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Rating System

5 stars: Completely enjoyable or compelling
4 stars: Good but flawed
3 stars: Average
2 stars: OK
1 star: Did not finish

Reading Challenges

My Kind of Mystery Reading Challenge 2017 February - January 2017-8




 

 

RoadmarksRoadmarks: 06/30/07

Combine the walking through shadows of the Amber series with the history of the world stretching into infinity like Farmer's River World series and throw in some dragons (just 'cause) and you get Roadmarks.

There are parallel stories each playing out one chapter at a time. They are labeled: Two and One. Chapters Two follow Red and Chapters One follow Randy and how these two stories relate to each other is the main crux of the book.

The book is only 187 pages, so a quick read, though one might need time to mull the chapters early on. I have to admit that I cheated and read all the Chapters Two first and then went back and read all of the Chapters One. I'm finding that I don't always like reading a book linearly and that it's not always important to read from page one all the way through to the end. Sometimes it works to skip around.

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A Tree Can BeA Tree Can Be...: 06/29/07

A Tree Can Be... is one of Harriet's current favorite books. It is a short poem spread over sixteen beautifully illustrated pages. It is Anna Vojtech's soft illustrations that Harriet responds to most.

Her favorite part of the book is spread across pages 10 and 11: "a place to climb, and a place to stay dry." Climb is illustrated with a pair of curious raccoons who are climbing the oak tree. "Dry" is illustrated with a pair of sparrows who are huddling under the leaves during a rainstorm.

For reading aloud, the book has a soothing and easy rhythm except for the last page where the poem ends awkwardly. It ends with "and it changes year-round" (page 15) but it would flow better with "and it changes all year-round."

The final page has a lovely diagram of the various parts of the oak tree, each which has been highlighted in the course of the book. The pieces labeled are: leaf, stem, bud, branch, seed, trunk, bark and root.

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The Modern ResearchThe Modern Researcher: 06/29/07

The Modern Researcher was first published in 1957 and the most recent edition (#6) was published in 2001. I read the third edition (1977). The third edition examples of how to do research and how to use libraries are a little outdated especially the emphasis on the card catalogue and the lack of discussion on computers and internet usage. I don't know if the most recent edition is modernized to cover computers and the internet.

The book's greatest strength is how well it highlights the differences between facts and opinions and between copying and researching. True research involves verifying facts (names and dates) and adding thoughts to these facts (opinions and conclusions). The book also covers the correct way to cite sources, including common errors with names and dates.

Although I am no longer doing research in an academic setting, I still found the book both interesting and useful. I often do research for my book reviews and other blog posts. It was also a good reminder on how to spot opinion and bias in writing.

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Peter's ChairPeter's Chair: 06/27/07

I had planned to blog about how Peter's Chair was my introduction to the works of Ezra Jack Keats but I now realize that Sean and I have also read Hi Cat!

I got Peter's Chair for Sean because it is about Peter coming to terms with being a big brother to a baby sister. I like Keats's bold illustrative style. I also like how Peter learns important lessons about growing up and sharing.

I have a small quibble though with Peter's parents. I completely understand their desire to reuse Peter's baby furniture for his sister. We did the same thing with Sean's stuff for Harriet. The parents though don't seem to have taken into account Peter's feelings. They just take away his old stuff and repaint it pink (ewww!) for his sister. They could have saved Peter a great deal of heartache if they had warned him ahead of time that his sister would need the furniture and that they wanted to repaint it to make it hers.

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Sixteen Short NovelsYouth: 06/26/07

I picked up Sixteen Short Novels at the September BookCrossing meeting last year. Yes; I went a week postpartum and Harriet went too. My goal is to read and review each of these short novels but if I do it all at once I'll only get this one massive book read for quite some time. Instead, I'll concentrate on each novel separately and count each one as its own book just as I did for the four novellas in Four Past Midnight. At that rate I figure I can read about three of these short novels a month and I should have the book ready for release by Harriet's first birthday.

"Youth" is a companion piece to "Heart of Darkness" and is the first story in Youth, a Narrative, and Two Other Stories . The finally story is "The End of the Tether." Like "Heart of Darkness", "Youth" is a narrated by Charles Marlow and is an account of his first voyage east. While "Heart of Darkness" is about the destruction of one man's soul and mind, this is the tale of a ship's demise by all means possible. "Youth" is a more light-hearted affair to read and certainly easier for me to follow (I've read "Heart of Darkness" three times and each time was a painful experience). I think "Heart of Darkness" might actually make more sense in context of the two other tales.

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School Stuff: 06/26/07

Today was Harriet's first day at school. We found a lovely home run day care just two miles from home, about five minute drive if I get the lights timed correctly. Harriet fit right in and had a lovely time. The school has another girl there who is 3 days older than Harriet. Between the two of them they have all the milestones covered for a 10 month old. I'm hoping Harriet will learn how to crawl and walk quicker than she would on her own here at home.

Harriet will be going to school again tomorrow. She's signed up for two days a week. Next week because of the holiday she'll be going Monday and Tuesday. Normally Tuesday and Wednesday will be her days.

