Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Home Again, Home Again Tuesday Thingers!

In case you noticed, I have not posted in a week or so. Christmas...work...Bandit the wonder dog. So many distractions and I have not gotten in the habit of pre-writing posts so....

Well, anyhoo, it is Tuesday, and the new host of Tuesday Thingers, Wendi at Wendi's Book Corner, has post this weeks question. Thank you Wendi!

Today's question: Here is a list of the main areas of Library Thing:
1. Home (http://www.librarything.com/, before you log in)
2. Home (once you log in, contains Your Home, Your Profile, Connections, Recommendations, Reviews, Statistics, Clouds, Gallery, Memes)
3. Profile (Recent activity, tags, comments, members with your books)
4. Your Library
5. Your Tags
6. Add Books
7. Talk
8. Groups
9. Local
10. Search
11. Zeitgeist (Stats, Top Lists)
12. Tools (Widgets, Store)
13. Blog

What area are you most familiar with? What area is your favorite? What area are you curious about? Are there any that you have not really looked at?

It's funny, when I first started, I spent a lot of time on the Your Library page, tweaking this and that, adding tags, fixing pictures and such. Oddly enough, I can get a wee bit OCD about such things.
But then, I discovered Groups! Hey, why didn't someone tell me about this? I think I have said it before, but as much as I love LT, the tour of the various features available and how it all works is, or at least was when I joined, rather confusing. So, it was awhile before I tumbled into the groups. But now, without doubt, they occupy the majority of my time on the LT site. Green Dragon, ARC Junkies, Bloggers, Tea, and a few others. If you have an interest, there is most likely a group there about it.

If not, create one!
Of course, then you might be one of those numerous groups with only one member...sad. Hey,trollops for Trollope is looking for members! Or Puppet Lovers! Two members there, you can make it three. You know you just love those puppets.

I wonder if there is a group for imaginary kitties, don't you Kitty? Maybe we should start it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Nativity, by Gerard van Honthorst (1590-1656)

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
'Round yon virgin mother and Child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heav'nly hosts sing Alleluia;
Christ the Saviour is born
Christ the Saviour is born

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love's pure light.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth

Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute heilige Paar.
Holder Knab im lockigten Haar,
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!

by Joseph Mohr 1816

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ooops...almost missed Tuesday again.

Well, it seems that this may well be the last Tuesday Thinger. I am sure we all wish to give our great thanks to Boston Billiophile for her work on it and while I have not been here as long as many, it has been fun.
So this weeks question....the last {{sob...sob}}

Today's question: Holiday gift-giving. Do you give books for the holidays? Did you participate in LT's SantaThing, either this year or last, or in other blogging gift exchanges? Were you happy with what you received?

Do I give books for Christmas? Well, usually not. I know, we should support book sellers by giving book gifts. But let's face it, it is very hard. First you have to try to determine someon's taste...hard enough...and then, even worse, you have to try to see if they might already have the book. Now, of course, if they are on Library Thing you might have a much better idea. A much better idea of both things actually.
But I am a fan of the book gift card! To gove or recieve. So if any of you are looking for that perfect gift for me, look no further! lol
I have said it before, but I will repeat it. It is a lovely pleasure to spent an hour or two...or an afternoon...in a bookstore, looking around and if you know you have that gift card in your pocket to pay fro your pickings, ever better!!

Now this year I am giving books to two of my gift receivers. But they are both children and I figure how many books can they own. Well, actually, quite a few maybe but I have hopes that they will not have the ones I bought. I think there are few gifts better for a child than help in developing a love of reading.

LT Santa Thing...no. This is the first year I have been on LT and so this was the first I heard of it. To tell the truth, I did not quite understand how it worked. And it is bad enough to buy things for people that I know that they hate let alone to do it for strangers too.
Maybe next year...

In the meantime, I need to find something else to fill my Tuesdays! Any suggestions??
For any day of the week actually. Something that does not involve a great deal of thinking or introspection.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Santa will have to find his own cookies. These are mine!

Here is what I was up to yesterday, making gingerbread cookies. And then taking pictures of them, for you my dear readers, to view with awe.

Last year was the first time I ever made them, and did just because I had never made them before. It was, that time, a last minute decision and I could not find a gingerbread man shaped cookie cutter, so I drew a template on cardboard, as the following linked recipe suggests, and traced them and cut them out with a sharp knife. This year, I found a cookie cutter and let me tell ya, wow, that is a lot less work...lol

Although actually, I liked the shape of last year's better. Gingerbread Boy has put on a few pounds it seems.

If you find yourself lacking in gingerbread people, here is a very nice recipe that I used from Simply Recipes. In fact, I have found a number of very good recipes there.

That ¼ tsp. of pepper makes all the difference. Don't leave it out. A hint of spiciness...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree!
How are thy leaves so verdant!
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How are thy leaves so verdant!
Not only in the summertime,
But even in winter is thy prime.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How are thy leaves so verdant!

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
Much pleasure dost thou bring me!
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
Much pleasure dost thou bring me!
For every year the Christmas tree,
Brings to us all both joy and glee.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
Much pleasure dost thou bring me!

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
Thy candles shine out brightly!
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
Thy candles shine out brightly!
Each bough doth hold its tiny light,
That makes each toy to sparkle bright.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
Thy candles shine out brightly!

Friday, December 19, 2008

a review of Miles from Nowhere

Miles From Nowhere by Nami Mun

NYC of the 1980's, and specifically the world we will see through the eyes of Joon, the central character of this book, is a harsh and brutal world. When her family falls apart, her father leaving once again and her mentally ill mother unable to cope, and she unable to cope with her mother, 13 year old Korean-American Joon becomes a runaway and takes to the streets. As we share episodic glimpses into her life over the next 5 years, we enter the world she attempts to survive in, a world of prostitution, violence, crime and drugs. And we come to know the colorful cast of friends and acquaintances she meets along the way, sometimes frightening, sometimes amusing...always quite sad.

It is a bleak world that she enters and in a way, her journey is rather fascinating and seems quite realistically depicted. One would think that might makes this a very depressing book, but actually it is not. Part of that is because Joon is a sympathetic character who is well portrayed by the author. Even as things become more desperate...and some incidents are really quite hard to read...Joon comes across as an intelligent girl, serious and hopeful about finding a way out. Does she?...well, you will have to read the book to discover that for yourself.

I would recommend this book...with some reservations. At times, some of the incidents can be rather funny, but overall the tone of the story is quite desolate and cheerless. Rather like the cover. And there is a certain quality of detachment and spareness about the writing that makes me care about what happens to Joon...but just not care a great deal. After awhile, I felt like a rather distant observer, and quite honesty rather happy for the distance.

I found it ultimately a hopeful story, but be warned it entailed a journey across a blighted, grim landscape.

