Monday, June 30, 2008

Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinore Pruitt Stewart

Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinore Pruitt Stewart
Bison Books (University of Nebraska Press)
282 pages
Copyright 1961; Originally published 1914

About noon the first day out we came near a sheep-wagon, and stalking along ahead of us was a lanky fellow, a herder, going home for dinner. Suddenly it seemed to me I should starve if I had to wait until we got where we had planned to stop for dinner, so I called out to the man, "Little Bo-Peep, have you anything to eat? If you have, we'd like to find it." And he answered, "As soon as I am able, it shall be on the table, if you'll but trouble to get behind it." [p.8]

After two more such days I "arrived." When I went up to the office where I was to
file, the door was open and the most taciturn old man sat before a desk. I hesitated at the door, but he never let on. I coughed, yet no sign but a deeper scowl. I stepped in and modestly kicked over a chair. He whirled around like I had shot him. "Well?" he interrogated. I said, "I am powerful glad of it. I was afraid you were sick, you looked in such pain." He looked at me a minute, then grinned and said he thought I was a book-agent. Fancy me, a fat, comfortable widow, trying to sell books! [p. 12]

In the center of my room is a square table made of pine and stained brown. Over it is a table-cover that you gave me. Against the wall near my bed is my "dresser". It is a box with shelves and is covered with the same material as my screen. Above it I have a mirror, but it makes ugly faces at me every time I look into it. [p. 141]
It has always been a theory of mine that when we become sorry for ourselves we make our misfortunes harder to bear, because we lose courage and can't think without bias; so I cast about me for something to be glad about . . . [p. 238]

What led you to pick up this book?
I snatched up all the history books off my mother's shelves while I was working on cleaning out her house (it's okay; my sister is not a reader and was happy to see them go). I love reading about pioneers in the American West because they had such spirit and were willing to work incredibly hard to create a new life. I picked this one up because it looked fun and I was stuck in bed with a minor back injury over the weekend.

Describe the book without giving anything away. Letters of a Woman Homesteader is a series of letters written by a young widow and mother who left her job in Denver to work as a housekeeper for a rancher in Wyoming, her goal being to learn from him and eventually file for and work her own land. Elinore Stewart wrote the letters to her former employer in Denver, Juliet Coney, and they are incredibly lively, full of stories about her adventures and about the other homesteaders around her.

What did you like most about the book? I loved everything about it, but particularly the strong character of the woman who wrote the letters. Elinore was sharp-witted, extremely upbeat, hard-working, humble and adventurous. She married the rancher she set out to work for within 6 weeks, and then their affection for each other slowly grew, but at the same time she "maintained her independence by filing for land adjacent to that of her husband and proving it up herself" (from the cover blurb). There were many things to admire about the resourceful and independent woman who told her story in this series of letters.

Share a favorite scene from the book: I've quoted from several favorites, but I also loved her description of a camping trip she and her young daughter took into the mountains. The scenery was described vividly and with such beauty that it was easy to visualize. And, she was so incredibly enthusiastic about the simple food and coffee of camp life that I actually began to crave roasted potatoes. My husband was soaking some ribs, so I asked him to start up a fire and slow roast some potatoes in the ashes, as Elinore did overnight, and cook some baked beans. He did as I asked and ohmygosh. I'd forgotten food could be that good. I highly recommend cooking camp food while you read this book.

Both thumbs up - Fantastic reading. Elinore Stewart was a woman of great character and a phenomenal storyteller. In a world where people "create" their own parking spaces in order to avoid having to walk 50 yards farther across a parking lot, it's refreshing to read about a hardworking woman who not only could do anything and everything she set her hand to but loved every minute of it. Definitely one of the best books I've read, this year.

