Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Things I Really, Really Hate...and it is not Tuesday Thinger.

Yes, I know I am very late...it is barely still Tuesday. But I had to work and I was out of the house at 5:15 a.m. and just got home...well, I did go out to dinner. But better late than never or all good things are worth waiting for..or some such thing.
So, without further ado...This week's question from Wendi's Book Corner...

Questions (yes - there are a bunch - answer one or two . . . or all of them!):What is your least-favorite book(s)? Is your least-favorite book listed in your LT library? If it is listed, do you have anything special in the tags or comments section? How have others rated your least-favorite book?

So, let's see...my least favorite books. Well, three come to mind. One, I read long ago. Yes, long ago when the dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was in high school. It is one you will all no doubt recognize, Ulysses, by James Joyce. Now one could argue that maybe I was too young, that I did not appreciate it. Maybe I am not clever enough to 'get it'. Maybe all true but still, Poppycock, say I. Which is what I think the book is, vain, contrived, poppycock. Hmmm...that sounds harsh. Well, Joyce is dead, so he will never know. But many of his loyal, loyal fans might stone me to death or something, fittingly on Bloomsday...so I only have until June 16 I think to live.
The average rating on Library Thing is very high, 4.14...I think half of them at least are faking it and never read the book.

Now a recent book I hated was Arsenic Soup For Lovers: When Chicken Soup Doesn't Work by Georgia Z. Post. It was a self published, which the now wiser Caite has found out is often a very big red flag. Big red flag waving in my face saying,don't bother reading me, beacuse most likely, I am a waste of your book reading time. It is a book of story stories which are suppose to be amusing, touching...And I found not funny and often quite creepy. I gave it 1.5 stars on LT...only because it is not so much badly written as just bad, but the average on LT is 3.05, so not great but not as bad as my opinion.

But the last one, the one that just shouted it's name to me when I read this question was Isle of Dogs by Patricia Cornwell. Awful. So poorly written, actually sentences that did not make sense, plot lines that just ended, terrible characters...and that was only from reading about 1/4 of the book. I could not in any way finish it.
I think the reason I hated it so much was not only because not only was it bad, but I know that Cornwell is capable of writing very good books. Her early Scarpetta books were very good. It is almost hard to believe the same person wrote this one and impossible to believe that an editor actually looked at it. I don't own a copy of it now but if I did I would give it half a star maybe...the average on LT is 2.47. There is one 3 star review that threw the one and half star ratings off, but it is in Italian si I have no idea how they justify 3 stars. Did they read it in Italian and maybe that improved it somehow...or maybe they don't speak English and just like the cover..or maybe they thought they were reviewing a different book? Yes...that is the best explanation!

When I take over the world (see Monday's post if you don't know about that plan of mine) that reviewer is NOT getting a nice, funny, pointy hat! Maybe a small dull looking cap.

Is it still Tuesday?...yes, if I wrap this up.

Ok, we still time for a wee Bandit picture! You are never too full for Jello and it is never too late for a picture of The World's Cutest Dog!

Yes, that is a beer he is holding, but I am assured by The Niece, that the bottle was empty. Yes, I see it is in the picture...but wait, who drank it? Because I will tell you, Bandit actually has a taste for alcohol and if you have a drink and leave it unprotected for a minute...well, you may have less than you thought when he gets through.

Monday, March 30, 2009

In the Mood to Muse...Musing Monday

Oh, I am in the mood to muse, so let's check out, from the pages of Just One More Page, what question Rececca has for us this week.

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about recording your reading…

Do you keep track of what and/or how many books you read? How long have you been doing this? What's your favorite tracking method, and why? If you don't keep track, why not?

Do I keep track of my reading? Awww...no. Well, not with a spreadsheet like some people who will remain nameless. (sssshhh...don't tell anyone, but it's Rebecca.) Actually, my inner OCDness loves the idea.
My lazy caiteness makes it unlikely.
I am not good at maintaining lists. I am realistic enough to know that. I could create a lovely little Excel sheet...and in 2 or 3 months I would stop the upkeep on it and it would become just another questionable file on my computer.

So that makes the next two question moots. I have been in a state of book disorganization all my life...because I was born that way.

Ok, that is not totally true. As you, my dear reads, know if you read my Library Thing posts, I joined Library Thing to at least bring order to the books I own. I did that after the Great Brideshead Revisited Fiasco. In case you forget, I went to the bookstore, bought a nice hardcover edition of BR...came home to put it on my bookshelves, only to find that I already had another copy...the exact same edition.
I was going to create a spreadsheet at that point, but again the Caite-laziness kicked in and in looking for an online alternative, found the perfect Library Thing. Now, as a side effect, it does also help me keep track of my reading. When I remember to update the library, rate the book or post a review there. I am good about updating the library because I have established a physical barrier. Books do not come into the library space until there are entered on Library Thing. No matter how much they beg and cry.

The updating the ratings and reviews there...not quite as good a situation.

If you read a fair number of books (and we will not get into the question of what is a fair number, which is why I do not count the number of books that I read) it is easy to forget what you have read and certainly what you thought of them. I have a number of books in my library, going back many years, that at this point I am not sure whether I have read or not. Am I remembering the movie or a review I read about it or what someone told me about it? I am solidly into middle age and what I read decades ago is becoming a wee bit vague. Which is one reason, beside my quest for fame and World Domination, that I started the blog.
I sometimes will read an old (old being a relative term since the blog has not been around that long) review and be surprised at what I thought of a book. I figure it will be useful by the time I am collecting Social Security.

The fame and World Domination thing is not coming along too well either.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

TIVO ALERT: The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency

If you are fortunate enough to have HBO and if you are a fan of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency mysteries by Alexander McCall Smith, I just want to remind you that the HBO series based on the books will start this Sunday night at 8 p.m.

From the series website...
As a young girl growing up in the African nation of Botswana, Precious Ramotswe was encouraged by her father to follow her dreams, no matter what. Now in her mid-30s, Precious is doing just that — by opening her country's first and only female-owned detective agency for the benefit of those who need help the most.

The first major film/TV project to be shot entirely on location in Botswana, 'The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency' is based on the best-selling novels by Alexander McCall Smith and co-written and executive produced by Richard Curtis and the late Anthony Minghella.

Like McCall's novels, the series chronicles the adventures of Precious Ramotswe (Jill Scott), the cheerful, eminently sensible proprietor of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, located in the Kgale Hill Shopping Center on the outskirts of Gaborone. Aided by her efficient yet high-strung secretary Grace Makutsi (Anika Noni Rose), Precious investigates a variety of cases, helping townspeople solve mysteries in their lives, from missing children to philandering husbands to con-artist scams.

...In the lead role of Precious Ramotswe is Jill Scott, the R&B singer/songwriter who has won three Grammy® Awards since 2005...
I will be setting the Tivo!!

