Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Ack-Ack Macaque, by Gareth L Powell (not a review, just some observations)

Now that's a cover!
It's not that I don't think this book is clever, or well written, or lacks some steam punk/alternative history chops. I just need to put it aside for another day. The cover, alone, is worth reading the book to find out what's going on. I guess I'm a sucker for a airman monkey, with an eyepatch, a cigar and a revolver. (Enough so, so that I checked out this post on the author's blog, Painting the Monkey, which surely must be a euphemism for something.

Anyhow, my mind is too scattered right now to give this the proper attention it deserves, and I've been unable to move out of the origins of Ack-Ack in 1944 to get to the guts of the story set a century later when the fun really gets going. I'll keep this in the pile by my bedside to read. I'm suspecting I'll want to hand it off to one or two folks at this year's JordanCon.

First started December 28, then put aside for another day.
Tags: bookcrossing, put-aside-for-another-day, great-cover, great-title, steampunk, science-fiction

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Murder Shoots the Bull by Anne George

This was sent to me for a BookCrossing book exchange we've started in my building. I'd read almost all of the Southern Sisters series besides this one, most by audio-read. I've enjoyed the unlikely duo of Sister and Mouse,  the glimpses of Birmingham, and the peripheral characters that populate these cozy mysteries, southern style. It was nice to dip back into the books, a nice break from the gritty mysteries I've been reading of late. I like the way George fills the pages with everyday tidbits of life: conversations between long-marrieds, walking the dog (with the wonderful name of Woofer), wandering Birmingham's shops and streets,  the joys and worries over children and grandchildren, and lots of food, lots of ways.  It seems sweet tea and orange biscuits can stand up to the coffee, cigarettes, and open faced sandwiches of nordic noir just fine. And only one dead body, poisoned, not bludgeoned is also a refreshing change. Blackmail, jealousy, and secrets can be deadly too, it seems.

Even though George left her fans with only 8 books in this series before her death, they are delightful. Her other books, outside the series, (or at least the ones I've read) are good, too. She was a talented author and poet. (In fact a poetry collection of hers was nominated for the Pulitzer in 1993 and she was state poet for Alabama 5 or 6 years before her death.) I think I've got one more of the series to read, but I'll wait to do so, and then savor it like a delectable bon-bon.

Tags: an-author-i-read, bookcrossing, cozy-type-mystery, part-start-of-a-series, read

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

I never particularly wanted to go back to the 1960's, but did so, happily and willingly, through Nick Hornby's latest book Funny Girl. Don't be confused by the title -- it has nothing to do with Fanny Brice, but everything to do with Barbara,  a young woman from Blackpool, who wants to be the next Lucille Ball. Through a series of somewhat improbable events, which start with a beauty pageant in Blackpool, and a name change to Sophie Straw (a last name that her agent chooses, because she's so pretty every man really wants to roll in the hay with her), Barbara gets a starring role in a BBC series.  The cast of characters of the novel, most of whom are involved in the series production, writing, or acting, have Hornby's typical depth and interest. Though the book covers a span of 50 years, the characters, their insights, and actions, remain fresh. It also provided a nice glimpse into the BBC of the past, and a contrast to today's entertainment industry. Hornby also did a nice job of interweaving fiction with reality, making me wish I could see Sophie in action, in person.

I received a copy of this book via Penguin's First to Read program. Thank you very much.

Tags: advanced-reader-copy, an-author-i-read, e-book, firsttoreadpenguin, places-i-have-been, read

The Portlandia Cook Book: Cook Like a Local

We regularly welcome the gang from Portlandia into our home, so why not into our kitchen as well?

The Portlandia Cookbook: Cook Like a Local is packed with the characters from the TV show, but with the added benefit of some really tasty sounding recipes, even from the gutter rats. Some of the regular bits are represented as well (and yes, the recipe for Marionberry Pancakes from Fisherman's Porch does sound worth the wait in line). Even if you've not seen the show, or like the style of humor, the recipes still look worthwhile. I've easily got a half dozen to try, and even now have a name for "that thing you do with shrimp and feta cheese" which I didn't before. As a coffee geek, I also loved the map of Portland's Best Coffee Shops (a map of the city with coffeecup icons spread just about all over the city) and the Coffee Shop Manifesto, of which I am guilty of several.

Thanks to Blogging for Books for bringing this cookbook both to my attention and my door. It was an entertaining read, and I look forward to trying some of the dishes.

Rounded up from 3.5 to 4/5, since I like Fred and Carrie so much (and Jonathan, by extension, since he's one of the writers of the show.)

