Monday, November 15, 2010

Nope, I haven't been reading.




Strangely, these two little twinkies have been taking up all my time.....






















































Sunday, November 14, 2010

It Gets Better.

Isaiah 58:6-7;10

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of
injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and
break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to
...provide the poor wanderer with shelter-- when you see the naked, to
clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? ...and
if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of
the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your
night will become like the noonday.



As a Christian, I strongly believe we have a mandate to stand with the oppressed. That's one of the reasons I believe being a feminist and being a Christian go hand in hand - until women all over the world are valued as much as men, I believe we still must "loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke..."

Unless you have been living under a rock, you can't have missed the news coverage recently of the rash of suicides committed by young gay teens who have been the victims of bullying. I know the "gay issue" is uncomfortable for many Christians - I know many Christians won't agree with what I am about to say. But I'm okay with that.

I believe we need to stand with this group of young people, and support them as they fight to find their way in often unwelcoming world. I remember what it was like to be 16, and feel like there wasn't anyone who cared or understood. Imagine how it would feel to add being gay to that mix, and to spend every day being teased, abused, made to feel like dirt. We need to help set them free.

The It Gets Better Project is working to do just that. Today, a friend shared this video with me, and I thought I'd share it with you.



Monday, October 25, 2010

National Breast Cancer Awareness Day





The fourth Monday of the month of October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Day.












Today, I celebrate the strong, beautiful women in my family who are breast cancer survivors, and honor the millions of men and women around the world who inspire us with their courage.

















Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Babies!!!



So, here's what I've been doing this past weekend....=)
















David Alan
born 9/26/10
5 lbs 13 0z
19 1/4 inches

















Sophia Lynn
born 9/26/10
4 lbs 13 oz
18 inches


















Everyone is doing well! We are so very blessed!!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Art Envy

Have you all met Rebekah Joy Plett?? She is one of my FAVORITE artists.

I met her about a year or so ago, thanks to her sister, the fabulous book blogger Raych. There was some kind of contest or something going on.....I can't remember. Anyway, I spent a bunch of time poking around on her portfolio, and kind of became a little bit internet-stalkerish, and eventually wound up buying myself a print of her incredible piece, Words Take Flight.














Cut to this year, and now we are Facebook friends, and about a month or so ago she announced a contest (I know, I'm apparently a sucker for those things) in which she asked her fans to give her a list of 10 interesting, obscure, and inspirational words, and she would choose one entry and make a painting based on those words. I thought that sounded pretty cool, so I came up with a list and submitted it. Alas, I did not win - and after reading all the entries, I wasn't surprised. She could paint for years based on the creative responses she gathered.

However, about a week later, I received and very unexpected email - Rebekah wanted to use MY list of words to create a painting for the annual Paint for Peace fundraiser!! Of course I said yes - how completely fantastic to have the list of words I thought up be used to inspire a painting for such a great cause. In case you were wondering, here is my list:

girl
, piano, 
curly brown hair, 
magenta, 
starlight, 
procession, 
waves.


Rebekah has been keeping me and her blog readers updated on her progress, and this week she shared this picture of what the painting looks like:























I might be biased, but I have to say I think it's pretty cool. Also pretty cool? On it's way to me is one of her initial sketches, that I am planning to frame and put up next to my grand piano. I can't wait!!

If you'd like to watch the progress of our painting, check out Rebekah's blog - she is always working on something fantastic.

And yes, this just makes me wish even more that I had even a TEENY bit of artistic ability - I guess I just have to live vicariously through the people I know that do.



p.s. I did receive permission from the artist to post her work on my site - please don't steal it without getting her permission as well!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Review - Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins


Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
published 2010
400 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she’s made it out of the bloody arena alive, she’s still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what’s worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss’s family, not her friends, not the people of District 12. Powerful and haunting, this thrilling final installment of Suzanne Collins’s groundbreaking The Hunger Games trilogy promises to be one of the most talked about books of the year.


My thoughts: (probably full of spoilers, so if you are one of the 3 people left in blog-land who hasn't read it yet, be careful...)

I finished this book 3 days ago, and I'm still not sure I can write a coherent review. It's been a very long time since a book has affected me in the way Mockingjay has. I expected it to be dark. I expected it to be violent. I expected characters I'd learned to care for to die. I just, somehow, didn't expect.....this.

I think one of the reasons it was so affecting, for me, was because Collins took all of the action completely out of the arena. For me, this made the seem much more immediate and threatening. The past two novels have taken place in a world that was clearly not my own - this one felt much more realistic, as if any of the situations Katniss finds herself in could be happening just a few months into the future.

I thought Collins' portrayal of the horrors of war to be excruciatingly true. Sometimes, the lines between good and bad get blurred. Sometimes, good people decide to do very bad things. Sometimes, it's almost impossible to know who to trust, and who is on your side. And it's violent, and people die, and it's heartbreaking. And Collins gives her readers all of that, in a way that felt completely honest and real.

I once again fell in love with Katniss - her toughness, masking the vulnerability that she couldn't help but reveal. Her confusion and desperation and fear. I think part of the reason I care about her so much is that I can relate to her motivations - she never wanted to be famous, or in the spotlight. She just wanted to do whatever it took to protect her family, and then suddenly she was in this situation that was so far beyond her control. To me, she has always been so believable, even when she is being stupid or whiny, because I can imagine myself reacting the same way she does.

And I'm not sure I will ever get over the losses of Cinna, or Finnick, or Prim. I knew going into Mockingjay that characters I loved would have to die. There was really no way to follow the story to its conclusion without that happening. But I truly felt their losses as if they were real people - probably crazy, but that's how immersed in this world I became.

Perhaps the best thing I can say about the novel is that I know I won't soon forget it. Love it or hate it, I can't think of another book recently that has generated this much conversation. Personally, I loved it, even as it was breaking my heart. Thank you, Suzanne Collins, for this unforgettable reading experience.

Finished: 9/9/10
Source: my shelves
MPAA rating: PG-13, for violence
My rating: 10/10

This book counts toward:



42 Science Fiction Challenge 2010
9/42 complete

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sunday Shorts

Hard to believe, but in the midst of the craziness of the past few months, I've actually found some time to read again! It certainly didn't hurt that the third book in one of my favorite trilogies came out in August - of course, I had to re-read the first two in the series, so here are my thoughts....


The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
published 2008
374 pages

Synopsis:

Does anyone really need a synopsis at this point? Katniss takes her sister's place in the infamous Hunger Games, and uses her wits and skills to try to keep herself alive.

My thoughts:

Re-reading this book only reinforces my belief that had I discovered Katniss before I read the Twilight series, I would never have made it through the first Bella Swan installment.

I love this book for so many reasons. I love it for giving young women a strong, smart, vulnerable young heroine to take into their hearts. I love it for showing that being smart is often just as powerful and being strong. For maintaining the edge-of-my-seat suspense without descending into sheer, gratuitous violence. For the struggle, and the uncertainty, and the humanity - yeah, I just love this one.