But even if you do not have HBO, there are some very interesting videos available at the site and the chance to enter a contest to win a trip to Botswana. So if you are a fan of the books, you might want to check it out.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

a review of The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
(G.P.Putnam's Sons, ISBN 978-0-399-15534-5)

My dear readers, if you have been lucky enough to have always read this book, I am pretty sure you will agree with my take on this book. If you have not read this, Ms. Stockett's first novel, yet, then I think that I have a wonderful book to share with you, one I can give a wholehearted recommendation to.

The setting is Jackson, Mississippi, in the early 1960's, a place and a time that certainly brings to mind that famous song "The Times They Are A-Changin". But change is never easy and it's not going to be easy in this case and it is not without a price.
The story is told through the eyes of three women.First, we have Skeeter, the daughter of a fairly well-to-do cotton farmer and a recent graduate of Old Miss. Skeeter would like to be a writer, but before she has even started, she is a failure in the eyes of her very critical mother, because she did not come home from college with a fiance, which, in the eyes of all the women in her circle, is the only reason for a girl to go to college in the first place.

If to be a woman in Jackson at that time limits one's options, to be a black woman offers almost no options at all. For our other two narrators, Aibileen and her best friend Minny, they have followed the path of their mothers and almost all the women they know. They have been, since their teenage years, maids. The help, working in the homes of the prominent white families, cooking and cleaning and often being the primary care giver for their employer's children from the moment of their births.

While she loves her family, Skeeter would like nothing better than to escape to New York City and pursue a career but her conversation with a blunt but helpful NY editor makes her realize she needs to write something to showcase her talent and comes up with what she thinks is a wonderful idea. She will write about something she knows, the experiences of the 'colored' maids and their relationships with their employers.
Skeeter is a good hearted, but very naive young woman. First of all, she knows virtually nothing about these women and their lives, not even her beloved maid Constantine, now gone, who raised her. Second, she has no idea of the very real danger she will put herself and the women who talk to her in for crossing the line between these two groups. People have been killed for less.
"No. I couldn't. That would be...crossing the line.
But the idea won't go away."
Those lines are an idea that comes up again and again throughout the book, something people on both sides recognize. But, as I said, things are changing, even deep in Mississippi, and some people are beginning to wonder about those lines. Aibileen has changed since her only son died not that long ago, something in her shifted. She is the first to cautiously talk to Skeeter and share her stories, to wonder about even her assumptions, as when she is talking to her friend Minny, about Minny ex-employer and Skeeter's friend, Hilly.
"It ain't true."
"Say what?"
"You're talking about something that don't exist."
I shake my head at my friend. "Not only is they lines, but you know good as I do where them lines be drawn."
Aibileen shakes her head. "I used to believe in em. I don't anymore. They in our heads. People like Miss Hilly is always trying to make us believe they there. But they ain't"
If only it were that simple. But as these three women and all the other folks in their worlds find out, change is possible, but doesn't come without a price.

Please don't get the idea that just because it is concerned with a serious subject and there is a real sense of anxiety about what is going on throughout the book, that this book is all serious. It is not. Some of the characters are delightful and often very funny. While many of the stories that the maids tell are of cruel and abusive employers, others are amusing, some truly touching, like that of the very eldely Faye Belle.
"Her story unfolds like soft linen. She remembers hiding in a steamer trunk with a little white girl while Yankees soldiers stomped through the house. Twenty years ago, she held that same white girl, by then an old woman, in her arms while she died. Each proclaimed their love as best friends. Swore that death could not change this. That color meant nothing. The white woman's grandson still pays Faye Belle's rent. When she's feeling strong, Faye Belle sometimes goes over and cleans up his kitchen."
Usually, in my reviews, this is the point that I get to "The But". The one..or two or more things that I think could have been better in the book. Honestly, in "The Help", there is no but. I can not think of one way that it could have been improved. Her characters, the good and the bad, are so clearly painted that they will feel like people that you know; the setting so clear that you can feel the heat of a Mississippi summer and taste Minny's caramel cake. As a first novel, I think Ms. Stockett's achievement is outstanding and I only hope that she follows in the steps of the man she mentions in her dedication, "Grandfather Stockett, the best storyteller of all" and will have many more grand tales to tell us in the future.
I give this book a very strong recommendation and only hope that you love it as much as I did.

Let's see what some others think of this book....
Medieval Bookworm
The Book Lady's Blog
At Home With Books
Breaking the Spine
The Loud Librarian

Available From Amazon Here

Let Go Of My Legos!!

Ok, some of you might remember that title is a rip off of the famous "Let go of my Eggos!", as in the eggo frozen waffle, commercial.

Now I like Eggos...but I love Legos!
Although I am convinced that it is going to fall off into the ocean, someday I am going to have to visit California so that I am visit Legoland. But in the meantime, if you want to get a little Lego fix, here is a cool Lego site where you can create till your heart desires.

Or someone tells you to finally shut the computer off and get dressed.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

My very, very favorite is...Tuesday Thinger!

Questions, questions, questions....all Wendi, from Wendi's Book Corner, host of Tuesday Thinger, ever has is questions and this week Tuesday Thingers has several, and they are very good ones! So let's see if I can think of a decent answer!

Questions (yes - there are a bunch - answer one or two . . . or all of them!): What is your favorite book (yes - this may be a hard one!!)? Is your favorite book listed in your LT library? If it is listed, do you have anything special in the tags or comments section? Have you looked to see if you can add any information to the Common Knowledge? AND a little off topic, do you find that your 5-starred books are consistent with your favorites, and is your favorite a 5-star rated book in your library? How have others rated your favorite book? :)

Ok, I best mosey over to Library Thing and check this out. I filled out my profile when I joined LT, a year of so ago, and I rather forget what I listed as my favorites.
Well, I do have favorite authors listed, four of them in fact. Willa Cather, Dean Koontz, Flannery O'Connor, J.R.R. Tolkien. But I don't have favorite books listed. Was that a question in the profile? So, let's look at the books that I gave 5 stars to. That would be 46 books out of my current library of 1153, or .25%. Gosh, that seems pretty low...I guess I am a hard grader. And actually, looking at them, I see a number that I think I will knock down half a start. Because for me, to give 5 stars, to say it is the best, is a BIG deal.

So what are my favorites? Well, the books of the four above would be in that group. Not necessarily all of them, because Koontz alone has written more than 46 books I think. But Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop and My Antonia, Tolkien's Lord of the Ring, O'Connor's Collected Works, any number of Koontz's books...these would be the books I would grab if I were told I had 5 minutes to pick a handful of books to take to a desert island.
And a survival guide and a book on shipbuilding of course.
Or if I had someone standing in front of my bookcase, he/she had never read any of them and I had to pick a book for them.

