Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Reading . . . fell down on the job in September

At least I didn't have to memorize what I read, like Cary. And, the dog, apparently. I managed to read 9 books, this month, but compared to last month aAdd Imagend the month before and the list of books I planned to read . . . pitiful. So, I'm trying to be happy with what I read and just stare at Cary because how could you not enjoy looking at that face for any great length of time? Yeah.

Bookfool's September Reads (links to full reviews provided, if applicable):

1. Vanishing by Candida Lawrence (NF/Memoir) - One of 4 memoirs by an author who writes nothing but essays. I found myself instantly bristling; I simply did not like the author. Some of her stories were interesting, but I had trouble getting over my personal discomfort with the writer. It's a quick read; the writing is rather lyrical if you can stand her. It's probably just me.

2. The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick (Historical fiction) - The story of William Marshal, a knight who became a favorite of Eleanor of Aquitaine and served under several kings during the time when England and Normandy were closely aligned. It took a while for me to get into this one and then I absolutely loved it. The detail is amazing.

3. Abide With Me by John H. Parker (NF/Photography/History) - A slim, coffee-table type book of photographs and historical sketches describing the people who wrote well-known hymns and the lands from which they hailed. This is a beautiful book and I loved the bios but the photos don't align well with the text, so a lot of flipping is involved. The enclosed CD of hymns is simply wonderful.

4. Bundle of Trouble by Diana Orgain (Cozy Mystery) - A new mother becomes involved in a mystery when a body turns up and the police suspect the dead man is her brother-in-law. When other ties to her family emerge and more people die, she decides maybe she can turn snooping into a home-based business (because she really doesn't want to return to her office job). A good start to a series; characters could have used a bit more depth, but it's a fun book.

5. House of Dark Shadows by Robert Liparulo (YA/Fiction/Paranormal) - This is a nice, creepy story that isn't nightmare-inducing (there's some violence but it's not too gory) about a family that moves into a house with strange, dark secrets -- portals through time, a 40-year-old disappearance and . . . well, Bigfoot or some kind of creature that kidnaps people. Loads of fun, the first in a series, and surprisingly believable for the subject matter. This was my second read for the RIP IV.

6. Sometimes We're Always Real Same-Same by Mattox Roesch (Fiction/General/Alaska) - Cesar's brother is in jail for life because of a gang-related murder and Cesar has done some terrible things, already. To prevent losing both of her sons to the same fate, his mother moves both of them to her hometown: Unalakleet, Alaska. There, he is taken under the wing of his cousin, Go-boy. But, Go-boy has problems of his own. Tackles quite a few issues and I had a little trouble figuring out what the author was after, for a while, but eventually I really got into the story and love the theme that we're all human and alike in many ways.

7. 31 Hours by Masha Hamilton (Fiction/Suspense/Terrorism) - Jonas has not called or spoken to his mother or girlfriend in several weeks. His mother has a bad feeling and Vic is worried, although she also has her sister to watch out for. As the two women search for Jonas, he is staying in a safe-house, preparing for an act of unspeakable violence. Gripping and well-written, but the real impact of the book lies in the depth of its everyday characters, like a homeless man, who will undoubtedly die if the terrorists succeed.

8. The Treasures of Venice by Loucinda McGary (Romance/Adventure) - Ditched by her fiance, Samantha decides to go ahead and take her honeymoon trip to Venice alone and gets swept into kidnapping and intrigue when an Irish rogue pretends to know her and she plays along. They must find the Jewels of the Madonna to save his sister's life. There's a parallel romance that takes place in 1485 and involves the same jewels. A little cliche, but a nice escapist read.

9. Pale Phoenix by Kathryn Reiss (YA/Paranormal) - Miranda can't stand Abby Chandler, so she's not thrilled when Abby comes to stay with her family. There's something very strange about that girl. When Miranda hears Abby crying but she's not there . . . and follows her, only to find that her footprints suddenly stop in the snow, Miranda's suspicious. And, when she sees Abby's collection of photos -- all of Abby but from different time periods -- she knows something is amiss. What does the ancient carving of a phoenix have to do with Abby's disappearances? Can Miranda help save Abby from a fate worse than death? Fun, quick reading and a nice paranormal tale with a great ending. This is my third read for the RIP IV.

9 books finished
2706 pages
146 books read in 2009

I'm behind on a few reviews that were slated for September. I beg patience of anyone who is bouncing upon tippytoes, awaiting Bookfool's Cherished Ponderings. Or, you know . . . whatever. A few I read well in advance of their due dates and then when the time came to review, I was in the mood to sleep or standing around snapping photos of teenagers, or the words didn't come to me and I chose to let them hang, etc. Today, I've also spent time squeezing ointment into a kitty cat's bloody eye. Poor kitty cat.

I hope to do some serious reading and catch-up, this month. Prayer would be welcomed. Knocking wood, tossing salt and other lucky things are fine, as well.

I'm off to bed. I do believe I'll read a bit before I nod off. How about yourself?

Bookfool, whose cat is in serious need of affection and therefore it looks like I'm going to be squeezing my feet into that small space next to her

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Treasures of Venice by Loucinda McGary

The Treasures of Venice by Loucinda McGary
Copyright 2009
Sourcebooks - Romance/Adventure - both modern and historical
318 pages

The Treasures of Venice is not my typical fare (although I don't scorn romance -- there are some excellent romance writers out there) but Sourcebooks accidentally sent me the wrong book and I love it when that happens. Reading a book that is a little outside your normal comfort zone gives you a chance to shake up your reading a bit -- always a good thing, in my opinion.

The Treasures of Venice is an adventurous tale. Samantha Lewis was dumped by her fiance just prior to their scheduled wedding. Instead of canceling her honeymoon, she decided to go ahead and journey to Venice. The book opens with Samantha sitting in a Venice cafe, musing about the betrayal that brought her to Italy alone. When a handsome Irish rogue, Keirnan Fitzgerald, shows up at an outdoor cafe pretending to be her boyfriend, she plays along. His sister has been kidnapped and he must obtain a set of missing jewels in order to save her life.

In 1485, the lovely Serafina Lombardo falls for a painter who can barely afford to feed himself. Nino wants to take her away from Venice to begin a new life with her. But, there is only one way he can possibly save her and Nino quickly finds that it's difficult knowing who to trust.

Can Samantha and Keirnan find the jewels in time to save his sister? What became of the tragic Serafina and how are the two stories connected? Do the Jewels of the Madonna even exist and, if so, what has become of them?

There are a lot of romantic cliches in this book but I was simply in the mood to ignore that and enjoy the adventure. And, I think it was a rollicking fine adventure story -- a little over-the-top, yes, but if you're just looking for an escape, The Treasures of Venice fits the bill.

3.5/5 - Action-packed romance. Be willing to let go of reality and just enjoy the adventure. I'd particularly recommend this one to romance fans but if you're like me and don't mind tossing in something a little different I think you'll find it's a great escapist read. There are some fairly graphic sex scenes but they're usually pretty brief (about a page, as opposed to pages and pages with heavy detail).

Thanks to Danielle at Sourcebooks for being such a total sweetie-pie when things go a little hinky!! Danielle, you're the greatest!

In other news . . .
Oh, baby, this is so big. I mean this is HUGE. Simon Van Booy has won the Franklin O'Connor Short Story Award for Love Begins in Winter!!!! If you've read my blog for any length of time, you know I'm an adoring fan of Simon and his work. His writing is absolutely breathtaking and he is tremendously kind and humble for a man of such talent and genius (see my 2007 chat with Simon, here).

Congratulations, Simon!!

And, to everyone else . . . it's time. If you've missed out on the beauty of Simon's writing, give in. Go buy a copy of Love Begins in Winter. You won't regret it.

Just walked in:

Mama's Got a FAKE I.D. by Caryn Rivadeneira - a book I accepted for review because the author made me laugh. And, it looks terrific, so I'm glad I said, "Oh, all right. Just because I like you."
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger - a total surprise from Simon & Schuster . . . which is probably going to get shoved to the head of the queue because I have been so dying to read this book and it's the season for ghost stories, after all, isn't it?

Because I am a weak, weak bibliophile:

The Measure of a Lady by Deeanne Gist and Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix ended up in a red plastic bag, dangling from my wrist, this afternoon. I told Kiddo it was dangerous taking me into the bookstore, but did he listen???? Okay, can't blame the kid. I know that.