Available From Amazon December 26, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Chronicles of Goodyear

My faith in the future of reading in the United States is reborn! As I sat in the Goodyear Auto Service waiting room this morning, waiting for some mechanic to replace a caliper...and hoping not to get totally ripped off because I only the vaguest idea what a caliper on a car is...I am shortly joined by two fellows, also awaiting repairs, one a man of 76 (he told me for some reason) and another young man, in his 20's it appeared.

We all sat down and opened our books and began to read!
Soon, the Goodyear shop bore a slight resemblance to the local public library, the TV blaring Good Morning America in the corner ignored.
Reading is alive and well!!

Tuesday Thinger bids Fare Thee Well.

Yes, it is Tuesday again but a Tuesday that we must begin with a sad note. Boston Biliophile, who has been the gracious hostess of Tuesday Thingers, has announced that this will be her last week as host due to other obligations and will hopefully pass the baton to another volunteer...(has anyone raised their hand? come on...come on....)
So, before we start, let's pause for a short round of applause for Boston Bibliophile and all that she has done to make TT so much fun!
Kitty, yes, I know it is hard to clap with paws. Especially imaginary ones.

Today's Question: The LT Home Page feature. How are you liking it? Or not? Do you go here when you log into LT or do you use your profile page more?

I use the home page ...well, as my Library Thing Home Page. I must say that I rarely go to the profile page anymore. But you know, taking a look at it, I realize that I really have to pause there soon and do a little editing of it. When it first appeared some months back, I look at the various ways you could customize it, removing sections that did not interest me and unchecked a couple. But in reality, there are only a few that I use on a regular basis and I think I will check out how it looks with some others put on hold. The Recently Added I use...and personally I just like the look of some nice covers up at the top of the page. Search you Library, certainly! After all, the reason I first signed up for LT was because I can't remember for more than a week what books recently arrived at my wee house in the woods. Ok, there are no woods. And the Talk (forum) section...yes, I use that one a lot, because quite honestly, when I go to LT, it is most often to check out the forums and see who is saying what. You can find my witty, intelligent comments there in a number of exciting groups...Tea...Bloggers....ARC Junkies and the Green Dragon most often. And a number where no one every comments, so you won't see me 'there' much. Because it would be lonely....

Oh...I wonder if there is a group for people with imaginary pets??

But back to the question...I do get distracted, don't I....
Tag Watch...no. Popular This Month...no, as we have discussed, if it is popular, chances are I won't like it. Hot Reviews...not unless it was mine there. Local Events...well, it seems nothing happens, book wise, in South Joisey, so the nearest events that appear are in Philly and if I am going to Philly, it is to go to Ikea.
I love Ikea!!
So it appears I have some cleaning up to do there. But that is what the new year is for, isn't it? Organize financial records for this year's taxes, throw out socks with holes in them, reorganize Kitty's cat toys, and get rid of Tag Watch.

Monday, December 15, 2008

a review of Holidays on Ice

Holidays on Ice (unabridged audio CD) by David Sedaris

Aww....the 'holiday' season is upon us. Peace on earth, goodwill toward men., fa la la la la!! Generous giving of gifts, trees decorated to perfection...or at least that the way it is in the Hallmark movies! But for the rest of us, for whom the reality of the season might not quite live up to these snowy ideals, Holidays on Ice might just be the perfect companion.

Be forewarned. Mr. Sedaris' view, while often truly laugh out loud funny, is also rather dark and sarcastic. Of course, for some of us, that sharp biting humor is just the thing to cut through the teeth achingly sweet vision of sugarplums foisted upon us. The book is made up of 12 essays, the majority about Christmas but a couple about Halloween and Easter as well. The book opens with the longest, and in my opinion the funniest story, Santa Land Diaries, about the 30 something author's stint as an elf at Macy's Santa Land. Now I was in those lines at NYC's Macy several times when my niece was a wee one, and it is very easy to see the truth in this expose about the behind the scene working of Santa and his elves...and most of all the often bizarre actions of those bringing their kids to see the Big Fellow from the North Pole. Very, very funny, but I am rather happy that I will most likely not be going back there. Don't eat the yellow artificial snow.....noooooooo.

My other favorites were 'Dinah, The Christmas Whore', a funny and yet rather sad story of a Christmas visitor to the dysfunctional Sedaris home, and 'Six to Eight Black Men', an extremely amusing essay on certain differences in how other cultures celebrate the holiday.
As in any collection of stories, a few did not quite live up to that level for me, 'Front Row Center With Thaddeus Bristol' and 'The Monster Mash' (but then I am not really a great fan of Halloween) among them, but as a whole this is a book that I can strongly recommend.

That is, assuming you don't mind a big dash of darkness, sarcasm and some strong language with your holiday humor. Be forewarned again...this is not for the kiddies. Unless you family is a wee bit twisted.

The version that I am reviewing is the unabridged audio edition, courtesy of Anna at Hachette Books (thank you very much Anna!) and without question the audio format, read by Mr. Sedaris himself, is ideal for this book. But I must admit I am new to audio books and have discovered they are not without their dangers! I downloaded the CDs to my iPod and happily went off on a Christmas shopping adventure. And so I found that while you can get away with laughing while alone in your car, if you start to giggle while in the checkout line at Smith and Hawkins or burst into laughter while perusing the aisles at the Sur la Table store, you may get some strange looks.
Well, at least I was not wearing an elf suit!

For another review of this book, visit bermudaonion's weblog to read her take.

Available from Amazon

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Do Not Fear The Unread Books, They Are Your Patient Friends!

I am sure that many of us have a book or two on our shelves that we haven't read. I think that I might have a few...or a hundred. Yes, the feared “To Be Read” pile. Well, as you my dear readers know, it is feared by my imaginary kitty, Kitty, who is concerned, in her sweet, imaginary cat mind, that it will topple over and crush her.

But, is there a good side to that TBR pile? Is it like a little piggy bank, a pile of saved money? bookninja suggests as much; that in these hard economic times, the pile of unread books is a untapped financial resource.
"Instead of going out and buying more books you fully-intend-to but are-not-going-to read, why not examine your shelves for ones that slipped through the cracks and feel lonely and neglected."
No need to buy new books...which, true, may hurt the book industry, but may, he suggests, help the 'hospitality services industry', because people will now have extra beer money!
Well, speak for yourself mr. bookninja. Kitty and I drink tea, with our pinkies extended. Kitty has an imaginary pinkie. And we have quite a pile of tea also.