A RICE and books weekend: I mentioned being laid up, this weekend, but I have to tell you how that came about. I was reaching for a load of laundry and threw my back out. This was a new experience for me. I was bent over, totally stuck, and had to holler for my husband to help me stand up and walk to the bedroom, where (recalling the advice of a paramedic friend to use Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation on fresh injuries) I spent two days with a pile of books, an ice-pack and a bottle of muscle relaxants. I slept a great deal, but I also managed to read 3 books, which has simply served to throw me even farther behind on reviews. I am not complaining. I'm going backwards, here, starting with the book most recently completed.

Ever met anyone with a Laundry Injury, before? I think it's kind of funny, even though it hurt like the dickens.

Other things I read:

On Friday: Sermons and Soda Water by John O'Hara
Saturday: Entropy by Anthony Lawrence Gordon
Unfinished but working on: In the Clearing by Robert Frost and At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon

I'll finish the Frost, but I've discovered that Robert Frost is just a wee bit too rhyme and rhythm, for my taste. As I was reading a bit of his poetry on Saturday, I thought up a rhyme of my own:

If one could drown in books, then I
Would be the very first to die.

I hope that's original. Next up will be a review of Entropy. Thanks to my sore back, I can't lift and move a pile of books to photograph them, but I hope to be able to do so within a few days; then, you can see some of the other books I dragged home.

Many thanks to Maggie for the delicious pecans!! I was one of the winners in her weekly drawing for the Southern Reading Challenge and I have to tell you . . . it's worth taking on the challenge, just for the chance to win some of those pecans. They are soooo good. Thank you, Maggie!!!

I'll close with a piece of my childhood artwork that seems to fit the book review. While home, I photographed some artwork from elementary school and then tossed it all in the trash. Most everything was rendered on construction paper and was literally falling to pieces. I should mention that teachers at the elementary school of my youth worked closely together, so that when we studied pioneers we drew pioneers and when we studied Greek and Norse gods, we made masks in art and did a play in another class. I loved my elementary education. Here's my drawing of pioneer life:

Happy Monday!

Bookfool on ice

Thursday, June 26, 2008

I'm back!!! Miss me?

I'm home! And, man, am I glad to be back. Dealing with my sister was a bit like this, unfortunately:

I'm the meek one defending herself on the bottom, there. But, I sneaked in some decent reading time between cleaning and boxing, watched loads of Gomer Pyle and a few movies, enjoyed viewing the wildlife that flitted past my mother's bay window and had quite a few nice walks around the old neighborhood. I'm still reading the two books I mentioned in my last post, At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon and Human Voices by Penelope Fitzgerald -- almost finished with Human Voices. I believe I'll go backward on reviews, once I've got my equilibrium back. I brought home a nice little pile of books and will try to photograph some for future posts.

For the return drive from Oklahoma, I purchased an audio to help pass the time: Journey to the Center of the Earth (unabridged) by Jules Verne. I like Jules Verne but the scientific portions of his books can be rather dry, so I chose that audio based primarily on the description of the reader. And, wow, good choice. I will look for more audio books read by Simon Prebble for future drives. I didn't realize there was a new movie version of this one till I saw the rocking fine cover with Brendan Fraser looking all manly and gorgeous. This is the photo on the cover, although I can only find an image of the soundtrack, not the audio book:

Admittedly, that terrific cover grabbed me like crazy.

I'm just beginning to blog-hop and wow, you guys have been posting like crazy! It's really thrilling to be back to visiting blogs (and to not have to order food or drinks for internet time, although I must add that the Burger King staff in Ponca City, OK is an extraordinarily friendly and courteous bunch). A mere two books arrived while I was away:

Entropy by Anthony Lawrence Gordon and
Housekeeping Vs. The Dirt by Nick Hornby

I'll dive into Entropy, as soon as I finish Human Voices. Hope everyone is having a fabulous summer!

Bookfool, extremely happy to be home

Monday, June 23, 2008

Wave, wave -- last hello from Oklahoma

First, a photo of a baby mockingbird, when he was still at the stage of mostly hopping and flying just a few feet at a time. Parent Mockingbird had just fed him a bug and I thought Baby almost looked like he was thinking, "I wanna do that!"