Tags: blogging-for-booksfoodiefunnyi-liked-itmade-me-laugh-out-loud-for-realmade-me-look-something-upread

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Art of Arranging Flowers: A Novel by Lynne Branard

I suppose if I found myself at a different point in my life, this book might have been more meaningful for me. It seems, though, that life has already taught me pretty much all of the lessons that are featured in this book, and that my own story is pretty spectacular and meaningful in its own right, and maybe filled with a bit more fun and laughter along the way. But, it did have some nice flower lore, and a couple of lovely characters, and was set in a small town in Washington state, so that made it worth reading. I kept waiting for the joy to come in, and while it was hinted at, or arrived for secondary characters, I had to wait a long time for something that seemed a little obvious.

Tags: thought-i-was-gonna-liketaught-me-somethingbookcrossingho-hum 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy by Sarah Lazarovic

I received this book as part of Bookreporter.com's Holiday Cheer Contest. It had not really crossed my radar prior to that, beyond noting that the author has a blog of the same name, which was catchy enough to make me remember to check it out some day. In the time of my life when I'm trying to minimize, and clear through decades of accumulations (not just mine, but the objects of sentiment and delight and, to be honest, also the crap I inherited from dearly departeds), the idea of "not buying" occupies a great part of my mind. But I also enjoy pretties, mostly in the form of art, so love to look. Even though I knew nothing about Sarah Lazarovic or the year she spent painting things she coveted instead of buying them, I was interested enough by the title to enter the contest -- and look! I got my own pretty thing I did not buy!

I love seeing how people use their art, and what they depict. For me, that was the biggest joy of the book. The stories were nice to read, but not particularly insightful. It was the whole journey-- seeing how Sarah faced her shopping demons and converted them to something more benign, that intrigued  me. The way she places words on the page reminds me of an artist from the 1960's, whose name I can't recall and I am too lazy to google. But it was familiar, even though, through her words, I realized that the author is a generation younger than I am, and that the world she depicts as the norm was just burgeoning when I was the same age. However, she still did come up with some truthful observations, my favorite being:
Unless you're born with outsize character and unfathomable beauty, you spend at least 67% of your adolescence fretting about what you look like. You spend the rest of the time eating Doritos and ogling teen pop stars with remarkably good skin.
(I'm older than Doritos, but they did battle out Fritos as a party food when I was in high school.)

Still, I think the book, short though it is, would have been enhanced with more of a reference early on as to why the author wrote it. It's on her web page, though:
A Bunch of Pretty is a shop for not shopping. The name of this shop comes from my forthcoming book, A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy. The title essay is about a year I spent painting the things I coveted, instead of buying them. 
In the course of writing the book I spent a lot of time researching how and why we shop, the meaning of quality and the paucity of good quality stuff to buy. I also ate a lot of sandwiches. I really like sandwiches. 
A Bunch of Pretty is my rotating collection of handmade things. 

As for me, I'm still trying to reduce buying, and increase my art. My biggest problem? I keep coveting art supplies and other people's art!

Thank you book reporter.com for sending this book my way. The orange of the cover is much friendlier in person than the orange on my computer screen.

Tags: bookreporter-com, first-novel-or-book, i-liked-the-pictures, read, thought-provoking

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Son by Jo Nesbø

The Son started off slow for me, but it may have been because I'm still getting used to an e-reader. However, though the set-up in the book is different from previous Nesbo books, it's consistent with his excellence in plot, writing, and character development. Nesbo has helped me become a bit familiar with the law enforcement end of life in Norway, both the good and the corrupt. I kept wondering (hoping? seeking?) if a character or two from his marvelous Harry Hole series would make a cameo appearance. But even without any known characters (or at least non I quickly spotted) this book was riveting. It is a stand alone that holds its own, filled with classic Nesbo convolutions. It's the first of his books that I had an inkling early on where it might lead in part, but that didn't lessen the suspense for me. It's a book where you simultaneously can root for the guy doing killings and the guy trying to bring him in.  It's about revenge, exploration of what is evil, justice, seeking to right what is wrong, loyalty, and love.  It has marvelous characters in it. I won't try to write a synopsis here, because others have done it quite well elsewhere. But, if you're a fan of Nordic noir, and don't mind a bit of nail biting, find this book. It will give you all that, plus an eloquent examination of justice.

Tags: a-favorite-author, didn-t-want-to-put-it-down, e-book, made-me-think, nordic-break-out-the-herring, read, suspense-thriller, thought-provoking, translated-mystery

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Top Secret Twenty-One (Stephanie Plum) by Janet Evanovich



I did not go outside at all today, that's how good I felt. I stayed home listening to Janet Evanovich's latest Stephanie Plum novel. No, there won't be a formal review. But, it's got Lula, it's got Grandma, it's got Stephanie getting into trouble and in the Joe vs Ranger loop again, though not to an annoying degree. It's got a bit of international espionage and demon minion Chihuahuas. What's not to like? The audio reader for these books is so fabulous. I want to buy her a doughnut. Easier than having her children. And the book was a free download from my library as an audiobook. Yay!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Yes, Please, by Amy Poehler

I've thought for a while that Amy Poehler is a bright lady, skilled comedian, and good actress. Doing an audio-read of her memoir, confirmed all three of those to be true. I chose to listen to the audio for several reasons: it was read by the author; it had "guest appearances" in it by other notables (Carol Burnette, Patrick Stewart, Amy's parents, for starters), and it had some bonus material that the book lacks. Of course, I suspect the book has pictures, which my downloadable didn't, but I'll get my hands on a copy of the book someday, and look then. But until that time, I've had a wonderful glimpse into the fascinating mind of a fascinating woman.

