" (and, of course, I know about Vicksburg), but that's about it. Seriously, I knew that little about the Civil War. So, I'm about 2/3 of the way through the war and it's just now finally clicked. I know Bragg, Hood, Sherman, Hill and Longstreet are Rebel names, for example. Till they finally sank in (around the time Longstreet was struck in the shoulder by his own men in The Wilderness), it was taking me hours to get through a single battle. I have learned a great deal. I'll have to travel home one more time, though, so it's possible that you won't see a review of The Words of War till next week. We'll see. I'm loving it, at this point.

Playlist for the road:

Jack Johnson - In Between Dreams (this has become an all-time favorite album)
B. B. King - Why I Sing the Blues
John Mayer - Continuum
Steven Curtis Chapman - This Moment (The song "Yours" makes me bawl, since hearing the new verse about the loss of his daughter, Maria Sue, so I end up mopping my eyes at that point -- probably not good to listen to while driving -- "Cinderella" also gets me)
Three Doors Down (self-titled album -- this one is my youngest son's fault; he left it in the CD player)
Disc 3 of Journey to the Center of the Earth, audio (but it was putting me to sleep, this time, so I canned that).

I am currently reading:

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale and, of course,
The Words of War by Donagh Bracken

Just started reading:

Talk of the Town by Lisa Wingate

If roadkill was dinner, yesterday we would have eaten:

Armadillo with a little raccoon side dish

Hope everyone had a fabulous week! I'm ready to get this estate-clearing business over with, and hope that things will stabilize after the last trip home, this weekend.

Bookfool, buried in little trinkets that I'll probably end up wanting to sweep out the door

Copper Fire by Suzanne Woods Fisher

Copper Fire by Suzanne Woods Fisher
Copyright 2008
Vintage Inspirations
Inspirational Historical Fiction
285 pages
Author's Website

What led you to pick up this book?
I chose to read this book for a book tour because the excerpt was excellent and the setting was post-WWII. I'll read just about anything that has to do with the Second World War.

Summarize the plot but don't give away the ending. Louisa Gordon has settled into her home and life in Copper Springs, Arizona when a telegram from the International Red Cross arrives. Her young cousin, Elisabeth, has been released from Dachau concentration camp and Louisa is her only remaining relative.

Louisa is determined to bring her cousin home and, at the same time, discover the whereabouts of Friedrich Mueller, a Nazi sympathizer who brought death and financial ruin to Copper Springs. But, the last thing she expects is to meet the former love of her life, a man she cannot even bear to think about.

Note: This book is "inspirational", aka Christian fiction, although I think it's subtle. In fact, I completely forgot that it could be considered Christian, in spite of the fact that a minister is a key character. I saw the Christianity as a function of the time and place. Louisa is half Jewish and Elisabeth is a Jew, hence her imprisonment in Dachau.

What did you like most about the book? I enjoyed the fact that Louisa's family slowly grew, throughout the book, till it was a bit of a patchwork quilt of characters. I also thought it was a very readable book, with fluid prose. I found the story a bit of a page-turner.

What did you think of the characters? My favorite characters were Aunt Martha (Louisa's husband's sharp-tongued live-in aunt) and Louisa's stepson, William, who is extremely observant and wise in the way of a child who sees and states the facts. Louisa is a former German Resistance Worker and I felt like I personally needed to read the first book, Copper Star, to get a grip on how and why she ended up in Copper Springs, married to a minister. She never really grew on me, although I liked her and was interested in finding out what was going to happen to her. Elisabeth was extremely difficult as a character because she wasn't happy to have a warm, clean home to live in; she was very angry. I did not like the fact that Elisabeth's dialogue was written in vernacular (German-accented English), so that every "w" was written as a "v". That became really tiresome, after a time. But, at the same time, Elisabeth's behavior was well enough explained to make sense and I cared about her.

Share a favorite scene from the book: There isn't a particular scene that jumps out at me, but I particularly liked the action near the end of the book, when pieces of the Friedrich Mueller puzzle fall into place.

Recommended for those who are looking for an interesting story of small-town life after WWII, with a bit of intrigue.

In general, I'd call the writing "a bit pedestrian". There are no beautiful word pictures, no flowery prose. I didn't mark any passages that stood out. But, it has a good flow and, while I thought there were a couple of tiny snafus (a baby that is handed to the father who is already, in fact, holding the child), I enjoyed reading it and would like to get a copy of the first in the series to fill in a few of the bits I didn't quite understand -- probably due more to fatigue from commuting within Oklahoma, as opposed to any flaw on the author's part. I would definitely like to read the next in the series, when it's released.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Get Smart! How e-mail can make or break your career And Your Organization by Mary Lynn Pulley & Jane Hilberry

Get Smart! How e-mail can make or break your career And Your Organization
by Mary Lynn Pulley & Jane Hilberry
Copyright 2007
79 pages
Author's website

From the cover:

Have you, in the past few weeks, received an e-mail that irritated you, that mad you angry, or made you cringe? Did it change your opinion of the person who sent it? Have you ever become so exasperated or offended by a colleague's e-mails that it undermined your respect for the person? When you see an e-mail that was sent by a particular person do you dread opening it -- or automatically delete it without even bothering to read it?