Book-wise, a very important update. I neglected to include a website URL for Peter Bowerman's book, The Well-Fed Publisher, so here it is.

I'm currently reading the first of the Mitford series by Jan Karon (from my mother's shelves) and Human Voices by Penelope Fitgerald and loving both. I finished a couple of books, but I can't remember the titles -- couldn't sleep last night and look like I've been in a fist fight. So, I'll update when I return home to Mississippi, in a few days. Smiles to everyone!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Brief Update and a Smooch

First the smooch.

Isn't that a sweet photo? I went for a drive out to the local prairie dog village and there are tons of youngsters. I'll have to go visit them, again. I could sit all day watching the kids play. Sending virtual hugs to all my blog buddies. I'm missing you!

And, an update:

Not that we're unusual in this, but we've had loads of storms and even a trip to Burger King has been a little difficult to squeeze in. Last time I was here (Saturday), the signal was hinky and I couldn't post a thing. Since I'm getting good work done at my mother's house, I'll probably be here another week and then I hope to get back to blog-hopping when I return home. I miss visiting everyone and reading your posts!!

Bookwise, I've finished the following:

Simple Genius - David Baldacci (audio - listened to it on the drive up) - found this one way over the top, but the author's notes at the end made sense of some of the historical background.

Eat, Pray, Love - Elizabeth Gilbert - Loved it! The portion set in India bored me, at first, but I loved the way that section ended and enjoyed the final third. It ended up a big thumbs up, at least for me. I've noticed reviews on this one are quite polarized.

Overcoming Hurts and Anger - Dwight L. Carson, M.D. - This one came from a stack of books that I'm referring to as my mother's "angst pile". I read it out of curiosity but it was really fascinating and more about discovering how the reader can determine how s/he handles anger and what to change in order to handle daily hurts more effectively than about overcoming past hurts. I really enjoyed reading it and learned quite a bit about myself and my family.

Facts the Historians Leave Out: A Confederate Primer - John S. Tilley - Originally copyrighted in 1951, this one is from my mother's collection of history books. At only 76 pages, it was a very quick read and engrossing. I don't agree with everything Tilley said, but then there's a lot I don't know. It's basically a book that defends Southerners and describes the basis for Confederate secession and I found it very informative.

In the Land of Dreamy Dreams - Ellen Gilchrist - for the Southern Reading Challenge. The verdict: that new cover shown in my previous post is probably stock art and absolutely does not fit the book at all. Most of the stories are set in the South, all have at least a few Southern characters and there's only brief mention of a kimono in someone's closet -- no other Asian references. New Orleans and Mississippi are heavily featured and the stories are amazing. I'll try to do a full review of this one when I return home. It's a great book.

Return from Tomorrow - George Ritchie with Elizabeth Sherrill - Another book in the same vein as 90 Minutes in Heaven (published in 1978 -- the fact that the author's experience occurred during WWII makes the background alone worth the read) but a little harder to believe as the man claimed his spirit tried to travel to Richmond, Virginia and he realized he had left his body when he reached (of all places) Vicksburg, Mississippi. So, he turned around and floated back to where his body lay covered by a sheet . . . and then met up with Christ. I got a kick out of the Vicksburg portion, but I found myself struggling not to laugh or at least roll my eyes. Sorry.

Early Widow - Mary Jane Worden - Another book I read purely out of curiosity. My mother was widowed at 56 and I was so wrapped up in my own grief that I guess I just wanted to know what her side of losing my father was like. It was a heart-rending, grab-the-tissues book. But, it also spoke of healing as it was the journal of a young widow and each month brought progress in her healing and that of her children.

About to finish: The Queen of Sleepy Eye by Patti Hill

Not sure what I'm going to read next. I'm having fun digging through my mother's books. It's been a beautiful day, although it's clouding up, now. Here's a photo from my mother's garden, taken during a sunny break:

Wishing everyone sunny days and happy thoughts!

Little Bookfool on the Prairie

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Hello from Oklahoma!