Finished: 9/4/10
Source: my shelves
Rating: 10/10

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
published 2009
391 pages

Synopsis:

Katniss returns home after the games to find herself in big trouble with the Capitol for her intentional act of rebellion.

My thoughts:

While I enjoy this one almost as much as the first, it is definitely a second book. It still has all the things I enjoy about the trilogy, but because much of the book does return us to familiar territory, it doesn't quite pack the same punch as the first. It's interesting reading this series for a second time and paying attention to my initial reactions to the characters - a number of them I remember loathing the first time around have since won places in my heart, and so this second read finds them already endeared to me. It still has a horrible cliffhanger, though - thank goodness I have the third book waiting on my shelf!

Finished 9/5/10
Source: my shelves
Rating: 9/10


These books count toward:


42 Science Fiction Challenge 2010
8/42 complete

Monday, August 23, 2010

Review - The Lovers by Vendela Vida


The Lovers by Vendela Vida
published 7/10
228 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Twenty-eight years ago, Peter and Yvonne honeymooned in the beautiful coastal village of Datça, Turkey. Now Yvonne is a widow, her twin children grown. Hoping to immerse herself in memories of a happier time — as well as sand and sea— Yvonne returns to Datça. But her plans for a restorative week in Turkey are quickly complicated. Instead of comforting her, her memories begin to trouble her. Her vacation rental's landlord and his bold, intriguing wife — who share a curious marital arrangement — become constant uninvited visitors, in and out of the house.

Overwhelmed by the past and unexpectedly dislocated by the environment, Yvonne clings to a newfound friendship with Ahmet, a local boy who makes his living as a shell collector. With Ahmet as her guide, Yvonne gains new insight into the lives of her own adult children, and she finally begins to enjoy the shimmering sea and relaxed pace of the Turkish coast. But a devastating accident upends her delicate peace and throws her life into chaos — and her sense of self into turmoil.

With the crystalline voice and psychological nuance for which her work has been so celebrated, Vendela Vida has crafted another unforgettable heroine in a stunningly beautiful and mysterious landscape.

My thoughts:

I haven't seen too may reviews of this book floating around the blogosphere, but I suspect when they arrive it will be a novel that receives high praise from a lot of people. I think, in my case, it is the kind of novel I was able to appreciate, but never fully enjoyed.

Vida writes about journeys, both physical and emotional, that are undertaken in the name of grief and love. While each of her characters navigates the choppy waters of their chosen path, she treats them as an interested but somewhat distant observer, which left me feeling disconnected from their stories.

I did very much enjoy Vida's writing style - it was sparse in a way that matched the tone of the novel well. She has a way of illuminating the small, seemingly insignificant moments of life that show how momentous they can truly be.

"Yvonne thought about how the meaningless talk between couples could fill days, years - an entire marriage. Sometimes it was the meaningless talk she missed most. She leaned over the back of the boat, studying the patterns of water in the wake. For a brief moment, Yvonne thought it was not impossible that she might meet a man one day and remarry. Then she exhaled sharply, extinguishing the thought as she would a candle."

Ultimately, while I recognized the skill and intent that crafted this novel, I was not able to connect with the characters, and so didn't feel compelled to read their story. It became the book that I set down to read something else. I have a feeling that my opinion will be in the minority - I'll be interested to see what the consensus is when I start to see other reviews popping up.

Finished: 8/15/10
Source: ARC from publisher - thank you!
MPAA Rating: PG-13 - nothing terribly explicit happens, but a lot is suggested
My Rating: 6/10


Monday, August 16, 2010

Review - Naked Babies by Nick Kelsh and Anna Quindlen


Naked Babies by Nick Kelsh and Anna Quindlen
published 1996
111 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Beautiful, witty, inspiring, and totally original--this is an unparalleled gift book for every mother and mother-to-be. The black-and-white photos often focus on one aspect of a baby--the perfection of a hand, the swirl of a cowlick, the smoothness of skin on the neck. Quindlen's essays, as graceful, snappy, perceptive, and personal as anything she has written, muse on special moments like a baby's first steps.

My thoughts:

This book was a gift from my aunt Rhoda, and it's a wonderful gift for anyone about to become a mom. The photographs by Nick Kelsh are stunning - all black and white, many focused on just an arm, or a foot, or an ear. They showcase everything that makes us feel all warm and fuzzy about babies - the pudgy, dimply, innocence that makes babies nearly impossible to resist. The beauty of these photos is in their simplicity, as Kelsh allows the pure joy of each baby to shine.

Anna Quindlen's essays are a perfect compliment to Kelsh's photos - writing about babies born, and growing, and learning, and leaving, Quindlen's eloquent yet simple style evokes just the right mood. One of my favorites quotes, from the section in which Quindlen is talking about babies eventually growing up, is this:

"I want to throw the lariat of my love and my arms around him and say: Stay still."

I've always enjoyed her writing, and these short essays are no exception. This is the kind of book that makes you laugh through the tears in your eyes and the lump in your throat. It was a joyful reading experience - highly recommended!

Finished: 7/27/10
Source: Aunt Rhoda - Thank you!
MPAA Rating: G, unless you don't want your kids to see pictures of naked babies
My Rating: 10/10

Monday, August 9, 2010

Review - The Passage by Justin Cronin


The Passage by Justin Cronin
published 6/2010
784 pages


Synopsis from publisher:

It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be born.

First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear — of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse.

As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he's done in the line of duty. Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has triggered apocalypse. He is determined to protect her from the horror set loose by her captors. But for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey — spanning miles and decades — towards the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun.

With The Passage, award-winning author Justin Cronin has written both a relentlessly suspenseful adventure and an epic chronicle of human endurance in the face of unprecedented catastrophe and unimaginable danger. Its inventive storytelling, masterful prose, and depth of human insight mark it as a crucial and transcendent work of modern fiction.



My thoughts:

Okay, this? This is the kind of book I want to be reading right now. The kind of book that makes me forget about what is happening around me because I am so caught up in the story. The kind of book that makes me seriously consider setting my alarm early so I can get up and read more.
The kind of book that makes me anxious and nervous and heartsick and amused and introspective and entertained all at the same time.

Boy, did I enjoy this book. I love it when a writer can make me think at the same time as I am being entertained - it keeps me so much more engaged with the story. Most of my favorite books, movies, and TV shows have this in common. (Battlestar Galactica is a fabulous example, but that's a whole different conversation.) The Passage was chock full of these moments - in between chapters that caused me to tear up, and scary segments that had me worried about nightmares. I would love to read this novel with a book club - I'm sure it would contain lots of ']\great discussion material.

