Friday, August 31, 2007

Blizzard and Fever 1793 reviews

Blizzard by George Stone
Copyright 1977
Dell fiction
268 pages

On May Day, a series of unusual events occur - Russian satellites cross a specific point from different directions. A fleet of Russian ships halt directly below the crossed paths, just off the Atlantic Coast of the United States.

By December 21, few Americans remember the significance of May Day or connect it to the blizzard beginning on the East Coast. Even fewer have any idea that a scientist working on a top-secret weather project has disappeared. What is going on? Is the storm real or man-made? Are the Russians responsible for the crippling blizzard burying buildings and stranding workers, killing Americans by the thousands?

This is the basis for Blizzard . . . an unprecedented storm, possibly man-made, wreaking havoc with no apparent end in sight (although, there are weather reports at the head of each chapter and every single one says it's supposed to clear up, which adds a touch of humor) and those fishy Russians hanging around, looking guilty. Suspenseful but intelligent disaster writing kept the pages turning. And, the ending?

****Skip this if you plan to get your sticky fingers on a copy of Blizzard****

I'm going to spoil it, so this is your last chance to turn back.

The ending was fascinating because it was so atypical, although it may have been common for the time. Rather than the usual "hero saves the day at the last moment" we've become accustomed to, the book has a sad ending. The unresponsive weather-effecting machines finally react, shutting down after an abyssal bathyscaphe is sent to the floor of the Atlantic Ocean to send a signal that can't be received from above, due to a malfunction. However, it's been theorized that a "Megastorm" could, if it continues long enough, cool the atmosphere enough to trigger a new Ice Age. And, in fact, it's too late - the new Ice Age has begun. In the end, the ceiling of the White House's West Wing collapses onto all the gathered officials, snow is beginning to fall unseasonably in France, and . . . basically it's the end of the line for humans.

****End of spoiler. Did you peek? Just curious.****

I really enjoyed Blizzard. I was so sick of heat that reading about snow that wouldn't quit falling provided a great mental break. And, I liked the fact that the book wasn't as trite as it could have been; it was actually quite thoughtfully written, well-researched (or he did a good "snow job", hahaha), and with believable dialogue. Definitely a terrific book to save for 100+ temps. I wore my snowflake earrings most of the week, as well. Nutty, but true.

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
Copyright 2002
Aladdin Paperback Fiction (Young Adult)
251 pages, including appendix

Having cooled off nicely, I warmed right back up when I jumped into reading about sweat and heat, people slapping at mosquitoes and the result of the heat, humidity and mosquito bites - the yellow fever outbreak of 1793 in Philadelphia.

Fever 1793 tells the story of the epidemic through the eyes of Mattie Cook, a 14-year-old who lives with her widowed mother and grandfather above her mother's coffee shop. During an unusually hot summer in Philadelphia, people begin to sicken and die. As disease spreads, panic ensues. Some - particularly the wealthy residents - flee the city. Others feel obligated to stay or become trapped. When Mattie's mother becomes ill, Mrs. Cook insists that Mattie and her grandfather go to a friend's farm. But, it soon becomes apparent that there's no escaping this horrible disease and Mattie must keep all her wits about her to survive in a city where people hide behind locked doors, the market and stores are shut down, and mass burials are held by necessity.

This is a harrowing fictionalized tale based on a true story. Yellow fever did kill thousands of Philadelphia residents in 1793. A few brave souls not only stayed but also helped those who sickened. Hysteria was rampant.

In a way, I could relate to this story because of our experience in a post-Katrina world where people fought over gas and stripped the shelves of food, although the circumstances were completely different. The city of Philadelphia virtually shut down, people began to run out of food, shuttered homes and stores were broken into . . . and nobody knew that yellow fever was all caused by those nasty little mosquitoes. It's a fascinating story and in Laurie Halse Anderson's hands, Fever 1793 is told brilliantly. Mattie is a character who has a sense of humor; sometimes she's even a little bit snarky, but when she's backed into a corner - and the author very skillfully throws her characters into corners, repeatedly - she's resourceful, clever, and determined.

I loved everything about this book - the characters, the well-researched historical setting, the fact that it wasn't entirely predictable. It's simply a very beautifully written book. Highly recommended.

Coming up . . . reviews of Monkey Love and Life on the Refrigerator Door. It would probably be a good idea to change out of my jammies before lunch time, though, so I'll take a break.

Did I tell you it rained? It rained, yesterday!!! Wahoo! It even dropped to the 80's, outside! Granted, it's a temporary thing, but we're receptive to any break in the weather, even if it only lasts a day. Kiddo had his first local swim meet on Wednesday and reached a new personal-best time in the 100-meter freestyle: less than a minute. And, last night was the annual "Red Carpet Bowl" football game, at which he performed. He's going to be one tired cookie, this weekend.

Okay, I'm dressed, now. Just thought you'd like to know. I'm still going to take a break to begin the laundry and possibly do a few other housewifey things. Later, gators.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Wahoo! Wednesday - Wordless Winged Wahoos, Some Blogger Magic and a Freaked-Out Cat

That's the wordless winged wahoo part - lots of fluttering going on, down here. And, now . . .

Blogger Magic! A mere 6 months after the fact, I have finally managed to view the two comments that have been lingering in my comment section without showing up when I hit the link to approve comments. Maybe the Blogger Fix-it People have been immersed in fixing whatever kink tied up such stuck comments and that explains the weird stretchy sidebar goings-on. Who knows. But, anyway -

Andi - sorry for just now seeing a comment you made in February. The answer was "yes". Actually, I already did what you asked me to do. Suitably vague, you think?

And, Carrie K. - I just approved a comment from March. It made me laugh. I'd posted a photo of my eldest on a chess board in France and you said, "He's so tiny!" So, thanks for the belated laugh!