But as this article in The Guardian suggests, perhaps there is more to the question. Mr. Jordison refers, in a tone that may strike fear in the hearts of some, to “the tyranny of the to-be read pile.
“In directing us to the books we already own, bookninja is asking us to confront the tyranny of the to-read pile head-on. Bibliophiles everywhere will be only too well acquainted with the demons of guilt and shame that such explorations would conjure. The to-read pile is more than just a physical stack of books: it's a tower of ambitions failed, hopes unrealised, good intentions unfulfilled. Worse still, it's a cold hard reminder of mortality.”
And, as he raises another point, quoting from yet another article, this one by Cynthia Crossen in the Wall Street Journal.
“As I scanned my shelves, I found I had convincing arguments why I shouldn't read each one of the orphans -- or convincing to me anyway...I rejected a book called "English, August," by Upamanyu Chatterjee because it is, after all, November... Try it yourself and see how many pitiful excuses you can find for not reading a book you own.”
Yes, that is one way to view the TBR pile. I know that some people feel pressured by all those unread books and guilty that they continue to buy new books while they have even one unread on their shelves. But I have to admit that I feel rather differently about it. I find it comforting. Say that tomorrow the worse possible thing in the world happens. It is decided that no more books will be published. Oh, maybe some of those 'cheaper to turn out but harder for my aged eyes to read on those little screens' E-books, but no beautiful leather covers, no artistic dust jackets, no smell of new paper and ink. Well, I don't know about you, but I am in good shape for a long, long time. Or say that I break my leg and am trapped in my house for a month and the TV blows up. No worry, so long as I can crawl over to the shelves. “Fetch Kitty, fetch.”
And when I finish the ones I have not read, I can just start at the beginning with the rest, because I surely will have forgotten most of them. Because I will be quite old.

I had a discussion with someone recently, who questioned why I, who lives alone, shops at Sam's Club, the home of the giant sized packages of goods. Does no one else draw a warm and cozy feelings from the sight of a pantry shelf lined with a dozen rolls of paper towels, a gallon of hot cocoa mix? That is how I see my TBR pile, a stockpile of treasures, waiting to be savored. They, my little book friends, don't mind waiting. They know their moment will come one day. There is no pressure, no one will go stale. They are a reservoir from which to draw, a cache to cherish. A month from now or five years from now, every book will be just as perfect to read as the day it came off the printer's press or the day it came home from the used book store.

Perfect with a cup or two of that cocoa...drink up, I have lots and lots of cocoa.

Friday, December 12, 2008

a review of Kellie's Book

Kellie's Book, The Art of The Possible by Kellie Greenwald

After her father retired and published a book about his career, Kellie decided that she wanted to do the same and spent 2 years working on this book. She is a first time author and as well as writing this book, she did all the vibrant, bold illustrations it contains. We learn a number of things about Kellie in this book, her memoir.

We learn that she is 29 years old, the younger sister of Doug, the daughter of Carla and Hank. Her father was once a broadcaster for the Yankees and then the Giants, and Kellie, having spend a lot of time in baseball stadiums growing up, counts a number of famous players among her friends. She has held a couple of different jobs. She loves to sing and play guitar, to cook for her friends, to swim and play baseball. She enjoys spending time with her family but also enjoys her independence. She loves to go on vacation and to go to good restaurants. She loves her cat. And she love her art.

Oh, and yes, Kellie was born with Down Syndrome.

To quote Dr. Corinne R. Smith, Former Dean of Education at Syracuse University, from the foreword;
Kellie's Book is a source of hope for families of children with disabilities. It is a testament to the fact that when children know they are utterly loved and supported, there is no end to what they can achieve and no end to what they give back by uplifting the lives of those around them....In this book, Kellie teaches us to view her as a person first, and not to judge her by her disability, and that differences among people are, after all, what makes like so interesting and makes the world go around.”
Her parents had a strong conviction that Kellie be given every opportunity to develop to her full potential. When she was just three weeks old, she was enrolled in the Infant Development Program at Easter Seals in San Francisco. When it seems unlikely that she would learn to speak, she was taught sign language, although as her parents comment, her verbal skills later developed and now, you better look out if she gets her hands on a microphone. It was not easy for Kellie, as she herself says in the book, “When I was a little girl I want to a school called Living and Learning Center. Even though it was hard for me I tried my very best.”
It is clear that Kellie and her family have always tried their very best and the results are inspiring.

To quote again from someone who knows Kellie, her teacher Susan Vickery, at the Victory Center for Arts and Communication at the Cedars of Marin,
“Enthusiasm, tenacity and sincerity flood each moment of Kellie Greenwald's life. These qualities shine through in Kellie's Book and invite the readers not only to share her experiences but also to dream about their own lives, and of all the possibilities and opportunities for learning and loving that are available for their own exploration.”
This is a book that both children and adults can enjoy and I think it would be an excellent book for a parent or teacher to read with their kids and then discuss the issues raised by Kellie's experiences. The text of the book is simple and direct and moving; the illustrations are bold and colorful and sometimes striking. Her cat Sweet Pea, with his two different colored eyes, her deceased grandmother, to whom she dedicates the book, herself as a baby in her mother' arms and my personal favorite, a brilliant red heart, surrounded with vibrant stripes of color, accompanying these words of Kellie,
“Love is a good feeling.

Our hearts will be the same.
My heart is sensitive and soft, filled with love.
Sharing our hearts creates love and makes love.”

Available from Amazon with a portion of the proceeds from the sales being donated to The Cedars of Marin, a facility for adults with developmental disabilities.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gingerbread...and a Lighthouse! I want one!

This month, Coastal Living Magazine has the recipe and directions to make this absolutely wonderful looking gingerbread lighthouse. Who would want a regular old gingerbread house when you could have this.
"This meticulously crafted lighthouse, complete with gummy lobsters and Lifesaver windows, is a tasty replica of nearby Whale Back Light, which stands at the entrance to Portsmouth Harbor."
Now I guess if I were to make a lighthouse, I should do a local one, Absecon or Cape May, but they are towers with round sides. Forget that! Or I could do Sandy Hook, that has straight sides like this one. But the lobsters would not seem quite right...did you see the little candy lobsters?

Well, I have no lobsters, so I guess that I will stick with gingerbread men...

Got Some Time to Waste?

Because I love lists...and because I love to waste time, I offer this amusement from the pages of the always interesting Happy Catholic.

Anything I have done is bolded. Play along, if desired, if only in your mind.

