Friday, October 31, 2008

7 Random Facts: The Book Edition

Leah at The Octogon tagged me for another meme! What a meme-happy week I'm having. Okay, so 7 weird facts about me and -- I think -- they're supposed to be somehow book related. If you've been to Bybee's blog, lately, you may have seen a few of these in her comments. Pretend you didn't and we'll all be just fine.

1. This is probably not all that weird, but I've gone through some dramatic reading phases. For many years, I was a big mystery enthusiast, partly because I thought I wanted to write mysteries (as it turns out, my brain just doesn't work that way). But, when I stopped reading mysteries, it was practically cold turkey. I burned out on mysteries so thoroughly that I've still got some unread books by favorite mystery writers -- a couple of which are autographed. Now and then, I do throw a mystery into the mix these days because I've mostly recovered. After my mystery phase was my Chick Lit phase. Eventually, I settled on British Chick Lit as the best of the lot -- American and Irish Chick Lit bug me. Now, I can barely stand Chick Lit, although . . . again, I read it on occasion as one of my Brain Break genres of choice.

2. I collect books by certain authors: Paul Watkins, for example. I've collected almost everything he's ever written (just found out I missed a book), simply because his memoir is one of my all-time favorites. And, it turned out I don't really like his fiction all that much, but I still have to keep up the collection. If you haven't read his memoir, Stand Before Your God, you really ought to. It's amazing.

3. Now and then, I grab an older book from the library sale, just for the cute covers. I like old dust jackets.

4. I have quite a collection of Bibles because King James sometimes baffles me. Originally, I just wanted a parallel Bible to compare versions, but I eventually became completely carried away. I just donated a few; I had too many. Incidentally, even if I wasn't a Christian I'd love the Bible. It has everything -- murder, adventure, infidelity, war, deception, people getting turned into pillars of salt, flood and famine . . . seriously, it's just the coolest.

5. I used to collect nonfiction on *anything* because I thought I was going to be an author when I grew up and you just never know when you're going to need a book about guns, pottery, rock climbing, cacti and succulents, scuba diving, whatever . . . for research, of course.

6. There are so many books in our house that we joke about the Book Uprising that is bound to happen, one day. The humans will be killed and eaten. It's only because I frequently spread the books out on our bed that they stay happy.

7. There are books in every room of our house except the bathrooms (okay, yeah, a couple in the vanity area). Even the utility room has a shelf of books. Cookbooks, of course. We're working on that, though.

Again, I don't tag people so if you want to do this meme, go for it!

Picture Tag

Booklogged swatted me and said, "Tag, you're it!" Perfect timing, since the camera hasn't been out much, but we had just arrived home from Biloxi when she tagged me. The idea is to post the 4th picture in the 4th file of your 'My Pictures' folder. I'm kind of cheating -- the first two files are perpetual; they just hang there at the top of the folder. But, if I ignore those two files, the 4th file is so boring. Seriously. So, here's the dude in the 4th photograph of the 4th file (taken in Biloxi, on the foundation of a former casino, which is mostly surrounded by water and now used by fishermen):

I'm really glad the graffiti behind him is blurred out. I don't tag people, but if you want to join it, go for it! This meme is easy and fun.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Homeland Insecurity by Terry D. Turchie and Kathleen M. Puckett, Ph.D.

Homeland Insecurity: How Washington Politicians Have Made America Less Safe by Terry D. Turchie and Kathleen M. Puckett, Ph.D.
Copyright 2008
History Publishing Company - History/Politics
312 pages, incl. comprehensive endnotes and index

The FBI has been variously portrayed as effective or bumbling, professional or amateurish, blithely arrogant or unshakably determined, powerful or ineffectual. Since it is an institution made up of human beings, all these labels may have been correct at one time or another, and it is not the intent of this book to refute any of them.

Integrity and civility will be restored to the United States Congress and to politics in America when American citizens use their votes to clean the place up, since Republicans and Democrats alike refuse to do it themselves.

. . . since these politicians are also the same people who are charged with insuring the safety of Americans in this latest age of terror, it is more important than ever to carefully monitor their "business as usual".

Most importantly, however, the FBI experience at [Guatanamo Bay] illustrates the critical necessity for the independence of the FBI from involvement in the actions of politicians who react in ways that may seem expedient, but that often undermine both the rule of law and the moral center of American life.

What led you to pick up this book? Homeland Insecurity was sent to me by the publisher. While the authors delve into the history of the FBI (and I do love history), it's a little bit of a departure for me -- I don't normally read anything at all about politics and the book has to do with how politicians have undermined the authority of the FBI. I'm a safety freak, though, and I wanted to know exactly what they had to say about why America has lost some of its safety rather than gained added safety measures, since 9/11, due to politicians.

Summarize the book without giving anything away. Homeland Insecurity describes the FBI's wide-ranging tasks involving both domestic law enforcement and internal/external security and how the bureau's independent procedures have been weakened by political maneuvering during a time when the United States is in desperate need of stronger protective measures. The authors describe past misconceptions about the FBI and the reasons that power-hungry politicians have long sought to lessen the bureau's capacity to investigate and enforce the law domestically. The addictiveness of power and money figure heavily into their reasoning as to why politicians have attempted to lessen the bureau's authority since practically Day 1 of its existence.

What did you like most about the book? I liked the fact that I came away from the book with exactly the knowledge and understanding that I'd hoped to gain from the reading. I think it's a book that Americans really need to read and discuss, simply because we're accustomed to being misled by corrupt politicians and the only way to solve a situation that involves the safety of every American citizen is to take matters into our own hands via the power of the our votes.

What did you think of the characters? There are two main sets of "characters" in this nonfiction book: FBI agents and politicians. Both are human, of course, as mentioned in the quote above. But, politicians have recently stomped all over the way the FBI is run and essentially blamed the entire agency and its "culture" for the tragedy of September 11th, as well as a few other fiascos. The two authors worked for the FBI and I found that their explanations for various events and procedures were written, in general, with clarity and intelligence without becoming either inflammatory or sinking to fear-mongering. They encouraged trust with their even-handed writing style. The most damaging politicians are named; the authors are very specific in describing who is at fault or a danger (or has done damage in the past), rather than lumping them all into one pot. It's easy to get annoyed with those who have made it their mission to unravel the fabric of an organization that is, in the long run, really out to protect us all. So, you know . . . boo to the bad guys. I found myself rooting for the FBI.

A side note: The big to-do about spying on Americans is explained well -- the reasons for domestic surveillance and investigation, I guess I should say. The "wall" that inhibits communication between various agencies is also described. Interesting stuff.

Recommended? Absolutely, highly recommended and please let me know your thoughts if you read it.

Cover thoughts: I like the symbolism, but I thought it was particularly interesting to note that the subtitle has been altered from that of the image shown, which says, "How national security has been compromised for the sake of political advantage" to (the subtitle on my personal copy), "How Washington politicians have made America less safe". Both are accurate, but I think the latter is a little more direct, if a bit simplistic.

Just finished: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. Not sure if I'll review it, as it's a library check-out, but I loved it. It's touching, adventurous, beautifully illustrated . . . wonderful storytelling and visually appealing. I'm trying to talk the kiddo into reading it, before I have to return our borrowed copy to the library.

On the verge of finishing: To Catch the Lightning by Alan Cheuse. That should be my next review, although I do plan to go out and play with my new camera lens, this weekend, so don't hold your breath or make a vow to "do somersaults until it's been posted" because you will turn blue or get dizzy.

Starting, tomorrow: I'll be participating in National Novel Writing Month, although I plan to get off my duff to play and clean, so I probably won't write much, over the weekend. If you're joining in and want to be my buddy, please let me know! Also, expect a wee bit less posting and blog-hopping, this month.

On this day in Bookfool's reading history:

In 1997, I'd just finished Running From the Law by Lisa Scottoline and started to read Our Game by John Le Carre. In 2000, I finished Moon Palace by Paul Auster and in 1999 I was about to have a garage sale. There's little chance we parted with any books, that year. Bookfool was still in "collecting" mode.

Feel like a tomato? Have a tomato:

I shot that at our favorite roadside vegetable stand on the trip to Biloxi, last week. Do they look delicious, or what?

