Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Everything Austen II Challenge - I'm Joining! What's Wrong with Me???

Yes, I swore I would not ever, ever, EVER join two challenges at the same time, again, in my life. I did. Not like on a stack of tomatoes or anything (that would be serious). But, I just happen to have just finished reading Emma and I just happen to plan to watch the A & E movie version of Emma soon. And, I just happen to have already started a Jane biography -- but at the rate I'm reading, undoubtedly won't finish it until well after the starting date of the challenge.

I've also been eyeing my copy of Scones & Sensibility for months. It's like . . . fate. The Austen waves have built up, leading to a massive earthquake and a tidal wave that tossed my soul into Hampshire (a shire which we once accidentally drove into, incidentally -- there was this sign that said, "Jane Austen Country" that my husband, his co-worker and I took as a subtle hint that we'd gone too far . . . it was dark and England's totally confusing at night, you see, and we were actually supposed to be in Surrey, not Hampshire).

So, I'm in. The Everything Austen II Challenge (<---click there to read Stephanie's post and sign up) officially begins on July 1, 2010 and runs through January 1, 2011. I'm cheating just a little by adding my current biography to my list because I'm reading so slowly that I don't think the few pages I've already read make me look too awfully guilty, but in the end I hope to read or view more than the 6 required, anyway.

Here's what I intend to read and view, at this point:

1. Jane's Fame by Claire Harman - a biography

2. Emma on DVD - the A & E version with Kate Beckinsale

3. Scones & Sensibility by Lindsay Eland (YA)

4. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen - a book I've wanted to read for quite some time

5. Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart by Beth Pattillo (pretty sure I own a copy of this - must search)

6. ?? Maybe the A & E biography of Jane Austen - another that I'm pretty sure I own; I think it's included in my extra Pride & Prejudice set from A & E (I own 2 copies because the second set had a book and extra features and it was so pretty and on sale, and, and --).

As I perused the list at Stephanie's blog, I realized I'm already more of a Jane Fan than I imagined. I've read 4 of Austen's novels and 3 novellas (bound together as Lesley Castle), watched the Colin Firth Pride & Prejudice a squillion times and Sense & Sensibility almost as many. I've seen that stupid movie, Becoming Jane (sorry, that one just did not do it for me) and both read and watched Bridget Jones's Diary. I've read all of Marsha Altman's Pride & Prejudice sequels, Just Jane by Nancy Moser, and Mr. Darcy, Vampyre. I could probably go on. I think I will try to hush, though.

You should join this challenge. Really, you should. We'll have such a grand time. There should be a ball at the end, don't you think? We shall all wear gloves and pin our hair up in twisty little curls with sparkly things shimmering in our coiffures. We'll don beaded slippers and dance! The men will look terribly uncomfortable but shockingly handsome in those high collars and tails.

Oh, oh, oh. I must stop before I swoon!!!

My heart is in England, now.

Bookfool, Jane Fan and Utter WeaklingAdd Image

Updates on what I've read/viewed:

1 & 2. Emma - the book and the A & E movie

3. Emma & the Vampires by Jane Austen & Wayne Josephson

4. Mr. Darcy's Obsession by Abigail Reynolds

5. Persuasion - the 1995 BBC movie on DVD

6. Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo

7. Jane Austen Biography on DVD

8. The Making of Pride & Prejudice (Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle version)

9. Persuasion - the Rupert Penry-Jones movie version on DVD

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Books I Haven't Read

Isn't it funny to see a "no books allowed" symbol on this blog? I had fun seeking that out.

I loved Iliana's "Nope, I haven't read that" post, which she wrote after reading Stefanie's post about books it seems like everyone else has read. So, I decided to snitch the idea and write one of my own posts about books it seems like everyone has read that I haven't.

Books I haven't read . . . and why:

1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson - I avoided this book, early on, because I thought it was a mystery and I just don't enjoy mysteries, anymore, although I'll occasionally read one that sounds interesting. I've continued to avoid it because I've seen the word "brutal" used as a description of treatment of the heroine. I'm not sure whether I'll read it or not, but at this point I'm in no hurry.

2. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen - I don't know what it is about the description of this book that puts me off, but I've toyed with reading it simply because a few friends liked it and in the end I always end up thinking . . . Nah, still not interested.

3. The Road by Cormac McCarthy - I love post-apocalyptic books, but I've heard so many people say The Road was "the most depressing book" they've ever read that I've removed it from my wish list. Then, I waffled -- added it back to my list and then took it back off. In the end, it was a comment that one person couldn't get "those awful images" out of her head that convinced me both book and movie are worth avoiding.

4. The Help by Kathryn Stockett - Last year's runaway summer hit did pique my interest but I haven't read it. I also haven't yet read Mudbound by Hillary Jordan. I have acquired copies of both via Paperback Swap and I do plan to read them.

5. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold - No interest, whatsoever. I don't plan to ever read it.

6. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell - Oh, man. It's so wrong that I haven't managed to read Gone with the Wind. I love the movie; I live in the Deep South. I really want to read this book. I've made three failed attempts, but the first time I was in college and just too busy to concentrate, the next time I tried to read while I had small children running around, and the third time I attempted to read it while I was working in a bookstore. I have a feeling that when I do eventually read it I will need to avoid other books and simply allow myself to be immersed in the reading, like I did with The Passage.

7. The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown -I actually own a copy of the illustrated version (a library sale find -- it cost a quarter). I thought it might be interesting to look at the photos, but I just can't stir up any interest in reading the story. I have, however, read Angels & Demons. It didn't thrill me. I'm not tempted to read another of his novels.

8. Anything at all by Margaret Atwood, although I have several books on my shelves: The Handmaid's Tale, Oryx & Crake, The Blind Assassin and Alias Grace. Someday, I'll read Margaret Atwood.

9. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald - One of those books I missed out on because I took journalism rather than English (partly to avoid more high school grammar -- I got so sick of grammar). I've attempted it once and didn't get far. I have, however, read Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise and was impressed, so I plan to give The Great Gatsby another go.

10. Most everything Oprah has ever recommended - I've read a total of 3 Oprah recommendations: The Pilot's Wife by Anita Shreve, Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts and A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I read them because they were recommended to me by people I trust, not because of Oprah.

I'd love to see this meme-like post passed around a bit. Please tell me if you decide to post about what you haven't read, as well!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Fiona Friday and a review of Bird Girl by Velma Wallis

Fiona says . . . "Somebody did a crap job painting this ceiling."

And, the review:

Bird Girl and the Man who Followed the Sun by Velma Wallis is a combination of two Gwich'in Alaskan folk tales with a little bit of artistic license thrown in to combine the two.

One tale is about a young girl, nicknamed "Bird Girl", who loves to hunt instead of cooking and sewing as the women are expected to do. Her preference is allowed by her parents, but it makes her a bit of an outcast. The other tale is about a boy named Daagoo, who has a bad case of wanderlust. Daagoo's curious about the land he's heard about in tales told by the elders, a land where the sun shines year-round. He owns the leather map passed down by those who traveled to this land and hopes to go there himself, one day.

