Friday, May 30, 2008

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
Released May 20, 2008
Bantam Fiction
276 pages

She looked over to the door and locked eyes with Jake. The force of it nearly knocked her over. As much as Julian could do, as much as he wanted to do, he could not affect her the way Jake could. It was the difference between a tickle and a punch.

Jake walked toward her, Adam on his heels. They got caught in the group of shiny women on their way. Walking through that group was like walking into a sudden dust devil. They emerged on the other side looking rumpled and windblown.
[pp. 109-110]

"Books can be possessive, can't they? You're walking around in a bookstore and a certain one will jump out at you, like it had moved there on its own, just to get your attention. Sometimes what's inside will change your life, but sometimes you don't even have to read it. Sometimes it's a comfort just to have a book around. Many of these books haven't even had their spines cracked. 'Why do you buy books you don't even read?' our daughter asks us. That's like asking someone who lives alone why they bought a cat. For company, of course."
[p. 180]

What led you to pick up this book?
I loved Garden Spells, by the same author, and was fortunate (as in "Wow, this is like winning the lottery!" -- it's the simple things in life you treasure) to find an advanced reader copy of The Sugar Queen for free at my public library.

Summarize the plot but don't give away the ending. Josey Cirrini was a terrible brat, as a child and, at 27 years of age, is still trying to make up for her early years by caring for her elderly widowed mother, Margaret. More than anything, Josey desires to escape from the Bald Slope, North Carolina, where her wealth and her history are known to everyone. From a distance, Josey admires her handsome mailman, Adam, but she's not really allowed any social life and is totally inexperienced with men. To assuage her frustrations, she frequently hides in her closet and eats from her stash of candy and goodies. Then, one day she opens the closet and finds Della Lee Baker sitting on her closet floor. Shocked at first, Josey allows her to stay and even offers to bring her food. Della Lee sends Josey out for sandwiches from a shop at the courthouse. As Josey and shop owner Chloe Finley become friends, Josey slowly gets up the nerve to leave the house more often. There are quite a few threads that eventually interconnect and the story is really about three women whose lives are intertwined and who must all learn to be true to their own hearts.

What did you like most about the book? Golly, everything. It's just a lovely, heartwarming, witty, magical tale. I think the author has a way of creating incredibly warm characters with some sort of magical abilities. Chloe, for example, attracts books; they magically pop up nearby and even sometimes follow her around. Josey is a really nice person, much more of a social creature than she realizes after years of doing little but serving her bitter mother. She always senses the mailman's presence as he arrives at her house. The housekeeper is funny and charming with her superstitious ways and has her own special ability, which doesn't become clear until late in the book.

What did you think of the characters? Wonderful, wonderful characters. I felt like they all made sense in light of their pasts. The author has a way of making characters that are so likable that you can't help but think, "I just know I could be friends with that author if I knew her. I'll bet she's nice." Don't worry; I'm not a stalker.

Share a favorite scene from the book: I particularly loved the scenes in which Chloe was chased around by books like Finding Forgiveness. Chloe would tell them to just leave her alone, but then she'd walk into another room and whatever book wanted her attention would pop up, again. In one scene, an entire stack of books practically stalks her, inching their way into the bathroom.

Thumbs up - Absolutely enchanting. I love Sarah Addison Allen's writing.

In general:
The author has officially become a personal favorite with this second delightful book.

Now reading:
Mrs. Lieutenant
by Phyllis Zimbler Miller (just started!)
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (the second section isn't keeping my attention, but we'll see)
The Queen of Sleepy Eye by Patti Hill (crazy about this one, so far, and hope to find more reading time to spend with it, soon)

Oh, I almost forgot! Since The Sugar Queen is set in North Carolina (and so is the author -- I mean, she lives there), it qualifies as book #2 for the Southern Reading Challenge. Woohoo!

Tarnished Beauty by Cecilia Samartin

Tarnished Beauty by Cecilia Samartin (ARC)
Released March, 2008
Atria books - fiction
339 pages

When Carmen came home, she stood frozen in the doorway. The grocery bag she held in one hand slipped through her fingers and dropped to the floor with the unmistakable clunk of a six-pack. Her purse was the next to go.

"My God," she said, tugging on the loose flesh under her chin. "I didn't realize how big this place is." [p. 58]

Who can deny the beauty of the first days of spring, when tender buds begin to yield their secrets, and the sun spreads its glory across the land with unparalleled brilliance? I suppose there are some who when confronted with such beauty are not affected by it. The very same who happen upon the most spectacular of sunsets and continue their daily routines with little more than a glance. I am the sort who stops in my tracks to consider each subtle phase, every errant beam of light that dances across the sky. I am spellbound until the end, and so I was with Rosa. [p. 153]

T wo steaming cups of coffee, one with plenty of cream and sugar, were waiting at the bedside once the morning chores had been completed. The trays and clothes had been moved into the corridor and still needed to be taken downstairs, but the room was spotless and the linens on the bed crisp. Jamilet opened the window and midmorning sun stretched across the room like a soft golden arm, beckoning them to sit and meditate upon the warmth of its embrace.

What led you to pick up this book? Tarnished Beauty is an advanced reader that was sent to me by Simon & Schuster (thank you!).

Summarize the plot but don't give away the ending. Jamilet is a girl born in Mexico with a huge, ugly birthmark that villagers believe is the mark of the devil. Because of the mark, Jamilet must dress with extreme modesty and endure vicious taunts. She's unable to attend school because of the villagers' beliefs about her birthmark, yet she is a sweet, angelic girl. Eventually, Jamilet manages to cross the border, find her aunt in Los Angeles and obtain illegal documents. With her forged documents and the advice of a friend, Jamilet finds a job at a mental institution, caring for a single patient who calls himself Senor Peregrino. The nurse has warned Jamilet not to listen to Senor Peregrino's ramblings, at risk of losing her job, but when Peregrino saves Jamilet's life and hides the real documents that give away her true identity, Jamilet agrees to hear his story in return for her papers. As the story unfolds and Senor Peregrino eventually teaches her how to read, Jamilet realizes that she and Senor Peregrino have much in common and, in turn, learns how to follow her own heart.