Also, I brought home a few books from the library, today. I'll tell you about those in my next post. If I forget, just give me a good whack upside the head. And, have a tomato. Really, you need your fruit.

Happy Halloween!

Creepers by Joanne Dahme

Creepers by Joanne Dahme
Copyright 2008
Running Press - Fiction/Young Adult
232 pages

What led you to pick up this book? I received a copy of this book from Running Press, thanks to an offer at Booking Mama's blog, and was in the mood for a quick, slightly scary read.

Describe the plot without giving anything away. Courtney and her family move into an old house in Murmur, Massachusetts, a home that used to belong to the keeper of the cemetery next door. Almost immediately, Courtney is struck by the prolific growth of ivy on her home and the surrounding area. It almost seems as if the ivy is trying to communicate with her. Befriended by neighbor Margaret and her father, the three set out to solve the mystery of the ivy and to locate the missing body of a young girl who used to live in the ancient house. A witch, ghostly carvings and some strange cat behavior add to the atmosphere.

What did you think of the characters? Courtney seemed like a typical teenager who became obsessed with a mystery. I liked her. Margaret Geyer and her father were strange and I didn't feel that their history was fully explained, so I never really got a fix on them. The witch freaked me out.

Describe your favorite scene: There's a scene in which ivy is mysteriously (and very loudly) carved into a design on the basement floor. I liked the creepy factor in that particular scene. It was not enough to induce nightmares, but it definitely made my skin crawl.

Anything else worth talking about? Oh, yes. This book is billed as a young adult novel and there are two teenage characters. But, I think older readers might find it a little dissatisfying, simply because it isn't all that frightening. It's probably better suited to adolescents. As a person who is prone to nightmares, I really appreciated the fact that the book wasn't so terrifying that I couldn't read it at night and that it wasn't nightmare inducing.

Did the ending fit the book? The ending was a little bit odd and that's one of the reasons I think it's better suited to a younger audience. I had a wee bit of trouble accepting Courtney's conclusions. But, I do think my eldest child (my youngest is not a big fan of anything even slightly frightening; eldest grew up on Goosebumps) would have really enjoyed the book when he was going through his scary-reading phase.

Recommended? Yes, for those who are looking for a mildly spooky book.

In general: A quick, fun read with a vaguely unsatisfying ending, probably best for about ages 8-12. I think younger, less judgmental pre-teens will find the ending more satisfying.

Cover thoughts: More than just the cover, the artwork is amazing. Creepers appears to have been created thoughtfully and probably at significant expense. The dust jacket is beautiful, as is the actual hardback cover, beneath. Ivy swirls around the edges of some pages; others contain beautiful black-and-white photos or illustrations, often with green decorative touches. A lot of thought went into this book.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

It's here!! Bible Illuminated: The Book. New Testament

I really had no earthly idea what I was going to think of this whole new "Bible as art" concept. In spite of being excited at the thought of how it might draw people in, I was a little concerned that it might end up being gimmicky or offensive. So, I reserved judgment till I was able to hold a copy in my hot little hands.

My copy has arrived, we've flipped through it, and . . . honestly? I love it. Bible Illuminated: The Book is printed in a magazine format, with heavy, shiny pages. It is absolutely beautiful and has a wonderful feel. Looking at it is much like flipping through a magazine. The photos are stunning, although some definitely could be considered offensive or a little off-putting. I was surprised, though, to find that they don't bother me when I'm looking through the actual book. The photos jibe well with the subject matter; a verse that relates to each photo is often either highlighted on the opposite page or printed on each photograph. Here's a good example -- the 3-pack holy family set. Funny photo, but what on earth does it have to do with the Bible? The verse highlighted on the opposite page says this: "It does not matter! I am happy about it--just so Christ is preached in every way possible, whether from wrong or right motives."

There are no verse numbers and the print is tiny. It's aimed at a younger population, near as I can tell. Small print is probably not a big problem for the younger set; but, my husband can't read the text, either through his bifocals or with the glasses perched on his head (his usual method). I can read the print just fine, but my eyes do become tired reading tiny print, these days. The real question, I suppose, is whether the look and feel compel those who flip through to sit down and actually read the New Testament. In my case, the answer is "Yes". I really wanted to sit down and read -- and I found myself doing exactly what I do with a magazine. First, I flip through, look at the photos and read captions. Then, I go back and read.

My husband said, "No, I don't have any urge to read it because I can't." He also mentioned the fact that a magazine has blazing headlines, throughout. He said he'd have liked to see some large headings that indicate topics (such as the Sermon on the Mount or names for each of the parables). The names of individual books are bold and beautiful. Topic headers are small, though.

Neither of my kiddos -- the target audience, I assume -- are around; but I'll ask the youngster to flip through it when he comes home and will update you on his impressions, later on. Kiddo actually prefers his gift Bible from the church over the study Bible I bought him and he does read his Bible, sometimes just for fun. He doesn't like a lot of frou-frou. But, the eldest is very visual and I'll have to ask him to see if he can find a copy to flip through. Curiosity and all that.

While this magazine-like New Testament may be considered just another way to earn a buck, by some, I'm hoping that it will reach out and yank in some of the younger crowd, encouraging them to read the Bible. My favorite part of this book: Eight Ways to Change the World. Bold photos with "Eight Ways to Change the World" written in a corner and a paragraph or two about how a single change could improve our world were what moved me the most. I found myself flipping through eagerly, wanting to know what was next. What other things can we do to make our world better?

I like this very visual new version of the Bible. It makes me stop and think about life, meaning, and our world. And, isn't that the whole point? Flip through it, if you're interested. One forewarning: There are a few disturbing images. I would not have set a copy of this book out on a table, with young children in my house. But, that's really an individual judgment call.

The arrival of this book and a whopping fine new camera lens caused progress on my other two reviews to skid to a halt. Please bear with me; I'll try to get those two posted by tomorrow. Right now, I've got to go commune with the cat. She's getting old and needs a friend to warm up her cold paws. Happy Wednesday!

Wahoo! Wednesday

Honestly, it's hard just to take the time to walk inside to do this because . . .

WAHOO!!!! It's 65 degrees outside!!!! I sat in the sun, reading, for an hour. The cat moseyed around, playing in the bushes and occasionally winding herself around the chair legs, beneath my feet. She rolled on the sidewalk and sniffed the grass. She slept in the shadow of one of the cars. We were feeling very full of wahoo. I have to go back outside. But, when I come in I'll start working on these two reviews:

Creepers by Joanne Dahme
Homeland Insecurity by Turchie & Puckett

Have a wahooey day!!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Monday Malarkey, including a reading update

We went to Biloxi (on the Gulf Coast in Mississippi), this weekend, for a swim meet. Did you miss me? Well, thanks. I missed you, too -- I didn't have the time to blog-hop. That tiny print says, "Flew the coop, this weekend. Which one looks like me?" Just telling you, in case you can't read it. I messed with my own photo at, because I don't have a photo program with that nifty sketch feature.

I'll tell you more about our trip, later, and you'll get to see some pictures because Booklogged has tagged me for a photo meme. Today I just feel like writing a malarkey post. I will say, though, that this was the first time we've been to the Gulf Coast since about 5 years pre-Katrina and the difference is utterly beyond belief. I'd heard plenty about the scope of destruction from friends, but seeing the empty spaces where so much had been built up on the shore . . . and mile after mile after mile of empty foundations. There's just really no way to describe how much is gone and how shocking the difference.

Anyway . . . I'm impressed with how beautiful the Mississippi Gulf Coast looks, how clean it is and what's being done with limited funds. Tree stumps are being carved into incredible sculptures (didn't photograph them -- will go back soon, I hope). Palms have been replanted. The beach is mostly cleaned up and regularly combed. It's beautiful. Really, it's so pleasant to be able to see and walk on the beach, again. It had been buried by commerce and the last time we went to Biloxi, we left in disgust, convinced we'd never go back. Well, shucks, here . . . just look:

That huge vasty nothingness was crowded with buildings. You could hardly see the water, just a few years ago. Unbelievable. I'm glad it's back, but I feel deeply for the folks who were uprooted and haven't been able to return.

