Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Darcys and the Bingleys by Marsha Altman

The Darcys and the Bingleys: A Tale of Two Gentlemen's Marriages to Two Most Devoted Sisters by Marsha Altman
Copyright 2008
Source Books - Historical Fiction
417 pages

It's very quotable, let me just say that up front. Let's call this Quotable Qtuesday.

On the other side of the room, Bingley was just as entrenched, fending off the attentions of Sir William Lucas and Mr. Collins, both very respectable men who seemed to be eager to remind him that he was getting married tomorrow, as if he could forget.

"Sir," said his servant, and handed him a paper. He apologised to his guests, unfolded it, and read in Darcy's precise (if a little wobbly) script, "I will give you my half of Derbyshire to get me out of this room right now. D."

When he looked up, Sir William Lucas had gone for more refreshment and he was left with Mr. Collins, who had literally cornered him against the wall. "Mr. Bingley, if I could have your ear but for a moment--"

"Yes, of course," he said, holding the note behind his back.

"You will excuse me, Mr. Bingley, if I do not sound like a proper churchman for what I am about to say, but I believe that marriage should be held in the highest regard and therefore is worthy of some low speech to make this particular sacrament more palatable. And I might say, with all humility, that I have some experience in this area."

"Oh, yes, of course -- of course, Reverend Collins. You have my full attention -- as soon as I handle this missive," he said, and quickly motioned to the servant for a pen. Once procured, he put the note against the bookcase and scribbled on the back, "And I will give you Netherfield to get me out. CB."

"The matter remains . . . unsettled, "Bingley said.

"Don't be ridiculous, Bingley," Darcy said. "Fitzwilliam, we've already decided to settle the matter in the most gentlemanly way possible."

"So, you mean, some sort of contest," he surmised.

"Precisely," said Darcy. "By duelling. Rapiers, shall it be?"

Bingley gave his friend and brother a horrified look. "I agreed to no such thing! You know I would lose horribly. You are not making the slightest attempt to be fair." Straightening his waistcoat, he added, "It shall be shooting."

Colonel Fitzwilliam raised his eyebrows. "Red eight in the side pocket. You know, Darcy is very good at shooting. It would be a close match."

"I have been practising," Darcy said confidently.

"Very well then -- Dancing!"

"Surely not!" Darcy replied. "Chess."



"First proposal."

"First attempted proposal."

"Drinking contest," Bingley said keenly.

Darcy raised an eyebrow. "Height."

"I do believe Jane is taller than Elizabeth."

"Only if she stands on her toes!"

"Good God," Fitzwilliam said. "You're like children! Why don't you just flip a coin like decent men? Or better yet, let your wives decide?"

"Don't be ridiculous," Darcy replied. "We will decide as men and then return to our wives, who will promptly ignore us and announce their own decision, which was probably made months ago -- but still, propriety must be maintained."

What led you to pick up this book? I was contacted by Danielle of Sourcebooks, Inc. She was really enthusiastic about The Darcys and the Bingleys and, in fact, I've planned to eventually give one of those Austen off-shoots a go (I have one in the stacks . . . at the bottom, though), so when she asked if I'd like to review it I said, "Sure!" She also sent me a gorgeous, glossy catalog and another book (which I'm sure you'll hear about soon enough).

Summarize the plot without giving away the ending. There are several sections of this book, so it's a little complex but the gist . . . initially, you must bear with it, a bit . . . The Darcys and the Bingleys is worth sticking out. The first section of the book has a very weak premise. Darcy and Bingley are preparing for their dual wedding and Bingley expresses some concerns about the wedding night. Darcy responds by purchasing a copy of the Kama Sutra for Bingley. Despite that ridiculous premise, scenes like those quoted above were such fun that I honestly didn't care that there was a good bit of giggling, silliness and talk about the book (Elizabeth and Jane eventually discover that each of their husbands own a copy), rib-elbowing about marital relations, etc. It was not what I would call overly rude or obnoxious.

Onward . . . Bingley and Darcy marry the Bennet girls and there's a lot of everyday business, all entertainingly written -- again, with a great deal of levity. Eventually, a Lord from Scotland asks for Caroline Bingley's hand, but both Darcy and Bingley sense something is amiss. This is where the book starts to become really fun, if you ask me. To say much more would give too much away (the crowd groans; I hear ya), but there's plenty of witty interchange, love, lies, danger and even some exciting swordplay. I truly believe the last third of the book is the best.

What did you like most about the book? In spite of frequent implications (my father would have called many of the scenes "suggestive"), the book is good, clean fun. Lots of wit, humor and even a bit of adventure. It's a charming read.

What did you think of the characters? Well, of course I love the real Darcy and Bingley in Pride and Prejudice. Fair warning: If you're an Austen purist and totally unwilling to allow an author to mold and stretch the characters a bit, I suppose any offshoot would make you cringe a bit. I didn't particularly care for Darcy's past scenes because the young Darcy of this book was not as I'd like to imagine him. In fact, the explanation as to how Darcy and Bingley met makes little sense because we all know they're cousins who presumably knew each other from childhood, right?

However -- and it's a big "however" -- I enjoyed the bantering dialogue so much that it was easy enough to make a conscious decision to allow the author to take them where she desired and just enjoy the ride. Long story short . . . I still adored the characters. There were many, many scenes in which I could practically hear the voices of the actors from the Colin Firth version of P & P in my head. In many ways, I think the author remained faithful to Austen (not all ways, but she's named Marsha, not Jane, so let's give her a break).

Describe your favorite scene: See those quotes above? Those are just two of my favorite scenes. There are many, many more. In addition to quite a few zingy scenes between Darcy and Bingley, I loved the one truly intense action scene -- a scene involving locked doors and crossed swords, a man swinging from a rope . . . gosh, all sorts of excitement.

And, oh, poor Darcy. What happens to him when he goes to confront Caroline's intended . . . oh, oh! It's really good stuff, trust me.

Recommended? Enthusiastically. Honestly, the more I reflect upon this book, the more I love it. There is to be an entire series by Marsha Altman. I plan to read them all. There, that's all you need to know, right? Now, do remember that you have to be willing to accept the odd inclusion of modern language and some reshaping of the characters. Leave your preconceived notions at the door to enjoy this book.

In general: Such fun. I laughed. I gasped. I learned to love Caroline Bingley. I'm so glad Danielle suggest this title. Thank you, Danielle!

Cover thoughts: Probably a much-used painting, but it's very colorful and appears time-appropriate. I think it's lovely and suits the book well. In fact, I'm quite relieved that they didn't chop off any heads.

Almost finished with Mozart's Sister, so that'll be up next for review.

Tomorrow: The Return of the Wahoos. It may not be much, due to my recent illness and continuing recovery. But, shucks . . . there's always plenty to wahoo about if you look hard enough, right? Like, clean sheets. Oh, darn, should have saved that one.

Historical documents: I was perusing my father's old photo album and came across this photo

. . . which makes me realize that

a.) My grandfather and father were pretty dapper fellows and
b.) I really like the clean, tidy look better than the untucked, sloppy, unshaven look of today, which leads to the conclusion that
c.) I must be getting old.

I won't mention that in the wahoos, tomorrow. Speaking of clean sheets . . . must go make the bed and climb into it. I'm still recovering, you know.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Monday Malarkey

First things first . . . late as always, but at least I remembered (because several of you mentioned it) that it's Banned Books Week. A few banned/challenged books I've read and enjoyed:

The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Bridge to Terabithia - Katherine Paterson
1984 - George Orwell
Slaughterhouse Five and Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
A Separate Peace - John Knowles
The Catcher in the Rye - J. D. Salinger

A few of those books I actually foisted on my kids because the poor things have always read so fast that I often had to hand them classics to keep both from going stir crazy. Imagine that.

Weekend Bookishness:

Not good, I'm afraid. I finished three books. Of those three books, I thought one was . . . well, worth banning. Hahaha. Okay, seriously, it had a lot of really graphic sex and it was just gross. Yuck, yuck, yuck. I'm passing it on to a blogger friend for review, since the author sent it to me and I thought she at least deserved her money's worth.