But pick one favorite book?! That would be like picking your favorite child...and I don't even have children.

It also depends. It depends on what sort of book you want at the moment. A huge epic (LoTR), something dark and odd (O'Connor), a bit of history (Cather), sci-fi-ish thriller (Koontz), a touch of something apocalyptic (Father Elijah by Michael O'Brien), a classic (Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thorton Wilder), a children's book (Lady Liberty by Doreen Rappaport) , or even a cookbook (Recipes from a Very Small Island) ...I mean you could go on and on. All very different but each excellent in their own way.

Are they all five star rated? Yes, if not...well, I would think you are not using your stars correctly, if I may say so. That is the point, right?
How do others rate my favorites? Well, they seem to range from 4 to 4.8 stars. But you have to take any ratings with a grain of salt. As always, the Da Vinci Code lists as the 'top' book after all the Potter books. Really...you have to be kidding! And the top book "by star rating" (and I have no idea what the difference is, I assume it has to do with the number of people owning it also figured in) is a book called
'Spam' by spammer with a perfect 5 rating by everyone that rated it. But I really doubt that is the best book ever written.
Have you looked to see if you can add any information to the Common Knowledge? No, I am not going to! Because if I do, I will find some that need work and then I will have to work on them, looking the stuff up and fixing them, all nice and neat and before you know it another day off will be gone and I still did not do the laundry or get to the supermarket and I will be forced to chip something out of the freezer for dinner while dressed in my PJs.
Yes, again.....

...and now, because you have been so good as to read my random thoughts, your reward, a picture of The World's Cutest Dog, Bandit! Stop by his own blog to say hi...and see more cute pictures!

Monday, March 23, 2009

What am I suppose to do with this information???

Being as I am in a very weather dependent job, I like to get the National Weather Service Forecast e-mailed to me every day. That also means that I get various alerts and warning and such from them. Storm...flood...wind...winter storm...hurricane...all alerts I have received in the past. But today I got one I never saw before...and it rather freaked me out.

Here is a current Fire Weather Warning for Home (LovelyUnnamedSeShoreTown, NJ) until 7:00pm, Mon Mar 23 2009, from your local National Weather Service office.

348 PM EDT MON MAR 23 2009




If you need me, I will be in the backyard, sitting with a red flag and the hose.

I can't think of a clever title...but it is Musing Monday!

Wow, the start of another week, so it must be time for Musing Monday, from the mind of Rebecca at Just One More Page.

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about bookstores…

How many bookstores do you frequent? Do you have a favourite? If so, which one and what makes it so?

Frequent...hmmmm...that would be none. None?? None she say? But...but...she loves books. How she she not love bookstores? Well, I do not really love my bookstores.
I have two choices locally. One, I have written about before, Borders. True, they have books, so you have to like that. But, as I have said, it seems fewer and fewer every time I am there. Would you like a CD...a greeting card...game...a calender...some stationary...a banana nut muffin with a Caramel Latte...and a copy of a bestseller, then Borders is your place. Look, I understand they have to make a living. I want them to succeed. But it seems that books are getting pushed further and further back, actually physically out to the edges of the store. I fear, sometime it will be a few tables of bestsellers.
I also hate that while they still have some nice leather chairs around the stores, every time I am there, it seems one more disappears and the remaining ones are hidden in some new spot.

My other choice is an outlet of a local chain, Atlantic Books. I would have made a link, but I looked and they have a truly poor web site. A list of locations and that is about it. They have about 15 stores, in South Jersey, Delaware and a couple in Pennsylvania. They sell a lot of remainders it seems, but also a pretty good selection of bestsellers and newish books. Once the remainders were very, very cheap, now, not so much, but still you can sometimes find a great bargain. But...
well, my location in located in a shopping center next to a boxing gym. They share a wall, a big wall. A big wall that actually vibrates with the loud music and thumping bass being played next door. The place is a big open space, too bright, with that constant thumping. I don't mind a little background music, but this is unacceptable and not compatible with my browsing habits.

Because let's face it folks, for many of us, including myself, part of the pleasure of a bookstore is the atmosphere. My ideal bookstore would be fairly small, cozy. Bright enough to read but not glaring bright. Some chairs to sit in a moment and glance at a book. A helpful but not intrusive staff. And since I am dreaming, huge discounts!
Ok, I would actually be willing to sacrifice the huge discounts...or any at all...I think.

This is the BIG question of bookselling. Can you compete with Amazon? On price, no. Amazon can make the big deals with publishers because they have a huge volume and no little independent store will beat them on price. So should they just latch the door? I would argue no, that they can succeed, by offering something different, something people want that Amazon or even the Big Chain Stores can not offer. What that is will differ from local area to local area. I offer the example, in a different segment of retailing, of a local food store. They are a fraction in size of the nearby supermarkets and their price on many grocery items are higher, but they do a fantastic business. How? They have a great deli and do a very big lunch business, with sandwiches and hot dishes. They have a nice meat section...and you can actually talk to the butcher and make a special request. They have a nice section of prepared dishes, all wrapped and ready to go if you are in a big hurry. Fast, convenient.
They found a niche where they can excel and don't compete where they can't, but instead offer what the Big Guys don't.

But what is the difference. Aren't all books a thing of the past, an historical holdover of a past time? Soon we will all be downloading our books on to our white, shiny reading device and books will cease to exist. Right?
Over my cold, dead body..... :-)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Who Put the Bomp (In the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp)? I know it wasn't Emily Bronte.

Another result of my bizarre sleeping schedule is that I am often awake and watching TV to help stay that way at 2...and 3 and 4 a.m. Perhaps you don't watch TV at that time of day, but let me tell you, the picking are slim. Many channels stop showing 'real' shows and the infomercials take over. Number sleep bed, fishing lures...and my personal favorite, the Time-Life records. Hits of the 60's...hits of the 70's...hit's of the 80's, many of them familiar but from groups never heard from again. Yes, one hit wonders. Funkytown by Lipps, Inc.,House of the Rising Sun by Frijid Pink, Who Put the Bomp (In the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp) by Barry Mann. Most likely you might remember those songs but the artist....not likely. And never heard from again after their one big hit.

Seems the same also has happened in the literary world according to an interesting little article in The Times of London by Luke Leitch called "10 Literary one-hit wonders". Here is the list that Mr. Leitch suggests, but the original article is worth looking at also, if just for some links to the original Times reviews.