The above cover blurb captured my eye, as there are definitely people I consider my e-mail favorites and some whose frequent forwards have become "automatic deletes".

My husband brought this book home from a management training seminar and asked me to read it and share my thoughts. We've just recently begun to share some titles and are enjoying lively discussions about them. At 79 pages, it's a quick gulp of a read.

When I saw the book, my first thought was that the cover doesn't speak to its intended audience. "Get Smart" is, of course, a classic television series and a recent movie release. The title alone should refer to e-mail a little more directly -- maybe a name change to something close to the "You've got mail" theme would work, with the boxy envelope we've come to recognize as the symbol of e-mail.

Regardless of the cover, the content is good. The book is geared toward business, but it could very generally apply to everyday conversations by e-mail. It begins with a self-assessment, a brief quiz that gives you an idea of just how professional or how far off-track your e-mail mindset may be. The authors then describe how e-mail can make or break a career, focusing on the pitfalls of poorly-worded emails and how to avoid them. I like the way one of the cover blurbs describes the book:

[The authors] teach us social responsibility in the virtual world. -- Beau Parnell, Leadership Development Group, Microsoft Corporation

What did I like most about the book? The authors do an excellent job of helping to reformulate how you think about e-mails with a set of 7 guidelines, such as "Is it culturally savvy?", ""What would your lawyer say?" and "Would you want it to appear in The New York Times?" The latter question leads to a sobering thought or two. E-mail is, they show, not the private form of communication that we often think it to be. In fact, organizations in the U.S. must be able to provide records of e-mail communication from their computers as evidence, in the event of legal action. E-mail can easily be forwarded to the wrong parties with the touch of a button. And, a poorly-worded e-mail that angers an individual can easily be passed onward in a tremendous chain of destruction. E-mails have, as they show, ended up in The New York Times.

I can add personal experience to this comment, as I know someone who recently was driven from his home because of an e-mail apology. It was meant to diffuse a difficult situation, but legally it could have been construed as a confession of wrongdoing, although the sender was not admitting he did anything wrong. He simply meant to calm down an angry person in the hope of dealing with that party on an even keel. Who would have thought a personal apology could become translated into the words "legal confession"?

In general, I think Get Smart! could serve as an excellent tool in the workplace, to prevent the kind of blow-ups that frequently occur due to lack of understanding of how to craft an e-mail carefully. As I was reading, I thought about my eldest son quite a bit. He's a recent college graduate and new to permanent employment. There are some tidbits, such as a description of "emotional intelligence" and how the impact of our behavior on others is more indicative of success than I.Q. or technical skills (this is then parlayed into the e-mail topic), which I believe would be particularly helpful to young employees who are convinced that they'll thrive on those hard-earned college skills but it's just peachy to write business e-mail as if it were a text message.

I do think the stories within the book could stand some expansion. Occasionally, an example was given and I'd turn the page, expecting to read further about a poorly-worded e-mail and how it could have been altered to shed a positive light. Instead, I'd find myself moving into a completely different chapter. More examples, particularly poor e-mails reworded, would have added more depth and helped readers with practical application. The book needs more meat. But, there are some excellent topic headings and passing copies of the book around an office could help to stir up discussion about an important topic that's frequently overlooked. I was particularly fascinated with the story of "The Bla Bla Bla Heard Round the World."

Get Smart! is worth reading, but I'd advise the authors to go farther in-depth, in the event of updated releases.

Recommended, particularly for business applications, as the book is directed at organizations (but it wouldn't hurt for the rest of us to rethink how we write our e-mails).

Finished over the weekend: A Promise to Remember by Kathryn Cushman. It may be a few days before I can review this one, but I found it nearly impossible to put down. I may also be slow to update my sidebar, as I don't want to upload images to someone else's computer (I'm staying with my beloved in-laws).

Hope everyone's having a terrific reading week!

Bookfool, Living on Tulsa Time

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Don't You Forget About Me by Jancee Dunn and Two Belated Wahoos

Don't You Forget About Me by Jancee Dunn
Copyright 2008
Villard (Random House) Fiction

276 pages
Author's blog

On weekends, the bustling quotidian activities that move the day forward would slow and catch. I was steeped in lonesomeness. My pride wouldn't allow me to tell Ginny that I was foolishly, absurdly glad to go to sleep knowing that there were other people breathing quietly in a room down the hall.