Completed book #2 was An Inconvenient Truth for a New Generation by Al Gore -- the kids' version, in other words. I thought it would be a little more palatable than the real book and I enjoyed it immensely.

Book #3 . . . sigh. It's not bad and I suppose I'll review it, eventually, but it was much like Chameleon Butterfly Dragonfly in a sort of "flaky, New Age" way. Lots of good advice, plenty of chatter that I thought was just a bit too far out there, for me. In this case, the inner critters morph into the "inner Genie" in Awakening the Genie Within by Bettye Johnson. Her religious beliefs clashed rather violently with mine and I kept thinking something was fishy about the spiritual teacher she kept referring to. When I finished reading, I flipped back to log the book's copyright date. Her inspirational teacher's name, it turns out, is a "registered trademark". That's a new one. And, I guess my Fishy Radar is calibrated just fine.

Which brings me to my thought of the day . . . I've obviously been jumping a little too far from my comfort zone, so I'm going to focus on cleansing my mental palate. In order to do so, I'm going to read more books that I know will not offend me or irritate me in a "yuck" or "too flaky" way. Which means more by Bethany House, my new favorite publisher. Fortunately, I have several titles on hand (in fact, I'm reading one -- Mozart's Sister by Nancy Moser). Wahoo for that!

I fell behind on other reading because of the three quick reads I shoved to the head of the queue, this weekend, but I'm also still enjoying Bedlam South. I'm hung up in the middle of Occasional Therapy, though. There's a point I can't get past . . . the reflection on past accomplishments. Uh, what have I accomplished besides child rearing? I can't think of a thing. Not one. It's hard to move on when you're being instructed to reflect on what you've accomplished and you come up totally blank.

And, I'm thinking (again) about returning to numerical ratings because I'm not sure the way I'm currently doing things gives blog readers all of the information they desire. Does it? What do you think? You're my blog readers, after all.

Totally off-the-wall: Bob and Fred and other critters -- We had a big, hairy banana spider living on our porch, for a while. Kiddo named him Bob. After about two weeks, Bob moved away from the porch. "Where's Bob?" we all wondered . . . and then we saw him near the garden hose and decided that was a good thing; Bob would undoubtedly be happier in the jungle. After all, we kept hacking down his anchor lines in order to step off the porch without running into his web.

Bob has moved around quite a bit, but he sticks fairly close to the house, beneath our oak trees. Two days ago, we walked out and another big spider (not quite as large or hairy, but definitely big enough) has moved onto the porch. Kiddo named him Fred. If you hate spiders, you don't want to visit our house, right now. We check to see where they've set up their webs before stepping off the porch, then everyone says, "Morning, Bob. Hey, Fred."

I didn't say we're normal.

But, wait! This is even better. Some of you know I occasionally have dreams that show up in the headlines, the next day, right? Okay, so last night I dreamed about a gigantic alligator that had to be wrestled, twice, although I can't remember exactly what kind of problem he was causing (probably eating the hurricane food . . . who knows) and the "twice" bit seemed doubly bizarre. I woke up, this morning thinking, "What the heck was that about?" Usually, dreams are a reflection of the subconscious and I can figure out the source, but an alligator? Nope, not something I've seen or thought about even briefly in recent days.

Tonight's paper revealed the truth behind Bookfool's latest psychic dream. The headline: "Gargantuan gators get grabbed up," with a photo of two large alligators and the four hunters who snuffed out their toothful lives. Friday, it says, marked the opening of "the season". I guess that's 'gator hunting season they're referring to. Or, maybe it's hunting season in general? I don't know; I'd rather hunt with my camera.

Speaking of which . . . The kiddo had to take photos with a pinhole camera (made from a can), this weekend, as an assignment for his photography class. My friend Mike, who owns a camera shop, suggested a few good places to shoot black & white photos on Highway 61 South. So, we headed out that way. Kiddo ignored Mike's advice on length of exposure and his didn't turn out well, but I got this really fun self-portrait:

Do you see me?

Okay, enough malarkey for one day. Next up will be my review of The Darcys and the Bingleys by Marsha Altman.

Wait, one more thing for people in the U.S.! Think about the cover of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy . . . Don't Panic. Seriously. I learned this in business school . . . Buy low, sell high. Don't pull out your life savings. Put money into the bank, if you can. Ride it out and we'll all be okay. It's panic that caused The Depression. Surely we're too wise for a repeat. I hope so.

I really have to go, now. My cat needs me. You may now return to your regularly scheduled reading. And, have fun, while you're at it!

Bookfool in Still Life with Volkswagen

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Geeking It - #19

You already know the rules for Weekly Geeks #19, right? If not, go here. I don't want to repeat the whole thing. It gets tiresome to look at, after a while, but the gist is . . . list your favorite titles published in 2008.

Unfortunately, I didn't begin logging copyright dates till mid-February, so this may not be all-inclusive, but whatever. Here are my faves, so far:

The Bleeding Dusk & When Twilight Burns - Colleen Gleason
Tarnished Beauty - Cecilia Samartin
The Sugar Queen - Sarah Addison Allen
Sway - Ori & Rom Brafman (not reviewed on this blog, sorry)
The Queen of Sleepy Eye - Patti Hill (not sure I reviewed this one, either)
Legerdemain - James J. Heaphey
Remember Me? - Sophie Kinsella
Talk of the Town - Lisa Wingate
The Last Queen - C. W. Gortner
Blue Sky July - Nia Wyn
The Darcys & The Bingleys - Marsha Altman
Matrimony - Joshua Henkin

Quite a hodge-podge, really, and I already overlooked one -- oops, just updated to add Matrimony because it was copyrighted in 2007 but newly released in paperback. That counts, right? Usually, I don't go out of my way to read new releases, but like most bloggers I've been sent a few ARCs. Three of those titles were found on a cart full of FREE ARCs at my public library. I just love it when they hand out free books.

Good news of the day: Not dead, yet. Always a positive sign.

Just finished because of impending library due date (it's a quick one): An Inconvenient Truth adapted for a New Generation by Al Gore (the kids' version, in other words)

Still reading everything else in my sidebar, plus Awakening the Genie Within by Bettye Johnson

I can't stop without adding a pretty picture, so here are some spider lilies -- in bloom last week in Vicksburg (the center-spot feature is deliberate -- I was playing, one day):

Friday, September 26, 2008

Farworld: Water Keep by J. Scott Savage

Farworld: Water Keep by J. Scott Savage
Copyright 2008
Shadow Mountain - Fantasy/YA
416 pages, incl. discussion questions

All at once something occurred to Kyja -- something that seemed completely impossible. She grabbed Marcus by the shoulder of his cloak. "The man in the box. Was he living there?"

"I guess so." Marcus turned to Ty with a what's-the-big-deal look.

But Kyja felt her heart pounding. This was all wrong. What kind of world was it where amazing machines were everywhere, but a mother and her baby had to live in a broken car and an old man slept in a box?

What led you to pick up this book? I read a fabulous interview with J. Scott Savage -- I have no idea where -- that piqued my interest. Then, I read a million reviews of the book and a zillion more interviews. It just grew worse and worse. Savage sent out 150 ARCs? And, I wasn't one of the people he asked to review? Sob, fuss. I signed up to try to win a copy, all over the blog universe. I just had to read that book everyone was raving about. In fact, I ended up winning two and rejecting one (mustn't be greedy). When my copy arrived, I foisted it on my son. He gobbled it up and I kept hearing him laugh while he read. So, you can imagine how eager I was for my own turn.

Summarize the plot without giving away the ending.

Description borrowed from Amazon.com:

Other people may see thirteen-year-old Marcus Kanenas as an outcast and a nobody, but he sees himself as a survivor and a dreamer. In fact, his favorite dream is of a world far away, a world where magic is as common as air, where animals tell jokes and trees beg people to pick their fruit. He even has a name for this place- Farworld.