  • Harper Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird

  • Margaret Mitchell - Gone With the Wind

  • Emily Bronte - Wuthering Heights

  • J.D.Salinger - Catcher in the Rye

  • Oscar Wilde - The Picture of Dorian Gray

  • John Kennedy Toole - A Confederacy of Dunces

  • Sylvia Plath - The Bell Jar

  • Anna Sewell - Black Beauty

  • Boris Pasternak - Dr Zhivago

  • Arundhati Roy - The God of Small Things

First, you will notice that with these one hit wonders, it is not just the works but the author that have remained famous. Emily Bronte, Salinger, Pasternak...yes, I am sure we are all familiar with those names. Why, we might wonder, did they each produce just one great novel, and then no more.

Well, some it seems, have a good excuse. Toole killed himself before his book was published, Plath, quite famously, killed herself a month after her one novel was published. Pasternak died a couple of years after Dr. Zhivago was published, Sewell died five months after Black Beauty came out and Bronte died of TB just a year after Wuthering Heights. So maybe they had a few more great novels in them but just never had the chance to write them.
But what of the rest?

Harper Lee is still alive at the age of 82 but, except for a few essays, has published nothing since To Kill a Mockingbird, does not give interviews and makes few public appearances. Perhaps her remark to the audience after she was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor in 2007 is telling, Lee responded to an invitation to address the audience with "Well, it's better to be silent than to be a fool." It is said that she started a second novel, The Long Goodbye, but has left it unfinished....maybe we can hope that she reconsided and we will see it one day.

And of course there is the famous case of the rarely seem Mr. Salinger. Now, I must say that when I saw him on the list, I thought it was a mistake. In high school, long ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I was a great fan of Slinger and read everything he wrote...which was not too hard. But his other works, Franny and Zooey, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction were all novellas, Nine Stories, a collection of short stories. Hmmm...maybe they just seemed longer when I was young. Like Ms. Lee, Salinger is still alive, but rather the recluse. But, at least according to the Wikipedia article about him, he has continued to write,
"While he was living with (Joyce) Maynard, Salinger continued to write in a disciplined fashion, a few hours every morning. According to Maynard, by 1972 he had completed two new novels. In a rare 1974 interview with The New York Times, he explained: "There is a marvelous peace in not publishing.… I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure." According to Maynard, he saw publication as "a damned interruption". In her memoir, Margaret Salinger (his daughter) describes the detailed filing system her father had for his unpublished manuscripts: "A red mark meant, if I die before I finish my work, publish this 'as is,' blue meant publish but edit first, and so on."
So maybe Salinger will delight his fans with some more of his work in the future..or after his death.

And then we have Arundhati Roy, who I must admit I am not familiar with. it seems, according to Leitch, that she is going to attempt remove her name form the one hit wonder list. "After her debut novel The God of Small Things won the Booker Prize, the Indian writer turned to nonfiction writing and political activism. In 2007 she announced that she was returning to fiction. After a ten-year hiatus, the stakes will be higher than ever before - if Roy ever finishes her sophomore effort, it will be a triumph of will over the dreaded Second Novel Syndrome."

Oh, the dreaded Second Novel Syndrone! On the same page, you can find a link to the "10 Cursed Second Novels" list. Charles Frazier, Alice Sebold, Joseph Heller, Mary Shelley ....gosh, maybe Salinger is wise to leave those manuscripts in the drawer for now.

a review of Cutting for Stone

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 978-0-375-41449-7)

Cutting for Stone is an epic tale, spanning decades from the 1950's to the present, spanning the continents from India to Africa to America and with a large cast of engaging characters.
Generally, the book can be divided into three main sections. In the first, we meet Sister Mary Joseph Praise, a young nun traveling from her home in India to her new assignment at a mission in Africa and we meet a fellow traveler on the ship, a surgeon, Dr. Thomas Stone. Several near death experiences conspire to throw the two together and they both end up in the small Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Seven years later, that section comes to it's climax and it's conclusion when Sister Mary is found, to everyone's surprise, to be in labor, delivering twin boys conjoined by a small strip of flesh at the head. It is a very difficult and unprepared for birth and the poor Sister dies in childbirth, while the boys are saved by a last minute cesarean. The presumed father, Dr. Stone, claims to have no knowledge of how she became pregnant, but flees the scene, never to contact his friends and colleagues at Missing again. He leaves the babies, his sons, in the care of two Indian doctors at the hospital, who then raise the boys as their own . But he is by no way out of the story because, as the oldest of the two twin will say later in the book, “The world turns on our every action, and our every omission, whether we know it or not.” and Dr. Stone will have to reappear to attempt to make right what he did, and did not, do.

The middle section explores the boys growing up in Ethiopia, a coming of age tale if you will. They live a wonderful life, loved and protected by their foster parents, surrounded by the hospital and house staff, and exposed to the medical world all around them from a very young age. The world of medicine and it's practice will become the love of both boys, each in their own way. This section also explores some of the political events that rock Ethiopia over these decades, terrible poverty, political corruption, coups and attempted coups, all ripping the country apart and trying friendships. And, in this section we see how, as expressed by the narrator, the older brother Marion, he and his younger brother Shiva are so close as to be in some ways one, a theme reiterated over and over again in the book

“Thank God that whatever happened we'd always have ShivaMarion to fall back on, I thought. Surely, we could always summon ShivaMarion when we needed too...”

It makes the betrayals that punctuate this section all the more devastating.

Finally, in the last, and to my mind, perhaps the best part of the book, we have played out the series of events those betrayals sets in motion. The events that are maybe just a bit too pat in their conclusion, but very engaging nevertheless. This is ultimately, as are perhaps all great stories, a tale of love. It is a tale of the love of a family and what really makes a family, of one's home and what creates home and how we can and must fix the tears that are rent by our actions and inactions. In the words of Marion again,

“According to Shiva, life is in the end about fixing holes. Shiva didn't speak in metaphors. Fixing holes is precisely what he did. Still it is an apt metaphor for our profession. But there's another kind of hole, and that is the wound that divides family. Sometimes this wound occurs at the moment of birth, sometimes it happens later. We are all fixing what is broken. It is the task of a lifetime. We'll leave much unfinished for the next generation.”

Overall, Cutting for Stone is a very good book but...yes, I always seem to have a 'but'....for me at least, the middle of the book is by far the weakest part, the section most in need of a stronger editor and the Big Red Pen. I mentioned that word 'epic' and maybe that is part of what the middle suffers from, from too much of a desire to make it into a much bigger story than it could hold without losing it center. All the history of the political struggles of the county is very interesting and necessary to the story but to some degree I think how it is explored causes that part of the book to lose it's focus. For me, my connection to the characters and their story, which has to be at the heart of the story, waned a bit as did my interest.

But, if you find yourself in the same position my dear reader, do not despair, because I think that the last 150 pages or so of the book will well reward you. For me, that became the part of the book that I could not put down, that I resented being interrupted by real life from finishing...the sign of a very good book. Abraham Verghese, who is himself a doctor, is a beautiful writer and the images that he paints of Ethiopia and it's peoples in particular are lovely. For his first novel, this is quite a fine effort. Maybe actually a bit more than it should have been, but still quiet fine.