What did you like most about the book? I loved the characters, the way the story is told (with Senor Peregrino telling his story, little bits at a time, when he feels like it), the contrast of beautiful descriptions with realistic dialogue, the relationships -- I really had a terrible time putting the book down, I liked it so much.

What did you think of the characters? You can't help but love Jamilet and Senor Peregrino. Jamilet's aunt Carmen is kind of bizarre and a little disgusting but hilarious. There's an excellent blend of characters.

Share a favorite scene from the book: I'm particular fond of a scene near the end of the book, when Jamilet puts all the pieces of Peregrino's story together and she finally stands up and does what she knows is right rather than what others desire of her.

Thumbs up - Completely captured me. I had so much difficulty putting the book down that it pretty much dominated my weekend. Definitely worth the time; I was particularly fond of the fact that there were likable, unlikable and dubious characters but they were all plain-spoken and easy to visualize. I loved the contrast of beautiful prose with blunt dialogue.

In general:
Excellent reading. I did figure out the mystery of Senor Peregrino long before it was revealed and that was a bit of a let-down. But, otherwise, I was utterly captivated.

Tarnished Beauty was also reviewed by Kris at Not Enough Books.

Just Finished: The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

Just about to: Take a nap. I can't keep my eyes open. Hope everyone has a terrific day!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wahoo! Wednesday

I really need my wahoos, this week. The lights are still flickering in our house and now it's gotten to the point that we often hear fizzing, popping, crackling noises. The refrigerator goes off and on, the computer monitors blink, the light bulbs are more lightning than light. Scary.

So, wahoo #1 -- Wahoo! for the fact that the electricity problem hasn't killed us, yet. Might want to follow that one up with a request for crossed fingers and prayers till we find an electrician.

2. It rained cats and dogs, this morning, and I had to drive on Interstate 20 to Jackson in a deluge. It was just a wee bit bracing. Fortunately, all went well apart from one brief moment during which an 18-wheeler passed me and I was temporarily blinded by the splash he generated. Well, wahoo! for making it home in one piece.

3. You can't help but love this wahoo if you're a bibliophile (and which of you is not?) . . . Wahoo! for that ARC giveaway at the library. Oh, oh, oh, oh!! I'm so excited to have a fresh, pretty pile. I'll have to take some photos, soon. Both hubby and I are having fun with the new books. But, my most thrilling find on those library carts -- and, I'm telling you, it is such a lucky thing that I held that wahoo noise in because they would have kicked me out faster than you can say, "Gosh, look at the greedy book pig" -- is The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen. Garden Spells was one of my favorite reads, last year, so I've been just salivating at the thought of another luscious read by the same author, ever since a friend told me she'd received an advanced reader. You have never seen an arm move as fast as that motion I made to snatch The Sugar Queen off the FREE books cart.

4. Wahoo! for new life. I meant to mention this little guy, whom I plunked into my sidebar, last week, but then events intervened. Gah, small-town weirdness that I can't talk about, but it's mostly over. Anyway, I was standing out on our driveway, one day (I do that a lot, just watching the birds) and a mockingbird was dive-bombing Gray Kitty, the cat whose image I've just turned into my new profile photo. Naturally, I started to think, "Hmm, maybe there's a nest, nearby." The next day, when I was outside I noticed a nest in a big green thing -- which is either a big shrub or a small tree; honestly, I can't tell. It's just fat and leafy. And, there was a whole lot of tweeting going on. So, I walked across the street and saw this little fellow hanging out of the nest. Up above on the wire was either Mama or Daddy Mockingbird with a mouthful of blackberry. What an awesome sight. Look at that cute, downy little head!!!! And here's Mama or Daddy:5. I signed a contract with a roofer, last week. I told my husband the roofer is very soft-spoken and likable and he has these nice little smile crinkles around his eyes, but I have no idea whether he's any good at replacing a roof. My husband just laughed. So, you know, wahoo! for having a husband who trusts me and thinks I'm kind of funny. I think I'd probably drive most men crazy, so that's a biggie.

In other bookish news . . .

I had this overwhelming need to actually buy a new book, over the weekend, and The Blood of Flowers has been on my wish list for quite a while, so I grabbed that one on a jaunt to Borders. I have no idea when I'll actually read it, but it's very pretty and comes highly recommended.

And from our library's perpetual sale, I got a copy of Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. Squeee! I've had that one on the wish list forever -- like, years. Again, when I'll get to it is anyone's guess, but I'm happy to own a copy. I love Stegner.

I was also thrilled to see a message saying I've won a copy of The Used World by Haven Kimmel from This Book for Free. I've been planning to give her fiction a try and that'll make it easy. Many thanks to Shoshana!

Wishing everyone a deluge of wahoos,

Bookfool, aka That Greedy Book Pig

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Tremendously Bookish Weekend (a wee bit late)

The following lizard photo is for decorative purposes only. He hasn't objected, but he's totally unaware that his image is being used for blog adornment. The photographer gratefully acknowledges his kindness and patience in posing at great length.

We now return to normality.