I am here:See me? Okay, the city I'm in is not actually on the map, but we'll forgive whoever made this little map. I'm about in the "r" of "Bartlesville". And, it's gorgeous outside! The sun is shining! It's cool!! There's a nice, pleasant breeze and I can drive around with the windows open!!!! I love my home state.

So, I drove up on Sunday and stopped at my beloved in-laws' house for supper (thank you, again!). They always feed me. Then, I drove the rest of the way because a storm was moving in and I didn't want to get stuck in it. I wish I'd had my camera handy. As I drove into Ponca City, the storm front was plainly visible and it looked -- I kid you not -- like that image of the shark on the Jaws poster turned sideways. Remember the dark, gaping jaw and the jagged teeth? The outer edge of the storm front was white against a darker sky, v-shaped. That was the Great White outline, you see. And, inside was black and ominous. Along the edge of the white front and the interior storm was the ragged fuzz of cloud that looked like teeth. And, of course, I was driving right into the jaws of doom, there. Wait till you've seen Jaws with lightning in his mouth. Creepy. After 10 1/2 hours of driving, the storm didn't faze me when I got myself unlaoded. I just slept right through it.

I'm still recovering, though. I look a little like I was in a fight. Like these guys, kind of puffy and black around the eyes (only I don't think I'm very green, apart from my shirt):

I should have plenty of reading time, since the TV is unplugged in my mother's house and there's nobody around to chat with (and no internet -- I'm at Burger King). More on that, later. I leave you with a bumper sticker that made me laugh (just before my son's driving made me scream):

Finished reading: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Still plan to review, in spite of having to leave home without it: Sway by the Brafman Brothers . I will not let the fact that my husband stuck it in his briefcase and left his briefcase at work stop me. But, I have to find a second block of time to spend at Burger King.

Wahoos may be delayed. The camera hasn't come out of the bag because I've been so busy boxing and sorting, but I hope to get out, soon. You know, apart from the BK jaunts.

Happy, happy, joy, joy!

Bookfool, surrounded by big, blue sky

Friday, June 06, 2008

Oopsy and a pet peeve about a ridiculous cover

My apologies to those who subscribe to my blog feed. I tried to edit my Southern Reading Challenge post to reflect updates and accidentally hit the "Save as Draft" button, which meant that it went out again as if it were a brand new post when I hit the "Publish Post" button. I hope that makes sense. Just toss that puppy out with the socks that have holes in them and all that nasty spam.

And, here's something interesting to mull. I'm reading an older copy of In the Land of Dreamy Dreams by Ellen Gilchrist. It was printed in 1981 and, thus far, the stories have been set in the New Orleans of the 1970s. The cover illustration shows a woman lying in repose on a cushioned wicker settee , looking dreamy, a shell in her hand:

It fits. The dress is right for the time of publication -- not sure about the time the stories were written or set, but it's close enough. I can easily visualize one of the female characters, who tend to be off in their own world, lying around with that dreamy expression. The furniture would easily fit that of a nice porch in the Garden District in pre-Katrina New Orleans. So, I cannot figure out for the life of me why on earth the current cover looks like this:

What the heck is that? It will be interesting to find out if there's something beyond the mention of a Japanese kimono on page 140, as I continue reading. Either way, it seems like an awfully odd choice for the cover image on a short story collection by a Southern writer. This is a mystery I must unravel. More on that, later. Gotta keep reading.

The Well-Fed Self-Publisher by Peter Bowerman

The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living by Peter Bowerman
Nonfiction - authorship, marketing
294 pages, incl. appendixes and index
Copyright 2007
Author's website

What led you to pick up this book? The Well-Fed Self-Publisher is a book I requested for reviewing purposes. I've read similar books that put me to sleep and wanted to see if this one was an improvement.

