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

Friday, December 19, 2014

Peter Pan

A fun re-read, which had everything to do with the book being offered for free as an e-read, watching the  "Once Upon a Time" Peter Pan subplot on Netflix , and reminiscing about my childhood, and nothing to do with the rather dreadful redo of the play that aired while reading this. I just can't unseen Christopher Walken's Captain Hook being carried off stage left by his band of pirates.  I'd forgotten how much fun Barrie's language is, and how charmingly the story tells itself.

And somewhere, in the lands of memory, there's a little girl covering her eyes as Captain Hook menaces the camera. She trusts her big brothers to protect her.

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.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan

I read Dad is Fat when it came out, and really loved it. I like Gaffigan's voice, and looked forward to reading this. There were parts that were vastly amusing, but on the whole, for me, it didn't match his first book. The old "it would have made a great article" syndrome applies. The things that appealed to me were the personal experiences and the bits about his family. The dissertation on types of foods and restaurants, not so much. It wore thin, though I did find myself craving an all-beef hotdog while reading.

On the whole, though, I think Gaffigan is a talented artist, and seems to be a dad involved with his kids, and a man able to avoid many of the pitfalls of fame.

Thank you to Blogging for Books, and to the publisher for sending this copy my way.

Tags: blogging-for-booksfoodiei-got-boredi-liked-the-picturesmixed-feelingsok-but-not-greatread-for-reviewthought-i-was-gonna-like 

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass

I am a synesthete. Different fibers, texture, and touch, as well as music, have color for me. My ability has varied at different points in my life, but I know that Mozart is filled with blues and yellows of Van Gogh's Starry Night, my mother's touch when I was had chicken pox was like milk chocolate, and a caress can be the color of midnight blue velvet against the nap. As my hearing has diminished, and my bilateral tinnitus has increased, my color perceptions aren't as clear, but I still treasure the honey gold hue of my son's laugh when he was a child. To read this story , about a girl with synesthesia learning to understand how her world is colored, was wonderful.

Mia has a different type of synesthesia than I do. Her world is more vibrant as numbers and words take on color, texture, and hue. At the same time, she faces issues that confront most of us: the pain of grief, the despair of loss, the confusion of growing up, the recognition of being different.

Handled with sensitivity and compassion, Wendy Mass guides the reader through Mia's world, sharing information, intuition, and understanding.

A lovely story.

Tags: kids-of-most-ages, places-i-have-been, ya-lit  

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Cuppa Love

Back in the day, maybe fifteen years ago, my elder brother and I wandered into what was, in his view,  the height of coffee culinary cuisine. There was something about the coffee that was served there which he adored.  Javaczuk and I speculated it was because when left to his own devices, he often left the mocha pot on the stove long enough so that the house reeked of slightly burned beans, or that in Erico's mind, coffee could never be too dark or too bitter. He liked to add condensed milk to his, which counteracted both the dark and the bitter. Our thoughts were somewhat confirmed, because his favorite name for the establishment we were in was "Charbucks".

We were standing in line, when my eye was caught by some  stainless steel travel mugs. I'd been in search of a travel mug, thwarted because many used natural rubber latex in the seal, which, for me, with a severe latex allergy, would have meant that any beverage in the mug would become a true killer cup. But these mugs had silicone seals on the cap. They were colorfully painted, and curved in such a way that they felt good to hold.

Let me back up to explain that just the day before, Erico had found me in tears, self esteem completely gone. Thanks to the steroids that had actually saved my life when my respiratory function plummeted (a gift from that severe latex allergy mentioned above), I had gained a significant amount of weight. (How significant? Let's just say I stopped getting on the scale when I passed a number on the scale that is 40 pounds heavier than my current weight. And I got even heavier, until I was well enough to start exercising regularly again.) I was in tears, because in desperation, I'd pulled out my maternity clothes to find something to wear, and even those were tight on me. I felt like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, Pillsbury Doughboy, and Bibendum's sister.  I wallowed, waddled, and wept. It was as if I gave ginormous new meaning.

Let me tell you something about my brother, Erico. He was a master story-teller. He could spin a yarn like nobody's business. Paul Bunyan and Blue had nothing on him. His response to his little sister in a melt-down was not to cajole and coddle me. He told me stories. And by the time my son got back from school, my mother up from her nap, and my husband home from work, we were deep in story-land. It was a wondrous thing and I was no longer a huge ball of mess, just huge.

That day at Charbucks, Erico grabbed up one of the pink travel mugs and announced he wanted to get it for me. It reminded him of me, all pink and curvy.

I carried that mug many places. Sometimes it held a beverage I brought from home, sometimes a brew I picked up from one of the wonderful coffee places that have sprung up here in Charleston. In 2008, when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, the pink of the mug took on new meaning. The following year, when both she and Erico were no longer with us, it became a talisman that gave me happy memories when I sipped from it.