What led you to pick up this book? I was in the mood for something light (but not painfully fluffy).

Summarize the plot but don't give away the ending. Lillian Curtis has a great job as the producer of a talk show and a quiet stable marriage -- or so she thinks. Then, her husband drops a bombshell: he is bored and unhappy; the marriage is over. Shocked and suddenly lonely, her boss advises her to take time off and 38-year-old Lily moves into her parents' house when the lease on her apartment expires. Her high school reunion is coming up, so she immerses herself in memories and imagines herself hooking up with the popular boyfriend who disappeared from her life shortly after college began. But, as she closes herself up within her memories, Lily is also shutting out the truth of her past.

Will her high school reunion bring back happy days or simply force her to face up to adult life? Is it possible to heal old wounds and find a newer, better way to live life? And, what on earth happened to Christian, the handsome boyfriend who has been spotted in Paris and London?

What did you like most about the book? I loved the fact that the book was a fairly quick, light read without being completely meaningless. Sometimes the dialogue was a little lame and some of the reflections on the 80s were uncomfortable (it was just not my favorite decade), but I never felt bogged down. There was an underlying theme of facing the fact that life moves on, that growth and change are inevitable.

What did you think of the characters? I liked Lily a lot, primarily because she was a simple person who preferred to spend her time off in her pajamas or watching old movies with a friend (as opposed to partying). Her simple habits didn't make her uninteresting or unlikable. They just made her unique.

Why did every other person feel compelled to mention how busy and overbooked they were? And what could I possibly write? I keep idle with a full roster of daytime television, Internet surfing, and lingering visits to big-box stores to buy nothing in particular. Suddenly I turn around and it's dinnertime!

Share a favorite scene from the book: The Los Angeles Times review describes my favorite scene as just one "occasionally gimmicky contrivance". Oh, well, hmm. Actually, I thought it was rather delightful and funny when Lily called a catalog phone number to order a pair of green sweatpants (because she thought her parents wouldn't appreciate her habit of relaxing in her pajamas) and the sales representative ended up giving her useful advice. I did think it was odd when Lily called the same catalog in order to speak to Trish, once again, and managed to get in touch with the her immediately, without having to ask for her by name. But, the first of those advice scenes was such fun that I read it aloud to my husband. He liked it, too.

Recommended for those who are looking for a light, nostalgic (80s nostalgia, that is) read that is not totally fluffy, but is in some ways highly improbable. There were a few points at which I had a little difficulty with suspension of disbelief, but when I pick up a lighter book I'm usually willing to work at shutting off skepticism because I want a little vapid fun. I really enjoyed this read.

In general, I'd call the book "average to slightly above average compared to similar books". Definitely not a book to pick up when you're in the mood for deep thinking and beautiful word pictures, but great for a brain break.

I would have loved it if the author had elaborated on some of the characters' weird traits. For example, Lily's boss Vi mentioned Lily's special ability to sniff out minor scents and note that someone had, for example, bathed in lavender soap, eaten in a Chinese restaurant and then arranged some carnations (or, whatever). It would have been really fun if Dunn had expanded on that and had Lily noting that a friend had obviously changed a diaper before jumping on a plane and throwing on perfume at the last minute or sniffed out the lemon pledge and fabric softener scent clinging to her mother as she passed.

This is another good example of another character's oddities that I would have loved to hear more about:

Drew had a boundless trove of life rules, simple stratagems that he deemed necessary for happiness and that he was not shy in announcing. No "inspirational coach" movies, except on airplane flights longer than four hours. Never wait in line for breakfast; no exceptions. Baseball caps are for males under six years of age or over sixty-five. Do not date a woman who uses journal or dialogue as a verb. And no sandwiches at dinner ("There's a pathos to sandwiches at dinner. Lunch only").

Read another review, here (let me know if you've read this book and I'll add a link to your review):
Los Angeles Times

Squeeee! and Wahooooo! High school swim season has started and the kids were finally able to get to the pool, after a week of storms. I'm so glad to be back to watching the kiddo do this:

Also, wahoo! for my lovely book-gobbling friends, who got me through yet another really awful day of the sister's lunacy. You're my real sisters.

Just finished:

Get Smart: How e-mail can make or break your career And Your Organization by Mary Lynn Pulley and Jane Hilberry (it's a very quick read -- review forthcoming).

Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

When Twilight Burns by Colleen Gleason

When Twilight Burns by Colleen Gleason
Copyright 2008
Signet Eclipse Paranormal Romance
354 pages

[Max] must have understood her desire, for he glanced at Kritanu. "Would you care to surrender the blade to Victoria? I do believe she wishes to stab me." His smile was nothing more than a flash of teeth.

Kritanu relinquished his weapon and stepped back as Victoria hefted it in her hand. She was used to the shorter khadara knives, or a long slender epee. But this was a much more serious blade. Heavier, and it would move differently.

"Perhaps you'd best don some protection," she returned, slicing the blade experimentally in front of her, from shoulder to floor. She adjusted the angle of her wrist and felt the weapon balance more comfortably.

Max snorted. He riposted back at her with a deep swipe that stirred the air. "I look forward to fighting unfettered--for I have no reason to hold myself in check matched against you." He moved neatly to the side when she brought her blade up again, and the metal weapons smashed together.

All right! That's the kind of scene I gobble up. I can't help it; I'm a total fan of Colleen Gleason's writing. When Twilight Burns contains absolutely everything I love about The Gardella Vampire Chronicles -- the action, adventure, romance, swordplay, two hunky heroes and the feisty heroine. Regardless of how many times I say, "Vampires are not my thing," there doesn't seem to be anything Colleen can do to turn me off. There's violence, yes. And, there are a couple of graphic sex scenes. But, I adore the characters. I admire Victoria's strength and appreciate the way she shows her human side, worrying about whether she's made the right choices but willing to sacrifice her innermost desires to aid humanity. My heart thumps wildly over the dangerously moody Max and I drool at the thought of the always-slick Sebastian.

In the fourth installment of the series, the romantic aspect takes a turn that I'd hoped it would eventually take. Colleen has opened a separate site for discussion (apart from her regular blog entries) and I don't want to give anything away, but the danger from Victoria's experience at the end of The Bleeding Dusk has not passed completely and there is a new threat: vampires with access to a formula that allows them to stalk people in the full light of day. Enough said. You must read the series to appreciate it.

Thumbs, fingers and toes up. I cannot wait for the 5th book.

Other reviews (If you've written a review, let me know and I'll provide a link):

Carl's mini review and interview at Stainless Steel Droppings

Stuff as Dreams Are Made On

Why Women Shouldn't Marry by Cynthia S. and Hillary B. Smith

Why Women Shouldn't Marry: Being Single by Choice by Cynthia S. Smith & Hillary B. Smith
Copyright 2008 (updated from the 1988 edition)
Barricade Books/Nonfiction
214 pages

This particular book is obviously an odd choice for me, a woman who has been married for 26 years. I read it out of curiosity, more than for any other reason. The title implies that women should never marry, that staying single is the best option. But, the authors explain the title away:

When the first version of this book came out and was discussed on TV and radio shows, the inevitable interviewer-to-author question was: "Don't you believe in marriage? Your book tells women not to marry!"

The answer was: "This book does not tell women not to marry--but not to marry for the wrong reasons." [p. 22]

Occasionally, they do toss in a comment that supports that statement. But, in general, I found that the book discourages women from marriage, instead encouraging single women to give in to their paranoia about the little piece of paper that ties a man and a woman together legally. Some of the anecdotes are more than a little bit odd:

Vera was drawn to having affairs with married men because in doing so, she was only confirming her lack of respect for all men. In her view, their willingness to break nuptial vows only proved how untrustworthy, weak, and immoral they were.

She pointed out that she had never seen any happy marriages in her own family. Her aunt had married twice, both marriages ending badly. Her sister married a man twenty-five years her senior and was still together with him although Vera could not understand why. [p. 57]

Wait a minute! Just because Vera doesn't understand her sister's relationship doesn't mean it's automatically an unhappy relationship, does it? There are no actual supporting statements to that effect -- no quotes of angst from the sister. And, Vera has no respect for men or herself if she's the kind of person who chooses only to get involved with married men -- men who are both willing to break a vow and unavailable for permanent commitment. Immorality, in this case, is a two-way street. Are the authors saying it's better to have a series of flings than to marry a stable partner? If so, why? Is Vera happy or is she just an extremely confused woman? And, how about this woman:

She had a father who was never "there for us" and a mother who accepted the deprivation as women historically have done. She saw the marital male hierarchy of the dominant father and the subordinate wife, and the injustices imposed, and she feared that being married would make her view herself as one of those pathetic subservient wretches and would destroy her love for Paul and his for her.