Both Bird Girl and Daagoo are from the Gwich'in tribe, but they live in separate bands of the same tribe. Sometime during their adolescence, Daagoo and Bird Girl cross paths, but years pass before they meet up, again, and they both experience a tremendous amount of horror and pain before that occurs.

Daagoo often neglects the hunting he's expected to do, in order to explore, and eventually (when he reaches manhood), he is told he must do his part or the band will cast him out. He agrees, thinking eventually he will leave, when the time is right. But, during the annual caribou hunt, tragedy strikes and Daagoo is forced to take over as leader of his tribe.

Meanwhile, Bird Girl runs away from home when she's told she must marry and do womanly things. After only a short time, she's kidnapped by an enemy tribe then raped, beaten and abused for years. She is unable to escape till a brutal game played deliberately to humiliate and horrify her leads to a shocking act that rids her of her captors, forever.

Daagoo also experiences a number of horrors. He eventually goes on his trip south; but, even after finding the land he has long wished to see, another tragedy occurs and he returns home to his people.

Bottom line:

There is a lot of gore and horror in this little book. That's not particularly unusual for folk tales, I suppose, but I was a little relieved to finish the book because it was a bit too much for me. Two Old Women (the first folk tale retold by Wallis) is much more palatable, in spite of a similar theme: Everyone must do his or her part to keep the tribe safe and well-fed or face the consequences (in Two Old Women, even aging is a hazard).

What I liked best:

The Tlingit people, whom I've read a bit about and find fascinating, allow Daagoo to stay with them for a time when he travels south, and then again when he returns to his people. They're peaceful and happy people. I particularly loved the part in which Daagoo is allowed to trade a song for something he needs -- I think for food, although I can't remember! I was so fascinated by the idea that a song could be considered something acceptable to barter away that I guess the item he got in exchange wasn't important to me. Wallis said that is actually a part of the original story.

Although it wasn't my favorite folk story and the violence was a bit too much for me, I still did enjoy Bird Girl and the Man who Followed the Sun and recommend it to anyone who both likes folk tales and has a strong stomach.

A Place for Delta by Melissa Walker

A Place for Delta by Melissa Walker
Illustrated by Richard Walker
Copyright 2010
Whale Tale Press - Middle Reader
266 pages

"Whoever shot the bear, also shot at my dad. The bullet that killed the bear probably came from the same gun. They want to find out who did the shooting, but they don't want anyone in town to know about it. It could be anybody."

"Anybody?" Joseph asked.

"I mean anybody who has a motive. It could be someone hired by one of the oil companies. It could be someone who killed the female to capture her cub," Ada said.

"I don't understand. Why would an oil company want a polar bear dead?" Joseph asked.

"I'm not sure, but I heard Chipic say something about denning sites being in areas where they think there's oil and want to drill. A dead bear can't go back to her den."

I finished A Place for Delta nearly two weeks ago, but it seems apropos to include a quote about a generic Evil Oil Company when we're all so frustrated about the horrifying pollution of our beloved Gulf of Mexico. The author gives us one more good reason not to allow drilling in a fragile wildlife refuge in this quote -- the protection of bears whose lives are already endangered by shrinking habitat.

A Place for Delta takes place in Alaska and Georgia. Joseph Morse is eleven years old, the grandchild of a naturalist who researched salamanders and nephew of a wildlife biologist. His Aunt Kate is working in Alaska and he lives in Georgia, near his grandmother Lisi. As the book opens, Kate has just invited Joseph to join her in Alaska. At the beginning of the summer, an orphaned polar bear was rescued by one of the local scientists and Kate has been charged with its care. It's an exhausting, round-the-clock job and her boss understands that she needs help. Joseph quickly accepts her offer, knowing it's an opportunity for adventure he may never be offered, again.

As Joseph helps care for the bear, which Kate has named "Delta", he also gets to know a local girl named Ada. Ada and Joseph love a good mystery and they're curious about the things they're overhearing at their favorite restaurant and through the scientists and Ada's uncle, who works with Kate. Throughout the summer, they listen in on conversations and take notes in order to try to help solve the mystery of who killed Delta's mother and what the unfriendly men from outside are trying to hide.

I found A Place for Delta a little hard to get into, at first. It begins with Joseph's acceptance of the invitation to Alaska and then backtracks to explain his family's background as naturalists, along with the origin of Aunt Kate's and Joseph's parents' love of bears. The switch to the past kind of felt superfluous to me, at first, but then as I got into the story I realized that background was necessary. I still can't say I think it was handled in the best way, but the older scenes helped round out the story.

The author mentions in her notes (at the end of the book) that she specifically geared the story to 11-year-olds and had several 11-year-old beta readers give her advice on what was and was not of interest to them. I thought that was really fascinating. As I was reading, I realized that I had a little difficulty getting into the book because of the simplicity of the writing, but at the same time it occurred to me that I would have loved it as an elementary-school student. It's adventurous and has interesting characters. The only thing I really disliked was the fact that the author felt it necessary to describe almost every meal and snack eaten by the main characters. Each of those descriptions read like "lessons in healthy eating" and they really got on my nerves.

Bottom line:

A Place for Delta is written simplistically and with quite a few deus ex machina bits (you can practically see the deliberate plotting to make things work together just so) and that makes it an awkward read for an adult. But, it's intended audience is middle readers, specifically around 11 years old, and for them I think the book is perfect. As a child, I know I would have loved some of the plot twists that seemed as if they were just a bit too convenient -- like the discovery of a hidden treasure when the combined group of scientists and Joseph's relatives needed money to create a foundation. That's fun stuff for a kid. I definitely recommend this book to those who are looking for an adventurous book for middle readers. It would make a great summer read for youngsters. It's clean - no bad language, no violence.

What I loved most about A Place for Delta:

The author is obviously passionate about her love of wildlife and the need to protect endangered animals. I loved the way she crafted the novel to clearly describe the importance of animals and the reasons polar bears are currently threatened (climate change, drilling in their habitat).

My thanks to Lisa, the fabulous Online Publicist and the author for the review copy! By the way, I absolutely love the cover illustration. The illustrations inside the book are somewhat less exciting but also lovely.

Recently walked in:

The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester - from J. T. Oldfield (Thank you!)
You'll be Sor-ree!: A Guadalcanal Marine Remembers the Pacific War by Sid Phillips - from Valor Studios, via Shelf Awareness

Semper Cool: One Marine's Fond Memories of Vietnam by Barry Fixler - from Exalt Press for the Vietnam War Reading Challenge

The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet by Reif Larsen - purchased at Sam's Wholesale club (this one's been on my wishlist for a while and SuziQ's wonderful review made me even more anxious to own a copy).

