Tuesday, July 31, 2007

July Reading Round Up!

Another month, come and gone, hard to believe! Where is 2007 going?

Well, here we are and time to run through my monthly list of reading. As always, there are spoilers in these reviews, so read with caution. The exception for this month is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which I'm not saying anything about plot-wise on this blog. I'll accept emails and comments on the matter :-)

So without further ado...

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. I loved it. It was exactly what the series needed to pull it all together, to answer the questions we needed answered and to give us an ending that, whether or not we agreed with it, concluded Harry's story nicely. (I for one loved the ending, particularly my #1 guy, Neville, being brave.) Way to go, J.K.!

2. Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris. My sister gave me this one with the aside that "it's actually kinda good." Apparently this is a series of books about Harper Connelly, a young woman who survives a lightning strike to discover that she has the ability to find dead bodies of missing people. In this book, she travels to a small town in Arkansas, where she has been hired to find the body of a young woman who has disappeared after an outing with her boyfriend. Harper's brother Tolliver accompanies her and they soon find out that all is not what it seems in Sarne AR.

I really enjoyed Grave Sight. For one thing it's a real quick read and even though I was kind of frustrated by the Arkansans and their rejection of the truths being offered, as well as their attempt to thwart Harper and Tolliver from leaving even though they don't want them around. It was not too taxing on the brain, so I read it as a great vacation book.

3. Three to Get Deadly by Janet Evanovich. As part of my continuing quest to re-read the Stephanie Plum books, I re-read Three as another vacation read (I'm excited to say that I got 13 last night and can't wait to dig in!). The further adventures of Stephanie Plum, Jersey girl, bail enforcement officer continued in this, another worth addition to the Plum lexicon. I am glad to get to number 4, which is one of my favorites of the series alongside either 9 or 10 (I can't remember and the Amazon.com reviews are useless).

In this particular book, Stephanie has to track down Uncle Mo, a local saint who's wanted for murder. As the body count adds up (most of the deceased are drug dealers), Stephanie's own body is at risk, and from more than the increasing advances of Ranger and Morelli.

Grandma Mazur is great in this book as well. These books are way too much fun.

4. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. I've already reviewed this book as part of Lesley's Armchair Traveler Reading Challenge, so I'm going to take the easy way out and cut and paste (hey, I've got company coming tomorrow and then will have company straight through till August 15th, give me a break!)

The Glass Castle is a memoir Walls wrote about growing up with her eclectic parents: alcoholic dad Rex and dreamer mom Rose Mary. The Walls family lives like nomads at the beginning of the book--packing up in the middle of the night and leaving whatever home they're in to escape bill collectors, police, and child welfare workers. They travel around the US Southwest until their money runs out, and they are forced to move in with Rex's family in West Virginia. At this point, the Walls children start to plan their escape from the craziness of their upbringing and make plans to go to New York City to start fresh, new lives where they are unknown.

Eventually the elder Wallses become homeless after following their children to NYC (this is not a spoiler, considering on the first page, Jeannette talks about seeing her mom dumpster diving). There was a quality about Rex and Rose Mary--crazy though they were--that I liked. At the end, when their squatting leads to an opportunity to buy a place in the building, it's almost as if the optimist in Rose Mary knew it would all work out. Rex's alcoholism and the issues of his family certainly are disturbing--particularly in Rex's dismissal of claims of sexual abuse against the children--and yet there's something that leads you to pity Rex as well and feel a warmth for him as he does his best to keep the children free and moving.

A great book, a lot of great places and people, all of it sticks with you quite vividly, and I was pleased that the places played as important a role as the people and the story. I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. I'll be sad to give it back to Lauren! :-)

5. The Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg. I was kind of nervous about this one, since I let my mother-in-law borrow it before I read it and she really didn't like it. She loved Berg's writing style, but thought the story was kind of boring. So I held off for a bit.

The Year of Pleasures is the story of Betta, a writer of children's books, whose husband John suddenly dies of cancer and leaves Betta to live out their dreams to live in the middle of nowhere and start a new life. Betta is driving through a small town near Chicago when she finds a huge old house that speaks to her. She immediately sells her home in Boston's Beacon Hill and moves to the old house, where she is at loose ends to find some way to fill her life without the man she loves. She reconnects with old friends with whom she lost contact after her marriage, and eventually rebuilds her life without her husband.

Well, I'm real sorry my MIL didn't like this book, but by the end, I was bawling my eyes out. This is common for me and Elizabeth Berg, so I'm not surprised, since I find all her books really moving. I guess as I become "more and more married" I think more and more about my relationship with my husband and how empty my days would be, despite the frustrations we have with each other, if he was to disappear. I'll probably avoid any more widow books for a while, but this was one great book!

6. An Idiot Girl's Christmas: True Tales From the Top of the Naughty List by Laurie Notaro. I was really wanting to dive into her new book, but decided to wait so I could include it in the reading challenge. After meeting an author, I love to read their books right away, so I decided on this one. It is standard Notaro, and probably one of the reasons I'm not a huge fan of her writing, although I'm a big fan of hers. I love subtle humor, sarcasm, dark humor, but I'm not always so much a fan of a book that grabs you by the collar, shaking you and screaming, "Aren't I funny, goddamnit!?" I find that many of Notaro's books do just that.

