I'm glad I read Barometer Rising by Hugh Maclennan before I read A Wedding in December because the comparison between the Halifax explosion and the destruction of the World Trade Center was a central theme of the book. Like Barometer Rising, Shreve divides her chapters by the days of the week. As her book takes place over the course of a weekend, she only has three main sections: Friday, Saturday and Sunday, to Maclennan's seven days.
It is through Agnes's writing though that the main connections are drawn. Agnes spends her free time before the wedding of Bridget and Bill writing her own fictional account of the Halifax explosion told from the point of view of a woman named Innes who is as strong and capable as Maclennan's protagonist.
Were it not for the interesting comparison between two real life tragedies, I would have been bored and frustrated by the book. All of these baby boomer characters are selfish and self-absorbed, thinking only of their own well-being and not about how their actions affect their loved ones. They are having affairs or otherwise cheating on loved ones not present at the wedding. Bridget, the bride, is "the other woman", Bill having left his wife to marry her. The fact that she has cancer is somehow supposed to make this marriage acceptable but it didn't for me.
Whenever I go to a BookCrossing meeting in Dublin I have to stop by the library discard shelf to see if there are any good children's books. At July's meeting I found a bunch of books from the 1960s and 1970s. Mr. Meebles was one of those books. I picked it up because the cover art reminded me of the artwork from my childhood that I had enjoyed. I thought the two books might have been by the same author or illustrator but that's not the case.
Nonetheless, Mr. Meebles is a delightful book about the importance of balancing imagination with real life responsibilities. Mr. Meebles is the creation of a little boy whose imagination is strong enough to bring him to life but only when he's being actively thought about. Disturbed by the boy's ever growing responsibilities especially in the form of homework and chores, Mr. Meebles asks for his freedom. He wants to be able to exist without relying on the boy's imagination.
The boy's reaction to Mr. Meebles's request and Meebles's fate are the crux of the book. I liked how things are resolved but I don't want to spoil the ending!
I know... I know... It's taking just about forever to get through our trip. The trip only lasted three days and I'm still writing about it three weeks later. Oh well. What can I say? We had fun.
We had lunch after our trip to the museum at the Beachside Bar and Cafe at the edge of the Goleta Beach Pier. The last time we ate here was 1999 during our anniversary. We were in the middle of our move up to the Bay Area from South Pasadena. Most times we didn't stop while schlepping our stuff but it was our anniversary and we were in need of a break to keep our sanity.
We tried once in 2002 to stop for lunch with Sean but the entire beach was without power. No power meant no ability to cook. So we were out of luck. We ended up playing on the sand for a few minutes and then heading up the freeway for lunch somewhere else.
Sunday the 15th, the restaurant was happily open and there wasn't much of a line even though the place was packed for lunch. We quickly got a seat inside by the window with a perfect view of the beach. Harriet and I shared a Cobb salad (though not a traditional dressing, one with a lime based one instead). Ian had a bowl of their chowder in a bread bowl (a favorite of his) and Sean had a quesadilla on a cute blue and white fish shaped dish. We had as lovely a lunch as our dinner the night before at CPK.
Sometimes when I'm reading a book I feel as if a black hole is sitting just out of view sucking up the words and plot that should be going into my mind. No matter how slowly or attentively I read these books, nothing seems to stick beyond the first couple of pages. The Day of Jackal is the most recent book I've "read" to do this to me. This phenomenon isn't something I can pin down to a certain genre, author or time period nor have I found any way of counter acting the problem no matter how much I want to enjoy the book.
The Day of the Jackal should have been an enjoyable read to me. It is a political thriller and a "what-if" book like Roth's The Plot Against America. Somehow though the pacing of the book made it feel more like a very dry book report and I just couldn't focus enough on the book to care if the Jackal succeeded or not. I know this book is a well respected book but it frankly didn't do much for me.
Other books that have repeated fallen into the black hole (even if I have enjoyed other works by the same author) include:
Sean is a huge fan of Eric Carle's book and has probably read more of them at school than we have together at home. When I saw a copy of From Head to Toe at the library discard shelf, I had to snatch it up for his collection.
The book asks children to move with the animals in the book. Each page shows first an animal doing a motion and then an illustrated child doing the same thing. For example: "I am a penguin and I can turn my head. Can you do it?" The child replies, "I can do it!" This book is most fun when moving along with the children in the book. Sean has great fun demonstration the different positions and I think he's had lots of practice with a school copy.
Sean's favorite page is the donkey because it kicks and he practices "donkey kicks" in his weekly gymnastics class. I have to be sure to allow him plenty of room to kick when we get to this page!
I read Skye Cameron as a bonus volume for the Southern Reading Challenge. Since it takes place in New Orleans in the post-Civil War reconstruction era, the book certainly qualifies for the challenge. It and Wish You Were Here are tied for two of my least favorite reads for the challenge.
Skye Cameron is a yank, and specifically a New Englander of a liberal father and an ex-southern belle who has somehow found happiness in a life style completely different than what she was used to. Skye takes after her father in her liberal ideas and her red hair. She is a disappointment to her mother and the apple of her father's eye.
Unfortunately for Skye (and for the reader) the book takes a disappointing turn when the father falls and breaks his back, ending up paralyzed and unable to care for the family. For a character set up as loving her home state and being self sufficient, Skye does the unthinkable and suggests to her family that they move back to New Orleans to live with her mother's family.
Thus begins nearly two hundred pages of Skye's struggle against the patriarchy of southern gentile society. Although she supposedly rebels throughout the book she is merely choosing one male master for another and slowly but surely coming to accept this horrible way of life as both normal and preferable to her life in New England.
All I have to say to the premise and to Skye's "growth" from a girl to a woman is: bletch!