She was really just lonely. Apparently. Our Miss Spooky kept whining at me, last night. She fussed and she yowled and she complained. I figured she was just hungry. Now and then she goes completely nutso and I have to try four different kinds of food before she finds one that she's willing to eat. But, when I fed her, trudged off to take a bath and heard vigorous scratching and howling at the bedroom door, it became apparent that I simply misunderstood my fur person. I hurried a little and let the kitty into the bedroom, hefted her little body onto the bed and gave her a hug (yes, she actually kind of likes hugs) and a good, long neck rub with a bit of soothing talk. That did it. She gave me the blinky-eyed look of contentment, purred heartily, curled up in a ball and . . . well, she sort of snored. Or talked in her sleep - it was an interesting sound. Anyway, I guess I need to give the cat a little more attention.

I got an interesting mass message from one of the band parents, today, saying the fund-raising food orders were in and "Please send your children a text to remind them to pick up [the orders] before they leave school." Does this strike anyone else as bizarre? First of all, the kids aren't supposed to have cell phones turned on, while at school. Second, it strikes me as odd that anyone would assume that every child carries a phone and every parent is willing to pay for text messaging. We loan a phone to our child when he needs one. Text messages are verboten. Neither of us sees any reason to pay extra for texting when a call will suffice. Are we unique? I'm just curious. My son and I had, in fact, already communicated in the old-fashioned way . . . in person. He informed me that the orders would be available to pick up, last night, and we came up with a slightly altered after-school plan. No biggie.

Bookwise: I'm back to reading God is My Co-Pilot and it's getting exciting. The first half was a bit of a yawn - the usual background and training (apparently, this is typical in a war-pilot memoir), followed by a whole lot of hauling mail and a few stories with really, really detailed geography. And, if you've been following the news about Miss Teen South Carolina, you know that we "U.S. Americans" are terrible at geography because we lack maps. So true. I did own an atlas. But, it was unfortunately a total loss after we were flooded. Since I no longer own a decent world atlas and Google Earth is not handy in my reading corner, I'm probably not learning as much as I should from the author's descriptions of his flights over Asia, but it's definitely become gripping since he ceased flying transports and began flying a fighter plane. More on that, later. And, I'll try to get to reviews of the last three books I finished, soon.

Wednesday is almost over and we're about to chug on into Thursday. Hope everyone had a terrific day!

Bookfool who could use a nice world atlas for Christmas

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The RIP, Take Two

I'm not typically a creepy-book reader, as I'm prone to nightmares, but I thoroughly enjoyed curling up with atmospheric novels during last year's RIP (Readers Imbibing Peril) Challenge. Since last year's challenge ended, the special shelf of creepy, atmospheric or frightening books I've been setting aside has become very, very heavy. I'm pretty sure I heard wood groaning in relief as I lifted the books to photograph them. And, then the floor complained, but . . . oh, well. Must make stacks - can't let the toes get used to not having books fall on them.

So . . . It's almost time!! Wahoo! Carl's RIP II starts on the 1st of September!

There's no way I'll get them all read, (you'll say, "No kidding" when you see the photos) but that's all right. Peril the First suits my needs, nicely. The goal is to read four scary books. My stacks are so large that I'll have plenty of leeway. I'm not going to choose four specific books - I'll just attempt to read at least four and any others I manage will be bonus reads.

Stack #1, complete with not-so-sinister black cat with white trim, Miss Spooky:

The House on the Strand - Daphne du Maurier
I, Robot - Isaac Asimov
Poison Study - Maria V. Snyder
Ghost Walk - Heather Graham
The Mirror - Marlys Millhiser
Alas, Babylon - Pat Frank
Dark Sister - Graham Joyce
The Lottery - Shirley Jackson

As if that pile isn't enough to choose from, I have a second stack. Poppet and Simone kindly posed with Stack #2:

Haunted Heartland - Beth Scott and Michael Norman
The Husband - Dean Koontz
Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman
The Harp and the Grey Rose - Charles de Lint
The Poseidon Adventure - Paul Gallico
Our Man in Havana - Graham Greene
Stardust - Neil Gaiman
Haunted Castles of the World - Charles A. Coulombe

Enbiggening the photo is bound to make you feel terrific about the cleanliness of your own home. I had no idea that white door had become so filthy. I'll be scrubbing, after I finish this post. Miss Spooky only allowed me one shot before walking on, but it seems to have worked pretty well.

I have no idea which books I'll end up reading, although I took a sneak peek into Haunted Castles of the World and the image of Anne Boleyn roaming around the White Tower with her head under her arm creeped me out enough that I went back to my regularly scheduled reading.

Speaking of which, I am now three book reviews behind. Again. And, it's an hour till kiddo pick-up time. If necessary, I'll do another quickie triple review post. I've finished:

Blizzard by George Stone
Fever, 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson, and
Monkey Love by Brenda Scott Royce

Not sure what I'm going to read next. Decisions, decisions. Castles of the World actually just arrived, a few days ago, from Paperback Swap. Other arrivals:

I Could Never Be So Lucky Again by Gen. James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle (war memoir)
The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd (a library sale purchase)
Visible Spirits by Steve Yarbrough (Southern Lit - library reject)

I think that's it, but I've got several winging their way to me, so I'll be dogging the mailman. I'm totally out of advanced readers. That's kind of a strange feeling.

Off to nibble and scrub. Happy Reading!

Friday, August 24, 2007

I'm so freaking slow . . . taggings and thank yous

I don't know if I'd have ever recovered from the heat and frustration, this week, if not for the spouse who very kindly took over my chauffeuring duties for two days in a row. So, I want to publicly say:

Thank you, oh delightful and handsome husband.

You can't see me, but I'm the one handing him a rabbit. What did the husband have to say about my afternoon routine, in the midst of all that driving, on the first day? "This is crazy. This is miserable. I don't know how you do it. All that back-and-forth, back-and-forth driving. There's no time to do anything, even if you come home." Bless you for saying that, Hubby.

And, onward to the awards for which I have been tagged and which I've delayed posting about.

This is always happening to me because I'm really poky . . . three people tagged me for a "Thoughtful Blogger Award": Bonnie, Chris, and Wendy . Each one said really, really nice things about me. I wouldn't be surprised if they'd all forgotten they tagged me or decided I'm not so thoughtful after all, I'm so slow. I meant well, really. Many thanks to all three of you.