I don't know if I'll have time to post about Banned Books Week, since we're still in the thick of swim season, we're "remodeling" our kitchen (very slowly -- it's a DIY thing, right now involving paint, a drill, door handles, doors, hinges, wood glue and a lot of sweat), painting our den and trying to level the floor while we await our carpet, and you know . . . the other stuff people do. If we didn't have to eat or wash clothing or sleep, it would really help.

Happy Monday, everybody!!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Smart One and The Pretty One - Winners!!

Whoop! Whoop! Whoop! Time to draw some names, my smart pretties!! The winners of The Smart One and the Pretty One by Claire LaZebnik are . . .

Silent Evil Person

And, where would you like to go if you were able to hop a plane to any place on the planet? Well . . . you guys are very, very fond of the British Isles (England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland) as well as Italy (Tuscany, Rome) and Greece. Other spots that interest those of you who signed up for this drawing are Mexico, Africa, all of Europe, New Zealand, Fripp Island, and the Lowcountry of South Carolina. I'm rather fond of the British Isles because I love the people and . . . yes, I confess . . . the sheep. I love sheep. But Australia, New Zealand and Italy are at the top of my travel wish list, at the moment.

I will write to the winners. In case my email to you goes astray, you have until Wednesday noon (U.S. Central Time -- that's Greenwich Mean Time minus 5, according to the glorious internet) to write to me. You can whip out a note and send it to me at the email in my sidebar, if necessary -------------------->

Congratulations to the winners!!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

New *Giveaway* - The Bible Salesman by Clyde Edgerton

This post has been closed to further comments. I'll post results as soon as possible.

Ask me what it is about The Bible Salesman's cover that appeals to me. Go ahead. Ask.

Okay, since you asked . . . just about everything. The marmalade cat (we still miss our dearly departed little Miss Sunshine), the green door (I Love Green!!!!), the shovel. All combine to give the cover a welcoming "Home Sweet Home" look. At the same time, you can visualize yourself as the person who is about to knock on that door, can't you?

I just had to mention the cover because I appreciate an inviting book cover.

I've signed up to give away *5 copies* of The Bible Salesman by Clyde Edgerton and am eagerly awaiting my own copy for review, thanks to Valerie and the Hatchette Book Group.

About the book:

Preston Clearwater has been a criminal since stealing two chain saws and 1,600 pairs of aviator sunglasses from the army during WWII. Back on the road in postwar North Carolina, now a member of a car-theft ring, he picks up hitchhiking Henry Dampier, an innocent twenty-year-old Bible salesman. Clearwater immediately recognizes Henry as smart but gullible, just the kind of associate he needs -- one who will believe Clearwater is working undercover for the F.B.I.; one who will drive the cars Clearwater steals as Clearwater drives along in his own car at a safe distance. Henry joyfully sees a chance to lead a dual life as a Bible salesman and a G-man.

During his hilarious and scary adventures, Henry grapples with doubts about the Bible's accuracy and we learn of his fundamentalist upbringing, an upbringing that hasn't prepared him for his new life. As he falls in love with the captivating Marleen Green and questions his religious training, Henry begins to see he's being used -- that he is on his own in a way he never imagined.

The Reading Group Guide for Book Clubs:

Questions and Topics for Discussion:

1. Henry sells free Bibles he receives from Bible societies across the country, which he has requested under less-than-honest pretenses. Discuss how Henry reconciles his actions with his morality. Does he feel that his actions are acceptable? Do you?

2. From the moment Henry and Preston meet, Henry's innocence contrasts with the older man's manipulativeness. Discuss the relationship between these two men. How does Henry's naivete ultimately allow him to upset Preston's plans for him? In what ways are the two men similar?

3. Henry's family is charitable (sending blankets to Yancy) but their church is sometimes harsh (warning the child Henry about being a blasphemer). How does Henry's Uncle Jack help him navigate these contradictions?

4. How do the elderly, especially women, contribute to the comic scenes in The Bible Salesman? Does their unworldliness add to their being funny? Are they similar to Henry in this respect?

5. The Biblical characters of Abraham, his wife Sarah, and his mistress Hagar intrigue and puzzle Henry. Does his knowing their story make it easier for him to accept his attraction to Marleen Green?

6. Henry's childhood is revealed over the course of The Bible Salesman, as are the numerous forces that shaped his Christianity -- Aunt Dorie, the Bible Salesman instructor and Henry's church, just to name a few. To what extent does each influence how he approaches his faith? How do his beliefs change over the course of the novel?

7. Although he initially views Henry as a gullible boy, Preston eventually realizes that he is not as clueless as he thought. How do you see Henry? Did your opinion change as you read? Why and in what ways?

8. Henry's beloved Uncle Jack is ejected from a surfside club as "white trash". Clearwater feels justified in burglarizing a plantation house owned by rich northerners in Florida. Does class conflict lead to the doctor's death in Drain, Georgia? Or is Clearwater's character the sole culprit?

9. In what ways does Henry mature from a child to an adult over the course of the novel? How is he still like a boy? What characters and events influence his growth? Do you think it is possible to maintain a positive outlook such as his in the face of the trials of adulthood?

10. Henry and Preston's journey through the South is the focus of the novel, but they travel in other ways as well. How does movement, in both the physical and psychological sense, cause the characters to change? Do you think Henry would be the same man at the end of the novel had he not partnered with Preston?

11. Family reunions play a big part in Henry's past. How does the extended family unify the disparate personalities and bloodlines in The Bible Salesman? Does it assuage the fact that Henry's parents are absent and that his sister's son looks nothing like his brother-in-law?

12. Did The Bible Salesman inspire you to compare parts of the Hebrew Bible to the King James Version and the Chicago Bible? If so, what differences in the interpretations of the text did you find interesting?

***Rules, rules, rules. Always with the rules***:

1. Leave your email address OR ELSE (Big Meanie Alert). No email, no entry.

2. Answer this question: Does the fact that Christianity, beliefs and Bibles play an important part in this book put you off at all or pique your interest?

3. Think like a North American and Be One. Hatchette's giveaways are limited to residents of the U.S. and Canada. No P.O. Boxes.

4. Spread the word and provide a link to your post or tweet for an extra entry. It is not necessary to comment more than once; you can put all the info in a single comment (actually, I prefer it that way). There will be five winners. Wahoo!

The contest ends on October 18, 2009.

Also, don't forget to drop by and sign up for my other two giveaways:

The Smart One and the Pretty One - ends tomorrow night, Sept. 27 at 6pm!

Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with Hatchette - a huge giveaway; each winner will receive 5 books!

Important Notice: I now give winners roughly 48 - 72 hours to respond because I'm a busy girl. I strongly advise following this blog in a reader, if you don't, so that you will see your name if something hinky happens to your email (or you just don't check your email often). I'll let you know how long you have to respond within the text of the drawing winners announcement post.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Insomniac's Digest: Because when you can't sleep, you might as well do something useful or at least do something, period

Photo came from this insomnia site.

Ramblings of an insomniac:

11:21 PM - Not bad, but it feels ridiculously late and I'm wired. Both son and I have maddening but limited cases of hives. There must be something in the air. Mold, maybe? All that rain can cause evil things to grow. Evil things that itch.

11:22 PM - I'm going to tell you about all the books I'm reading, now. I hope this doesn't keep you awake unless you need to be awake and doesn't put you to sleep unless you're having a bout of insomnia, too.

11:23 PM - To Serve Them All My Days by R. F. Delderfield - a fictional, classic chunkster about a man who returns to England severely shell-shocked after 3 years of service in WWI (life in the French trenches = misery) and becomes a teacher at a remote boys' school as therapy. Oh, man, am I ever loving this book. You should read this book. I'll review it in about the year 2014, at the rate I'm going, but still . . . you should read it.

11:25 PM - Milky Way Marmalade by Michael DiCerto - A humorous sci-fi tale about a hunter of meaty delicacies who plans to retire until he's offered a chance to make money by capturing the Wisest Substance in the Universe: a gelatinous, pillow-shaped blob known as L'Orange. He decides to save it, instead (according to the cover -- I haven't quite reached that point). So far, this one falls into my Loads Of Fun category. We'll mention the rock 'n roll references later.

11:30 PM - The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell - Don't hate me if I haven't read your book, yet, and I shoved this one to the head of the queue, okay? It's just that it's skinny and it looked really, really interesting. Also, apparently I was magnetically attracted to it. I can't locate the magnets at either end, but trust me . . . they are there. I can feel the tug.