But as with anything that gets constant use, there is wear and tear. That pink paint got chipped and scratched. By this year, it was looking a little ratty. Other mugs, sexy and sleek, beckoned, but I held on to my pal, even though it was rather tattered looking.

One day, while talking to a friend, whose art I love, a scheme was launched. He would repaint my mug for me. I told him of Erico, and of "pink and curvy" and placed the mug in his care. I knew this was right, for though I love the memories associated with the giving of the mug, I am not the person I was back then. I've shed the weight, reshaped my life, and kept the memories. I am stronger, and hopefully, a better person. It was only fitting that this talisman transition, too. 

It's still got some pink, kept the curves, the memories,  and a gotten a touch of the vibrancy of street art I love (there's some stenciling along with the spatter). With this mug travelling with me, I'm ready for new roads, new adventures. Thank you, Crosby Jack, for painting new life into a old companion. I've been blessed with wonderful brothers, lots of memories and good friends.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Hurricane Sisters by Dorthea Benton Frank

I find that Dottie Frank's books are hit or miss with me. The ones that people adore often irritate the be-jiggers out of me (it's usually the stereotypes that irk me, or mispronunciations of audio book readers, if I'm partaking of the book that way.) I do love her characters, and the insertion of local spots and faces (though now I'm worried that Martha Lou's is going to be overrun by visitors wanting to try the food, rather than us locals, who come back for more of the best southern food available.) With this book, I seem to be in the minority -- I liked it. I thought it was a decent vehicle for presenting an important message: that violence against women must stop.  The women in this novel are realistic, genuine, with their own eccentricities and foibles. They each face a challenge in the course of the story which causes them to reevaluate, and to grow. What I liked bout this book was the reminder that what is a crisis at the moment is often just a point in a larger arc in a life-story. Life isn't always high drama, and not every hurricane makes landfall. But we do need to look out for those we love. It's never to late to try.

Tags: charleston-sc, met-the-author, read, set-in-my-stomping-grounds, set-in-the-south, thank-you-charleston-county-library

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Happiest People in the World by Brock Clarke

Somehow Brock Clarke has flown under my radar until now. It's hard to believe that I have missed a title as delicious as An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England, but I did. However, thanks to a book giveaway by Algonquin Press, I ended up with a copy of Clark's next novel, The Happiest People in the World. That this refers to Danes, and that we'd just had a long discussion with a Danish friend about the virtues of her country, I was eager to read the book.

Remember back in 2005, when a Danish newspaper published a series of cartoons which depicted the prophet Muhammad, and the resulting objection caused protests, riots, and a boycott of Danish goods in some countries? I think there were even death threats made against the artist, but haven't looked that up to verify.  Clarke has loosely based this novel around those events. In this case, a somewhat hapless Skagen newspaper artist creates a response cartoon, which results in his home and the newspaper office being firebombed. The end result is that he goes into hiding, ending up in upstate New York (actually Boonville, which actually bills itself as the snow mobile capitol of the world, though not in this book -- the things you learn about upstate NY when you are a reader.) There, he becomes the guidance counselor at the local school, which should have worked out well, except a) the town actually has a recruiting presence for the CIA, b) a hit man is on his way to find him, and c) everyone in the books is a bit off-kilter in how they view life. Oh, and there's a moose head in it. With a camera. And a microphone that doesn't work. Brilliant

This really was a well written, attention getting book, very funny in some parts, but I read it with the feeling of a train going downhill, without brakes. From the beginning of the book, you know true disaster is coming. It's just a matter of who will escape and how they'll survive after. But I read on, waiting for the train wreck, amazed at all that gathered and scattered as it came to the inevitable crash.
I will look for more by this author. Thank you Algonquin Press for sending this book my way. To date, I've never read a publication from Algonquin which didn't get me thinking, and tickle some aspect of my reader fancy. This was no exception.

Tags: algonquingiveaway, at-least-the-writing-was-good, didn-t-want-to-put-it-down, funny, good-but-made-me-sad, made-me-look-something-up, read, set-in-my-stomping-grounds, thought-provoking, will-look-for-more-by-this-author

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Love and Ordinary Creatures by Gwyn Hyman Rubio

This is not your average love story, or even your average pet story. It's no Marley and Me, Incredible Journey, or any of the movies and books that claim to be from the point of view of a pet -- at least not from the point of view of the parrot in this book. It's not a "One day I hope to be the person my dog thinks I am", either, as the humans involved vastly underestimate the thought process and intelligence of the particular bird involved. From the human viewpoint, it was a whole lot less complex, but the reader is only treated to that p.o.v. via overheard conversations between human characters.