Years of writing obituaries has made Jack Tagger obsessed with death. Give him an age and he'll tell you who died. He's also a music fan and a frustrated old-school journalist. So when he sees that James Stomarti, lead singer of the Slut Puppies, has died he has to pursue the story.
Basket Case has the humor and wit of Hoot but is written for an adult audience (for themes of sex, drugs and rock-and-roll though without being very explicit). I think teens will still enjoy Basket Case (I certainly would have!) and anyone who enjoys Jimmy Buffett's books will find a similar style of writing (and setting) in Basket Case.
Although the basic mystery of what happened to Jimmy Stoma is pretty straight forward, there are still enough twists and surprises to make for a rewarding page turner. My favorite character in book besides Jack Tagger who was a little morbid for me at times was Janet, Jimmy's sister. She's gum chewing, web-cam entrepreneur who is smarter and more sentimental than she lets on.
Imagine coming across a mound of papers scattered across a desk or perhaps dumped in a box. Imagine that these papers span decades and are letters, interviews, journals and other correspondence. Now imagine that the only way to make any sense of them is to pick up and read each and every page. Now you know what it's like to read The Egyptologist.
It's by no means an easy book to read. There are 416 pages of in a tiny typeface with no chapter breaks and no rhyme or reason to how the information is presented save for a slight thematic progression. At the heart of the book is the mystery of what happened to the Egyptologist, Ralph Trilipush, and did he find the Atum-hadu's tomb?
I have to admit struggling with this book. I'm normally a fast reader but I could only handle about ten or so pages at a time before I had to stop and think about what I'd just read. The ending which some reviewers on Amazon have said was obvious to them half way through, took me by complete surprise and was very satisfying for all the work I put into reading the book.
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History: 07/25/07
Sunday, July 15, was our only full day in Santa Barbara. The kids got us up early at 7 and we quickly dressed and had breakfast in the meeting room by the pool. It made me smile sitting at the same table as back in 2001 when I was newly pregnant with Sean. Now we had a full table with two boisterous kids.
We headed down to Santa Barbara and up the hill towards the mission. The Natural History Museum is behind the Santa Barbara Mission in a beautiful forest of California live oaks. We got there a few minutes before the museum opened but Sean spotted a bug and watching it crawl along the tiles was enough entertainment while we waited.
The first thing we did was visit the "Butterflies Alive" exhibit. Sean and I had fun taking photographs of the butterflies. We got some of the best butterfly photographs we've ever managed to take.
The museum also has a small but modern planetarium. The man running the show knew all about the recent reclassification of Pluto and the discovery of the dwarf planets. The best part was that the show wasn't scripted. Harriet was a little freaked by the planetarium at first but Ian got her calmed down to enjoy the show.
Never Nosh a Matzo Ball is another of those early BookCrossing books that I've had sitting on my shelf for far too long. I finally decided it was time to read it and I'm glad that I did.
Kevin, the replacement rabbi for the temple in Eternal Texas is getting married. Meanwhile, his temple is hosting an interfaith seder featuring diet matzo balls but something isn't kosher at the fat farm in charge of making the matzo balls. Can the former rabbi's widow sort things out and survive wedding of the new rabbi?
The odd mixture of Austin and Jewish cultures made for a humorous cast of characters. Were it not for the odd assortment of characters, Never Nosh a Matzo Ball would be a fairly routine cozy mystery. My favorite character is the wedding coordinator, Ardis, because my grandmother was a wedding coordinator and had to work with other coordinators brought along by various wedding parties. Ardis's meddling in things really made me laugh.
Sean says Never Nosh a Matzo Ball is a yucky book because it has a man with a giant matzo ball on his shirt (follow the link to Amazon to see the full cover). The man on the cover is Coach Boagie and how his death relates to matzo balls is the keystone of the mystery.
An underground transformer failed around 2 PM and restored at 3:30 PM today according to various online sources. From a user point of view, it meant one of my favorite sites was suddenly failing: Livejournal. Typepad and livejournal are two blogging options run by Six Apart. The current status page says that the Typepad database is up and running but Livejournal is still down with no ETA on its recovery.
Other sites that were affected include: CNet (currently back up), Craigslist SF (back up), Technorati (back up), netflix (back up), alexa (backup), and yelp (back up). Of all the sites temporarily inconvenienced by the blackout only Six Apart still has sites that aren't up.
In this day and age of cheap hard drives and oodles of bandwidth, it's surprising that such globally visible sites could be taking down so easily by a power outage. Data can be backed up to server banks in remote locations. These can provide load balancing and backup for when locations are hit by power outages. The power has now been on for four hours yet and all of livejournal is still black.
According to livejournal's stats (reading from a recent Google cache), there are users who are:
And I bet a few of them are a bit peeved right now. To be down this long is an embarrassment. I hope Six Apart learns from today's blackout and makes better plans for maintaining uptime in future outages. How will the site manage if another major earthquake hits?
Books (and snake) in hand from our trip to Chaucer's, we stopped at Paseo Nuevo for dinner. While there are many wonderful local restaurants at Santa Barbara, we opted for California Pizza Kitchen for two reasons: sentimentality and a menu that is kid friendly.
Paseo Nuevo opened the year before we started at UCSB but it really didn't take off until the 101 freeway bridge over State street opened in 1991. In the last year of our time at UCSB, the cook from our dorm got a better job as a chef at the Paseo Nuevo CPK. We started to go on dates to CPK to say hi to Juan when he was working.
So when we were looking for dinner on our first night of our vacation, CPK seemed liked the perfect place. We wanted to give Sean and Harriet a taste of what our lives were like back when we were college students and dating. We figure we'll treat the kids to a fancier experience when they're older and we're better settled financially.