This is a book of humorous tales from the holidays centered around Laurie's family and friends, including her long suffering husband, her mom, and her best friends in Arizona. The stories are amusing, but they're just not my kind of humor. My sister, however, thinks they're brilliant. So go figure! :-)

7. Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories and Other Disasters by Jean Shepherd.

Originally, I had planned to use this book as a selection for the reading challenge, but it wasn't so much about about Indiana as it was about the people, so I selected a different book instead.

Wanda Hickey is one of those humorous coming of age stories in vignettes a la Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon stories. The true stories tell of Jean Shepherd's childhood in small town Indiana, where his family and his friends are the main players on a stage of hilarity. Being Polish, I was particularly taken with the story of Josephine, a Polish girl from East Chicago upon whom Jean sets his sights, and whose Polish family he describes with a gusto that makes me love my own family all the more. Other great stories include the wonderful tale of the trip to the fair and of course the title story. Told with charm, wit, and a little bit of the ole "awwwww!" factor, this was a great read. One of my favorites of this year.

8. Picture Perfect by Jodi Piccoult. How do you say no to Jodi Piccoult on a library book sale shelf for only $2? You don't. And I'm glad. For once, although this book was written 14 years ago, she gave up her trademark twist at the end of this engrossing tale. Cassie Barrett is a bookish anthropologist who catches the eye of Alex Rivers, hot shot Hollywood actor, on the set of a movie where she's been asked to act as technical advisor. All is not what it seems, however, and after Cassie and Alex are married in a quickie ceremony on set, Cassie discovers her new husband is an abusive drunk who cannot shake the skeletons of his past. The question becomes, does she leave or does she stay? And if she stays, will she survive his rages?

The book ended precisely as I would have liked it to end, perhaps even better, since Cassie didn't take it like a doormat at the end of the day. This has been my favorite Piccoult book thus far, which is funny since it's one I'd kind of looked over a couple of times while browsing the shelves. I've learned my lesson.

9. 3rd Degree by James Patterson. Michael and I needed an edgy mystery to get the blood pumping this summer and hit on this 3rd book in the "Women's Murder Club" series being worked on by Patterson. The series revolves around 4 women (a detective, a prosecutor, a medical examiner, a reporter), but particularly around Detective Lindsay Boxer in this book, who is working on a major case involving some anti-globalization whackos who have decided to start a major crimewave in response to the G8 summit coming to California.

Lindsay and her friends are knee-deep in whodunit, collaborating, and falling in and out of love. The story is intensely fast paced, and we were kept guessing to the very end who the bad guys were. It was unputdownable, although, of course, we had to. Definitely gripping, and there were a lot of unhappy endings involved, so it wasn't a simply cut and paste the villain job. In fact, half the time, you kind of felt sorry for some of the bad guys. Classic Patterson, wonderful!

So that is all for this month. It's been a fine month for reading, and now that it's so freakin' hot here in VA, I'll be inside a lot more and doing a lot more reading. So, we'll see what August brings. As I mentioned, my "to-be-read" shelf is out of control. So I've got plenty of choices!

The Great: The Glass Castle, Year of Pleasures, Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories and Other Disasters, Picture Perfect, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

The Good: 3rd Degree, Grave Sight, 3 to Get Deadly,

The OK: An Idiot Girl's Christmas,

The Awful: N/A

Totals for July:

Books Read: 9
Pages Read: 3,140

Totals for 2007:

Books Read: 66
Pages Read: 21,644

Sunday, July 29, 2007

My To-Be-Read Shelf is out of Control!

So this weekend is my big housekeeping weekend, since we'll have my dad arriving midweek and then will have company straight through until August 15th. After the last two weekends were spent painting and getting the house looking pretty, it's now time for it to look clean.

But of course, there's always time for reading... and I've been cleaning up my office area and trying to get through this month's book club selection, and was working on straightening up the bookshelves. Two books arrived in the mail yesterday, one from PaperbackSwap.com and one from BookCrossing. As I stacked them with all the other "to be reads" I realized the pile is getting out of control... There are over 60 books crammed on one little shelf. My wish list is currently restrained at just under 60 more. And I have one more book coming from BookMooch.org, where I have tons of points, but can't ever get the books, since they have a "first come, first get" policy on wishlists, which I hate.

I'm pleased to be getting rid of a fair number of old books weekly, and it's a nice problem to have, but I do find I'm putting some books aside (as in my book club book) to read books I really want to read (as in a new-to-me Jodi Piccoult I got for 50 cents at the Wilderness Library).

And of course, my "to be read" shelf is nothing compared to some people's, I realize. But I think it's multiplying. Yesterday, I was cleaning the living room and came upon a bag, and when I opened it, it had 3 books I'd never read before inside. They're coming for me. Like a giant, human-consuming colony... HELP! :-)

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Orange Fridays

WorldCantWait.org is launching Orange Fridays. Wear orange on Fridays if you support impeachment and want an end to the war.

Thus endeth today's political action blogs. :-)


Willfully disregarding all the bad press, and because they have to, Aetna released its earnings statement Thursday. They have made record profits by "higher premiums and reducing health care costs." Translation: Making people pay more and providing them with less. BOO!