Caruso is one of the most passionate central characters to grace the pages between book covers in a while. That he happens to be a parrot doesn't lessen the intensity of the story. Set on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, in the 1990's, Caruso's world is centered on Clarissa, with whom he now lives, and who he loves desperately. He learned about love, albeit obsessive love, from his previous owner, whose heart never relinquished its hold on a childhood sweetheart, loved and lost. How this translates into the obsessive love Caruso carries for Clarissa, how his world shakes and tilts when Clarissa begins a relationship with a man, and how life resolves it all play out a large part of the book. Another another piece of the book intermingles descriptions of Caruso's memories of life in the wild, the world he was snatched from at a tender age, giving the  story a different depth.

There were parts of this book that just grabbed me by the attention horns, and wouldn't let go -- until they did let go, and I found my mind wandering until the next phrase, or scene, or glimmering thought grabbed me again. This is a deeply passionate story.  I've rounded up to a 7/10 star because of those moments that caught me in a snare. Thank you LibraryThing and Ashland Creek Press for sending a copy along to me.

Tags: early-review-librarything, read, set-in-the-south, taught-me-something

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami, Philip Gabriel (Translator)

I'm a Murakami fan, so it's hard to displease me with a novel of his (and the cover of this one is a clever play on something that becomes clearer in the early parts of the book.) But I have to say, despite the fabulous prose, imagery, and character presentation, this might actually be my least favorite Mirakami. I felt somewhat let down at the end, mostly because I needed more closure. There were too many loose ends for me. But, because it's Mirakami, I rounded up from 3.4 to 4 stars.

Plot: 5 friends in high school. In the early days of college, four turn against the fifth, colorless Tsukuru Tazaki. In adulthood, he decides to find out why, and what has become of them. The rest is Murakami.

This article, which I read before reading the book, helped answer musical questions for me.

Tags: a-favorite-author, at-least-the-writing-was-good, e-book, good-but-made-me-sad, made-me-look-something-up, mixed-feelings, read, still-trying-to-figure-this-one-out, translated

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

I'm woefully behind in my reading for this year's Y'allFest, which is this weekend. This year Ann Brashares is one of the authors. This book is a bit of a departure from her Traveling Pants series and some of her other books. I see that it's had some unhappy readers writing about it, but luckily for me, I not in that group. I found this a rather thought provoking work, with several interesting "what-if"s thrown in. For starters are the two opening quotes:
The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. --L.P. Hartley  and If time travel is possible, where are the tourists from the future? -- Stephen Hawking

In this story, the future folk are, indeed, here among us, fleeing a dying world, where there is a shortage of everything that sustains life.  Prenna James is one of the immigrants from the latter part of this century, sent back in time with her mother, and a community of other children and parents who had not succumbed to the deadly mosquito borne plague that is decimating the population. The rules of their community strictly prohibit interactions with "native timers" both so to not change the course of history, and to prevent the type of slaughter that occurred when Europeans first came to the Americas and introduced their foreign bacteria. (The one bit that's a little confusing was that there also is mention of saving the world they come from from the problems it encounters, but if you're not to interact with the natives, that could prove difficult.)

When Prenna arrived 4 years before the start of the story, her entrance was observed by Ethan Jarves, Though she had no memory of her arrival, it made a profound impact on him, and now their paths cross again in high school. Prenna has a bit of a rebellious streak in her and Ethan is smart, charming, and nuts about her. At the same time, events unfold to make Prenna question all that she remembers and has been told, and the two realize it may be up to them to help save Prenna's world from its fate.

Things I liked:
-Prenna and Ethan together. Their relationship was gentle and full of trust and intelligence
-That the deadly plague is an advanced form of dengue fever, which is bad enough now (it's also called Break Bone fever, because that's what it feels like) but has turned deadly, and that it can be spread because our climate of the future favors misquotes over humans.
-The thought of finding clues to to future in something as simple as a newspaper.  Prenna talks about how the technology we dream of today is a reality in her world, but what has become really special is handwritten works, or the printed word.
-Who gets saved on May 17, 2014
-No vampires or Zombies
There were some things I didn't cotton to (see above about saving worlds), including the relationship Prenna has with the adults in her group, but hey, it's a YA novel, and what's a little angst among teens?

Tag: read, thank-you-charleston-county-library, time-travel-reincarnation-etc, ya-lit, yallfest

Choose Your Own Autobiography, by Neil Patrick Harris

Neil Patrick Harris makes me wish I'd been raised by a gay dad. Or a dad who was a childhood actor, and retained his love of song and dance. Or a dad who looked good in a white lab coat, and people called "doctor". Or had a love of magic and showmanship.  I guess three out of four ain't bad.

I'm one of the few who has probably never seen Doogie Howser or How I Met Your Mother, and one of the many totally in love with Dr Horrible. But, because of how this great big thing we call social media/internet works, I am a NPH fan.  Even though I find the "build your own adventure" books a little annoying, I decided to seek out this memoir because the man himself interests me. I wanted to learn more about the inner dialogues that allow him to do what he does on stage and screen, and also share the persona he does to the world in real life. I don't remember any big deal when it became more public knowledge that he was gay. What has caught my attention, though is the way he and his husband, David, are raising their kids, with vibrancy, joy, humor, and a whole lot of parenting sense. I didn't expect less. I like how they are modeling for parents in general, not just same sex parents. (Case in point: Halloween costumes.)