Sean, meanwhile, is in his last days of being a preschooler. The principal of his school is planning her first ever school graduation. It's going to be at a local church and the kids will be wearing caps and gowns. Of course it's a little silly since Sean will be staying an extra year for kindergarten but we're thrilled nonetheless for all the pomp and circumstance. Ian's parents will be coming up for the big event too.

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The Humane InterfaceThe Humane Interface: 06/25/07

The Humane Interface has been sitting on my shelf for seven years. I bought it when I was starting my first salaried job in web design thinking I'd have more control over the site I was hired to help redesign. Boy was I wrong! Since I didn't need the book, I let it sit unread until this year. I was finally inspired to read it as part of the Non-Fiction Five Challenge. Although it wasn't part of my official list, I've been having so much fun reading non-fiction that it seemed appropriate.

The Humane Interface tries to find the most efficient way to balance the needs of two different types of users: the habitual and the novice. The habitual user needs efficient ways to handle tasks but flexibility to handle changes in routine. Meanwhile, the novice needs an interface that is easy to learn and obvious enough to handle the tasks at hand. While both users are being courted, the interface should also stay out of the way of whomever is using it.

All that is good and practical advice. When Raskin begins giving examples of good computer interfaces things become muddled. Now for a man who helped design the Macintosh and me a huge Mac geek, I would expect to agree more with his ideas of what makes an interface good but I don't. I like having my files as separate entities. I don't mind having to switch programs to send email. What is wrong with drag and drop?

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Chromosome 6Chromosome 6: 06/24/07

In 1896, H. G. Wells published The Island of Doctor Moreau in response to the debates over animal vivisection. A hundred and one years later, Robin Cook, updated the basic plot in Chromosome 6 to reflect recent progress in DNA research but didn't manage to bring any new insights to table.

Chromosome 6 is one of the worst books by Cook I've ever read (and perhaps one of the worst full-stop). The winner for worst book by Cook still goes t Coma which is both misogynistic and poorly written; Chromosome 6 is only poorly written. The basic premise is the same as The Island of Doctor Moreau; on a distant island (this time in the Congo), scientists have grafted together humans and animals to create animals with human characteristics. This time, the animals in question are bonobos and the reason behind the monkey business is the creation of cloned body parts for use by wealthy patrons who need transplants and don't want to wait in line for a donor. Unfortunately, the bonobos are so close to being human already that a few swapped genes here and there and they develop human tendencies (discovering fire and tool use).

Anyone who has suffered through those horrible chimp films from the 1970s knows that chimps can be taught to use matches and already (oh shock!) have opposable thumbs and basic tool use. So altered chromosomes or not, the bonobos can already chase one down with a hammer if they wanted to.

If Cook's underestimation of bonobos isn't enough, he tries to make the mystery more interesting by adding in a mob connection. Yes, it's not just mad scientists in Africa making man-apes, they're being hired by the mob! So of course, the New York cop has to hop a plane and fly halfway across the world to break into the compound to solve the case. Add to the mix flat dialogue and stupid doctors who have to ask what's going on for Cook to "info-dump" and Chromosome 6 ends up being 400 pages of wasted time.

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Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop CafeFried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe: 06/23/07

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is one of those books I've heard so many different arguments about. A few years ago I got a copy through BookCrossing determined to have a go at reading it so I could make up my own mind about it. And there the book sat for three years. Finally, inspired by the Southern Reading Challenge, I sat down and read the book.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is the story of the rise and fall of Whistle Stop and the people who lived there. This story is told over the course of many years and from many points of view. At the heart of it all is the love story of Ruth and Idgie during the Depression and then the empowerment of Eveyln Couch as she struggles through the ups and downs of menopause.

While Evelyn is the vehicle for the revelation of Whistle Stop's history, she is the least likeable character of the entire novel. She's so repressed, so clueless and so full of self loathing that every time her piece of the story comes up, the book's tempo hiccups.

Even with my annoyance at Evelyn, I found the book a pleasant surprise and a quick read. I still don't want to see the film, though.

Read the reviews at Musings of a Bookish Kitty, Back to Books.

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Curious George and the Hot Air BalloonCurious George and the Hot Air Balloon: 06/22/07

The Curious George stories are so formulaic that any one can tell a story in style of of Margret and H. A. Rey. The Man in the Yellow Hat (TMYH) has a chore, job, business trip, etc that takes him and of course George somewhere new. TMYH of course then is called away on some emergency or has to leave for some reason, leaving George to his own devices. After an initial series of goof-ups, everything works out for George and he ends up a better monkey for the ordeal.

The original series that can actually be credited to Margret and H. A. Rey is a very short list from all the titles bearing their name:

These initial stories are rather appalling. George is not the loveable monkey that he is remembered as and TMYH is a strange authoritarin figure that is part abusive parent, part master and part kidnapper. In the flurry of books since those initial seven, TMYH has softened as a character and has ended up more like soft spoken David Seville than a "bring it back alive" adventurer. By the current incarnation after the 2005 film, TMYH is actually loveable and caring (shown making numerous attempts to find day care for George whenever he's away).