A Fiona Friday post will appear later tonight. Happy Friday!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Oh, no! Bad, bad blogger!

Wow, have I been a bad blogger! I'll try to amend that, but in the meantime a little update . . .

Reading Goes Splat

After I finished reading The Passage by Justin Cronin, I could not concentrate for about 3 days. Nothing appealed to me! I think that's partly because I was so immersed in Cronin's fascinating future world that I couldn't stand to look at another book and then needed time to exit the future, partly because I've been very tired and just didn't feel like reading (or writing -- and a days-long migraine wrapped that up with a tidy bow). Unfortunately, that included reading other blogs, so I went into "fly on the wall mode" and only commented 2 or 3 times, last week, and then this week I haven't even done that much. Either way, it's been a lousy couple of reading and writing weeks. But . . .

Things Improve

Emma by Jane Austen finally broke my reading slump. It took me a long time to finish (I've only read 3 books in the entire month of June!!!) but I finished it and I have found a new favorite heroine. Emma Woodhouse is a total delight. I can't believe it took me so long to get around to reading Emma. Since I am all astonishment at Jane's storytelling skills, I've moved on to reading Jane's Fame by Claire Harman. I began reading Jane's Fame once before -- about a month ago, I suppose -- but it was one of those times that I was balancing too many books at once and it fell by the wayside. So far, I'm finding it fascinating and well-written. Right after setting down an Austen is definitely an excellent time to delve into a Jane biography.

I've also begun to read Bird Girl and the Man who Followed the Sun by Velma Wallis, an Alaskan folk tale. This will be my third book by Velma Wallis, an author I discovered when we traveled to the Great White North and I sought out anything and everything to read about Alaska (both before and after that delightful vacation). Two Old Women was a ridiculously fortuitous find. You can find out how I acquired it and read my reviews, here, if you're interested:

It's so nice to be reading, again!!!

And, then there was that bloggiversary thing . . .

Totally dropped the ball on the annual celebration. My official beginning as a blogger (not including the first two attempts, both at sites that made uploading photos nearly impossible) was June 6, 2006. So, I just zipped right past the milestone of having completed 4 full years as a blogger. I knew it was coming and planned to get a cupcake and 4 candles to photograph, but then I missed the day. After about a week, I got around to buying myself a single cupcake . . . and it somehow managed to end up upside-down in the bag, so I just ditched the idea of taking a picture and have been hacking away at my cupcake. It's a big one -- white with white frosting and multi-colored sprinkles, along with some bizarre little plastic fish that are now swimming in the trash can. You would have loved it.

Speaking of bloggiversaries . . .

Has anyone else noticed the diversity of spelling when it comes to that word? Bloggiversary, blogiversary, blogoversary -- I don't even know how many ways I've seen it spelled. Here's why I spell it the way I do:

--The rule of double consonants after a short vowel - Like the word "blogger", it makes sense to me to double the "g" because of the short "o" in the word blog. Seriously, I actually sat around thinking through the whole spelling concept.

--The word "anniversary" contains a doubled consonant, an "i" (although, to be fair, that probably has to do with the Latin root word) and "versary". I'm really just imitating.

--I'm a fruitcake. Well, some of us just think spelling is really, really important.

I hope to get at least one review written, tomorrow, although I'm going to be away from the computer most of the day. In the meantime, Fiona and I wish you a lovely day. Have you read anything wonderful, lately?

Fiona says, "Wherever I pose, there are books." Wahoo for both! Happy Wednesday!

Bookfool, trying to get her reading/writing groove back on

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Secret Lives of Princess by Philippe Lechermeier and Rebecca Dautremer

The Secret Lives of Princesses
by Philippe Lechermeier,
illus. by Rebecca Dautremer
Copyright 2010 by Sterling Kids
Originally published in France, 2004
92 pages, incl. glossary and index

Princesses!!! What could be more fun for little girls than a book that is essentially an encyclopedia of princesses? I knew I wanted to review this book the moment I first saw that gorgeous cover, above. Couldn't you just stare at that cover illustration, forever?

I was not disappointed. When I received a spiral-bound galley of the The Secret Lives of Princesses, I did nothing but ogle the illustrations, which are just as stunning as expected. I opted to save the reading till closer to the release date and then . . . read it in plenty of time and zipped right past the release date without reviewing. But, that's okay because it's still available! Of course it is; the release date was not that long ago -- June 1.

The Secret Lives of Princesses is a very eccentric book. Oh, those French; they are so funny. The author skips right past the usual princesses, making oblique references to well-known characters who were bruised by peas and slept for 100 years and creating dozens of wildly original new characters. One of my favorites is Princess Somnia, partly because I love the beautiful pink portrait of a snoozing princess and partly because I covet her "three-masted four poster" bed. It looks like a ship. Yes, I would definitely love to sleep in a three-masted four poster. No doubt about it.

Readers will fall in love with Princess Paige, a princess who reads "everything she can find: novels, poetry, philosophy and tall tales," and may recognize Princess Babbling Brooke, who chatters incessantly. In the illustration of Babbling Brooke, words are flying from the end of her bullhorn. I think we've all met her (or a close relation) a time or two, whilst trying to read. The illustrations are breathtaking; I just can't admire them enough.

In addition to illustrations and descriptions of each princess, there are other royal things to pore over: a page of "Coats of Arms and Flags", a two-page labeled tower spread with a brief description of how to become a queen, a map of where the princesses live, a "Practical Guide: Everything you need to know about princesses"; and my personal favorite, a page of "Palaces and Residences". Had I owned this book as a child, I would have tried to duplicate my favorite palaces in some manner, probably using cardboard, paint, foil, brads and construction paper. And, lots of glue.

The Secret Lives of Princesses made me wish I had a little girl. It's just wonderful. My sister-in-law has two little girls, so I'm sure I'll end up dragging this whopping fine book with me, when next we flee to Colorado. The real question is whether or not I'll ever see it, again. Well, one can only hope.

Bottom line:

A stunningly illustrated, eccentric, delightful book of princesses that is big enough to plop on a coffee table. And, by golly, I'd do that if I owned a coffee table. Sadly, I don't. It'll stay in a prominent place until I get to see my nieces, though. Highly recommended.

Grateful, nose-scraping-the-dirt, huggy-gushy thanks to Sterling Kids for my gorgeous, drool-worthy review copy!!

Winging It by Jenny Gardiner

Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me by Jenny Gardiner
Copyright 2010
Gallery Books - Memoir/Pets
240 pages

There is one thing you should know before you read this review. It's totally biased. Winging It pissed me off so thoroughly that I don't know how to present a totally fair review and you should read other reviews like this one or this one (although, to be completely forthcoming, both of those were actually written by the author's friends, so they're not totally unbiased, either) if you want to get a really balanced viewpoint of this book -- or just go to Amazon, where it's averaged a shocking 4 stars. Obviously, I'm bucking the trend, here.