We had a lovely dinner. Sean and Harriet were wonderful and we cleaned our plates. We learned that Harriet likes garlic and chicken. We had a table out of the way of the foot traffic so we could sit and enjoy without worrying about the kids being too loud or about Harriet's high chair being in the way.
On the walls the restaurant has hung artistically painted pizza boxes. Each box has a different theme. As it's been more than 2 years since I've eaten in a CPK, I don't know if the pizza box art installations are a chain wide thing or just a local decoration. Regardless, I like it! Some of them were very beautiful.
I picked up Sixteen Short Novels at the September BookCrossing meeting last year. I'm ahead of schedule for my September deadline. I might get the book finished in time for the August meeting which is on the fourteenth.
"My Mortal Enemy" by Willa Cather is the next in the book and the first piece by Cather I've ever read. In about 20,000 words it chronicles the rise and fall of the marriage of Myra Driscoll and Oswald Henshawe from the point of view of young Nelly Birdseye who must balance the stories she heard of Myra with the truth she is painfully confronted with.
While Nelly is the narrator, Myra is the protagonist. She is introduced as an irresponsible and spoiled woman but her happy marriage ends in poverty and pain, hinging on her Catholic faith. What the novel doesn't tell us is how the marriage turned sour. We are left to guess from the few glimpses we've seen of Myra through Nelly's eyes.
For another take on "My Mortal Enemy", I highly recommend the review posted at The Occasional Review.
Guards! Guards!Guards! Guards! is the first of my finished books for the Beach Blanket Bonanza. It was a refreshing read (although not quite the escapism I was hoping for) after a spate of less than thrilling books (make that god-awful).
Guards! Guards! is the 8th Discworld series and the first in the City-Watch set. It introduces Vimes, Carrot, et al as recurring characters. In fact, all of the Discworld novels I've selected for this challenge are from the City-Watch set.
Carrot has endeared himself to me, putting himself on my short list of favorite Discworld characters (others include Rincewind, Death and Ook). Carrot is the antidote to the Garions of the fantasy genre. Carrot may start off naive and may be pushed towards his destiny but he manages to make his own life, something most characters in his position never manage (or even attempt).
The book didn't earn a perfect rating from because it suffers from many of things that annoy me about the Discworld books: lack of chapters, plot suffering for the sake of pun building, and lack of segues.
Our first stop in Santa Barbara was Chaucer's Books, one of the best independent booksellers we've been to. Chaucer's was a favorite place to go when we were students at UCSB and one of the few indies to survive and thrive the coming of the larger chain stores during State Street's renovation of the 1990s.
Chaucer's is nestled in the Loreto Plaza and has been since 1974. You really have to know they're there to find them. The little black cat silhouette isn't much of a clue to the uninitiated. After twelve years, we nearly drove by it ourselves!
Inside, though, is a well laid wall to wall labyrinth of books. Chaucer's is one of those rare stores where I can take a random page from my nine page long book wish list and find most of the books on the list. I felt like a kid in a candy store and had trouble settling one just one book. Fortunately though, Chaucer's has an online store through Booksense and I will be ordering future purchases off my wishlist from them!
So we gave everyone the option to get one book each. Sean, however, opted for a toy instead of a book and got a cute poseable snake. Ian got Applied Iterative Methods by Hageman and Young. I got The Secret River by Kate Grenville. Harriet got Buzz by Jane Isay.
Happily I can report that Fondling Your Muse was the last of my recent run of unenjoyable reads. This slim tome disguised as an exercise book for aspiring writers is actually a poor attempt at a parody of one of those how-to write books.
Apparently all one needs to do to write a parody is spend 6 years drunk in college while getting a BA and MFA . Then you too can tell really stupid jokes and get them published in a beautifully bound but otherwise pointless book. Whoopee!
Tomorrow I promise to write a real review. It will be on Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett which I'm sure most of you read ages ago.
Alas, my run of bad books continues. Unlike The Woman in White, I did manage to finish Abduction but mostly from a morbid curiosity to see just how bad the book could get. I read this book as part of the Medical Mystery Madness challenge but the book only just barely qualifies.
Abduction suffers from some Cook's typical weak one-note characterizations. In this case, it's the two rampant homophobes, the beautiful lady scientist, the nebishy entrepreneur and the nobel chauffer (excuse me, submarine pilot). Then there are the oh-so-perfect ever-so-advanced aliens beneath the surface who live for ever and have evloved beyond the need for sex, work or violence. Oh yeah, and they have space and time travel but have chosen to stay living in the Mohorovicic zone.
Coupled with the cardboard characterization is a nonsensical plot cribbed from a laundry list of much better speculative fiction.The bulk of the book is one long tour of a city in Interterra puncuated with bland attempts at homo-errotic sex scenes. Rather than suffering through Abduction, read these books (and one film) that should have been included in a bibliography:
Check in time on Saturday was 3PM. We wanted to get there as close to the check-in as possible to be sure we could get a crib for Harriet. They are first come first serve and previous hotel stays have taught us the importance of getting there early. We arrived at four and while we were out at dinner, housekeeping brought in Harriet's crib.
We stayed at the same place we've stayed (or that our parents have stayed) for twelve years whenever we've visited UCSB or Santa Barbara. The hotel is currently a Ramada. It's had a number of names and owners over the years but the features have stayed the same: comfy rooms, a beautiful koi pond, and a lovely Continental breakfast in the morning. The place also sometimes has a flock of ducks but we didn't see them during this trip.
We expected to have one of the rooms in the back (with no good view of the koi ponds) and possibly facing the parking lot. Instead, we were given a room next to the koi ponds and by the lobby. It was a heavenly room; so perfect for shepherding the children in and out!