And Cronin's cast of characters is unforgettable. There are a LOT of them, but each one felt completely real and full of life. Cronin gives them all a chance to shine, and despite the length and breadth of the novel, I never felt overwhelmed or confused as the different groups of players entered and left the stage.

My least favorite part of the book? It's the first in a trilogy, and the ending was a SERIOUS cliffhanger, and now I have to wait who knows how long to continue with the story. Man, I hate cliffhangers.

I know this book won't appeal to everyone. It's long, and there are sections that move somewhat slowly - and, frankly, I can sense the vampire fatigue out there, and know some readers won't even consider another book about the current "monster of the week". But I hope you give it a chance, because it's so much more than just a scary monster story - it's about discovering who you are, and being brave in the face of despair, and choosing love when everything around you is falling apart, and hope. More than anything, it's about hope. And that's something we could all probably use a little more of.

Finished: 8/5/10
Source: my Kindle
MPAA rating: R, for strong language and violence
My rating: 9/10

Don't just take my word for it! Here's what some other fabulous bloggers had to say:

The Book Smugglers
Rhapsody in Books
Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'?
Boston Bibliophile
Fyrefly's Book Blog
Devourer of Books
Estella's Revenge


This book counts toward:




42 Science Fiction Challenge
7/42 complete












2010 Challenge - Category 4, Bad Bloggers
2/20 complete

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Review - Sea Escape by Lynne Griffin

Sea Escape by Lynne Griffin
304 pages
published 7/10

Synopsis from publisher:

Laura Martinez is wedged in the middle place, grappling with her busy life as a nurse, wife, and devoted mom to her two young children when her estranged mother, Helen, suffers a devastating stroke. In a desperate attempt to lure her mother into choosing life, Laura goes to Sea Escape, the pristine beach home that Helen took refuge in after the death of her beloved husband, Joseph. There, Laura hunts for the legendary love letters her father wrote to her mother when he served as a reporter for the Associated Press during wartime Vietnam.

Believing the beauty and sway of her father's words will have the power to heal, Laura reads the letters bedside to her mother, a woman who once spoke the language of fabric--of Peony Sky in Jade and Paradise Garden Sage--but who can't or won't speak to her now. As Laura delves deeper into her tangled family history, she becomes increasingly determined to save her mother. As each letter reveals a patchwork detail of her parents' marriage, she discovers a common thread: a secret that mother and daughter unknowingly share.

Weaving back and forth from Laura's story to her mother's, beginning in the idyllic 1950s with Helen's love affair with Joseph through the tumultuous Vietnam War period on to the present, Sea Escape takes a gratifying look at what women face in their everyday lives--the balancing act of raising capable and happy children and being accomplished and steadfast wives while still being gracious and good daughters. It is a story that opens the door to family secrets so gripping, you won't be able to put this book down until each is revealed.


My thoughts:

Well.

Those of you who read my blog on a semi-regular basis have noticed how quiet it's been around here lately. This year has been a LOT, on many different levels, and my reading time has suffered. I've read less this year than any year since I finished college. I've also noticed that my expectations for the books I HAVE managed to read are changing.

Because I know I have so little time to read, I want each and every book to be a knockout. I want them to grab me immediately, pack an emotional punch, and be instantly entertaining. I don't have much patience for dilly dallying around. I've been waiting all summer for the book that would meet all these criteria, and I'm so happy to say it arrived for me in Sea Escape.


What made this such a great book for me was the instant emotional connection I made to Laura and her situation. Other reviewers have pointed out flaws in the novel's pacing and storyline, and I don't know that I would argue with them. But for me, the emotional impact outweighed any issues I had with the rest of the novel.

Because I have so recently experienced the sudden illness and loss of my mother-in-law, Laura's shock and fear resonated with my in a deep and lasting way. As she tried to navigate the ins and outs of her mother's treatment, I could relate to her frustration and anger when she felt like the medical establishment wasn't doing its best. Her self-examination and blame; the feeling that there should have been something she could have done to prevent this tragedy; her desperate grasping for anything that might resemble an improvement; Griffin's depiction of all of these feelings was absolutely pitch perfect.

I also so appreciated Griffin's portrait of Laura's marriage. Neither Laura nor her husband are perfect- Griffin allows both to have shortcomings, and their relationship is not always idyllic, but their commitment to each other and the life they have built was so refreshing to read. Sometimes it seems that contemporary fiction can only write damaged relationships - I found this marriage to be one I could relate to, and it felt honest and true.

This may not be the best book I read all year, but it will certainly be one that I remember. The emotions and relationships touched a chord with me, and ultimately I think reading this novel was cathartic for me on many levels. I'm grateful I had the opportunity to read it, and I will definitely be looking forward to reading more by this author.



Finished: 7/2/20
Source: Review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours - thank you!
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some language and hinting at sexual situations
My Rating: 8/10


Don't just take my word for it! Here's what some other fabulous bloggers had to say:

Tuesday, July 6th: Peeking Between the Pages

Wedensday, July 7th: S. Kristinas Books

Thursday, July 8th: She is Too Fond of Books

Monday, July 12th: Bookstack

Tuesday, July 13th: Caribousmom

Wednesday, July 14th: Red Lady’s Reading Room

Thursday, July 15th: Booking Mama

Monday, July 19th: Raging Bibliomania

Tuesday, July 20th: Beth Fish Reads

Wednesday, July 21st: Maw Books Blog

Thursday, July 22nd: Dolce Bellezza

Monday, July 26th: Books Like Breathing

Tuesday, July 27th: Write Meg

Wednesday, July 28th: Thoughts From an Evil Overlord

Thursday, July 29th: As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves


This book counts toward:

What's in a Name 3 - Category 2, Body of Water

1 of 6 complete



Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Review - Not That Kind of Girl by Carlene Bauer

Not That Kind of Girl by Carlene Bauer
276 pages
published 8/09

Synopsis from publisher:

Raised in evangelical churches that preached apocalypse now, Carlene Bauer grows up happy to oblige the God who presides over her New Jersey girlhood. But in high school and college, her intellectual and spiritual horizons widen, and she becomes skeptical of the judgmental God she's been given. Still, she finds it hard to let go of the ideals she's been raised with, and to rebel as she knows she should. She loves rock and roll, but politely declines offers of sex and drugs; she thinks the Bible and the Norton Anthology of American Literature are equally authoritative guides to life. Since there are no churches worshipping the Jesus Paul Westerberg sang about in Can't Hardly Wait, and no tidy categories for those who are neither riot grrrls nor altar girls, she hovers between a hunger for the world and a suspicion of it.

In her twenties, however, determined to make up for lost time, Bauer undertakes a belated and often comic coming-of-age in New York City. Between late blooming at parties and staying late at work, it seems that she might become as bold as she'd hoped to be — even if the late blooming is a little more hapless than highly erotic. And yet the city and its pleasures do not distract her from another hope: that she might learn how to have a faith that she can truly call her own. Enter the Catholic Church, and a conversion. But then she falls in love, and loses her religion — which leaves her wondering just what it means to be good.