When Marcus magically travels to Farworld, he meets Kyja, a girl without magic in a world where spells, charms, and potions are everywhere, and Master Therapass, a master wizard who has kept a secret hidden for thirteen years, a secret that could change the fate of two worlds.

But the Dark Circle has learned of Master Therapass's secret and their evil influence and power are growing. Farworld's only hope is for Marcus and Kyja to find the mythical Elementals- water, land, air and fire- and convince them to open a drift between the worlds.

As Kyja and Marcus travel to Water Keep, they must face the worst the evil Dark Circle can throw at them- Summoners, who can command the living and the dead; Unmakers, invisible creatures that can destroy both body and soul; and dark mages known as Thrathkin S'Bae.

Along the way, Marcus and Kyja will discover the truth about their own heritage, the strength of their friendship, and the depths of their unique powers.

What did you like most about the book? It's a great escapist read, very adventurous but often light-hearted. I love it when an author doesn't take his subject matter too seriously and injects plenty of humorous moments.

What did you think of the characters? Loved the hero and heroine, but I was particularly fond of Kyja, a lovely character with a huge, warm heart.

Describe your favorite scene: Toward the beginning of the book, a pack of bullies sets out to beat up Marcus. Marcus thwarts their efforts with a little magic and a mop handle.

Recommended? Absolutely. Especially recommended for those who love fantasy, but I'm not a big fantasy reader and I enjoyed the book. It was a nice change of pace. It's very, very family-friendly. I always appreciate a good, family-friendly read that I can share with my son.

In general: The only thing I didn't like about the book is something that seems to annoy me every time I read fantasy; there comes a point at which I think most authors go overboard when it comes to marching out more and more new characters -- more monsters or bad guys of different varieties, in particular. After a time, I tend to get them all mixed up in my head and I'm not sure which critter I'm supposed to visualize. It's a Bookfool problem. I need a glossary of creatures, I suppose. Since my copy is an ARC, there may be one in the final copy -- I just don't know.

Cover thoughts: Love it; absolutely love the cover. I'm not actually certain who is on the cover, but I still love it.

Extra thoughts from Kiddo: I tried to snooker him into sharing what he thought about the book, before I read it, but he dodged my efforts. However, he accidentally said, "I can't wait for the other books in the series!" I said, "Ha! Caught! You loved it!" He grinned sheepishly and nodded. Kids are so funny.

Next review will be The Darcys and the Bingleys and then I'll be caught up! Unless, of course, I manage to finish reading something else before I write up the review. You know how that goes.

Walking Through Walls by Philip Smith

Walking Through Walls by Philip Smith
Copyright 2008 (Released Sept. 18)
Atria Books/Memoir
332 pages

5-word review: Decorator dad becomes psychic healer

This book is going to be a difficult one to review because it is so far off-the-wall. I was hoping Walking Through Walls would be similar to an Allison DuBois book, although the book is a memoir about growing up with a psychic healer, not life as a psychic. Instead of the sweet book about psychic life that I'd hoped for, the book begins with a young Philip Smith drinking an alcoholic beverage in a sleazy Florida bar -- at the age of 6. To be honest, my initial impression was that Smith was the victim of child abuse. His parents ignored him and allowed him to drink alcohol in a bar with a large picture window into a pool where things you really wouldn't even want your teenager to watch occurred? That's just not right. His family and their lifestyle were so far from normality that I had a great deal of difficulty reading the book.

I set the book aside in disgust and then eventually managed to shift gears and read the whole thing. Smith tells about how his father, a well-known decorator living in Miami, suddenly decided to take up a macrobiotic diet and study spiritualism and psychic healing. Gradually, he began to perform healings (free of charge) and eventually he was able to heal by phone, using a pendulum, maps and the essence of homeopathic medicines, which he projected to the person in need.

"Before I start any work, I say a quick prayer to raise my vibrations so I'll be able to tune in to the proper frequency. I simply say, 'I raise my vibrations to the divine and healing level.' "

p. 217 of Advanced Reader Copy, Walking Through Walls (changes may have been made)

Sound like a stretch? It was a bit too much for me.

Now and then, though, I really enjoyed the sense of time and place:

The big pink Philco regrigerator was humming noisily as she squished meat, eggs and crumbled Saltine crackers in a large Pyrex bowl. Just as I was about to announce my presence, the sirens wailed again. They seemed to be either louder or coming closer. I was now officially scared. Having spent several years in school perfecting my "duck-and-cover" routine that would protect me in the even of nuclear war, I quickly climbed into the cabinet under the sink, huddled next to the Ajax, and waited for the war to start while Mom chopped onions.

--p. 20

One day Mom was wearing some vividly colored Mardi Gras pop beads (so unlike her) that her sister had given to her. They caught my father's eye. Suddenly he had a decorating epiphany that these beads could become a new way to make modern draperies.

--p. 48

So, Philip Smith's father, Les Smith, was not only a psychic healer, but the man who invented those funky bead curtains that went so well with shag rugs and psychedelic posters in the 1960s. Interesting.

The book is very readable, but contains some adult material -- too much for my taste. While Smith seems to defend his parents lifestyle and blames the way they let him run loose to indulge in drugs and sex on the time and place, I found young Philip's exploits sordid, more than enough to earn a Family Unfriendly Warning. I also found that it became more difficult to believe the stories of healing instead of easier, as the book progressed.

Some people may enjoy this memoir, but it was definitely not my cuppa.

Update on The Misery:

Still feeling awful; have called to give the doctor's office a nudge. If someone wants to attempt to heal me psychically or pray me well, feel free. Just let me know, so I can give you proper credit, after I begin bouncing around like a Tigger. At the moment, I'm relying on sleep, fluids and aspirin. But, that doesn't really seem to be doing the trick. Hopefully, I'll be able to stop whining at you, within a few days. Cross your fingers and toes.

Lucky, lucky me:

Yesterday, as I was preparing to back out of my driveway, a FedEx truck drove up and parked right behind me -- which, for one thing, convinced me I should leave a few minutes earlier for the school pick-up. Apart from that minor regret, there was also an "Oh, boy! Oh, boy!" moment, when I saw the return-address label, because I've been anxiously awaiting this particular book, an ARC of Bedlam South by David Donaldson & Mark Grisham. Those who visit regularly undoubtedly know I've recently become a Civil War enthusiast. Bedlam South takes place during the Civil War. Wahoo! I started reading the book practically the moment I opened the parcel (in the doctor's office -- he can just forget borrowing this one, although he did ask me about it and . . . well, I gushed about how much I was already enjoying it). So far, I am absolutely loving this book. I hope to finish it, this weekend. Assuming I'm alive. I figure if I'm still able to sit at the computer, it's a good sign.

Update: Got antibiotics. Took one. Waiting for the miracle of modern medicine to take hold.

Next up: Reviews of Farworld: Water Keep and The Darcys and The Bingleys. You will be happy to hear that I enjoyed both of them. Negative reviews are such a bummer.

Wishing everyone a pleasant, book-filled weekend!

Bookfool, who hopes to quit whining and feel better, soon

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

High Altitude Leadership by Chris Warner and Don Schmincke

High Altitude Leadership: What the World's Most Forbidding Peaks Teach Us About Success
by Chris Warner and Don Schmincke
Release date: October 2008
216 pages

What led you to pick up this book? Both my husband and I were interested in reading High Altitude Leadership. He reads business books for work; I read them for fun and in order to stay current.

Summarize the book without giving anything away. The authors have created their own approach to leadership development by combining lessons learned from mountain climbing with basic business principles that have proven successful. In each chapter, the authors describe different dangers: fear, selfishness, tool seduction, arrogance, lone heroism, cowardice, comfort and gravity. The concepts are introduced via quotes and and then illustrated using stories of disaster and success in both mountaineering and business.