Summarize the book without giving everything away. The Well-Fed Self-Publisher is subtitled "How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living," so right up front you know what exactly you're looking at. Author Peter Bowerman delves into the process of writing and publishing a book and marketing it to sell, in painstaking detail. He talks about the types of books that work best (nonfiction), how to write (conversationally), how to design, edit, choose a title and cover, apply for ISBN numbers and listings at Ingram's and Baker & Taylor, etc., how to decide whether or not to hire an outside publicist, how to prepare form letters and do a radio interview . . . on and on. It is truly a manual that takes you through every step of the process.

What did you like most about the book? I thought it was very readable and loved the extensive detail. The author delves into how to make sure you have a quality product, which organizations can be helpful to a single-book publisher, how much each part of the process costs and how you can cut corners, as well as when and where you shouldn't. The author includes loads of websites, extensive appendixes, and possible cost scenarios. He's honest; the up-front cost of quality self-publishing can be painful, even if you cut corners. But, I do believe the honesty is a part of the reason it's the best book I've ever seen about self-publishing. If he isn't an expert on a particular area, he loads you down with references that will lead you to the info you need.

What did you think of the concept and how it was described? It's almost ubiquitous, isn't it? The book about writing a book on writing a book? Okay, yeah, it's really about writing nonfiction, self-publishing and marketing to insure continued sales. Point being, I've seen (and read) many similar books and my first thought was, "It will probably be gimmicky." The Well-Fed Self-Publisher is not really gimmicky at all. He's done everything he describes. He tells you to write a story at the head of each chapter to grab people and you immediately take notice of the anecdotes at the beginning of the chapters. He describes how to design your cover for maximum impact and you realize that the cover is exactly as recommended -- it really does grab you, front and back. The fact is, the book is content-rich. A lot of how-to or self-help books are entirely bullets and headers that shout generalities but are low on usable advice. This book really walks you through the process.

Share a favorite tidbit from the book: There were several suggestions that rang true to my own experience. The author's advice about making your cover stand out, for example, is very good. When I worked at an off-price bookstore with primarily remaindered (over-run) books, my boss and I often unloaded the new stock together. He'd been working in book sales for many years and this is what he said as he sorted: "Junk. Junk. That'll be a great seller. Junk. Why do people even bother publishing this crap? Bland covers don't sell! Junk. Junk. Good one. That'll sell like hotcakes." Covers are critical; no doubt about it.

Thumbs up - Excellent detail, beautifully written, and it covers numerous topics that I've seen covered as individual books, this time within a single cover.

In general:
I was stunned. Most writing/publishing books are dry as a bone and I was afraid I might not be able to get through the book, but I was wrong. The chatty writing style makes it a comfortable read and (of course, he mentions this as a critical point when preparing your own book). It's extremely well-edited. I've got a natural critic's eye and almost invariably find some sort of grammatical error, typo, misspelling, etc. If there are any errors, I missed them. I did make the mistake of devoting myself to the book for several days. I need fiction breaks or it actually takes me longer to read a nonfiction book. It's been quite a while since I've made that error in judgment. Oh, well. The old lesson has been reinforced.

It would have been exhausting to visit all of the links provided (and pointless, since I'm not writing a nonfiction book) but I did check some out and I only have one quibble. There's one
book Bowerman advises the reader to look up at Amazon. He brainstormed the title with the book's author and thought it had tremendous impact. I looked up the book and was rather appalled to find that the cover was all black with the title in gold. All-black and all-white covers with no illustration were the most common titles that my boss threw in the junk pile. Color is good. I would have advised that author to choose a bright background color over black. Nothing else stood out in a negative way and the title was the point of that exercise, not the cover. I'm just being picky.

Other generalities: So much for an attempt at brevity. The header does say "babble", though, so apparently I knew myself well enough when I came up with my blog designation.

Getting back to: Eat, Pray, Love and The Queen of Sleepy Eye

Just read:
2 short stories from In the Land of Dreamy Dreams by Ellen Gilchrist

Considered but rejected: The idea of beginning a short story forum in which collections of
short stories are read and discussed. I simply don't have the time, as I'll be continuing to run back and forth between Mississippi and Oklahoma for a while. But I decided to go ahead and set up a short story blog for writing about the short stories I've read (those I feel compelled to talk about). I named it Put Your Shorts On. Ridiculous, but true.