If you're on Aetna and have another choice, this may be the time to leave.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Sue's Reviews

It's been a while since I've been to the movies--so long in fact that I've missed both Shrek 3 and Pirates 3. I heard Shrek wasn't so great, but I'm really bummed that I missed Pirates. This week, however, I've been to the movies twice, so I think I made up for it.

In order to thank Joe and Judy for helping me paint our guest room, Michael and I took them to see Hairspray on Sunday. I was kind of lukewarm about seeing it, having no previous ties to either the first movie or the musical, but I really did want to see John Travolta and Christopher Walken sing and dance a duet.

Hairspray was better than I thought! Yes, Michael stayed awake for the whole thing, which is an indication it was pretty good. The music was real upbeat and fun and the acting was good. I had heard that Travolta was "the weak link" and didn't get the joke, but I thought he was pretty decent, really. Joe declared it the best movie of summer. I definitely wouldn't go that far, but it was happy and fun.

Hairspray centers around Tracy Turnblad, a chubby girl growing up in 1960's Baltimore who dreams of dancing on the Corny Collins Show, an American Bandstand type program on local TV. Her nemesis is the show's producer, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, and her daughter Amber, played by American Dreams star Brittany Snow. She gains acceptance after learning dance moves from the black kids who star on the show's "Negro Day" and goes on to force the show into being integrated.

The movie was real cute and visually stunning. I love the early 60's thing with the fun colors and shapes and the clothes, all the sweet innocence before the turbulence of the latter part of the decade. The acting and singing were great, Queen Latifah turned in another excellent performace (which really adds fuel to the fire of my rage when she does a piece of crap like "Bringing Down the House").

I found myself thinking about race relations in America, and I suppose what I'm about to say is a bit un-PC, but what the hell. I was thinking that maybe if we didn't have "blacks vs. whites, race race race rage" shoved down our throats all the time, it'd be over. I mean, that seems to be one of the favorite topics of movies, songs, books. Maybe if we just started living like it didn't matter, then it wouldn't matter. Maybe all these books, movies, etc. just keep picking at the wound instead of letting it heal.

Ok, "Deep Thoughts by Sus Kosior" over and done. :-) Anyway, I give it a B+. Fun and good, but not my favorite movie and probably not one I'll see again or must own. Judy's got the soundtrack, which I may burn to my iPod--no doubt she has it memorized already--and I think that's as far as it'll go So, well done, good summer flick, thanks for the memories.

The other movie I saw was Sicko, which I saw tonight.

In case you've been living under a rock, Sicko is Michael Moore's new documentary about the health care system in the United States. As taken from Moore's website, the synopsis reads:

Opening with profiles of several ordinary Americans whose lives have been disrupted, shattered, and—in some cases—ended by health care catastrophe, the film makes clear that the crisis doesn't only affect the 47 million uninsured citizens—millions of others who dutifully pay their premiums often get strangled by bureaucratic red tape as well.

After detailing just how the system got into such a mess (the short answer: profits and Nixon), we are whisked around the world, visiting countries including Canada, Great Britain and France, where all citizens receive free medical benefits. Finally, Moore gathers a group of 9/11 heroes – rescue workers now suffering from debilitating illnesses who have been denied medical attention in the US. He takes them to a most unexpected place, and in addition to finally receiving care, they also engage in some unexpected diplomacy.

Ok, I'm going to fess up right here, right now. I cried on and off through the first hour of this film. For the last hour, I was downright sobbing non-stop through the whole entire movie. I cried the entire drive home. The movie ended at 9:43pm, it is now 10:31, and I'm still blowing my nose.

First of all, after what I saw, I'm ready to hop on a goddamned boat to Cuba. I'm ready to move to Canada, France, or Britain. I knew going into it, the health care system here was not perfect. Believe me, just my little experience last year taught me all I needed to know about that, and I have good insurance. But what I saw tonight was ludicrous. People dying, babies dying, people put in cabs and driven away from hospitals, people losing their homes, people forced to make decisions that I don't know how I would choose. The part with the 9/11 workers in Cuba was probably the most moving piece of film I've seen in my entire life.

I highly encourage you to do what you can to convince our lawmakers it's time to fix our broken system. It's a national tragedy, as large as the tragedy in Iraq. Any member of our political system who accepts money from drug or insurance companies has the blood of American citizens on their hands.

Go see Sicko. As much as I loved Fahrenheit 9/11, Sicko was better. A+++ And I'm wishing all of you good health, because God help us if some twist of fate renders us injured or diseased.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Harry Potter Part 2

I have finished it. Anyone else who has finished it and would like to discuss, feel free to drop me a line.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Yes, I Know...

Believe me, I've been grappling with this strange fascination for a long time. But I can't help it.

Dog the Bounty Hunter is coming to DC, and guess who has tickets? Yeah. 5th row, dead center.

Freeze, Speed Freak! :-D

Meeting a Hero

I shook Cindy Sheehan's hand today.

It was an amazing experience.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Harry Potter

After abandoning the rigamarole at Borders last night, I got a copy of the last Harry Potter at 1:30 this morning at Super Walmart. I'm over 100 pages into it thus far, and I must say... Wow. That's all I can say about it... Wow.

And thus far, I've been quite disciplined and haven't skipped ahead to see what happens at the end. The beginning's been far too good to ruin the ending.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tuesday Night...