The last time Ian and I stayed at the hotel was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in 2001. A driving rain storm had forced us to take the 101 on our trip down to Ian's family for Thanksgiving. By midnight, I was sick to my stomach (I never get car sick) and Ian was too tired drive any farther. We pulled into the Ramada for a room. I was roughly five weeks pregnant with Sean but I didn't know it yet.
I've not had a very successful run of book reading recently. I suppose after having so many page turners in a row, I was bound to hit some books that didn't entertain me or engage me. The Woman in White, a novel beloved my many, didn't do much for me. In fact, it earns its placement in a very short list of novels I haven't been inspired to finish reading.
The Woman in White with its epistolary narrative is reminiscent of Bleak House (1852) and shares many of the same flaws. Both are too long, have too many conflicting view points and too many inconsistencies to the plot. These similarities make sense given Collins friendship with Dickens and the fact that the book was originally serialized in Dickens's All Year Round magazine.
Buellton is another one of those cities on our list of "pit stops." Before I married Ian, I had never been to Buellton except when en route to it's next door neighbor, Solvang. Solvang was on my family's short list of vacation spots when I was a child.
Meanwhile, Ian grew up going to Buellton en route to other places to stop at Pea Soup Anderson's for the Traveler's Special. So when we were making our initial move up to the Bay Area from South Pasadena we ate a lot of soup at Pea Soup Anderson's (both in Buellton and in Santa Nella). Then before the kids were born we'd stop at for pea soup if we took the 101 down to see our family.
Since moving to the East Bay and having easier access to the I5, we haven't stopped in Buellton as frequently as we used to. We did, however, stop on our Saturday drive down to Santa Barbara. Ian had been driving since King City but he hadn't slept well and really wasn't up to finishing the drive. So we stopped for refreshments while the kids slept in the back and then I took over. Since we were almost to our destination, we didn't stop for soup.
Wish You Were Here has been sitting on my to be read shelf since 2003. I got it originally for a cat themed book box that was making the rounds in BookCrossing but that box never made it to me. So I read Wish You Were Here for the Southern Reading Challenge that is going on right now.
If I didn't know anything about Rita Mae Brown, I'd just toss this book aside as an overly-cute talking dog and cat mystery solving duo. It's an abysmal book full of cliches, wooden dialogue and the two most annoying talking animals to grace the pages of a book I've read in a long time. I'm surprised the book went on to spawn a long lived series of mysteries because I would certainly not want to revisit any of the characters in Wish You Were Here!
Then there's Brown, the author. She's a long time activist for a whole bunch of causes near and dear to my heart. Harry and the rest of the characters in this book are so boring and bland that I have a mental disconnect seeing them coming from her pen (or word processor, or whatnot).
Oh well, the book is now read (and it was torture!) and can now be released via BookCrossing.
When traveling on the 101 to or from the Bay Area, King City is the obvious first or last stop depending on the direction traveled. Usually we stop there at night to refuel, stretch our legs, get a drink and take care of other needs. On Saturday, though, we left early enough to see the city in the day time. We even took a little detour through it on the "business route."
King City, named for founder Charles H. King, who bought the land to raise wheat, lies 145 miles south of San Francisco. In driving terms from Hayward, it's about two hours away, or three if traffic is bad. On Saturday it was about 2 and half hours away and the perfect distance to stop for lunch.
We stopped at the Denny's which I've been told by beckerbuns has a Geocache in the parking lot. I'm not a Geocacher but if you are and are in the area, check it out!
In the daytime, one can see that King City is in the southern end of the "Long Valley" (Salinas Valley), just near where the valley begins to bend and the foothills encroach from the sides. The city seems financially depressed. The roads need serious repair work, there are abandoned buildings and there is just a general sense of not much happening. The city does, however, have a very nice website which paints a far rosier picture than what we saw.
I can remember the opening shot of Barbara Eden (playing Barbara Messenger) floating in the middle of the vast ocean (in a row boat?) of the made for TV movie Condominium (1980). So when I saw a copy of John D. MacDonald's novel of the same name, I had to read it.
Condominium was a departure for MacDonald, who is best known for his Travis McGee series. The book opens with a dedication:
and continues on with a long list of names. From the timeline of the book, I'm guessing these people were victims of hurricane Donna (1960).
Condominium is not a novelization of actual events. It does however paint a realistic enough picture of the sorts of things that can go wrong to contribute to as massive a disaster as described in the final pages of this novel. MacDonald doesn't point the finger at just one person making mistakes or cutting corners as the cause. Instead he builds suspense on the knowledge that little mistakes and efforts to cut corners in the interest of saving money add up.
In the middle of all of this are the families, mostly retirees on fixed incomes, who have maxed out their budgets to buy a retire home. With Ian on the board of our local HOA, I sympathized with the HOAs in this novel who struggled to undo the mess the developers left them with on their limited budgets.
Condominium the novel predates the TV movie by three years and is as exciting to read as the film was to watch. I ended up staying up an hour and a half beyond my normal bedtime to finish it. Then I was afraid I'd have nightmares!
Forbidden Freedom, a slim volume of 90 pages (newer editions have 150 pages but I read a first edition), that provides a quick glance at a volitile time in Guyana's history. The author, Cheddi Jagan, at the time he wrote this book was the leader of the newly founded People's Progressive Party of then British Guiana; he later went on to be president of Guyana 1992-1997.
Forbidden Freedom covers the events just before and just after the PPP won elections and came to power. Pressured by the United States, the British government suspended the constitution of British Guiana citing threats from communisit interests.
Forbidden Freedom doesn't provide enough information to draw objective conclusions about the events and the parties involved. As an account of the events, it is a chilling read.
If you're a regular reader of this blog, you've probably noticed I haven't posted anything since Thursday night. I've been on vacation to Santa Barbara with my family. Friday night I was packing and it was about a million degrees in here (okay, more like 90° F) and I was just too hot and stressed to blog. Saturday through today we were on our trip. I will be posting about our trip and using our lovely photographs as fodder for upcoming Thursday Thirteens. In the meantime, if you want to see the highlights, check out my livejournal site.