And, Robin tagged me for a "Nice Matters Award". Thank you, Robin. I'm a little quicker on the uptake, on this one, but not by much.

Both these awards seem to have been around the block and back, since I dragged my feet. I hope I don't offend anyone by saying I think that every blog I read is written with thought and care and all my blogger friends are nice, nice people!!! So, I'm mass-tagging. If you haven't received either of these awards, consider yourself tagged. I love you all.

And, I will try very hard to keep on top of other taggings, in the future. Is there such a word? Taggings?

Next up are the latest challenges. It will take me a day or two to pile up the RIP II books and make a list of the Cozy Mystery Challenge books (already on my shelves - I may just set a goal and skip the titles), but I had to post quickly about this one . . . I am just ridiculously excited about Dana's Justforthehelluvit Challenge:

It's sort of an anti-challenge, really, to read some books you really want to read, in between all those challenge books. What a nice way to convince yourself, "It's okay to read something other than a challenge book, just because I feel like it." And, here I was, trying to un-challenge myself completely. Now, I'm signing up for three more challenges. Sick, sick book-addicted, challenge-weak woman.

I do, however, plan to continue to just list books to choose from and read only what grabs me from those stacks, during challenges. If I decide I'm not in a cozy or spooky reading mood, so be it. I'll photograph the spooky books for the post, since I know you all love looking at photos of stacks as much as I do.

Just finished: Blizzard by George Stone. Since it's unlikely anyone else will even find a copy of this 1977 disaster novel, much less read it, I'll probably post spoilers when I get around to reviewing. But, I'll be sure to add red spoiler warnings, just in case.

Now reading: Fever, 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson (YA fiction about a real-life yellow fever epidemic).

I'm also reading the second chapter of my son's history book, which is tiresome, yet fascinating. He's supposed to be outlining this chapter and I think he's more than a little terrified.

Here's my favorite nifty book gadget, the "Book Chair" that allows me to continue reading while I stuff my fat face (photographed on the new breakfast nook table - please try really hard to ignore the windowsill, which lost a coat of paint when we removed the cat perch):

Also, I'm very pleased to note that my orchid is still alive, 4 1/2 months after I brought it home, and it even has a brand new leaf!! How cool is that? Just FYI, the key is apparently to spray the leaves with water daily and only occasionally give the plant a good drink, in imitation of morning dew and the occasional heavy rain that makes it through the rain-forest canopy.

Hope everyone has had a fabulous weekend.

Everyman by Philip Roth, a photo tip, and an itchy lizard

Everyman by Philip Roth
Copyright 2006
Vintage Fiction
182 pages

"You can weather anything," Phoebe was telling him, "even if the trust is violated, if it's owned up to. Then you become life partners in a different way, but it's still possible to remain partners. But lying - lying is cheap, contemptible control over the other person. It's watching the other person act on incomplete information - in other words, humiliating herself."

How he wished she could scald him in that lava now.

It wasn't till I finished the book Everyman that I realized I had no idea whether or not the protagonist had a name. Did he? Or was he "Everyman" in the sense of not even having a name, just an unnamed person, someone who could be any person you've known or avoided or loved, possibly ending in pain? I flipped back through the book and found no indication that I'd overlooked his moniker, but I can't be certain. It's hard to believe that didn't jump out at me.

To be honest, there isn't anything about the book that's particularly memorable or wonderful. Everyman is a book about aging, regret, loss, and loneliness.

Old age isn't a battle; old age is a massacre.

It's the story of one man who has made many mistakes and now - with his health failing him, about to enter the hospital for the 7th time in 7 years - confronts the reality that even if he has stayed young inside, he can never again repeat those same mistakes - chiefly, the error of not hanging onto the one, steady woman who truly cared. Now, nobody is interested in the gray-haired, wrinkled, declining old man who is left on his own and who has determined that the recreation he looked forward to for so many years hasn't fulfilled him at all in his retirement.

I know I saw a review of this book somewhere. Who else has recently read it? I can't find the review! I remember seeing the word "terrifying". While I didn't find it terrifying, there's no doubt that the trials of old age are clearly delineated: loss of health, decline in appearance, loneliness - especially for those who have made mistakes that generated rifts between the aged and their loved ones - difficulty finding a purpose or even a reason to keep going . . . horrors. Okay, maybe it is a bit terrifying. If the author had a purpose, I think it might be to say, "Stop, now. Evaluate your life and treat those you love with care, so that when your time comes you'll have fewer regrets." It's also possible that Roth meant to show how our scattered American families almost ensure isolation for the elderly.

But, it's pretty dull and definitely a total downer. I'll read more Philip Roth because I do think his writing has a comfortable flow. Everyman is the kind of book you can whip through in a few hours (assuming your head isn't pounding, which mine was). I wouldn't call it a "masterpiece" (as did Joseph O'Neill of The Atlantic Monthly, in one of the cover blurbs), but I think the author made some very astute observations about issues troubling the elderly and that he has a grasp of language that makes the book very readable. I'm going to put it on my "recommended" list because I don't think it's so awful that it's worth going out of your way to avoid, but be advised that the subject matter is pretty depressing.

3/5 - decent writing, blah story

Photo Tip of the Week:

Since it's Friday . . . it's photo tip time!!! Only one tip, today, and it's a simple one. But, I believe it's very important:

Ignore the naysayers. By that, I mean that you should be willing to experiment and don't let people tell you not to bother trying to capture an image that grabs your interest. Here's my example - and, please bear in mind that this is not necessarily a fabulous photo, but one that tells the story:

This is one of the first photos I took - snapped with my little Kodak Instamatic while on vacation. The back of the photo says, "Signiture Rock, Geurnsey, Wyoming". Obviously, I didn't know how to spell at the age of 9. Beyond that, the story behind this photo has always stuck with me. A brand new camera went with me on vacation in 1972. We drove to Wyoming and walked along deep crevices worn into the sandstone by wagon wheels during the massive movement of settlers to the American West, the so-called "Trail of Tears".