So, it's a Tuesday night. I'm bored. Michael's in bed, the house is clean. Yeah, I've been really busy. And I don't feel like reading for once.

The weekend was productive. Joe came down and we painted our basement. Even I thought I was a little bit out to lunch when I decided to paint it purple. But then I figured it's only paint and if I hate it, I hate it. So we went to Home Depot and I bought a color called "Weeping Wisteria" and we put it up. We were thinking it was going to be a full weekend project, since the room is so big down there, but ultimately, including moving the furniture and books and putting it all back, it took us less than 5 hours to paint the walls with 2 coats. The color is awesome. There are so many different light sources downstairs that it looks different on every wall and it's gorgeous. We loved it. Joe then informed me I have a good eye for color, which coming from an artist made me feel pretty darned good.

We were feeling pretty stinkin' proud of ourselves. So proud that we have plans to paint the guestroom this weekend. Of course, I had planned to go into a Harry Potter hibernation this weekend, but I'll still attend the midnight party and get my book, and then hibernate next week. We're going to try a striping effect down in the guestroom with 2 different shades of pink. The room is decorated with Shabby Chic from Target, so the pink will be perfect. I bought paint shades called "Frolic" and "Fading Rose". I'll take pictures of both rooms when we finish up this weekend. Judy is coming to help as well, so it should go really nice and quickly, since she helped me paint the upstairs bedrooms and the kitchen.

Our trip up north was really good. I enjoyed being home, even though I have some mixed emotions about the whole trip. Some things happened that really upset me, but I guess that's to be expected. Emotions tend to run high on these trips, and I'm trying to remember that as I reflect on my time up there. I'm happy to be home in Virginia.

I'm sick yet again. I've been sick on and off since November with colds, in particular sore throats and stuffiness. I'm sick and tired of being sick. So we're debating what to do. One of the more recent times I didn't feel well, I got full blown laryngitis for 2 days. Do I need to see an allergist? Do I need to see a sinus specialist? Do I need to talk to my GP? I've been to the GP each time this has happened so far, and they've told me that I need to take Robitussin and wait it out. That's clearly not working. So what are my options?

I haven't seen any friends in ages, with the exception of my book club girls. I feel mighty guilty about it, but no one seems to be free when I'm free and I can't really justify making extra trips up to DC in the evenings and getting home late, so I've just had to settle for the idea that I'm stuck flying solo in the 'burg. Depressing, but that's the way it is. We did finally make nice with our neighbors and I had a real nice chat with Mr. Next Door and introduced Michael to him, so that was a nice thawing of the cold war. He's even offered to help us take down our piece o' crap chain link fence. BONUS!

The Clifton-Fine explosion seems to be continuing. I've been hearing from a lot of people on MySpace, which has been interesting to say the least. It moderately sucks that there are so many babies and not a one of them is mine! Oh well, when the good Lord deems the time is right. Right? Right.

I sent a letter to Hillary Clinton today and got one back that she's not able to respond to all inquiries directly. I also sent a note to Dog the Bounty Hunter and it was returned undeliverable after 5 days. Don't ya just love technology?

Alright, that's enough bitching and whining for one night. I'm sick of myself. :-) Till next time.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Marisa Tomei

Ok, you've all waited long enough. Granted, I could make you wait a couple more days, but this is not really all that great a story, so I'll get it over with.

Ok, I think I've mentioned before, but just in case, my sister and I are on a quest. Since we were much younger, we have really enjoyed a film called Oscar, starring Sylvester Stallone as a mobster who is trying to go straight to fulfill a promise to his dying father.

It was, I gather, Stallone's first try at comedy and in view, a very successful bid at that. I must have seen the movie a thousand times, and I still laugh to this day.

In any event, after seeing the movie The Terminal, in which Tom Hanks's character is out to get a picture autographed that his father had started as a collection some time ago. And I thought, "Hey, we should do this with Oscar!" when Peter Riegert came to town. We've gotten two autographs so far, and both actors were surprised and pleased to sign the DVD and couldn't believe we had it.

So, a few months ago, I heard on the radio that there was going to be a presentation put on by the Smithsonian about Italian food, culture, and film, and one of the panelists would be Marisa Tomei, who happens to be in Oscar. Judy and I got real excited, since this would be a big time score, and I bought tickets and we planned our trip to see her. We had the DVD ready, the tickets, etc.

The ticket stated we'd be spending "An Afternoon With the Stars" and we took this as a good sign. The other 2 in attendance were Mario Batali (Food Network Chef) and Lidia Bastianich (I think she has a show on PBS). Stanley Tucci bowed out at the last minute. I figured we might be in for a bit of trouble when we arrived and they were selling books that were pre-autographed. Still, we had been promised an afternoon with the stars, and Judy and I are experts at staking out stage doors, so I figured we'd manage one way or another.

Well, I was wrong. First of all, I can't figure out for the life of me why Marisa Tomei was invited to attend and speak. She sat up there and had very little to contribute to the conversation other than the fact that she liked to eat and frankly, the moderator, Jim Bohannon, didn't really seem to know what to ask these people anyway. The whole thing was a little vague. When Mario and Lidia spoke, it was definitely about eating and food and their restaurants and such, but with Marisa, the conversation was more rambling, touching on her acting career, her parents, what she likes to eat, can she cook... The best I could figure was that she was invited because a) she's Italian and b) she's friends with the other 2.