This memoir is fun, and because of the format (which I read straight through, not choosing any adventure) reveals even more about the wonderful mind of NPH, as well as his heart. I hope someday I get to see him on stage. Since reading the book, have been eyeing HIMYM on Netflix, working up to suggesting we put it on our queue.

(PS I tried to get this via Blogging for books, to get an early release, but couldn't. I was, however, first in line for it, when it hit my library.)

Tags: biography-autobiography-or-memoir, funny, i-liked-the-pictures, made-me-laugh-out-loud-for-real, made-me-look-something-up, magic, read, taught-me-something

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Shovel Ready, by Adam Sternbergh

I like quirky. I like mystery. I like science fiction and dystopian themes. I like edgy, dark , noir tinted story-lines, that tiptoe into suspense and prick the shadows of life. I liked Shovel Ready.

I'd been in the dumps, because several of my favorite thriller writers have passed from this life, leaving me minus their writing skills, and a hole in my literary friendships as well. The characters I've followed now exist in some sort of unfinished arc limbo. Happily, Adam Sternbergh gives every indication of helping to fill this gap created by the untimely demise of other well-loved authors.

Shovel Ready introduces readers to a New York City in the not so distant future. The big difference between our Big Apple and this one is that someone set off a dirty bomb in Times Square, tainting much of the city, and causing much of the population to flee. The remaining inhabitants mostly occupy that rung of society's ladder that is too poor, too battered, or too zoned out to leave. The other big difference is that, while the internet still exists, it's mostly for the scruffy folks. There is, however,  a new play-toy, a modern day opiate that is a linked in virtual reality. There, you can make your own dreams come true, but only if you have enough money to afford both hooking into a fantasy world and the attendants to keep you safe, and monitor your intake of nutrients given IV to sustain you while you are hooked in.

Spademan was a garbageman in the old New York. In this world, he is a hit-man, taking out lives someone else deems garbage. He's got his own set of principles. (I kill men. I kill women because I don't discriminate. I don't kill children because that's a different kind of psycho.) He's got his box cutter, which he uses to dispatch his victims. He's got a circle of friends, and he's got his memories of days before the bomb, before his wife was killed and he and the city tumbled into a different world. He's hired to kill the run-away daughter of a powerful (in both the real and virtual worlds) evangelist. He asks no questions as to motives, just sees himself as the bullet (or box cutter) that gets the job done.

Except, things aren't as clearcut as they seem, and Spademan finds himself sorting through realities, switching from hunter, to protector, to avenger. It's a gritty, dark ride, but promises to be the beginning of a new series to follow.

Thank you to Blogging for Books and to the publisher for sending me this copy to read. I look forward to future books in the series.

Tags: blogging-for-bookscurrently-reading,dystopian-ishpart-start-of-a-seriesscience-fictionsuspense-thriller

Saturday, October 25, 2014

I take you, by Eliza Kennedy

This book is another of those books that I really wanted to like, but it just didn't work for me. I know some will shake their head and imply that it's because I am uncomfortable with modern options in sexuality and marriage, but that's not the case. I really didn't like the two main characters, and it wasn't based on their their morals. But, the author had a story to tell, and did a good job of it, enough so that I kept reading to find out how this tangle unraveled. (Plus there were two minor characters I really liked.)

I keep trying to find a way to summarize the plot differently than the publisher did, but that summary is pretty good. It's a story about love, and impending marriage, and if fidelity all it's cracked up to be. Does being unfaithful mean you don't love someone? How do you know if like extends to love. How do you know if you really know someone? Plus a lot of Key West thrown in, and probably one of the most complicated extended families you'll ever meet in literature. I added a new tag because of this book: "thought provoking".

Thank you to the publishers and LibraryThing for sending me this book.

Expected publication: May 5th 2015 by Crown

Tags: early-review-librarything, advanced-reader-copy, thought-i-was-gonna-like, thought-provoking

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Knockout Knits by Laura Nelkin

There's something to be said for knitting eye-candy. It inspires. It gets creative chops going and creative juices flowing. Pretty much anyone who has a yarn stash, or has ever held a hook or needle in hand will verify this. Knockout Knits hands out pages and pages of yummy projects and photos. The author gives a range of projects for each style she covers, so that even novice knitters can give things a try, while advanced can be challenged. (I fall into the former, but my friend Maria falls into the latter, and she verified this.) The array of projects for each technique lets knitters have smallish projects to try a new style or idea out with, rather than having to commit a whole sweater, only to discover half way through that it's not for you. Life is too short to have excess WIPs.

As I said, I am a novice knitter (though advanced in crochet) and found myself lusting after some of these projects. I just have to dig out my knitting needles, though, in fairness, I may use them to poke a knitting master friend to make one of the advanced projects for me.