Even though it was a holiday weekend that involved a lot of driving kiddo to work and back, entertaining the eldest (sort of) and having a nuisance husband around to make messes (he excels; it's not just a habit, it's a skill set), I got some great reading done. Unfortunately, it's at least in part because I'm so used to a quiet house that sometimes I become Hermit Bookfool and disappear with a stack of books and a pile of pillows while the family hangs out. This weekend, the husband and eldest watched kamikaze insects divebomb into a hot citronella candle while they drank wine on the porch. I tried being sociable but that's just disturbing, watching insects fly to their doom. I had to run away and read. The lightning bugs were enchanting, twinkling all over the back yard, but the kamikaze bugs were just too much.

Anyway, I got a lot of reading done, so here's a run-down.

1. Tarnished Beauty by Cecelia Samartin is the story of Jamilet, a girl born in Mexico with a huge, ugly birthmark and an unfortunate paternal history. The birthmark forces her to dress with extreme modesty and endure vicious taunts. I will write a full review of this one, soon, but I was so completely captivated by this story that I could barely stand to put it down for a breather. I read, I ate, I read, I sipped drinks, I read and read and read. Jamilet and the man she eventually befriends are wonderful characters. Particularly of note is the way the author blends enchanting paragraphs full of beautiful word pictures with honest dialogue. So, one second you may be reading about the beauty of the sunset and the next minute someone is asking the character who is rhapsodizing why the heck doesn't she just get herself a beer instead of staring off into the sunset (that's not an actual part of the book -- just a rough example). That clash of beauty and common language makes it incredibly believable and even a little bit magical.

2. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert -- I finished the "Eat" section, the portion in which author Gilbert describes her 4-month stay in Italy, during which she worked on improving her conversational Italian, healing from her nasty divorce, traveling around Italy to learn its history and savor its beauty and (most important) eating very, very good Italian food. I really enjoyed that part of the book, so I decided I needed to take a short breather before moving on to India. I've begun the India or "Pray" section, as of last night, and I'm enjoying it. I'm also glad I took a break between sections because the tone is a bit different and I think it might have been a bit jarring to move right from Italy to India. Such a contrast!

3. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson - I read a few stories from this collection, earlier in the week, and decided to read more. This book is an anthology of Shirley Jackson's short stories and most have left me feeling like, "Uh, so what was the point of that?" until this last batch. I love her writing but think it all boils down to endings -- love the voice, the mystery, the suspense . . . often hate the denouement. There's one story, for example, about a girl who claims the world is going to end because an asteroid is going to hit Earth. You don't know whether she's imagining things or predicting the future but either way it's kind of creepy and the suspense builds until the end, which is just a total letdown.

This weekend, I read "Trial by Combat", "The Villager", "My Life with R. H. Macy", "The Witch", "The Renegade", and "After You, My Dear Alphonse". And, I came away from this particular bunch of stories feeling entirely different. There was a depth I thought many of her other stories have lacked. Was it my mood? An ability to relate to some of the characters or situations? I don't know. But, I got so much from those stories that I'm thinking about doing a separate post on them. We'll see. First, what else did the crazy girl read?

Ah, yes, a weekend just isn't right without Alfred Bester. This week, I read "5,271,009" from Virtual Unrealities. It was one of the most flat-out bizarre, mind-boggling stories I've ever read. And, yet, at the same time I have an idea what it was about (but I'm not certain) and it made me laugh several times. There's a character whose mode of speech is so ridiculous that I can't possibly repeat it. I'll just have to post an excerpt:

"It's extremely odd, Mr. Aquila." Derelict seemed to struggle with himself. "Your coming in like this. A Halsyon monochrome arrived not five minutes ago."
"You see?
Tempo ist Richtung. Well?"
"I'd rather not show it to you. For personal reasons, Mr. Aquila."
"HimmelHerrGott! Pourquoi? She's bespoke?"
"N-no, sir. Not for
my personal reasons. For your personal reasons."
"Oh? God damn. Explain myself to me."

Well, that made me chuckle.

Last, but not least, I read a few nonfiction entries from Best Little Stories from World War II by C. Brian Kelly. There's a pattern to the way he tells the stories and it's a wee bit annoying -- the way he dangles information about some mystery person and you find yourself thinking, "Who is it? Who is it?" But, the story about the young WWI soldier who served as a messenger and repeatedly escaped harm while running messages from place to place -- a job that only about 50% survived -- was fascinating enough to really buck up my interest. That young soldier who repeatedly escaped harm, was injured but not badly, was temporarily blinded by chlorine gas but got his sight back and lived on was Hitler. Oh. I didn't know all that. Yeah, that worked. I'll continue working on this one. Come to think of it, that format is beginning to grow on me.

Had to return High Cotton to the library, today, but they had a cart full of ARCs sitting out with a "FREE" sign, again. Oh, goodness gracious. I cannot resist those free ARCs. I may have to post a list separately, but I began to read one that appealed to me because it will nicely fit the Southern Reading Challenge. The author is from Shreveport, Louisiana. It's a memoir and I just adore the way she tells stories of her childhood. Oops, sorry for the accidental posting at this point. The book is On Our Way to Beautiful by Yolanda Young. More on that, later.

Hope everyone had a terrific weekend!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Moonstruck by Susan Grant

Moonstruck by Susan Grant Copyright 2008
Release date: Today!!!

Harlequin Paranormal Romance (I disagree -- My opinion: Sci-fi Romance)

378 pages

[Finn] walked to a comm panel to assemble his team and sat down. The smart chair sank almost to the floor before rising to the height he'd programmed. Blast the damn thing! "Do that again, and out the airlock you go," he muttered. Was it his imagination or did the chair give an extra jolt?

Only a few amused glances veered in his direction. He altered the settings -- again. No matter what he adjusted, the so-called smart chairs did something else.

What led you to pick up this book? The author sent me a copy. One of her previous books, Your Planet or Mine? was on my 2006 list of favorites reads (see my review, here).