In all of these changes, the original authors are still credited, to the point that the modern versions bear their names and the name of the company contracted to actually make the books (story board and illustrate is the way their website describes their roll in creating the books). I find it odd and sad that the current people working on the books receive no credit for their work. It may be a committee or a single person. I have no idea. George has gone from a disturbed monkey to a commodity.

So that brings me to Curious George and the Hot Air Balloon. In this adventure, George finds himself carried away by a hot air balloon. After nearly getting lost, nearly crashing and so forth, he manages to rescue a ranger and becomes the hero of the day. It's a fairly typical and vanilla plot from the most current incarnation. For children who enjoy the movie and the PBS cartoon, it's a cute book. My only wish is that the publisher would have the balls to say who actually wrote and illustrated it.

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Bath ToysNo More Infant Bathtub: 06/22/07

Now that Harriet is a champ at sitting we can get rid of two of her infant things, her bouncy seat and her infant bathtub. The bouncy seat we stopped using about a month ago, maybe two from now. Earlier this week I managed to Freecycle her seat to another mom. I hope the seat manages to soothe many more newborns.

Yesterday Harriet made the next big milestone and has made bath time so much easier in the process. She took her first bath (other than those couple times on vacation) without her infant tub. She loved bathing in the regular tub, especially because she could play with Sean's bath toys.

Speaking of toys, Harriet is developing an interest in action figures. Sean has a couple different versions of Dr. Doom which she loves to play with. She also still likes cats and elephants.

Anyway, now that Harriet is old enough to bathe without the infant tub, we will no longer have the extra steps of clearing up Sean's toys to make room her infant tub in the bathtub nor will we have the dripping tub sitting in the hallway between baths.

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Dark VoyageDark Voyage: 06/21/07

Dark Voyage was my introduction to Alan Furst's WWII spy novels. The book follows the ad hock crew of the Noordendam, sailing for the Royal Navy under a stolen Spanish flag. While the crew sails from port to port, we are given hints at the battles through letters, radio transmissions and their brief ports of call.

Furst's writing style is reminiscent of Grahame Green, especially when writing for Carol Reed. I was most reminded of Our Man in Havana and The Third Man.

The middle section, "Ports of Call" is written in a diary format. Each entry is headed with the coordinates of the ship and her itinerary. It is the most information heavy of the entire book, focusing more on the machinations of the various warring nations and less on the characters aboard the the Noordendam. History buffs will enjoy the chapter but I found my attention wandering at times.

Save for the one dry chapter, I enjoyed Dark Voyage enough to jump into another Alan Furst novel, Kingdom of Shadows. Stay tuned for my review.

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The HoursThe Hours: 06/19/07

Right around the time we moved to our current home, I heard Michael Cunningham interviewed on NPR and he was reading a selection from one of his books. I remember being unimpressed by his interview; he just rubbed me the wrong way. That interview and my own general stubbornness about reading popular (even if they are award winning) books, has made me avoid reading The Hours. Last year, though, another BookCrosser RABCKed me a box of books and among them was The Hours.

In the spirit of "reading and releasing" I've finally read The Hours. It was a pleasant surprise. It had some flaws here and there and wasn't the best book I've ever read but it was oddly compelling and I stayed up a little late to finish it. One of the debates I've seen among other reviewers of the book (I haven't checked if this is true among film viewers too as I've not seen the film) is whether or not one needs to have read Mrs. Dalloway to "get" The Hours. The answer is no. I've not read Mrs. Dalloway (the only Woolf I've read is Orlando and that was in a one-night college cram session for a test; not one of my prouder moments of book reading or test studying). What one does need is the ability to keep three different time lines straight in one's head and the willingness to discover how these three timelines are part of a greater story.

There are three female protagonists: Mrs. Dalloway, Mrs. Woolf, and Mrs. Brown. I've listed in the order of their first appearances. Mrs. Dalloway lives in the "present" and takes her name from the novel that Mrs. Woolf is struggling to write over the course of the book. While her life somewhat mimics that of Wolfe's character, the truth behind the nickname lies in the history of the person who gave her the name. Meanwhile, back in 1949, Mrs. Brown is trying to keep it together while she puts together the perfect birthday celebration for her husband when all she'd really like to do is finish reading Mrs. Dalloway.

On the surface the book is a short and simple affair. It's a few hours out of the lives of three women. But it's more than that too. It's hard to describe the gestalt of the book without giving way the ending. Since this is a blog and not an essay, I'll leave the deeper analysis for another time and save the spoilers for anyone else who hasn't read the book yet.

Read the review at 1morechapter.

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BedOnions are Like Ogres: 06/19/07

Last night Sean and I harvested our first onion. With our small patio garden it's difficult to grow anything in large numbers but we have fun trying to grow different things. We've had our greatest success with herbs. The onions are leftovers from last year and I really had thought they had all died without producing any results. This year though, they all started growing again and we have a half dozen or so to pick.

Home grown onions are the sweetest onions you'll ever taste. Last night we chopped up our onion and sauteed it together with yellow and red bell peppers and a leek. I'm always cooking with leeks so I had to throw on in for good measure. We used the vegetables as a topping for our hot dogs. Even Sean enjoyed the vegetables, especially the onion because he had grown it. I have some leftovers for Harriet and me to enjoy with lunch today.