Kiddo had to do abdominal exercises poolside, today, because he can't swim for a day or two after his cortisone shot. So I alternated between timing his leg lifts and reading aloud from The Interrogative Mood. It's written entirely in questions and it is . . . humble opinion, here . . . a bit of quirky brilliance. We laughed a lot. I want to laugh more, so I'll keep reading.

11:38 PM - The Treasures of Venice by Loucinda McGary - A romance (gasp!) that takes place in two separate time periods in Venice. Samantha is caught up in an adventure involving a handsome Irish rogue, his kidnapped sister, and some valuable jewels. There's a connection between the historical lovebirds of 1485 and the contemporary couple, but I'm too tired to explain it. This book was sent to me by mistake. I love this kind of error; Bookfool needed something a little light and atypical to toss into the mix.

11:41 PM - $20 Per Gallon by Christopher Steiner - A nicely researched forecast of how our lives will change in America as the remaining gas supply dwindles and prices sharply rise. Fascinating stuff. All those airplanes parked in the desert! Will we end up sailing the Atlantic if we're in the mood for a European jaunt? Will there be a modern Jamaica Inn, where people go rushing off to salvage the goods of ships wrecked on the craggy shore? I don't know, but I'm enjoying the book. And, those were just my questions. Steiner hasn't mentioned sailing or shipwrecks, just FYI. He did mention planes parked in the desert.

11:44 PM - The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose - Brown University student Kevin Roose decided to go undercover at a Christian university (Jerry Falwell's) in order to write about it. I haven't gotten far on this one because I keep burying it, but what I'm getting from it, so far, is a "They're human like us," vibe. I'm anxious to read more. I should possibly attach a neon flag to this book.

11:52 PM - Went on a mental tangent that intersected with a heavy, anomolous brain fog.

11:53 PM - The Mosaic Bible from Tyndale House - You should read yesterday's post; I don't want to describe it, again. And, then come back later in the week because I'm going to have a drawing. One lucky person will win a certificate redeemable for a copy of The Mosaic Bible. I have to ask whether or not it can be redeemed from any place on the planet, though. So, bear with me.

11:55 PM - Aha! Benadryl is beginning to take effect. I prefer oral to topical for hives, don't you? Especially at night, when you're all goggle-eyed and need sleep because somebody is going to come to your house to measure your room for carpet installation and they're planning to call between the Ridiculously Ungodly Hours of 7-9 AM. Too, too early for this gal. Waaay too early.

11:57 PM - Giving up. Think I'll review a couple of children's books, tomorrow. The cat and I always have such fun reviewing children's books.

12:03 PM - Editing your blog posts is obviously time-consuming. I am really going to stop, now. This moment. I'm not going to say another word. Not one. Okay, maybe one or two.

Good night.

She whose eyes were wide, whose stacks are likely to be featured in a horror film and whose cat has given up on her, quietly retreating to a dark spot to meditate.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Mosaic Bible - just arrived

I just received a copy of the Mosaic Bible in New Living Translation to review for Tyndale House, a few days ago, and have finally managed to crack the cover to read about it. It has just been released today and you can buy a copy at Amazon for a mere $20.24.

The "mosaic" bit has to do with the fact that this Bible is composed of more than just the Biblical text. A third of the book is devoted to scripture readings, meditations and beautiful artwork. There are some spaces to write your thoughts in that section and the paper is heavier than traditional Bible paper so that if you do write in it you won't poke holes in the paper.

The remainder of the Bible is the full text in NLT and the usual, delicate pages. It has a center column with cross-references, but it's not a study Bible with a lot of explanatory notes. Instead, there's just the text with that narrow column of references. I can see how useful that will be because I took a study Bible to my Bible study on Sunday and that was a mistake. For every day reading, it's great, but when you're simply trying to look up specific scriptures, all those explanatory notes really get in the way. I had a terrible time flipping to the correct scriptures before Beth Moore finished talking about them on the video we were watching.

Point being, I'm really excited about this Bible because it's something I can use right now. I'm going to do a full review, later on, when I've had some time to use it. I did read one of the meditations and looked up scriptures, this morning, and I liked the reading -- love, love, love the beautiful artwork in this book.

In other news: Kiddo is home briefly, icing down his shoulder after a cortisone shot. We'll be returning to school in a few minutes. I had to have his help getting my computer to work because I unplugged a few too many doohickeys during last night's noisy storm and then couldn't figure out where to plug everything back in. My life is so funny. I'll approve messages and reply to them after school.

Wishing everyone a peachy day!

Bookfool on the run

Monday, September 21, 2009

31 Hours by Masha Hamilton

31 Hours by Masha Hamilton
Copyright 2009
Unbridled Books - Fiction/Suspense/Terrorism
229 pages
Masha Hamilton's website

I found 31 Hours gripping enough that I didn't stop to mark any quotes, so here's the quote from the book cover:

It occurred to her that she needed to pray. Yet she had no idea how to do it . . . If she wanted to pray, she realized, she would have to make it up.

This was obviously Unbridled Books Weekend at the House of Bookfool. 2 in a row. 31 Hours is a real grabber. Jonas has not contacted his mother for 9 days and his best friend (possibly girlfriend) has been too busy with dance rehearsals to call him. Jonas' mother has a bad feeling and begins calling around to try to locate him. Nobody knows what's become of Jonas.

Meanwhile, Jonas is staying in a safe house, preparing for an act of unspeakable violence. Isolated from friends and family, unable to make outside calls or leave without being followed, he prays, cleanses himself and reflects on how he arrived at his decision. Will his loved ones be able to find him in time to prevent tragedy?

31 Hours grabbed me from the first page and held on tight. Jonas is a confused young man who has been searching for meaning. He has found it in the Muslim faith, but his friend and mentor is a terrorist who plans to use Jonas and others to avenge his brother's death. Interspersed between the scenes where Jonas reflects, prays and readies himself to die as a martyr we meet his mother, his maybe-girlfriend and long-time best friend, Vic, her sister Mara and a homeless man who makes his living begging in the New York subway system. Each character is beautifully rendered, realistically human with flaws and hopes and personal tragedies. One can't help but feel touched and horrified at the thought of how a terrorist act effects a broad range of people -- including a terrorist's family members -- and caught up in the hope that somehow Jonas will be stopped.

I can't tell you how the book ends because it's a spoiler. In fact, I didn't like the ending and then I thought about it and decided it was right, then I reconsidered, then I thought it had to be that way, then I waffled some more. This seems to be my month for not appreciating how authors choose to end their books. In general, I thought the author could have taken us just a bit farther. It's pretty clear what's going to happen and yet . . . maybe not. There are several possibilities, none of them likely. I just would have liked a little more rounding out; the conclusion was too abrupt for my taste. My only other concern was that it seemed like a few too many people had premonitions of what was to come, although I think there are honestly plenty of people in touch with that 6th sense.

4/5 - A very good book about the various lives touched by terrorism, well-written (although not perfect, in my humble opinion) and gripping. Excellent characterization, realistic situation but an ending I considered too abrupt. In spite of the ending, I highly recommend 31 Hours.

In other news:

My do-list is kind of scary. How is yours? I planned to chatter a bit, at the end of this post, but I'm feeling a wee bit zombified so I'll save that for another day. Tomorrow, kiddo is getting an injection of cortisone in his bad shoulder. Yeeeeow! We're praying it helps. He's been in pain for about 2 years, now. I'll be on ice-bag refilling duty.

Happy, Happy Monday!

Bookfool in air conditioning with bare feet (and truly envious of Colorado residents, at the moment)

Winners of The Way Home by George Pelecanos, plus the answer to that burning question . . .

I know you're all dying to know my cat's favorite vegetable but first let's draw a few names, shall we? And, the winners are [drumroll]:

Aliya D.

Congratulations!! Several people got extra entries for tweeting, posting and, of course, guessing my cat's favorite vegetable, broccoli!!! Yummo. Bonnie even left me a link to one hilarious video of a kitten eating broccoli.

Your guesses were ridiculously fun reading (mostly because you guys are funny!): corn, cauliflower, asparagus, tomato, carrots, sweet potatoes, celery, green beans, artichokes, string beans, peas, beets, avocado, lettuce, lemon cucumbers, red onion, kohlrabi, peppers and parsnips. Whew!

Thanks to all who entered! I'll contact with the winners by email.

Sometimes We're Always Real Same-Same by Mattox Roesch

Sometimes We're Always Real Same-Same
by Mattox Roesch
Copyright 2009
Unbridled Books - Fiction
317 pages

. . . "How we love is our religion. Not what we believe."