"I meet women who think marriage gives them stability and reliability. I see it as doing just the opposite to me. It would make me shaky because I would lose confidence in myself and my own ability to make decisions." [p. 68]

That's interesting, but I think the quote reflects a particular woman's fears. I don't have a daughter, but if I did, I would advise her not to allow her fears to guide her. Confidence, self-assurance, ability to make decisions after weighing differing opinions . . . these things come from inside a person. Strength of character is always a positive. Marriage has not eroded my ability to make a decision, not one bit. I'm perfectly capable of making decisions and expressing myself. This comment, however, makes sense to me:

According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, the definition of loneliness is "Dejected by the awareness of being alone." Thus it is a condition that is not a fact, but merely a personal reaction to the situation of singleness. It's not the presence of people that prevents loneliness; it's the presence of a sense of self-adequacy. [p. 75]

It's certainly true that you can be lonely in a crowd. Marriage does not guarantee the absence of loneliness in any woman's life.

If the objective of the book is to encourage women to make certain they enter into marriage vows for the right reasons or to teach women how to enjoy their decision to remain single, I believe the authors have fallen far short of the goal. Instead, they perpetuate the myth that a married woman must be, in some sense, subserviant or lacking in character.

Here, we get back into the bitter category:

After you've cooled down, had your drink and dinner, and feel like talking, that's when you get on the phone and chat with friends to your heart's content, without annoying interruptions demanding how much longer you intend to blab and snide allusions to the motormouth propensities of women. [p. 77]

I read the above quote to my husband, who has never made a snide remark about my talkative nature. If anything, he seems to find me entertaining. Hubby reminded me of one of his co-workers. She is an incredibly effervescent, chatty woman with a magnetic personality. And, her husband likes her that way.

"When we eat dinner together, he sits quietly. He's relaxed and happy. I can't imagine that he's ever said anything snide about the way she talks. He married her because he loves her personality."

Chapter 14 consists of a series of letters thanking the authors for helping them to understand and justify their life choices, so obviously this book has helped some women to feel better about their choice to remain single. I think one of the joys of our current time period is that women do have options. It's no longer consided unacceptable for a woman to remain single or, if married, childless. But, there are far too many angry, sad, neurotic women described in Why Women Shouldn't Marry. I was personally disappointed that the book was less objective than I'd hoped. Women of all ages do still struggle with lifetime decisions, and I believe that all women must support each other in positive ways rather than focusing on the negatives. Both marriage and the choice to remain single have their ups and downs.

Now, just ask some of my buddies about how I babble on about my husband's flaws. Okay, yes, I'm probably not the right one to speak. Here's an excellent statement from the book:

If you meet the man you see yourself spending your life with--go for it. It is up to you and you alone. It may or may not end up a mistake--there are no guarantees in life--but it will be your mistake. Remember, what we are saying is women should never marry for the wrong reasons, and therefore you should examine your motivations before you leap! [p. 83]

Absolutely. While I wouldn't highly recommend this book because I think there are far too many negative stories -- and the pitfalls of living without the legal benefits of marriage are not mentioned at all -- I wouldn't recommend against reading it, either. If it helps any woman feel better about her choice to remain single, I'm all for it. But, I didn't find it very objective, myself.

Coming up next: A review of When Twilight Burns. Had to toss this one in first, as I'd forgotten to put it on the "to be reviewed" pile and wanted to stick with the order in which I finished reading.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Best of Robert Service (poetry) by Robert Service

The Best of Robert Service
Copyright 1940
Perigee Books/Poetry
212 pages

I'm going to keep this book review short because we've had storms and I've fallen far behind on basically everything except reading -- reviewing, life in general, possibly breathing in and out. Can't seem to get things right, this week. So, first and foremost . . . take a gander at Bob Service. Wow. Good-looking guy, eh?

And, the book? Way beyond my descriptive abilities, but I absolutely love Robert Service's poetry. He was, at turns, humorous and serious. His admiration for the raw beauty of the Canadian Yukon is reflected in his lovely wording. And, yet he also plainly had a respect for the dangerous forces of nature. He had strong morals and he found war distressing. At Wikipedia's entry on Robert Service, you can read that he was a conscientious objector during WWI, yet he did his part, driving an ambulance for the Canadian Red Cross.

Quite a bit of Service's poetry can be viewed online, so I'm going to save time and skip posting quotes, but here's a great site where you can view a number of his poems. My husband memorized and recited "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" and "The Cremation of Sam McGee" during his school years and immensely enjoyed those particular school assignments. He can still recite most of both poems, and it was the husband who purchased our copy of The Best of Robert Service because of fond memories. I've never bothered to read the entire book, till now. Thanks to John, once again. The 2nd Canadian Book Challenge may turn out to be my best challenge, ever.

This was my 2nd book completed for the 2nd Canadian book Challenge.

Also finished:

When Twilight Burns by Colleen Gleason -- Loved it, of course! Review forthcoming.