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Leaving LeanLiving Lean: 06/18/07

I did my initial pass of the book while we were staying at the Holiday Inn Express in Castro Valley thinking that our road would be repaved the next morning. When we heard that the weather had turned too cold and wet to do the paving we rushed home and in the process, I accidentally wild released Living Lean before I had a chance to reread it in greater detail. This review then will be initial impressions only.

The premise of Living Lean is that eating small meals (5 for women and 6 for me) that are low fat, high fiber and protein will boost one's metabolism to make weight loss easier. Oddly enough the suggested eating schedule (and many of the recipes) are identical to what pregnant and nursing women are told to eat. Perhaps the book should be retitled Eating Like You're Pregnant.

The main foods touted in the book are chicken breasts, eggs and whole grain bread. Readers are also told to avoid box cereal in the morning and to avoid ice cream for dessert. Frankly most of the book's eating routine I'm already doing and not because of this book. I'm doing it from the suggestion of two different nutritionists through my health plan.

The problems I had with the book were the assumptions made by the author. I don't eat for comfort. I don't starve myself to get thin (because I know it doesn't work). I don't snack throughout the day. Frankly if I ate as many eggs as this book suggests, I'd puke.

Living Lean is one of many books and other "products" in the Larry North system. While the book's advice seemed to be fairly level-headed, it's still just a money making device.

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Sixteen Short NovelsOld Man: 06/17/07

I picked up Sixteen Short Novels at the September BookCrossing meeting last year. Yes; I went a week postpartum and Harriet went too. My goal is to read and review each of these short novels but if I do it all at once I'll only get this one massive book read for quite some time. Instead, I'll concentrate on each novel separately and count each one as its own book just as I did for the four novellas in Four Past Midnight. At that rate I figure I can read about three of these short novels a month and I should have the book ready for release by Harriet's first birthday.

"Old Man" I've now read twice and neither time have I read it in its full context. The first time I read it, it was part of The Famous Short Novels which I read and released through BookCrossing but didn't review on this blog. I've since done some research on "Old Man" and have learned that it is actually part of a longer and more typical Faulkner novel, If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem, consisting of two different but complimentary narratives: "The Wild Palms" and "Old Man". Some reviews say these two narratives are separate novellas and an equal number says that the two are one novel and can't be separated out as unique stories (even though a variety of book editors would disagree).

From my BookCrossing review I can see that last time I didn't like the book. I know that when I read it I was rushed and also suffering from the early stages of morning sickness (although I didn't know it at the time). With both readings I picked up on a O Brother Where Art Thou? vibe, the only difference being that this time I found the story humorous and entertaining.

I don't know if I've matured as a reader in 18 months or I was just in the right mind set but this second reading of "Old Man" was the first time that I really felt like I understood what all the fuss was about William Faulkner as a writer.

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IanCherry Plum Pie: 06/17/07

Today is Father's Day. We didn't exactly do anything extra special for Ian except that I let him sleep in (he normally lets me sleep in) and I made him plum and cherry pie for dessert. Cherry pie is Ian's favorite dessert and with the cherries in season and with our Japanese plum tree full of ripe fruit, it was the perfect way to treat him today.

On Friday Sean's school hosted a Fathers' Day party but it wasn't as good as the Mothers' Day tea according to Sean because the pizza was boring cheese only pizza and there wasn't a piñata.

Here is how I make cherry and plum pie:

The crust:

2 cups (and a bit extra for good luck) of flour
1 1/2 sticks of butter, softened at room temperature
8 to 10 Tbs of cold water
cinnamon, nutmeg or all spice to taste

To mix the crust to the perfect consistency, use your fingers to break up the butter into the flour until it is evenly mixed. Trust me, it is significantly easier to judge a crust's readiness with one's fingers than with a spoon or other mixing device! Toss in some cinnamon or other pie spice to give an extra kick to the crust. Then spoon the water and finish mixing with fingers. It's a messy but efficient process.

Divide up the crust into two balls for the bottom and top crusts. Roll them out on a floured surface. If you've mixed the crust correctly it will roll out the first time without sticking to the pin or to the surface.

The pie filling:

2 cups of freshly pitted cherries
1 cup of freshly pitted Japanese plums (or 2 or 3 regulars sized plums, diced)
1/2 cup sugar
4 Tbs corn starch
enough water to cover the fruit

Start with fresh fruit and pit them. It can take up to a half an hour to cut all the fruit and it will get juice every where but it is worth the effort. Dump the fruit into a sauce pan with the water, corn starch and sugar. Cook on a medium heat for 20 minutes or so and then set it aside to cool.

Putting the pie together: Roll out the crusts, dump in the pie into the bottom crust and the plop the top crust on top. Pinch together. Break the surface with a few fork pricks.

Bake at 375° F for 35 minutes. Don't worry about covering the edges with foil. Let cool before serving. Yummy!

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Lucky ManLucky Man: 06/16/07

Another theme (besides medicine) that is popping up in my recent reading is Canada. I've read more books about Canada, Canadians and stories taking place in Canada. Michael J. Fox's memoir, Lucky Man, falls under both categories: medicine (for his thoughts on living with Parkinson's Disease) and Canada (born in Edmonton, Alberta). Lucky Man also qualifies as one of the best books I've read this year.