He's in the driver's seat, looking out at a single row of telephone poles that veer off the road and run up into the hills. Both of his hands are resting at the bottom of the wheel, at six o'clock. He leans back, pulls up his right sleeve again, and shows me the sketch that runs along his forearm. "It isn't real," he says. "I've drawn it on about fifty times with ink-pen." He tells me he's planning to get the permanent kind later that summer.

"I thought about getting some too."

He holds the inside of the wheel at twelve o'clock with that arm, his sleeve hiked to his elbow. He points to parts of the drawing with his left hand. "This will be Native Jesus. She's reaching into the clouds on this side and the sea on that side."

--Go-boy talks about his hand-drawn Eskimo Jesus tattoo in Sometimes We're Always Real Same-Same

There were three things that attracted me to this book (besides the title, which I think is one of the best titles I've heard all year):

1. I love Unbridled Books.

2. The story takes place in Alaska.

3. I'm crazy about that cover.

I'm not sure those are the best reasons to read a book, but they seem to have worked in this case. Unbridled Books carries a broad variety for a small publishing company and their gorgeous covers, in my humble opinion, reflect respect for authors. I admire them for that.

Cesar is a 17-year-old Los Angeles gang member. His brother is serving a life sentence for gang-related murder and his mother wants to remove Cesar from the area to prevent him from ending up in jail like his brother, so she and Cesar move to her home territory: Unalakleet, Alaska. Unalakleet is a small village quite far north (I looked it up on Google Earth and it's not that far from Nome, relatively speaking). Everyone knows everyone and a lot of them are related.

Cesar's cousin Go-boy, who has visited Cesar in LA, latches onto him and immediately becomes the most important person in his life. Cesar has secrets and guilt about things that he's done. But Go-boy has some serious problems, himself. I don't want to say much more about the storyline because there's a lot to this book that I don't want to spoil. One thing I found interesting was that the story explores spirituality along with mental illness, family life and gang activity. I've read a lot of Christian books (i.e., published under a special line or by a company that only publishes clean or Christian-themed titles) in 2009 and a good portion of the novels have hardly anything about God in them at all. By comparison, this book is really heavy on conversations about God. That may be irrelevant but I found it fascinating.

Sometimes We're Always Real Same-Same

threw me, at first. I had a little trouble getting into it and becoming accustomed to the author's voice, then I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the author's objective. What was he trying to say? Where was he headed? Go-boy is mentally ill so his often-rambling comments about spirituality are over-the-top. I found myself wondering whether people find this kind of viewpoint of God more acceptable than central characters who express their beliefs without mental illness as an explanation. Go-boy's illness is practically a character in and of itself and could stimulate some interesting discussion in a group setting.

While I was reading, I found a guest blog post by Mattox Roesch at The Bookmark at the U. It helped me to understand where the author was coming from. Once I read that blog post, I whipped through the second half of the book and really enjoyed it. The story has continued to roll around in my head since I closed the book, 4 days ago. There's a lot to think about and discuss. I liked the way the book ended. I liked the way the book made me think. In the end, Cesar (who changes his name near the end of the story) is still a teenager but perhaps a bit more mature and balanced. He has slowly grown to love his small Alaskan community and to understand the benefits of living an exposed life, where you can cover up the past but you can't hide the present.

There was one thing about the characters that bugged me. Throughout the book, Go-boy and other people in Unalakleet refer to themselves as "Eskimos". Our former swim coach is from Alaska and I know he has said the word "Eskimo" can be offensive to certain Alaskans. The author lives in Unalakleet so I'm figuring he knows what he's talking about, but it still bothered me so I wrote to M. and asked him what he thought. He said there are places the word is acceptable. Where he comes from, the native tribes are Haida and Tlingit. You don't call them Eskimos; they're tribal natives. But, farther north . . . he wasn't certain and said he'd ask around but thought it probably was fine.

I'm having that "I sooo do not want to rate this book" feeling, again. I have mixed feelings. It took me so long to get into Sometimes We're Always Real Same-Same that I didn't think I was going to end up liking the book at all. But, then once I got a grip on the themes the author intended to explore, it suddenly became a book that meant something. There was one question that I thought the author left totally hanging and I didn't care for that. In general, though, Sometimes We're Always Real Same-Same was nicely wrapped up and I like that title/theme that we're individuals but in many ways we're all alike. We're all human. And, the Alaskan setting was great.

Okay . . . hmm. I'll say 3.75/5 - thought-provoking writing, a little inscrutable at the beginning but with a solid conclusion. Definitely recommended. I think it would have helped to read the author's blog post before I began. There are some rather horrifying descriptions of Cesar's gang activity and in some ways he never seems to quite get how wrong his brother's offense was, in spite of guilt over activities in which he took part, so I'd rate this somewhere between PG-13 and R.

Other reviews:

My Friend Amy

Musings of a Bookish Kitty

The Novel World

One of my favorite photos from our vacation in Alaska:

I finished 31 Hours by Masha Hamilton, last night, so I'm going to try to hammer out a review of that story, next. Gotta run to pick up kiddo. Hope everyone's having a happy Monday!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Another *Giveaway* - Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with Hatchette

Sign-up for this giveaway is now closed! Winners' list coming soon!

Since one of my giveaways is about to end and opportunity knocked . . .

here's another! I'm so excited to be a part of this celebration! Hispanic Heritage Month takes place from September 15 - October 15. And, Hatchette Book Group loves celebrating by spreading some serious book joy around.

5 lucky winners will receive ALL 5 BOOKS. Coolness. I mean, really. What more could you ask for, except maybe world peace and chocolate without slavery?

The rules:

1. Leave an email address. Are you getting tired of hearing that? Well, just develop a habit, okay? No email, no entry. And, that would be soooo sad for you.

2. Yes, yes. Think like a North American and be one. You've heard that before, if you've joined in on one of my recent giveaways. Hatchette's giveaways are strictly limited to the United States and Canada. No P.O. boxes.

3. Spread the word and leave a link to your post or tweet for an extra entry. It's worth talking about for an extra chance, in my humble opinion.

4. Is there a book you've recently read that you found so entertaining/engrossing/gripping that you absolutely could not put it down? Tell me the title and author for another entry.

That's it! Pretty easy, eh? The drawing will be held on October 15, 2009.

And, don't forget to drop by and sign up for my drawing for 5 copies of The Smart One and The Pretty One, if you haven't. Tune in tomorrow (Sept. 21) to find out everyone's thoughts about my cat's favorite vegetable and to see who won The Way Home by George Pelecanos.

Friday, September 18, 2009

House of Dark Shadows by Robert Liparulo

House of Dark Shadows by Robert Liparulo
Copyright 2008
Thomas Nelson - YA/Suspense
293 pages, incl. excerpt from Watcher in the Woods
Author's website

Looking for something creepy that won't keep you up at night? I've found the book for you: House of Dark Shadows. Be prepared, though because it's just the first book in a series. If you like this installment of the Dreamhouse Kings books, you'll definitely want to read on.

When 15-year-old Xander's family moves away from his lifelong home to a remote town in Northern California, he's frustrated. He has a close-knit family that he loves, but he was content with his life and happy in Pasadena. Leaving his friends and his girlfriend is awful; it seems likely they'll lose touch with 200 miles between them. When the family finds a huge house near Pinedale that has been unoccupied for several decades, Xander has a strange feeling.

Inside the house, it's impossible to tell the location of a sound if someone calls out. And, there are other creepy things that make him hesitant, like giant footprints in the dust of the dining room and the sensation that he's being watched. But, his parents are adamant. They love the house. In short order they clear the house of 30 years of grime and move in.

When Xander and his younger brother David discover that stepping into a closet takes them on a journey across town, they're a little shocked. But, it's the series of doors upstairs that act as portals through time and space that really intrigue them. What they don't realize is that there are dangers lurking behind those doors. What dark secret brought the King family to the house? Will they survive the house and its dangers?

Brittanie reviewed House of Dark Shadows and I immediately put it on my wish list. Wow, am I glad I trust Brittanie! This book was absolutely perfect for the RIP IV. It's suitably creepy and heart-pounding but lacks significant gore (although there are some violent scenes and there's a little gory description, it's nothing this chick couldn't handle) and it's not so frightening that you can't read it at night. I've already got the second book in the Dreamhouse Kings series, Watcher in the Woods, and I'm going to try to bump that one up to read as soon as humanly possible.