The Book Lady's Blog
Rhapsodyinbook's Weblog
Word Lily
The Boston Bibliophile

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Library Thinger...not good if you have OCD.

I get so excited to find out things I did not know about Library Thing and it's many features, so this is a big day for me because Wendi of Wendi's Book Corner has found another one for this week's Tuesday Thinger. So here is the question...

One person suggested looking at the meme's section of the Home page...Here are the current meme's available:

You and None Other. Books shared with exactly one member.
Dead or Alive? How many of your authors are dead?
Dead or Alive Comparison How do you stack up against others?
Male or Female? What gender are your authors?
Work Duplicates. Works you have more than one of.
Question: Do you visit the memes section often? Have you visited recently? Have you discovered anything that surprises you when you visit the memes for your library?

Oh boy, what a kettle of fish you opened now Wendi...or whatever that saying is....

No, I never visited this meme thingie on LT, because I was unaware it existed. Is it very new? We should get e-mails about this sort of thing. Actually, there is a LT blog, where new features are announced and perhaps I missed it. There is also a group that discusses these new things. I guess I missed it there too. So I must thank Wendi for bringing this to my attention.
See, this is just the sort of thing I love about Library Thing....and the thing I hate.

I love the numbers, the statistics, all neat and tidy. I hate, that on closer view, all is not so tidy and I need to do some work to fix it. Because fixed it must be. Can you spell OCD?

Take the Male/Female. When I first looked at it, it showed that my book authors were 61.68% male. Ok, that seems reasonable. But..then I see the column off to the far right, the Unknowns. I have hundreds of unknowns! Most appeared quite obvious, so why are they unknown? Well, it seems that on the author's page, neither genser is marked. And I, as a good LT member, have the power to start imputing that information and moving the Unknowns to their proper place.
Several hours later, I realized this was a project that might best be spread over several days.
I also realized that one can not always tell the gender of an author by their first name. Francis...Chris...Dana....even Vivian, which was a name that was once given to some poor little English baby boys. Yes, this will require more research. But then it will be all tidy!

It appears that the Dead/Alive group suffers from the same issue. I have almost 400 unknowns in that category and I assume to fix it, actual dates of birth/death will have to be individually entered on the authors' page. Oh my, this is getting like real work now. But it is so messy otherwise.

And then there is the worrying case of Ingrid Black. I saw the name on the M/F page listed as N/A, a category for organizations like the folks at Time/Life or William-Sonoma, which are listed as authors but are a group, and therefore of neither gender. But Ingrid...surely that is a woman. No, then I remembered it is actually a pseudonym for a husband and wife Irish writing team. So now they are listed as of unknown gender and, even worse, under Dead/Alive, listed as Not A Person, along with the likes of the Magic Chef. That is not right and will bother me until I find a solution...oh my, again.

Duplicates...yes, I have a few. Most are incidences of books I liked and therefore bought a nice hardback edition to 'replace' my original cheap paperback. The Bridge of San Luis Rey is an example. But, of course, I have no intention of actually getting rid of the paperback,as it has sentimental valve, so there will always be duplicates. One, I did not realize, North of Hope by Jon Hassler. I don't believe I read it a first time so why I would have two editions is beyond me. No doubt it happen pre-Library Thing as happened with the three copies of the same cheap paperback edition of Edith Hamilton's Mythology that I have, the discovery of which compelled me to join LT in the first place. I mean, really, why would I have three copies?

Then then last, but not least, we have the You and None Others meme, described as “Books shared with exactly one member”. Would that not be You and One Other then? Hmmmm...
Ok, I have 17 of those. I wonder if that is high, because it seems so.
I checked out each one, looking for mistakes. One appears to be a mistake. A book called Nigh-No-Place appears twice, with a slightly different spelling. That brings the members owning it to 4.
But the rest seem correct. Two of the books are instruction guides for the recorder, the musical instrument. Four of them are about fly fishing...I forgot that I owned a book called Trout Dreams. What would a trout dream of? I will have to look at that one again. It is right in the fly fishing section of my library...which is very near the recorder section. Next to the origami section.

Oddly, only two of us own Fodor's Rome 7th edition. That seemed wrong, I thought. But no, it seems everyone else has the 6th edition and some still have the 5th. Give me a minute and I can tell you exactly how many have each. I am happy to know that I am one the cutting edge of Fodor-ism.

The knowledge of which is just one more of the many, many things I love about Library Thing.

Btw, if you are looking for the Tuesday picture of Bandit,
and a wee caite, all ready for St. Patrick's Day, page down

Happy Saint Patrick's Day

Let me wish you all a Grand St. Patrick's Day.

No, not Patty please, but Patrick.
No, there will be no green beer here, an insult to the noble beverage of beer. Also any decent beer should be too dark to dye green. And no corned beef, an Irish-American invention, not served in Ireland. No, if I were preparing an Irish meal today, I might make some vegetable soup for a starter, then a lovely lamb stew, with some brown bread and if you insist, we will have some Guinness. Only because it is a very healthy drink, of course. Really!

Instead, let me share some of St. Patrick's, the patron of Ireland, own words, to quote part of his very famous prayer, The Lorica. It is often called St. Patrick's Breastplate, a prayer for protection that he wrote as he prepared to confront the druid priests, who of course opposed his attempts to bring Christianity to a pagan island, and as he tried to persuade the chieftains of Ireland, at Tara in March of 433 A.D., to let him preach without removing his head.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the Threeness,
Through the confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of demons,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.

Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.

And also, let me share with you a tiny taste of Ireland...

...and then we will raise a pint to Saint Patrick!

Bandit is ready for St. Patrick's Day

There is an Irish dog for ya. Ignore those so-called Irish Wolfhounds.
And because I know that you are interested, wee Caite on St. Patrick's Day, a few years ago, getting ready to march in a parade. I am the shorter one.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Do you talk to strangers? I do on Musing Monday!

From the cyper desktop of Rebecca at Just One More Page "Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about talking to strangers…

We were all warned as children to 'never talk to strangers', but how do you feel about book-talk with random people? When you see people reading, do you ask what it is? Do you talk to people in the book store or the library? Why or why not? What do you do if people talk to you? (question courtesy of Dena)"

We were all warned as children not to talk to strangers? Was I warned as a child not to talk to strangers? No, I don't think so. Granted, it was a slightly different world that I grew up in, not as filled with fear about might happen to children as today's world is. You will notice I don't say that it was actually a safer world, because I am not convinced it was. I just think, perhaps due to a lack of 24 cable news being pumped into out heads, no Amber Alert being blared across the TV, we were not as aware of all the terrible things that some very bad people will do to others, especially children.