This particular "rock" (a former cliff?) was covered with inscriptions - names, initials, dates - and surrounded by a chain-link fence. I love history and so did my mother and father. We all walked around in awe, reading the inscriptions carved into the rock. And, then I decided to take a photo.

"That won't work," everyone said. "Don't bother. You won't be able to photograph that. The fence will get in the way."

Ignoring my entire family, I poked the lens through an opening in the fence and snapped - one photo and only one. When the picture came back, I was triumphant. It worked! Even my preternaturally optimistic father had discouraged me, but he raised his eyebrows and admitted that he was wrong when he told me not to try. The photo captured just a tiny bit of the rock, but it was enough to show how travelers carved their names and the date they passed through (some actually included the month and day - many, simply the year) into the sandstone.

There's obviously plenty of great advice worth listening to or reading, but that lesson has stuck with me. Never let anyone tell you not to bother trying. Even your mistakes can teach you something about photography, so go ahead . . . snap photos of things that interest you and ignore anyone who tells you not to try.


The RIP stack is growing. Just this afternoon, a book about haunted castles arrived in my mailbox. Wahoo! I hope to post a list of RIP Challenge books, soon.

I visited the library, early this week, to return some CDs and peruse the sale corner. While there, I found a book copyrighted in 1977 - a bit abused, but with the perfect theme for this week: Blizzard. Ha. I snatched that sucker up and I'm enjoying it immensely. What could be more fun than to read about a vicious snowstorm (blamed, of course, on the Soviets - everything was apparently their fault, in the 70's) when it's baking outside?

Oh, maybe sweating to take a photo of a tiny, itchy little lizard hatchling - another lousy photo, but he was down inside the monkey grass and it was so darned hot that I only stayed outside for a few minutes before deciding it was heat stroke vs. the perfect flaky lizard photo:

This must be a recently hatched lizard - even newer than the others I've photographed, because he was a mere 1" long in the body, not even 1/4" in width. He was itching like crazy, poor thing. When he was too far down in the monkey grass to even attempt to photograph, I still watched him scratching and nipping at the skin peeling off his back. What an utterly fascinating thing to observe.

Off to read. Wishing all of you a delightful weekend.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller and 3 days in a nutshell

Notes on a Scandal: What Was She Thinking?
Zoe Heller
Published 2003
Picador Fiction
259 pages

You never appreciate what a compost your memory is until you start trying to smooth past events into a rational sequence.

The subtitle of Notes on a Scandal: What Was She Thinking? really describes the objective of the book - to attempt to unravel a thought process that is difficult, maybe even impossible, to fully comprehend. Rather than a suspenseful, edge-of-the-seat tale of scandal, the book is slow and contemplative; the whole idea revolving around that effort to crawl into the head of someone who committed an illegal act but somehow managed to justify it to herself, in order to figure out what on earth she was thinking.

Barbara is a loner, not particularly attractive but not ugly, either. Still, she's a very solitary person and it excites her when the beautiful new teacher at St. George's school, Sheba Hart, begins to reach out to Barbara and a friendship blossoms. Early in their friendship, Sheba poses a "hypothetical" question about the attraction of a young, male student by the name of Steven Connelly. Barbara tells Sheba very firmly to put a stop to Connelly's advances and report him to the headmaster. Sheba says she couldn't possibly have him punished for having a crush on her and says nothing further. But, later, it becomes obvious to Barbara that even at that time, Sheba was covering up the truth, possibly trying to get Barbara to help her justify her actions.

It is irritating when Sheba talks this way - as if she were a passive victim of fate, rather than the principal architect of her own suffering.

The reader knows, at the beginning of the book, that Sheba has been caught in a scandal, that her affair with a 15-year-old boy has been discovered and the press has exaggerated the story. The book is not only an examination of Sheba's reasoning, but also Barbara's attempt to logically order events, to explain how the affair came into being. That the press has distorted the issue in many ways is plainly stated. It's also obvious there will be no great, explosive ending. Sheba has been arrested and kicked out of her home; she'll undoubtedly go to jail and is too disconsolate to do anything dramatic in order to attempt to save herself. Notes on a Scandal is a quiet, pensive book that delves into the personalities involved. The narrator comes to her own conclusion, but the author still leaves room for her reader to decide for his or herself.

While there's nothing overwhelmingly exciting about the book, I'm pretty sure that it was intended to be a quiet, reflective book and - if that's the case - the author succeeded; the story is told with a skillful hand. There were times that I found I either strongly agreed or disagreed with a character in some way or another, but in spite of the fact that Barbara could be very opinionated, I never felt like the narrator was really preaching.

There was a tense silence for a moment or so, which was broken by Richard saying, “It’s difficult isn’t it, Barbara? One pretends that manners are the formalization of basic kindness and consideration, but a great deal of the time they’re simply aesthetics dressed up as moral principles, aren’t they?” . . .

I rather thought that he was a pretentious fool, but I kept that to myself.

You tell 'em, Barb.

3.5/5 - good writing, relevant story (this kind of affair has happened and created quite a sensation, in the U.S.) and an interesting approach but the pace is very slow and it's probably not for everyone.

Yesterday . . . I wore my snowflake earrings. They didn't cool me off, but thinking about them made me smile.

Today . . . The local newspaper says we are in the midst of "Heat Wave: Phase Two". I think that's how they put it. I'm too tired to go look. Hubby went to fetch kiddo from the pool and came home drenched. He suddenly understands why I was so completely wrecked, this weekend, and why I'm so upset that the school administration is not doing anything to keep the kids out of the worst of the heat.

Tomorrow . . . The heat index is supposed to hit 116 and there is a mandatory outdoor football/band event to "introduce" the football team. Like we care to send our kids out there just so they can name the football players. Call them #5 or #10; I'm fine with that. The event has not been canceled or postponed, due to heat. Morons.

I'm reading . . . Everyman by Philip Roth. I'm finding it rather dull, so far, but we'll see if that continues.