5/5 - A quick, adventurous young adult read -- creepy and surprisingly believable in spite of travel through time and space. While the book is the beginning of the series and there's a bit of set-up, House of Dark Shadows never ceased to hold my attention. I whipped through it pretty quickly and hated putting it down when I had to do the usual Mom things.

Kiddo has fried his computer and needs to use mine to work on an English paper, so I hope to be back later tonight to write a second review. But . . . not now. Hope everyone's having a fabulous weekend!

Freaky Friday

Told you those teenagers are loads of fun. Neither of these are mine. Someday, you'll get to see kiddo, again. I thought this photo was a hoot.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bundle of Trouble by Diana Orgain

Bundle of Trouble by Diana Orgain
Copyright 2009
Berkley Prime Crime - Mystery/Cozy
296 pages
Diana Orgain's website

Brief Summary:

Kate Connolly has her hands full, first preparing for a new baby's arrival and then learning to adjust after her daughter's birth. When the police call to say they think a body pulled from the San Francisco Bay might be her brother-in-law, George, she's concerned. And, when she finds out the victim may have ties to her family, she decides to investigate.

And, the bit where Bookfool expresses a keen desire to bash Blogger:

Okay . . . so . . . I started this review yesterday and I was having trouble concentrating because of an earache (got the antibiotic -- we should return to normality, soon). When I got online to work on it a bit more, last night, the auto-save feature wasn't working and Blogger has this hinky condition that keeps a blogger from highlighting, cutting and pasting her own text . . . miserable. So, if the auto-save feature isn't working and you've done some writing without realizing the auto-save isn't working, you're essentially screwed -- you can't even copy into a separate file. Meaning, I lost my second paragraph. I've decided it wasn't so hot, anyway. Therefore, I'm just going to do a question-answer review for this book.

Self: Hello and welcome to Bookfool Interviews Herself! Today, we're going to ask Bookfool some questions about Bundle of Trouble by Diana Orgain.

[scattered applause and one hacking cough from the back row]

Bookfool: Hi. That was a bit melodramatic.

Self: Hello! Yes it was! We love drama! Action! Exclamation points!! So, Bookfool, how did you acquire Bundle of Trouble and why did you choose to read it now?

Bookfool: I acquired the book via Twitter. Diana Orgain and I are twitterers who follow each other and she asked me if I'd like to read and review her book. I warned her I had a rather large backlog. Diana said That's fine; I can wait. That was about 2 months ago. Last week was really just the right time for a cozy mystery because I needed something quick and fun to read. I don't read mysteries often and I tend to let books call to me when they're ready, if there's not a specific due date. Bundle of Trouble let out a piercing scream, much like a very unhappy baby.

Self: You're kidding about the scream, right?

Bookfool: One could say it was all in my head; but, the book was definitely calling to me.

[Man in the front row points and shouts, "You lie!" Not sure who that was.]

Self: Tell us a little about the book and what you liked about it.

Bookfool: Bundle of Trouble is the first in a new cozy mystery series, a "Maternal Instincts Mystery". Since I've already briefly described the book, I'll stick to what I liked. I thought the mystery in Bundle of Trouble was nicely done, never confusing but with enough threads to keep the pages turning. And, I absolutely loved the fact that Kate Connolly didn't want to go back to her office after her maternity leave ended because that would mean leaving the baby with a caregiver. That's something I can relate to -- the horror at the idea of leaving a baby all day. I couldn't imagine letting someone else see all the firsts, read the stories, put together the puzzles, etc., with my kids. For a good portion of the book, Kate occasionally muses about and works toward figuring out how she can turn snooping into a legitimate private investigation business.

The story is set in San Francisco, where the author lives, and I loved that. San Francisco is nothing short of awesome, in my humble opinion -- a fantastic setting. Because it's an expensive place to live, it also figures into Kate's yearning to stay home with her baby. The Connollys simply can't afford to do without her income, so she's presented with a financial dilemma on top of figuring out how to be a mother and solve a crime (actually, more than one crime). Also, Kate's a listmaker and her lists can be pretty funny.

Self: You sure do talk a lot.

Bookfool: So does my cat.

[Meow, meow, meow noises . . . probably Bookfool, but nobody wants to confess]

Self: Was there anything you disliked about the book?

Bookfool: Yes, a few very petty things. I thought some of the everyday scenes with baby were a little boring. But, I think that was at least in part because this novel sets the scene, being the first in a series. Also, I loved the way Kate referred to her daughter as "jelly bean", "pumpkin pie" and a whole bunch of other cute names. However, I don't recall a single conversation with her spouse in which she said those names aloud. So, when her husband called the baby two of those names in separate conversations, it threw me a bit and I didn't like that. I'd like to have seen a funny conversation that revealed a little bit more depth to the characters. A chat between the parents, in which they call the baby all sorts of silly names, would have been a nice addition. In general, the characters could have stood a bit more dimension.

Otherwise, I really thought Bundle of Trouble was a nice diversion. As I said, I don't read mysteries often, but I like to toss one into the mix on occasion and it was a nice change of pace reading Bundle of Trouble.

Self: Anything else you'd like to say?

Bookfool: The cover is cute. I love that cover.

[scattered applause]

Self: Rating?

Bookfool: It's a good read but because I read so few cozies I don't feel like I can give it a numerical rating. Gradewise, I'd give it a B-. But, I don't do that. If you're a cozy lover, I think you'll enjoy the book. If you're a frustrated new mother, you might enjoy relating to the protagonist. It's a nice start to a series.

Self: And, what do you think of the weather?

Bookfool: It sucks. Muggy, rainy, blecch. Even the cat is disinterested in going outside.

Self: That's bad.

Bookfool: You're telling me. Why is the audience leaving?

Self: I think we're done!! Wait! And, now for our shocking conclusion, we will show you where Bookfool's husband went without her, last week!!!!

Bookfool says to Self: That is so wrong. At this point, things get so freaking confusing that the interview ends and the stragglers look for a Coke machine.

Are you a cozy mystery lover? The best place in the galaxy for cozy fans (in my personal humble opinion) is Not Enough Books. Kris hosts a rocking fine cozy mystery challenge.

In other news . . . I am really, really enjoying the Book Blogger Appreciation Week posts that I've managed to read. I can't wait to join in next year. We've been very fortunate in that the weather has been breaking during swim practice, so we're still doing the swimmy thing. Wahoo for that!

Don't forget! I have two drawings going on, at the moment:

The Way Home by George Pelecanos - drawing ends Sept. 21. And you get to guess my cat's favorite vegetable. What could be more fun?

The Smart One and the Pretty One by Claire LaZebnik - drawing ends Sept. 27. To enter this one, you get to tell me where you would go if you could travel any place on the planet. Because, you know, I'm curious.

I'll have more drawings coming up, soon, 'cause I figure giving away books from Hatchette is a way to channel joy. I'm really into joy channeling.

Happy happy day!

Bookfool with (according to Chris in New Orleans) "cute ears". Hahaha. I just love that.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunday Pie - a jumble of bookish stuff that gets tossed into a single post for no apparent reason

Sunday Pie time!

The pie at right is a pie-cosahedron. You can read the explanation for this ingenious mathematical pie-struction at Mathematics & Statistics at Williams College.

For today's Sunday Pie, I'm going to participate in a meme that's been going around. Most recently, I read and enjoyed Wendy's version. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Instructions: Using only books you have read this year (2009), cleverly answer these questions. Try not to repeat a book title.

Describe Yourself: Nothing but Trouble (Susan May Warren)

How do you feel: Sometimes My Heart Pushes My Ribs (Ellen Kennedy)

Describe where you currently live: In the Sanctuary of Outcasts (Neil White)

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: Offworld (Robin Parrish)

Your favorite form of transport: Monkey, Monkey, Monkey (Cathy MacLennan)

Your best friend is: SLOB (Ellen Potter)

What's the weather like: A Summer Affair (Elin Hilderbrand)

Favourite time of day: As Shadows Fade (Colleen Gleason)

What is life to you: I Choose to be Happy (Missy Jenkins)

Your fear: Vanishing (Candida Lawrence)

What is the best advice you have to give: Don't Shoot! We're Republicans! (Jack Owens)

Thought for the Day: During My Nervous Breakdown I Want to Have a Biographer Present (Brandon Scott Gorrell)

How I would like to die: On the Run (Bill Myers)

My soul's present condition: Christianish (Mark Steele)

BBAW Silence:

I haven't managed to post about BBAW because of time constraints. This is a priority issue and has nothing to do with my desire to participate. I missed out on BBAW, last year, and was really looking forward to this year's events. In fact, I signed up, was nominated for a few categories (but not short-listed - many thanks to those who nominated me!!) and have been looking forward to visiting other blogs. However -- and this is a huge however -- my son is a senior and we're in the midst of his last swim season ever. His shoulder is keeping him from competing well (which is actually driving him crazy, but we've found no solution) and he doesn't plan to continue swimming competitively after the season ends. Also, I'll be an empty-nester in 2010.