Sharply written, hilarious, and touching, Not That Kind of Girl is the story of one young woman's efforts to define worldliness, ambition, and love on her own terms — while believing in, among other things, The Smiths, Virginia Woolf, and the transformative power of New York City. Fellow restless seekers will find solace in Bauer's struggle to create meaning in the face of overwhelming doubt, and fall in love with the highly original voice at the center of this unforgettable debut.


My thoughts:

I think one of the most interesting and telling things to learn about a person is the journey they have made to their chosen spiritual center. Whether they are cradle Catholics, or born-again Presbyterians, or people who choose not to identify with any particular spiritual creed, I find a person's spiritual path to be fascinating. So this memoir, about a young woman raised in an Evangelical setting who decides to search for her own road to God, sounded like something I would devour.

Of course, my own Evangelical upbringing was certainly part of my interest, and I found myself relating to so much of the author's experience growing up in private Christian school, attending retreats and taking Bible classes. While our situations were quite different, the essence of our early training was very similar, and I couldn't help but chuckle at many of the situations she found herself in.

The parts of the book that deal with the author's spiritual journey I did find quite compelling - in many ways, I could relate to her dissatisfaction and frustration, and appreciated her desire to come to know God on her own terms; to feel like her intellectual capacity did not have to be checked at the door of the church of her choice; to find the place that felt like home. I enjoyed Bauer's narrative voice, and her intelligence sparkled off the pages.

Where I felt the memoir fell short for me was in it's seeming lack of focus - rather than the story of her spiritual quest, it seemed to become a chronicle of her job insecurities and failed love interests. While I understand that those things all played a part in the journey she was taking, I felt much less compelled to read about her late-night exploits, and honestly had a hard time keeping her boyfriends straight.

I really enjoyed the first part of this book, but unfortunately the latter half lost its spark for me. I do think Bauer has an interesting and intelligent perspective on the world, and I would read another book by this author. I have a feeling that she still has a long way to go on her journey, and I would be interested to see the next installment in her story.




Finished: 7/11/10
Source: Review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours - thank you!
MPAA Rating: probably R for plenty of language and sexual situations
My Rating: 6/10

Don't just take my word for it! Check out what these other fabulous bloggers have to say:

Tuesday, June 29th: Literate Housewife

Thursday, July 1st: Tales of a Capricious Reader

Tuesday, July 6th: The Book Nest

Monday, July 12th: Drey’sLibrary

Wednesday, July 14th: As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves

Thursday, July 15th: she reads and reads

Tuesday, July 20th: Heart 2 Heart

Friday, July 23rd: Knowing the Difference

Monday, July 26th: Bookshipper

Tuesday, July 27th: Life In Pink

Wednesday, July 28th: my books. my life.

Thursday, July 29th: Suko’s Notebook

Friday, July 30th: A Fair Substitute for Heaven

Monday, August 2nd: A Certain Bent Appeal

Wednesday, August 4th: Sara’s Organized Chaos

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Review - Based Upon Availability by Alix Strauss

Based Upon Availability by Alix Strauss
published 6/10
352 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

From the very first page of this stunning novel, readers are drawn into the lives of eight seemingly ordinary women who pass through Manhattan's swanky Four Seasons Hotel. While offering sanctuary to some, solace to others, the hotel captures their darkest moments as they grapple with family, sex, power, love, and death.

Trish obsesses over her best friend's wedding and dramatic weight loss. Robin wants revenge after a lifetime of abuse at the hands of her older sister. Anne is single, lonely, and suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Drug-addicted rock star Louise needs to dry out. Southerner turned wannabe Manhattanite Franny is envious of her neighbors' lives. Sheila wants to punish her boyfriend for returning to his wife. Ellen so desperately wants children that she insists she's pregnant to her disbelieving husband. And Morgan, the hotel manager--haunted by the memory of her dead sister--is the thread that weaves these women's lives together.

My thoughts:

I'm having an unusually hard time writing this review, because my thoughts about this book are rather mixed. Parts of the novel worked well for me, and parts just bugged me enough to keep me from being able to fully immerse myself in the flow of the narrative.

I loved the idea of the novel - I'm a big fan of authors who can take several lives or events that seem to be completely random and weave those strands together into a cohesive whole. In many ways, Strauss was very successful with that aspect of her novel. She created 8 women who were nothing like each other - women who, under normal circumstances, would most likely never even meet - and found ways to entwine them with each other that felt surprising and yet natural. My favorite parts of the novel involved the interactions these women had with each other.

Having said that, I never really felt an emotional connection to any of the women in the story. They were all interesting, and fairly well-drawn, but none of them really drew me into their life in such a way that I HAD to know how their story was going to end. Morgan in particular was difficult to sympathize with - almost from the beginning, I felt like distancing myself from her.

I think Strauss is a good writer - and if you browse through other reviews of this book, you will find lots of readers who enjoyed this novel very much. I was just never compelled to keep reading, which is what I'm really looking for when I sit down with a story. Especially now, with my reading time starting to disappear, I want to find a book that makes me forget about everything around me, and get lost in the story. This book was fine, but never quite swept me away.

Finished- 6/20/

Source - review copy compliments of TLC Book Tours - thanks!

MPAA Rating - definitely R, for sexual situations, violence, and language

My rating - 6/10


Don't just take my word for it! If this book peaks your interest, check out the other stops on this tour (Hint - most of them like it more than me...):


Tuesday, June 8th: nomadreader

Wednesday, June 9th: Raging Bibliomania

Thursday, June 10th: Book Addiction

Monday, June 14th: Dolce Bellezza

Tuesday, June 22nd: Heart 2 Heart

Wednesday, June 23rd: Reading on a Rainy Day

Thursday, June 24th: As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves

Tuesday, June 29th: Booksie’s Blog

Wednesday, June 30th: Starting Fresh

Date TBD: Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Review - The Great Lover by Jill Dawson

The Great Lover by Jill Dawson
published 6/10
310 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

In 1909, sixteen-year-old Nell Golightly is a housemaid at a popular tea garden near Cambridge University, and Rupert Brooke, a new tenant, is already causing a stir with his boyish good looks and habit of swimming naked in nearby Byron's Pool. Despite her good sense, Nell seems to be falling under the radical young poet's spell, even though Brooke apparently adores no one but himself. Could he ever love a housemaid? Is he, in fact, capable of love at all?

Jill Dawson's The Great Lover imaginatively and playfully gives new voice to Rupert Brooke through the poet's own words and through the remembrances of the spirited Nell. An extraordinary novel, it powerfully conveys the allure of charisma as it captures the mysterious and often perverse workings of the human heart.


My thoughts:

A few years ago, I became fascinated with The Bloomsbury Group, the cadre of writers and artists living in and around London in the early 1900s. I knew Rupert Brooke was an acquaintance of many of the key players in the group - specifically Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey - so I was eager to read this fictionalized account of his life.