1. Started your own blog (Where do you think you are...duh.. ;-)
2. Slept under the stars (I fell asleep in my hammock.)
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower (It was sort of a trickling shower.)
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland/Disneyworld (It is a magical place! Really!)
8. Climbed a mountain (You know, there is no agreement on how to define a mountain, so yes!)
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sang a solo (No one said other people had to be there.)
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea (No, but I saw a real cool one from a plane once.)
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch (Pysanky)
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked Once. (I was desperate...snow...car broke down...)
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill (I doubt my boss reads this. Right?)
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb (Baaaaaaaaa...)
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset (I work shift work. I have seen countless sunrises.)
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise (I consider any time on a boat a cruise.)
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors (Luckily, they are all from the same country.)
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language (Unless you count the one my imaginary cat and I speak)
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied (I have simple needs.)
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing (See “mountain”. You never said how big a rock.)
40. Seen Michelangelo's David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight (Shift work again.)
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted (It was in pastels, as a kid, at the NY World Fair.)
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling (oh, wait! Pool...snorkel thingie..yep!)
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater (With a bunch of my cousins, in the back of a station wagon, as a kid.)
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching (Next year!)
63. Got flowers for no reason (Does buying them for yourself count?)
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy (Etch-A-Sketch!)
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial (Especially lovely at night.)
71. Eaten caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square (See picture. hmmm...I need a tripod for those nighttime pics.)
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone (If you count the nose, which I have broken three times.)
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car (Waste of money, but I love them.)
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible (Not straight through.)
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox (Not sure...eeek!)
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury (Guilty)
91. Met someone famous (Michael Buble came to our table in a restaurant in NYC Thursday and kissed one of the women I was having dinner with. He is very good looking in person.)
92. Joined a book club (Does online count?)
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee (Many, at one time.)
100. Read an entire book in one day (Several. Some very, very good. See #23 above. Some rather short.)

Ok, my dear readers, I have learned a few things from this exercise.
I have too many questions and too many comments for a list like this!
And I need to go to Europe. And Hawaii. And stay away from bees.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I have a "Thing" about "Tuesday"

Now, for those of you anxiously awaiting more information about the many wonderful things to be found on Library Thing, this weeks question from The Grand Boston Bibliophile.

Most of us book bloggers like to write book reviews- if we don't love to write book reviews- but here's today's question. When it comes to LT (and your blog), do you review every book you read? Do you just review Early Reviewers or ARCs? Do you review only if you like a book, or only if you feel like you have to? How soon after reading do you post your review? Do you post them other places- other social networking sites, Amazon, etc.?

Yes, I do actually write reviews of all the books that I read. Yes...that is all the books I have read recently. One thing about this blog is that I realize that I do not read as many books as some people. Am I a slow reader? Do I just not spend as much time reading as some people? Or am I just easily distracted...oh, look, a shiny bauble!! Pretty...pretty, shiny thing...oooooh...

Oh, where was I...? Yes, book reviews. What do I review? Well, the majority of them these days are ARCs...advanced review copies for those of you not in the know... ;-) or Early Reviewers books from Library Thing. Not all, but most. As I have mentioned before, and will mention again even at risk of getting hit with something, I have been lucky enough to get a book every month that I have belonged to Library Thing's ER, and I give these books priority. As soon as I get them, I read and review them.
Next comes the ARC's, trying to get to them close to the publication date as I can. Of course, glancing at my ARC pile...not to be confused with the regular TBR pile, the one that is getting higher and higher and threatening to fall over and crush my imaginary kitty, Kitty...but looking at the ARC pile, I can see that it is going to be a very busy January. And February. And March. At least for me, slow, easily distracted reader. Oh, look, a pretty birdie...

I review a book whether I like it or not. Which, I have found, is a matter of some disagreement here in the blogsphere. So long as I was able to finish it, which was not the case in...hmmmm...two books. I guess that would be a very negative review but if I have not finished it, I will not write anything. They are in a third pile, the "maybe get back too" pile. Are you starting to get an idea what my house looks like?
I try to write the review as soon as I finish the book, within a day or two. Or else I forget my points. Or lose the books in one of those piles. But on the other hand, I need a day or two to let my opinion percolate in my brain. It's like the three bears...not too soon, not too late....just right!

I post them here, on the blog, which I assume you have noticed, and I post a shorter version on LT and usually on Amazon. I know, from a recent thread on Library Thing, that some people DO NOT like links on reviews, or links to reviews. But I try for a complete but shorter version on those two, an edited down version, sometimes with a link to the full review here, and save my full, pointless, rambling thoughts for you, my dear readers.

Both of you! :-)

Monday, December 8, 2008

a review of "The Believers"

The Believers by Zoe Heller

The Litvinoff's are a family in crisis. The father, Joel, a famous radical lawyer, very early in the book, has a massive stroke and is in a coma. His wife Audrey and their three grown children are left to deal with this and with each other and with a “surprise” they discover about Joel.

Audrey is an angry, disagreeable woman, out to be more radical than her radical husband.
“By the time she woke up and discovered that people were making faces at her behind her back-that she was no longer a sexy young woman with a charmingly short fuse but a middle-aged termagant- it was too late. Her anger had become a part of her. It was a knotted thicket in her gut, too dense to be cut down and too deeply entrenched in the loamy soil of her disappointments to be uprooted.”

Their oldest daughter Karla is married to a union organizer and desperately trying to have a child, in order to be the perfect family. Rosa, the younger daughter, after spending years in Cuba as a committed communist, has returned home and to the great chagrin of her mother, has decided to return to the Orthodox Judaism of her ancestors, while adopted son Lenny is a ne'er-do-well drug addict....and the apple of his mother's eye.

All their various belief systems, be they religion or family or radical politics, are facing challenges, both from within and without. When faced with their individual turning points, how will they react? As Rosa's rabbi explains to her;
“Do you remember what the Israelites said at Sinai? 'We shall do and we shall hear.' Their choice of syntax was meaningful, Rosa. They were expressing their willingness to do God's will before they really understood it. That is the crucial lesson of the Sinaitic revelation-God doesn't need our perfect understanding or even our perfect faith. What he wants is our commitment, our actions.”
And each of The Believers will be challenged to let their actions speak for what they truly believe as the story plays out.

Quite honestly, when I read the cover description of this book, I was not hopeful that I would like it. New York radical lawyer...a secret...his wife forced to re-examine her ideas about him and their forty year marriage...their adult children have to come to terms with this unsettling discovery.
It all sounded rather not like my usual cup of tea.

But I was very wrong and I actually liked this book a great deal. The Believers is a very interesting book, very well written and with excellent characters. That I think is the real strength of the book, the excellent characters. These are not perfect people to any degree, and I mean any degree, but even in their mistakes and pettiness and anger...well, we like and understand them because they have been so well and clearly portrayed. Actually, to say we like them is not really true very often in this book because they are not really very likable, but we still want them to find their way. We feel rather like the one nice person in the book, Audrey's friend Jean. We wonder why Jean puts up with Audrey's nastiness and even cruelty toward her and still always seems so positive and is always there for her friend, just as we wonder why we continue to care about the Litvinoff's. And that says a deal about the excellence of Ms. Heller's skill as a writer.

Available For Pre-order from Amazon, Available March 3, 2009

Friday, December 5, 2008

Two "Ugly' Lighthouses.