What did you like most about the book? Both my husband and I found that we could hardly bear the wait between mountaineering stories. My copy is an advanced reader, so please be advised that the text may have changed between galley and final published work, but I think the climbing stories are best illustrated with an excerpt.

Time: July 20 (Summit Day)

Location: K2 - Pakistan

4:45 a.m.: Vapor from my breath immediately freezes on my beard. At 25 below zero and 26,500 feet above sea level, I'm lucky to be breathing at all. We're not using bottled oxygen, and at this altitude, there is barely one-third the oxygen than at sea level. With so little oxygen reaching our brains and finger tips, we struggle to stay warm, think straight and climb higher. The list of reasons to turn back keeps growing. Hanging above us we can see the final summit climb: 2000 feet of twisting snow gullies, a nearly vertical traverse below a hanging glacier, and a knife-edged ridge line.

--Excerpt from the ARC, Chapter 1 - Danger #1: Fear

What do you think of the concept? Was it explained well? This was one of the topics my husband and I really enjoyed talking about. We agreed that the stories of mountaineering and its dangers weren't necessarily tied into their coordinating principles well, but the basic concepts made sense and some of the connecting business principles were more obvious than others.

Fear, for example, was straightforward. If you give in to fear -- whether you do so while climbing a mountain or leading an organization -- you will often make poor decisions that end up hurting individuals or your company, in the long run. Tool seduction, on the other hand, is a little tricky to connect to business. It makes sense that you can easily be seduced into relying upon a tool to save your life when you're on a cliff face or a sheet of ice, and when the tool falls off the cliff you're in deep doo-doo. How one applies that to a business setting, though, depends upon the "tools" involved. That was one chapter I had a bit of difficulty grasping.

Husband's absolute favorite part: The bit advising managers to "tell a compelling saga". He also thought it was fascinating that most deaths on mountain-climbing expeditions occur upon descent -- point being that a team needs to maintain focus to survive. That concept applies nicely to business, he said, as it's when a team loses focus that things fall apart.

What did you think of the characters? Those guys are crazy. But, aside from climbing mountains, a lot of what they said made sense -- it's a little harsh, but it's realistic.

Recommended? Yes, by both Bookfool and husband. Hubby is planning to buy several copies to pass around the office.

Cover thoughts: The cover suits the book and is extremely appealing to me. Hubby said he doesn't pay any attention to covers (True; he's not a visual person).

In other news: I'm still hovering at Death's Door, but I'm sick of being all Victorian, taking to my sick bed. Stupid doctor didn't call my medicine in. If it's not ready by noon, tomorrow, and I'm still alive, someone is going to get chewed out. The cat and I have, however, enjoyed some quality time together, sleeping and reading. There you go: I found the positive side of The Misery. Here's my napping companion (that's The Darcys and the Bingleys in the upper corner, along with a tube of lotion -- it's been dry, you see):

Coming up, next, assuming I'm not dead: Reviews of Walking Through Walls by Philip Smith, Farworld: Water Keep by J. Scott Savage and The Darcys and the Bingleys by Marsha Altman.

More good news: My sidebar problem has been (at least temporarily) resolved! Squeee! I updated as fast as my little mouse could run across the mouse pad.

On this day in Bookfool's Reading History: In 1998, I was reading The Story of My Disappearance by Paul Watkins.

Oh, heck, I missed this one: On September 20 of last year (2007), I finished Lottery by Patricia Wood. It was one of my favorites, so I had to mention it, even if I'm a few days late doing so. If you haven't read Lottery, you really should. It's available in paperback, in case you're interested. Perry is one of the coolest characters, ever.

That's all I can handle. I'm going back to bed. Sorry I'm falling behind on visiting my blogger buddies. Sitting up in front of the computer is amazingly tiring when you have the Creeping Crud. Hope to catch up with you during the weekend! Thanks for all the good wishes!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Back when I'm not miserable

That's about what I feel like, right now. My best-laid plans have been ganging aft agley because I feel lousy. Will return when I can type without feeling like I'm at death's door.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Surprisingly Inconsistent Sunday, Including Bookfool's Entry into The 21st Century

Hi Everybody!!

First things first. Before I babble, I must share a lizard pic because it's been too long since you've gotten any lizard love from my blog and that's just wrong:

All together, now. Awww, so cute! We also have a huge, hairy spider hanging out at our house, but I didn't think you guys would appreciate him.
Second . . . good news! Thanks to Trish's wonderful post (I have no earthly idea how I found that post, in the first place, but it sure helped), I have finally figured out Google Reader!!! Bookfool has entered the 21st Century!! Squeee! Many thanks, Trish! Now, if I can just catch up with all those posts. There were two problems with the process of adding everyone currently on my blog roll (plus a few extra blogs I happened across whilst bopping around the blog world) to my Google Reader:

a.) I had to really fight my urge to stop and read every post as I loaded, and
b.) I ended up with 634 entries to read.
c.) Yikes. Look at (b). That's scary.

Third, although this really should be first, simply because it's been a few days: A squillion thanks to Care of Care's Online Book Club for bestowing this bit of bloggy coolness upon my little self:

Since I think everyone who visits my blog is cool, I'm going to be lame (again) and not pass this on to any specific people. You're all automatically inducted. There. Isn't that cool? Or, rather, kool. No, let's go with "cool".

Bookish quote moment:

The summer of 1997, Hale-Bopp rode the sky above Hollyburn Mountain every night for weeks on end. Sometimes it was buttery and weak, and sometimes it looked like felt cut with blunt kindergarten scissors -- but not once did I ever get used to seeing the damn thing up there. It wasn't natural. Nothing in the sky seems natural to me except the sun and the stars. Even the moon, for lack of a better word, is on probation. Why the thing can't just stay full all the time drives me nuts. Crescent? Waxing? Waning? Oh, just make up your mind.

-- from Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland

Sunday Short Story:

I just finished reading "Inside Information" from The Three Button Trick and Other Stories by Nicola Barker. Oh, Lordy, that was a weird little story. Here's a quote:

Martha's embryo was unhappy about its assignment to Martha. Early on, just after conception, it appealed to the higher body responsible for its selection and placement. This caused something of a scandal in the After-Life. The World-Soul was consulted -- a democratic body of pin-pricks of light, an enormous institution -- which came, unusually enough, to a rapid decision.

"Tell the embryo," they said, "hard cheese."

In case you're interested, that is one smart little embryo and he eventually comes up with a clever solution to that troublesome poorly-assigned mother issue.

Because I am one scattered chicky:

Apparently three books at a time is not enough. Is not enough? Are not enough? Oh, help. I'm losing my grasp of grammar. Point being, I happened to be sitting on the futon and therefore away from my little stack of current reads. And, I didn't feel like getting up. So, I began reading a fourth book, which just happened to be nearby: Mozart's Sister by Nancy Moser. Earlier in the month, I attempted to read Mozart's Sister and it just didn't "click" for me. But, this time the book glared at me and then unaccountably and suddenly screamed "Pick me up!!!" And, in a softer voice,"Go ahead, you know you want to . . . " In this manner, the book ended up getting 50 pages of itself read. Amazing how insistent a little book can be. And, this time I'm enjoying it thoroughly. Mozart's Sister is just what it sounds like -- historical fiction about Wolfgang Mozart's equally talented big sis, Nannerl, told in first person.

Dangerous Capitalization Fever:

That High Altitude Leadership review I keep talking about is halfway finished . . . and on hold because the husband is not being cooperative. He claims he's stuck on Hawaii time and (whine, fuss, wail) has The Misery. It should be done by tomorrow, though, or someone's going to get a swift kick back into Central Standard Time. However, it's a little hard not to forgive a man who brought home chocolate-covered macadamia nuts. They are a serious Negotiation For Forgiveness tool.

But, watch out -- chocolate-covered macadamia nuts can be a deadly choking hazard:

I popped one into my mouth, last night, and sucked it right into my windpipe. Fortunately, I just leaned forward and it popped back out or you'd all be putting up memorials to a dearly-departed Bookfool (or maybe not, but you get the point). At the moment that piece of candy lodged in the wrong place, I had this little flash of intuition during which I realized choking would be a very sucky way to die.