By now Harriet and Sean are car-traveling pros. This trip was Harriet's fifth long journey by car which averages out to one trip every two months for her in her short life so far! We didn't travel as much with Sean when he was her age and didn't really start taking him other places beyond seeing the relatives until our trip to Redding in 2005.
With now traveling with Harriet and Sean, I've found that traveling with two children (even when one is an infant), is easier than traveling with only one. Sean and Harriet amuse each other. They also look out for each other. It's easier to gauge when we need to stop and when it's safe to press on. Therefore we're making fewer stops but better timed stops.
Harriet at this age does need a few special extras, like a crib at the hotel. So far we haven't had any trouble getting a crib for her and as long as she has her favorite blanket and her sleep positioner, she'll happily sleep anywhere. Now that she's weaned and on whole milk we also had to remember to stop at places where we could get milk for her to drink and to carry milk between stops when we could. While both of these things require extra planning, they were still easy enough to do and she was able to eat and drink with us whenever we made stops.
I am conflicted on how best to write my review of Mantra and the Modern Man. The author of the book is local and former teacher of a friend of mine. My friend gave me the book and obviously adores both the book and the woman who wrote it. Were I not so personally involved with the book even in such a third-party way, I'd just pan the book and move on.
Let me be frank, I don't like organized religion. It's not my cup of tea. I have, however, found some benefit in meditation. I have listened to mantras before while meditation, though not ever said one myself. Having this book come so highly recommended to me and having enjoyed similar books in the past, I decided to give Mantra and the Modern Man a try.
I seriously wanted to throw this book across the room a few times while reading it. I didn't actually throw it, but I wanted to. The font is ugly and hard to read. The chapters lack organization. The numerous quotes lack footnotes or annotations. The author's thoughts jump from place to place and language to language without the aid of a segue. Reading it was anything but restful and left me with a headache.
Henry Griswald narrates the events that make up The Chatham School Affair, beginning with the arrival of Miss Elizabeth Channing, hired as a favor to a family friend to be the new art teacher at the all boys' school. The way Henry's tale unfolds reminds me of Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca or perhaps My Cousin Rachel.
Something horrible happened that intimately involved young Henry, Miss Channing and lead to her death and the closure of the school. Over the course of the book through flashbacks, court transcripts and conversations with townsfolk who remember the events but wish they didn't, Cook builds a suspenseful story in a wonderfully gothic setting.
The first couple chapters are so densely packed with important information that I had to reread them a couple of times before I felt comfortable moving on to the rest of the novel. Starting with chapter three, the novel picks up pace and I found myself making time to read the book to finish it as quickly as I could.
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.
Paul Overt as the name implies, wears his emotions on his sleeves. He's and arrogant writer with an insatiable literary crush on the "celebrated novelist" Henry St George (a stand in for the author, Henry James?). In his desire to know and be known by St George, Overt meets and schmoozes with St George's oh so modern and liberal wife, the kindly General Fancourt, Fancourt's literary minded daughter Miriam and finally the master himself, Henry St George. With all of these encounters, Overt is shocked at how different all of these people are from how he imagines them to be. It's the classic struggle of reality versus reputation.
So what is the lesson from the master? St George says that to be a superb writer, one must live life to the fullest and not be constrained by family commitments. Overt, having fallen in love with Miriam, leaves her to pursue his writing career. Did he make the right decision or did St George tell one more lie to his biggest fan? Read the novella to find out!
Once Upon a Town is another gem of a book I got through BookCrossing. It is a the result of Bob Greene's travels to North Platte, Nebraska to interview residents about the Canteen that ran from December 25, 1941 until April 1, 1946 and provided meals for more than six million service men. It isn't just a memoir of a the town's hey day, but an account of the town's withering since the last passenger train arrived in 1971.
Although the site of the Canteen (the Union Pacific station) was torn down in 1973 when Union Pacific turned the train yard into the largest transfer station for freight traffic, Greene was able to find enough people to tell the Canteen's story in an interesting and heartfelt way.
The book was published in 2002 and ends a bit on a down note, predicting the death of North Platte. Perhaps his book and his story on NPR helped turned things around, but a quick Google search shows a vibrant online presence and a huge number of hotels and local events.
Some sites of interest:
The Magic of Encouragement is another of those books I got through BookCrossing when Sean was just an infant and I wasn't sure of myself as a parent. Of course real life commitments and the chaos of losing a job and then moving across the bay lead to me shelving the book. Now that we have Harriet and that I'm trying to track my books and declutter my shelves I decided it was finally time to read and release this book.
The book looks at some of the worst case scenarios and offers suggestions on how to undo the damage or to prevent it from happening. As is typical of this genre of book, the bulk of the book is a collection of case studies followed up with some pithy pep-talks on what the lesson of the cast study is.
The book also assumes that the parents who have these troubled children had crappy childhoods too and are therefore needing encouragement in their parenting skills. The idea behind this approach is to teach empathy to parents. Having empathy and a good memory of what it was like to be a child certainly helps but these little paragraphs felt forced to me.
My overall reaction to the book is luke warm. It's certainly not the worst book I've read but it wasn't the best either.
Marmalade's Yellow Leaf is one of two books featuring Marmalade the cat that I bought when Sean was Harriet's age. My parents have a cat named Marmalade and I just had to have these two books. Sean's not very into cats so we didn't read it much together. Harriet, however, adores cats and this book, so it's now back in the bedtime story book pile.
The story takes place on a windy afternoon while Marmalade's owners outside raking the yard of fallen leaves on an autumn day. Marmalade, in true cat fashion, is captivated by a single yellow leaf. Nothing can take her mind off the leaf, not even a woolly caterpillar!