I've been piling up . . . creepy books, in preparation for the RIP Challenge.

Someday, I'll find the time to . . . post about recent awards I've been tagged for and actually read the latest RIP rules. I'm doing a lot of skimming, when I have a minute to sit and blog-hop. Apologies for not having time to do a Wahoo! post. Here's one wahooey photo, to make up for it - a dragonfly on a dead something in my front yard:

Hopefully, my life will normalize, sometime soon. We shall see. May many wahoos fill your life, today and always.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Light books times three and sorry, sorry, sorry

First the sorry, sorry, sorry for not posting. I cannot believe the amount of driving that's required of me, this year. On Thursday, I was finally either inspired or driven mad and performed a Morning Cleaning Miracle (which, of course, was eradicated by the next day; you know how those things go). I stopped only a few times, to check email and blog hop for 5- 10-minute intervals.

At 1:30, I dashed off to sign the kids out from school, drove them around for an hour (including a stop at McDonald's for drinks) and then dropped them off at the pool. I returned home to refresh the cooler and fetch the camera, then zipped back at the pool, waited in the heat for the kiddo and drove him to band. With only 30-45 minutes of band left, I didn't have the time to return home, so I ran to the mall to entertain myself. Picked up the kiddo from band. Took him out to eat at McAllister's (again, a little too shy on time to go home and cook). Returned to the school for a swim meeting (kids and parents - effectively to tell us how much money to chuck over, what to schedule our lives around, and when to donate food and drinks). We returned home at 7:30 pm. Ugh. I mean it. I was flattened.

Friday was much the same, except I went to pick up the kiddo from the pool way too early and ended up staying out in the heat an extra 45 minutes or so to wait while the kids played water polo. This is my favorite photo:

I just love all those arms that look like they're sprouting from some sort of human octopus.

Book-wise . . . .

I am now 5 book reviews behind (2 for Estella and 3 others), so I'm going to go with the quickie review method. Frequent readers know the heat has been sucking out my brain cells, so recent reads have all been light and fluffy. In brief:

The Case of the Missing Books by Ian Sansom tells the story of Israel Armstrong, a librarian who has left his London home to begin a new job as a librarian in Northern Ireland. Upon his arrival, however, Israel finds the library shuttered and locked, a sign on the door announcing that the library has closed. Israel finds that he has been reassigned to drive the ancient, rusted mobile library. When he enters the library building to collect the books and move them, though, he discovers that they have all disappeared.

The book is slapstick, absurd comedy and the mystery is barely a mystery at all. It's pretty obvious, early on, where the books have gone. But, it doesn't matter one whit. If what you're looking for is a light, funny, escapist read, The Case of the Missing Books is perfect. I particularly loved the difficulty Israel has communicating with the people in his new Irish village home. Having traveled to the British Isles, I know how tricky it can be to converse with those who speak the language but with a dramatically different accent and a complete set of unfamiliar expressions. I've wish-listed the next book in the series; definitely a big thumbs up for this one. I'm sending it on to my mother, who is in serious need of uppers.

Next up was Life's a Beach by Claire Cook, an unusual story in that the characters are remarkably normal people. Ginger Walsh has been through a string of jobs, boyfriends, and homes. At 41, she now lives in the Finished Room Over Garage (FROG) of her parents' home, has an artist boyfriend who can't get a grip on the concept of planning ahead, and occasionally watches her almost-50-year-old sister's children. She makes jewelry from sea glass and may soon be evicted by her parents. When her sister Geri's son is chosen to play an extra in a movie filmed locally, Ginger jumps at the chance to act as his on-set guardian. And when the gaffer takes interest in her, she questions whether or not either of the two interested men are right for her and whether she has, in fact, been feeding herself a line about being childless by choice.

Like Must Love Dogs, Life's a Beach has a quirky cast of characters and occasionally goes off on a dull tangent - a lengthy description about glass-blowing or jewelry-making induced the occasional yawn; and, Ginger's rudeness to the gaffer became very tiresome. But, I found that the story held its promise in a way that Must Love Dogs did not and I was glad I read it. It's worth reading but I wouldn't give it a top rating, due to the fact that it could have used a bit more pizazz. Still, I did really like the cast of characters and cared to know how things would turn out.

And, finally, I just finished Shopaholic & Baby! I cannot believe that such an easy, breezy book took me at least 4 days to complete.

Shopaholic & Baby continues the tale of shopping-obsessed Becky Brandon, nee Bloomwood, as she enters the next phase of her life. Pregnant and clueless, she shops with abandon for anything cute and impractical while overlooking necessities like changing tables and bottle warmers. Friend Suze tries to steer her on the right shopping path with her three little darlings in tow. Meanwhile, Becky's working at a new store that has had such a string of disasters it's practically empty; and, when she becomes a patient to a doctor known for celebrity births, she worries that Luke is having an affair as it turns out the doctor is a former university flame of his.

As usual, Becky annoyed me at the beginning of this book and then made her typical turnaround, saving the day for both Luke and her employer. Becky is just a delightful character who gets herself into all sorts of trouble, but always ends up realizing that what's really important in life is not her possessions but the joy of her loved ones. She has a huge heart and Shopaholic & Baby ended up every bit as satisfying as the other books in the series (although I really thought I was on the verge of throwing the book at the wall, for a while, there).

All three books were great Brain-Fog Summer Slump reading material.

Tomorrow is Back-to-School night and darned if the husband isn't dashing out of town so I have to do the whole darned chauffeuring drink with a Back-to-School chaser. I've given him laser eyes, all weekend. Why is he not begging to stay home to stop the pain? I don't get it.

Hope to be back to normal posting, anyway. To heck with the house. It was clean for 24 hours and I'm happy.

Bookfool, ready to skip Monday and coast on into the next weekend

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Wahoo! Wednesday

You'll just have to forgive me, in advance, for all the heat-related comments I'm bound to make. I can't help it. I was meant to live in a snowy , frigid, wear-thick-waterproof-boots environment. Or, at least one where it sometimes snows. You know, like more than every 7 years, on average. I'm not complaining. I'll take the snow when I get it. Now would be nice. Even some melted snow would help.