Summarize the plot but don't give away the ending. As a young adult, Brit "Stone-Heart" Bandar witnessed mass murder at the hands of the Drakken Horde. Since that day, she has made it her mission to eliminate as many of the Drakken Horde as possible and has become an admiral in the Coalition fleet, fighting the Horde and attempting to catch rogue captain and pirate Finn Rorkken. When the Coalition and the Horde draft a peace accord and become part of the new Triad -- which includes the Coalition, the Horde and Earth, Bandar and Rorkken are thrown together, obligated to share command of a new space ship and forced to fight their unexpected attraction to each other. When mass murder on a remote planet near the Borderlands throws the light of suspicion on the Drakken Horde, peace comes into question and Brit has no choice but to face the fear and anger that have lingered in spite of her determination to move on.

What did you like most about the book? I liked the action, the characters, the raw emotion and the author's unique brand of humor. While this book is much darker than the previous book I read by the same author, she still managed to sneak in plenty of offbeat, funny moments.

What did you think of the characters? The hero and heroine are both strong characters, strict military leaders who are admired and respected by their crews. Brit's nickname indicates the fact that she's known as a cold-hearted leader. But, both Brit and Finn have their soft spots and have a sweet vulnerability when it comes to each other. There's also a secondary romance and I liked the characters involved in that little love triangle, as well. Actually, the secondary storyline was slightly a tiny bit more appealing because the heroine was such an innocent, naive young lady that you couldn't help but root for her to choose the right fellow.

Share a favorite scene from the book: I particularly love all of the action scenes, when Bandar and Rorkken turn completely serious and are focused on nothing but the mission at hand. Susan Grant's military history is no doubt at least partially responsible for her ability to write crisp, fast-paced action. I also enjoyed the tension and urgency when one of the characters fell victim to a booby-trapped space ship.

Thumbs up - Adventure, love and some rocking fine outer-space action, heavy on the romance. Once I became involved with the characters, I had difficulty setting the book down.

In general:
This is only my second book by Susan Grant, so I found myself comparing it to Your Planet or Mine? and I prefer a funny, light-hearted action/adventure sci-fi romance to a darker version of the same. But, I still loved the book. I like the author's sly sense of humor, the worlds that she creates (including all the nano-this and nano-that technology), the characters, the action and adventure. There is more emotion in Moonstruck and less humor, but it's still a terrific blend and I enjoyed it. My only quibble would be that some of the more erotic wording (and Moonstruck is quite heavy on sex scenes) is offensive to me. To regular romance readers, it may not be.

Also, it's worth noting that Bandar uses sex as a defense mechanism. So, the book begins with the admiral in the midst of a paid encounter (and there are quite a few graphic sex scenes). I would say it's not family-friendly, for that reason. But, let's face it, I'm a real priss.

Something to think about: In this particular storyline, sex is crucial because the heroine uses it to keep herself from becoming close to men and, thus, avoid vulnerability. Because it's important to plot, I think the sexual tension and relationship firmly entrenches this particular novel in the "romance" category. And, yet, it takes place in outer space. You simply can't deny that the sci-fi aspect is fantastic and I do think a lot of authors who write excellent sci-fi end up finding their books unfairly categorized as romance rather than science fiction. Not long ago, I recall reading an entry to that effect by another blogger (sorry, I did not save a link) who agrees that some tremendous sci-fi is unfairly plunked in the romance section by publishers. In fact, that particular blogger said she goes so far as to move a particular author's books from the romance section to the sci-fi shelves, where the books will presumably get more exposure.

The question for publishers and readers: Does romance negate the impact of setting? I have a friend who believes that romance is often thrown into a novel because it's a common -- possibly even expected -- technique, adding a subplot involving romance and, in effect, watering down a perfectly decent plot line. I don't know his opinion as to whether the romantic storyline should impact categorization.

Personal opinion: I like a little romance (preferably without graphic sex scenes) in just about anything. Sometimes I agree with my friend; there are stories in which the romantic aspect seems contrived and totally out of place -- and I'm referring to both genre and literary novels. But, I think love and attraction are a fact of life. It's nearly impossible to toss more than a few people/characters (real or imagined) together without some sort of romantic tension between at least a few of them. And, in many cases I think the setting should rule the classification. In fact, I would prefer that books by Susan Grant, Linnea Sinclair, and others who add a heavy romantic touch, were shelved in the sci-fi section. If I'm in the mood for sci-fi, that's where I'm going to go. Add the word "romance" to the spine, if you'd like; but remember that it's really the setting that often guides the impulse to read a particular book.

Back to Moonstruck . . .It is definitely recommended by moi and I am totally annoyed with myself for having misplaced my copy of My Favorite Earthling, which continued the story of Reef from Your Planet or Mine? Now, I'm just dying to read My Favorite Earthling.

Friday, May 23, 2008

What I Read and The Ants Are Dead

My reading break was a success! I finished two books (click on each image to enlarge for detail -- this works on all but The Lottery by Shirley Jackson):

And, I read bits of three more:

Reviews of Moonstruck and Jeremy Visick are forthcoming.

Only two days post grits feeding, the fire ants appeared to be totally dead and thus far they have not returned. A third hill-kicking produced absolutely no movement or life signs. So, listen to your elderly grandmother when she tells you to feed your fire ants grits. She knows what she's talking about.

Wishes to those in the United States for a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day weekend. This weekend is the opening of the City Pool, so kiddo will be busy lifeguarding. The rest of us are going to do whatever house and yard work we can squeeze in, between storms. And, of course, I'll be reading like a mad woman on housekeeping breaks.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Slightly Early Wahooey Stuff (unless you're living in my future, aka another time zone)

One more reason lizards are cool, in case you haven't gotten enough of my anole lizard buddies, lately:

Oooh, I want to hang upside down and grin while I'm at it! How wahooey is that?