I expected to crack a smile reading this book, and probably laugh. What I didn't expect was to be so drawn in to some of the situations and insights she presents. For example, she once was asked, at an audition, to talk about her most embarrassing moment. She refused. She also didn't get the part, but she did dispense this nugget: when someone asks you what your most embarrassing moment was, or any other question you don't want to answer, you don't have to answer it. Too often we (especially women) try hard to please and end up allowing ourselves to be pushed into some place where we are uncomfortable. It's okay to say no. The day after reading that scene, I was interviewed for something. When the interviewer said she wanted to start with four questions, I immediately recalled this section. "Okay," I replied. "As long as it isn't what's my most embarrassing moment". There was a moment of silence, and the interviewer said, "I'd like to start off with three questions."

Another piece I found endearing was hearing Amy speak about her family. I knew she was a mom (who could miss it, when she was playing Hilary Clinton and pregnant, or doing doing that famous rap on SNL when Sarah Palin was on the show, and Amy very, VERY pregnant. Look it up if you haven't seen it), but to hear her talk about raising these two boys, was a treat. I love the traditions she has with her boys, like hunting  the moon. The genuine love she has for her brother and parents was also quite heartwarming. She hasn't lost touch with who she is or where she came from. Nice.

So, did I like the book? Yes, please.

Tags: audio, biography-autobiography-or-memoir, great-title, listened-in-the-car, made-me-laugh-out-loud-for-real, made-me-look-something-up, read, thank-you-charleston-county-library, took-inside-to-listen

Friday, December 5, 2014

Memories of Christmas Trees Past

Yesterday, I pulled Christmas out of the storage closet. While the menorah we got as a wedding present lives in our hutch off-season, Christmas hides away in big plastic containers which hold all those decorations that have been part of czuk (and pre-czuk) holidays. There's the creche my guys got me in Bavaria back in 2001. Our Nativity scene routinely contains gnomes, teddy bears (because every baby boy needs a bear),  matrushka/matroyshka/nesting dolls, miniature nutcrackers, and several variants of Caganer figures (look it up, a Catalan tradition, sent to me by BookCrossing friend in Spain). This year, we've added a manic-neko (Japanese beckoning cat.) I can hardly wait to see what the crew that seems to do a yearly meme, adding additional figures to the scene does for 2014. One year we got the ever traditional Christmas lobster added. Here's this year's scene:


While we've had the traditional live tree, we've explored other options these past few years, such as our 2011 tree. It was at the start of a project to catalog our books and was made entirely of books from authors we personally knew at the time, or of BookCrossing books that needed to be released. The true family collection, which turned out to be around 7,000 books, remained untouched. Just heard back from one of the novels, which was released via BookCrossing in 2012. It's now in Austria.



In 2012, I chalked a Christmas tree on a piece of wood I'd painted with blackboard paint. 2013, I painted over the chalk with white acrylic and it did double duty for a second year.

Now we're in a new place-- the challenge is on.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Art Of: The American South comes to Charleston

Yesterday, I got to tell stories.

I got to laugh.

I got to talk with four people I didn't know before, but am happy to add into my life.

It was a good day.

So what happened? Thanks to a referral from a friend, I was put in touch with four lovely folks who are on a road trip, heading to Art Basel in Miami (lucky stiffs!), gathering stories "about the art and objects southerners keep in their homes."

I won't spill the beans as to what we talked about, but the questions they asked tapped into some lovely memories and emotional recall for me. It refreshed the realization of the part art played in my life from very early in my childhood, and how it has grown and expanded, now opening into a world where I can shyly, but legitimately claim "artist" as part of who I am.

Our home is filled with stories, with art, with love. To be able to share those memories with these four lively, warm, and wonderful minds was an adventure. To send them on to meet others who I find inspiring in generosity of spirit, and world class creativity, was also a joy. And then to have them tumble back here to spend the evening in the czuk home, sipping local beer (or javaczuk's Negronis) just made it plain fun.

So, if you want to follow a visual trip through the south, click on over to The Art Of: The American South . You might even see one small bookczuk, curled up on the sofa, sharing memories. Thank you Bailey, Greg, Josh, and Erin. You're now a part of my story. And when I look at your tumblr, or instagrams, I see the heart of the American South, through the fresh eyes. Y'all come back, anytime.