But, okay, in lieu of snow . . . some wahoos:

1. Wahoo for the beautiful butterfly I spotted on Monday:

2. Wahoo for ice-cold, nicely portable, bottled water. And coolers. And ice packs. And, refrigerators. I love refrigerators.

3. Why is the Colonel smiling? Well, obviously he's feeling very wahooey. Plus . . .

a.) Nobody really wants to cook in this weather.
b.) The temperature dropped! We'll just overlook the fact that it still got to 101, okay? And, that the humidity actually has gone up.

Wahoo for drive-through food and any kind of break at all in the weather.

4. Wahoo for a warped sense of humor that helps me get through the day:

5. In the "historical documents" category . . . Wahoo for parents who were a very good influence in many ways (cuddle-bunny dad, reading mom - Dad was an avid reader, too). This photo was taken a million years ago, on a vacation in Colorado.

Reading-wise: I finished Voyage by Adele Geras, a book that is so short it didn't even make it into my sidebar. Although, admittedly, the brevity probably doesn't have much to do with the fact I haven't been updating the sidebar, lately. Voyage is an Estella's Revenge review book with a cast of characters traveling in steerage on a ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean. I liked it. And, you know what I'm going to say next . . . I'll post a link to the review when the September Estella is up.

Speaking of that sidebar, all the other books in my "current reads" are mouldering on the bedside pile. I can only handle one at a time and it has to be light or short. I plan to get back to all three of the books I've set aside, but don't hold your breath.

And, what's up next? Oh, gosh. Want to hear a readers' horror story? I took two series books with me to school pick-up, today. While I sat sweating lustily in the heat of my car, I pulled out first one and then the other. The first was Shopaholic and Sister. I read exactly 3 paragraphs before realizing, "Oops, the only one I haven't read is Shopaholic and Baby." Sigh. That one went back in the bag and I pulled out Bury the Lead by David Rosenfelt. I read the acknowledgments (yes, I usually read those; I have no idea why) and the last sentence said thank you to those who have written to the author about the first two of his books. Okay, darn it. I've only read the first, Open and Shut. Back in the bag. My big basket of emergency books was removed to fit the two new chairs on Sunday. It's still in the living room. I'll figure out what to read after I soak. I definitely need to soak.

I should wahoo about this, but I'll just tell you that having an extra passenger on the drive to the pool can be rather fun. Among other things, our rider has recently said:

"My granddaddy promised me his Jeep when I was three years old. That was before he went blind."

"126 people have to die before I can become the Queen of the Isle of Man. I'm plotting. 120 of them are already dead."

This could be a very interesting year.

Off to soak. Hope to get some of the backlog of reviews done, tomorrow. Have a wahooey day, wherever you are!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Truth or Dare by Melanie Atkins and Victim Wanted for Brain Transplant

Truth or Dare by Melanie Atkins
Triskelion Publishing
Copyright: January, 2007
280 pages

I'm going to try really hard to do justice to this book, but my head is swimming from this heat. I said so many incredibly stupid things, yesterday, that I was actually wishing I could run into some people to say, "I take it back!" today . . . or at least find someone willing to undergo a brain transplant (give me the better one, the one that functions in heat - please, please!).

Okay, so review. Book review. I can do this. Even if I can't currently find the book. So, no quote. Wait! I have to find the book. Give me a minute. I'm listening to Coldplay and Snow Patrol in the hope that cold-associated thoughts will help. I also have a Bubba Jug full of chilled water on the floor, here. When we were out and about, the Kentucky Fried Chicken sign said it was 104 degrees out and my car thermometer claimed 105. And, you know how we all trust KFC. So, I do have a reason to babble incoherently, today, I promise.

Seriously, I'm going to write that review. Here's a quote, if you're still with me:

He released the gate, and it swung shut with a spine-chilling groan. He wiped his freezing hand on his jeans and eyed the lush grass crowding the stained marble headstones. Some sat at odd angles, signaling that the ground had shifted, and others had been sheared off by neglect and maybe even vandalism. The entire cemetery was in serious need of attention

"This place hasn't been touched in years." The fog around them thickened as Colin ran his hand over the top of a leaning grave marker. The marble was rough and pitted from weather and time.
He backed up to read the name, but it had none. He frowned. How odd. The wind increased, whipping the reedy grass against his legs.

Kaitlyn disappeared around a bend in the path, under the enormous limbs of a spreading oak dripping with Spanish moss.

How's that for "dripping with atmosphere"? I have to admit, this would have been a great choice for Carl's R.I.P Challenge (which I hear is going to happen, again - hope it's already in the works, because I'd hate to have to beg).

Truth or Dare is the story of a witch and an FBI agent, both at Scarlet Oak Manor for different reasons. Kaitlyn has arrived at the request of the owners, to cleanse the house of evil spirits. Colin then shows up to investigate a series of unsolved murders. Three ghosts are present, and all of them are very, very bad. There's a zombie, voodoo, protective spells, and a curse. All three ghosts seek a cursed sapphire necklace and are willing to kill for it.

The story rambles a little and, as you may know from an earlier post, triggered a tremendously fun alien invasion dream. In general, I think it could be labeled a paranormal romantic suspense, but there's so much to it that it's really hard to classify. Let's just say it's an awfully fun and unique book. The story surprised me quite a bit; romance is always rather predictable in its way, but this was just a totally off-the-wall paranormal story, as well, and the uniqueness made it a really enjoyable read.

Kaitlyn and Colin are at cross-purposes and he doesn't believe in witches or ghosts, spells or zombies. But, the house is so totally full of creepiness that he is eventually caught in the midst of the unraveling ghostly search for the cursed sapphire. The question is . . . will they survive? Well, that's one question. There are more. Will Kaitlyn manage to send the ghosts away? Will Colin find the serial killer? Are they ever going to give in and have sweaty sex? Mwah-haha. I'm not telling, although I'll say don't hand it to your 9-year-old.