I don't have a book to review at the moment...don't get me wrong, I have lots of books but I am just a little behind in my reading, what with the holidays and such....so, I think it might be time for a visit to one of our guardians of the sea, a lighthouse.
I know you are very excited, but try to control yourselves.

To save a few of the 'pretty' lighthouses for the winter, today we will visit two of the very similar looking 'ugly duckling' lighthouses of New Jersey, Finns Point Rear Range Light and Tinicum Island Rear Range Light. So first, a word about range lights. They were normally built along rivers and they were built in pairs, one at the bank of the river and one set some distance back. The idea was then when the two lights were lined up in the vision of the ship's captain, they were in the channel and would not run aground. To give you an idea how necessary this was, the site where the Finns Point Light was built, where the Delaware River and Delaware Bay separate, saw 147 ships trying to negotiate that area destroyed between 1926 and 1934.

Both lights are what are called skeletal lights, wrought iron frames with a center column that contains the spiral stairs to the top. Finns Point was built by the Kellogg Bridge company in Buffalo NY in 1876, and then shipped, in parts, by train to Salem, NJ and then taken to the site by wagon and erected. The “Description of Lighthouse Sites of the Fourth Lighthouse District” gives this description of the tower:

“94 feet 8 and one half inches high from base to the focal plane. It is of wrought-iron, braced and supported by beams and tie-rods; the shell of the tower is of one quarter inch sheets of iron, riveted together, with the necessary openings for windows; it is 8 feet in diameter; and lined on the inside with vertical tongue-and-grooved boards; it encloses a cast-iron spiral stairway leading to lantern and watch-room. The posts supporting the tower are of 9-inch I beams, braced together with 5-inch I beams and rods from one and a half to one inch in diameter. The posts have an inclination of 1 horizontal to 6 vertical; they are held to masonry piers 6 feet deep by bolts, two at each post, attached to a wrought-iron plate under the piers. The tower is entered through a cast-iron vestibule one story in height.”
The light was commissioned in 1877 and served until 1933, when it was decided by the government that it was obsolete. Seems they might have been mistaken because the river pilots petitioned for it to be reactivated and, in an unmanned form, it served until 1950. Today it is located in the Supawna Meadows National Wildlife Refuge and although it was sandblasted and restored in 1983, very sadly, because of federal budget cuts, today it is rarely open for visits. I was very lucky that it was open for the 2008 NJ Lighthouse Challenge and I was able to climb it that weekend.

Tinicum, located on the Delaware River directly across from Philadelphia in Billingsport, NJ was constructed in 1880 and unlike Finns Point, is still active. The original front wooden light, at the river's edge, was replaced by a steel tower on a concrete base. The rear light is 85 feet tall, with a focal plane, or distance from sea level to the light, of 112 feet, and is another black, cast iron, skeletal tower. To quote “Lighthouses Of The New Jersey Light House Challenge” by Trish Chambers, a very good book about NJ lighthouses, by the way;
“The Tinicum lighthouse is not pretty by normal lighthouse standards. It has been described as 'homely' 'the ugly duckling' and the 'coffee can on legs with concrete shoes'....the location of the lighthouse in the middle of the town's recreational fields two blocks from the water does not help to dispel the perception that this isn't a “real lighthouse”. Most lighthouse lovers either don't know Tinicum exists or don't think it's worth investigating because, it's 'just a steel tower'.
My advice, dear reader, is not to sell this lighthouse short."

And she is right. First of all, the view from the top, of NJ, Delaware and Pennsylvania, is wonderful. I was lucky enough to be there at sunrise, which was simply beautiful and fascinating. You can see huge ships sailing into Philly harbor, planes landing at the airport across the river, the old Naval Yard and across the street, the largest solar panel 'farm' on the East Coast.
Second, it is an important part of the history of the area and the locals that act as guides are very knowledgeable and excited about sharing her place in their past. And finally, as I said, Tinicum is still an active aid to navigation on the river. Again, to quote Chambers;
“Mariners use the powerful DCB-24 fixed red beacon to navigate past Little Tinicum Island in the Delaware River. When the NJ Lighthouse Society brought in a Delaware River pilot with over 8000 landings to his credit, he said “even though the ships are now equipped with radar, computers and GPS to guide them, it is reassuring to see lights to make sure of my location.””

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

It's Tuesday Thinger Time!

Yes it is, and here, from The Boston Bibliophile, is this weeks question.

What's the most popular book in your library? Have you read it? What did you think? How many users have it?

Well, no surprise, like a great many people (hmmmm...which would explain the 'most popular' part) the book that I share with the most people is one of those Harry Potter books. Not the first in the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, but the second (32,621 people) and even the third (32,322). But see, here is the thing. I did not really like the first book. I gave it to my niece, who did not like it either I believe. Why I bought the other two, I have NO idea. and I don't believe I ever read them.
Sorry, I just don't get the Potter thing...They are well written and no doubt many people find the stories very interesting but for some reason it did not appeal to me. But I am very happy that it hopefully opened the world of reading to a new generation of kids.

After Harry, the most popular book is Da Vinci. I have said it before and I will say it again, but that is a total mystery to me. It is, in my opinion, from what part of it that I read, a rather poorly written, ridiculous book. I never bought it but read the part I read while sitting in Borders I think. It's popularity and that of the movie, which I did not see since I disliked the book and Tom Hanks haircut in the previews looked silly, is part of why I have real doubts about anything that is very popular. I always think "but they like Da Vinci so much..."

And them we get to my neck of the woods on the Library Thing most popular list. The Hobbit (24,925 copies)..read it, own it, reread it, love it. 1984 (23,045), The Catcher in The Rye (21,973), To Kill a Mockingbird (20,511)...own them, read them, loved them. Yes, I skipped Pride and Prejudice. Seems I don't own it and I am not sure if I read it or not...but it is one of those books that I think I should have!

Monday, December 1, 2008

a review of Low Man

Low Man by T.J.Vargo

Benny Assissi's life is about as low as he thinks it can go. His good paying job is gone, moved off to somewhere cheaper, and the best job that he can find is as a night clerk in a run down convenience store. During the days, he is going to college, in an attempt to better himself. But because of that, he rarely see his wife and young son and his wife seems about ready to walk out on it all. And now his son is very sick and he can not even go to the hospital ER with his family for fear of losing the rotten job that is barely providing enough income to keep their heads above water.
But just when he thinks it can't get any worse, of course it does. The store is held up by a man at gunpoint and he is forced to open the safe. He knows that his boss will fire him if he gives over the money and in the middle of the robbery, his wife calls from the ER, desperate that he join them, because his son is much, much sicker than they thought.

Benny has met his breaking point and without really thinking about what he will do, he grabs a gun he finds under the store counter and gives chase to the robber. Shots are fired, shots that will start a course of events Benny could never have foreseen.