Billed as a memoir that centers around the African Gray parrot owned by Gardiner and her family, Winging It is less about the parrot than the author and her experiences as both pet owner and parent, but let's talk about the parrot, first. Graycie came into the Gardiner household as a gift. The author's brother-in-law, Scott, was living in Zaire and, back in those days (the 80s, I think), regulations on importing animals were pretty much nonexistent. The timing was awful. Although the Gardiners wanted to own a parrot someday, they were just starting a family and didn't have the time to properly care for a high-maintenance pet. They shoved her cage into the basement and pretty much ignored her, apart from feeding, cleaning and trying to get her to climb up an arm or talk.

My bird-owning friends tell me that trying to coerce a pet into doing what you want is "behavior modification" and they will mutter and curse if you get them going. I was more concerned that the pet deserved a home where she could receive proper attention, myself.

Eventually, the parrot moved to a more prominent place in the house and the author apparently spent hours and hours cleaning her poop and tending to Graycie's many injuries - many, many injuries. I'm not a bird owner and never have been, so I can't say whether or not Graycie's frequent injuries could have been prevented, but I can say I wondered. I definitely grew weary of the repeated comments that the author didn't have time for the parrot:

So what progress we had made began to deteriorate as a result of unplanned-for neglect.

I almost ditched the book when I got to the part where the author's cat went into heat. I've spoken to the author and she explained to me that neutering wasn't done as early in those days as it is now. I knew that. Back in the 70s, my family owned a cat who spent much of her time outdoors and she became pregnant before she reached the age considered acceptable for spaying. We kept one of the kittens and then got mama cat, Queenie, spayed.

The spaying issue wasn't the problem, though. My concern was not simply that the cat wasn't neutered but that the poor kitty was not only adopted by someone who claimed to not have money for an adoption fee (so, how did she plan to pay for the kitty's care?) but also was later locked into a bathroom with a male cat so that she could get it on and cease wailing. Just so we're clear, here, cats are not people. Biological imperative in the animal kingdom and human desire are not equivalent, as far as I know, and cats don't necessarily have fun mating.

Back to the cat . . . the idea, said the author (my adaptation of her words), "We can have cute little kittens and then give them away!" And, that endless caterwauling would end. It didn't work. After locking the poor kitty into a bathroom with a friend's male cat (a stranger to the female kitty) and ignoring the fighting noises for some time, the cats were released without having mated. Form your own opinion; I call that cruelty.

As to the parrot . . . she was just kind of there, pooping in the background.

Was there anything good about this book? Well, as I said, you'll have to read other reviews if you want to hear something positive, but I can tell you that I read quite a few and there were plenty of people who thought the book was entertaining. The consensus when I first read reviews at Amazon seemed to be that the book was not about the parrot and that it was, in fact, more sad than funny if you looked at it purely from the viewpoint of parrot ownership. But, plenty of people thought the stories about the Gardiner family were enjoyable reading.

I'll be honest; I didn't find the family stories entertaining, either. It seemed to me that the central theme of the book was, "First we bought a little house. Then we bought a bigger house. Then we bought this really cool, whopping big house! And, there were disasters and animal behavior issues and sick kids that we dragged on planes so that we could expose as many people as possible to our illness and then . . . we bought two houses!!!"

Dude, this book was so not for me. But, please read other reviews if you're considering it. I feel bad about trashing it and have to say . . . my thanks to the author and Gallery Books for the opportunity to read the book. Sorry I couldn't think of anything really nice to say. At least I didn't throw it at the wall before I passed it on. That's good, right?

Just walked in:

Dewey's Nine Lives by Vicky Myron with Bret Witter - I liked reading about Dewey (but not the autobiographical portions about the Ms. Myron) and am really looking forward to reading about how he inspired others.

And, the latest:

I picked up Jane Austen's Emma, this afternoon, and the spell has been broken! I am finally reading, again. 2 or 3 days . . . I'm not sure how many I went without reading a word but it was definitely my version of hell on earth.

Most fun I've had all day:

Taking a picture of the FedEx truck through my peephole. I'm thinking about doing a series . . . "Peeping at Delivery Trucks". Okay, laughing here. The typo that originally came out of my fingers: "Peeing at Delivery Trucks".

One more review forthcoming, primarily so I can bury this one. I like honesty, but sometimes it can be really, really painful and I don't enjoy inflicting pain.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Making of a Duchess by Shana Galen - or "Really, you should ignore that cover and grab this one for the adventure"

The Making of a Duchess by Shana Galen
Copyright 2010
Sourcebooks Casablanca - Historical Romance
368 pages

Wait just a minute there, partner. The cover is turning you off, right? You hate those so-called "bodice rippers," don't you? So, which do you hate worse, snap judgments based on irrational assumptions and ignorance or a cover that honestly doesn't fit the content of a book? Because I have to say, that cover is pretty, but it doesn't describe the content ---->

He awoke to fire. Peasants shouted and chased him with pitchforks and swords. That terrifying night will stay with Julien Harcourt, duc de Valere for the rest of his life. Unable to save his brothers from the rioting peasants, he escaped to England. But, Julien still doesn't believe his brothers are dead. When he receives a message from a former servant telling him his brother Armand is still alive, Julien is willing to do anything to find his way back to France to save his brother. He will keep searching until he finds the truth.

Sarah Smith is a governess. She's happy in her latest position, teaching and caring for Sir Northrup's young children, Anne and Edmund. Then Sir Northrup calls her into his office and tells her she has a new assignment. She is to spy on the on the duc de Valere, who is thought to be a traitor. There are no agents available and she is expected within three days. Sarah will pose as a houseguest, the daughter of French aristocrats who escaped to Italy during the early days of the Revolution.

Sarah is flabbergasted and tries to turn down her boss, but Sir Northrup threatens to turn her out into the street if she doesn't do the job. She's an orphan, trained to be a governess in the Academy at which she was left as a child. Turned into the street, she would have nowhere to go, nobody to protect her. Sarah has no choice but to pose as a spy. But, neither the duc or the governess know what is in store for them when intrigue meets attraction.

She narrowed her eyes at him, obviously annoyed. "A gentleman would not have mentioned that incident again," she said, tone frosty.

He shrugged, not feeling the least compunction to act the gentleman when she was the one who had invaded his library. He took another drink from his glass and studied her. "You don't have any accent," he said, finally.

"What?" She frowned at him, probably thinking he was foxed.

"Your English." He sat forward now. "You have no French accent, not even a trace." He was always keenly aware of his own accent, knew no matter how perfect his English it would always mark him as a foreigner.

She put a hand to her throat. "Well, I was so young when I left France that--"

"For Italy."

"Yes. My parents live in Italy."

"And yet you have no Italian accent."

She opened her mouth then closed it again.

"Say again?"

"We speak English."

"Your parents are French. You live in Italy, but you speak English."