Fox begins his memoir with his diagnosis of young-onset Parkinson's Disease but the book isn't just about living with PD but about all the ups and downs of his life and who he has grown as a person. He covers his childhood, growing up as a military brat on various bases throughout Canada, his closeness with his grandmother, and his interest in both rock and roll and acting.

Of course the meat of the book is Fox's experience with PD (and the main reason why I wanted to read it, having known so many people with the disease). Fox writes with brutal honesty about his denial of the situation, using alcohol to deal with the news, and trying to use his medications to hide the tremors in his hands to keep his career going (while keeping the PD a secret).

The book though, is not a sob story or a pity party Fox isn't asking for sympathy. The book seems to have been a form of personal therapy (from reading the Acknowledgements at the back of the book). That people want to read his memoir seems to both humble him and amaze him. If you are interested in the actor, or know some with PD, or both, read Lucky Man.

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DoctorsDoctors: 06/15/07

I'm continuing with May's nonfiction trend. June seems to be heavy on medical books, both fiction and nonfiction. Doctors, is a series of essays (newspaper articles, I think) about different Canadian doctors. A variety of skills and fields are covered in this book but the author's own interpretations of his interviewees' perspectives gets in the way. While reading the book I felt too much like a captive audience forced to listen to O'Malley's views on life, politics, religion and so forth. O'Malley's essays fall into a common trap of nonfiction writing; he makes them too much about himself rather than the people he's covering.

I did come away learning a few things about doctors. I learned that the medical profession has a higher than average suicide rate (except among pediatricians who are the happiest of the lot). Drug and alcohol abuse is high and self esteem among doctors sucks. Basically it's a high stress field with "no margin of error" (that quote comes from Lucky Man).

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Justice HallJustice Hall: 06/14/07

Whenever I think of the Holmes and Russel series that started with The Beekeeper's Apprentice, I think of trains. I read the first five of the series on Amtrak going up and down from Los Angeles to San Diego to visit my parents. When we were making the big move up to the Bay Area from South Pasadena, my mother gave me her copy of Justice Hall (in the pre-BookCrossing days) and I've only just now taken it off my shelf in the interest of reading for fun.

Justice Hall stands well on its own but does refer back to two previous books: The Moor and O Jerusalem. Russel and Holmes are invited to Justice Hall by friends met in O Jerusalem to help investigate the death of the young man who should have been the next duke.

The book takes a little too long separating out the personas of the brothers when they live abroad (Bedouins Ali and Mahmoud Hazr) versus their more genteel personas (Alistair and Marsh) when at home in Justice Hall. Once Russel starts to investigate the history behind Justice Hall and the death of the youngest heir, the story comes alive. King captures the brutality of WWI and how it swept across all facets of British life.

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Teaching Your Children ValuesTeaching Your Children Values: 06/13/07

I got Teaching Your Children Values from the now defunct relay site. It's not a book I would normally purchase and I got it mostly for giggles. It ended up being better than I feared it would but I can't imagine actually trying any of the authors' step by step programs. We just aren't that regimented a family.

The book is broken up into twelve chapters with a new value to teach each month of the year. Along with the practical advice and personal reflections from various family members, the book has charts and games one is supposed to play with one's family. These role playing games are supposed to teach the values that I guess the children won't otherwise be able to learn. Somehow just plain old talking to my children seemed to work just fine.

To the book's credit, it doesn't bring God or religion into the mix nor does it suggest dumbing down the important talks about sex and other adult stuff. The frankness of the authors on the tougher topics and their practical advice about listening to children and teaching by example make this parenting advice book a step above the average parenting book.

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The Liveliest ArtThe Liveliest Art: 06/12/07

The Liveliest Art by Arthur Knight covers the history of filmmaking from the early days of photography through the establishment of television. The book is at its best when covering the history of American cinema and the business of Hollywood and of the Movie Theater business.

Knight though, takes a manifest destiny approach to history writing, seeing all the developments worldwide were designed to make Hollywood possible and to make American cinema better than any other country. One quote that sums up the whole attitude of the book is: "No one can out Hollywood Hollywood."

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Harriet at Nine Months: 06/12/07

Ian and I took Harriet in for her 9 month well baby appointment. Harriet was shy around the new nurse but once her doctor arrived she was her usually chatty and curious self. She clapped, laughed, answered a few questions (as well a baby can).

Harriet is growing just fine. She right in the middle of the curve for height, in the 25th percentile for weight (compared to Sean who was at the 5th percentile until he hit three-years-old). Her head circumference is in the 95th percentile but that's no surprise. Ian, Sean and I all have big heads.

Her doctor had no problems with her early weaning, her eating table foods and drinking watered-down juice and whole milk. She's on track to be twenty pounds by her first birthday so we can then turn around her car seat around to face forward.

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Be Buried in the RainBe Buried in the Rain: 06/11/07

Be Buried in the Rain is a fairly typical Barbara Michaels book with a bachelor-girl protagonist who has been estranged from her family but now forced to return home during a family crisis. In this case, Julie Newcomb must return to the crumbling family plantation to care for her ailing grandmother.