Thanks to Blogging for Books for sending this copy to me, and thanks to the author and publisher as well.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

An Unwilling Accomplice (Bess Crawford Mysteries) by Charles Todd

This was my first foray into Bess Crawford's world, (though I have read a few Ian Rutledge novels, by the same authors.) Probably, had I realized it was well into a series, I might have not picked it up, but interestingly, two copies of the novel came my way (one from the publisher and one via LibraryThing's early reviewer program.)

The plot has Bess, who is a nurse during the Great War, home on leave, and assigned to accompany a wounded soldier when he goes to Buckingham Palace to receive a medal of honor. All goes well  until the next morning, when the soldier disappears from his bed, apparently deserting the army. Then, a murder occurs in a small town, and the suspected killer is believed to be the missing soldier. Bess, as the last one to see him, find herself suspect as an accomplice, in both his escape and the murder.

Having not read any other books in this series, the pace and interactions between characters didn't bother me, though some Bess Crawford Mystery readers have commented on both aspects of this story. I found myself caught up in the detailed depiction of the English countryside during WWI. The battlefield bits, and that of London at the time, also interested me enough that I shall probably seek out other books in the series. I am a nurse by profession, and am always interested to read about the history of nursing.

The authors (a mother/son team, which fascinates me no end, especially when I try to imagine writing a book with my own son) have created some interesting characters. I look forward to meeting those characters again.

Thank you to LibraryThing Early Reviewers program and to the publisher for sending me this book to read.

Tags: cozy-type-mystery, early-review-librarything, part-start-of-a-series, read, read-for-review

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Witch's Boy, by Kelly Barnhill

Kelly Barnhill came solidly onto my reading radar when this book was about to be released. The bits and blurbs I heard from other readers, eagerly anticipating it, and those annoying little banners that pop up on line, all succeeded. While waiting for my copy of the book to arrive, I sought out another book of hers, read it, and gave it a thumbs up. And I prepared to like  The Witch's Boy.  I was wrong about that, and gleeful to say so. I went beyond "like"; I was enchanted by the story, the world created, the writing, and the characters.

Barnhill has created a world where magic is alive. It's not just a tool or skill that someone can learn to use, but a real entity. It talks, cajoles, cackles, promises, prods, whines, whimpers. It is a force to be reckoned with, and it has been killed off over the years by people who try to steal or harness it. Magic entered our world with other beings, who, at the time of the story, have become standing stones, and have been such for ages. The tiny bit of magic that remains, is stored in a pot of the basement of a witch, in a poor, outlying village of a small, isolated kingdom.  And as the story unfolds, everything is about to be threatened.

As the story opens, the witch's twins, Tam and Ned, head out to do what young boys do so well: have adventures and make mischief. However, the raft they intended to ride the river to the sea sinks, and Tam dies. Ned barely survives, but the villagers become convinced that the wrong boy was saved; the clever one was the one who drowned. And across the world, a young girl is told by her dying mother,  "the wrong boy will save your life and you will save his. And the wolf..." In a world where magic roams, it's inevitable these two will come together. And of course, they fight for, not with, magic, for nothing less than to save the world.

Tags:  a-favorite-author, fantasy, ya-lit, will-look-for-more-by-this-author, didn-t-want-to-put-it-down, grandgirl-nonsparkly-fodder, great-cover, kids-of-most-ages, magic, magical, satisfying

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

On Hurricane Island By Ellen Meeropol (Expected Publication March 2015)

I have a friend who, while we have walked many parts of life's path together, is far braver than I, unafraid to scale the heights of conviction, and pursue the passions of belief. (Not that I'm a total wuss, for I try to support my own  positions, and follow through in the ways I cast my vote and dollars.) But I marvel, and am a little envious, of activist ability, and I constantly learn about human rights and our responsibilities from the glimpses of that more rugged path she takes. I am grateful that she often extends her hand, and gives me a tug up that rocky road to standing up for human rights. On Hurricane Island also helped me to explore those paths that are harder to climb. It took me on a journey far beyond a small island in Penobscot Bay, Maine and helped me to travel in the world that has become more evident since the evolution of terrorism into this century and the response of various agencies to contain and destroy it.

The course of actions that emerge in On Hurricane Island pit people of conviction against people of conviction, and it is not always easy to see who is right or wrong.  Math professor Gandalf Cohen  finds herself pulled into this shadow when she is abducted by federal agents and taken to the Hurricane Island's secret interrogation center. Isolated, afraid, and unsure of why she was taken, or where she is, she tries to make sense of what is happening. Populating her new existence are federal agents with varying motivations and secrets of their own, and a young civilian guard, shocked by some of what she learns. That this all takes place as a powerful hurricane rolls up the coast adds an element of tension and fury, not unlike waiting for the back wall of a storm's eye to slam in. the shifting points of view enhanced the reality of conflicts that emerge between various personalities and beliefs. Interspersed in the current day tale is another one, set before WWI when stone from the island was still being quarried.