She shrugged, a dainty gesture that caused one ribbon of hair to fall over her shoulder and caress his desk. He stared at it.

"We're eccentric." She looked him full in the face, daring him to question her.

He raised his glass in a mock salute. "That must explain why you're wandering about in my home in the middle of the night, creeping into my library."

Seriously, just ignore the cover. The Making of a Duchess is the kind of book that led me to once write an essay about my former prejudice against the romance genre, in general, and how and why I'd learned my lesson. There are many, many forms of romantic writing and a stunning number of subgenres. The Making of a Duchess contains all the elements of a typical romance (the meeting, unexpected attraction, dark moment and happily-ever-after) but there is a great deal more action and fun than gushy love and . . . sigh . . . cupping of breasts and all that crap. I do detest the same old wording from one book to another in romance, but this author was, I thought, surprisingly inventive -- even during those worthless sex scenes (which don't occur till later in the book), although there's a bit of the standard wording.

Note that Sarah, posing as Serafina in the above passage, appears to have been caught sniffing about in Julien's library nearly at the beginning of her time as a spy. That is actually one of the things I adored about the book. Rather than carry a poor bumbling character through repetitive conversations and motions, stretching out believability till you're certain you can hear it snapping in two, the author allows her characters to screw up, get caught and find a new way of going about the job until things work out. Wonderful!! Well done, Shana Galen!

For those who think sex doesn't forward a plot, there is less than average in this particular novel, although I'm sure it's enough to satisfy those who crave romance. Even better, the couple remains chaste until married. I don't think that's a spoiler because even when they do marry, there's some question whether or not it's merely temporary. At that point, it becomes PG-13 to R for short stretches, most of which are bookended by action.

Bottom line:

I loved this book. It's witty, romantic and adventurous without veering into "trite" territory. Sarah is likable and just a little goofy but she quickly discovers her hidden strength. Julien is a man who is fixated on duty but full of heart. The author's particular flair is in knowing her timing, not only in dialogue but in plot. Beautifully paced, full of action, charming dialogue and pure fun. Many thanks to Danielle at Sourcebooks for the review copy!

In other news:

I finished The Passage by Justin Cronin on Monday -- or maybe Tuesday -- and I've since been toying with when to post. Yesterday was impossible; I was sidelined by a migraine and that gave me a bit more time to ponder the fact that I've been "behind" on book reviews for quite some time. The Passage is getting a tremendous amount of press and the other books have been waiting around in the hallway, muttering about the fact that I keep putting them off. So . . . I'll review The Passage after I've reviewed the other ARCs I've received. I originally planned to review it on its release day, but then it occurred to me that there's no hurry. People will still be twiddling their thumbs, saying, "To buy or not to buy?" in a week, right? Are you a twiddler? If so, feel free to ask my opinion before I actually take the time to write about it.

Next up, then, will be two books about Secret Lives: The Secret Lives of People in Love and The Secret Lives of Princesses. Then, I'll try to say something, anything positive about Winging It and move on to A Place for Delta, which won't require scrounging for kudos. Since I've barely read a word, this week, that should get me all caught up on review books and then I can move on to those I read for other reasons (like the fact that they've been sitting on a shelf for eons or just screamed, "Read me! Read me!").

Recent arrivals:

Liar by Justine Larbalestier - from PBS

I'm Fine with God . . . It's Christians I Can't Stand by Bickel & Jantz - from PBS

Mr. Darcy's Obsession by Abigail Reynolds - from Sourcebooks

The Stress Effect by Henry L. Thompson - from Jossey-Bass

Detectives Don't Wear Seat Belts by Cici McNair - from the author

In the Shadow of Lions by Ginger Garrett - from a friend

Off to do something exciting. Yes, laundry. It thrills me, I promise. Happy reading!

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass
Copyright 2003
Little, Brown & Co. - YA
221 pages
Includes reading group guide

School starts in a few days, and I'm trying to squeeze every last drop out of summer. Literally. I'm squeezing lemons for the lemonade stand Zack and I set up on our street corner.
"Why don't you just use lemonade mix like everyone else?" Beth asks as she passes through the kitchen and into the pantry. She returns with a few sandwich bags and a Magic Marker.
"This is a quality establishment," Zack replies, carefully stirring in the sugar with a long spoon.
"What are the bags for?" I ask as Beth lays them flat on the counter. Zack stops stirring to listen.
"If you must know, I'm sorting herbs for a big project I'm working on."
Zack and I raise our eyebrows at each other.
"If you turn me into a frog, I'm telling Mom and Dad," Zack says, holding the spoon in front of him like a sword.
Beth grunts and turns her back to us. We continue making the lemonade and leave her to her sorcery.
When we are alone again, I ask Zack, "Does the yellow of this lemon remind you of anything?"
"Huh? Like what?"
"Oh, I don't know. Like the letter a or the number four?"
He stops midstir. "What are you talking about?

"Never mind."

Everyone thinks I named my cat Mango because of his orange eyes, but that's not the case. I named him Mango because the sounds of his purrs and his wheezes and his meows are all various shades of yellow-orange . . .

Mia has kept a secret since the time she wrote a math problem on the board in school and was heckled for explaining that she chose different chalk colors to match the color of each number. Everyone thought she was crazy, even her parents. But, soon she'll know better. She has synesthesia, a condition that causes her to see sounds, numbers and letters in color.

When Mia meets a little boy who also sees things in color, she's shocked. But, then she investigates and finds that she's not alone. As she gets to know other synesthetes via her home computer, she finds ways to enhance her ability, to the point that she's losing touch with reality.

Then, disaster strikes and Mia finds that she has to lose something crucial to realize what she already has.

A Mango-Shaped Space is a quirky and fun book with a very serious side. I'd heard of synesthesia, but I've not ever read much about it. A friend of mine was apparently a synesthete, although I'm not sure she knew that any more than Mia does at the opening of the book. My friend told me she saw numbers and letters as colors and that she saw auras around people, but I think she thought of it as some sort of psychic ability.

In A Mango-Shaped Space, Mia is totally clueless until she meets a little boy in a grocery store and they have a very brief conversation.

He giggles and comes out from behind his mom a little more. "Mia is a pretty name."
"Thanks," I say, flashing him a Winchell smile. My family may not be blessed with height, but we have good teeth and try to show them when we can.
"It's purple with orange stripes," he announces, his voice more assured now. "I like it a lot."
Still smiling, I shake my head and say, "No, silly, it's candy-apple red with a hint of light green." And then what he said hits me. My smile slowly disappears, and my heart starts to pound.

Her encounter with the boy is so brief that Mia doesn't even know if he lives in town. But, now that Mia knows she's not alone in her ability, she investigates -- and tries to hunt down the little boy. She gets the same sort of reaction as she got the first time; everyone thinks she's got a mental problem, at first. Then, Mia is referred to someone who can really help her, a neurologist who understands her condition and even leads a support group. I'm including a lot of quotes because I adored the characters in this book. Mia comes from a really odd but close little family and that gives the book a warm and unique touch. Zack is particularly fun.