While there she must help her estranged boyfriend uncover the mystery of two skeletons found on the side of the road while Julie receives threats to her life from all fronts. With a small cast of characters and a limited area of scenes, there aren't many options for who could be threatening Julie or the mystery behind the bones. For the observant and alert reader, the mystery will be easy to solve. Nonetheless, the book is an enjoyable light read; something to take on a trip.

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A Thousand Days in TuscanyA Thousand Days in Tuscany: 06/10/07

A Thousand Days in Tuscany, the sequel to A Thousand Days in Venice finds Marlena and Fernando moved from the bustle of Venice to the quiet countryside of Tuscany. While they try to find their piece with the seasonal rhythms of the village, they also balk at convention, trying to bring their own version of rural life to fruition. For example, Marlena to the astonishment of her neighbors, has a wood oven built in her yard so she can make her own bread.

A Thousand Days in Venice is a more hectic book with the clashing of American and Italian culture and the race to get married. There is also the underlying question of Marlena's sanity in marrying a man she barely knows, having just met in on a business trip to Venice. All those distractions are gone in the sequel. Save for a brief moment where Marlena questions her decision to remarry and then to move the countryside, the book is more just a leisurely observation of life in her new home, a taste of the local recipes (many of which are included in the book) and an introduction to the local customs.

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HarrietHarriet's Teeth: 06/10/07

Ian and foolishly stayed up too late last night. Then as we were calling it a night, Harriet woke up crying. It's very rare for her to cry at night but never a good thing. She had a number of complaints and it took two hours to get all of the addressed and her settled into bed again.

Her first complaint was constipation. It's a side affect of her so whole-heartedly adopting "table food" in her diet. We changed her, cleaned her up and then gave her a bottle to hydrate her enough to hopefully get things working again (which by this morning had worked).

Her second complaint was her teeth. She's clearly working on her bottom right molars. I can just feel them below the surface. She's chewing on everything again and drooling nonstop.

Finally, she was hungry or perhaps still thirsty. So two hours after she initially woke up, we gave her a second bottle. She gulped it down and then was finally happy enough to go back to bed.

If she were our only child, we would have been able to sleep in until eight this morning. We of course, have Sean. He had managed to sleep through all of Harriet's crying and shouting last night and was up at seven. Since Ian and I weren't about to budge from bed, he crawled into our bed between us for an hour.

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The Forest LoverThe Forest Lover: 06/09/07

Susan Vreeland seems to have made a niche for herself writing historical fiction based around women who were artists. In The Forest Lover, she covers the career of Emily Carr, a Canadian artist who imported the Fauvist style to capture the landscape, people and totems of western Canada.

I enjoyed watching Emily grow as an artist and her drive to learn as much as she could about art and painting while still staying true to her own convictions. I smiled at her frustration at being confused for being an American while traveling and studying abroad as it was a nice follow up to How to be a Canadian.

Unfortunately the book suffers from an abundance of tragedy. For every triumph that Carr has, her friend Sophie must suffer. I am not questioning the real life losses of Sophie Frank but her life in this novel is so intricately tied to Carr's rise to fame that her life becomes an overdone liet motif.

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Cherry PieHarriet Gets Ready for School: 06/09/07

Now that Harriet is 9 months old, she's getting to the age where she's really craving some one her own age to play with. Since I do have to work during the day, we've decided to send her to a nearby day care twice a week. She will have time to play in a family setting with a little girl who is also 9 months old. This other girl is already mobile and hopefully she'll teach Harriet a few tricks.

Tuesday is Harriet's well baby appointment. When we go we'll ask for a print out of her immunizations to give to the school. It's nice to have the option of only doing day care part time unlike with Sean who had to go full time when I was working at Oracle and for the first couple of years at my current job. The telecommuting gives an added flexibility to my life and I've been enjoying Harriet's company.

Her new "school" requires we provide a place for her to sleep. Last year we gave away the big play pen but the thing was huge and we had no plans to use it with Harriet (after Sean didn't like it so much). So today we found a travel bed which just unfolds and pops open. The edges are short enough that once she learns to walk she'll be able to get into it herself. It folds up small enough that it won't take up a lot of space in the day care either.

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How to be a CanadianHow to be a Canadian: 06/08/07

How to be a Canadian is a humorous look at all things Canadian. The book is short and broken up by topics covering thinks like Canadian English / Canadian French, the geography, history and so forth. The book was written by Canadians for Canadians but is also very funny for its quips about American culture.

The book is funny enough to read out loud. I read most of it to Ian. It's especially funny to us since Ian's brother and sister-in-law are now living in British Columbia.

Some of my favorite pieces involved ways to spot the American in disguise (saying 'huh' instead of 'eh') and the jokes about the difference provinces. The description of PEI is perfect (it's run by Anne the dictator).

So if you know a Canadian, are a Canadian or want to be a Canadian, get yourself a copy of this book.