The book is short (good for a bedtime story) with delightful illustrations that capture perfectly a cat a play. Unfortunately the book is no longer in print but used copies are available online.
The lovely girl on the right was my maternal grandmother. Today would have been her 86th birthday. It seems like I write about her every year on her birthday but this is actually the first time in three years.
The photograph was taken when she was thirteen and she always commented about how she hated the curls in the portrait. She wanted straight hair and those curls were the best she could do. Some number of years ago (before I went to college) she gave me the old photograph along with two of my mother (ages 3 and 13). Until last year when I switched wallets, I carried these three photographs with me in my wallet. The photograph of grandmother is tiny: only about an inch and half tall by an inch wide. It's actually smaller than what I've created in Photoshop for use in this blog post!
Like Harriet, Grandmother was a younger sister. I'm starting to see Grandmother's old tomboy ways now in Harriet who strives to keep up with Sean. She is not intimidated by him when he scolds her for getting into his toys or when she tries to take his game controller away. She just scrunches up her face in a way that says: "Just you wait!" and so reminds me of my grandmother.
Twelve years ago on a hot day in South Pasadena Ian and I got married. We had our ceremony and the reception at the women's center. Parking wasn't great but the building was lovely and we really didn't want to get married in a church or temple.
My grandmother came out of retirement to be our wedding coordinator. I know that the bride is usually supposed to be gaga to plan everything and make it the "perfect" wedding but after having been her assistant all through school, I had been to so many weddings that I felt like I'd already done the work a thousand times over. Ian, on the other hand, was thrilled and full of ideas. So he did most of the planning.
As with any wedding we had a bunch of hiccups. Our original date was July 1st but the priest couldn't make that date and asked us to postpone a week. Then just weeks (or was it days?) before the wedding, the woman who had taken our order for the wedding cake was fired in some sort of scandalous to-do leaving us without a cake. So we had to scramble to find someone who could throw something together. Then the photographer (a family friend) was too ill to make the trip up from San Diego; we ended up just asking everyone for copies of their photographs. It made everyone feel like professional photographers for the day and made Ian and me feel like we were in a room full of paparazzi!
Some other odd things we did. We chose a blue that everyone was calling "Crisco blue" for our color. We had silk flowers instead of real ones. I let my bridesmaids buy their own dresses rather than having a set pattern. The only rule: it had to be "Crisco blue". Oh and we had my brother as an attendant too (but he got to wear a tux). Finally, I rented my dress. No way I wanted to fork out a lot of money for a dress I'd only wear once.
Even after reading a half dozen books by Robin Cook, I'm still not sure how I feel about him as an author. Some of his books I adore (Sphinx, for instance) and some of them I want to throw across the room (Chromosome 6). Mortal Fear was one of those enjoyable Cook thrillers that where the characters were more or less competent and believable and the mystery plausible enough to be interesting and entertaining.
Mortal Fear's mystery unfolds in a manner reminiscent of Coma (without the overt sexism, thankfully). The story follows the first couple of victims as the routine becomes the bizarre and then the deadly. From their deaths we meet the hero of the story, Dr. Jason Howard who finds himself in the middle of a puzzling rise in deaths at his practice. Why are people who are coming in for routine physicals dropping dead only weeks later?
As with Chromosome 6 the secret lies within genetic engineering but the methods employed are more grounded in reality and less reliant on old school science fiction. Even though I figured out the basics of the plot before Dr. Howard, I still enjoyed following along as he tried to figure things out. My only complaint is that Howard didn't have much of the usual chutzpah of the typical thriller hero; when people tell him no, he stops!
I'm currently finishing up Abduction which is unfortunately somewhere between Chromosome 6 and Mortal Fear. I'm still not sure how I'm going to review it. Stay tuned.
Envy is the third novel by Sandra Brown I've read and she's rapidly earning her way onto my list of "go-to" authors. Her novels always manage to surprise once or twice and certainly entertain from cover to cover.
Envy is the title of the book within the book and it's the lure that brings Maris Matherly-Reed to a remote Georgian island to purchase the rights to a novel. What she doesn't realize is that she's been lured into an elaborate scheme of revenge long buried in the past.
There are excerpts of the fictional Envy included as interludes between some of the more emotionally charged chapters. They are there both as background information and as a character building device to better understand Parker, the author Maris has gone to see. Frankly, these chapters aren't necessary and serve as a distraction to the meat of the book. I suggest saving them until the end to read as bonus material.
Envy has three major story lines: Parker's past, the romance between Parker and Maris, and Noah's machinations to sell Maris's publishing company out from under her. Noah Reed, Maris's husband and her relationship to him is the glue that holds Envy together.
What I liked best about the novel was Parker. He's wheelchair bound but by no means "handicapped" nor is he seeking sympathy or special treatment. He's rough, crude and fowl mouthed and tempered and yet he's a very believable and oddly likeable character. It's clear that the wheelchair isn't the cause of his "bad" traits; it's just another part of who he is. It was refreshing to meet characters like Parker who weren't obviously built up from a series of checked boxes on a character sheet.
Ten years ago over the Independence Day weekend my husband and mother convinced me to start my own website. A month later the site was up and running. Back then Puss Reboots (a pun on Puss in Boots and my cat's propensity for rebooting my Mac clone) was going to be my business site and I had these grand plans to go solo as a web designer entrepreneur.
The "business" lasted about nine months before I realized I didn't have what it takes to go it on my own, especially when the internet (at least the dot-com part) was in its infancy and hadn't really taken off as a business plan for the average company in southern California. Sites like Craigslist make finding gigs so much easier now!