Unfortunately, if you want to read the book, you'll probably have to either act fast or wait for a while because there's a note at the author's website explaining that Triskelion Publishing recently filed for bankruptcy. I checked and the book was available at Amazon, a few days ago. So, if it sounds good, for heaven's sake go snatch up a copy. I really enjoyed it. There were a few times I thought, "Wait a minute - explain that, please?" so I'm going to call it slightly above average for uniqueness; I'm taking a bit off for a few moments that I didn't quite "get it". That could have been me, though. Just so you know.


Just as a side note, the author is a friend and she said this book was "pretty tame" as her books go. It always kind of shocks me to find out that there are so many really sweet women who write scare-your-pants-off novels, as Melanie does. She's a really terrific lady. I've always been amazed by her ability to balance working, writing and raising kids. Did I tell you she has cats? Well, of course you love her, already.

In other news, I finished another book, today: Life's a Beach by Claire Cook. I'm falling behind. Squeak, whine! Help me! Plus, the very delightful Chris (whom I already adore, but have to appreciate for also whining about the heat and letting me whine right back) has tagged me for a Thoughtful Blogger Award. And, I'm embarrassed to say he's actually the second. Bonnie tagged me, a while back, and I've been thinking, "Later, later," when I can even stand to look at the computer. So, thanks to both Bonnie and Chris. I'll try to post on that very soon.

Tomorrow is Wednesday and I'm going to try really, really hard to do a Wahoo! post. But, here's the pic of the day, one of about three plants valiantly blooming in spite of the heat and an opportunity to use a quote I've been eyeing:

What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Go Ralph. Did that come out wrong? Just wondering. I'm going to hibernate my computer, feed my face, spoil my cat and cool my heels reading. Happy Tuesday, everyone!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Our weekend

I thought about posting a "sorry I haven't posted" post, last night, but I was just too tired. The heat, the school activities, the housework . . . it's all rather exhausting. So, this was our weekend:

1. Eldest son comes down so that we can use his truck to bring home cabinet and ditch ugly, old couch. Meet in Jackson.
2. Hardware store closes before we get there.
3. We have nice dinner and go to bed very late.
4. Everyone wakes up early to go to the city-wide pep rally at the outlet mall (see photos, below).
5. Guys take couch to rescue mission and dash off to get cabinet and new table/chairs for breakfast nook.
6. A whole lot of shoving of possessions and tossing-out takes place.
7. New table looks great, but guys could only fit 2 chairs in truck so we admire our two chairs.
8. Old table is put in living/dining area of boring old, poorly-designed ranch house for youngest to use as study table.
9. Everyone sleeps far too late on Sunday.
10. Drive to Jackson to get the other two chairs after eldest leaves. This involves emptying the Toyota trunk and then fitting the two chairs into it like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that are not, in fact, supposed to go together.
11. Wake up and realize eldest son has accidentally taken his brother's school notebook.
12. Rush call to eldest, telling him to hurry-up-quick and scan youngest son's homework.
13. Youngest arrives at school and realizes he doesn't have his ID.
14. Sit at computer, load pictures, become suddenly aware via watering eyes and much yawning that it may be time for a nap.
15. Before I go . . . here are some photos from the pep rally. Hope to get to a review or two, later. But, don't hold your breath. I'm really tired, today.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Lesley Castle by Jane Austen and school is going to kill us all

Lesley Castle by Jane Austen
Hesperus Press/Fiction
Copyright 2005
113 pages

Imagine how great the disappointment must be to me, when you consider that after having laboured both by night and by day in order to get the wedding dinner ready by the time appointed, after having roasted beef, broiled mutton, and stewed soup enough to last the new-married couple through the honeymoon, I had the mortification of finding that I had been roasting, broiling and stewing both the meat and myself to no purpose. Indeed, my dear friend, I never remember suffering any vexation equal to what I experienced on last Monday when my sister came running to me in the store room with her face as white as a whipped syllabub, and told me that Hervey had been thrown from his horse, had fractured his skull, and was pronounced by his surgeon to be in the most eminent danger.

'Good God!' said I, ' You don't say so? Why what in the name of heaven will become of all the victuals! We shall never be able to eat it while it is good. However, we'll call in the surgeon to help us. I shall be able to manage the sirloin myself, my mother will eat the soup, and you and the doctor must finish the rest.'

--from "Lesley Castle" by Jane Austen

Lesley Castle is one of those books that I found so amazing that I feel inadequate to describe it, but I'll do my best.

There are three entries in the book: first, the self-titled novella "Lesley Castle", followed by "A History of England" and, finally, another novella entitled "Catharine, or The Bower". All three works were written by Austen when she was a teenager. On the merits of her writing, alone, I'd say they're shockingly good for the writing of a teenager, but even more amazing is the fact that she already had a very mature understanding of social artifice. Zoe Heller calls the first story, 'Lesley Castle', "a rambunctious parody of the epistolary novel" which is "particularly striking" in its "melodramatic incident, regal vice and other immoral behaviour", all of which are presented "in a gleefully direct way". Gosh, I wish I'd written all that. Yeah, what Zoe said.

"Lesley Castle" is written as a series of letters and is . . . well, it's funny. All three stories showcase Austen's comic genius - I'm sure Zoe said that, first - but "Lesley Castle" was my favorite. Margaret Lesley rhapsodizes about how handsome she and her sister are in one flowery sentence, then goes on to describe how they are immune to their own charms. Charlotte Lutterell hears the devastating news that her sister's fiance has fallen off his horse and is not expected to live, and her greatest concern is what to do with all that food she's cooked for the wedding. The new Mrs. Lesley, married to the father of the two Lesley girls in the castle, arrives and is instantly horrified, as she relates to their mutual friend, Charlotte:

You can form no idea sufficiently hideous of its dungeon-like form. It is actually perched upon a rock to appearance so totally inaccessible that I expected to have been pulled up by a rope; and sincerely repented of having gratified my curiosity to behold my daughters at the expense of being obliged to enter their prison in so dangerous and ridiculous a manner.