Overheard: "I read it real slowly because I've never been much of a reader. I'm athletic and I've always kept real busy."

Question: What is it about non-readers that makes them think they're busier than us? I do most of my reading at night, because that's the only time I can squeeze it in (usually -- there've been a couple of glorious weather days that have drawn Bookfool and Cat to the porch, recently). My sister talks about being too busy to read as if it's a badge of honor. I don't get that.

Reading update:

Homeland Insecurity: How Washington Politicians Have Made America Less Safe by Turchie and Puckett -- 2/3 of the way through. I hoped to finish the book, tonight, but instead I've been running back and forth between computer and son, checking to make sure he's getting that 2-page nutrition report written. I'm as ignorant about politics as I am about history, so I've had to take this one slowly. But, man . . . fascinating stuff and a totally, completely different story about the FBI and corruption than you'll ever hear from politicians or the news. I think every American should read this book. We all need to have a big talk about the subject matter. It's important.

To Catch the Lightning by Alan Cheuse - Historical fiction about Edward Curtis, the photographer who is famous for his photos of Native Americans. I'm about 1/2-way through with this book and I've formulated some strong opinions, which I'll share when I review it. It's a breezy read, for the most part, but a chunkster. I hope to finish it, soon. "Soon" being a relative term.

Creepers by Joanne Dahme - A YA story about a teenager who feels compelled to solve the mystery of the ivy growing rampantly on her new home and the unexplained disappearance of a young girl's body from the nearby cemetery. Finished in Biloxi -- will review it, soon! Most important: It was not nightmare inducing (I'm prone to nightmares).

The Dharma King by B. G. Stroh - Set aside because I had too many books going, a while back, but not because I wasn't enjoying the book. I'm finding it gripping. This is a short thriller set in Tibet (at least, so far). I'm on Chapter 10 -- not far into it, but enough to know that I'd really like to set aside a few hours to finish.

10:30 PM and I haven't read a single page because I want to have uninterrupted reading time. Maybe tomorrow. What are you reading?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Just Jane by Nancy Moser

Just Jane by Nancy Moser
Copyright 2007
Bethany House - Historical Fiction
367 pages, incl. author notes, study questions, and more

I totally do not want to use the regular format, again. You guys knew that was coming, didn't you? Okay, so let's go with the self-interview. It's fun and totally free of charge!

Me: What possessed you to read this book?

Myself: Are you calling me possessed?

Me: No, silly, just answer the question.

Myself: Okay, then. I've been on a Nancy Moser historical fiction kick. I actually saved Just Jane -- historical fiction about Jane Austen's life -- for last, since I'm fond of Jane Austen.

Me: Tell us a bit about the book.

Myself: The story begins around the time that Jane is pining for Tom Lefroy (played by the wonderful James McAvoy in the movie Becoming Jane) and continues until she has has been published multiple times. It then wraps up with an epilogue describing her final years and early demise. The focus is primarily on how Jane feels about her writing, how the family's moves stifled her, the frequent and lengthy travels to visit her large extended family, her relationship with her sister Cassandra, her struggles to get her work published and the men in her life.

Me: What did you like most about the book?

Myself: I really loved reading about Jane's struggles, the details of her life and how she felt about her writing. I thought Moser did a pretty good job of portraying Jane's wit and the importance of her familial ties. I felt like I learned a lot. The author, as always, followed up the book with notes on what was real and which portions were filled in by her imagination.

Me: And, what did you like least?

Myself: Having read all three of Moser's "bio-novels" in a relatively short time span, I found myself a little weary of her voice. Jane, at first, sounded a little too much like Nannerl Mozart, who sounded a bit like Martha Washington. That's common for me, though. I tend to avoid reading more than 2 books by any given author in a year, in general, because I crave variety. And, I thought the book improved, the farther I got into it.

Another minor complaint: Jane seemed a little whiny to me. For some reason, I like to imagine her as a much stronger person.

Me: Any bits of weirdness you'd like to mention?

Myself: I couldn't get Anne Hathaway out of my head. I'm afraid Jane Austen's image has been tainted by her. Also, I noted that Moser had Jane refer to an eggplant as an eggplant. In Great Britain, I believe they call an eggplant an aubergine.

Me: What, if anything, surprised you about Jane's life?

Myself: I had no idea she spent so much of her time traveling. And, I was truly surprised to find that she stopped writing for many years. I'd have to go back and look to see if the author mentioned whether or not there was reason to believe Jane was truly stifled by her surroundings, once she left her beloved Steventon, but that's exactly why I stopped writing fiction -- I feel like I've lost my muse because of my surroundings. I'd love to think it's possible to get that joy back.

Me: What about other characters, besides Jane? Did you find them believable?

Myself: Yes, although there were times I thought modern language eeked through. I was a little baffled by the use of just a few older spellings: "shew" for "show", etc. I'm not sure I understand the purpose of tossing those archaic spellings into a book that isn't perfect in its imitation of language from a particular time period and location.

Me: What did you think of the way the book ended?

Myself: I thought it was very well done. Again, there was one thing that perplexed me. The author says Jane was in a great deal of pain toward the end of her life and probably died of Addison's disease. I was a little curious as to why signs of her illness were never mentioned. But, that's not what the book was about -- it really was about her writing and how she felt about her characters . . . her restrained but witty personality and the reasons she never married. I've just given myself enough self-talk to unwind that question a bit.

Me: You do have a tendency to rattle on.

Myself: Yes, something you never fail to mention.

Me: Which of your readers would like this book?

Myself: I'd recommend it to fans of historical fiction, particularly those who like Jane Austen. I don't believe it's necessary to have read her work in order to enjoy reading about her life.

Me: How's the weather?

Myself: Clearing. It was cold and foggy, this morning, but . . . wait! That has nothing to do with the book.

Me: I think this review is over.

Myself: Hmmph. In that case, let me just say I recommend this book. It's not perfect, but it's very good (and I think one can always find reason to tear down anyone who dares attempt to portray Jane Austen, since Jane fans tend to formulate an image of her that is rather personal). I particularly love all that extra information the author tacked on about what happened to all of Jane's family members, research notes, etc. And, it's notable that Nancy Moser's books are extremely family friendly. I love that.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hey, looky there!

I forgot to do a Wahoo! Wednesday post and I'm only halfway through my review of Just Jane by Nancy Moser, so I had to share this little bit of wahooeyness (wahooiness?). We have fall color!!!! Wahoo! Yes, the grass is still green and this is only a teeny part of the tree, but still . . . cool.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What I Did, Today

Today, I stood in the kitchen with my laminating machine on the stove and laminated about 30 bookmarks made from my own photos. Why? It's therapy. I'm in serious need of therapy. Plus, I really like having a big pile of pretty bookmarks to choose from.

Today, I changed my header and background colors several dozen times. Why? Veens thought my new frog header (at left -- turned back the way he really crawled) was creepy, so I decided to shoot for a fall theme. But, it's not really autumn, here -- it's still quite green and springy. So, I had to dig around in my photo files. I found a photo that was extremely autumnal . . . and looked absolutely hideous with my background colors. After about a squillion color changes, I decided to go with a photo that a bunch of people said they like, return the colors to normal and go back to reading. I'd like to get that hour back, really.

Today, I finished reading The Shack, which I bulldozed my way through because it's a borrowed copy and I need to give it back. I'm not sure I understand the furor over that story. I mean, it was nice and all, but . . . I don't know quite what to think of it. I'll have to ponder.

Today, I emptied out my Google Reader, but I admit to peeking in to see how much fun I missed out on. Chris looks really cute in his new shirt, don't you think?

Today, I'm about 1/2 way through that book about the library cat, Dewey (loving it -- cat addict, here) and 1/3 of the way through Just Jane (enjoying it, apart from one very, very minor complaint) and 1/4 of the way through Homeland Insecurity (fascinating). I haven't touched Random Passage (mesmerizing) in a week, but that's okay. I want to spread out the joy for as long as possible. It's Canadian, you know. Why? Duh. Love reading.

Today, I'm thinking about what to read next. Why? Because there's a very intimidating pile beside my bed and I need to knock it down. I own too many books.