I found Dawson's portrayal of two colliding worlds - Rupert's one of education and privilege, and Nell's one of hard work and struggle - to be quite compelling. By allowing both Nell and Rupert to share their story in their own voice, the contrast between their mindset and situation is stark. The reader never has to guess why this particular love affair is doomed to fail - the failure is inevitable, almost from the very beginning. And yet Dawson's skill as a writer kept me turning the pages, even as I knew already how it would end.

But I found this novel to be much more than a love story - really, it was an insightful and carefully constructed character sketch of two equally fascinating people. Rupert's free spirit and lofty ideals, and Nell's quiet intelligence and gentle care for those she loved made me care about what happened to each of them, quite separately from their relationship to each other.

I thoroughly enjoyed the reading of this novel. I don't think it will appeal to everyone - there is, at times, not a whole lot of plot, and I can imagine some readers will feel bogged down in the character's descriptions of rather mundane, everyday situations. But it worked for me, and I continue to be fascinated by this particular period of history, and it's vibrant but ultimately doomed heroes and heroines.

Finished: 6/6/10
Source: review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours - thank you!


MPAA Rating - most like R, because while the sexuality isn't explicit, it's prevalent
My rating: 7/10


If this book sounds interesting, check out the other stops on it's tour:

Wednesday, June 2nd: Books Like Breathing

Thursday, June 3rd: Eclectic/Eccentric

Monday, June 7th: Peetswea

Tuesday, June 8th: As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves

Wednesday, June 9th: Bookstack

Thursday, June 10th: Nonsuch Book

Monday, June 14th: 1330v

Tuesday, June 15th: Literate Housewife

Tuesday, June 22nd: My Two Blessings

Wednesday, June 23rd: Thoughts From an Evil Overlord

Thursday, June 24th: The Tome Traveler

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Review - The Season of Second Chances by Diane Meier


The Season of Second Chances by Diane Meier
published 4/10
285 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Coming-of-age can happen at any age. Joy Harkness had built a university career and a safe life in New York, protected and insulated from the intrusions and involvements of other people. When offered a position at Amherst College, she impulsively leaves the city, and along with generations of material belongings, she packs her equally heavy emotional baggage. A tumbledown Victorian house proves an unlikely choice for a woman whose family heirlooms have been boxed away for years. Nevertheless, this white elephant becomes the home that changes Joy forever. As the restoration begins to take shape, so does her outlook on life, and the choices she makes over paint chips, wallpaper samples, and floorboards are reflected in her connection to the co-workers who become friends and friendships that deepen. A brilliant, quirky, town fixture of a handyman guides the renovation of the house and sparks Joy's interest to encourage his personal and professional growth. Amid the half-wanted attention of the campus's single, middle-aged men, known as the Coyotes,and the legitimate dramas of her close-knit community, Joy learns that the key to the affection of family and friends is being worthy of it, and most important, that second chances are waiting to be discovered within us all.

My thoughts:

I'd read a few reviews of this novel before I started reading it, and so was expecting to enjoy it. What I didn't expect was to enjoy it for many of the OPPOSITE reasons as the other reviews I'd read.

Almost universally, I saw readers enjoy the prose - I couldn't agree more. The writing is smart and funny, and Meier's descriptions of Joy's house as she begins to transform it are so vivid I could literally see the wallpaper and paint. I was transfixed as Meier described the revolutionary curriculum Joy contributed to at Amherst, and wished I could have been a part of something like that when I was in college.

While almost everyone enjoyed the writing, several reviewers didn't especially like Joy herself - they found her abrasive, or snotty, or distant. I really liked her - I found her intellect and sense of humor refreshing, and could relate to many of her personality quirks. (I'm not sure what that says about me!) I also noticed a LOT of love for Teddy the handyman - and in many ways, he was my least favorite character. I found his unreasoning attachment to his mother irritating, and many of the "childlike" traits that were supposed to be endearing seemed to me juvenile and ridiculous. Perhaps what this book taught me is that I'm really just a big snob. *grin*

I was particularly interested in Meier's opinions on feminism, particularly modern feminism, and the way it seems to mean such different things to different people. I appreciated her strong, rich, interesting female characters, and could imagine myself being drawn to them for many of the same reasons Joy was.

I found this to be an excellent debut novel, funny and intelligent, thoughtful and full of heart. This is an example of women's fiction at its best.

Finished: 5/25/10
Source: review copy from publicist
MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexual situations, some drug and alcohol use, and some violence
My rating: 8/10

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Yesterday, shortly after 2:00 pm, my mother-in-law left this world surrounded by family and friends.

Just about 10 weeks ago, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She battled with everything she had, but sometimes having the will just isn't enough.

She was one week away from the ultrasound which would tell us the sex of her first grandbaby.

She leaves behind a husband and son, who loved her more that words can express, and devoted family and friends who can't imagine life without her.

Upon first meeting Pat, many people were initially intimidated. She had strong opinions, and wasn't afraid to share them. She had struggled through much in her life - more than most people would even have to dream about - and didn't have time for dancing around the truth. You always knew exactly where you stood with her, even if that knowledge wasn't always pleasant.

She had the wisdom and strength of a life lived fully and without reservation, and the people she loved were some of the luckiest in the world.

She always made me feel like there was no other woman anywhere she would have rather chosen for her son. Not many women are given that gift, and I will always be grateful. I hope I can raise my child as well as she raised her son.

My mom sent me these last night, and I can't think of a better tribute:


I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white
sails to the morning breeze and starts
for the blue ocean.

She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until at length
she hangs like a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come
to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says;
"There, she is gone!"

"Gone where?"
Gone from my sight. That is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull
and spar as she was when she left my side
and she is just as able to bear her
load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her.

And just at the moment when someone
at my side says, "There, she is gone!"
There are other eyes watching her coming,
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout;
"Here she comes!"

And that is dying.


Henry Van Dyke



Pat, we rejoice with you as you reunite with those other voices, who you have been longing to see for all these years. We promise to keep your love and spirit alive in our hearts until it is our turn to be greeted by you. Thanks for everything you've taught us, and the love you gave us so freely.



I can never lose the one whom I have loved unto the end. My beloved, the one to whom my soul cleaves so firmly that it can never be separated, does not go away but only goes before. Be mindful of me when you get to heaven, my friend, for I shall soon follow you. ~ Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Review - Neverland by Douglas Clegg


Neverland by Douglas Clegg
published 4/10
304 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

For as long as he can remember, Beau and his family have summered on Gull Island, visiting with his Grandma Weenie and his mother's sister's family. They're there to find some peace away from the city, but there is no peace on this island, and not only because the families are at constant odds. There's something dark and evil that exits here, and thanks to Beau's creepy cousin, Sumter, it's about to come out and play.