I am a sucker for "interwoven" tales, and if a book teaches me something as well, I'm sold. This book did more that that, though. It encouraged me to once again, sit down and have a chat with my conscience and examine my beliefs: what is right, what is tolerable, what is wrong. What can I accept, what must I fight to change.

In full disclosure, let me add that the friend I mentioned in my opening paragraph is the author of this book. Thank you, Ellen Meeropol, for once again reaching back and helping me along the path of examining conviction.

Expected publication: March 3rd 2015 by Red Hen Press

Skink -- No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen

I'm a Carl Hiaasen fan, both his original works and his YA oriented novels. Before reading this, I just couldn't imagine how the character of Skink could fit into a PG or even a YA book. He's a larger than life iconic hero. He fights to preserve and protect nature. His methods may be quirky, but his heart and head are always focused. He's salty, honest, inventive, willing to fight for his beliefs, and seemingly indestructible. And he's in this novel, helping Richard find his cousin Malley, who is missing after running off with a guy she met online. Skink and Richard head off into the backwoods of Florida in pursuit, when it becomes clear that Malley's absence has become an abduction.

The story is filled with classic Hiassen characters in absurd situations, with even more absurd outcomes. I will admit I missed some of the more colorful phraseology that usually emerges from Skink's mouth in books aimed at an older audience, but could understand why those expressions were rephrased by the narrator. At least they were acknowledged though, so Skink-ophiles could imagine what was said.  But rest assured there are good guys and bad guys, and you'll know which one to cheer for. I understand this is the start of a YA series featuring Skink (and hopefully Mr Tile, who is a lot like Skink's Alfred Pennyworth, only a retired state trooper.) This is fine, but I do hope there will be another adult book where the colorful euphemisms can emerge again, too.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Art Show images

Some pictures from an art show the other evening, where my pysanky and pysanky-inspired art were on display with works from 4 other artists.  I was the only pysanky artist and was my first actual art show as in art only, not a bazaar, fund raiser, pysanky sales event, state fair, crafts fair, etc. Very appreciative of all who stopped by to talk pysanky with me and to the organizing committee for including me. I wish I'd gotten pictures of all the artists, or of my area set up. The two Rushnyk I used on the table are from the czuk family treasure chest. One was my mother-in-law's and the other was given to us by family in Ukraine, when husband and son went to visit in 2004 or 05.  The individual egg baskets were presents from my brother and sister-in-law in India, and a crystal dish I used for display was a wedding gift to my mother and father. I seem to carry my family with me wherever I go. It's a treasure.

My table before the pysanky were placed
Aka: Keep yer mitts off! Seemed nicer than "You break, you buy"

Acrylics by Chuck Carder (www.chuckcarder.com)

Quali eggs dyed, etched, waxed
traditional goose egg
Ostrich egg in traditional pattern
Goose egg commemorative : Folly Beach


Nature photography by retired Physics professor Norris Preyer

Modern interpretations of traditional designs
Inadvertent selfie in the reflections of a piece called
"Patterns of the Wheel" and a bobwhite pysanky

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Handy Dandy

At some point in my pysanky career, I decided I didn't like the methods of drying eggs after varnishing that were recommended by many of the folks with whom I was in contact. Instead, I constructed my own rack, made from floral foam and wires. When we moved, the old board was really crummy looking after years and oodles of eggs. So today, I recreated it. It looks so happy and pristine, no varnish drops and no dents or missing chunks. I just had to take a picture of it on its maiden voyage. (And yes, that is an ostrich egg in the background, done probably a dozen years or so ago. It's the first ostrich egg I did, and I believe the pattern was from Luba at UGS, not an original, though the color choice is my own. It's also not the humpty dumpty egg that broke and I put back together. That's another story.)
Note: Some of the above pysanky are original designs, though 3 are inspired by pictures I've seen online of Luba's, traditional patterns such as 48 triangles, and of other artists. Again, the color choice is my own.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Why my hands were blue and purple yesterday

\Morale is: don't use bargain paper towels when doing pysanky . (These still need to be cleaned properly of wax and varnished. The floral one is inspired by henna designs I've seen of late.) Thank heavens for lemon juice and baking soda, which took the dye right off my hands when I scrubbed with it.  Also, for anyone who writes pysanky, the other two were started before I packed up my supplies over a year ago, and I couldn't remember the colors under the wax. My old dyes were weak, hence the faded colors on the one with the squares. I might have changed up the colors  and fill on the other one, had I remembered what was there. Oh well.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Pysanky dreams

Back in the day (and the day being somewhere around 1996 or so), we were in Washington DC for a family vacation, tacked onto a conference where I was speaking. I thought the lasting memory of that trip would be to show our son the town where I grew up, and to share with him the sights and sounds of our nation's capital. I was wrong.