This book is in the horror genre and it is a terrifying and frightening journey that Mr. Vargo takes us on. I have seen it compared to the early works of Steven King and Dean Koontz and there are similarities. I am not a great fan of Mr. King's work...a bit too 'much' for me maybe...but I have read a great deal of Koontz's work and in it best parts Low Man bares some favorable comparisons.
What I like about Koontz and what I like about this book is that they are very character driven stories and have a clear moral sense. Benny's actions set off a series of events that will test what sort of person he truly is and make him decide what is really important to him and what he is willing to risk for what is really important.

Mr. Vargo paints some excellent characters in this book and it is those characters that are the strong point of the book. With the plot, I have a few issues. The central part of the book suffers from a few overly descriptive and overly long sections that could have been more tightly written with no loss to the plot. But overall, that is a fairly minor complaint that I soon forgot in the very creepy last section and in the final, morally satisfactory and uplifting ending.
I will be eager to see what Mr. Vargo writes in the future...I might suggest that the character of Sam is someone with more of a story to tell.
If you are someone who enjoys the work of Koontz or King or someone who does not mind or actually enjoys a bit of terror with your fiction, I would recommend Low Man.

Available from Amazon

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Cutest Dog in the World

What with Thanksgiving and all, I have been a bit distracted from reading. But I must share with you a new blog I found called the world from down here..
Ok, I didn't actually find it. It is my niece's new dog's blog...hey, dogs can have blogs...and since he is without doubt the cutest dog I have ever met, I thought you should 'meet' him too.

Hey Bandit...good Bandit....good boy...who is the cutest doggie in the whole world...yes, you are...yes, you are...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Is your blog an extrovert or introvert?

I am sure most of you are familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality types. I remember taking the test once...but I forget what the result was. Which may say something about my type.

Well, now there is a site called Typealyzer that says it can find what personality type your blog is. Just type in your blog's URL and out will pop your blog's 'personality' type.

Which might not agree with your personal type at all, they say, because it analyzes what you write, the text of your blog, and may say more about the personality you create there.
"How can a computer know who I am?
It doesn´t. But with a good amount of text it can make a pretty good guess. In addition, we all have different roles in different situations. By studying how people write, we can get an glimpse of what is on the mind of the person and what is characteristic of the person - or, as in the case of a blog - what is typical of the role/persona used when writing that blog. A person can have several blogs - and often have different roles for the various blogs - perhaps as a way to live out more sides of themselves.

What does a text say about the writer?
A lot more than most people might think. But it does NOT tell you who you are! A text is more to be likened with the clothes you´re wearing. The words and expressions we use, especially when we write for our own pleasure, tell about if we are more inclined to logical reasoning, personal values, fantasies or the reality for instance."

Not sure if there is anything to it, but it is interesting I think.
Sort of like those sites that tell you what muppet you are...and we all know that one had me right! "Brainy and knowledgeable" indeed! ;-)

So, my lovely shore breeze?
ISTP - The Mechanics
The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.

Well, driving on the Garden State Parkway is sort of like being a race car driver.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

wow...Tuesday again..there is like one every week!

I just want to say first of all that I really, really wanted to be the first to post my Tuesday Thinger. But I am at work, and at midnight I was working...and then I got hungry and made a sandwich and then I started reading..so, I am not first. But enough about my issues. Let's check out this week's question, via The Boston Bibliophile...

Today's question- Blog Widgets. Do you use them? Do you have them on your blog? Do you know what I'm talking about? :-) A blog widget is that list of books "From my LibraryThing" and such, that you'll sometimes see on someone's sidebar. If you use it, do all of your books show up or do you have it set to only show certain books? Do you have a search widget, which would allow your blog readers to search your library? Have you ever made a photomosaic of your book covers? You can find widgets and photomosaic information on the "Tools" tab in LibraryThing.

Well, if you are reading this on my web site, you should be able to figure that out yourself.
Ok, I do have the Recent Books From My Library Thingie. Actually, I do it more for me than for you, my dear readers. I am often surprised by what I see there and say to myself "Wow, I have that book? Aren't I lucky! I wonder if I read it..." If you all find it interesting, well, that is swell too!
A search widget? Hmmmm...I believe you can click on the Recent Books title and it will take you to my library, won't it? I will have to check that...
Of course, it will take you to the cyber edition of my library, not the one actually in my house. Now that would be a very, very cool widget! If that ever happens, do not knock over the towering TBR pile or step on my imaginary cat...Kitty. Good Kitty...(((purr....}}}
But do feel free to dust or tidy up.

Does it include all my books? Pretty much, except a few I see pop up now and then that are really just too stupid to admit to owning. I can't tell you what they are...because that would defeat the purpose of all the work it took to exclude them.

Have I ever made a photomosaic of my books? Well, no, I have not. In fact I was unaware of that feature until yesterday, when I saw it on someone else's blog. Sort of cool looking but I prefer a widgit where the titles are actually visible. How will I know what I have otherwise and keep them in nice neat, tidy lists?

Is it time to go home yet...

Monday, November 24, 2008

a review of Amata Means Beloved

Amata Means Beloved by Sister Mary Catherine Perry O.P.

A monk is he who directs his gave toward God alone, and who, being at peace with God, becomes a source of peace for others." St. Theodore Studite

Emily Barone is sure in her decision to become a member of the Mater Christi Monastery. Nervous, but confident that in this place, with these women, in this life, she will be able to find her place, to paraphrase the old Baltimore Catechism, to know, love and serve God in this world and to be with Him forever in the next.

Not that it will be without it's problems. Any community contains a variety of talents and personalities and some inevitable conflicts. And to give up a large degree of one's automony, to follow a strict rule of poverty and obedience, is easy for no one. But Emily, given the religious name Sister Mary Amata...because as the novice mistress tells her “Amata means beloved. I want you to know in a real way that you are beloved of Christ”...has another very big issue keeping her from giving herself fully to this life.
Her brother was killed, shot by a madman who shot a number of seminarians as they raked leaves on the lawn of their school one fall day, and then took his own life. Sister Mary Amata can not forgive the shooter and can not surrender her anger.

“What did you come here for?...you must give it all to God...even the deep wound in your heart. You must forgive.”

In discussing their vocations the prioress says,
“The longer I'm in the monastery the more I marvel at the mystery of a vocation. Over and over I see women come, enthused to give everything to God, to become saints and to save souls. Nothing will stand in their way. Then they enter the monastery and bang-0!- They are faced with their own weaknesses, frailties and sins. And they don't like it! They want to deny it, make it go away but they must face their frailty- they must face that they are part of the human race. Not only that, they have to realize and accept that only by God's grace is any of this life possible.”

Which is true for each of up, whatever our vocation.