Personally, I think the first novella makes the book worth the purchase price. But, the other two entries are also loads of fun.

"A History of England" is told as a series of brief biographical sketches of the monarchy (complete with illustrations), allegedly written to form the impression that it was written by someone who was . . . shall we say, not the sharpest knife in the drawer? Henry V's description is an excellent example:

This Prince, after he succeeded to the throne, grew quite reformed and amiable, forsaking all his dissipated companions and never thrashing Sir William again. During his reign, Lord Cobham was burnt alive, but I forget what for. His majesty then turned his thoughts to France, where he went and fought the famous Battle of Agincourt. He afterwards married the King's daughter Catherine, a very agreeable woman by Shakespeare's account. In spite of all this, however, he died, and was succeeded by his son Henry.

The narrator eventually shows herself to be an admirer of Mary Queen of Scots and tosses in a funny line indicating that only she and a few well-known historians have any real appreciation for poor Mary.

"Catharine, or The Bower" tells the story of a young lady whose two best friends are forced to leave their home after the death of their father, Mr. Wynne. Catharine is terribly let down after she anticipates the new neighbor her age becoming her friend, only to find the new arrival a major disappointment. Later on, when her new friend Camilla's brother shows up, Catharine somehow manages to convince herself that he's wildly in love with her, in spite of the fact that he admits to being completely disinterested. This is one of my favorite sentences, the description of how Mrs. Wynne got off lucky:

Mrs. Wynne was fortunately spared the knowledge and participation of their distress, by her release from a painful illness a few months before the death of her husband.

What a great way to describe missing out on poverty by dying first! And, here's a description of the flighty new neighbor Catharine finds disappointing as a substitute for her former best friends:

There had occasionally appeared a something like humour in Camilla which had inspired [Catharine] with hopes that she might at least have a natural genius, though not an improved one, but these sparklings of wit happened so seldom, and were so ill supported that she was at last convinced of their being merely accidental.

Now, how could you not love that? "Catharine" appears to stop abruptly without a real ending, but it still managed to be satisfying. I just gave it a mental ending of my own.

The book is immensely entertaining and, in spite of one abrupt ending and a good bit of historical silliness, I can't bear to take off even a fraction of a point:


Just finished, yesterday: Truth or Dare by Melanie Atkins - the book that set off that fascinating alien invasion dream. Honestly, I'm not quite sure how one zombie managed to trigger a dream about heartless aliens (who massacred the children, first), but I do understand that my subconscious latched onto the zombie characterization and turned it into a mannerism - the aliens walked much like zombies and that's how the renegade humans managed to walk amongst them and later fight back. It was like a little mini movie in Bookfool's brain. You should have been there. Anyway, I'll try to review Truth or Dare soon. Besides the zombie, the book has an interesting blend of ghosts, a witch, murder, voodoo, sex and a long-buried treasure. Gosh. Where did Melanie come up with that stuff?

The kiddo has us running all over the galaxy. First, the school drop-off at about 7:20 am. Then, of course, I have to sign him out in the afternoon because he doesn't yet have an athletics pass. After which, I must drop both kiddo and friend A. off at the pool - although the coach can't make it for at least another hour. So, we've got this:

followed by that:

Now, don't go telling the band director, but the kiddo was seriously dawdling, today. He should have gotten dressed quickly so I could zip him right over to school for band practice. But, first he had fire ants on his shoes (great excuse - even if you don't get bitten, you can pretend and everyone empathizes with your pain), then he goofed around and talked to A., then he took forever getting dressed. Normally, I do some major verbal nudging, but it was 101 degrees outside. I didn't feel too great about having my kid march in 101 degree weather, so I just did the wishy-washy-sorta-nudge, instead.

Which leads to the bit about the ambulances . . . Hubby decided to give me a break and pick the kiddo up from band. When he got home, he asked if I ever experienced a band practice that ended up with two ambulances, two county deputy vehicles and a few other vehicles with flashing lights present, when a handful of the kids needed tending to for dehydration. Actually, yes, I did. But we did our marching practice at 6am, so we only had that problem at afternoon contests or last-minute extra practice sessions. Fortunately, my kid takes a cooler with a minimum of 3 bottled beverages. He just kept on marching. He's fried, though. I'm not happy about all this mid-afternoon stuff. My child slathers like crazy, but there isn't a sunscreen in the world that can handle that kind of abuse. He went back to the pool for swim club practice after band. I wish I still had that kind of stamina.

So, that's our day. Well, that and bill-paying, buying milk, and a few other exciting things you probably don't want to hear about. I'm ready to pop open one of those nifty lavender fizzies and go take a nice soak. Not sure about the kid, but he definitely deserves a good night's sleep.

Bookfoolish mother of very active teenager

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

One Historical Document - The Cow Tail Switch

I woke up late from a dream about an alien invasion, after getting the kiddo off to his first day of school and then falling back to sleep (seriously, I'm absolutely exhausted from helping to save the last of humanity with . . . water pistols; dreams are so interesting). So, my Lesley Castle review still hasn't been started and, instead, I'm posting a photo of an historical document - the first library sale book I ever bought, a reject from my hometown's public library, which I purchased for a dime when I was around 9 or 10 years old. The Cow Tail Switch is an excellent book of West African folk tales with black-and-white illustrations. I read and reread that book for years and still have a fondness for folk tales. It might be due for a reread.

More later, I hope. The first week of school is always rather wild.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

25 Years and not a single bullet

You can see we had a Baptist wedding from the toast (punch - very good punch, actually).

I have to run the kiddo to the music store in Jackson because the school has not managed to purchase enough lyres and he kind of needs his music for marching, as it's not yet memorized. Hopefully, I'll get a review of Lesley Castle posted, later this evening. Hubby and I are going to the French restaurant for bad service and decent food in celebration of having survived each other for a quarter century, after we drop kiddo off at swim practice, tonight.

Our secret for wedded bliss: When we married, we agreed that we'd give our marriage a 25-year trial run and if things didn't work out, we'd give it another 25. Also, it really does help not to keep any guns in the house.

Gotta dash!