Today, I took a bag of books and VHS tapes to the library to donate. If I have counted right, it's the 7th bag I've donated in the past month. Why? Again, I own too many books. And, I've been finding treasures in the perpetual library sale corner for years. It's time to give back.

Today, I checked out a book that is on my wish list from the library. Why? Even with piles of books staring me down, I am hopelessly addicted and want to read everything, everything right now.
That was my day. What was yours like?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Swan House by Elizabeth Musser

The Swan House by Elizabeth Musser
Copyright 2001
Bethany House - Fiction/Christian
443 pages
Author's website

What led you to pick up this book? The protagonist loses her mother in a tragic plane crash and, having recently lost my own mother, I was looking for a little bit of a comfort read about grief.

Describe the plot without giving anything away. Oh, so difficult. Mary Swan Middleton is chosen to be the "Raven" at her exclusive private school. As Raven, she is given a set of clues and a mystery to solve but she is not to reveal that she's the Raven. If she solves the mystery, she will get to choose a charity to receive a large donation. Shortly after Mary Swan finds out she's the Raven, her parents prepare to return from an extended visit to Europe with a number of other Atlanta socialites and artists (her mother is a painter), but they choose to take separate flights. The plane carrying Sheila Middleton and other prominent Atlanta citizens crashes and burns, sending Atlanta's citizens into a whirlwind of grief and funerals. To set Mary Swan on the path to healing, their maid encourages Mary Swan to help serve spaghetti dinners on the poor, black side of town. There, she meets and befriends Carl -- leading to harsh lessons about racial prejudice. Eventually, Carl and Mary Swan's best friend, Rachel, help her attempt to solve the Raven mystery, which leads to a discovery about her mother's hidden secret. All of this takes place in the 1960s.

What did you think of the characters? I liked them but, for the most part, they were a little too perfect. Mary Swan occasionally ticked people off, but they always forgave her. They liked the fact that she spoke her mind; it never seemed to get her into trouble. While she learned some harsh lessons about life, prejudice, depression and loss, it also seemed that everything seemed to fall into place for her too easily.

Describe your favorite scene: I liked the scene in which Mary Swan and Rachel sneak onto the campus of their private school to locate the directions for Mary Swan's Raven dare -- the mystery she is supposed to unravel.

Recommended? Yes, but with fair warning. The Swan House is a good novel, but the author attempted to tackle too many issues in one book. Eventually, the author pulled all the strands together, but not till the end. In the meantime, it would have been very easy to give up on the book. There are plenty of scenes that didn't appear to forward the plot in any way. I also think people who dislike books with Christian themes will find that the issues are not so subtle. The Swan House is a preachy by comparison with the other Bethany House books I've recently read. I got the impression that the book was colored a little too heavily by the author's wealthy upbringing and personal beliefs.

In general: I think at least 100 pages could have been cut from this book, but in spite of superfluous scenes and characters who are too friendly, perfect, or learn their lessons a little too easily (with some ruffians thrown in to beat people up, now and then), I liked it and am looking forward to reading more by Elizabeth Musser. I have a copy of Searching for Eternity on my stacks.

Cover thoughts: I'd call the cover of The Swan House a "quiet" cover illustration. The author's notes mention that the real Swan House (a mansion, from which Mary Swan gets her middle name) does exist in Atlanta and is open to tourists. I think the cover is just a little too subdued and I would have normally walked right past it, but this particular copy was sent to me by Bethany House when I offered to review books that had something, anything to do with grief and I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to read and review The Swan House.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Bits, pieces, weekend off and a hawk that wants to eat your mousies

A last-minute clarification by the kiddo ("No, Mom, the North State swim meet isn't in Tupelo. It's at the Courthouse in Jackson.") has reassured me that there's no way I can participate in Dewey's annual read-a-thon, this weekend. Sigh. So, I'm going to take the weekend off from blogging and blog reading. I've found that the posting fallout from the read-a-thon can be overwhelming and it's disappointing not to be able to join in. If/when I finish books, I'll go ahead and review them. But, I'm going to avoid blog-hopping (after tonight), till Monday or Tuesday.

Some random bits and pieces . . .

It doesn't matter if you love Palin or can't stand her, this website (found thanks to the Anchorage Daily News' daily newsreader updates) is a great place to waste a few minutes and get a laugh or two. Watch out, though, the deer behind the door is a little horrifying. My favorites are the baby names and the Bridge to Nowhere. Click on them to see what happens.

I have a new photo blog, here, thanks to some fellow bloggers who have also recently signed up at Animus3 (bisha and Les). The other photographers are so awesome that this particular blog site is very inspiring and I'm getting lots of great ideas. It makes me want to go out with the camera and play. Kiddo and I spotted that hawk, at left (and currently posted at the photo blog, but it will change tomorrow) on the way home from swimming, yesterday.

Reading update:

This has been a low-focus week. I've had trouble sitting still long enough to make much progress on anything at all. Some weeks are like that. So . . .

Still reading The Swan House by Elizabeth Musser. It's a thought-provoking look at the 60s, racial prejudice, grief, depression . . . maybe a few too many topics covered in this particular book and a bit too long, but I'm still enjoying it and hope to finish it, this weekend.

Random Passage by Bernice Morgan -- Honestly, one of the most mesmerizing books I've read all year. So, why haven't I read a sentence in 4 days? I'm tired. My attention is flitting around like a dragonfly on speed. And, I want it to last. I'm definitely going to seek out the follow-up book.

Homeland Insecurity by Turchie and Puckett -- Initially, I thought the book was going to be all Conspiracy Theory, but it's neither outlandish nor inflammatory. Instead, the authors provide compelling history in order to explain why the FBI has been weakened by a few power-hungry politicians. So far, I'm enjoying it immensely.

Just Jane by Nancy Moser -- My third Moser book (and then I'll have to move on to her modern, large-cast books), this one a historical biography of Jane Austen. Well. Who wouldn't want to read that? My only complaint, so far, is that the style is exactly the same as that of Mozart's Sister and Washington's Lady. A slightly different perspective would be nice, but that's a minor complaint.

Just walked in (literally . . . I walked it in the door about 30 minutes ago):

Creepers by Joanne Dahme -- thanks to a giveaway at Booking Mama's blog. Can't wait to get to this one; it looks perfect for fall. But, this week has so completely thrown me off-balance that I can't say when I'll get to it.

Hope everyone has a terrific weekend. For those of you involved in the read-a-thon -- have fun! Sending you caffeine wishes and anti-eye-strain dreams.

Bookfool, not whining . . . nope, not me. Not gonna do it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Wahoo! Wednesday

Today is Wahoo For Pink!, day. No words, just some favorite pink pics. I'm actually not a big fan of pink, but it's been jumping out at me, lately. Bermudaonion suggested that I've probably noticed my pink photos because it's Breast Cancer Awareness month. Makes sense to me, and it's certainly a great reason to feature pink.

Drawing Winners!

The winners of my drawing are as follows:

Mozart's Sister - Debi

The Lost Diary of Don Juan - Janel (Janel won with one of her extra entries for posting about the drawing)

Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind - S. Krishna

Walking Through Walls - bermudaonion

Thanks to all who participated and congratulations!! I'll get in touch with the winners, so I can gather addresses and get those shipped out, asap.

Quick and Healthy Recipes and Ideas (3rd Ed.) by Brenda J. Ponichtera

Quick and Healthy Recipes and Ideas, 3rd Edition
by Brenda J. Ponichtera
Copyright 2008
334 pages including health tips, grocery lists, weekly planners and index

Before I tell you all about Quick and Healthy, etc., I've gotten permission to share one of our favorite recipes from the cookbook. I knew that would thrill you.

Oven-Fried Fish

1/4 cup cornflake crumbs (can be found in the breading section of the grocery store)

1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/8 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pound fish fillets (such as snapper, sole, halibut)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Mix the first four ingredients in a plastic bag and set aside.

Cut fish into serving size pieces. Place a few pieces of fish at a time in the plastic bag and shake to coat evenly.

Arrange on baking sheet so that fish is not touching. Bake for 10 minutes, per inch of thickness, or until fish flakes easily.