Then there was the fact that my mother, in retrospect, had a slightly odd approach to childrearing. Now, don't get me wrong. My mother was a great mom...she was smart and funny and did a great job raising me and my Bro when she found herself widowed, owning a bar, in an inner city neighborhood...again in retrospect...eeek! And it is from her that I received my love of books. But really, she let us wander on our own to a degree that I now see as a bit odd. As kids, for example The Bro and I would go to New York City alone, together when I was quite young, alone when I was a bit older.
Quite the adventure...

But then maybe she knew that I was never going to talk to any strangers anyway. I barely talked to people I knew. Because, my dear readers, I am the classic introvert. Always have been, always will be. I could as a child and can still as an adult, spend countless hours alone, quite contentedly. It appears that my need for personal interaction is lesser than the average human being.

So would I try to see what others are reading? Possibly, because as an introvert, I am also an observer of people. I am an Observer Introvert. And I like books. So yes, I am curious about books, my books, your books, stranger's books. Would I ask what it is? On no...no...I think not! That would burst the bubble of the Observer Introvert...it seems much too bold. If they could stand there a few weeks, I might bring myself around to it. In the meantime, I think I will just keep reading my book, thank you.

Do you talk to people in the book store or the library? NO!
Why or why not? Have you heard nothing I said?
What do you do if people talk to you? Yes, there is that danger...lol
Actually, as The Niece can attest, it actually happen the other day and it was book related. We were in Sam's Club...she needed socks before she went back to college and I will take any excuse to go to Sam's and look at STUFF. Anyhoo, we were looking at, believe it or not, books, when a woman starting talking to me, perhaps in response to something I had said to The Niece. She asked if I had read anything by a certain author, which I had not, and went on a bit about why I should. I understand her enthusiasm about books and an author she loves...but really, one should control ones self in public, no?
What did I do? Well, I responded politely, as I always will. I think we had what might be considered a conversation. If books are involved, I might actually not have to pretend to be interested. I don't mind so much talking to people in such a situation, it would just never really occur to me to speak to them first.

Unless they were about to fall into an unseen gaping hole that had suddenly opened in the floor or something important like that. Then I would most like speak first. Especially if they were holding some books. I mean, what a waste.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Carnival is in town! No elephants though....

Oh, it is a book carnival! That explains it.
In fact, it is the 13th Book Review Carnival over at Bookish Ruth, with links to over 50 reviews of a wide variety.

Fiction, non-fiction, romance, mysteries, children's, YA, Christian....golly, there are even reviews of a book of poetry. What more can you ask for?

Oh, look, one of mine!

So be sure to check it out!
I am hoping for a balloon thought....

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Happy Pi Day!!

Any moment it will be 1:59....ooops there it goes....So the time is at hand to celebrate Pi Day. Get it? 3.14.159. Well, you might get it if you were awake in math class, or are a real nerd. ..and there is no better way to celebrate Pi Day as it should be cebrated than by having pie! Ideally Pi Pie!     

Now here, just above, is a lovely example of a Pi Pie, made by my friend Raye, from the Great White Frozen North...also known as Canada. Now come to think of it, I have no idea why Raye baked this Pi Pie, because it was certainly not March 14 when I was there. I like cold and snow...but not that much. Visits should be saved for summer there. Or when the salmon are running.                                                   
But ANY time is a fine time for pie...especially pi pie on Pi Day!! So make a pie and share it with your friends and foes, because no one is your enemy when sharing pie! I'll bring the milk!!

My thanks to The Happy Catholic for the reminder.                                                

Friday, March 13, 2009

a review of "The Mighty Queens of Freeville"

The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, A Daughter, and The People Who Raised Them by Amy Dickinson (Hyperion, ISBN 978-1-4013-2285-4)

I don't believe that I have ever read any of Amy Dickinson's advice columns, although I do vaguely remember when she got the job to replace Ann Landers. Launders was certainly a very famous, very successful columnist and the person chosen would seem to have had very big shoes to fill. To quote the book's description on the back cover, “Bracingly witty and candid, Amy is not your mother's advice columnist. Readers love her for her brutal honesty, her small town values, and the fact that her motto is 'I made the mistakes so you don't have to.' Ask Amy appears daily in more than 450 newspapers nationwide, read by more than 22 million people.” Wow, how does one become the person that is qualified for that job...how do you even get that job? The Mighty Queens is a memoir of sorts, so one would think you would find the answers to those questions in it, in this “tale of Amy and her daughter and the women in her family who helped raise them.” I am disappointed that, at least for me, I didn't find that the book lived up to that promise.

Amy grew up in a small town in upstate New York, on a dairy farm. Well, it was a dairy farm until her father ran off with another woman, leaving his wife and kids, and sold the cows out from under them. After that it was a house that their mother was barely able to hold on to, since everything, they found out, was leverage to the hilt. That was pretty much the last they saw or heard of him, except a few brief reappearances over the years. It was not a terribly hostile divorce, because as Amy says “In order to fight with my father, my mother would have had to locate him first.” Nor is divorce unusual in her family. Her mother, two aunts, two sisters and yes, Amy herself, were left to raise their children alone. They are, she says, a family of women, since a lot of the men seem to sort of disappear, one way or another. Yes, her dashing, upscale, soon to be husband, first seen in the introduction, will leave her with a young daughter, Emily, in London where they were living, and so will begin Amy's adventure of raising her daughter, for the most part on her own.

The book is not so much a chronological memoir as a loose collection of tales about a variety of themes and incidents in her life. Some are quite funny, some are very sad, and my favorite, about their cat Pumpkin, is both. I am not that fond of cats, but he sounds like a winner. “He participated in tea parties and safaris and treasure hunts. Sometimes we tied Emily's old baby blanket around his middle like a skirt, just because we could. He had a high tolerance for humiliation and a fondness for headgear, which is something of a prerequisite for being a member of our family.” Poor Pumpkin..

Obviously, Amy is a good writer and some of her lines are excellent, some of the stories quite good. One of my favorites refers to her trying out for the column. “The Tribune took all of the audition columns and test marketed them for groups of newspaper readers. In every single test market, the result was the same: readers first choice for an advice columnist was to bring Ann Landers back from the dead.”
And she is obviously very fond of her hometown and the people who live there, many related to her, and respects how they live their lives and she respects their values.

But the problem is that a good book is more than just a collection interesting stories and good lines. See, there is the biggest problem, right in the title. We were promised The Mighty Queens of Freeville In her own words again, in the introduction, she tells of looking at boxes of old pictures with her sister, from daguerreotypes up to pictures her mother took. Photos of women in Victorian blouses, and women, cigarettes in hand, leaning on pickups, or showing off their new babies or arms linked with friends and says “These are the women of my world-the Mighty Queens of Freeville- who have led small lives of great consequence in the tiny place that we call home.
But I'm still waiting to really meet them.