Today, I read the intro of Beyond the Mommy Years: Empty Nest, Full Life by Carin Rubenstein, which a friend sent to me (thank you, Lover of Books!) bought a copy of The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson in the library sale and hired a roofer to replace the roof before it falls to pieces (bits keep flying off -- we've had an awful lot of storms, this year). I'm really quite proud of my roof. It survived Hurricane Katrina. Good for you, roof; you did your part. When I first opened the door to my roofer, Ronnie, he looked waaaaay up at our two gigantic oak trees and said, "I'd be scared of those trees." Well, they do have a tendency to fall over, around here. But, I told him I figured we'd just be goners if they did, so I don't bother thinking about it.

I didn't get around to Weekly Geeking, although I still have the best of intentions, but I'm all about environmental issues: global warming, saving the rainforests and the polar bears (because it's a bad idea to plunk the polar bears in the rain forest, we keep these two mentally separated, although they're really interconnected), planting trees and subsistence-only whaling, etc. And, I noted this comment in the Alaska Newsreader:

"The ice is melting three weeks earlier in the spring than it did 20 years ago, and it's re-forming a month later in the fall," said Carleton Ray of the University of Virginia, who has studied walruses since the 1950s. "There's no question that these changes are very bad for walruses."

Save the walruses! Stop global warming! Okay, got that off my chest. One excellent book that relates to the whole saving-nature theme is Silence of the Songbirds by Bridget Stutchbury You can read my review of Silence of the Songbirds, here. Wahoo! for songbirds.

And, on the other extreme of life (the exterminating end), I kicked the anthill to see if the fire ants have expired. They're sluggish, but aren't we all? It's hot out there. Still, they're alive so it's possible that the old home remedy won't work. I'll give them another package of cheese grits before making any judgment calls. Maybe their absence will be a future wahoo.

My youngest son is now officially employed as a lifeguard (Wahoo! for the teenager having a job) and I'm not quite ready to let him drive himself to the pool alone, so afternoons involve a lot of zipping back and forth to and from the pool. I'm driving our 18-year-old Honda Accord on pool and school runs. It's the most fuel-efficient vehicle on the Lizard Central Parking Lot and the car the youngster is most comfortable driving when he takes the wheel (with Mom in the passenger seat, of course). I love that car; it's got pep. Never mind the fact that little bits and pieces are falling off because it's elderly. It's your health that counts, even if you're an automobile. Wahoo! for a nice old car that runs like a dream.

The kiddo won't let me photograph him, these days, but I recently sneaked in a photo of his hair. Doesn't he have great hair? Very wahooey hair, if you ask me -- it's auburn and wavy with streaks of blond from sun exposure.

I haven't gotten back to it, but my friend Mike, a very wahooey email pal with whom I exchange lists of books read, finally tipped the scales with his enthusiastic recommendation of Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. So far, I'm really enjoying it. Mike doesn't read blogs or I'd send him a virtual smooch. I've decided that my reading is taking a terrible turn towards Attention Deficit Chaos, though, so I'm going to focus on finishing Moonstruck by Susan Grant before I read another page of anything else at all. Sometimes I just have to tell myself, "Focus, lady, focus."

Vicksburg and Warren County: A History of People and Place by Pamela Lea Grillis -- Book #1 completed for the Southern Reading Challenge -- is probably not of interest to many of y'all, so I'm going to skip reviewing it and return it to the library. But, there are a couple of quotes I have to share because they made me chuckle:

To populate the Yazoo plantations, the French sent peasants, slaves, tramps, prostitutes and anyone out of work for more than four days in France. [p. 27]

In fact, in 1827, a Baptist minister, Zebulon Butler, had visited Vicksburg with an eye toward establishing a ministry there. After less than a year, Reverend Butler had fled, aghast at the "lawless immorality" he had encountered. Indeed, Vicksburg was a wild, rambunctious town of singular personalities at its beginning. [p. 40]

Things have changed a bit. We have a lot of Baptists, now. Wahoo for that, eh?

Must go read before I babble so long that it really turns into Wednesday on our side of the globe.

Bookfool, who used to be able to walk upside-down on her hands but is so over that, doggone it

Monday, May 19, 2008

Weekend Reading and If The Fire Ants Are Biting, You Feed Them Grits

There are weekends during which you accomplish a great deal and there are those that are a total loss. Occasionally, some fall in between on the spectrum, but I'd go way west on this weekend. Not much of anything accomplished. So, when I went outdoors to work on removing the monkey grass in my front garden and discovered that the fire ants have built a home right where I planned to stick my gloved hands, I was irritable. When I got a bit too close to them and they bit me (even though I gave them plenty of room, the little space hogs), my mood was foul. I had to take a nap to recover.

But, I've fed the fire ants some American Cheese-flavored grits (presumably, the ants will eat them and explode -- hoping that's not what happens to humans because I just ate some of the Three Cheese variety) and now my mood has improved. I can now share my weekend reading with you.

On Saturday, I finished reading The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank by Ellen Feldman.

6-word synopsis: What if Anne's friend Peter survived?

Peter, of course, refers to the Peter whose family shared hiding space with Anne Frank's family in their hidden Annex for two years, during WWII. The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank is a novel concerning what might have happened to Peter van Pels (referred to as Peter van Daan in The Diary of Anne Frank) had he survived the concentration camp where his life ended. After time in a Displaced Persons camp and a new beginning in the United States, where he does not admit to being a Jew, the fictional Peter settles into a mildly neurotic and fairly prosperous life. But, Peter is haunted by his past, a past he prefers to keep buried even from his wife and children. When The Diary of Anne Frank is published and then turned into a play and, later, a film, his tenuous facade begins to crack.