Favorite place name to say out loud, repeatedly:

Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

Seriously, isn't that just loads of fun to say aloud? I'm not sure if I'm pronouncing it correctly, but I could repeat that name all day. I'm not bored, just goofy.

I have no right to covet books because so many have walked into my house, lately. But, still. My son wanted to go to the bookstore while we were out and about; and, how do you tell a kid, "No, you can't go to the bookstore! No, no!" Well, you don't, especially if you really want to keep the joy of books alive in him. So, I wandered around and found a couple of novels to covet:

Searching for Eternity by Elizabeth Musser and

The Legend of the Firefish by George Bryan Polivka

Has anyone read either of those titles? They both looked interesting for entirely different reasons. Whilst doing a quick search to make sure I wrote down the latter author's name correctly, I happened across this review of The Legend of the Firefish. The words "ripping yarn, full of grace in style and content" just served to reinforce my covetous inner book ninny.

I have forged a path into our spare room, which, upon the husband's irrational decision to completely empty a room and recarpet it while I was away (and then finding out that Home Depot's independently hired room-measuring chick either can't measure or is into fraudulently adding nonexistent square footage, deciding to put down hardwood flooring instead, then discovering the flooring is uneven), became rather a glorified closet. For 10 months we have been unable to set foot inside that room. Even the cat lost interest in exploring after a few perilously perched books came crashing down one day.

In celebration of the newly forged path, I filled two boxes full of VHS tapes and (it's okay; I'll never read them) books to donate to the library's perpetual sale corner. Plus, I can now actually reach some of those books you guys keep recommending. How many times have you heard me say, "I have a copy of that, but it's buried," in recent months? Well, I'm proud to say I don't have to repeat that same stupid comment about every single book in that room, now. Just . . . maybe 25% of them. There's still a part of the room that I can't get to. I suppose that's what I'll work on, this week. It's like hacking your way through a jungle.

And, now, I'm off to bed. Forging a path is hard work. I hope to catch up on blog reading and commenting (at Google Reader!!!), along with the completion of those two reviews that have been languishing in the draft box, this week.

Happy Sunday! Or, Monday. You know, whatever works for you.

Bookfool, Proud Cleaner of Spare Rooms, Forger of Paths, Reader of Fine Books and Discoverer of a New Century

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Weekly Geeks Quote of the Day

I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it.... People think pleasing God is all God care about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back. ~Alice Walker, The Color Purple, 1982

Two reviews forthcoming. I've been waiting for the hubby to return from Hawaii so that I can ask him to repeat some thoughts on High Altitude Leadership because I'm, unfortunately, rather forgetful. I've also finished Walking Through Walls by Philip Smith and will try to get around to writing up that review, this weekend.

Currently reading (and enjoying all):
Occasional Therapy for Your Midlife Years
Far World: Water Keep
The Darcys and the Bingleys

None are handy, or I'd tell you the names of the authors -- of course, we all know J. Scott Savage wrote Far World, after reading about a million blog reviews, right? The others . . . sorry. Brain drain. I'll tell you later.

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, bookish weekend!

Freaky Blogger Sci-Fi Disappearances SNAFU

SNAFU: Situation Normal, All Fouled Up
Just a quick note to let my readers know that I've gone to approve messages several times, today, and then when I click on the number of messages, sometimes Blogger tells me there are "No Messages Needing Moderation". If I go back to the dashboard, it'll still say "1 message" or "3 messages", etc. But, if I hit refresh, suddenly they disappear.

Either Blogger is performing some strange magic act or eating messages; I'm not sure which. So, if you have left me a message and it isn't showing up -- that doesn't mean I blocked your message. It means Blogger went *POOF* or MUNCH, MUNCH. Maybe I should get my own magic wand.

In the meantime, if your message doesn't show up within 24 hours, please feel free to comment a second time, but don't feel obligated.

Weekly Geeks Quote of the Day

Look at the trees, look at the birds, look at the clouds, look at the stars... and if you have eyes you will be able to see that the whole existence is joyful. Everything is simply happy. Trees are happy for no reason; they are not going to become prime ministers or presidents and they are not going to become rich and they will never have any bank balance. Look at the flowers - for no reason. It is simply unbelievable how happy flowers are. ~Osho

Note from Bookfool: The happy flower above lived in the Vicksburg National Military Park and bloomed on a lovely little hill. It was not the slightest bit fazed by the proliferation of tourists and joggers going past. The ant tickling its favorite petal has been obliterated by the wonder of modern technology.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Just one big, happy family

Please forgive me for not joining in . . . I haven't participated in Blogger Appreciation Week because:

a. I'm more than a little bit scattered and found the quantity of posts overwhelming, and
b. The thought of potentially leaving someone out or offending them made me cringe. I just love all my blog buddies so much that I can't bear the thought that I might nominate or vote for someone at the expense of someone else.

There's got to be a "c", but I can't think of one. 2 items -- looks really weird, doesn't it?

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I think of my blog buddies as just one big, extended, happy family. I do appreciate you all and hope I haven't horrified anyone by not participating!!

Weekly Geeks Quote of the Day

Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning, and under every deep a lower deep opens.

--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, September 15, 2008

Chameleon Butterfly Dragonfly: A Divine Guide to Lasting Fulfillment by Cindy Silbert

Chameleon Butterfly Dragonfly: A Divine guide to Lasting Fulfillment by Cindy Silbert
Copyright 2008
149 pages

Restoring the Yin in the Universe is not only essential to restore the balance we long for but also to restore the powerful feminine energy that allows us to seamlessly create our lives and manifest our desires. This isn't about having to quit your job or give up everything you've worked for to wear frilly dresses and run through poppy fields. We can't replenish feminine Yin by denying our own masculine Yang. Denying our femininity is partly what got us here in the first place. It's not the way out. The Divine Feminine isn't guiding you to be more "feminine" and less "masculine" but to become more "you" than ever before.

Oh, wow. No wonder I'm whacked up. Truth? I really do want to wear frilly dresses and run through poppy fields.

From the cover:

In Chameleon Butterfly Dragonfly, Cindy Silbert guides you beyond your ego and intermittent happiness to your true self and lasting fulfillment. Based on her own encounter with the Divine Feminine, she reveals untouched wisdom and three Divine Archetypes that hold the key to balance, expression, power and your destiny. Chameleon Butterfly Dragonfly is more than just another "self-help" book, it takes you on a mystical journey to manifest your greatest desires. Through a self-quiz, readers discover their eminent archetype further revealing their unique characteristics, lifestyle tendencies and life purpose. Ultimately readers receive inspiration and practical guidance to create their destinies and make their mark in the world.

The underpinnings:

Author Cindy Silbert finds that she is compelled to write a spiritual book that will help women overcome their tendency to let ego rule, in order to find the True Self buried beneath ego. The message, as it were, is fed to the author by the Hawaiian goddess Hina. Cindy's Hawaiian home (at the time of writing) sits on top of the "eye of Hina", so it's only natural that the channeling occurs at her island home.

Why I read this book:

The cover blurb sounded a little New Age but I love reading books about finding fulfillment and balance -- positive-thinking, go get 'em books -- and Chameleon Butterfly Dragonfly sounded right up my alley.

Minor oops . . .

Google is just too handy. I was looking for a cover blurb and, instead, happened across this review at Breeni Books. Usually, it's my policy not to read other reviews when I'm preparing my own; one tends to absorb another person's choice of wording and it's preferable to be totally objective and original, right?

But, I really enjoyed what Breeni had to say -- in part because my viewpoint is so different from hers. The sections of the book I really enjoyed the most were the introduction and the epilogue, in which Silbert natters on about how the idea for the book came to her, the influence of the Hawaiian goddess, her own personal challenges at the time, the chaos of her early notes and the literary agent who said, "Oh, you're a woo-woo, too?" then later told Silbert, "If you don't write that sucker I will." She has a pleasant, chatty style.