"I think it's pretty neat," he says, following me inside.
"You do?"
"Sure," he says, grinning. "Now I know you're the strangest one in the family after all. And you had some stiff competition."

Mia starts connecting with other synesthetes online and finds that there are ways to enhance her ability. She becomes so bent on doing so that it's almost like a drug to her. Then, a shock makes her lose her her ability completely. At that point, she must decide whether she even wants to see color in every number, letter and sound. Is it really necessary to her? It's caused her all sorts of problems, especially in school. But, Mia finds herself feeling very alone and empty.

Bottom line:

I thought A Mango-Shaped Space was just wonderful. Synesthesia is apparently considered a disability and it definitely causes Mia to have difficulty in certain subject areas. But, the author doesn't look at it quite that way. She humanizes Mia's dysfunction and shows how something that seems freaky and is a bit disabling can also have some very dramatic benefits. On the back cover of the book is a note that A Mango-Shaped Space is the "Winner of the ALA Schneider Family Book Award, honoring artistic expression of the disability experience." Cool. I think it's very deserving. It's also always refreshing to read a YA book that is clean. It's been a few weeks since I read the book, but I recall a single kiss and no swearing.

I'm going to try to make this a big whip-out-a-bunch-of-reviews day, in between errands. Okay, forget that. I ended up with more errands than expected, so we'll just stick with this one review for today. Happy Tuesday!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

May Reads in Review (2010)

Last catch-up post on past months' reading and then I can return to reviewing.

May Reads in Review (links to reviews provided, if applicable):

59. A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass (YA) -Mia has felt like a freak since the day she was heckled for writing a math problem in a variety of colors, at school. She sees sounds, numbers and letters in color. When she finds out she has synesthesia, she tries to enhance the sensations and almost loses touch with the rest of the world. Then a sudden loss changes everything.

60. The Secret Lives of People in Love by Simon Van Booy (Gen Fic) - Simon's wonderful first book, republished by HarperPerennial with an extra story. Will also review this one, soon.

61. Shakespeare Wrote for Money by Nick Hornby (NF) - The third and, apparently, last collection of Hornby's columns about the books he's bought and read, orig. published in Believer magazine.

62. Non Campus Mentis, ed. by Anders Hendriksson (Humor) - The first of Hendriksson's books of hilarious mistakes (some probably deliberate) written by college students.

63. Life in Spite of Me by Kristen Anderson (NF/Memoir) - The memoir of a young woman who attempted suicide by lying down on train tracks and instead lost her legs but lived to tell her tale and become a Christian who works to prevent suicide.

64. The Prophecy by Dawn Mills (YA/Paranormal) - A classic tale of good versus evil, in which a group of 5 young people must protect the world from fallen angels.

65. Faustine by Emma Tennant (Gen Fic) - The Devil made her do it. An updated version of Faust, in which a young Australian seeks out her grandmother and finds, instead, the Devil and a woman who sold her soul for youth and beauty.

66. Spaceheadz by Jon Scieszka (CH) - Aliens have invaded a classroom and Michael K. must help them. Meanwhile a bumbling agent of the Anti-Alien Agency tries to stop them. The first in a new series.

67. If You Follow Me by Malena Watrous (Gen Fic) - After her father's suicide, Marina is lost. She travels to Japan to teach English with her lesbian lover but the relationship and the new life aren't quite what she anticipated.

68. A Hundred Feet Over Hell by Jim Hooper (NF/Vietnam) - The true story of the Catkillers, men who flew in slow, weaponless aircraft at low altitudes to mark targets. Vivid, first-person accounts make for a very exciting, emotional read.

69. Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev (YA/Fantasy) - The Theatre Illuminata is Bertie Shakespeare's only home. But, when she's told she must leave, she's determined to find a way to make a contribution so that she may remain in her home. Utterly magical tale with mischievous fairies, a dashing pirate and a dangerously seductive air spirit.

70. Appetite for Detention by Sloane Tanen (YA) - A very short book about life as a teenager, with minimal text and hilarious photos in which the teenagers are fluffy chicks.

71. Dead End Gene Pool by Wendy Burden (Memoir) - A Vanderbilt heiress shares what it was like to grow up surrounded by entitlement, luxury and dissipation.

72. F My Life, ed. by Vallete, Passaglia and Guedj (NF) - I've never seen the website, but this book is a collection of anecdotes about very bad experiences. Some were side-splitting, but the vast majority were just revolting.

73. Fireworks Over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff (Hist. Fic) - An elderly lady reflects on her brief affair with a traveling man while her husband was away at war.

74. Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert (NF/Science) - Brace yourself for the a terrifying look at climate change by a journalist who traveled the world to speak to scientists in a variety of fields. Each described different signs pointing to dramatic change in our time and the deadly changes yet to come, as well as the truth about what dramatic climate change has done to humans in the past.

75. Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler (YA) - Friendship and honesty are challenged when two best friends grieving a tragic loss go to California with the goal of meeting twenty boys.

76. The Secret Lives of Princesses by Lechermeier, illus. by Dautremer (CH) - A startlingly beautiful, quirky book about princesses for children. Plan to review this one very soon -- a book that little girls will want to read over and over and over and over.

77. The Making of a Duchess by Shana Galen (Hist. Rom) - An action-packed romance in which a governess is sent to a French Duke's home to find evidence that he's a spy.

78. Sunrise in the West by Edith Pargeter (Hist. Fic) - The first book in The Brothers of Gwynedd, full of intrigue and war, clever women and wily men in Welsh and English royalty, during the Middle Ages.

And, now, we shall return to everyday reviewing. Obviously, I still have plenty of reviews to get to. This week, I finished only one book -- just one!! Horrors. I've been wrapped up in The Passage by Justin Cronin and it's taking me forever, so I may do some quick little side reads, just to ease my mind. The Passage is an excellent reminder of why I dislike chunksters (I'm too slow!!!!); but, it's so gripping that I can't talk myself into not picking it up at night.

I'm also reading Emma by Jane Austen (brain break material) and still have not touched A Rumor of War in well over a week. Hopefully, I'll be able to dive right back into Rumor, when I'm ready. Emma and A Rumor of War have the advantage of lacking urgency, whereas The Passage is an ARC and needs to be finished as soon as possible. The release date is Tuesday and I've heard the library queues are already quite long in some places. I have a feeling it will sell very, very well. I'm finding I agree with the hype over The Passage.

What are you reading, today?

Saturday, June 05, 2010

April Reads in Review (2010)

What ho! Another month that flew by. Amazing how those things whip past like hummingbirds.