Sumter discovers an old shed on the grounds and claims it as their clubhouse. He calls it Neverland, and he and Beau spend most of their time there. But strange things happen within Neverland's walls, including dead things, even people, coming back to life.... It's all thanks to a presence called Lucy, a demon who demands the boys make sacrifices of small animals to her. So, as the adults spend their time drinking and arguing, the kids, including Beau's twin sisters Missy and Nonie, start sneaking out at the dead of night to visit Neverland. There's something intoxicating about what goes on inside Neverland, and the kids will do anything to keep experiencing Lucy's magic. But when Lucy tells Sumter she wants a bigger sacrifice, a human sacrifice, just how far will he go to keep Lucy happy?

My thoughts:

I discovered Douglas Clegg last year when I picked up an impulse copy of Isis from the library, and fell in love with it. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that even though I don't generally cite horror novels as something I seek out, I was definitely looking forward to reading his next book.

If Isis is a fable - almost a cautionary tale - Neverland is it's darker, more malevolent big brother. Everything I enjoyed about Clegg's writing is more and bigger here - the creepy atmosphere, the undertones of unidentifiable but very real danger, the slightly disturbing but perfectly placed black and white illustrations. Everything is staged perfectly to slowly but surely drag the reader so far into the story that by the time you realize you probably don't want to know what is going to happen, it's far too late.

Clegg's genius in both books is his ability to use a child's point of view with such precision. He perfectly nails the innocence with just a touch of cruelty that feels so realistic - his focus is on Beau and Sumter, and because we only see the peripheral characters from Beau's perspective, they tend to be just a bit out of focus, which seems fitting for the story Clegg wants to tell.

I have to admit this author has won me over. I still don't know that I would call myself a fan of the genre, but I will definitely be reading as many of his books as I can get my hands on.


Also, I'm a bit ambivalent about book trailers, but this one is pretty darn good...






Finished: 4/24/10
Source: review copy from publicist
MPAA rating: PG-13 for violence, language, and other scary stuff
My rating: 8/10

Friday, April 16, 2010

Review - Fortune and Fate by Sharon Shinn


Fortune and Fate by Sharon Shinn
published 2008
403 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Plagued by guilt for failing to protect her king, Rider Wen has fled the city of Gillengaria and given herself the penance of a life of wandering, helping strangers in need. But when chance brings her to the great estate known as Fortune, Wen will find her fate, and finally confront the ghosts of her past.

My thoughts:

This was another good choice for me as I ease my way back into the reading/reviewing vibe. I've thoroughly enjoyed the previous four volumes in Shinn's Twelve Houses series, so I knew going in that I would most likely enjoy this one, too. And happily, I was right.

Fortune and Fate is a definite shift in tone from it's predecessors - they were very much wrapped up in the prelude to rebellion and the war itself. In this book, the war is over, and so in many ways this book felt quieter, less frantic. I was never worried that one of the main characters would die - even though there was some danger and adventure, it never seemed quite as treacherous as it had before.

One of my favorite parts about Shinn's books is that she always gives her readers a strong heroine, and she didn't disappoint in Wen. Honestly, it's just so much fun to see her take on the boys and beat them at their own game - she is strong, and smart, and more than a match for anyone or anything that crosses her path. It was also fun to catch up with the core group of 6 who had featured so prominently in the previous books, and the meeting of Wen and that group was memorable and fulfilling.

This is just a great read. I think I've said before that Shinn's fantasy is most likely not for everyone - she has a definite undertone of romance in her novels, and I know that might turn some readers off. For me, losing myself in her world is always a pleasure. I don't know where she plans to take me next, but I can assure you I'll be going there with her.

Finished: 4/11/10
Source: Forest Avenue library
MPAA rating: PG? Some violence and adult situations, but nothing explicit
My rating: 8/10

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Review - Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey

Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey
published 2009
341 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Loup Garron was born and raised in Santa Olivia, an isolated, disenfranchised town next to a US military base inside a DMZ buffer zone between Texas and Mexico. A fugitive Wolf-Man who had a love affair with a local woman, Loup's father was one of a group of men genetically-manipulated and used by the US government as a weapon. The Wolf-Men were engineered to have superhuman strength, speed, sensory capability, stamina, and a total lack of fear, and Loup, named for and sharing her father's wolf-like qualities, is marked as an outsider.

After her mother dies, Loup goes to live among the misfit orphans at the parish church, where they seethe from the injustices visited upon the locals by the soldiers. Eventually, the orphans find an outlet for their frustrations: They form a vigilante group to support Loup Garron who, costumed as their patron saint, Santa Olivia, uses her special abilities to avenge the town.

Aware that she could lose her freedom, and possibly her life, Loup is determined to fight to redress the wrongs her community has suffered. And like the reincarnation of their patron saint, she will bring hope to all of Santa Olivia.

My thoughts:

This book has been on my radar for quite a while - I fell HARD in love with Carey's Kushiel series, but even I could tell that Santa Olivia was not going to be the lush, romantic epic fantasy that I'd come to expect from this author. So, while I knew I wanted to read it, I'd put it on the back burner for a while. Because really, what can be worse than when an author you LOVE writes a book that you....don't. And when I read the description, I thought, "Wolf-Men??? Hmmmm...."

But I saw it at the library, and I felt like I could use a bit of a break from the modern, somewhat bleak lit-fic I had lined up, so I grabbed it. Then it sat languishing in my bag for quite a while, as my reading time became occupied with more important things. And then, last weekend, I was almost out the door before I remembered I didn't have a book in my bag (TRAGEDY!), and it was on top of the pile, so I grabbed it and ran.

Several hours later, I was so engrossed I forgot to eat dinner. And the next morning I woke up early to keep reading. Because once again, I fell HARD in love with this novel.

Santa Olivia is a little bit dystopian sci-fi, a little bit coming-of-age, a little bit romance, a little bit adventure - really, it's such an interesting mix of genres that it winds up feeling a lot like it's very own thing, which isn't in this case bad. It's definitely a departure for Carey, though - her Kushiel series has an elegant, lyrical quality to it that perfectly fits the narrative. Santa Olivia is neither elegant nor lyrical - it is hard, and blunt, and again, it fits the narrative. These characters live hard, bleak lives, and too much elegance in the prose would have seemed out of place.

While the writing itself is good, it is the characters that make this novel. Carey takes such care in creating her characters, and they just come to life in the pages. Each of them is important, and so perfectly placed - I can't imagine the story without a single one of them.

And then there is Loup. She is a heroine I will never forget. She is feisty, and loyal, and completely unafraid. (Literally. She can't feel fear. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing.) This book, more than anything, is Loup's journey - from precocious little girl to fascinating woman. She learns about love, and courage, and about picking her battles. She is strong in all the ways a person can be strong, and yet she is not invincible. She is utterly compelling.