Next review: Sway by Ori and Rom Brafman - the husband took it with him on the plane, so that's why I'm reviewing out of sequence.

Caught on film: My lizard buddy's girlfriend! She has the most glorious, long tail (and lovely orange-rimmed eyes). This isn't my best shot, but I wanted to show that terrific tail:

Wishing all and sundry a lovely, book-filled, relaxing weekend!

Bookfool, off to read another short story

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Oh, no!!!

Look what I heard flapping around in the bottom of one of our trash cans!! A baby wren! Just to clarify, he was bogged down but still alive.

I tipped the trash can, he hopped out and an adult wren followed close behind. Baby Wren is under my car. I'm worried about him because we had a visit from Vampire Kitty, this morning. The garage is suddenly quiet -- no baby chirping in the nest! I'm hoping this guy doesn't come for another visit:

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Wahoo! Wednesday: The Animal Episode

This is going to be a very text-light Wahoo! Wednesday because I made the mistake of standing in the shade to snap some photos and I can barely type for scratching the mosquito bites. My boy, above, has got a girlfriend! Wahoo for my favorite lizard! He finally attracted a nice, cute little female; I spotted her on his post for the first time, last evening. Way to go! Notice how happy he is? Here are a few bird photos taken this week. A bluejay:

Red-headed woodpecker :

Carolina wren #1 (on our back patio -- we've got a family nesting in our garage):

My favorite outdoor viewing game of choice: Squirrel Chase!!!

And, carolina wren #2 wahooing (actually, he was really hollering at a cat, but it's Wednesday and I can pretend if I want to) :

Wishing you many wahoos!

Bookfool, soaking up nature and paying for it.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


I just realized how long that last post was. Sorry. I'll work on brevity. It's not a natural talent of mine.

Tuesday Twaddle, including buzzy things, a haiku and the weekend that was

Cactus:Son's new haircut:

Argh! The beautiful auburn curls with blond highlights are gone! I'm in mourning.

So, about that weekend. Remember I said I had an interesting weekend? Well, I was planning to drive to Oklahoma to work on getting my mother's house ready to sell. But, my friend Paula reminded me (as I was frantically cleaning and packing), "You know, there's no hurry." I took that to heart and gave myself an extra day to clean and pack. Then, I decided to add another day because I'm married to Mr. Chaos and any little bit helps. The cleaner the house, the less damage he can do (and I was really too tired to drive but that's another story). All of which left us with a Monday departure date.

Sunday morning, however, a vicious storm swept through Tulsa with 70 mile per hour winds. It knocked down trees, limbs and power lines. Of greatest interest to me: my beloved in-laws (with whom I planned to spend the night) lost their power. Had I decided to leave on Sunday, I would have run into the storm in Arkansas around mid-day and ended up in a house with no lights or air. So, we said, "Close call. Good thing about the delay." Always looking at the bright side, here. Then, my sister called to tell me not to bother coming till further notice because her husband had somehow managed to knock a hole in a water pipe at my mom's house. It's bad enough doing without power when it's hitting the 90's, but water? No way. I need my bath or I become seriously scary. So, I'm on hold. Sometimes procrastinating can be a good thing.

This means I get to hang out with my lizard buddies, keep cleaning up after my husband (really, I'm looking forward to a break from that), and listen to the buzzing tree. If you know what kind of tree this is, please illuminate me:

A few years ago, a nasty virus that devastated the European bees in the U.S. visibly caused a population drop of the little buzzers in our area. European bees make the best honey and I recall reading a few rather frantic articles describing how European bees were slowly coming back but mating with African bees, which are not the best honey producers in the world (and not very polite, either -- remember Killer Bees?). So, I was quite surprised, last week, when I stood under the tree and heard a sound that we haven't heard in quite a while -- a noise much like you'd expect from a hovering spaceship or, possibly, a horror movie. It truly sounded like the tree was preparing for departure.