April Reads in Review:

CH - Children's
YA - Young Adult
Chr - Christian Elements
NF - Nonfiction
GF - General Fiction
M - Memoir
HF - Historical Fiction
Rom - Romance (RS - Romantic Suspense)

That's quite a key, isn't it? Links to reviews are provided, if applicable.

43. Anastasia's Secret by Susanne Dunlap (YA/HF) - A fictional account of the Romanov family's last years, in which Anastasia falls in love.

44. Disaster Status by Candace Calvert (Rom/Chr) - Character-driven romance between an ER doctor and a fire chief who cross paths during a small-town disaster.

45. She's So Dead to Us by Kieran Scott (YA) - A teenager who used to be wealthy returns to her former high school a year after her father lost money in a hedge-fund investment scheme in which many of the neighbors invested.

46. Storylines by A. Croft & M. Pilavachi (NF/Chr) - A book about the connections between the Old and New Testaments and what they mean to us.

47. The Secret Holocaust Diaries by Nonna Bannister (NF/M/Chr) - Memoir of a Russian/Ukrainian whose family chose to stay behind during the German invasion, incl. a very interesting account of her family's history.

48. Rumor Has It by Jill Mansell (GF) - A little bit romance, a little bit small-town gossipy tale with a serious side - about a Londoner who becomes a Girl Friday in a village in the Cotswalds.

49. Winging It by Jenny Gardiner (NF/M) - A memoir of parenthood and pet ownership that I'm still having trouble reviewing because it made me angry but I don't want to be unreasonably harsh.

50. College in a Nutskull compiled by Anders Hendriksson (Humor) - A book of humorous mistakes (some of them probably deliberate) made on college tests.

51. The Founding by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles (HF) - The first in a lengthy series about the fictional Morland family tells about the headstrong Eleanor Morland, who helped build a family of sheep farmers into wealthy and influential tradesmen. Set in the 15th century.

52. The Amazing Book of Useless Information (NF, allegedly) - Just what it sounds like. After reading a "fact" about the bottling of Coca-Cola that was incorrect (it did not suddenly "appear" in Tennessee -- Coca-Cola was first bottled in Vicksburg), I lost faith in the book's accuracy.

53. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by J. Green & D. Levithan (YA) - Two teenagers, both named Will Grayson, learn about friendship, love and acceptance.

54. Rhymes with Witches (YA/Paranormal) - A teenager wants to be popular so desperately that she's willing to use black magic and even hurt her best friend. Can I just repeat that I hated this book? Thank you.

55. The Return by Daoma Winston (RS) - A bored and lonely young woman quits her job and goes to her childhood home after falling in love with her distant cousin . . . and ends up entangled in a dangerous murder mystery.

56. I Love Him, But (NF/Humor) - A little fat book of quotes about husbandly quirks.

57. The Lunatic Express by Carl Hoffman (NF/Travel/M) - A travel writer goes on a crisis-driven trip around the world to see how the common people travel.

58. The Man Who Loved Pride & Prejudice by Abigail Reynolds (Rom) - Similar to the Jane Austen classic, but this is a smart modern romance utilizing just the barest skeleton of the original's plot.

March Reads in Review (2010)

Catch-up time. I've fallen three months behind on monthly round-ups, so I'm going to peek in my rear-view reading mirror.

You just can't see all the books behind those trees. Image Source: Martin Pool's Blog

March Reads in Review (links to reviews provided, if applicable):

CH - Children's
HF - Historical Fiction
E-H - Essays/Humorous
Rom - Romance
Chr - Christian elements
GF - General Fiction

31. Cesar Takes a Break by Susan Collin Thoms, illus. by Rogé (CH) - A classroom iguana discovers there's a great big world to explore and plenty more friends to find when the children leave for spring break.

32. Don't Stop Laughing Now by various authors (E-H) - A collection of funny essays by a variety of authors. Poor husband had to listen as I read Dave Barry's article on males versus females aloud.

33. Mr. Midshipman Hornblower by C. S. Forester (HF) - The first book in the Hornblower series, about young Hornblower's early adventures as a midshipman.

34. The Country House Courtship by Linore Rose Burkard (HF/Rom/Chr) - A sweet, Recency romance, third in a series.

35. That Cat Can't Stay by Krasnesky and Parkins (CH) - A family slowly gains more pets against the father's wishes, then eventually Dad goes to the shelter and adopts a dog, making the family complete.

36. The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt (HF) - Fictional account of a friendship between Nicola Tesla and a maid.

37. Postcards from a Dead Girl by Kirk Farber (GF) - The quirky tale of a man who begins to receive postcards sent from locations around the world by his dead girlfriend. See also: Guest post by Kirk Farber

38. I'll Mature When I'm Dead by Dave Barry (E-H) - Dave Barry's hilarious new book about getting older and wiser without actually growing up.

39. Ecomazes: 12 Earth Adventures by Roxie Munro (CH) - A book of beautiful mazes with hidden objects and descriptions of various ecosystems around the world.

40. The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli (HF) - A Vietnam War photojournalist reflects on her dozen years of working, living and loving in the country as Saigon falls.

41. Flyaway by Suzie Gilbert (NF/Nature) - The memoir of a bird rehabilitator who found her passion in carring for birds.

42. The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs (CH) - An orphaned boy goes to live with his uncle and unleashes a bad wizard when he tries to cast a magic spell.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Fiona Friday and More Garden Pretties

Yes, I almost forgot about Fiona Friday, again. Looks like kitty is trying to tell me she did not give me permission to photograph. In fact, she bolted after this shot.

And, here are more garden pretties.

All of which beg the question, "Just how many photos of the same cat and gardens can one person take? I won't theorize. Not feeling talkative, today. Wishing everyone a happy weekend!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler
Copyright 2009
Little Brown & Co. - YA
290 pages

I picked up my library copy of Twenty Boy Summer on a Monday evening and simply could not put it down till I finished at 2:00 am. A little over a year has passed since Anna fell for Matt--her best friend's brother (and, till then, her other best friend, a boy she secretly loved for years). Weeks into their romance, Matt suddenly died. Now, Matt's sister Frankie and her parents are returning to their usual vacation spot in California and Anna has been invited along.

Frankie comes up with a challenge. They should try to meet 20 boys and find a way for Anna to lose her virginity. During their three weeks in California, they spend time with Frankie's parents and go boy-hunting. Once they've located a couple of decent guys, they begin sneaking out to meet with them regularly. Meanwhile, the two girls are still dealing with grief; and, a surprising revelation by Frankie leads to a rift in their friendship. Will their summer vacation help them learn to live with Matt's loss? Or will Anna and Frankie's experience lead to the end of a lifelong friendship?

This is a great YA, very well written, but a really hard read because it's mostly about dealing with grief and you can practically feel their pain. As to the "losing the virginity" part, it's worth mentioning that Anna is only 16. I've grown weary of books in which it seems like early loss of virginity is not only expected but it's implied or boldly stated that there's something seriously wrong with a female who remains a virgin past the age of 18. In this case, I must say it was handled well. I've opted not to include any spoilers but the bottom line is that the book is beautifully written and takes grief, young love and teen angst seriously but handles them with tact and care.