Yep, I loved this book. It's not perfect - some of the backstory could be fleshed out a bit more, and the ending was a bit abrupt. But I think much of that could be resolved in a sequel, which I understand from the author's website is in the works. (Hooray!) But it was one of the most entertaining books I've read this year, and I have a feeling it will be one of my favorites when the year draws to a close.

Finished: 4/3/10
Source: Forest Avenue library
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language, and sexual situations
My rating: 9/10



This book counts toward:


42 Science Fiction Challenge
4/42 complete








Women Unbound Reading Challenge
2/8 complete

Sunday, April 11, 2010

TSS - Where I've Been


Boy, it has been quite a year.

They say that bad things come in three's - well, I'm hoping I've reached my third for this year, because I think I need a break.

The first thing was, of course, the deaths of my friend Levi, and Baby Sam. Many of you read and wept along with me as that sweet boy struggled to hold on for 2 short months, and then left his earthly family. His parents are still, understandably, devastated by his loss. I would imagine losing a child is a pain you never get over. However, even in their heartbreak, they are finding ways to help others. My heart still hurts for them.

The second thing is what has kept me from blogging for a while now. A few weeks ago, my mother-in-law called my husband after he came home from work (at around 10 pm) and asked him to come over to her house. She told him she had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This was, of course, shocking and frightening. Pancreatic cancer has one of the worst prognosis for recovery, and being an only child, my husband and his mom are incredibly close.

Two days later, she went to the ER because she was experiencing extreme pain and nausea that she couldn't control. She didn't leave the hospital again until this past Thursday - she was there for almost a month. It was painful and frustrating to watch her struggle with such severe pain - she rated it a 9 or 10 almost every day, for weeks on end. Last week, she had surgery to remove a larger-than-baseball sized tumor from her abdomen, and at that time her doctors changed her diagnosis to colon cancer - still serious, but with a much better chance for recovery. Her doctors were able to get the ENTIRE tumor, and it had not spread from the initial locations they had discovered.

However, we are not yet out of the woods. She is still struggling from extreme pain - she has had arthritis for many years, and her doctors will not currently allow her to take any anti-inflammatory medications, to prepare for her upcoming chemo. This is causing debilitating pain in her shoulders and joints. She has not been able to work in over a month, and most likely will not be returning any time soon - in this unstable economy, the loss of an income is a scary thing. And, in 3 weeks, she will be starting chemotherapy, with all that entails. It seems likely that my husband and I will be moving in with them, to help with her care and the household expenses. My husband has barely slept in 3 weeks - it's a lot for him to handle. We are all feeling the strain.

The third thing? My cousin, Andrew, who fought and overcame leukemia as a child, has been told that it is back. I don't have a lot of details, but that is certainly news no family wants to hear.


So, as you can see, quite a year. Of course, as is the case, along with sorrow comes joy. My husband and I found out - just shortly before everything happened with my mother-in-law - that we will be welcoming our first child in October! We are very excited - I am almost 4 months along, which means I've also been dealing with extreme sickness and fatigue for the past few weeks. Honestly, reading and blogging just didn't have a chance with everything else going on! I'm hoping (cross your fingers!!) that the sick part will be over in the next couple of weeks - it would be really nice to have a day where I didn't just feel like poop. But, it will be what it will be, and I'm sure it will all be worth it in the end, right??


Thanks to all of you who are still reading - both this rather long post, as well as my blog in general. I'm hoping to start getting back in the swing of things soon - it's been too long, and I miss it. But the past few weeks have cemented in my mind the resolutions I made earlier in the year.

"There's no such thing in anyone's life as an unimportant day." ~ Alexander Woolcott

So, what's been going on in YOUR life??

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Review - Here Burns My Candle by Liz Curtis Higgs


Here Burns My Candle by Liz Curtis Higgs

published 2010
465 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

A mother who cannot face her future.

A daughter who cannot escape her past.

Lady Elisabeth Kerr is a keeper of secrets. A Highlander by birth and a Lowlander by marriage, she honors the auld ways, even as doubts and fears stir deep within her.

Her husband, Lord Donald, has secrets of his own, well hidden from the household, yet whispered among the town gossips.

His mother, the dowager Lady Marjory, hides gold beneath her floor and guilt inside her heart. Though her two abiding passions are maintaining her place in society and coddling her grown sons, Marjory's many regrets, buried in Greyfriars Churchyard, continue to plague her.

One by one the Kerr family secrets begin to surface, even as bonny Prince Charlie and his rebel army ride into Edinburgh in September 1745, intent on capturing the crown.

A timeless story of love and betrayal, loss and redemption, flickering against the vivid backdrop of eighteenth-century Scotland, Here Burns My Candle illumines the dark side of human nature, even as hope, the brightest of tapers, lights the way home.

My thoughts:

I'd read and enjoyed Higgs' Galloway historical trilogy, so when I found out she had a new book based on the Biblical story of Ruth, I was excited to get my hands on a copy. And I'm happy to say that fans of Higgs' previous novels should be very happy with this one.

What I think Higgs does so well is take a story that I've heard thousands of times - in her Galloway trilogy, it was the story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel - and transport it into a completely different time and place. Creating new characters and events, and yet maintaining the heart of the story, she is able to give readers tales that seem both familiar AND fresh. Her sense of time and place is excellent - I can tell she has done her research, because I was fully transported to 18th century Scotland as I read about Elisabeth and Marjory.

If I have a complaint, it is that her characters sometimes feel a bit one-dimensional - Elisabeth is just SO good, and Janet is just SO spiteful. I think Higgs is a genuinely good writer, and could make her characters so rich and complex - so I feel a little bit disappointed when she doesn't.

Overall, though, I enjoyed it. It was a great read for this time in my life, because it sucked me in to the story right away, and the pages turned quickly thanks to lots of excitement. If you enjoy this type of historical Christian fiction, I think this is definitely a title to add to your list.

Finished: 3/23/10
Source: review copy from Waterbrook Multnomah Blogging for Books
Rating: 7/10

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Apologies

I know this blog has been pretty neglected of late - it has been an emotional few weeks at my house, with some wonderful news and some devastating news. I will update when I can, but please know I'm probably going to be less active in general as we start to make many adjustments. But don't worry - I'm not leaving! Just in a spot of needing to take care of some real life.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Review - Raven Stole the Moon by Garth Stein


Raven Stole the Moon by Garth Stein
originally published 1998
445 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

When Jenna Rosen abandons her comfortable Seattle life to revisit Wrangell, Alaska, it's a wrenching return to her past. Long ago the home of her Native American grandmother, Wrangell is located near the Thunder Bay resort where Jenna's young son, Bobby, drowned two years before. There, determined to lay to rest the aching mystery of his death, she hears whispers of Tlingit legends that tell of powerful, menacing forces — and discovers a frightening new possibility about Bobby's fate.