We had just come from one of the Smithsonian museums (which was a large hit with the young czuk), and were wandering the Mall, where Folklife Festival was in full swing. We watched dancing from Thailand, heard music from Latin America and the Caribbean, tasted food from the Bahamas. It was grand. But that year, there also were exhibits featuring Masters of Traditional Arts; those talented treasures we honor with the title of National Heritage Fellows. As we walked down the grassy Mall, my eye was caught by a woman in Ukrainian garb, and I pulled my guys over to her, eager to expose our son to a bit of his heritage.

Inside the tent, the woman was delicately holding an egg in one hand. With the other, she was using a tool* to draw lines on the egg. Spread across the table in front of her were the most beautiful eggs, jewels of bright colors and intricate designs. I'd seen pictures of these eggs since my own childhood, but never seen anyone create them.  The designs and colors had fascinated me ever since. Transfixed, I watched as she added elements to her design and then submerged the egg into a jar of colored fluid. My hands itched to try, but I knew that I could never create such beauty. I was no artist. I'd even had a teacher tell me so in eighth grade, when I finished a painting of a sunset on water, which I'd slaved over for weeks. My colorful flourishes of swirling light didn't match up with her image of art. Her scorn, and her unkind words, became chains to my creativity and confidence.

My guys wandered off to another exhibit, while I stood enchanted, watching Betty Pisio Christenson write pysanky. I listened to her tell other visitors about the art, some of which I knew already from my immersion into Ukrainian culture through my marriage to Javaczuk. (Though my family origins are in Ukraine, my ancestors were Jewish, and did not create this type of folk art. The two cultures shared words and foods, but not art.) As I stood there, like a groupie, we began to talk. I told her I'd loved the pictures of eggs I'd seen since childhood, and always wished I could create one.

"Well, why don't you?", she asked, with kistka in hand.

"Oh, no. I'm not an artist. I could never do such beautiful work, or that kind of detail."

"Have you tried?", she responded.

"Um, no..."

She put the kistka down, pushed her glasses up on her forehead, and looked at me sternly. "Well, don't tell me you can't do it, until you've tried."

Chastened, I shut up, and scurried out of the tent soon after. But the beautiful pysanky still called my name. I regretted not taking pictures of her and her eggs. I wistfully remembered their beauty. But I did nothing else about it.

That September, 18 years ago last week, I opened a beribboned birthday present from my guys. Inside was a "starter kit" for writing pysanky, and a book. I stared at it, both thrilled and horrified, eager to try, but afraid to make a muck of it. But Betty's words, and my own heart's desire, proved too much. I picked up the book, read through it, grabbed my kistka and tried.

Since then, I've written** pysanky almost continually, with only slight hiatuses here and there.  When we put our home on the market last year, I packed away my pysanky supplies. In the new place, I was busy getting things settled and wasn't sure where I would do the waxwork, dying, etc. But now, I'm ready. My setup isn't perfect, but my tools are out, my dyes refreshed, and my mind overflowing with ideas. (Seriously, I can't fall asleep at night for all the ideas that flash through, and my dreams are colored with patterns, swirls, and designs.) I'm back in the saddle again, though it's not a six-shooter at my side, it's a kistka and beeswax. I'm headed  to the open canvas of eggshells, to write my art.

*For anyone interested, Betty was using an electric kistka that day, as it was blustery.

**Pysanky are written, not painted, using a wax and dye resistance process, much like doing batik on an eggshell. The letters and symbols all have meanings, and creating an egg is, for me, a combination of creativity and meditation. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Hurricanes and Rainbows

Last evening, we had a glorious double rainbow. It was only after it faded, that I realized it was the eve of the 25th anniversary of Hurricane Hugo coming to visit the City by the Sea (and the rest of the state.) That got me contemplating many things, including the "never again by flood" promise in a certain book. Whether you believe or not, a rainbow is a beautiful thing to behold. And a double rainbow/full bow is a true wonder.

Rather than rewrite, I decided to repost and entry from my old blog, from 5 years ago (September 20, 2009) which in turn is a repost from even earlier.:

It was 20 Years Ago Today (well tomorrow, really)

No, not Sargent Pepper teaching the band to play, but that Hurricane Hugo rolled into town. I was going to write my memories, but realized I did that when Katrina hit a few years back. So, instead, I lifted the earlier journal entry and am putting it here. Today is blustery, much like that day 20 years ago. Hugo came ashore right around midnight so the front end hit on the 21th and the back side on the 22st.

Hugo Memories 

With the horrible devastation brought on by Hurricane Katrina, I find myself remembering what, until Katrina, was one of the worst hurricanes to hit the US in recent history. What we went through was a piece of cake compared to what folks on the Gulf Coast experienced. And ours was bad enough.