So it was over, and none too soon, and the panel took off, so we went outside. We stuck around the stage door and then we saw a car roar around the corner and we decided to see what happened. We followed it and it went to the back of the auditorium, so we took a chance. When Marisa popped out, Judy went up to her and she looked at Judy, shook her head AT HER HANDLER, got in the car, and shut the door.

She did not even talk to her. Not so much as a "Sorry, not today." Nothing. So, there will be one autograph absent from our DVD and the heck with her. And it'll be a cold day in you-know-where when I see another movie of hers again.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

June Reading Review

Initially, I thought I'd just read enough books to get me to 50 by the end of June, but I actually did quite well and am into the 60's. I'm very pleased with my progress, and it's renewed my enthusiasm for the project.

If you've never read my reviews before, I don't take care about spoilers, so if one of these books is on your "to be read" list, please beware that I may have a spoiler in there. I try not to give away any major plot lines, but sometimes little bits and pieces spill out.

Now, as I think I said in my previous post about Lesley's book challenge, I've lost my reading list for June, so this is right off the top of my head. I can think of 11 books I've read this month, and if there are more, I'll add them in with my July tally.

Without further ado...

1. How To Be Happy, Dammit! A Cynic's Guide to Spiritual Happiness by Karen Salmansohn. There came to a point earlier this year when I would visit my sister's house and our conversations would be like this:

Me: How are you guys?
Joe: All life is travesty.
Judy: I hate everyone. The entire universe is a bunch of f'ing idiots except for me.

If I called on the phone, it was the same. I was getting to the point I couldn't take it any more. I went to Barnes and Noble and out of the blue, How to Be Happy Dammit! called my name.

The book is a quick read full of interesting pictures, funny sayings, and stories. The bright orange cover catches the eye, and the first couple of lessons really grab you and don't let go. But it's not a sugary or saccharine type of self-help book either.

There are 44 lessons in the book and they are all interconnected. It begins with the idea that when you're first born, you're tiny, you don't know what's going on, you've been warm and cozy in your little womb, and then all of a sudden: WHACK! Some idiot on the outside smacks you when you're 3 1/2 seconds old and you've learned your first lessons: Life is not fair, and life occasionally hands out pain for seemingly no good reason. But without it, your little baby self would not grow, and instead you would be dead. I love, love, love this story. And the entire book has these interesting points of view and analogies.

If you're looking for a serene and calming self-help book, this might not be the one for you. BUT! If you want to have some fun learning to have a more positive outlook on life, and you find yourself a little bit cynical of the self help industry, this might just be the one for you.

The book is a very quick read, I read it in about an hour and then Michael and I re-read it outloud together in about an hour's time. Although I was loathe to do so, I did give it to Joe and Judy, and as best I can tell, they've put it in a cupboard and neither one of them has read it. C'est la vie. This book was fun, colorful, and interesting. READ IT!

2. Dark Tort by Diane Mott Davidson. This is the latest Goldie Schulz mystery. Even as I began to read this book, I thought to myself, "God forbid I ever find myself in Aspen Meadow, but if I do, I am never, ever going to become friends with Goldie Schulz." Aspen Meadow in all the books is portrayed as a sleepy small town in the Rockies, affluent, but small. Unfortunately for them, anyone who befriends Goldie tends to wind up extremely dead.

And for some reason, in this particular book, I couldn't quite get past that. The story revolves around a young woman who is found murdered at a law office, where Goldie has recently been hired to cater morning meetings. Goldie has been teaching Dusty to cook and prepare meals, and Dusty it turns out has been schtupping the partners on her way to the top, until she's permanently taken down a few rungs. Dusty also happened to be one of Julian's ex-girlfriends, and a neighbor of the Schulzes before her death, though I can't remember hearing her name ever mentioned in the previous novels.

The book was fine, formulaic Goldie, and I guess maybe I'm getting a wee bit tired of them. I'm sad to say that, as they've always been one of my favorite series of books.

3. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Piccoult. Jodi Piccoult is one of my favorite writers and I was desperate to get my hands on a copy of this book--so desperate in fact that I actually broke my recent rule about only reading what I could get from Paperback Swap and had my sister pick me up a copy of it. Nineteen Minutes centers around the events in a small New Hampshire town when young Peter goes literally ballistic and shoots up his high school. Peter has endured years of abuse, beginning in kindergarten, at the hands of his peers and teachers, administrators, and his own parents have been unsympathetic about his torment. He goes to school, detonates a bomb, and in the ensuing panic, starts shooting.

The story follows two different families, that of Peter's and that of Josie's--Peter's sometimes friend and the daughter of a judge he may potentially face as part of his trial. Josie leaves Peter behind in grade school, becoming a queen bee, but she has her own personal demons behind being a popular kid and not feeling much like herself--or even knowing who she is if she's not Matt's girlfriend or the smart or pretty girl.

The story was un-put-down-able until the end, and then I thought the end was basically bullshit. (Pardon my Francais, gentle readers) There was a little twist at the end and I thought, "Huh, why the hell did she do that?!" which was also what I was thinking when I read another Piccoult classic, My Sister's Keeper. So I'm going to accept it as "what she does" and come away saying this was a darned good read. Fortunately not the tear jerker My Sister's Keeper was, but good nonetheless.