- Reprinted with permission from QUICK & HEALTHY RECIPES AND IDEAS by Brenda Ponichtera, RD, published by Small Steps Press

Voila! Easy peasy. We used thin, well-drained cod and hubby mixed in a little bit of regular bread crumbs (the first time) because he actually crushed real corn flakes and didn't get them quite small enough to adhere to the fish. He's so funny. Anyway, we loved the result of that recipe and we've begun using it regularly.

But, about the book . . . I requested this one from Felicia at Jane Wesman Public Relations because the publicity material stated that the cookbook contains weekly plans and grocery lists. I'm a very scattered individual and it seemed like built-in grocery lists would be awfully helpful.

As it turned out, the book is even better than I expected. The opening section of the book discusses nutrition, healthy substitute ingredients, use of artificial sweeteners and food exchanges. The author also lists sources of dietary fiber, how many nuts equal an ounce, tips for reducing fat and cholesterol in your diet, time-saving ideas and organization tips to ensure you have the right ingredients at the right time. Then, you get into weekly menus and grocery lists.

There are 20 weeks' worth of menus, each with a menu list (including the page number of each recipe, so you can locate them easily), a detailed grocery list and a side area for notes. Then, the author lists some alternative suggestions using the same recipes and adding a nice little guide that tells you what exactly a "starch" or "nonstarchy vegetable" is, to clarify the bits of suggested meal combinations ("Add a nonstarchy vegetable and a starch" with a list of meat dishes, for example, gives you a quick reference to a variety of meal options).

The recipes comprise the bulk of the book, of course, and they are low enough on ingredients to make the gathering/cooking process quick and simple. We did make a few minor substitutions. I've never developed a taste for mustard, but I don't mind dry mustard, so whenever a recipe calls for pre-made mustard we substituted the dried spice. We also occasionally added an ingredient if we thought a recipe was a little too bland -- often, just a little extra chopped onion or spice was enough to do the trick.

When my friend Judy dropped by, I handed her the cookbook and asked her to flip through it and tell me what she thought. She practically bounced in her seat (not quite, but you should have seen her eyes boggle). "Oh, I could use this! Look at this! Look at that!" she said. My husband, Judy, and I all zoned in on the shopping lists. The ease of shopping with a pre-made list and having an entire week's menus pre-planned is absolutely perfect for a busy lifestyle.

Highly recommended for folks who are on the go and looking for ways to simplify cooking healthy foods at home.

The blurb: Small Steps Press, an imprint of the American Diabetes Association, is dedicated to helping people live healthier lives. Small Steps Press books cover health-related topics such as nutrition, healthy eating, exercise, and weight loss.

Quick & Healthy Recipes and Ideas is available at, by calling 1-800-232-6733, or at your local bookstore.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Coming Soon - Bible Illuminated: The Book: New Testament

Bible Illuminated: The Book: New Testament, is scheduled for release on October 28.

I've gotten a sneak peek inside this book online; and, I'm really looking forward to getting my hands on the actual book. In the promotional material, it's described as not just a Bible but "art". The objective, I gather, is to draw in a new generation -- a generation of people who are used to bright images and (let's face it) often have trouble concentrating on anything with too much text.

I'm a very visual person, so the idea appeals to me. And, the stack of Bibles in my living room attests to the fact that I like to compare and contrast different versions. This particular New Testament uses the Good News Version in "running text with no verses". It's a Bible to look at and read, not to memorize. There are a few photos that really boggled my mind, but I'm going to reserve judgment until I'm able to flip through the actual book. Stay tuned. I'll be back with a full review, when my copy arrives!
And, don't forget to sign up for my drawing!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Lost Diary of Don Juan by Douglas Carlton Abrams

The Lost Diary of Don Juan by Douglas Carlton Abrams
Copyright 2007
Washington Square Press - Historical Fiction
307 pages, including glossary & notes
Lost Diary website

In front of us the Arenal spread out like a dirt beach from the city walls to the river. It was a scene of chaos, people jostling with mules and carriages going nowhere.

"Move out of the way!" a driver shouted vainly.

A noble lady daintily held up her billowing skirts as she crossed the dry mud, speaking anxiously to her children. "Careful now. Come quickly." Barefoot commoners swarmed all around them.

"Cold orange ice! Cold orange ice!" shouted a vendor selling drinks from his pushcart that had just come from the ice pits.

Two caballeros even managed to take offense at being shoved and were engaged in a swordfight. "How dare you refuse to yield to your better!"

"I'll show you who is better--with my sword!"

Not even the arrival of the ships restrained these duelers, who were clearly trying hard to take their minds off their fortunes with a show of outraged honor. I pulled Cristobal out of the way just in time to avoid his being gored.

What led you to pick up this book? I was offered a copy of The Lost Diary of Don Juan for a book tour and I really liked the excerpt I read. It was not overly graphic or rude and I love historical fiction.

Confession: The website also grabbed me (mostly the sight of a sword -- if there's one thing I love, it's a bit of swashbuckling adventure). Turn the volume on, if you visit that website. The music is wonderful.

Describe the plot without giving anything away. An infamous lothario falls in love with the one woman with whom he cannot possibly have a physical encounter. Set in Seville during the Spanish Inquisition, Don Juan is known to the dangerous leader of the Inquisition but protected from arrest and torture because of his mentor, the Marquis. But, will the Marquis lead to his downfall?

What did you think of the characters? Honestly, I just found Don Juan disgusting. The book is packed with purple prose, during which he rhapsodizes about a woman's passion over and over and over, again. He's convinced he is doing women a favor by filling in for absentee husbands or supplying hopelessly single women's physical needs. He claims he can never love or marry, but in the long run that turns out to be an unfounded claim, of course, as he falls hopelessly in love. Dona Ana, the woman he adores, is justifiably repulsed by him. She seemed a decent gal; I liked her till close to the end.

Describe your favorite scene: There are several, actually. In spite of the fact that I disliked the protagonist, I thought the author did an excellent job of setting the scene. There were a few fascinating, almost cinematic scenes -- sometimes the author even injected a bit of slapstick humor. One of my favorites is the scene during which Don Juan is headed toward the dock to see if the ship that may be carrying his fortune will arrive (quoted above). You can easily zone in on the writing flaws in that particular excerpt (which I liked, but . . . isn't "dry mud" dirt?) . There are some scenes with swordplay that I enjoyed. And, a lot of leaping over roofs, hiding from various enemies and protectors of the women he seeks to entertain.

Recommended? That's a hard one. I think a lot of people will enjoy the book. It's often overdone, especially on the descriptions of what Don Juan thinks of women and his ability to please them, but there are some exciting action scenes. It's not a family-friendly book, as you'd expect, although it certainly isn't as graphic as it could have been. There are plenty of fun scenes that don't involve se*ual encounters. I don't recommend it to those who want to keep the fiction in their households clean. But, I liked it for the action and would call it an average read. I'd say avoid it if you don't like an arrogant protagonist or overwrought descriptions. Don Juan really did get on my nerves. However, I loved the sense of time and place.

In general: If I hear the word "passion" at all, this week, I will probably slug someone.

It bears mentioning that the action scenes are a little James Bondish in that he is too good at escaping; the sheer quantity of times he manage to squeak by without getting caught stretch believability. But, the time period was fraught with danger -- the Inquisition, a surprising number of widowed or abandoned women, thieves, sanitary hazards, pirates.

On the plus side, I thought it was obvious the author did his research and his notes about the book, why he wrote it and how he studied the time period and the character are fascinating.

Cover thoughts: The cover shown is not the same as that of the book I read. There are three that I know of. The hardback cover shows a man's torso with a cape slung over his shoulder. It's appealing. The copy above . . . I guess that's Seville and I like the night scene. There are plenty of night scenes, since Don Juan sneaks around at night, but it doesn't seem to fit as well, in my humble opinion. And, the one I've got appears to be a painting of a woman in ecstasy, with her boob hanging out of her tunic. You can imagine why I didn't want to put that on my family-friendly blog, but I do think it is the most logical cover choice.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Operation Blue Light: My Secret Life Among Psychic Spies by Philip Chabot

Operation Blue Light by Philip Chabot with Laurie Anne Blanchard
Copyright 2008
Cherubim Publishing/Memoir
303 pages

When I was done eating, he gave me some gum. He and I both took two sticks.