For those reasons, I feel like swim season has to take priority over Book Blogger Appreciation Week (and blog-hopping, for now). I'd rather spend my time at the pool, hanging out with a great bunch of teenagers and snapping their pictures than miss out on the last chance I'll ever have to do so. I'm going to really miss the joy of swim season when my son goes off to college; the swim parents and swimmers are among the friendliest and most open people I've met in our area. Plus, they don't mind if I get crazy and snap photos of things like this:

At least . . . I hope they don't mind. I will continue to post book reviews, as I'm able.

Just finished reading:

Bundle of Joy by Diana Orgain

Walked into my home, this week:

Bleak History by John Shirley (via Paperback Swap)

The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell (ARC, thanks to Greg Mortimer & Ecco Books)

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marsha Pessl (via Paperback Swap)

Troublesome Creek by Jan Watson (via Paperback Swap)

The Smart One and the Pretty One by Claire LeZebnick (thanks to Hatchette Books - see my drawing post, here)

The Treasures of Venice by Loucinda McGary (surprise from Sourcebooks)

Century (Book 1): Ring of Fire by P. D. Baccalario (ARC, thanks to Random House)~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

One of my favorite photos of the week, taken at the local El Sombrero restaurant:

I usually refuse to take my son to a restaurant directly after swim practice (because, among other reasons, he needs to immediately ice down his bad shoulder) but on that particular day I forgot to eat lunch, so we were both starving. I had the camera with me because we drove straight from practice and to stave off boredom I was snapping the lights, the tile, the coke glasses . . . you name it. Along came the waiter and he said, "Cheese." So, I turned the camera to him and he posed. I love it when people do that! And doesn't he have a terrific smile?

Off to read! Wishing everyone a fabulous week!

Bookfool, savoring a quiet moment in the house

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick

The Greatest Knight: The Unsung Story of the Queen's Champion
by Elizabeth Chadwick
Copyright 2009
Sourcebooks Casablanca - Historical Fiction
529 pages
Author's website

I've mentioned that I refer to myself as History Stupid several times on this blog. It's because I'm so shy on knowledge of history that I particularly appreciate an author who is known for her historical accuracy. There will always be assumptions made and gaps filled out in fictional stories about historical events or characters, but it's great knowing when you're actually learning about real people and events in a manner that brings reality to color and life without sending you down the garden path.

That's a round-about way of saying I think I've found a new author (new to me, that is) with whom I am completely besotted. I'm already plotting to locate every bit of historical fiction Elizabeth Chadwick has ever written. Pray my library loves me enough to carry her books because we're still in overload, here, in spite of several months of purging.

The Greatest Knight tells the story of William Marshal, a knight who became a favorite of Eleanor of Aquitaine and served under several kings during the years when England and Normandy were closely aligned. Frequent skirmishes over land holdings, castles and power took place in both England and France during this time period.

When the book opens, William is trying to sleep on a pallet in a drafty part of a dining hall with the rest of the knights. He's brand knew to knighthood and shows himself to be a courageous, albeit slightly reckless, knight during his first battle. From these crude beginnings, he shapes into one of the greatest knights of the Middle Ages.

I'm going to copy the description from Paperback Swap because I'm not certain I can describe it as well:

Based on fact, this is the story of William Marshal, the greatest knight of the Middle Ages, unsurpassed in the tourneys, adeptly manoeuvring through the colourful, dangerous world of Angevin politics to become one of the most powerful magnates of the realm and eventually regent of England. From minor beginnings and a narrow escape from death in childhood, William Marshal steadily rises through the ranks to become tutor in arms to the son of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. A champion on the tourney field, William must face the danger and petty jealousy targeting a royal favourite. Dogged by scandal, banished from court, his services are nevertheless sought throughout Europe and when William's honour is vindicated, he returns to court and wins greater acclaim and power than before. A crusader and the only knight ever to unhorse the legendary Richard Coeur de Lion, William's courage and steadfastness are rewarded by the hand in marriage of Anglo-Irish heiress Isobel de Clare, 19 years old, the grandaughter of kings and his equal in every way.

I loved the detail and the senses in this book. When William Marshal was filthy from rough conditions at battle or tournaments, there was always this sensation that you could smell the dirt and sweat, hear the clanking of metal, feel the cold and damp. The Greatest Knight is absolutely packed with the senses. Chadwick also is skilled at writing just the perfect amount of description and interspersing it with dialogue. The characterization is magnificent, as well, although there were times that I wondered if William was just a little bit too perfect.

5/5 - LOVED this book. This is apparently the second in a series of 4 books and I will definitely want to read them all. There's a slight bit of graphic sex, so it comes with a family warning. I don't think it's anything that will corrupt the kiddies for life if they get hold of it, though.

There's some interesting info about William Marshal at Brits at Their Best.

My posts are a bit brief, lately, at least partly because of swim season. I spend a lot of time taking photos at the pool and even more time deleting, cropping and uploading the best photos to a completely separate blog (with a different password, so I can't approve messages or work on book reviews while I'm loading photos . . . kind of a pain, but I thought the whole Bookfool persona would confuse the other swim parents). I'm sure I'll be back to my normal chatty self in about a month or so. Swim season is very short, this year.

One hour till pick-up time. I'm off to take a 20-minute nap. Happy reading!

Sleepy old Bookfool

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Abide with Me by John H. Parker and Paul Seawright (review)

Abide with Me: A Photographic Journey Through Great British Hymns by John H. Parker
Photographs by Paul Seawright
Book and CD
Copyright 2009
New Leaf Press - History/Photography
112 pages, incl. bibliography and photo index

The subtitle of Abide with Me pretty much says it all: "A photographic journey through great British hymns." Author John Parker and photographer Paul Seawright traveled around Great Britain and Wales seeking out the origins of well-known hymns and their composers. Abide with Me is packed with beautiful photos of churches, graveyards, villages, home interiors and scenery. Each chapter describes a particular writer and how he or she entered the world of hymn writing, what they did for a living (not all were ministers), how they were influenced by their contemporaries, families, and surroundings.

I was particularly fascinated to find that ministers often wrote songs to accompany their sermons, keeping the verses in line with their theme for the day and, in the process, often becoming prolific songwriters.

Abide with Me is slender but it's coffee-table quality. It comes with a CD of hymns, which were recorded in a form as close to the original as possible. The music is rich and lovely. It's a very relaxing CD to listen to -- so much so that I've never made it to the end. I get nice and sleepy and turn it off. I've listened to the majority of the songs, though, and they're sung a cappella by, I believe, two separate choral groups, although I don't have the CD handy to check that tidbit.

I have a few minor complaints about the book. The photographs aren't captioned; instead there's an index of photographs in the back of the book. I hate flipping back and forth, so that annoyed me. Also, the text and photographs don't match as well as I'd hoped. For example, when the author describes a Norman tower overlooking the graveyard where a songwriter/minister is buried or speaks of a glorious stained-glass window that depicts the subject's life, I expect to see photographs of whatever is discussed on that page. The text usually only takes up 1/2 to 1/4 of each page and there's often one large photo with three more inset, so laying out the photos to closely align with the text could have been easily accomplished. Instead, you may end up looking at some building that exists in the town where a minister lived and end up having to flip to the back of the book to see if the Norman tower is in the book at all.

Minor complaints aside, I thought the bios were fascinating and I enjoyed reading about the author's and photographer's experiences with people who kindly gave tours of various buildings and helped to bring historical reference points to life. Amazon sells the book with its accompanying CD for a mere $14.99. At that price and given the quality of the music and photographs, it's a great bargain and would be excellent for gift-giving.

4/5 - Very good. Lovely photos, interesting text, fantastic music. On-page identification of photos and a layout that made relevant photos fit the text a little closer would have made the book even better.

Abide With Me by Parker and Seawright (sneak peek)

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Abide With Me (Includes a CD of 20 wonderful, favorite British hymns.)