When I stopped running my own business and went to work I decided to keep the website but I still wasn't blogging. The site evolved first as a place to put my artwork and then as a place to put my Bryce objects for other Bryce enthusiasts to use.
It was mostly though an email service (I've had the same email address now for 10 years!) and a place for me to hone my web design skills.
From 2000 until early 2004, I barely made any updates, not even bothering to keep my art gallery current. I was working for Oracle at the time and was just too sick of doing web design and daily updates to websites to want to do my own when I got home each night.
It was in my "dry" period that blogging took off. Once I was happily settled in my new job (which I still have and still love) and I once again needed to hone my skills to match the needs of our client, I realized I needed motivation to work on my site. Blogging seemed like the logical solution.
Three and a half years later, I'm still blogging and it's now driving 50% of traffic to my site (the other 50% being mostly the Bryce freebies). To my delight (and surprise) I have between 150 and 160 loyal daily readers.
So why am I still blogging? It's fun. It's a good way to remember the good things of a day (I very rarely write about the bad things). It's a good way to keep my family up to date on the kids since we live more than 400 miles away. It's a good way to remember what books I've read and what I thought of them. It's also still a great way for me to hone my skills.
Yesterday Harriet turned ten months old. We celebrated (and escaped the heat) by having a lovely family dinner at Chevy's where Harriet had a happy meal of guacamole and turned herself green in the process.
Harriet is a lovely and jolly person who adores her brother and can keep up her side of the conversation. Already she and Sean have become competitive and she often wants what he's having or wants to do what he's doing. Now she's developed the art of pointing at whatever it is she wants, especially if it is to point out something that Sean has or is doing!
Her favorite creature though, is still Caligula. Put her in the same room as the cat and she will burst into peels of laughter. Fortunately Caligula seems to like her too, especially now that she's old enough to pet her. If Harriet could have her way, Caligula would be sleeping in her crib. Sean though, has a "no cats allowed" rule for their bedroom so Harriet will have to wait until she can have a room of her own before Caligula (or some other cat) can share her bed.
In terms of milestones, Harriet is still putting most of her work into talking, eating and using her hands. Don't leave mechanical items around her as she is likely to take them apart! Her vocabulary is growing at a rapid pace and includes: Sean, Caligula, Mama, Dada, "How are you?", bottle, no, "good girl", "night-night", tickle, good, and a few others I'm sure I'm forgetting.
She can move around when she wants to but so far she's shown almost no interest in trying to pull to standing, cruising, or crawling. I have seen her roll a few times to get to her toys although now she seems to be favoring either the butt-scoot or the arms-only dragging of her body towards something. The farthest she's ever gotten is about two feet.
I saw the 1967 Richard Brooks film in a violence in film class at UCLA. In Cold Blood and Texas Chainsaw Massacre are the only two films that have stuck with me for these ten years. So when I was given a copy of In Cold Blood by Truman Capote through BookCrossing, I felt compelled to read it for two reasons: I've enjoyed other books by Capote and I still remember the film. Were it not for those two reasons, I would have skipped the book as I'm not normally a fan of the true-crime genre.
The violent murders of Herbert and Bonnie Clutter and their two youngest children: Nancy and Kenyon in 1959 became a media sensation as these violent crimes are wont to do. Inspired by a 300 word summary of the crime in the New York Times, Capote and long time friend Harper Lee headed west to interview everyone associated with the crime. The result of six year's work was In Cold Blood.
Reading the book clarified in my mind just how well I still remember the film and confirmed that I still am not a fan of true-crime (or the nonfiction novel as Capote called his book). The work is well researched and well written but it wasn't a page-turner for me.
The book suffers from an information overload and a lack of organization. Capote seems lost under all these witness testimonies, not sure what to keep, what to cut and where to put things. Things stumble along in a more or less chronological order but without the benefit of logical segues between interviews.
Ian and I grew up on books by Richard Scarry and Doctor Seuss. While I remember reading The Best First Book Ever! I don't know if it was a library book or perhaps my brother's book. Since neither of us had a copy, we recently got a copy for Harriet and Sean to share.
While there are some oddities in the book (like the parents sleeping in separate beds and Mommy Cat always wearing a dress), it's still a good and solid introduction for vocabulary building. Every page has every item labeled in a variety of situations and places: home, the kitchen, the living room, the laundry room, school, the grocery store, an ice cream parlor, and so forth. It also introduces the basic parts of the body, color theory and counting.
Richard Scarry's books often times contain a running gag of some sort. In Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, readers are asked to find Gold Bug on every page. In this book, readers can follow Mr. Fumble as he tries to catch his windblown hat.The question of where's Mr. Fumble's hat and the often times surreal things depicted and labeled are what make these books so much fun to read.
Kingdom of Shadows is the second Alan Furst novel I've read. This one follows the opening days of the war with Hitler's rise to power but from the point of view of the owner of an advertising agency in Paris who is balancing his time between work, his mistress and some espionage for his Hungarian uncle.
Nicholas Morath and his small group of friends remind me of the idle and bored characters of F. Scott Fitzgerald's, with Tender is the Night coming specifically to mind. The only difference is that their parties are set against the backdrop of the early days of WWII. Family duty forces Morath to attempt heroic acts at a time when he (and most of the rest of Paris) is having trouble believing what is on the horizon.
As with Dark Voyage, the middle section of the book drags a bit as Hurst pauses to let the historical events play out. The characters step aside and the book becomes more of a book report than a novel. While it's good to get things in context, these interludes are best when skimmed.
July 4th always marks the turning point in the year for me. As a child, July 4th meant it was less than a month until my brother's birthday and therefore almost my birthday too (we're both August babies). After our birthdays came the start of school and then the holidays: Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve.