"Now don't throw away those wrappers," he said. "Here is what you do. Fold them this way. Then this way. One end fits into the other." It made one link. "Then do that again with the next wrapper. And you'll have a chain. Then, if you get one that is a yard long, you show it to your doctor. You'll get to stay in here for another six months."

What led you to pick up this book? I love reading anything at all about psychics -- their personal accounts of psychic experiences, in particular, but I also like paranormal fiction with psychic heroes or heroines.

Describe the book without giving anything away. Operation Blue Light is one man's account of his psychic experiences in the 1960s, during a time when the MKULTRA experiments took place (think Conspiracy Theory).

Okay, that's not enough info. Can you tell us more? Well, since you asked . . . okay. Philip Chabot (not the author's real name) begins the book with a gripping account of his arrival at a hotel after a lengthy cross-country drive. Exhausted, he takes a shower and makes a phone call, sleeps and then escapes past 4 rifle-wielding men in suits. What has happened? In order to find out, we must backtrack to Philip's high school years and learn about his early psychic experiences, which were followed by a mental breakdown (caused by the stress of college and the way people feared him after he made an accurate prediction) then time in a psychiatric ward. It wasn't till long after his breakdown that Philip's psychic ability resumed.

Oh, dear. I have so much more to say about this book. This is rough. I truly believe that everyone has a 6th sense and some are more "tuned in" than others. Those who read this blog regularly have heard a few of my own stories. In the author's case, his experiences were more "telepathic" than "vision-oriented". Sometimes he simply saw events through someone else's eyes, as they occurred. This part I believe. However -- and it's a big however -- what the author describes in this book involves government agents using his telepathic ability. I expected a kidnapping, maybe drugs . . . some sort of testing against his will.

Instead, Philip Chabot's psychic experiences resumed when he was removed from tranquilizers. Truth? I think he had some sort of episode of manic psychosis. What he describes sounds very, very much like the descriptions of two people I know who have been diagnosed as bipolar and experienced extreme episodes of mania. I believe the voices in the author's head were very real to him and his experience is every bit as real to him, to this day. But, my gut says the experience was mental; and, the sheer quantity of different people he claims to have communicated with telepathically was the most convincing factor.

Recommended? Iffy on recommendation. In spite of pedestrian writing and poor editing, the first two-thirds of the book was extremely gripping. I was just dying to know what was going to happen to Philip. Somewhere around that turning point, though (between about pages 180-200), his cross-country journey began. And, I realized it wasn't at all what I expected. There are pages and pages of rambling "psychic" conversation with alleged agents in Russia, Great Britain, the U.S. and China. I struggled to finish the last 75 pages of the book. Add a little kidnapping, some drugs, and it would make a great movie. I loved quotes like that above -- a real blast from the past. Does anyone remember how to make gum wrapper chains? But, the last third was a huge let-down, in my humble opinion.

Cover thoughts: The cover really appeals to me -- the phone with a cord torn from its cradle. And, it fits. The whole story is wrapped around a single phone call.

I think I'm caught up. I've hardly read at all, today, but I hope to amend problem by tomorrow. Now that I've typed up three reviews, I need to hurry up and finish three more, right? That's how it seems to work, lately.

Wait, where did that link to the giveaway go? Relax, it's right here. If you haven't signed up or you don't see anything great, don't worry. I'm pretty sure I've got to dump a few more books on you guys. The library is getting a minor windfall of donations, as well.

And, now, I'm off to bed. Hope everyone is having a glorious weekend!

Bookfool, who believes she is caught up (but we know that sensation never lasts long)

Occasional Therapy for Your Midlife Years by Dr. Ellyn Gamberg

Occasional Therapy for Your Midlife Years by Ellyn Gamberg
Copyright 2008
Ellis & Young
Nonfiction - Self-help/Psychology
196 pages

Whether or not midlife means a whole new script, it is a time when we can shape our lives without all of the "should or shouldn't haves" that may have constrained us earlier. It will take some work and effort on your part, but you have all the tools at your disposal, right now.

. . . the area of the brain that controls our "fight or flight" response is known to mellow with age. Not surprisingly, then, older adults show less evidence of fear, anger and hatred than younger adults. Psychological studies confirm this, proving that older adults are less impulsive and less likely to dwell on their negative feelings. Without revisiting that college biology class too much, suffice it to say that our brains actually improve with age.

What led you to pick up this book? Ugh. I'm middle aged. Sucky. Yes, I still think it sucks, even after reading the book (although I do know a few of my strong points as a mid-lifer).

Describe the book without giving anything away. The cover says it all: 12 sessions to combat your crisis. You don't have to be in misery to read the book, though. There are plenty of life-affirming statements that make the book a decent read, in general, if you just need to feel better about being "middle aged". The author discusses the meaning of the term "middle age," physical changes, emotional and psychological issues, marriage/divorce/widowhood, changes in the family situation, aging parents, etc.

What did you think of the format? I like the way the book is laid out in sections, so that if a particular part doesn't fit your needs (I skimmed the divorced/widowed/single section) you can breeze right past it or you can zone in on a specific concern.

Describe your favorite portion of the book: I think I preferred it when the author spoke in generalities about middle life and changes. Some of the specifics simply don't fit my life and I did occasionally get hung up, because of that. Once I got myself to mentally shift a bit and say, Okay, my parents are both dead, my marriage is better in midlife than it was when I was younger, and I've never worked outside the home full-time so this, this and this simply don't fit . . . Move on, chicky, I was fine. I enjoyed her descriptions about the brain and how it improves in middle age, how to focus on the future instead of the past, etc. It's certainly an uplifting read.

Recommended? Yes, absolutely. While I don't think every section will fit everyone's needs, it's really not written as a cure-all. You can zone in on the section you need and she makes recommendations about when you should seek professional help. I think Occasional Therapy is actually one of the better self-help books I've read and I think it would be great to revisit certain sections.

In general: Occasionally, the author's sense of humor was annoying and she overused parentheses. Otherwise, I think it's a rare book in that it speaks to its audience better than most. It's written with a broad enough perspective that a lot of it worked for me. Most books like this are built on the assumption that everyone has worked half their life. She did occasionally make mention that some people haven't even begun their work lives by middle age, although not often. I got hung up in the middle on that "ponder your accomplishments" section. Otherwise, I enjoyed the reading and thought it was well done.

Cover thoughts: Business and psychology books have the most tiresome covers -- either bold lettering or a huge, grinning photo of the author. Ugh. This one is nicely done, though. I like the layout. It's more original than most.

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay
Copyright 2007
St. Martin's Griffin/Fiction
293 pages

What led you to pick up this book? I love reading anything and everything set during WWII (and sometimes between the two world wars).

Summarize the plot without giving away the ending. Young Sarah locks her brother in a cupboard to save him from the police when her Jewish family is rounded up and taken to the Velodrome d'Hiver, during WWII. Dragged from her home, the key held tight in her pocket, she worries about her brother. When will she be released from the stadium so that she can let her brother out of the cabinet?

In present-day France, journalist Julia Jarmond researches the Vel d'Hiv roundup. She is forever changed by what she learns about the round-up in general and captivated by the story of young Sarah. What became of Sarah? Julia will not rest until she finds out.

What did you think of the characters? A few details, first. Sarah's Key is told via alternating viewpoints, first Sarah and then Julia, until a certain point. Then, the point of view shifts entirely to Julia, as she searches for answers.

Sarah is close to the age of Julia's daughter. Julia struck me as a decent, kind-hearted woman who ended up in a lousy marriage because she let her hormones guide her. It was easy to sympathize with her and I found her soft spot for Sarah believable. Sarah was a little bit of a stretch, at times. As per John Boyne's description in his review of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, for Estella's Revenge, I thought there was a bit of overkill -- trying too hard to make readers care for Sarah. And, there were pieces of plot that I thought the author pushed . . . times, I guess, when she was so determined to fit her plot around the Sarah that I thought, "No. She should have done this. Sarah would have tried. She was a determined little girl." Aside from those small idiosyncracies (and I admit to being the kind of person who mentally dissects plot), I liked the characters and I cared about them.