This book really caught me off-guard. I found it was much more compelling, emotional and believable than I'd dreamed possible. I'll read just about anything, but I tend to give a wide berth to books that place a reader firmly in the head of a real person. My thought process is something to the effect of, "How can one possibly presume to guess at the thoughts of another human being -- one who truly lived and breathed and was not, in fact, fictional?" That bugs me.

But for some reason this particular story appealed to me. I think Susan's review might have been one of the reviews that sparked my interest. And, Tammy mentioned it as a favorite read in 2005 (her review is currently the third featured review at Amazon). It's a pretty depressing story, but I found it plausible, particularly concerning the emotional upheaval Peter might have experienced when the horror of his past came back to haunt him. Definitely recommended, but be prepared for an onslaught of emotion. The ending, I should add, is pretty upbeat.

In other reading, I'm about halfway through Susan Grant's latest novel, Moonstruck. Moonstruck is the story of Admiral Brit Bandar, a woman who has made it her mission to fight the Drakken Horde and dedicated years of her life trying not only trying to wipe out as many of the Horde as possible, but also to capturing rogue warleader and pirate Finn Rorkken. When the Coalition and the Horde draft a peace accord and become part of the new Triad, Bandar and Rorkken are thrown together, where they must share command of a new space ship and fight their unexpected attraction to each other. Or, not. It's a romance, after all.

Moonstruck is much darker than Your Planet or Mine?, a book that made my list of favorites in 2006. See my review of Your Planet or Mine?, here. I'm enjoying it, particularly for the change of scenery. I do prefer romantic comedy to a darker tale, but I also happen to really like Susan Grant's writing. More on Moonstruck, when I finish the book.

On Sunday, I planned to read a few short stories but only managed to squeeze in one: "Star Light, Star Bright" from Virtual Unrealities by Alfred Bester. How can you not love a story that begins like this:

The man in the car was thirty-eight years old. He was tall, slender, and not strong. His cropped hair was prematurely gray. He was afflicted with an education and a sense of humor. He was inspired by a purpose. He was armed with a phone book. He was doomed.

Well, that's a grabber, isn't it? I'm afraid anything at all that I say about this story might give too much away because it unfolds in just the right way. But, I can tell you that the 38-year-old man is in search of something small but important and that his search does, indeed, lead to his doom. Maybe that's what makes it so suspenseful, just knowing that something bad is coming but not exactly how or when or why it will happen. In fact, the story bears some resemblance to Richard Matheson's horror stories -- such as "The Incredible Shrinking Man"-- which are straightforward and suspenseful but seldom in any way gruesome or repellent. It's the fact that you know things are never going to improve that gives them the classification "horror".

So, now, I've just proven that the new little blurb I wrote for my profile is inaccurate. Sometimes, I actually do read horror -- just not the gory stuff that induces nightmares. And I hate true crime. Shiver.

Off to fetch the kiddo. Happy Monday!

Bookfool, on a Positive Mood Swing

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Name Your Homeplace Contest

Oh, that Maggie. She knows we'll do anything to get our grubby mitts on a copy of Mudbound because it's getting rave reviews and has a pretty cover. And, it's a book. Just say "book" and "give away" in the same sentence and the book addicts will come running.

So, here we go. The Name Your Homeplace Contest. Based on our rotting door frame and the fact that we live in an architectural horror known as the "ranch-style home", I began with the thought of calling my homeplace Rotten Ranch. *Note - the ugly photo of our rotting door frame was driving me nuts, so I've removed it.*

But, it's also Lizard Central:

I do love me a lizard, so I'm going to go with Lizard Central. It's nothing exciting, but it will do. Now, I must sit back and rub my hands together and wish real hard for Maggie to draw my name. You can sign up to try to win at Maggie's blog, if you've joined the Southern Reading Challenge. Go ahead. I promise not to fight the winner.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Ella Enchanted Mini Review

#40 - Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Copyright 1992 Harper Collins YA Fantasy 232 pages

I'm going to borrow from Jenclair and do a 6-word review:

Fairy grants obedience; gift is curse

When Ella's lengthy wail inspires a fairy to give her the gift of obedience at birth, it becomes a painful curse. Rather than simply becoming obedient, Ella must obey any direct instruction given to her. Ella finds ways to delay her obedience, but she can't break the spell and nobody knows where to find the fairy who gave it to her in order for her to beg her to remove the gift that has become such a terrible curse.

Ella Enchanted is a retelling of Cinderella. Eventually, Ella becomes a lowly servant because of the fairy's gift and falls in love with a prince. I think it was a testament to the author's writing skill that it took me quite a while to realize that the book was based on Cinderella, but maybe that just means I'm slow. The book is, however, unique in many ways. Since it was the third Levine book I've read in the past month, I began to see certain patterns from previous books and it didn't spark my imagination or capture me the same way The Two Princesses of Bamarre and Fairest did. Bear in mind that it's very unusual for me to read several books by the same author within a year. I tend to like variety more than consistency, so it's not surprising that I liked the second book a little less than the first and the third a bit less than the second. And, yet, if I reflect on the three stories, I'd still have to say The Two Princesses of Bamarre was the most meaningful and adventurous of the three. Now, I wish I hadn't parted with my copy. Definitely an author worth reading, Ella Enchanted is a Newbery Honor book but not my personal favorite.

Just finished:
Vicksburg and Warren County: A History of People and Place by Pamela Lea Grillis

Walked in the door, today:
The Queen of Sleepy Eye by Patti Hill - Thank you, Brittanie!!!
London Orbital by Iain Sinclair
Quantum Success by Sandra Anne Taylor

Another taste of Norway:

Wishing everyone a lovely, happy, wahooey weekend!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Well, it was storming, you see . . . belated wahoos, again

So, I didn't get to the wahoos on Wednesday, again, for the same reason as last week . . . storms. It crashed and flashed and rumbled and basically God kicked over the proverbial bucket (quite a gully-washer, in other words), so things were unplugged most of yesterday and well into today. I will try to get the wahoos ready on the normal day, next week. In the meantime:

1. Wahoo for our kite couple, nesting across the street. One is shown, above. I added the "string", but I'll bet you'd already figured that out.