Unfortunately, I found the meat of the book extremely disappointing. The concept of the three Divine Archetypes is certainly unique and, if I were to believe the quiz, I'm a combination of chameleon and dragonfly with hardly any butterfly at all. Not surprising, since the butterfly is all about beauty and being in the spotlight. I hate being in the spotlight and never thought of myself as pretty. But, while reading about the archetypes, my feeling was roughly the same as what I feel while reading a horoscope in a major publication-- there's too much cross-over, too much generic content that could easily apply to anyone. Here's a perfect example:

You don't like clutter but can also become overwhelmed by it so your home is immaculate, messy, or inconsistently somewhere in between the two.

Doesn't that pretty much cover every base? You have an immaculate home, a messy home or something in-between. Duh. We all have one of those, don't we? And, I'd say most people -- even those who are cluttery -- tend not to actually like clutter (hence the proliferation of books about ridding clutter from your life) so the clutter comment strikes both sides of the coin, as well.

However, the author had some good advice and some of what she described made total sense to me. I've copied all quotes directly from the book, so please don't blame me for the horrendous punctuation:

In an effort to become the best you can be, your ego begins to compare you to your ideal ego self and of course you always come up short. You end up spending your life trying to measure up to the standards of your ego; which isn't even real. On top of this, add traumatic experiences, emotional abuse, or just plain old disappointments. Then sprinkle on more and more responsibilities and different roles pulling you every which way. Finish it off with the imbalance of Yin causing you to deny your femininity inadvertently causing a break at your very core. The result is layer upon layer of distortion and more and more separation from your True Self and natural integrity; not to mention reality.

Eventually, I found myself taking notes saying that my chameleon is injured (and thinking, "Not possible, since I don't have a freaking chameleon!") then occasionally laughing out loud. That was the point at which I realized that what the book sounded like, to me, was the author's life coaching job combined with a little hippie philosophy and . . . maybe I'd be better off if I rolled it up and smoked it. Kidding, I don't smoke and I didn't give up on it, ever. I kept going because there were some occasional gems of wisdom. But, man . . . the number of capitalized words, alone, honestly did make me roll my eyes:

The stronger the balance among your Chameleon, Butterfly, and Dragonfly, the more powerfully your Eminient Archetype will emerge and the more fulfilling it will be to express your True Self and experience your True Feminine Power.

Eye roll. But, I love this:

Live Courageously as your True Self and you'll encourage other women to live courageously as well. As the women you've encouraged step forth, they in turn will encourage more women to do the same. Soon, an exponential explosion of Yin will occur bringing our Universe back into balance and the Divine Feminine will have fulfilled her mission. Beyond this, where will bold and courageous expression lead you? The answer is your Destiny.

But . . . I'm not going to say it. I'm not going to say it. Yes, I am. The word "destiny" with a capital D? That reminds me of Back to the Future and a young man whispering, "You are my density. I mean . . . my destiny." This, however, is another passage that has merit (except for all those capital letters):

Begin to Tell the Truth by making a list of all the things you've always wanted to say. Then, look at your life and Tell the Truth by writing down what's currently working and not working. Continue to Tell the Truth by writing down what's been stopping you from pursuing what you know would be True Self expression or a source of joy in your life. Reformat your responses into an action list. Work your way through the list until you've eliminated each item one-by-one. This can be extremely liberating. Once you get going you may not be able to stop, and that's a good thing.

That is a good thing. We all build our own imaginary road blocks. It's that kind of suggestion that makes Silbert successful as a life coach, I'm sure.

In general: A little weird, with occasional smatterings of excellent advice. I would not recommend against reading the book, simply because I think most people can squeeze a little juice from this lemon. But, it's not a book I would ever shove into a friend's hands, proclaiming it a "Must Read" (rampant capitalization: it's infectious). Like Breeni, I was a little dismayed that the book only contains 150 pages of content and a raft of blank journal pages.

Also: Not really a guy book.

Other thoughts: I think the author's chatty style would lend itself well to a memoir; and it would be awfully interesting to read about how she became a successful life coach with two homes (in very expensive locations) and a nanny.

Still reading: Far World: Water Keep and Walking Through Walls

Added to current reads: Occasional Therapy for your Midlife Years by Dr. Ellyn Gamberg

Weekly Geeks quote of the day:

Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland - Canadian book #3

Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland
Copyright 2004
249 pages

Back by popular demand (not really, but a couple of people really liked it so I'm going back to the prior version of this post, white-coated tranquilizer-carrying mental health experts be damned): the original version of my Eleanor Rigby review -- it's long and rambling and scary. Sorry, it just is. Huge apologies about the triple repeat - I didn't mean to save the post to draft form, the second and third time. Some days . . . Anyway, here you go:

Every now and then, I get totally sick of myself and the typical blog format, so I have to change things a bit. Therefore, I'm going for the self-interview routine, today. You can always rely on Bookfool to add a little "bizarre" to your day.

Me: First of all, I must know why you chose to read Eleanor Rigby. It's relevant.

Myself: Great question. Relevant to what?

Me: I was kidding, actually. I'm not sure anything you do is really relevant. But, for some reason "relevance" reminds me of acid rain and the freedom of children to play till dusk without checking in with the parentals, since the seventies and how things have changed since then seemed to be an underlying theme in this book.

You might ask, what was a twelve-year-old girl doing alone in a semi-remote place near a big city? Simple answer: it was the seventies. Past a certain age, children just did their thing, with little concern shown by their parents for what, where, when or with whom. Chase and Hunter probably have chips embedded in their tailbones linked up to a Microsoft death-satellite that informs William and Nancy where they are at all times. But back then?

"Mom, is it okay if I hitchhike to the biker bar?"

"Sure, dear."

I loved those seventies remarks. Very witty. You asked me why I read Eleanor Rigby and I'm going to tell you, right now, before my Mountain Dew loses its fizz. I really enjoyed Douglas Coupland's Girlfriend in a Coma in 2006 (this link leads to my review) and immediately added everything Coupland's ever written to my wish list. After nearly two years, I still hadn't managed to acquire a copy of Eleanor Rigby the cheap way (Paperback Swap), so I sucked it up and bought one. Actually, I was in Oklahoma and saw a copy on a table. Ding-ding went the little bells. Canadian!! Creak went the gears. Book you've wanted for two years!!! I knocked over three old ladies in my hurry to check out. Kidding. But, I was excited.

Me: Wow, you sure can prattle on.

Myself: Sorry, it's a chemical problem, as in: "Chatty runs in your blood." Here's another great quote:
I felt like a prisoner of conscience. My pillow was the size of a Chiclet, the mattress as thick as a saltine cracker. I curled myself into a ball and cried quietly, doing that thing that only young people can do, namely, feeling sorry for myself. Once you're past thirty, you lose that ability; instead of feeling sorry for yourself, you turn bitter.

Me: What's the deal with the floating mattress?

Myself: I'm not sure why the mattress on the cover is floating (unless it has to do with the farmers -- just read the book), but that particular item is significant. Wait, would you ask me what the book is about, first?

Me: Sure. What's the book about?

Myself: Loneliness, of course. You know the Beatles song, "Eleanor Rigby", right?

Me: Right. "All the lonely people." Death, misery, people going to hell.

Myself: It's not quite that dreary, though. The story is about a woman named Liz Dunn. Liz is overweight, plain, and leads a dull life working a dull job and then going home to her lonely, sterile condo. She's friendless and loveless, although her family (brother, sister, parent) adds some color to the story. Then, one day she gets a call from the hospital. A young man is unconscious in the ER and her name and number are on his emergency bracelet. Since Liz has no friends, she thinks a mistake has been made. But, then she realizes who that young man is . . . and her life changes.
Me: Are you being deliberately vague?