New Leaf Publishing Group/New Leaf Press; Har/Com edition (May 1, 2009)


John Parker, Professor of English at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, has taught Shakespeare and other literary classes there for twenty-eight years. He holds the M.A. and Ph.D. in English from the University of Tennessee, and also the Master of Arts in Religion from Harding Graduate School of Religion in Memphis. At Lipscomb and previously at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tennessee, he has also taught classes in the Bible.

Paul Seawright is currently Chair of Photography at the University of Ulster. Previously he was Dean of Art Media and Design at the University of Wales, Newport, and the Director of the Centre for Photographic Research. His photographs have been exhibited worldwide and are held in many museum collections including The Tate London, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, International Centre of Photography New York, Portland Art Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

Paul has a Ph.D. in Photography from the University of Wales and was awarded a personal chair in 2002. He is an honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, currently chairing their Fellowship panel. He is also a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts. He has published six books.

Visit the authors' website.

Product Details:

List Price: $19.99
Hardcover: 112 pages
Publisher: New Leaf Publishing Group/New Leaf Press; Har/Com edition (May 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0892216905
ISBN-13: 978-0892216901


Abide With Me
A Photographic Journey Through Great British Hymns

Text by John H. Parker

Photography by Paul Seawright


The focus of Abide with Me is place—the places in England and Wales where the great Britishhymns were written and where the stories of the men and women who wrote them unfolded: Olney (“Amazing Grace”), Brighton (“Just As I Am”), Stoke Newington (“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”), Broadhembury (“Rock of Ages”), and many others. This book shows and tells about those places and what you would see if you visited them.

On the north coast of England, silhouetted against the gray sky and the dark sea, stand the ruins of Whitby Abbey. There in the sixth century a common sheep herder named Caedmon wrote the earliest surviving hymn written in English. In the centuries following—Middle Ages, Renaissance, Eighteenth Century, Nineteenth Century—men

and women devoted to Christ and blessed with the gift of poetry composed the words of the English hymns sung in Britain, in America, and across the globe, generation after generation—sung in times of happiness, grief, joy, fear, and wonder. Here are the places those writers lived and their life stories.

Join us now for a stroll through the quaint Cotswolds, the beautiful Lake District, bustling

London, and the glorious poppy-bedecked English countryside as you meet the great minds whose works have inspired, uplifted, and carried us through the tragedies and triumphs of our lives. It’s a journey of the heart and soul—a meandering through your own spirituality.

Speaking to one another in psalms

and hymns and spiritual songs.

Ephesians 5:19

Lost & Found

Olney, on the Ouse River in Northampton, England, not far from Cambridge, was a small farming and crafts village in the late eighteenth century. As we drive into the market square this Sunday afternoon, we find a bustling and cheerful town with two popular claims. One is the annual pancake race on Shrove Tuesday when housewives run 415 yards from the marketplace to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, each carrying a pan holding a pancake, which she flips on crossing the finish line. The other is the curate and preacher for that church from 1764–1780, John Newton (1725–1807), and the vicarage, where he wrote perhaps the most popular hymn of all time, “Amazing Grace.”

The church was expanded during those years to accommodate the crowds who came to hear John, and its square tower still rises over the Ouse River. The sanctuary is large and impressive, and a stained-glass window commemorates the preacher and his hymn. Still, time has encroached a bit. His pulpit is now somewhat pushed back into a corner, though John Newton’s Pulpit is proudly displayed along one edge. John’s rather smallish portrait hangs on the stone buttress of one wall, sharing space between a fire extinguisher and a bulletin board where his name promotes a ministry in Sierra Leone. But after 230 years, it’s still John Newton whose story and hymn live on here.

John was born to a master mariner, who was often away at sea, and a mother who taught him Bible lessons and the hymns of Isaac Watts (see pages 38-41). But she died

when he was only six years old. At age eleven, after a few years of living with relatives or attending boarding school, he began sailing with his father.

In time John fell in love with Mary Catlett, daughter of friends of his mother, but in 1744 he was forced to serve on a naval ship. He records that while watching England’s coast fade as the ship sailed away, he would have killed either himself or the captain except for his love of Mary.

Later John managed to join the crew of a slave trade ship, the brutal traffic he so much regretted in later years. This life blotted out his early religious training and led him into bad behavior. Finally, though, when a fierce March storm one night in 1748 threatened to sink his ship, he prayed for the first time in years. And for the rest of his life he regarded every March 21 as the anniversary of his conversion. Relapses occurred, but after a serious illness he committed himself to God, returned to England, and married

Mary in 1750.

John worked for a while in civil service in the region of Yorkshire. But soon he became popular as a lay preacher, developing friendships with George Whitefield and John

Wesley, and began to consider the ministry. Although he studied biblical languages and theology privately, he received ordination in the Church of England only after completing

his autobiography, Authentic Narrative, in 1764, an account that caused influential religious leaders to recognize his spiritual commitment. The book was soon translated into several languages.

John’s principal sponsor for priesthood, Lord William Dartmouth, helped arrange the station for John in Olney, and for the next sixteen years he lived in the vicarage and

preached at St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s and in surrounding parishes. His religious devotion, remarkable personal history, and natural poetic skills gave John the gifts and preparation for writing hymns—especially one great hymn—but he needed a circumstance to prompt him. That came in 1767 when William Cowper moved to Olney.

William was one of England’s fine eighteenth-century poets, producing The Task (1784) and translations of Homer. He received an excellent literary education at Westminster

School in London and, at his father’s wish, studied for the bar. But he lived an often-miserable life. Depression, his distaste for the law, poverty, and an ill-fated romance with his cousin Theadora Cowper ruined any chances of happiness. More than once he attempted suicide.

During this trauma William found relief in the home of friends first made in Huntingdon—Morley and Mary Unwin, a religious and wealthy couple. When Morley died from a fall from his horse in April of 1767, Mary moved to Olney with her daughter Susanna to be near the renowned preacher John Newton. In fact, only an orchard stood between the rear yard of their house, Orchard Side, and John’s vicarage. Soon, William also came to Olney and moved in with them. The two poets became close friends, and by 1771 they were collaborating on what became one of England’s most successful hymnals, The Olney Hymns.

On a bright June afternoon we stroll with Elizabeth Knight in the garden of Orchard Side, now the Cowper & Newton museum, where she has been curator for more than thirty years. Nestled in the rows of flowers is an odd little summerhouse in which William gazed through its side and rear windows. Here he wrote most of the hymns in his part of the collection. After another lapse into depression, he wrote few others, but by that time he had composed his great hymns, “There is a Fountain” and “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.”

Leaving the Orchard Side garden, we walk through the site of the original orchard, to the back of the two-story brick vicarage, and look up to the last dormer window on the top right. Here, in this room, during the last two weeks of December 1772, John Newton wrote “Amazing Grace.”

In his book Amazing Grace: The Story of America’s Most Beloved Hymn (Harper Collins, 2002), music historian Steve Turner records that John routinely wrote hymns to accompany his sermons and composed “Amazing Grace” in preparation for a New Year’s Day sermon on January 1, 1773. He also observes that the words of the hymn evidently paraphrase entries from John’s notebook. For example, the entry “Millions of unseen dangers” is rendered “through many dangers, toils, and snares” in the song. Turner gives these illustrations of Newton’s use of the Scriptures in the hymn:

Newton embroidered biblical phrases

and allusions into all his writing.

The image of being lost and found alludes to the parable

of the prodigal son, where the father

is quoted as saying in Luke 15:24,

“For this my son was dead, and is alive again;

he was lost, and is found.”

His confession of wretchedness may have been drawn

from Paul’s exclamation in Rom. 7:24,

“O wretched man that I am!

Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”

The contrast of blindness and sight refers directly

to John 9:25, when a man healed by Jesus says,

“One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind,

now I see.”

Newton had used this phrase in his diary

during his seafaring days when he wrote on

August 9, 1752,

“The reason [for God’s mercy] is unknown to

me, but one thing I know, that whereas

I was blind, now I see.”

Turner observes that this day of the introduction of “Amazing Grace,” in Lord Dartmouth’s Great House in Olney, was also the last that the despondent William Cowper came to church.

John and William published The Olney Hymns in 1779. The following year, 1880, William Cowper died, and John accepted a pulpit position at St. Mary Woolnoth Church in London. Audiences continued large here as well. Visitors today can pass through a wrought-iron gate and coffee shop at the entrance, walk through the church doors into the sanctuary, and view the ornate pulpit where the slave-trader turned preacher delivered sermons for the next twenty-seven years, becoming a major figure in the

evangelical portion of the Anglican Church. He died on December 21, 1807, and was buried with Mary at St. Mary Woolchurch in London. They were re-interred at the Church

of St. Peter and St. Paul in Olney in 1893. And he is primarily remembered for these touching words:

Amazing Grace (1772)

Ephesians 2:8-9

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found;

Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

And grace my fears relieved;

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed!