Her sisters make a few appearances, an aunt here and there and we learn a bit about her mother, but the theme of these strong women, guiding her life, that she promises never appears. And that is a big loss I think. Take her mother, for example. Here she is, left with these kids and a pile of debt, on a failed dairy farm, in this tiny NY town, tying to eek out a living. But rather than letting that defeat her, we find out that after the kids were out of the house, she went to college, went on to advanced degrees and ended up a college professor. Now, to me, that sounds like an interesting story...that we hear too little about.

The book is a pleasant read, with some good stories, but I just think it's falls short of what it could have been if Dickinson had kept her eye on what should have been the thing that tied it all together, those Mighty Queens.
I would give it a half hearted recommendation, but it left me a bit disappointed. Fans of her column will no doubt enjoy the book to a greater degree.

You might also be interested to check out what these other reviewers think...
The Book Lady's Blog
Bermudaonion's Weblog
A Reader's Respite
S.Krishna's Books
Medieval Bookworn
Wrighty's Reads

The Might Queens of Freeville

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

You Love Me....You Really Love Me!!

Golly, I have received this award from two of my fellow bloggers! The "I Love Your Blog" award.

Which means either maybe I am doing a decent job here on my wee, little blog and a few people are reading it.

Or else, and more likely, everyone else in the blogsphere had already been given it.

Ok, I will go with the first, and give my sincere thanks to both Sandy at You've Gotta Read This and Kaye at Pudgy Penguin Perusals. Glad to see that they both got the payoff. Money well spent. ;-)

Now, there are rules involved. links....done...post logo....done...nominate seven and message them....well, I have not done that yet. but I will try to soon...really.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ok, maybe I was wrong about Borders, sort of.

In the past, I have mentioned my dissatisfaction with Borders, the bookstore chain. On the one hand, it is the only book store around here. Beggers can't be choosers. But, I do hate that every time I go there, there seems to be less and less space given to books and more and more to gifts and games and coffee and greeting cards. I hate the fact that I went there looking for a nice copy of a classic and not only could I not get a nice copy, I could not get any copy! A disgrace.

Because of my mixed feelings about Border, however, I realize that I may having been missing out on a great resource about books, and that is Borders' web site. I belong to their 'frequent flyer' program, or whatever it is called, so I get e-mails from them with various offers. I always glance at them, looking for a great coupon, because, as you know, I am cheap and hate to pay full price. Now this morning, I noticed a link to a video by the author Lisa Scottoline, someone whose books I enjoy a great deal. She features great characters, especially smart, female characters and always, smart, often witty writing. Smart and witty is a wonderful thing. Well, Ms. Scottoline has a new book coming out soon, Look Again, available April 14, {{if Ms. Scottoline or her publicist might read this and like to send me a copy, please do not hesitate for a second to e-mail me...not a second}} and although I think she might mention that in the video, the real point is a little tour through her favorite thriller writers. Some of her choices I totally agree with, Denise Mina, P.D.James in fiction, A Perfect Storm, a book I loved, as an example of a non-fiction thriller. Some I disagree with..I think I have mentioned that I have given up on Patterson, another example of the Series That Should Have Ended But Did Not. Kill Cross...all I am saying. The Da Vinci Code...oh, really Lisa, tell me you are kidding, please.

But the really interesting part is her insights into thrillers and mysteries and writing in general, plot, characterization. And as always, she is very amusing. And a good Philly girl. I love her definition of a great novel as "A fully realized story, well told" and I have to agree with her idea that thrillers are "entertainment for smart people". I have mentioned that I love mysteries and thrillers, haven't I? ;-)

Now I see that Border's site is full of videos and other delightful material in the Border's Media section. Book club interviews with authors, book trailers, author's short pick of their favorites books, even a short story by Stephan King "N." "brought to vibrant life through a series of 25 graphic video episodes."

A great source, worth checking out.

Tuesday Thinger...and a chance for even more rejection.

Time to talk about one of my favorite web sites, once again. Yes, let's see what we might find out this week about Library Thing. In fact, this week's question is about a new and wonderful feature of Library Thing, Member Giveaways. Another reason you should be hitting yourself on the head if you have not yet joined Library Thing.

Now in the past...like last week if you forget...we talked about Early Reviewers, which is a way for publishers to give away books in return for a promise of a review. Now, the fine folks at LT have expanded the program to allow anyone who is a member of LT...author, reader with way to many books in their house...to offer books, again, usually in return for reviews but sometimes just in return for a good home.

What does a book consider a good home? An inch of shelf space, all their own, without someone else piled on top of them? A weekly cleaning with a gentle feather duster? A large community of fellow tomes? Well, I can offer one out of three!

But the question...yes, there was a question....from Wendi's Book Corner

Question: Were you aware of the Member Giveaways Program? Have you posted any books in the giveaway? If so, what are your thoughts on the program? Have you requested any books, and if so, did you win any?

Was I aware of it? Indeed, I was!
Have I posted any books? No. They are all happy here and do not want to leave me.
Have I requested books? Indeed, I have! There is always room for a few more.
Have you received any books? Indeed, I did! Move over everyone.

Yes, my dear readers, I have a tale to tell to counter last week's very sad tale of woe. I know you were no doubt very affected by my lack, in recent months, of ability to 'win' an ER book. See, as I think about it, I see it as a judgement upon me. I must not have been a good enough Early Reviewer. That is why I am being punished. I don't understand it...as soon as my ER book came in, I read it, wrote my review and posted it on LT as required. I don't understand how I was lacking, but I must have been. {{sob}}

But now, here are all this other chances. All sorts of books...and I do mean all sorts. New...used...advance review copies...e-books...1 copy offered...50 copies available. I do notice that they tend to be a little more, how can I say this, heterogeneous, a bit more diverse, a bit idiosyncratic. Ok, some of them are just a little bit weird.
Now don't get me wrong. There are a number of solid, classic, middle of the road books. But let's face it. If you allow anyone to offer any book they want, you might get a few odd ones, and I think it is great! Even odd books need a good home. But there seems to be a fair number of time travel/paranormal/devil worship/wizard books offered. Not that there is anything wrong with that...I am just saying. {{all my devil worshiping, wizard fans leaving...}}
There are also a number of non-English books. They might be great ones, but I can't say, since the descriptions are not in English.

But on a positive note, yes, I have 'won' one book so far. Actually, it just arrived the other day, so I have not read it yet, but it looks amusing. It is The Septic's Companion: A Mercifully Brief Guide to British Culture and Slang. I figured a better knowledge of British slang would be useful when reading those English mysteries that I love. Don't want to confuse your diddle with your divvy.