4. The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I am slow but sure making my way through the Little House books, and this one was so short, it should hardly count. This is the story of the Wilders' first four years of marriage, where they deal with every manner of bad thing that might befall them. Almanzo is determined to make life as a farmer work, although Laura begs him not too. She says she has no interest in being a farm wife, but eventually Almanzo prevails and they head to their own claim and begin life on the farm. Laura's dire predictions prove true, all the more disheartening when they have a small child to fend for. Still, Laura and Almanzo make the best of things in spite of their losing battle.

Apparently this book was so short because Laura never finished writing it, and it was patched together with permission of her daughter, Rose. It was a quick and easy read for some low stress summer reading. I suppose this is as close to cheating as it gets, really, but I don't care. Go read your own 100 if you don't like mine. :-)

5. Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. I found this book at the Wilderness Library and very nearly didn't buy it. Just looking at the title, the words didn't exactly compute and I thought, "hmmm, this book seems kind of silly." Then I read "A Novel in Letters" and my shameless snoop side came out. I love, love, love reading books that are comprised of letters, I feel like I'm really snooping in someone's mail or diaries, and it makes it so interesting. So I picked up Ella and on my way to the car, said the title out loud and the light went on.

The story is one of letters, literally, written in letters between various people. The fictional town of Nollop is facing a crisis: Named after Nevin Nollop who famously coined the phrase "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog", a statue to its founder in town is falling to pieces. Specifically, letters on tiles comprising the famous sentence are falling off the statue, and the town council has taken that as a sign. The citizenry is officially banned from using any letter which falls off the sign. Failure to restrict use of those letters results first in lashing, and then in banishment from the island. They may neither speak nor write the offending letters. It starts out fairly simply, with the letter Z, but eventually more and more letters drop and it becomes harder and harder to write and speak.

I won't reveal how it is resolved, but it was an excellent story and one that I only wish I had had the cleverness to invent myself. It's a fairly short book as well, so you could read it pretty quickly if you wanted to! Fun and funny, definitely a book for people who love words. Take up the town's challenge yourself and see if you can come up with a sentence...?

6. The Master Quilter by Jennifer Chiaverini. Yet another Elm Creek Quilt book. And yet another about Sylvia. And I was sure I'd hate it and again I loved it. Damn you, Chiaverini!

In this latest read, the Elm Creek Quilters decide they are going to make a surprise for Sylvia Compson and Andrew, her new husband. They send letters, inviting former campers and quilters nationwide to create squares which they will put together as a bridal quilt for Sylvia and Andrew. In the meanwhile, all the Elm Creek Quilters are beset with their own issues: Summer wants to become her own person. Judy struggles with issues surrounding her job and her family. Bonnie has an evil realtor on her tail and her store's profits are doing worse than ever. Diane must contend with her next door neighbor and chief rival, Mary Ann. Agnes struggles over how best to help a friend in need.

It would be pure schlock if it weren't so compelling. Finally back to the Elm Creek Quilters and their lives, which I was desperate to know about, and I was so happy to read about it, I could scarcely care what they were going to do by the end--though I certainly agreed with all the decisions made by each of the women.

I wish these books weren't so fun to read and I wish I didn't have such a visceral reaction to them before I picked each one up. The funny thing is that Judy does too, and consequently, we moan and groan before reading each one and then discuss them ad nauseum. That's when you know it's something good--when you can't wait to share.

7. This Place Has No Atmosphere by Paula Danziger. I'm going to buy Michael a bumper sticker for the car that reads "My money and my wife go to Wilderness Library." I love picking through their book shelves of sale books, and I was thrilled to find another Danziger from my youth. This particular offering marks Danziger's foray into the world of sci fi, telling the tell of young Aurora, an aspiring high school actress whose parents have decided to move the family quite literally to the Moon. Aurora is devastated--she is part of the in-crowd at school, and has no intention of leaving Earth to go to the Moon. Her parents finally agree that she can come home after a year if she hates it. And so, Aurora, her sister, and her parents become space pioneers and Aurora must find her way in a place that has no atmosphere.

The sci fi aspect of the things is really quite silly, but it touches a chord in every kid who never wanted to move or who had issues with their parents. I never moved growing up, although I sometimes thought my life would be easier if I did, but I certainly had typical teenage issues with my parents that were hard to resolve, and I remember loving this book. When I told Judy I had it, she practically ripped it out of my hands, recalling small details I never remembered. A fun, quick read, if you want a little nostalgia mixed in with silly sci fi, you'll enjoy it.

8. Cat on the Scent by Rita Mae and Sneaky Pie Brown. I got a whole pile of books for Christmas and have been slowly trying to make my way through them so as to encourage the givers to give me more books! This is a book my mom sent me in the hopes that I would enjoy the series.

I had this particular series confused with the "The Cat Who..." books, and hadn't really heard of these books. Apparently, they center around a small cadre of animals who live in a little Virginia town in Albemarle County with the post mistress. Crimes happen in Crozet, and the animals are a step ahead of the humans in solving them. The leader of the animals seems to be a large cat named Mrs. Murphy, and she has a couple of other animals, a cat called Pewter, and a corgi called Tucker, with whom she fights crime and criminals in town.