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Sixteen Short NovelsThe Fall: 06/08/07

I picked up Sixteen Short Novels at the September BookCrossing meeting last year. Yes; I went a week postpartum and Harriet went too. My goal is to read and review each of these short novels but if I do it all at once I'll only get this one massive book read for quite some time. Instead, I'll concentrate on each novel separately and count each one as its own book just as I did for the four novellas in Four Past Midnight. At that rate I figure I can read about three of these short novels a month and I should have the book ready for release by Harriet's first birthday.

I have to admit that this compilation is starting to become a chore to read. I've read other works by Camus and enjoyed them. I can't say that of "The Fall." It's written in the same style as "Notes from Underground" in that it is a one on one dialog with the assumed reader of the novel. This type of narrative rarely works well and it certainly didn't work here for me.

When all the window dressing is pulled away from this thankfully short novel (only about 50 pages), the story comes down to nothing more than a recollection of the narrators "fall" from grace and his exile.

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The Time of Our SingingThe Time of Our Singing: 06/07/07

The Time of Our Singing follows the musical career of one brother as told by another. It's a family drama spread over many decades from the marriage of the boy's parents (a German Jew and a black women who met while singing) and goes up to present day.

I liked the premise of the story and Richard Powers has a masterful control over his prose. Unfortunately, his chosen motif, music, is drawn out as an all-encompassing metaphor for all the problems and triumphs of the characters in the book. As the story progresses, the plot strains under the imposed metaphor and the book loses its tempo and staggers to an unsatisfying end.

Even with this novel's faults, Powers is a strong enough writer that I want to try at least one more of his books. I think that The Time of Our Singing was a noble experiment that just didn't work for me as a reader.

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Patterns of CulturePatterns of Culture: 06/06/07

When I was a teen and had a $20 a week allowance, I didn't use the money on clothes or music. Instead I used the bulk of my funds on books. One of those early acquisitions was a 1957 copy of Patterns of Culture. I got it simply because it looked interesting. It was until recently that I realized this book is a classic in its field.

Patterns of Culture tries to separate the assumptions of one culture from its study of another culture. The book starts with a lengthy thesis of cultural relativism. She explains it as the importance of culture and tradition and how it must be taken as a part of the whole study of any given group of people.

The later chapters are cast studies, mostly from various Native American tribes. I remember picking this book up for these chapters. At the time of the purchase I was especially interested in the Navajo and Pueblo cultures.

The chapter on the menstruation huts links up nicely with another book I read in May, The Forest Lover by Susan Vreeland. Reading Benedict's book first helped me better understand the setting of Vreeland's novel.

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The Very Busy SpiderThe Very Busy Spider: 06/05/07

Now that Harriet is older and enjoying books, I've started reading her Sean's old board books. One of her current favorites is The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle.

The book introduces children to a variety of animals, the concept of time and of the importance of seeing a task to completion. The spider in question carefully builds her web over the course of a day and is rewarded at the end with a fly for dinner.

Harriet enjoys the book for the textured web (done with a gel paint), the bright colors and the repetition of words. She's also partial to the page with the cat. Although the words are nearly the same on each page, there are enough changes on each page to make the book a bit of a tongue twister for parents reading the book out loud.

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PawmistryPawmistry: 06/05/07

Pawmistry is a bookring I signed up for during a bout of pregnancy induced stupidity. That's the only sensible explanation for why I'd sign up to read as silly a book as this one. I'm not one normally interested in palmistry, let alone pawmistry and if I were insane enough to try pawmistry on Caligula she would tear my hands to shreds.

The second half of this thankfully short book covers the astrological signs and how they relate to cats. While it's every so slightly possible to get some personality vibes off a person's zodiac sign (just from the sheer number of people who believe in it enough to act accordingly!), cats are cats. Sure they have personalities but they don't give a damn about what sign they were born under.

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Harriet and John discuss Harriet's footSan Diego Trip Day 4: Dinner: 06/05/07

For our last dinner in San Diego, Mom invited Eddie (my grandfather) and John (my brother) over for dinner. Harriet was her usual charming self and spent time chatting and flirting with both. At dinner Harriet had fun trying everything while Sean did his usual stare glumly at the plate and ask just how many scoops he had to suffer through.

It was nice to have all the immediately family together except for my dad who was up on "the hill" working the antique shop during the holiday.

After everyone said goodnight we finished our laundry, packed our bags and got the car as loaded as we could for the early drive home the next day. What we hoped would be a nine or ten hour drive turned out to be a twelve hour drive.

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Left-Hander's HandbookLeft-Hander's Handbook: 06/04/07

The Left-Hander's Handbook contains four previous published humorous looks at what it means to be left-handed. These books are: The Left-Handed Book (1966), The Natural Superiority of the Left-Hander (1979), The World's Greatest Left-Handers (1985) and Left-Handed Kids (1989).

The book has its humorous moments but there's a lot of repetition and the book's main shtick is how hard it is to be left-handed in a right-handed world. Having been left-handed all my life, it just isn't that hard. I don't feel prejudiced against. I don't find it hard to learn how to use new tools in a way that won't injure me.

On a side note, left-handedness has been an issue with the recent Wii version of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Link in all the previous games has been left-handed but now that the wiimote requires both hands to play the game and it's really easier to play with a right-handed configuration, Nintendo has mirrored all of the animation so that Link in the Wii version is now right-handed. Apparently the man who designed the games is left-handed and Nintendo wanted his okay before making this change.