But the program is not without problems, serious problems. First, unlike the ER requests that all timed out on the same date, and therefore led to just one acceptance or rejection message, these books all have different request dates. So if you go on to LT frequently, you will often be faced with yet another rejection notice. {{sob}}
Also, looking at the offerings this morning, one does have to wonder about a site that would allow not one but TWO books about the Backstreet Boys to be offered. Surely there must be some limits of good taste. I mean TWO?

...and now, as we need a picture of a dog, a Bandit pic that I made a wee change to. And be sure to visit his blog!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Musing Mondays...Hey, you say cheap as if that were a bad thing!

Once again, let's take a moment to reflect on a question from Just One More Page.

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about new authors…

What is your policy when it comes to new authors? Do you feel comfortable purchasing a book or do you prefer to borrow new authors from the library? How often do you 'try out' a new author?

New to me...or new altogether?
Well, let's discuss both.
New altogether...I must say that I have had some good luck with new authors recently. Two come to mind...the recently read School of Essential Ingredients and one I read some months ago, Guernica. Both first time novelists, and while very, very different books, in their own way, each very good books. So, yes, they were new to me and new to everyone! Would I have purchased them? Well, most likely not, for a couple of reasons that I will get to.

As to new to me authors...I would have to consider that on two sides of the great divide, pre-Advance Review Copies and post-Advanced Review Copies. Back in the days that I was not fortunate enough to get publishers to send me a fairly good number of ARC's, mainly because I never knew to ask, back when I had to buy all my books or get then from the library, I tended to play it safer in terms of my choices. Think tried and true. I would happen upon an author, maybe on a loaned book or a strong recommendation, and read through all their books. Usually starting at the beginning of a series and reading to the last written. Or at least until I got really sick of them ...or, especially among the mystery writers I favor, they reached the dreaded point of the Series That Should Have Ended But Didn't.
Ok, a little side rant. There was recently a post on this subject over on Muderati by Tess Gerritsen about this. In my opinion, an author should end a series as soon as the idea occurs to them. Oh, it all started out great. A great premise, great characters. The first few books, fresh and with all sorts of exciting twists and turned. But, especially if the series is popular and successful, some authors churn out another...and another...and another., sometimes long past the point maybe those characters should have been put to rest for awhile. Or maybe killed off in a spectacular conflagration!!

Back to the subject...now, through the miracle or ARC's, I have been exposed to all sorts of authors I had never heard of before. New authors and new to me authors. Some whose other books I will read...and some whose other booka I will not. But see, I didn't have to buy those ARCs, so love or hate them, I risked nothing but my time. Which is pretty worthless.

But besides all the new authors I have been exposed to through ARC's, I have also happened upon a lot of new authors, especially new to me, through reading the reviews of a lot of other bloggers. So many wonderful suggestions....Now, if it is a new book and it sounds interesting and I really want to read it, my first plan would check to see if my library has it. If, on the other hand, it is a book that was published some time ago, my first impulse is to see if I can get a used copy through one of the vendors on Amazon. As little as a penny for the book + 3.99 shipping.....for $4.00 and with a book recommendation I will take a chance on someone I have not read before. So newly published I tend to check the library, not newly published, I try to buy a used copy to check the author out. Then I can see if they are worth a further investment.

Because I will admit it....I am cheap. Thrifty, a tightwad, a penny pincher, parsimonious. Cheap.
To go to a bookstore and pay full price for a book....it causes me physical pain. And then if I were to hate the book on top of it.....{{gag}}}...I would be very unhappy.
Not that reading a book from an established author that I have read and liked before is any guarantee. Especially if they have reached the afore mentioned point of the STSHE.
Few are the authors who books I love so much that I will go out and buy the hardcover as soon as it comes out because I can not wait! Can't wait for a paperback, can't even wait for a library copy. I need it NOW!
Of course even then I will check and see if Sam's Club has it at a considerable discount before going to the bookstore. Hmmmm...full price...no.

...Hey, what can I say. I am cheap.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

a review of The School of Essential Ingredients

The School of Essential Ingredient by Erica Bauermeister (Putnam Adult, ISBN 978-0399155437)

Would I discourage any readers if I said that the one word that this book brought to mind is...sweet? I hope not, because it is. It is sweet and luscious and passionate and just a little bit magical. And all together a very nice book.

At an early age, Lillian learned a lesson that she would continue to use throughout her life, the almost magical power of food. When her father walked out and left her and her mother, her mother retreated...and I do mean retreated.. to the safe harbor of her books. Now I am sure many of us can sympathize with the comfort a book can offer, but when her mother seems unable to perform even the necessary tasks of daily life, Lillian must step up, first out of necessity but then out of something more. She develops an interest in cooking, at first just to put food on the table for her and her mother, but then in an attempt, and a successful one, to help her mother reconnect to her life. That image, of people confused and lost, somehow finding their way back, helped along on the journey by food, by it's shear sensual delight, it's comforting presence, the joy found in sharing these wonderful creations, appears again and again in The School of Essential Ingredients.

We find Lillian grown up, in her thirties, the owner of a lovely sounding little restaurant, with food so good that people will happily wait for long periods of time for a table, sitting outside, sipping wine and chatting with their fellow potential customers. But the central action of our story will revolve around the back of the restaurant, the kitchen where, on one Monday a month when they are closed, Lillian hold her cooking class. And it is there that we meet the eight students of the current class. There is the older married couple, finding their way back after a betrayal, a heartbroken widower, a kitchen designer newly emigrated to America, a lonely software engineer, a teenager girl, tying to find herself and her way in the world, and an older woman, losing her memories, and a young woman who can barely remember when she was more than a wife and mother.

We will learn about each of them in their own chapter, going back to see the experiences that brought them to Lillian's kitchen and then we will see them all gathered around the worktables, learning not only about food and it restorative, nurturing aspects but also about each other, making connections, making friends and, guided by Lillian's almost magical sense of what each of them is looking for, a number of happy endings.

The School of Essential Ingredients is the first work of fiction by the author but I certainly hope it will not be her last, because first it is a beautifully written book. Then, her characters are realistic and very likable, their stories believable. And then there is the food...all the lovely food. Sadly, Lillian doesn't believe in using recipes because this book will make you want to run into the kitchen and try and duplicate some of the wonderful things the students cook. I guess, going with the tone of the book, you should sort of try and let the ingredients talk to you..but I really thing I do better with a recipe. But I will not hold that against the book..lol
This one certainly gets my recommendation. I am sure you will spend several very entertaining hours getting to know this cast of characters and hoping that some of Lillian's sense of the magic of food and cooking will rub off.

By the way, in case you were wondering after the rant on my last review, I loved the cover on this book.

If you want to check out some other reviews of this book, here are a few that might interest you...
A Reader's Respite
Wrighty's Reads
Devourer of Books
Booking Mama

Available from Amazon