2. Although I still haven't finished planting everything and we've gone beyond the good planting weather -- in other words, the humidity and mosquitoes have descended -- I got a good bit done and things that I stuck in the ground a week or two ago are now blooming vigorously, as are some of the perennials I planted last spring. I love watching things bloom and grow, so wahoo for blooming things! My sidebar should be updated more regularly, now that things are blooming. The white flower is a moss rose and the pinks are dianthus. They seem to be sharing planter space very nicely.

3. Kiddo and I went to see Iron Man on Saturday, on the way to pick up hubby at the airport. This was Kiddo's idea. He still doesn't mind going to the theater with his mom, even though he's now 16. And, he had the intelligence to appeal to my budget-minded nature by mentioning that we just happened to be heading that direction anyway, so why not stop by the theater? Well, that worked. I think I've mentioned we no longer have a theater in Vicksburg. It now costs more to drive to the theater and back than it does to buy a brand-new $20 DVD. Stopping on the way while on another errand works for me, though. We really enjoyed Iron Man, so wahoo for a chance to get out and see a movie!

4. Wahoo for that stupid camera of mine. It has some sort of electrical problem that causes it to misfire, now and then, but I love it. Anything is subject matter, as you can see from the following photo.

5. Still envious of hubby's trip to Norway, even though he actually lost a brand new book (horrors!) because he was in such a big hurry to get off a bus upon which he had to sit next to a Very Smelly Person for 8 hours. Ewww.

I just love a country with lots of sheep and snow. So, wahoo for the photos hubby brought home. I'll try to forgive him for going to yet another wonderful country without me, but I make no promises.

6. I finished a book because of the rain, yesterday! Wahoo! An Irish Country Village by Patrick Taylor is an Estella review book, so the review will be posted around the first of June.

7. Wahoo for emergency books in the trunk of the car!! Yesterday, I was unexpectedly detained at poolside; and, since I'd just finished reading An Irish Country Village, I had nothing in my purse. Fortunately, I keep spare books in a basket in my trunk and had three to choose from. I chose The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank by Ellen Feldman. So far, so good.

Very wahooey week, yes? I could go on, but I'll stop. Wishing you a life that is bursting with wahoos and flowers and, if necessary, antihistamines.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Blame it on Maggie - Giving in to the Southern Reading Challenge

I really did not plan to give in and join another challenge (note that I have ditched the Year of Reading Dangerously challenge, because I simply fell too far behind -- maybe next year) but Maggie is persuasive!! Plus, the Southern Reading Challenge is simple and straightforward:

The rules are easy: 3 Southern Setting Books by Southern Authors in 3 Months beginning May 15 through August 15!

And, Maggie mentioned chocolate-covered pecans in there, somewhere. Well, shucks, how can you pass up a thing like the potential for winning chocolate-covered pecans?

As usual, I'm not willing to simply choose and list three books because I know my own fickle nature (plus, I have plenty of Southern Lit/Southern author works lying about). Instead, I've been piling up books to choose from. Here's what I've got to choose from, so far:

1. The Rabbit Factory - Larry Brown
2. Homesick - Sela Ward
3. Soldier's Pay - William Faulkner (?? - not sure if the setting will work)
4. Return of the Stardust Cowgirl - Marsha Moyer
5. Run with the Horsemen - Ferrol Sams
6. The Known World - Edward P. Jones
7. Confederates in the Attic - Tony Horwitz
8. Giant - Edna Ferber
9. Hell at the Breech - Tom Franklin
10. When Crickets Cry - Charles Martin
11. Vicksburg - James Reasoner
12. Them - Nathan McCall
13. High Cotton - Gerard Helferich - returned to library unfinished, darn it
14. Vicksburg & Warren County: A History of People and Place - Pamela Lea Grillis Finished on 5/15/08 (it was short)
15. The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen Finished on 5/29/09
16. In the Land of Dreamy Dreams by Ellen Gilchrist

Numbers 13 and 14 are library books, so I'll have to read them hastily or they'll fall off the list. I have a Eudora Welty or two, somewhere, but I can't find them at the moment. Seems like I have plenty to choose from, anyway. And, I'd really like to get my mitts on a copy of Mudbound, which I drooled over in Borders on Sunday.

My personal recommendations:

I love Larry Brown's nonfiction: On Fire and Billy Ray's Farm. Nobody gives you a sense of who Mississippians really are like Larry, in my humble opinion, for better or worse. May he rest in peace. I must have read both of those Brown books prior to becoming a blogger because I can't find reviews to link to on my blog, unfortunately. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen seems to be a book that receives rather polarized reviews, but I loved it. A friend told me the author has a new book coming out in June, as well. Wahoo for that! Maggie's review of Garden Spells can be found here. When I read Faulkner's The Unvanquished, I had to keep a dictionary on my lap; I wrote and defined vocabulary words in a spiral-bound notebook. I'm pretty sure the eldest (who was supposed to read the book for AP English -- I read along in order to quiz him and he failed my off-the-cuff test) never even cracked the book.

Two of the books on my list are Texas books. Is Texas considered a part of the South? I'm not sure. But, if heat were the only qualification, I know it would fit in just fine. If not, I'll have to knock Giant and Return of the Stardust Cowgirl off my list, although I want to read them both, anyway. I'll close this post with a photo of cotton taken in the Mississippi Delta in September of last year.