Myself: A little. Wouldn't want to give anything away. Let's just say the young fellow lights up her life for a time. He changes everything; she's no longer lonely. He eventually ends up selling mattresses, hence the cover image. But, then Liz becomes lonely, again. However, all roads lead to Rome . . . or, at least Vienna. She ends up in Vienna, toward the end of the book, and there's an exciting bizarre scene involving a deadly meteorite and airport security and there is a connection to Rome, actually. Then, believe it or not, the trip overseas leads to an almost happily-ever-after ending. It's all rather convoluted but in a good way.

Me: Would you call the book "quirky" or "off-beat"?

Myself: I would, if it didn't sound like I removed those two words from a can.

Me: If you could meet Douglas Coupland, what would you want to do? Hear him read from one of his books? Go hiking or canoeing or drink coffee together? Pummel him with questions? Think Canadian.

Myself: I'm not into readings, although I really, really enjoyed hearing Douglas Adams read from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. So, let me think . . . I'd want to meet him on his home turf, naturally, because he lives in Vancouver and Vancouver is way at the top of my wish list of Canadian places to see. I'd let him choose what to do, but I'd have to ask him to wear his favorite toque (or carry it) because I require an excuse to say "toque" repeatedly. I'd be glad to go canoeing or hiking, browse bookstores, drink coffee, eat Canadian bacon, look at art or play Scrabble with him. Whatever. I'm not so big at pummeling with questions; I tend to be the follower in a conversation, simply because I love listening to people rattle on. I think it would be fun to hang out with him for a day. He'd probably express disinterest. "Who? She wants to do what with me?"

Does Douglas Coupland hike or play Scrabble? I just don't know. What about Battleship? Now, there's a great game.

Me: Does the book take place in Canada? Or is it just a "Canadian" book because the author is Canadian?

Myself: Liz lives in Vancouver. So, yes, it takes place in Canada, as well as Rome and Vienna.

Me: What is your most prized Canadian possession?

Myself: I have a loonie and a $5 Canadian Tire bill (which was generously donated to me by my eldest son).

Me: That's two items.

Myself: I never can stick to one.

Me: How many books have you read for The Second Canadian Book Challenge, Eh?

Myself: Eleanor Rigby is my third. The first two were Anne of Green Gables and The Best of Robert Service.

Me: What do you think of Canadian writing, so far?

Myself: It's awesome, eh?

Me: That was uncalled for.

Myself: Sorry. You didn't ask, but I will definitely read more books by Douglas Coupland.

Me: Good to know. And, I wish you a deliriously adventurous trip across Canada and a toque of your own. Do you recommend the book?

Myself: Awww, you're just saying that because you're Me. Yes, I recommend it. Coupland has an interesting way of injecting spirituality and meaning into his books -- at least, the two I've read have been pretty heavy on life, death and where we might go when it's all over. I like that.

"It can be so beautiful, you know -- earth, I mean"

"Look, Jeremy --I, uh-- I'm not like you. I have a hard time understanding beauty." I thought maybe Jeremy was lonely like me. Perhaps loneliness was genetic. Maybe, but he tried to make his loneliness shimmer, while my own loneliness flickered like a failing fluorescent tube.

Me: What do you think of the Canadians, in general?

Myself: Excellent neighbors, very tidy and friendly, love the accent. Not the slightest bit inferior to the United States; in fact, I'd say Canada is better because it's cooler, in general, and people are less prone to shoot each other. But, the Canadian border official who didn't want to let us leave Canada with our adorable little dimpled kiddo (then about 4 years old), merely because we'd forgotten his birth certificate? Too uptight.
Other reviews I located by cheating (aka "googling"):

Favorite photo from Saturday's swim meet (I call it "Swimmer Foot Sandwich"):

Currently reading:

Walking Through Walls by Philip Smith
Far World: Water Keep by J. Scott Savage -- Kiddo read this one, over the weekend, and enjoyed it.

Sunday Short Story:

I read "At the Bay" from The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield. I absolutely loved it and feel clueless as to how one would describe the story. I'm not sure it had a plot, but it didn't matter. I loved the characters and used a lot of Post-its. Perhaps I'll just post some excerpts, later this week.

Best Advice My Mother Ever Gave Me:

Use plenty of sunscreen. You won't believe how fast those wrinkles appear.

Weekly Geeks Quote of the Day:

Let Yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. --Rumi

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Did I Expect Angels? by Kathryn Maughan plus Weekly Geeks #17 and misc.

Did I Expect Angels? by Kathryn Maughan
Copyright 2007
iUniverse Fiction
172 pages
Author's website
Guest blog at Booking Mama's site by the author, a must read

What led you to pick up this book? Did I Expect Angels? was already on my wish list, thanks to some very positive blog reviews, when I was contacted about reading it for a book tour. Well, of course I jumped all over that offer.

Summarize the plot without giving away the ending. Jennifer Huffaker, a suicidally depressed widow and mother of one, is on the verge of ending her life when a friend shares his own story of grief and becomes, in the process, her angel.

What did you like most about the book? Kathryn Maughan really understands grief and depression. While it was hard reading because it's so emotional, the pages absolutely flew. I could easily imagine a real-life Jennifer and I was rooting for her.

What did you think of the characters? They're a nice, believable mixed bag. Jennifer was actually my least favorite character because, even at her best, she was a little bit odd and not very likable. And, yet, I cared about her in spite of her flaws, probably because the challenges she wrestles with are similar to many of my own or those of people I've been close to. Henry, the friend who shares his story with Jennifer, is both compelling and easy to love. Jennifer's mother-in-law is a woman of amazing strength and compassion.

Recommended? Definitely. I would particularly recommend this book to people who have experienced loss or grief and want to read a book about finding hope. But, it's just an all-around good read. Not for when you're in a fluff mood; it's quite emotional.

Cover thoughts: I'm not sure I quite understand the purpose of a scratched-out cherub statue, but at the same time I love this cover. From the first time I saw it I thought it might, in some way, represent frustration, depression or grief. It's an unusual, eye-catching image and I think it's representative of the emotions in this book. Definitely a winner.

Coming up:

Reviews of High Altitude Leadership, Eleanor Rigby and Chameleon, Butterfly, Dragonfly

Now waffling:

Can't seem to decide what to read next, although I've started several. Nothing is grabbing me. Don't you hate it when that happens?

Weekly Geeks #17
looks too fun to pass up. And, Dewey, the sign means "Live long and prosper."

This week's activity is a quote a day. No stealing is allowed, but that's from other blogs. I assume I can steal from a good book. This quote was taken from the pages of Chameleon, Butterfly, Dragonfly by Cindy Silbert:

The whole point of being alive is to evolve into the complete person you were intended to be.

--Oprah Winfrey

Of course, this shatters my belief that the meaning of life is 42.

Husband is off to Hawaii, without me, and his alarm didn't go off -- neither one of us heard it, at any rate. So, I was rudely awakened by a spouse-in-a-hurry at about 5:15 a.m. I'm going back to bed. When I wake up, I'll ponder what to read.

Happy Sunday!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

That's my boy!!! and some bookish stuff

He'll have my head if he sees I've posted a big old photo to my blog, but this is my kiddo, taken at swim practice, today. I just love this shot!!

I noticed I've forgotten to mention a couple of things, being an airhead and all:

1. Estella Time, Baby - Yes, the latest issue of Estella's Revenge is available for your reading pleasure!! Wahoo!

2. Josh Henkin Gets Crazy - Okay, kidding. He just did a whole lot of guest posting, here -- nothing insane, unless you consider 23 posts totally over the top. You'll have to page down a bit, since the official blog fella is back and Josh's posts end on the 4th of September; but it's worth the effort. Josh had some interesting things to say about writing and Matrimony (his book), politics and doppelgangers and punctuation. Here's one post. There, I made it easy for you. Don't ever say I don't do anything for you.