This is a short, lovely little gem of a book, the debut work of Sister Mary Catherine Perry, a member of the cloistered Dominican Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, NJ. Certainly, the monastic life, especially that of the cloistered orders, is not something many people are familiar with. To those unfamiliar, I think this book is a very nice, very real and certainly, considering the author, very authentic glimpse into their daily rhythm of prayer, work and community.
“In striving to live with one mind and heart in God, they seek to know and love God in the living of the traditional monastic observances of daily Holy Mass, chanted divine Office, lecto divina, private prayer, study and work.”
For those that might read another, longer work about the monastic life I would sincerely recommend two of my favorite books of all time, In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden and The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton.

Personally, I find it very reassuring to know every hour of every day, they are praying for our intentions. To quote a very good post on this subject at The Anchoress recently,
“What use is it? Charities in the world, missionaries, church movements, “active” religious orders who work with the poor, the disadvantaged, and so forth, their work is supported by the quiet prayers of the Monastics. When they rise at night - the time when so many are lonely, or lost, or deeply enthralled in their harmful behaviors - monastics are praying for exactly those people, and for all of us. It is prayer that is concentrated, not limited; prayer whose reach is far.”

As a little aside, Sister Mary Catherine's monastery support itself in part thought the handcrafting and sale of a small line of lovely soaps, lotion and lip balm which you can purchase at their web site. Everyone has a web site! It was while I was there, stocking up, if you will excuse the pun, on this perfect stocking stuffer, a trio of lotion, soap and lip balm, wrapped in holly decorated cellophane with a red or green ribbon, that I happen upon this lovely little book.

And you know I can never pass up a book!

Available on the monastery web site or from Amazon

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Today, November 22, 2008, is the 45th anniversary of the death of the wonderful writer Clives Staples Lewis...more commonly known, of course, as C.S. Lewis. He is author of such wonderful and varied works as The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce and non-fiction classics like Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain and perhaps the most popular and well known of all, the children stories The Chronicles of Narnia. Something for every taste!

Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become. -C.S.Lewis

Thanks to Father Longenecker at Standing on My Head for the reminder.

Sea Fever

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea's face, and a gray dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way, where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

John Masefield

Friday, November 21, 2008

a review of Rocket Man

Rocket Man by William Elliott Hazelgrove

Dale Hammer has two goals, to achieve his version of the American Dream and to be nothing like his father. But it seems both goals are about to come crashing down around his ears.

He is a successful writer ...that hasn't been able to write anything in years.
He has a job as a loan broker that barely pays the bills...and he is about to lose it.
He is a husband...who suspects his wife might be having an affair and is about to leave him.
He is a father...whose son seems to hate him and will barely talk to him.
and yes...he is a son...a son whose father was never there when Dale and his brother were kids and is now living in Dale's garage, jobless and thrown out by his latest wife.
The police are after him for supposedly cutting down the entry sign to the million dollar home development he lives in. The million dollar home he can't afford.
And finally, he has signed up to be the “Rocket Man”, the man in charge of setting up and launching the many, many rockets at the the boy scouts annual rocket show. It is a job everyone, including himself, thinks he will make a colossal mess of.

Yes, Dale is having a very bad week.

His dad sums it up pretty well.
“You are a smart man. You are smarter than me. You read more books. You are your mom used to laugh at me and how dumb I was, I know that.” he nod, examining his cigar. “But I had to go make a living and bring up my family and as smart as you are Dale, you haven't figured out how to do that. You sitting here in your big house with neighbors you can't stand, in your fucked-up financial situation, and your wife about to kick your ass right out the door. So who's the smart on, Kingfisher?”

Or then there is his wife...
”You always had to rebel, but you are forty-six now Dale. You are not the truculent artist anymore; you are just the middle aged fuck-up!”

Or the guy at his old coffee shop...
”You know, I heard a weird rumor about you. I heard you had moved to the suburbs. Someone said you had bought some big fucking house way in the middle of nowhere....but you know what I said, I said, 'Nah. He'd never fucking do that. Turn tail and run I mean. He's not that kind of guy.”

But Dale is starting to realize he is exactly that sort of guy, it seems. He is “the poor boy looking in the keyhole, wondering when I will be discovered.”

You might have noticed something else as well...the language of this book is a wee bit strong. Personally, I stopped noticing it after awhile, but it such things, the frequent use of the “F” word among others, offend you, well, then you might have an issue with this book.
And if you are the sort of reader {{who me?}} that likes to yell at the characters in books and movies, to just open their eyes and do something, well, then you might have a problem with Dale too, because he does tend to dither about.
But..that being said..there is something very likable about Dale and you do finding yourself pulling for him. He loves his wife and he loves his kids and he wants to make it right.
“I can justify just about anything really, crime, embezzlement, knocking down old ladies, but I just can't find the neat rationalization for hurting my children. Every great liar meets his match eventually, and I cannot save myself on that score.”

But will he be able to fix it all somehow, or will he just give up and run off, like he sometimes dreams of?
Well, let's say it come to an explosive end.

I enjoyed the book and would recommend it with some reservations. It's well written, with some great characters, but not everyone might enjoy it's rather dark, cynical sense of humor and it might not be everyone's cup of tea.

Rocket Man available here from Amazon

Thursday, November 20, 2008

review of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

It is London, January 1946, and the war is over. The years of fear, and death, and bombings are over and England is anxious to start moving on. Oddly for our heroine, writer Juliet Ashton, the war was a rather good time for her career. She had written a column for a newspaper about the exploits of one Izzy Bickerstaff during the war and now the tales of Izzy have been turned into a successful book, published by her friend Sidney Stark. Sidney is the recipient of the first letter from Juliet in this book, a book that is composed entirely of letters.

Juliet is in search of a subject for her next book and not very hopeful, until she receives a letter that, unexpectedly, will do more than just provide a new subject but will change the course of her life. The letter is from a farmer, Dawsey Adams, on the island of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands, about 30 miles off the coast of France. He has found her name in a used book and writes to ask her help in obtaining more books by the author Charles Lamb. In the letter he mentions how this book, and other books, came to mean so much to a group of the islanders, called the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, during the war. Guernsey was the only British soil occupied by Germany during the war and because all communication with England was cut off, the war experiences of the islanders is pretty unknown. And, of course, Juliet is intrigued by the rather unusual name of this Society and so begins a series of correspondence with members of this literary group and a few other Guernsey residents.

Hitler was obsessed with the occupation of Guernsey and fortified the small island from recapture by the British beyond all reasonable lengths. To do so, he build huge fortifications, gun battlements and tunnels along the coastline and to build them imported slave laborers, mostly from eastern Europe and maintained a large force of soldiers on the island. Food, especially meat, and other necessities like soap and fuel for heat became increasing scarce. Curfews were imposed, every animal produced sent to feed soldiers on the mainland. It was to be these two things from which the was born the Society . It is also how we first hear of Elizabeth McKenna, who is to be the central character of this tales in many ways, even though she never actually makes an appearance.