People who know me and know I'm a fan of the game, have asked me how I feel about the change. My reaction: Link is left-handed? Yup, I'd never noticed. I figure for the Wii version, Link is just showing the world that's ambidextrous.

So back to the book, it's a quick read. You'll get a few laughs out of it but if you're a right-hander looking for insight into the mind of the left-hander, you won't find it here. We just like so many other minorities really aren't that different.

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PompeiiPompeii: 06/04/07

The title is the largest spoiler of the entire book. Going into the book one knows to expect a big volcanic eruption at the end. A better title would have been The Aquarius as it is more about the aqueduct's engineering team and their search for the problems in the water supply.

Of course the problems stem from the volcano gearing up for an eruption but it otherwise reads like a mystery. The volcano doesn't really play a part until the last few pages, ending the book as forcefully and quickly as the real eruption ended Pompeii all those centuries ago.

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Water Conservation GardenSan Diego Trip Day 4: Gardens: 06/04/07

On our last full day in San Diego, Mom took Sean, Harriet and me to the Water Conversation Garden next to Cuyamaca College. The gardens show all the beautiful things that can grow in an arid environment without needing a lot of water. Sean and I had fun seeing things we have growing in our garden at home.

One of the first places we stopped at was the children's garden. It's a sandbox with pots and fake flowers for the kids to plant. Sean and Harriet had fun playing together in sand. Soon a bunch of older children joined and Harriet was thrilled to be playing with them.

My favorite piece was the herb garden. I liked that they let the herbs go to seed to attract the local insects. I let them do that at home and we've gotten the most wonderful variety of bees, butterflies and birds.

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Private EyesPrivate Eyes: 06/02/07

Private Eyes is the sixth in a series of thrillers staring Dr. Alex Delaware. This book is the first in the lot that I've attempted to read and will be the last. I don't normally stop reading a book since I read so quickly but this book didn't hold my attention enough to even both speed reading it.

The premise for this book is that Dr. Delaware is visited by a patient he hasn't seen in 10 years and now he has to help her again face her fears. Her mother had been brutally attacked which caused her to have a whole bunch of phobias. These phobias she then passed on to her daughter. Now that the man who attacked is out of prison and on the move, the patient is once again afraid.

If this were any normal thriller, the weird stuff would have started by page twenty or so. Not here. No, we have to suffer through endless medical reports instead of getting either plot or characterization. By page 100 or so where nothing had yet happened, I gave up.

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University HeightsSan Diego Trip Day 3: Coffee: 06/02/07

After a lovely hour at the beach we raced home for lunch before my best friend would be picking me up for coffee. Ian was also returned for lunch having ordered a replacement cell phone (on warranty!).

Alice arrived a little early with her boyfriend (the first one I've met in years). He was roped into being our chauffeur since Ian needed the car.

We went to Twiggs Coffee in University Heights, Alice's haunting ground. I'm more of a "north county" gal so I was glad I wasn't driving myself to a neighborhood I barely know. The only piece of the area I know is Adams Avenue for the antique stores.

Since Harriet wasn't with me and I since I wasn't juggling a pile of books as I do at the BookCrossing meetings, I ordered a latte. So what if it was hotter than blazes outside? I wanted a hot milky coffee; and it was good!

While the coffee was brewing, I spotted a bookshelf at the other end of the store. Even through the dim light I could spot a few of the Ballycumber stickers and knew I had found a stash of wild released BookCrossing books! Of the dozen or so books there, I picked up East of the Mountains by David Guterson.

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Mind the GaffeMind the Gaffe: 06/01/07

Mind the Gaffe is a humorous but useful look at common errors in English and the acceptable differences between American and British English (and sometimes other dialects too). The book is presented in alphabetical order and is very easy to use.

The best part of the book though is Trask's comments on many of the entries. If a rule strikes him as odd, he'll note his feelings. If the rule doesn't have any sensible reason, he'll write: "the word is so spelled."

As with every book I've read that compares American and British culture, I noticed a few inconsistent or incorrect (at least for California) entries but far fewer than I have in other books. I think it must be impossible to write a comprehensive comparison between the two dialects because of the numerous regional differences.

The copy I have is a BookCrossing copy so I will release it soon. I think though in the future I'll probably get a copy for my personal collection; the book is that good!

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San Diego Trip Day 3: Beach: 06/01/07

After a lovely breakfast of scrambled eggs and a morning nap for Harriet, Mom took Sean, Harriet and me to La Jolla Shores. Ian's mobile phone had died sometime during the trip and he needed our car to track down a replacement phone. Putting Harriet's car seat into Mom's bug was no joke!

As it was the middle of the Memorial Day weekend, we didn't expect to find a spot to park. Amazingly we were able drive right up to the parking lot as another car was leaving. An hour later when we headed home for lunch, cars were double and triple parked!

We decided not to go in the water. Sean mostly wanted to play with his new sand toys and Harriet was happiest playing with Sean (and steeling his toys when he wasn't looking). So we sat on the surfing side of the beach (more room) and watched the surfers, the pelicans and the two advertising planes flying at the horizon.

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