Twenty Boy Summer is not a "dumbed down" book. The writing is on par with fiction not targeted at teens and it's accessible but intelligent. Definitely recommended, and I'd encourage mothers of teenage girls to read it with their daughters; it could prove a good starting point for some excellent discussion.

4.5/5 - A smart, beautifully-written young adult novel about grief, friendship and love. Tackles serious teen issues and the pain of loss with tremendous respect.

More pretties blooming around our home:

I've decided I probably ought to keep a garden journal, like Chris mentioned. I have a tendency to plant a lot of the same annuals from one year to another, but sometimes I can't remember the name of "that pretty plant with all the tiny red flowers that I grew last year" when planting season rolls around. So, I'm going to try to get cracking on that. I have several empty journals lying about.

Currently reading:

Nothing. Duh. I'm typing on the computer. ;)

Okay, I started reading The Passage by Justin Cronin, last night. Kiddo had to turn the light out and tell me to "get some sleep, Mom." It's nice to know he cares. I haven't picked up A Rumor of War in a few days, but I plan to get back to that book, tonight. And, then I'm sure I'll get crazy and find at least 2 more books to add to the mix.

Just walked in:

Red November: Inside the Secret U.S.-Soviet Submarine War by W. Craig Reed - "If Tom Clancy had turned The Hunt for Red October into a nonfiction thriller, Red November might be the result" says James Rollins in the cover quote. My copy came from Goodreads.

Also arrived:

A set of A & E "romances" on DVD, including Jane Austen's Emma. I missed the PBS Austen specials, last year (except for Northanger Abbey, which I still need to read). When shopping online, my objective was to locate a set of the Thin Man movies for hubby, but DeepDiscount.com had a really great DVD sale going and the A & E romance set leaped into my cart. Pinkie swear.

And, hurricane season is upon us. Here's my favorite bit of humor about the potentially lethal combination of the Gulf oil spill and hurricane season.

For some reason, that made me hungry. Or, maybe it's just supper time. Better go. The neighbors are going to start calling if my stomach growls any louder. Happy Wednesday! Got any wahoos to share?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert

Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature and Climate Change
By Elizabeth Kolbert
Copyright 2006
Bloomsbury - Non-fiction/Science/Environment
225 pages, incl. chronology, index, selected resources, bibliography and notes

As the snow is compressed, its crystal structure changes to ice. (Two thousand feet down, there is so much pressure on the ice that a sample drawn to the surface will, if mishandled, fracture, and in some cases even explode.) But in most other respects, the snow remains unchanged, a relic of the climate that first formed it. In the Greenland ice, there is nuclear fallout from early atomic tests, volcanic ash from Krakatau, lead pollution from ancient Roman smelters, and dust blown in from Mongolia on ice age winds. Every layer also contains tiny bubbles of trapped air, each of them a sample of a past atmosphere. --p. 30

The Vostok core, which is now stored in pieces in Denver, Grenoble, and on Antarctica, contains a continuous climate record stretching back four full glacial cycles. --p. 129

In legitimate scientific circles, it is virtually impossible to find evidence of disagreement over the fundamentals of global warming. Naomi Oreskes, a professor of history and science studies at the University of California at San Diego, recently tried to quantify the level of consensus. She conducted a study of more than nine hundred articles on climate change published in refereed journals between 1993 and 2003 and subsequently made available on a leading research database. Of these, she found that 75 percent endorsed the view that anthropogenic [human-caused] emissions were responsible for at least some of the observed warming of the past fifty years. The remaining 25 percent, which dealt with questions of methodology or climate history, took no position on current conditions. Not a single article disputed the premise that anthropogenic warming is under way. --p. 164

To research climate change, Elizabeth Kolbert traveled around the world, speaking to scientists who study changes in not only climate but flora and fauna affected by climate changes. In Field Notes from a Catastrophe, she explains in clear (but sometimes a little technical) terms how and why recent climate change has been proven to be man-made and what we can expect if changes aren't made . . . well, yesterday. It's been 4 or 5 years since the book was published and things were already looking ominous.

Field Notes from a Catastrophe is definitely a scary book. One scientist made a discovery that led him to go home and tell his wife that the good news is that the job is going well and the bad news is that the verdict is pretty much the end of life as we know it, not that far down the road.

Combine the text of this book with the daily reports of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico and it's a little hard to be optimistic about life on Earth continuing for as long as we'd like. The most fascinating facts, in my opinion, were some parallel discoveries by scientists in totally different fields. One discovered a buried city in the region of ancient Babylonia and came to the conclusion that a severe drought that lasted for many, many years led to the death of that city. Written records of that particular city and its lasting drought (unfortunately, I didn't mark those bits and can't recall the name) were previously thought to be mere legend but were proven accurate. At the same time, another scientist determined that the same drought was responsible for the end of the Mayan civilization.

The conclusion: (in my words) There is a breaking point beyond which civilizations cannot continue and humans die off -- even in advanced civilizations with specialized means for growing and storing agricultural products.

Meanwhile, a warming Earth means changing precipitation patterns. Just as some regions, like the American Midwest, are predicted to suffer from drought, others will experience more--at least more intense--rainfall. The effect is likely to be particularly punishing in some of the most densely populated regions on Earth, including the Mississippi Delta, the Ganges Delta, and the Thames basin. A study commissioned a few years ago by the British government concluded that under certain conditions, floods of a magnitude now expected no more often than once a century could, by 2080, be occurring in England once every three years. (As it happened, the very week I was in the Netherlands, thirteen people were killed by exceptionally heavy winter storms in Britain and Scandinavia.) --pp. 125-6

4.5/5 - Comprehensive research; excellent writing. A book that will leave no doubt as to how and why we've been misled into believing that the scientific community is divided on the issue of climate change and how much evidence there is to show that global warming is a catastrophe in progress.

I ordered my copy of Field Notes from a Catastrophe from Paperback Swap after reading about it in Nick Hornby's Shakespeare Wrote for Money, which I've yet to review. I'm not sure I'll forgive Hornby for a while. This book is frankly terrifying, although I certainly feel like Kolbert did such a great job of explaining ice core samples that anyone who has been misled into believing climate change is a farce should be able to read this book and understand just how much evidence there is of climate change over, literally, hundreds of thousands of years and how scientists are able to determine that recent change is human-driven.

There is also some explanation of the Bush administration's fascinating level of disinformation, the U.S.'s embarrassing behavior at Kyoto and wobbly American policies that pretty much negated any potential progress toward slowing global warming, in recent years. China is predicted to become the biggest contributor to climate change, in the near future.

The good news? Flowers are still blooming in Vicksburg. It's not over, yet.

More photos forthcoming. We're really colorful, at the moment.