Although the humans tell the animals to be quiet, they are often shocked to discover that the animals know the locations of important clues to solving mysteries.

In this particular book, the mystery is what happened to a downed plane and pilot, and who shot Sir H. Vane-Tempest during a Civil War re-enactment. Of course the animals know what happened, but the humans are a little slow on the uptake. One of the best scenes is when the 3 animals shanghai a Porsche and hot rod around Virginia's hills.

I am glad to have received and read this book, though I would very much like to read the first in the series to see if I understand the books and people a bit better. I understand from reading reviews of the books that many people want to know if the post mistress and her ex-husband will ever remarry, but I wasn't invested in that particular plot line. I suspect if I do read these from the start, I'll be quite invested in them. Brown makes the books pretty easy to read--the animals' conversations are in italics and the humans are in regular print. A good read, but a bit confusing. I'll have to read more!! (Thanks, Mom!)

9. Two for the Dough by Janet Evanovich. This is another Stephanie Plum book and I'm getting Mike into these. We're reading them together and enjoying them a great deal. I can't say much about them other than I love them and I'll continue reading them till she quites writing them. It's been fun to go back to the beginning to hear about things before Stephanie and Morelli were really serious.

This book centers around the funeral home where Grandma Mazur likes to get her social interaction on a near nightly basis. Stephanie is hired by the sleezy owner to be his personal bodyguard and to find some property of his that has been stolen by his equally unscrupulous business associate--who happens to be Morelli's cousin.

Of course I love the books. My favorite is upcoming--four and ten are amazing--but the first few are real good. And even though they are formulaic, they remain witty and I never tire of them. I've told Judy to get me 13 and she better not have forgotten (hint, hint). I'm dying to read it.

10. Along Came a Spider by James Patterson. Again, having run through almost the entire Grisham library, we knew we needed to find someone else to read, and I decided Michael would enjoy the Alex Cross series by James Patterson. So we've started. I will never again read Kiss the Girls, which was more disturbing than I could say, so I got Along Came a Spider and we read this together over our vacation in RI/NY.

The story introduces Gary Soneji, brilliant psychopathic serial killer, who will become Cross's nemesis for some books to come. In this, Soneji kidnaps the daughter of a prominent movie star and the son of a prominent government official. Pulled off a seemingly unrelated case, the brilliant Alex Cross is forced onto this case against his will, but soon realizes he's matching wits with someone who truly needs to be reckoned with.

I really enjoyed this particular book, and I enjoyed reading it in the past. It was one that stuck with me and I remembered the ending of it, so it was no surprise, but what surprised me was how much I enjoyed getting through the story to see how it all tied together. The mind games that Soneji played with Cross made for some riveting reading and we hated to put it down even for a second. If you've never read a Patterson/Cross book, this is a great place to start.

11. The Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger. I've saved the best for last. This was my favorite book of June and one of my favorites this year, and quite probably one of my all time favorites. I laughed until I cried and then I turned around and cried until I laughed.

Joey Margolis is a wise-cracking kid living tough in Brooklyn. Charlie Banks is a typical dumb jock who makes it big playing baseball for the Giants. They strike up an unlikely penpalship and the results draw in Joey's mother and aunt, his teacher, and Charlie's teammates and girlfriend, Hazel McKay, a singer competing with Ethel Merman in the clubs of New York.

The story begins with Joey in trouble with the law after a street fight with some other kids. He is interviewed by police and begins writing letters to Charlie Banks, trying to get him to acknowledge Joey's presence on the radio so the other kids in school will think Joey's a big deal. The nastier Charlie gets with Joey, the more he can't stop replying to Joey's letters and an unlikely friendship is formed.

The story also shares Joey's letters to FDR, Joey's report cards, police reports, "and etc." (as Charlie frequently writes in the book). It contains such literary gems as the sentence "There is not one shred of historical evidence to support the idea that Dolley Madison was a lesbian." And I frankly loved Charlie calling FDR "Muffinmouth."

The book begins in 1941 and carries through World War II. About 50 pages before the end, it's clear how the book will end, but even that didn't bother me. The book is not about sports, so if you're anti-baseball or anti-sports, you won't be bored with it. Instead, the story is that of an unlikely friendship between a boy who needs someone in his life and a man becoming that person against his will and with a little prodding from the people around him.

Joey's mom and aunt reminded me a lot of my own family, and I swear I could hear my mom's voice in my head as I read the letters from Joey's mother.

I cannot possibly describe what a great book this is. Take my word for it, get a copy, read it and re-read it. Once I get it back from my dad, to whom I lent it and who also loved the hell out if it, I'll be reading it again and again for years to come.

Thus endeth June.

It was a good month for reading, partly because I spent the last few days out at the pool and with my mother-in-law who is now reading 10 books per week (darn her!). To break it down:

The Excellent: Last Days of Summer

The Great: How to Be Happy, Dammit!, Ella Minnow Pea, The Master Quilter

The Good: Nineteen Minutes, Two for the Dough, Along Came a Spider, This Place Has No Atmosphere, Cat On the Scent

The OK: Dark Tort, The First Four Years

The Awful: N/A

Totals for June:

Books Read: 11
Pages Read: 3452

Totals for 2007:

Books Read: 57
Pages Read: 18,504

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Armchair Traveler Book Challenge, Entry 1

Ok, the challenge has only just begun and already I've changed a book choice for it. I'm writing this tonight and skipping ahead of my June books, since a) I don't feel like writing nearly a dozen book reviews tonight, and b) I lost my list of what I read while on my travels. So, I'm going to skip ahead to my new selection for the book challenge and I'm debating what I'm going to get rid of in the mean time.