The Lord has promised good to me,

His Word my hope secures;

He will my Shield and Portion be,

As long as life endures.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,

The sun forbear to shine;

But God, who called me here below,

Will be forever mine.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

August Reads in Review (2009)

My August Reads - with links to reviews, where applicable. Note that I separated my YA reviews and posted them at my alter ego's blog, Twinkletoes Reviews. I planned on keeping that review site totally private, but since I always end up discovering that I can only handle one blog at a time, it may not last (either way, I think I'll limit it to YA) and I might as well link up to the reviews Sam has written, right? Right. I am Sam. Sam I am. There's a story attached to the name, but we'll save that for another day. This is supposed to be a summary of my August reads.


YA - Young Adult
NF - Non-fiction
CT - Christian theme or elements

Ch - Children's
PR - Promotional item
HF - Historical Fiction
M - Memoir

The Missionary by Carmichael and Lambert (CT)- A missionary who has strong opinions about the government in . . . I think it's Venezuela . . . agrees to play a small role in a coups and gets himself into a boatload of trouble. I thought this one was a stretch and the missionary was too wimpy. People have to rescue him; he never figures out how to help himself and his family.

Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman (NF)- One woman's tales of her reading life. This is an extremely fun read, but I'm going to have to read it a second time and keep a vocabulary notebook. My gosh, that woman has a humongous vocabulary!!

Paper Towns by John Green (YA) - After a night of helping his neighbor friend play some pranks on people who've upset her, a teenage boy feels like it's his job to find the girl when she goes missing (based on clues from Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, if I remember right). Green's trademark style - sharp kids with angst. Not my favorite but I do love his writing. Many thanks to Chris in New Orleans for my copy of Paper Towns!!

June Bug by Chris Fabry (CT) - When June Bug and her dad are stuck in Colorado while they wait for an RV part, she sees a missing child photo that makes her question everything her dad has ever said. This was one of the best books I've read all year, a fantastic story of love with a mystery. The ending made me sob, but it was perfect for the book. It would make a *great* movie.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by (PR) - A 63-page bit of promotional material about the new Hitchhiker's book, And Another Thing by Eoin Colfer (release date is October 12), with quotes from the Douglas Adams book, info about the new one and how Adams' wife hand-picked the author. I figured I read it; I'll count it.

Evernight by Claudia Gray (YA) - The daughter of two vampires falls in love with a vampire slayer while attending an exclusive school for vampires that has unaccountably started accepting outsiders. I really enjoyed this one, although I thought she took a bit too long getting to the vampire bit (which was mentioned on the cover, so . . . )

The Daddy Long-Legs Blues by Ornstein & Kopelke (Ch)- A daddy long-legs spider jives around town. He's cute and he doesn't look very spidery. Loved the illustrations. It's best if you sing it, actually. I put it to music and sang it to the cat. I know. I'm so weird.

All the World by Scanlon & Frazee (Ch) - A very easy-language rhyming book with gorgeous illustrations that reminded me of Virginia Lee Burton's books. This would be good for preschoolers and beginning readers as it has very simple words.

Chicken Dance by Tammi Sauer & Dan Santat (Ch) - This one is my favorite of the 3 kids' books I read in August. Two chickens enter a talent contest and find their talent lies in just being chickens. Fantastic illustrations and it's hilarious. I'm keeping this one for future grandkids. Seriously, I can't part with it.

Mr. Darcy, Vampyre by Amanda Grange (HF)- Lizzy and Mr. Darcy marry. He won't go to bed with her. They go to Europe instead of the Lake District. Told from Lizzy's perspective and with the most ridiculous ending, ever. This one was a bit of a yawn, at times, but there were some interesting historical tidbits.

Hugh and Bess by Susan Higginbotham (HF) - A medieval romance. Bess must wed Hugh, a man who is wealthy but whose father and grandfather were killed as traitors. They move from castle to castle and slowly their love grows, then . . . the plague hits. I really loved this one. It's not extremely detailed but I just loved the story.

The Woodstock Story Book by Linanne Sackett and Barry Levine (NF) - Seriously, just what it sounds like. The Woodstock event is described in verse and photographs. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. Kiddo thought the naked guy with the sheep was a hoot.

TSI: The Gabon Virus by McCusker and Larimore (CT) - A group of religious fanatics are infected with a strain of ebola and they drink poison to prevent its spread, but one boy fakes drinking and runs away. Yeeks! Pandemic alert! A team of scientists investigate a medieval plague in England in order to try to find a cure. Too many coincidences made the ending of this book too trite and perfect, but I just ignored that. It was awfully fun reading and one of my favorites.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (YA) - A toddler whose family is murdered crawls to a graveyard, where he is adopted, reared and protected by the ghosts. I liked this one a lot, although I don't quite get why it won a Newbery. The beginning is icky.

Christianish by Mark Steele (NF/CT) - This is a book about how Christians have gotten kind of arrogant and created their own rules which aren't necessarily what the Bible says we're supposed to do. The author is a Christian humorist, so the anecdotes are hilarious but he lost me a little in the theology. I had to concentrate. In general, I really liked this book.

New Tricks by David Rosenfelt - An Andy Carpenter mystery. When a wealthy man is murdered, Andy has to determine who gets custody of the dead man's dog. Then, one of those people gets blown up and the dog becomes the clue to untangling the mystery. The usual Andy Carpenter - funny and not too complex.

Don't Shoot! We're Republicans! by Jack Owens (NF/M) - The memoir of an FBI agent, now retired, who began working for the FBI in the 1960s and was on the first federal S.W.A.T. team, spied a little during the Cold War, stormed a prison, helped catch a serial child killer. Ooooh, this one was good. And, the author has a great sense of humor. Another favorite.

Darling Jim by Christian Moerk - A dark crime novel set in Ireland. I liked the writing but the story is dark and twisted (not my personal favorite; I'm into sweetness and light). However, I loved the Irish setting, thought the writing was lovely and I'm anxious to see what the author comes up with next.

Secret Society by Tom Dolby (YA) - A young adult novel about 3 teenagers who are inducted into a secret society in which extraordinarily wealthy people open doors for their young members and keep the wealth going. But, you can't turn down membership and woe betide the young members who don't fit in. This one was a serious let-down. I've loaned my ARC to a teenager, so we'll see if I'm just too old for it.

Godmother by Carolyn Turgeon - subtitled "The Secret Cinderella Story" (I think; I already sent my copy to Nymeth), the vast majority of this book is the magical tale of an elderly woman who was Cinderella's fairy godmother but was cast to Earth after she screwed up. She works in an antiquarian bookstore and thinks she's found a way to atone for her mistake. But, the ending takes the entire premise and changes everything. The ending was awful!!! I loved the rest of the book, so I'm mentally rewriting the ending.

The Eternal Smile by Gene Luen Yang - A graphic novel with three separate stories, by the author of American Born Chinese (which I loved). You can never tell what this guy has up his sleeve. There's a man who lives in a fantasy world and imagines himself a prince, a frog who stars in a reality show, and a meek office worker who answers a spam from a "Nigerian prince". All have really interesting twist endings. I didn't like the first one, though.

Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman (YA) - A fluffy young adult novel about two friends, one of whom decides she wants to find her Mr. Darcy after reading Pride and Prejudice and comes up with a scheme to find true love by crashing a dance at an exclusive boys' school. There was a bit of strange repetitive lingo that threw me (I've never heard a teenager say "crisp" instead of "cool") but I loved everything else about this book. It's funny and sweet and silly. Thanks to Care for sending me Enthusiasm!!

Visions of America by Joseph Sohm (NF/Photography) - A picture book by a photographer whose passion was the yearning to photograph "democracy". I had a little trouble with his concept and I don't think his text was always accurate, but the photos are phenomenal. It is one whopper of a book - huge and heavy. The layout's a little cluttery but . . . the photos. Seriously. Wonderful. I could learn a ton from that guy, if he'd just drop by to give me a few hints.

Whoa! I counted 23 books. Of course, that includes three children's books, a graphic novel and a promotional book (which came with a towel that says, "Don't Panic!", hahaha) but still . . . even without those, I read 18 books. No wonder I need to lose weight. 5469 pages. Diet time, for sure.