I'll hold on the review of High Altitude Leadership, since I've discovered it's an October release. Hubby and I were both so eager to read it that we had two bookmarks in the book, at one point. One of the authors was quoted in an article about the recent K2 disaster, much to our relief (glad to know he wasn't among those involved because, among other reasons, it would have been a total bummer).

Hope everyone is having a fabulous reading week!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Belated Wahoos, July in Review, Pat's News and The UFO

Welcome to the Wahoo! for Things That Aren't Dead Issue! Because we've had a drought, this year, almost nothing in the garden survived and the critters are not as easy to spot. But, a few things are alive and I think they're worth celebrating.

#1 Wahoo! for my little moss rose (note that she's surrounded by some yucky brown stuff, yet still perseveres):

We interrupt this wahooful post for an exciting bit of information about Patricia Wood that should have been announced last week:

Lottery has been declared a semifinalist for the 2007 Cabell First Novelist Award! Wahoo for Pat!!! Note that she is in good company. The Ocean in the Closet was another of my my 2007 favorites and I'm sure most of you recognize at least a few more great titles.

#2 - Wahoo! for undead tomatoes. No, silly, they're not vampire tomatoes -- although they've got an odd, fang-like protrusion at the bottom. We won't theorize about that, right now.

The Emergency Wahoo Broadcast System sirens are going off, again. What now? Oh, another important announcement! The August issue of Estella's Revenge is available for your reading pleasure! Well, that is definitely important. We now return to our regularly scheduled wahoos.

#3 - Wahoo! for these hardy little ladies (impatiens)! They're sickly (note the spots on the leaves), but alive. Alive is good.

#4 - Wahoo! for the hydrangea that I had already mentally buried! It's back! There's not much there, and it probably won't bloom for a while, but . . . again . . . alive is good.

And, finally -- July Reading in Review:

1. In the Clearing - Robert Frost - Some annoying rhyme and rhythm, a few bits that made me laugh out loud, a little spiritual epiphany and one truly funny, opinionated free verse. Worth reading.

2. At Home in Mitford - Jan Karon - A fun romp around the village of Mitford with Father Tim, friends, neighbors and one hilarious, irreverent little sort-of-adopted boy.

3. The Questory of Root Karbunkulus - Kamilla Reid - Fun fantasy; a few too many creatures and some lame dialogue mixed in with some excellent weirdness and plucky adventure.

4. Anne of Green Gables - L. M. Montgomery - Can't believe I waited so long. Excellent! Canadian! Must read more!

5. Life as We Knew It - Susan Beth Pfeffer - World ends, people die, winter is miserable. The writing was duller than expected but the storyline fascinated me. I love this kind of "what if?"

6. The Rabbit and the Snowman - Sally O. Lee - Pretty picture book with a story that I thought was sort of silly. But, Debi's kids loved the story and hated the illustrations. So there, grownups!
7. Legerdemain - James J. Heaphey - Real-life spy adventures set in 1950's Morocco. Loved it!

8. Will Storr vs. the Supernatural - Will Storr - Things that go bump in the night and breathe loudly nearby convince Will of their existence. Loads of fun daylight reading.

9. Remember Me? - Sophie Kinsella - Amnesia's never been so fun.

10. What if . . . ? - Steven N. Lee - Taut action and suspense that didn't quite pull together but still made for thought-provoking reading.

11. Washington's Lady - Nancy Moser - Fictionalized account of Martha Washington's life. Loved it!

12. Queen of Babble - Meg Cabot - Fun character's jaunt to England and France to find romance, lose it, and find it again. But, she should have mentioned Zingerman's, since Lizzie was "from Ann Arbor". It's just not right not to mention Zingerman's.

13. Unnamed YA galley - Ouch. It's hard not to tell.

14. Down to a Sunless Sea - Mathias B. Freese - Thought-provoking, difficult reading (and kind of depressing) but worth the time. Should have gone on medication, first.

That's it! 14 books - 3803 pages worth. As of the end of July, I'd read 76 books - 18,702 pages. Not bad for a poky reader who had a couple of really awful months.

And, now, the answer to the UFO question . . . what was that weird black and white and red thing? Several of you are going to say, "I knew it!" The UFO was a red-headed woodpecker. Here he is, before he took flight:

Once you realize how vivid they are in flight, they're quite easy to spot in their natural habitat. Very wahooey. I love watching these guys. They're so pretty they almost don't look real.

One final wahoo: Wahoo! for surviving another year with Huzzybuns (and vice versa . . . not getting kicked out, or anything to that effect). Yesterday was our anniversary. 26 years without any serious spouse-inflicted injuries on either side! Would you believe I married at the age of 3? Pretending to be 29 gets harder every year.