Now, I just have to try to hold out for three days because I'm really anxious to get started.

*Note on sheep video, below* - Husband says the bleating sound is definitely the sheep, not his cohort trying to catch their attention. Thank goodness for that.

Happy Southern Reading!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Sheep Vid Hubby Took in Norway

I haven't been able to ask the husband whether the sheep were baaaa-ing or one of his friends was trying to lure the sheep by making a baaaa sound, but here you go. At the very least, the little lambs are adorable.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Defining Dulcie by Paul Acampora

#39 Defining Dulcie by Paul Acampora
Copyright 2006
Dial Books YA Fiction
168 pages

As we rolled out of town, Mom gripped the steering wheel like she was trying to strangle a chicken. I stared into the passenger-side mirror at my grandfather growing smaller in the distance. Then I watched the suitcases and cardboard boxes piled high in the bed of the truck. A flap on one carton started to blow loose, and just as we made a sharp left-hand turn onto the interstate, the box burst open. Stockings and socks and underwear, both mine and Mom's, sailed into the breeze. "Dulcie," Mom said, unaware of the undergarment parade behind us, "it's going to be okay. We're going to be all right."

"Maybe," I said, "but we're not going to be comfortable."

"It looks like we've reached the part of the project often referred to in technical terms as the what-the-hell-have-we-done-moment."

"Dulcie," said Frank, "I think you're confusing normal with reasonable."

I went back to the dictionary. "Reasonable. Being within the bounds of common sense. Rational. Not excessive or extreme."

Frank took the book from my hands. He flipped to a new page and read out loud. "Mother. A woman who conceives, gives birth to, and/or raises a child." He looked up. "There's nothing in there about normal, rational or reasonable."

"That's no excuse," I said. "And, what's with the and/or?"

"Give your mother a break," said Frank, "and/or remember that she's had just as tough a year as you."

Defining Dulcie tells about a 16-year-old girl whose father has recently died. Dulcie's mother impulsively decides to sell just about everything she and her daughter own and move to California to start a new life, presumably with the intent of also abandoning painful memories. But when Dulcie's mom informs Dulcie that she's bought a new Volvo and is going to trade in the ancient truck that belonged to Dulcie's father, Dulcie is horrified and knows she's not ready to part with the last of her father's possessions. So, she steals the truck and drives back home to Connecticut, where she moves in with her grandfather and discovers, by way of a new friendship, that life could be much worse.

I ordered Defining Dulcie from Paperback Swap on the recommendation of one of my reading twins, Sharon. I think I liked the idea as much as the story itself, but it was executed well. The story nicely blends humor with the more serious issue of grief and is not just about Dulcie defining who she is, but about friendship and love, loss and life, affection for words and unexpected connections.

I loved the characters in Defining Dulcie. When Dulcie's new friend showed up, I thought she was less clearly defined (and maybe a bit too much like Dulcie, her father and her grandfather) than she should have been. There a few too many characters with the same quirky sense of humor. And, yet, I loved their unique brand of humor and found the story a refreshing, light read and very enjoyable..

Thumbs up, 4/5 - Dulcie, her father (who is described in flashback scenes) and her grandfather are all such lovable characters that you can't help but gobble up this book for the sheer joy of their dialogue. I'd definitely like to read more by this author. Defining Dulcie is a witty, warm , bittersweet tale of love, laughter and life. It's short -- almost too short -- but a great little snack of a book.

Just finished: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. Now I have to locate the movie. I've checked it out from the library in the past, but I didn't get around to viewing. And, yet, the movie managed to invade my thoughts. I knew that Anne Hathaway played Ella, so the Ella I visualized had Anne's face. The prince will probably be shockingly different from my imagined prince. They usually are.

New neighbors: We have a couple of Mississippi kites (the bird, not the thing on a string) building a nest in a huge oak tree across the street from us. I hope to get some decent photos, soon. I've watched one of them -- probably the male, if my earlier sparrow homebuilding post is evidence of who does the building -- bringing home bits and pieces for their nest, but I was gardening at the time. My camera prefers not to be embedded with dirt and sweat, so I have just begun to attempt to capture them on film. While I was watching for kites, a hawk swooped fairly low, nearby. He was really beautiful. You'll just have to trust me on that, since I didn't manage to photograph him, either.

I just realized: I'm coming up on my 2-year blogiversary in about a month. Or, is it spelled bloggiversary? Either way, the spell-check robot objects. Point being, I had to go back through numerous posts in order to determine when I began blogging and discovered this little bit of bloggery posting about the book Shopportunity! by Kate Newlin and how it made me observing the contents of my home analytically:

Who'd have thought that a book about shopping--describing the reasons discount stores have yanked away the thrill of the hunt--could be a fascinating read? Newlin has me looking around my home, pondering the junk cramming practically every corner. Oh, my gosh. What a tacky cesspool of cheapness. What a ponderously mountainous mess of unnecessary trinkets. What a tragic homage to the cut-price and pointless. What a disaster of epic proportions!

Well, that really describes the packrat problem rather well, doesn't it?

Hubby is back from Norway (but leaving in the morning -- not happy about that). He did not
bring me a Viking. He did, however, bring evidence that Vikings once lived in the area he visited:

Well, cool. I guess that'll do. Huzzybuns did bring me a sweater -- which will, of course, be packed away for the next 6 months but we can't fault him because, "The Canadians talked me into it." Oh, those Canadians. So persuasive.

More photos of Norway forthcoming (because I figure y'all can join in on the painful envy I'm experiencing -- or at least enjoy the view). Of critical importance . . . must learn how to upload a video to YouTube and embed because you have got to see the video of the sheep. It is just the cutest darned thing I've seen in ages.

Happy, happy day!