So, my first book for the Armchair Traveler Challenge is
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. It is a memoir Walls wrote about growing up with her eclectic parents: alcoholic dad Rex and dreamer mom Rose Mary. The Walls family lives like nomads at the beginning of the book--packing up in the middle of the night and leaving whatever home they're in to escape bill collectors, police, and child welfare workers. They travel around the US Southwest until their money runs out, and they are forced to move in with Rex's family in West Virginia. At this point, the Walls children start to plan their escape from the craziness of their upbringing and make plans to go to New York City to start fresh, new lives where they are unknown.

I borrowed this book from Lauren, and I hadn't really considered using it for the challenge, I think because I wasn't really sure what it was all about. However, the writing was superb and the description of the family homes and travels led me to think about using it as my first choice. Walls vividly describes the succession of crumbling homes and small towns where they live with such talent that you can picture where she is, despite never having been there. Having recently visited the Southwest for the first time, I had a better understanding of how desolate the little towns could be and what the landscape was like, and it was interesting to hear of the Walls family's issues with the law and how they continued to move and soldier on in the face of incredible odds.

I thought I'd share a few passages of the book where the descriptions were quite good and made me think of where they were. (All material copyright Jeannette Walls)

We moved around like nomads. We lived in dusty little mining towns in Nevada, Arizona, and California. They were usually nothing but a tiny cluster of sad, sunken shacks, a gas station, a dry-goods store, and a bar or two. They had names like Needles and Bouse, Pie, Goffs, and Why, and they were near places like the Superstition Mountains, the dried up Soda Lake, and the Old Woman Mountain. The more desolate a place, the better Mom and Dad liked it... Mom had grown up in the desert. She loved the dry, crackling heat, the way the sky at sunset looked like a sheet of fire, and the overwhelming emptiness and severity of all that open land that had once been a huge ocean bed...

I have a feel for the places, although I've never been and probably never will.
She didn't use a lot of words to describe the places, but you definitely had a sense of where they were and what they could see.

I'm just going to tuck in a description of one town they lived in, Battle Mountain, as it was one of my favorite places they lived.

Battle Mountain had started out as a mining post, settled a hundred years earlier by people hoping to strike it rich, but if anyone ever had struck it rich in Battle Mountain, they must have moved somewhere else to spend their fortune. Nothing about the town was grand except the big empty sky and, off in the distance, the stony purple Tuscarora Mountains running down the table-flat desert.

The main street was wide--with sun-bleached cars and pickups parked at an angle to the curb--but only a few blocks long, flanked on both sides with low, flat-roofed buildings made of adobe or brick. A single streetlight flashed red day and night. Along Main Street was a grocery store, a drugstore, a Ford dealership, a Greyhound bus station, and two big casinos, the Owl Club and the Nevada Hotel. The buildings, which seemed puny under the huge sky, had neon signs that didn't look like they were on during the day because the sun was so bright.

In Battle Mountain, the Wallses moved into an old building on the railroad tracks, and rather than purchase more furniture they'd have to leave behind, the children slept inside refrigerator boxes and they all used large industrial spools for tables and chairs. I can't even imagine it.

Eventually the elder Wallses become homeless after following their children to NYC (this is not a spoiler, considering on the first page, Jeannette talks about seeing her mom dumpster diving). There was a quality about Rex and Rose Mary--crazy though they were--that I liked. At the end, when their squatting leads to an opportunity to buy a place in the building, it's almost as if the optimist in Rose Mary knew it would all work out. Rex's alcoholism and the issues of his family certainly are disturbing--particularly in Rex's dismissal of claims of sexual abuse against the children--and yet there's something that leads you to pity Rex as well and feel a warmth for him as he does his best to keep the children free and moving.

A great book, a lot of great places and people, all of it sticks with you quite vividly, and I was pleased that the places played as important a role as the people and the story. One down, five to go :-) I hope they're all this good!

Monday, July 09, 2007

I'm Back

And it's gonna take me a while to catch up.

All hell has broken loose here in VA since we've gotten home--everything from our house apparently being battered by storms while we were away and thus our cable connection crapped out and we had no phone or internet to my dad breaking my new camera to being given the cold shoulder by Marisa Tomei (yes, that Marisa Tomei, and yes, she's the latest celeb to hit the Susan Kosior Celeb Shit List).

I swear I'll be back soon--I have my June book reviews to write, I have my first book review for Lesley's book challenge to write, I have emails to return (Lara, if you're out there, you'll hear from me soon), and heck, I suppose I should unpack one of these days!!

We left on Thursday, June 28th, got home Saturday, left again Sunday, and it's now (early) Tuesday morning and I've just gotten home. After Wednesday, I'll be able to take a breather, write everything I need to write, everything I want to write, and everything in between.

Till then, be patient with me :-)