Wishing you many wahoos!

Bookfool, 29 and then some

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Matrimony by Joshua Henkin

Matrimony by Joshua Henkin
Copyright 2007
Pantheon Books/Fiction
291 pages

Careful visiting Joshua Henkins' website. I got so caught up reading the author's bio and interview that I lost track of time and forgot I'm supposed to be writing a book review. Oopsy.

I read seemingly a zillion reviews of Matrimony before my own copy arrived; bloggers everywhere appear to enjoy it. Ask me if I agree with them. Go ahead, ask.

Yes. I truly enjoyed this book. And, I'm going to tell you why, you lucky devil. But, first the brief synopsis, which I've borrowed from Nat at In Spring it is the Dawn:

It is 1987, and Julian Wainwright, aspiring writer and Waspy son of New York City old money, meets beautiful, Jewish Mia Mendelsohn in the laundry room at Graymont College. So begins a love affair that, spurred on by family tragedy, will take Julian and Mia across the country and back, through several college towns, spanning twenty years.

Starting at the height of the Reagan era and ending in the new millennium, Matrimony is about love and friendship, about money and ambition, desire and tensions of faith. It asks what happens to a marriage when it is confronted by betrayal and the specter of mortality. What happens when people marry younger than they’d expected? Can love endure the passing of time?

Now, a confession. I am having a terrible time writing this review and I have no idea why. So, I'm going to ask myself some questions.

Me: What is it about the book that makes you say you "truly enjoyed" it?

Myself: I found the book difficult to put down. It's not gripping in a "things happen fast" way but in the opposite way. Matrimony is a relationship story, about Julian and Mia, their friend Carter, their families, and the challenges they face. I found it gripping because, in spite of the fact that Julian and Mia are really nothing at all like me, I could relate to many of their experiences and struggles -- early marriage, self-doubt and grief, in particular. Parts of the book take place in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where my husband and I lived for a year. I enjoyed revisiting Ann Arbor as written by a man who really knew the city. And, Mia loses her mother to cancer, which I've just recently experienced.

Me: In what ways could you not relate to the characters?

Myself: Julian was spectacularly wealthy by birth. I assumed he was a trust fund baby and just had a pile his parents stuck in the bank because he always had access to money. That's foreign to me. I was reared by two of the biggest tightwads on the planet and money was something I earned or did without. When I was around 7, I grew pumpkins and dragged them around my neighborhood in a wagon, selling them for fifty cents a piece. I just couldn't relate to his financial freedom.

Julian decided to be a writer and his raison d'etre was all about writing the novel. I have never been able to imagine myself just going for the goal when it comes to writing. I'm still visualizing the "day job" I never got around to because I'm one of those weird 50's-mentality traditionalists who couldn't fathom leaving her children in someone else's care.

Mia -- not sure I ever fully understood her motives but her emotions in regard to her mother were all too familiar. This is exactly how I feel, right now, about my mother's house:

"You know what I think? They should make a law that after a person dies their house has to remain empty for a while. Let it lie fallow."

Me: What else did you like about the book?

Myself: There were some wonderful, realistic bits and pieces. The book is a nice mix of everyday life, quiet conversation, real-life conflict and upheaval, confusion and resolve. Life in the real world often doesn't contain a lot of action, but it does have plenty of ups and downs and it's realistic conflict that you read about in this book. As in real life, humorous moments are blended in. When Julian was teaching himself to cook, I was surprised to find that he took recipes as literally as I still do (always a problem):

Sometimes the recipe said "twelve baby carrots or two carrots peeled," but twelve baby carrots never equaled two carrots peeled, and he'd be lining up the carrots next to one another, trying to guess the right amount. Or "eight ounces of apple." Was that before you peeled and cored the apples or afterward? He bought a large spice rack, but he didn't know much about spices, so without regard for what they were, he moved alphabetically through the supermarket spice section, sweeping jars into his cart like a looter.

Me: You peeked at the reviews at Amazon, you naughty thing. What surprised you about the comments in the Amazon reviews?

Myself: I was surprised at the broad spectrum of ratings -- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. I wasn't surprised that some people considered it dull because the cover makes it appear "light", in my opinion, and false expectation can lead to disappointment. Matrimony isn't fluffy. It's really what I'd term "literary". Literature often requires patience. You have to be willing to adjust to the pace. Also, one person thought the characters were "full of themselves". But, really, aren't we all? It's Julian's story and if you're telling your own story it's all about "Me, Myself, and I". The characters interested me; they pulled me in and held on. I cared about what happened to them.

Me: Poor editing drives you nuts and grammatical errors cause you to see red. What did you think of the writing?