In other news (or, is it not?):

Sometimes I think that because of the focus on a hurricane's landfall (the eye, of course -- the nastiest bit, but I promise you those suckers are mean to their edges, especially on the eastern or "wet" side), a lot of other people who get sloshed, flooded, battered, lose rooftops and power and have trees crashing down upon them are totally overlooked by the press. I guess that's how they work, eh? Although, as we saw with Gustav, sometimes they look bored and miss the story completely. Anyway, just to let you know . . . I've been told that I-10 on the Mississippi Gulf Coast has already flooded. Florida is getting socked and I'd imagine people in Alabama and Georgia aren't too thrilled if they live on the beach. And, Louisiana . . . man, I would not want to live there. Sorry, Chris. Thinking of all of you on the Gulf Coast, wherever you are. And, I'm sending stay-safe vibes to all who are hunkering down, even Texans. That was a joke. I love Texans.

On that topic, we already have quite a number of Texas refugees in town. There are huge lines at the gas stations and we had a bit of a wait, but one of the cars was down to a quarter tank, so we sat patiently (one of us -- the hubby was tapping impatiently) and waited our turn. Then we bought pickles. Because, you know, you don't want to get caught without plenty of pickles if your refugees suddenly get a craving.

Okay, I'm done. No, wait! One more thing!!! C. W. Gortner, author of The Last Queen, left a comment at my post about his book. He's willing to answer questions. Anyone have any questions about Juana, his research, the writing, etc.?

Really, I'm finished, now. You can go back to your books. I hope you're reading something fabulous. Actually, tell me about it if you are. Had to ask.

Blue Sky July by Nia Wyn

Blue Sky July: A Mother's Story of Hope and Healing by Nia Wyn
U.S. Release: August, 2008
197 pages, incl. epilogue

Sam at the corner shop tells me that in Pakistan, a household that has a disabled child is thought to be blessed.

He says it when I'm buying milk over the counter, Joe in a pale blue papoose on my chest.

He looks straight into my eyes and says: "You've been so lucky, there isn't the medicine in Pakistan to save kids like him -- you'd have lost him."

Sam might have saved my life today.

I guess it's like when you're dying;
you see a light
unless you don't.

As I walk back home, Sam's words pierce the cloud between my heart and the sun.

I hardly know Sam.
He barely knows me.

--pp. 24-25 of Advance Uncorrected Proofs (changes may have been made)

As we pass the running children who hold up their heads so easily, I realize miracles are so commonplace we barely recognize them anymore, and near the circles of mothers anxiously comparing milestones at the school gates, I see how we live in a time where
normal is never enough,
and we are never full.

Joe gives me insights I could never have understood without him
and he gives me heartbreak.
To separate these two responses would be impossible. He is equally
beautiful and terrifying.

p 42. of Advanced Uncorrected Proof

I just whipped through this book and felt compelled to immediately sit down to review it, Blue Sky July is so moving. I'm going to skip the usual format. Blue Sky July is a memoir told by the mother of a child diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy. At birth, Joe appeared healthy and normal. But, then something went wrong and Nia Wyn knew, despite doctors' reassurances. After a brain scan, Nia and her husband Alex were told that Joe's brain damage was so severe that he would never walk, talk, hear, see or even know they were there.

Instead of just giving in to the diagnosis, Nia and Alex searched for answers and immediately began exhausting rounds of therapy and exercises in which they stimulated Joe by tapping on him, moving his arms and legs, flashing lights on and off, singing and talking to him, taking him to oxygen treatments and healers. Eventually, the fact that their entire life revolved around treatment of Joe became too much for Alex and he moved out. But, Nia refused to give up hope. And, then, the tiniest ray of light appeared when Joe reached out and touched her.

Blue Sky July describes the first seven years of Joe's life, from Nia's blissful pregnancy to the miraculous changes in a child who didn't move or respond to light, sound or touch. I can't seem to come up with the right words to describe this book; it's just amazing. I highly, highly recommend it, particularly to anyone who is grasping for hope.

Now reading . . .

Just one book?! Yes, but that won't last long. I'm going to dig back into Chameleon, Butterfly, Dragonfly, this afternoon. It was set aside so I could finish The Last Queen, yesterday, and then I picked up Blue Sky July and couldn't put it down. I'm sure I'll add in a novel, today.

Stupid sidebar . . .

Still can't alter it. This is a come-and-go problem. Sometimes a change of browser works. Sometimes switching to another computer does the trick. Sometimes nothing helps at all and I'm just stuck. This sometime I'm in stuck mode; it's been going on for weeks. I'll just have to keep my reading updates limited to the text of my posts, for now.

Husband's favorite photo from last week's swim meet:

Still need to review two books: High Altitude Leadership by Chris Warner & Don Schmincke and Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland.

Got tagged for a couple of blog awards and, once again, I've broken the pattern. I can't even seem to locate the posts, now, so I must apologize and say "Thanks", at once, to those who have kindly tagged me. I'll try very hard to keep up with passing on blog awards, in the future. I've really dropped the ball, in the past year.

With apologies to Texas: Thank you to those who chanted with me, causing Ike to jog west. And, to those in Texas, I am wishing a soft landing, a fizzled hurricane, and that Ike will move as quickly as possible in order to reduce the chances of flooding. Best to those in Lousiana, and anywhere else effected by the hurricane, as well.

Gotta go. Things to do and all that lot. Have a peachy day!

Bookfool, who has simply got to quit putting off the housework, period.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Last Queen by C. W. Gortner

Aging sucks: I've corrected the publisher on this book, which I looked at without bothering to hold the book far enough away to actually focus.

The Last Queen by C. W. Gortner
Copyright 2008
Ballantine Books/Historical Fiction
365 pages, including afterword
Author's website

The scent of jasmine washed over me. Above, a sickle moon hung suspended in a dazzling spangled night. I heard water spill from the stone lions ringing the fountain; my feet soaked in the waterways as I slowly turned about to stare at the Alhambra's curving arches, the intricate pediments and sculpted marble.

The silence was a presence. Everything had changed. This world I loved so much, it would not mourn me. It would not even feel my absence. It would continue on, agelessly indifferent in its beauty, its walls absorbing the echoes of its departed.

I felt Soraya at my side. As her hand enfolded mine, I let my tears fall in furious silence.

What led you to pick up this book? I love historical fiction and jumped at the chance to review the book for a book tour.

Summarize the plot without giving anything away. The Last Queen is the story of Juana of Castile, also known as "Juana the Mad" and the last queen of Spanish blood to inherit the throne of Spain. It tells of her life from adolescence to the time of her death.

What did you like most about the book? The sense of time and place. I thought the author did a beautiful job of describing Spain and other places Juana lived and traveled. One gets not only a sense of what it must have been like living during this time period, but also of the pressures of royalty, the intrigue and danger. It reminded me of one of my favorite memoirs, Autobiography by Benvenuto Cellini. One minute the heroine is living the high life in velvet, eating off a gold plate, and the next minute she's imprisoned in a dark room with guards at the door, without even the option to bathe.

What did you think of the characters? The Last Queen is packed with perfectly crafted characters, believable and often frightening in their vagaries and sinister ways. Juana, her mother Isabel and the women close to Juana were my favorites. I loved the author's descriptions of their strength and resilience. I thought it was perfectly conceivable that Juana's "madness" was simply a ploy to remove her from power.

Describe your favorite scene: I loved the scene in which a pregnant Juana escapes from one of her many imprisonments on horseback.

Recommended? Yes, absolutely. Whether or not you know the time period, the book is accessible and an engrossing, often adventurous read. I enjoyed the emotional tug, as Juana often loved deeply without being truly loved in return. One could not easily leave this book without feeling sympathy for Juana.

In general: I often mention that I'm not knowledgable about history and this is yet another case in which I went into another historical time period with little knowledge or understanding of historical facts. The Last Queen has an ease and flow that made even the political maneuvering readily understandable. There are some graphic sex scenes, so I don't consider the book family friendly, but I thought they all fit within the framework of the novel. The author mentions that some of the most exciting scenes did, in fact, take place.