It is Elizabeth who draws together the first members of the Society to share the dinner feast of a hidden pig..and it is Elizabeth who creates the excuse of the book group when they are caught after curfew and whose story saves them from jail...or worse. Because while the war will prove to bring out the best traits and selflessness in some people, it will bring out the worse in others. Collaboration with the Nazis was not uncommon and some two thousand of the residents of Guernsey ended up in mainland concentration camps, many turned in for violations by their own neighbors.
It was a time of terrible choices. One discussed in the letters creates an image that sticks with me. Knowing that invasion was imminent, the island government asked for help from the British to sail thousands of the island's children to England, where they would be sent to rural, and hopefully safer, homes for the duration of the war. Just imagine being a parent, having to make the decision to put your little child, all alone, on a boat, to sail off to who knows where, for who knows how long, with just a tag with their name on it around their neck. Or to decide not to, and subject the child to what unknown horrors after the invasion. The description of those real events is, I think, one of the most moving in the book and one of several times in the story that shows good people having to make very difficult and terrible decisions in terrible times.

Not to say that this is book is all about war and horror and loss...because it is certainly not. It is also a story, at time quite humorous, about love and friendship and about the importance of beauty and art and books. Oh yes...book, our old friends. While the Society begins as a cover, it becomes a real and soon growing group of people who become friends and for many, have their first introduction to the wonders of books and reading. Books were very scarce, many having been ripped up to burn as fuel after all the island trees were cut down and burned, so each member is given a book to read from the limited supply and then talks about at the society's meetings. As well as sharing a 'treat' like a slice of that potato peel pie. It seems often each reader ends up with just the perfect book, although perhaps it is not so random. As Juliet writes in an early letter to Dawsey, “Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.”

I think that for many people The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society will prove such a book. It is a very nice and positive book and while not terrible short, at 278 pages, it is so well written and so interesting what it seems to just fly by as your read it. Not to say it is perfect. I found the whole story line about Isola and her letters a bit unnecessary and out of keeping with the feeling of the rest of the book...a bit too much madcap comedy chase for me...but that is a minor complaint.
This is a very nice story, well written, with excellent characters and tell a bit of the fascinating and moving story of the Bailiwick of Guernsey during WWII. It would really make you want to go off and do some addition research about Guernsey and make you wish you could visit the beautiful island described.

This is another book that would make a wonderful choice for that holiday gift buying list, but just remember, to quote the often amusing Isola, “ Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books.” Wait...maybe that is not a bad thing!

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society available from Amazon

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Happy Birthday!!

Oh my, I almost missed it!! It is a very, very important day!!
It is Mickey Mouse's 80th Birthday. He looks very good for his age. Perhaps he has had some work done.
Actually, I would argue that it is not so much his birthday as the day he first appeared in public, his debut. Of course, he was born earlier.

To quote the folks at
the Disney Archives
“Mickey Mouse is arguably the most famous of the Disney cartoon characters. Making his debut in "Steamboat Willie" at the Colony Theatre in New York City on November 18, 1928, Mickey went on to star in over 120 different cartoons. He also starred in "The Mickey Mouse Club" television show of the 1950s.

Mickey Mouse's original drawings used circles for his head, body and ears. 1939's "The Pointer" saw a bold, new design for Mickey as his body became more pear-shaped and pupils were added to his eyes to increase his range of expression. Later on, animators of the 1940s would add a perspective aspect to his ears, giving them a three-dimensional effect. This change, however, was short-lived. The Mickey Mouse of today appears much as he did in the early days with the exception of a costume change here and there.”

All very interesting...but I find it quite disturbing that they discuss Mickey as if he were not REAL, as if he were just a cartoon creation. But as we all know he is very real. I have shaken his hand at Disney World. I saw his house. Don't be telling me he is not real!! I will not listen {{la, la, la, la, la....}}

For your viewing pleasure, in his first film, The Mouse himself...

♫♫ M-I-C...See you real soon...K-E-Y...Why? Because we like you....MOUSE... ♫ ♫

Tuesday Thingers...and what is it with me and lists?

This week, I will try to answer the Tuuesday Thinger, via The Boston Bibliophile on Tuesday, for a change.
Popular this month on LT: Do you look at this list? Do you get ideas on what to read from it?
Have you read any of the books on the list right now? Feel free to link to any reviews you've done as well.

Here's the list and my answer:
1.The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
2.Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron
3.Nation by Terry Pratchett
4.Brisingr by Christopher Paolini
5.Anathem by Neal Stephenson
6.American Wife: A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld
7.The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
8.The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel by David Wroblewski
9.Any Given Doomsday by Lori Handeland
10.Eclipse (The Twilight Saga, Book 3) by Stephenie Meyer

Another list I have read nothing on!! You might be beginning to wonder what I do read. Ok, well actually...I have read one book on this one, Nation, reviewed here. Didn't love it..
And I do own The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society...a book that I actually purchased. With real money. But I have not read it yet because I have that continuing rotation of ARCs and such to read. But I have heard such great things about it that I look forward to putting my feet up with that one. I can see it in the TBR pile from here.
And then there is The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. If you remember, my dear readers, that was the one book on both the top ten books rated by the Amazon editors and the top ten most popular with Amazon readers. So I do hope to get to that one at some point. Anyone read it and have a review? I will have to go look...

Do I use the LT most popular list? No, not really. First of all, I am never really looking for book ideas. I just sit here and the books come to me. Actually, I seem to happen upon interesting sounding ideas all over the place, mostly from other reviews out here in the World Wide Web. I would much rather get a suggestion for books that might be interesting from a review or a discussion, where I might get the thumbs up from someone's whose opinion I respect.

Second, I am not terrible swayed by what is most popular. In fact, I often find I don't like what it the 'Big Thing', in books or movies...or music ..or just about anything. I am just a contrary sort. ;-)
But seriously (ok, seriously, I am a contrary sort) the whole issue of most popular or best sellers, in the book world is interesting. I did not even realize it was an issue until I read this post 'Is the New York Times Biased' by Allison Brennan on Murderati. It had never really occurred to me to wonder how the Time's or any of the Big Best Seller Lists are compiled. Or actually that they do not explain how the list is complied, which I find more disturbing personally. Now they are even more meaningless to me than they were before.

Bottom line, however they compose that list, I find that I often don't like them. The books, not the lists. In my opinion, being a best seller is no guarantee of being good. Shall I just mention The DaVinci Code again?
Once again, it seems I am comfortably enconsed in my minority opinion. Remember folks, you can not decide right and wrong, good and bad, by popular vote!