Describe your favorite scene: It's a gut-wrenching book; I can't say there was a particular scene I loved, although there were some surprises. When the author threw in something unpredictable, that was when I truly enjoyed the reading. It's an emotionally compelling book and even those small bits that didn't seem entirely fitting still worked . . . they didn't interrupt the flow. I still had to run for the tissues.

Recommended? Definitely. I'm just being picky when I say there were moments I thought the author pushed her plot. I still thought the book was excellent and it will rank high on my list of favorites for the year 2008.

In general: A gripping, emotional read. I had a terrible time putting it down. The last book two books I had this much trouble setting down were Lottery by Patricia Wood and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

Cover thoughts: I love the cover. The book is set primarily in Paris and Sarah adores her younger brother. It's appealing and seems to fit, although there is no time that we get to experience the joy that brother and sister shared before the tragic night of the round-up.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Just stuff

Stolen from Hey Lady Trish, because it's true. I'm lame:

I have a mental laundry list, you see. But, just like a written list (I have at least two of those going, at any given time), there are items I keep putting off and moving to the "new" lists that I create each day. Only, since this one's mental, I don't even get the satisfaction of making a little check mark in a column. I love ticking things off of lists. Anyway, I've mean to thank Care for this little award for eons. I'm probably the last to receive or post about this award and I was feeling pretty unloved. I mean, the cat likes me but some days I yearn for more. And, in fact, the cat had a tummy ache, this week, so even she was pretty unfriendly (she's improving). Thanks, Care!!!

Book-a-rama Chris gave me another award, but I have to confess . . . I don't get it. This blog inspires closeness? I think that's what it means. Typically, the awards have been around the block and back, so to speak. So, I'm just going to say "Thank you," and move on. Thanks, Chris!

I'm going to try to catch up on book reviews after cleaning our so-called "office" (meant to be a bedroom; used like a closet). It's a big job but somebody's gotta do it. But, wait! My son mentioned this fun site, Sad Guys on Trading Floors. I happen to know that a guy I went to school with, who never said a negative word to anyone (unless you count that crack about the Dorito) has been the Vice President of Global Affairs on the NYSE, for a time -- since he gave up that posh government job in protocol. So, while I was chatting with the son, I flipped through the photos to see if Jeff was in there, anywhere. Sure enough, there he was on page 3:

The dude on the right. That's Jeff. He used to have gorgeous black hair, but now he's distinguished. And, looking maybe a bit angsty, but it's hard to say. Jeff is a really upbeat guy. I hope this week didn't kill him. If you are currently friends with Jeff, tell him I wish next week is better -- partly because I talked my kiddo into chucking his summer earnings into a mutual fund. Har. Let's just call that "long-term investment", shall we? So much for the idea of saving for college.

I'm not making my giveaway a sticky post, so don't forget I'm giving away a book. I'll keep reminding you. Next up, a string of book reviews, probably low on chatter (but you can never tell, with me, can you?).

Happy Weekend!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

BuyGive a Friend a Book Week

I know . . . so, so far behind the rest of the world. But, better late than never.

Choose one, tell me which one you'd like, cross your fingers and be sure to write your email in the comment section so I'll know where to find you. The Lost Diary of Don Juan has a different cover, but I just can't see myself putting a photo of a gal with her boob sticking out in my sidebar . . . fair warning. Walking Through Walls is an ARC. I'll ship a book anywhere in the world, this time. Drawing will be held on the 15th (mostly because it's an easy number to remember). All are used books -- or, at least, they will be. I'm reading one of them.

The possibilities:

And, since you all love posting about giveaways in order to earn an extra entry, go ahead. Post, leave me a URL and I'll give you two extra points.

Oh, eck, falling behind!

Busy week . . . can't sit still long enough to stop flapping the wings.

First things first . . . I forgot to link up to the latest issue of Estella's Revenge, so here you go. Just in case you missed it. Can't let that happen.

Kiddo is off for "intercession", this week (not good . . . very not good for my son, since he is a night owl and school breaks tend to throw his sleep schedule totally out of whack), so I've been avoiding the computer a little in order to try to keep him awake during the daylight hours, read a little, spend some time with the kid while I've got him. I actually really like my teenager and enjoy spending time with him. So, I'm now officially behind on blogging. I've finished Occasional Therapy for your Midlife Years and Sarah's Key. Reviews forthcoming, but I'm not sure when.

Here's what I'm reading:

The Swan House by Elizabeth Musser -- set in Atlanta during the 1960s. Mary Swan Middleton must solve a mystery and deal with grief after a tragic plane crash. At this point, she's started helping her family's maid serve poor people meals in a primarily black part of town. But, after befriending a young black man she has discovered the true horror of racial prejudice.

Operation Blue Light: My Secret Life Among Psychic Spies by Philip Chabot -- A surprisingly gripping memoir about a man whose psychic abilities were exploited by the government, in the 1960s. Having trouble putting this sucker down.

Random Passage by Bernice Morgan -- Historical fiction about a family that is forced to pack up and sail to Newfoundland after one of the brothers of the family, Ned, steals from his boss, a man who employs almost the entire family and owns most of their hometown. I'm reading this one for the Canadian reading challenge and it is almost unbearably wonderful, as in "I need time to stand still, so I can sit in a big, fat chair and indulge in this book."

The Lost Diary of Don Juan by Douglas Carlton Abrams - Seriously, Bookfool is reading a fictional account of Don Juan. It's not nasty or graphic, but it's also not totally grabbing me.

Sorry about the lack of wahoos. I forgot it was Wednesday, yesterday. I'll try to remember, next week, promise.

Next post will be the giveaway. And, then I'm going to go read because this day is pretty much shot.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

September Reads in Review

My cat is reading Bedlam South. And, if you believe that one I have some excellent swamp-land . . .

September was a pretty decent reading month for me, although there were some odd gaps during which I finished nothing, nothing, nothing followed by a flurry of completed books. I suppose that's par for the course, but the gaps felt longer than normal. In the end, I completed 12 books with a total of 3,383 pages. There were dramatic highs and lows. I seemed to either love or hate a book, this month; there wasn't a lot of in-between. Maybe because of illness, books were held to a higher standard. If you're feeling lousy, you want to be enormously entertained ("vaguely" just will not suffice) between naps. If I reviewed a book, there will be a link you can click on to read the full review.

Bookfool's September Reads:

1. Talk of the Town by Lisa Wingate - Life and love in small-town Texas. I laughed, I cried; I loved this book.

2. The Words of War by Donagh Bracken - Civil War history; hard reading but it was worth the effort. Thanks to Mr. Bracken, I can now recognize names of critical players and battles.

3. Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland - Not about all the lonely people -- just a few of them, mostly Canadian. Sort of depressing, with an upbeat ending. Also, if you click on the link you can read probably the weirdest review I've ever written.

4. The Last Queen by C. W. Gortner - A fictional tale of Juana the Mad that seems plausible enough and treats her with sympathy. It was rough being royal. Well-written and engaging.

5. Blue Sky July by Nia Wyn - The true story of a mother who refused to give up on her severely damaged child and the miracle that emerged from her love and tireless effort. A book that deserves to be widely read. Beautifully written.

6. Chameleon, Butterfly, Dragonfly: A Divine Guide to Lasting Fulfillment by Cindy Silbert - New Age advice channeled to the author by a Hawaiian goddess. Breeni liked it. I found the book flaky and unhelpful.

7. Walking Through Walls by Philip Smith - Twofers on the "yeesh" factor. Psychic healing, drugs, sex, rock 'n roll. Readable, but sordid. Not my thing.

8. Farworld: Water Keep by J. Scott Savage (YA) - Ah, there we go. Adventure with a sense of humor. A few too many bad guys to easily keep track of, but whatever. Great escapist reading. The kiddo loved it and I appreciated the family-friendliness.

9. The Darcys and the Bingleys by Marsha Altman - My first Austen off-shoot and I had to work at letting go of my Mr. Darcy a bit, but once I did . . . such fun. Witty and surprisingly true to the characters in many ways.

10. Anatomy of a Boyfriend by Daria Snadowsky (YA) - Graphic sex without any real moral dilemma, no paying the consequences for reckless actions. A review would have been akin to throwing the author against a wall and shooting her, so I passed my copy on to a friend who will undoubtedly love it and review it in glowing terms.