The volume of that buzzing noise is really something; there were literally hundreds, possibly thousands of bees gathering pollen from the tree. The bees are back! And they were swarming all over those pollen shoots. For those who are afraid of stinging things -- no worries. They have absolutely no interest in chicks or dudes standing under the tree with pollen raining down upon their human heads. It's wild. But, I went inside, anyway, because it made me sneeze. I've noticed the bees are a little bizarre-looking; they have an orange spot on their bodies, rather than just the usual black and gold. So, maybe it's a cross-breed that I'm seeing, but it's still nice to see bees, again. I like honey, don't you?

In other news:

The husband says he doesn't like my new profile photo because it looks frighteningly like the real me -- a cross between a laugh and "I'm going to bite you." What a guy.

The electricians came! Two of them! They were cordial! And, more importantly, they fixed our problem, showed me a couple of burnt metal things and explained how lucky we were that the little zapping popping lightning storms that were caused by the metal arching and the electricity jumping to try to find a connection, scorching everything around them (i.e., the mini fires) stayed inside the power box. Actually, the one fellow was kind of stern when he explained it, but you know. I'm thrilled! Wahoo! I will definitely feel better about sleeping at night, now. Maybe that one should have been saved for Wahoo! Wednesday. Oh, well.

I have a favorite lizard. His tail was lopped off, a couple of weeks ago but it's growing back and he's out on his favorite metal post in the herb garden, displaying away. Why do I love him? He's absolutely not afraid of me. I can lean right down next to him and he'll just look at me as if to say, "Well, hi there, human!" He'll let me sit on the garden border and snap away with the camera. If I talk to him, he turns toward me but never skitters away. I think he might even let me pick him up if I so desire. But, no. I don't want to freak him out. He'll be featured in my wahoos, tomorrow.

A Haiku for the latest contest in the Southern Reading Challenge, allegedly an abbreviated description of The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen:

There's something in the closet
Someone on the floor
Magic and love in the air

The new piles from the library are so huge that I'm positively intimidated by them. How did I get them home? No wonder my bad shoulder hurts. I haven't managed to photograph the books, so you just get a list. I finished Sway, yesterday, and will review it as soon as I can. Huzzybuns is taking a turn reading it and then the eldest has next dibs, so it's a popular title with this family. Anyway, the new acquisitions:

Sway - Ori and Rom Brafman
Greetings from Bury Park - Sarfraz Manzoor
Atmospheric Disturbances - Rivka Galchen
The 4th of July - Peter de Bolla
The Story of a Marriage - Andrew Sean Greer
Final Theory - Mark Alpert
So Brave, Young and Handsome - Leif Enger
A Case of Exploding Mangoes - Mohammed Hanif
The Film Club - David Gilmour
The Boat - Nam Le
Unaccustomed Earth - Jhumpa Lahiri
Rattled - Debra Gallant
How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone - Sasa Stanisic
The Messiah - Marek Halter
Sitting Practice - Caroline Adderson
Rabbit in the Moon - Deborah & Joel Shlian
Evening is the Whole Day - Preeta Samarasan
Sun Going Down - Jack Todd
Maybe a Miracle - Brian Strause
How to Be Single - Liz Tuccillo
Simplexity by Jeffrey Kluger
And there's another one that the kiddo is reading -- Grantville Gazette IV by Eric Flint

I know, ridiculous. But, I'm really, really enjoying them and so are the guys.

Random Simon moment:

My tea is cold, and the moon, anchored by the hopes and wishes of those abandoned souls churning their way home from the pub, has drifted deeper into the sky.

--from "Conception" in The Secret Lives of People in Love by Simon Van Booy

Kiddo took this picture through the window of the car, at my request. In light of yesterday's post (and given the similarities between America's current involvement overseas and Vietnam -- not a political creature, but even Mrs. Politically Stupid thinks she has this one figured out), I think it's especially meaningful:

Welcome home, Brad. I don't know you, but I'm glad you made it back. And, hang in there, Nikki.