This year we had Derrick over for a barbecue. We had hamburgers and hot dogs, corn on the cob, salad and watermelon. It was all lovely. Throughout the dinner, Harriet flirted with Derrick.
Sean wanted to know why we didn't go to see any fireworks and we explained that Harriet might have gotten scared by the noise (Sean certainly did at this age). He hopes we can go next year.
It's also the first day of a heat wave and one of the hottest days we've had since last year. With the lack of spring rain we're ripe for an intense fire season. Even with fireworks being illegal in our county (save for two cities), there are still idiots shooting the damn things off. We'll have a few more nights to listen to people shooting off these things and then we'll be free from the noise and potential fire hazard for another year.
The American Film Institute (AFI) has issued a revised version of the 100 Greatest Movies of all time. You can see the full list (with commenary) on Roger Egbert's blog. I found the list via green LA girl's blog and I like how she's turned it into a meme. In following her lead, I've only posted (with their original rankings) the ones I've seen. As it happens, I've seen sixty-five on the list and most of these while I was a film student at UCSB.
LA girl asks "what's the highest ranked film on the list that you haven't seen. " In my case, it's number 2: The Godfather (1972). It was a little before my time and I've just not be interested enough to watch it. Mob films don't float my boat.
One of my favorite films on the list of ones I've seen is Sunrise (1927). I've seen it a half dozen times and it still blows me away. It has some of the most beautiful cinematography and a pretty gripping story too.
Here's my list.
So which films have you seen?
I picked up One Duck Stuck because it reminded me of Ducks in Muck but for more advanced readers. The two books use similar rhymes but One Duck Stuck is three times the length and the rhymes border on tongue twisters.
The basic plot centers around the stuck duck and her attempts to get out of the muck. She enlists the help of her swamp friends: fish, insects, some birds and a variety of animals. Separately the can't help the duck but what if they work together?
Both Sean and Harriet enjoy One Duck Stuck. Sean likes it for the counting and the rhymes. Harriet likes it for the creatures.
Sean is getting to the age where he's asking difficult questions like why Ian and I are his parents and why we got married. He's also convinced that someday if he's really bad we're going to ship him off to college and force him to get married. He's sure that marriage means leaving your family and getting stuck with a new family full of strangers. So right now he doesn't want to go to college and he doesn't want to get married. Poor kid; he's not even five and he's already worried about the future.
So somehow I have to balance things out to let Sean know that Ian and I wanted to get married and that we wanted to move away from our families (from southern to northern California). I also want him to know that he doesn't have to get married. Mostly I just want him to be happy and not worry yet about such far away decisions.
In June I continued with May's trend of reading more non-fiction books than usual for me. With Harriet "into" books now, I've been reading a higher percentage of children's books than I have in a while.
My favorite books of the month were:
The worst books of the month were:
I got The Princess Goes West from the defunct book relay site. The premise reminded me of Alias Jane Smith by Clarence Budington Kelland but the book fell far short of my expectations. The only really good thing about The Princess Goes West is it's length. It's thankfully short.
The book starts out as can be expected, introducing Princess Marlena (spoiled of course) and her kingdom of Hartz-Coburg (bankrupt of course). She must either remarry or travel to the United States (why here?) to solicit funds to save her country.
Meanwhile, there's a Texas Ranger in town who is a babe magnet and misogynist (every girl's dream) and he's been sent to bring in the notorious Queen of the Silver Dollar. She just happens to look exactly like Princess Marlena (down to the unexplained accent).
Cribbing now from Mark Twain (and many others), Ryan sets for a series of unexplained events that forces Marlena and Robbie to switch places. Of course, Marlena ends up in the Texas Ranger's custody! Hilarity and hot dusty cactusy sex ensues for every ten pages for the remainder of the book.
Since the dialogue is so full of cliches and the situation so preposterous I actually had more fun counting the pages between sex scenes than I did reading the book. It was a complete waste of about two hours of my life. I only kept reading it to see how bad it would get.
On Saturday the four of us went to a lovely birthday party for my friend Irma. We met through BookCrossing and she and her husband hosted a two hour birthday bash in Livermore that was both fun for adults and kids.
About a third of us there were BookCrossers (or "that book club" as one of the other guess called it). The other two thirds were immediate family, including the grand-daughters who have been supplying Harriet with many of her lovely outfits.
For the kids they had party favors that were fun for the older kids but still safe for the babies to play with. Harriet and Sean were both thrilled to have gifts and to have the same toys to play with. One was a giraffe finger puppet and the other was a noisemaker shaped like a pair of hands.
The party was held in a banquet room at an Asian buffet. Sean, bless him, was brave enough to try sushi! Harriet mostly stuck with her bag of cereal that I brought along (not knowing what to expect in terms of food). It was unusual to see the reversal in my kids with Sean being the adventurous eater and Harriet being the picky one.
We stayed for cake (and the kids had their own cupcakes) but not for presents. I'm so glad we had the chance to go.
Little Polar Bear, Take Me Home is one of a series of children's books featuring the adventures of Lars the polar bear. Lars even has his own series of cartoons in Germany. I came across this 1996 printing at the Dublin library shelf in Starbuck's last month.
When I first saw the book I immediately (and mistakenly) thought Alaska for the setting and thought perhaps the tiger on the cover was escaped from a zoo or a circus. He's neither; he's a wild tiger from presumably India who has accidentally hitched a ride on a freight train to the arctic circle.
Lars, who is looking for a snack and a bit of adventure, finds the tiger at the end of the line and in the course of trying to help the tiger find his way home ends up on the return trip of the train. From there in typical children's book fashion, the two animals must enlist the aid of other animals as they travel through far and distant lands on their search for the tiger's home.
So far I've read it to Harriet but not Sean. She likes the pictures (ooh striped kitty!). I think Sean will like the story and will have lots of questions about their adventures.