Myself: Almost flawless. I'm not perfect, but I didn't spot a single technical error. There was only one annoyance: the use of the word "for", repeatedly. Occasionally, a semicolon in lieu of the same old preposition would have provided a nice break.

Me: Who else has reviewed it in the Blog World?

Myself: I'm going to cheat, here. Nat has a terrific set of links at the bottom of her review.

Me: Rating?

Myself: Recommended, especially when you're in the mood for a quiet, realistic relationship book. Not for times when you're yearning for action.

Me to Readers: Thanks. You're incredibly patient and tolerant if you made it this far. For the fun of it, here is my favorite sandwich from Zingerman's Delicatessen in Ann Arbor (the "Leo's Friendly Lion"), with gushy gratitude to Josh Henkin for getting Ann Arbor right:

On this day in Bookfool's reading history, 1998: I finished The Third Twin by Ken Follett and began reading The Promise of Light by Paul Watkins.

Coming up: Belated wahoos and July in review.

Happy Wahoo Wednesday!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Things I Forgot To Remember (it happens quite a bit)

Item #1 of Things I Forgot to Remember: I am so slow at getting around to mentioning blog awards that I must apologize and say "thanks" at the same time. Thank you, Suey and Teddy Rose for the taggings. Both Suey and Teddy Rose tagged me for the Brilliante Weblog Award and Suey also tagged me for the E for Excellent Blog Award.

Of course, since it took me forever to get around to posting, everyone else seems to have gotten one or the other, if not both. If I'm wrong and you're reading this, you've just been tagged. Because, you know, I love my all blog buddies.

I've been blogging for so long that my sidebar appeared offensively heavy in awards by the end of 2007, so don't be flummoxed if you don't see these little dudes permanently displayed.

#2: Janefan asked a belated Geeking #12 question about At Home in Mitford:

Would a nonreligous person enjoy At Home in Mitford? I really love the real-life town that the series is based on, and am intrigued by it, but not sure if Christianity is such a big part of it that I'd be put off.

Janefan, the protagonist in the Mitford series is a priest (I think "priest" is the right word) at the local Episcopal church, so you're talking about life in a small village from the perspective of a guy called "Father Tim". Christianity does play a pretty major role because he ministers to people -- there's discussion of Biblical scripture in plenty of his interaction with villagers. Personally, I expected to dislike the series, even though I'm a Christian; but, there were 7 Mitford books on my mother's shelf. I wasn't about to let my sister just sweep them out the door without giving the first a try. The characters, their relationships, the descriptions of the village and the happenings within that little village made the book enjoyable, for me. If dialogue and musings about the Bible bug you, maybe you're best off skipping. I'd advise flipping through a copy or seeing if one of the web-based bookstores has a "see inside" feature if you're really curious, though.

#3: I've just figured out the reason I am personally going to hate year-round schooling. When do we get a break from guiding our kids through the whole homework mess? That's what I want to know. Near as I can tell, it will also be very, very difficult to plan vacation as each child's grades at the end of the 9-week session dictate whether or not an individual gets an "intercession" break. At least, that's what it looks like but (cover your eyes if you hate swearing) I'm damned if I can figure out how the schedule works. And, so far, I'm not seeing or hearing any decent translations in the school handbook, at the website, in the newspaper or from teachers. Not that I'm hovering at their door on Day 2 to ask, but I'd really like to know what to expect. If anyone knows how year-round schooling works, please feel free to share.

#4: Just for fun (because who can stand a whiny Bookfool?) . . . Can anyone identify the unusual object in this photograph?

I'll post a second photograph that makes the answer obvious, in a few days.

Next up: A review of Matrimony by Joshua Henkin

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, August 04, 2008

Sticky Post! A Colleen Gleason Drawing!!!

The winner of the Colleen Gleason book drawing is . . . (drum roll):

#7 - aka_nik of Keep This on the DL

Congratulations, Nikki! I'll get in touch with you to ask which book you'd like to own. You're going to love it, I promise.

I never did post about my chat with Colleen, but suffice it to say she's a very busy chick. You can keep up with Colleen's schedule via her blog or website (which includes a place to sign up for her email list, her schedule of appearances and info about ordering "Powered by Vis Bulla" t-shirts, as well as info about the books). Note info about tomorrow's live webcast.

The release date of When Twilight Burns is tomorrow! And, it's great. I'm reading it. I still can't decide between Sebastian and Max. What a rough decision that must be for poor Victoria. Sebastian? Max? Sebastian? Max? Oh, the agony. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you really should just rush right out and buy the books.

Links to my reviews of Colleen's first three:
The Rest Falls Away
Rises the Night
The Bleeding Dusk