11. An Inconvenient Truth adapted for a New Generation by Al Gore (YA) - The kids' version of Al Gore's book on global warming, packed with photos and very well presented (although I do believe a few of those charts would go over kids' heads). Made me want to hug my trees, save the rainforest and the glaciers, snuggle up with a polar bear. I don't see how anyone could disbelieve the evidence, but my husband and I promptly had an argument about global warming and I had to explain those past warming fluctuations and how they compare with the current warming trend. I claim victory in that little tiff.

12. Awakening the Genie Within by Bettye Johnson - The author is old and shares plenty of wisdom, but her religious beliefs are so far removed from mine, that . . . again . . . I thought a review would be a slaughter. I'm not willing to flay authors, so I'll just tell you that the book is similar to Chameleon, Butterfly, Dragonfly in its New-Age, female-power approach but with a dude named Ramtha (whose name is a registered trademark -- beat that) as the god being channeled. Too much of a stretch for me.

What now?

I just finished Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, this morning. The Swan House by Elizabeth Musser is rather chunky and I'm a little thick, myself, so it will take me a while. But, I have already had to reach for tissues. Musser knows how to engage a reader emotionally. I'm on the downhill slide in Occasional Therapy for Your Midlife Years by Ellyn Gamberg. It's hard to relate, at times, but it's a good book and it was just me getting hung up, not the author missing the boat entirely. I set The Dharma King aside because I hadn't touched it in a week, but not due to either the writing or the storyline. It was a focus issue. I've decided I'll start it over, again, in a week or two, so the reading can be fresh.

What about Bob?

Fred, first. Remember Bob and Fred, our spiders? Fred disappeared for a few days and then returned to the same old web. Bob hung out for a while and then abandoned his (gigantic, awe-inspiring, squirrel-entangling) web. Said the kiddo, "He's probably around. Bob's a mover."

Do you know your nursery rhymes?

Remember Jack and Jill? The old woman who lived in a shoe? Mary, Mary, quite contrary? I thought everyone knew those old Mother Goose rhymes until I moved to Vicksburg. I'd successfully used "Little Jack Horner" to clarify my last name, many times, while we were still living in Oklahoma. But, I hadn't tried that in quite a while . . . till school began in August. The new security guard at my son's school was having a terrible time remembering my name, so I said, "Do you know your nursery rhymes? Remember this, when you see my car . . . 'Little Jack Horner sat in the corner.' " Apparently, she doesn't know her Mother Goose. She's been calling me "Miz Corner," ever since.

Off to my corner to read. I've got to go motivate the teenager to work on abstracts while he's off school. He has this really, really bad grade he needs to fix. This is one of those points during which a mother says to herself, "So, why did I stay home with my kids? I could have been earning money, setting an example for hard work and watching my retirement income disappear!" Actually, that last bit makes staying home sound worthwhile.

Giveaway coming up when I can get to it. Be patient with me, please!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Bedlam South by Mark Grisham and David Donaldson

Bedlam South by Mark Grisham & David Donaldson
Copyright 2008 - Release date: October 7
State Street Press (Borders) - Historical Fiction
322 pages
Authors' website

I couldn't find a decent image of the Bedlam South cover, online, so I plunked my copy on top of my Poppet bag and shot a few photos. Yes, my poppets live in a lovely, embroidered bag . . . which, coincidentally, was purchased in the same town that houses Bedlam South's publisher, State Street Press in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

I've recently discovered a new obsession with all things (American) Civil War and the description of Bedlam South grabbed me right off the bat. There are several interwoven plotlines and you can read the cover blurb, here. I overcame my shy nature and boldly asked the authors if they needed anyone to review Bedlam South, after reading about it at another blog. David Donaldson kindly replied and shipped an ARC. And, oh, I'm so glad I asked!

In the story, "Bedlam South" is the nickname for Wingate Asylum, a mental institution in Richmond, Virginia where soldiers suffering from various mental afflictions are housed and -- as in the Bedlam of English fame -- many are tortured and brutally killed by a sadistic and badly deformed veteran by the name of Captain Samuel Percy and his cohorts, men who pillage and kill during their leisure time, as well as their working hours. Joseph Bryarly is called home from Bethlem Royal Hospital in England, assigned to work at Bedlam South. Upon his arrival, he immediately becomes enemies with (and subordinate to) Percy. Can he make a difference or is madness or death the only way out?

Zeke Gibson joins his brother Billy on the front lines with Company C, 13th Mississippi. Initially excited to join the Confederate effort, Zeke soon discovers the hardships of war as his company, a part of Longstreet's Division of The Army of Northern Virginia, faces long marches in inclement weather, tiny rations and shocking casualties. Separated at Gettysburg, neither brother knows if the other is alive and both must struggle through their own private battles and momentary madness. Eventually, their lives will intertwine with that of Dr. Bryarly and an Irish immigrant family.

I'm skipping the normal review format because I don't think I can really give this book its due using that format. What you really need to know is that the only reason I set this book aside for even a minute was to focus on finishing another book I'd been reading for quite a while. It was painful putting Bedlam South down for a few days; and, once I picked it back up I was simply immersed.

Ordinarily, I'm not a fan of vernacular but there are several modes of speech in this book and I thought the dialect served well to distinguish the characters. Zeke, Billy, neighbor Nate and other Mississippians speak with thick, farm-boy Mississippi accents. Joseph is originally from Alabama, but life in England has altered his mode of speech; he's proper and formal. The Irish immigrants speak as you'd expect, although there were times I thought they veered toward the trite.

What I truly loved about this book was the sense of place -- the ease with which one can empathize with the soldiers as they shiver in the cold and yearn for larger rations and shoes that aren't falling apart, the placement of the fictional characters within the framework of actual events and references to true characters of the Civil War. I've only recently become familiar with the major players in the Civil War and I admit to getting a buzz out of reading about them from the inside, so to speak. Other characters are fictional, but well-known generals appear in their proper places within a realistic timeline. When important leaders are killed or injured, the deaths and injuries are mentioned.

Not long ago, I read a Civil War novel in which the war left the characters largely untouched and I found that frustrating. Bedlam South is quite the opposite in that you get a true understanding of how loss and tragedy become a way of life during a time of war.

It was also fascinating to read about the way deserters and men suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress (which we all know about now, but which was not a recognized condition at that time) were treated, at the time -- lined up and shot or locked away, tried and hanged. I recall reading a dispatch about how deserters were to be handled in The Words of War, but reading about those men when they were described as individuals put a new perspective on the process. As the story progresses, the reader becomes aware that each of us handles challenges in different ways but it's not completely abnormal for any person to experience the odd momentary loss of sanity when surrounded by death and horror, starvation and other extremes.

There are little things I could criticize about the writing in this book; it's not perfect. I think the book was a little shy on character development, but the way the authors place their characters in the midst of hardship really jibed with the nonfiction I've recently read, so I appreciated their attention to those depths of deprivation due to war-time conditions. Otherwise . . . anyone who has studied writing will catch a few "new author" mistakes. I found the story so utterly page-turning that I chose to ignore those minor flaws. When I first picked up the book, it grabbed me immediately. I cared about Zeke and Billy, Joseph, the Dougall family and Mary Beth, a high-class hooker. I highly recommend Bedlam South, particularly to fans of historical fiction and Civil War buffs.

One thing I really appreciate about the book . . . sex is never described in graphic detail; in spite of the fact that many of the soldiers in the book turn to prostitutes (and that one key character has turned to prostitution to survive) and some of the characters fall in love, the actual couplings are bypassed. Thank you, thank you for that, Mr. Donaldson and Mr. Grisham.

A portion of the procedes from this book will benefit Impact Missions, a North Mississippi charity founded by David Donaldson. You can read about David and Impact Missions, here. Be sure to page all the way down, so you can see his cute little grandbaby and the firing cannons.

The authors have written two follow-up books and are working on a fourth book. I am bouncing on my toes. I cannot wait to read them.

Must dash to church, but I hope to get around to a belated Buy a Friend a Book giveaway post, later today or tomorrow, as well as a wrap-up of my September reads.