Warned by a practicing shaman against disturbing the legendary kushtaka — soul-stealing predators that stalk the netherworld between land and sea, the living and the dead — Jenna turns to Eddie, a local fisherman, to help her separate fact from myth. But she can't deny her protective motherly instincts, and Jenna's quest for the truth about her son — and the strength of her beliefs — is about to pull her into a terrifying, life-changing abyss....


My thoughts:

I was actually pretty nervous about this book - not too far in, it took a decided turn toward magical realism. You may or may not know this, but magical realism and I do NOT get along. I consistently struggle with being able to become fully immersed in these types of stories, and often find them a chore to get through.

I was pleasantly surprised, then, to find myself becoming quickly engrossed in this tale of magic and tragedy in a small Alaskan town. I found the sections with David, the shaman, to be particularly powerful, and found his tales of Tlingit mythology to be fascinating. Stein does a masterful job of bringing the spirits and lore of the kushtaka to life in the pages of his story, and it completely worked for me, in ways that I would have never suspected.

It did take me a little while to really connect with the characters - especially Jenna, although I suspect this was more a result of the narrative style (short, choppy sentences which seemed somewhat abrupt in the initial sections about Jenna) - and once Jenna got to Alaska and the story picked up, I became so involved that this was no longer an issue.

And it is a great story - not only the fascinating pieces of native Tlingit lore, but the themes of love and loss and forgiveness were perfectly woven together to make for a completely compelling read. I definitely enjoyed it - if you were a fan of Stein's recent mega-hit, The Art of Racing in the Rain, this is a must-read!

Finished: 3/5/09
Source: review copy from Terra Communications - thank you!
Rating: 7/10


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Talking The Wire


Welcome to our weekly (-ish) conversation about The Wire!

Nicole and I have watched episodes 3 and 4 (Amy will hopefully be joining us again next week.) Here's a quick recap of what we've watched, and our conversation about the episodes:

Episode 3 - The Buys

After early morning "field interviews" conducted by Herc, Carver, and Prez lead to a minor riot and bad publicity for the police, the Deputy Commissioner calls in Daniels. McNulty sends Mahone and Polk to the terrace to get a photo of Avon Barksdale. They come up short, but soft-spoken Freamon comes through with an old photo from Barksdale's boxing days. McNulty and Greggs get surveillance equipment from McNulty's FBI contact.


Episode 3 - Old Cases

Bodie manages to slip through security and escape from lockup. Meanwhile, Herc and Carver continue their renegade ways by traveling to Marlboro to find Bodie and beat him into giving up information on the case. Once they get there, Herc has a change of attitude after meeting Bodie's Grandmother. Furious at being robbed of his product during the "re-up," Avon Barksdale instructs Stinkum, Wee-Bey, and Stringer to double the existing reward for anyone who eliminates Omar and his crew.


First things first. Are you into it more after watching the next few episodes?

Elizabeth: Absolutely. People are starting to have personalities, and I can (mostly) remember character names, which helps. But mostly I'm starting to catch glimpses of the feelings and motivations behind some of the actions, and that makes it much more interesting for me. For example, I really didn't care about McNulty at ALL in the first two episodes, but now I'm beginning to see that he might actually be an interesting character.

Nicole: It really is starting to click. I totally agree with you Elizabeth about McNulty. He was probably the character that I felt the least about throughout the first two episode. I didn't get what his motivation was at all and it seemed like he was just doing things. I was just as annoyed with him as everyone else was. All of the characters were a blur before and now I am having a much easier time recognizing who they are and what the agenda is in all the goings on in the different offices and apartments. I am definitely getting to the point where I am looking forward to the next episode so that I can see what is going on next with all the characters. Elizabeth is Kima still your favorite character?

Elizabeth: Yep, Kima is still my favorite. I really appreciate when writers can write female characters who don't just let things happen TO them - do you know what I mean? She is an active participant in the workings of the case - really, she is the best officer they have, and she knows how to get things done. I just love strong female leads, and she hasn't disappointed me yet. I also am starting to like D'Angelo quite a bit.

Nicole: I love how she is so smart and basically and equal to McNulty, and runs teh other two guys on her team. D'angelo is atarting to grow on me as well because I see him questioning the choices that he has made and am hoping that they might lead him to make some changes down the road.

What have been your favorite parts about watching?

E: I LOVED D'Angelo's speech comparing gang life to chess. I thought that was brilliant, and the analogy completely worked. I'm also getting very interested in the officer with the glasses (Hmm, guess I don't quite have all the names down as well as I thought!), who found the poster of Barksdale for them. I think the relationship between him & McNulty shows a lot of potential. Mostly, I'm just getting excited to see how the relationships start to deepen.

Nicole: I was glad to get to know his story more. He has that "still waters run deep" vibe going on. He quietly goes about making observations and figuring things out and then he will bring the team key pieces of information.

Are you seeing any themes and is there any foreshadowing that you have noticed?

E: Well, I'm usually the LAST person to pick up on foreshadowing, so predictably I haven't noticed any of that yet. I have definitely noticed the way that they seem to portray every department as having some good guys and some bad guys - this doesn't seem to be the type of show that portrays "the cops as heroes" or something like that. There are some cops who are really good cops - McNulty and Kima come to mind - but there are also some who clearly just want to skate along and don't care if they actually get anything accomplished. There are some members of the drug gang who are really BAD guys, and some who are just caught up in a situation they don't really know how to handle. It's interesting that they seem to be setting things up to blur the lines between the "good guys" and the "bad guys", and I think that will be one of the things that makes me like the show a lot.

Nicole: I am starting to worry about the informant that I like. I think his name is Bubbles. He has shown compassion for his friend, and that is how he started snitching again in the first place, in order to get revenge for his beating. Sometimes when they are sitting the car and driving places it seems so obvious to me and I wonder if someone has caught on. It makes me so uncomfortable!

E: Oh, I know what you mean! It seems like he pops up everywhere! When he took the undercover cop in to buy drugs, and then they left and walked up to the van to talk to Kima, I thought for sure someone would see them. I definitely have a bad feeling for him.


Nicole: One of the things that strikes me the most among the cops and the crooks is that everyone seems to think that they are so smart. They have the two cops talking about Mcnulty and how he thinks he is smart, and them Kima is makes a comment about how dumb they will seem if they can't outsmart the criminals and crack the beeper code, since they don't think that the criminals are that smart.

I do agree with you on the mixed nature of both the crooks and the cops. Lots of shades of grey that we are watching develop with each of them. McNulty is such a good cop but we are learning that alcohol plays a factor with him and he hasn't been able to balance his home and work life, which has cost him his marriage and left him with a pretty hostile relationship with his ex-wife. But I like how the plot is thickening in all areas. I'm starting to look forward to the next episodes.


So there you have it - episodes 3 and 4 in the bag! If you are a fan of The Wire, we'd love to have you join the conversation! Where did YOU think the season really started getting good?