Wishing all a safe and beautiful day,


Monday, June 02, 2008

Mrs. Lieutenant: A Sharon Gold Novel by Phyllis Zimbler Miller

Mrs. Lieutenant: A Sharon Gold Novel by Phyllis Zimbler Miller
486 pages
Author's Website, here

What led you to pick up this book?
I was asked to review some books for a June blog tour and Mrs. Lieutenant was one that I requested.

Summarize the plot but don't give away the ending. Four women from diverse backgrounds, each with a husband attending 6 weeks of officers' training school (Armor Officer Basic) at Fort Knox, Kentucky in the year 1970 must adjust to being the wives of officers who may end up serving in Vietnam. As they deal with their conflicting emotions, they also become a part of the community of officers' wives and learn to overcome their prejudices.

What did you like most about the book? I loved the fact that it's emotionally involving, sometimes intensely emotional. Three of the women were totally new to army life and one was an army brat; but, regardless of their backgrounds and histories, they all had to contend with the fear that their husbands might end up in Vietnam and they could become widows. They all each had their own concerns about fitting in and different issues to deal with on the home front. One had a pathologically jealous husband and lived in constant fear that her husband would blow up if she even said a word to another man. Sharon, the main character, was a Jew raised in Chicago. She was quite fearful that she'd be an outcast in the South.

What did you think of the characters? I liked them, although at times I found some of their worries baffling. There was a little bit of a forced attribute to the book -- the fact that there was a Jew, a black, a Puerto Rican and an uneducated Southerner in that little group of friends made it seem almost staged. And, yet, from my limited experience around military folks, I've found that there tends to be a fairly representative cross-section of backgrounds and races in the armed forces. In the 1970's, the friendship between such a diverse group of young women probably would have turned heads and that's the major point. Would it be possible for those four women, each raised with their own fears and prejudices, to forge a deep friendship?

Share a favorite scene from the book: Donna's flashback scene was the most moving and meaningful scene, for me. It was the first time I had to trudge off to get the tissues and set the book aside. The fact that it moved me to tears made it a favorite, though. I liked being emotionally involved with the characters. It would give too much away to say anything beyond the fact that Donna had suffered a horrible loss. But, I can say that all 4 women -- Sharon, Donna, Wendy and Kim -- spent the 6 weeks of officer training adjusting but also occasionally coming unglued from the fear of what might lie ahead. Donna's story moved me the most, but there were at least 5 times I had to close the book to wipe my eyes.

Thumbs up - Mrs. Lieutenant is an emotionally engaging book that gives readers a view into the other side of military life -- the wife's viewpoint. I particularly liked the way the author began each chapter with a quote from the news, followed by a quote from the rule book for military wives. The contrast was startling and really made you stop to think about how wives had to present themselves and follow their own strict rules of society while inside they were wrestling with emotion.

In general:
There's nothing lyrical or beautiful about the writing in Mrs. Lieutenant, no flowery language, no lovely scenery. In fact, I'd describe the writing as pedestrian -- with almost a Hemingway-like abruptness to dialogue and prose. There are some grammatical errors and a few tense problems. But, it's a quick read and I didn't feel pulled away from the storyline by the writing style. It didn't stop me from caring about the characters or shedding tears when they were distraught.

If I was going to complain about anything at all, it would be the fact that the author didn't seem to have a depth of understanding about Southerners; vernacular should be avoided if you don't know the language. Beyond that, the book is about overcoming prejudices and misconceptions, dealing with the fear of what may come, learning a completely new way of life and banding together. That's what's important and I think the author did a pretty fine job of describing what it's like to be a military wife, thrown into a totally new place with no acquaintances while facing the terror of potentially saying goodbye to a husband.

Almost finished with: Sway by Ori and Rom Brafman

Later on: Babble about the weirdness of my weekend and the tree that sounds like it's going to take off