We went about our business at the hospital that September, caring for the kids, teaching parents new skills to help so that they could take their recovering children home. There was occasional mention of a tropical depression, then tropical storm brewing out in the Atlantic, but we tended to ignore it. There were always tropical storms brewing in the summer and fall months. That's part of the routine here in coastal South Carolina. No biggie. We'd stock up on water, batteries, bread and toilet paper when the time came. If it looked bad enough we'd add bleach and beer to the list and maybe peanut butter. Life rolled on.

The storm grew-- gained a name, and seemed pointed our way. Voluntary evacuation orders were issued for the coast. The administration at the Medical Complex where I worked, kicked into high gear, in a way we'd never seen before. Staff was divided into 3 groups: Those who would be in the building when the storm hit, those who would be nearby for relief immediately, and those who were "non-essential" and could get the hell out of Dodge. I wanted to be of help and service- that's why I became a nurse, after all, but my application to be on the crew that stayed in the hospital was turned down. Even though my family could have come and stayed in the hospital with me, the fact that my family included a 4 month old baby(still nursing) and a disabled mother, I became a liability rather than an asset. I was assigned to the second group- the ones that would come immediately after.

The storm grew--and shifted slightly so that Charleston looked most likely to be the welcome mat for Bad Boy Hugo. The voluntary evacuation orders became mandatory. My supervisor called me and told me to move inland, out of the city. The storm was expected to hit at high tide and the storm surge would flood us. "Get out", she told me. "You're no good to us dead." 

My brother had actually flown in to Charleston to help us prepare for the storm and to evacuate my mother. What ended up happening is that the car loaded up with baby boyczuk, bumma and the few things we chose to take, plus relief supplies, made it a little ways inland, out of the city, while the duo of javaczuk and elder brother waited too long to leave had to ride the storm in Charleston. They had been so busy helping others batten down things, and taking care of our home, that the roads had closed.

Bumma and I had hoped to get to join some friends in the midlands of the state. That didn't happen. We never really made it out of the low country (the coastal region of the state). Our refuge was a hotel along the interstate. We got the last room, and settled in for the long night. I tried to make her as comfortable as possible- we'd brought a few things like an afghan she made and a picture of my father, but she was frantic with worry about javaczuk and elder brother. The winds had picked up, and the bands of rain were whipping in. "Call them," she begged, so I did. 

They were fine, having the time of their lives, a merry adventure. We kept in touch by telephone as the sky grew dark and the winds grew louder. The swearing from my mother grew louder, too, especially when it really sank in that they couldn't leave, the roads were closed. It was more dangerous be out trying to get out than to hunker down and stay. "If you die," my mother said to them, "I'll kill you."

My darling baby boy, just 4 months old, was a delight. He entertained us both and it calmed my mother to hold him. At times, I would see her weeping silently, while he nestled in her arms asleep. The winds howled. Bumma wept.

Outside, the rain beat against the flimsy hotel, battering, pounding, while the winds whipped around us. I filled the bathtub with water, so that we'd have clean drinking water afterward if necessary. The television reception and radio reception was fuzzy, but present- Charleston stations were falling by the wayside. Other stations reported that the eye of the storm was just at Charleston. The phone rang. It was elder brother and javaczuk, calling from the eye. They were high on having ridden the first half of the storm out, of boarding windows up as they blew out, of watching the walls shake and the roofs of neighbor's homes fly by. They told how they could see the water pouring through the streets and how they saw a neighbor's chimney fall, and how the roof slates from another home had sliced into ours, and one even flew in through a window, breaking the glass, and embedded itself in our kitchen. All I could think about was that it could have embedded in one of them, rather than the wall. Bumma was swearing at them again for making her so upset and terrified- I was wondering how they would do when the fiercer back half of the storm hit, they were saying "uh oh" when the line went dead. 

Bumma turned ghostly white, holding my baby boy, worrying about her baby boy. The wind, which had been impossibly strong where we were, got stronger. I could see the window of the hotel room buckling in and out. My mother, in her fear and worry, was making it hard for me to think straight. I did something I shouldn't have- well- two things I shouldn't have. The first was to venture out into the storm to get a soda from the soda machine. The second was to take said soda, mix it liberally with the scotch we had brought and give it to my mother to drink. Which she did, and promptly passed out. Bumma out cold was a whole lot easier to deal with than a frantic bumma. Trust me on this. 

When I had ventured out, I realized that the hotel was surrounded by trees. They were tall, beautiful pines, bending and swaying in the winds. They looked like ethereal dancers waving their arms in time to a hidden drummer. I was mesmerized- probably would have stayed to watch, had I not had a mother and child to care for. And had I stayed, I would have been crushed by the same trees, that twisted, broke, fell, and crushed the part of the hotel where I had been standing.

With bumma down for the count, I could do some more serious safety measures. I lined the bathroom floor with pillows, blankets, towels and anything soft I could find, to make a nest for my mother and son. The bathroom was the only room without a window, and I wanted them safe if the window in the main room blew. Bumma weighed all of 90 pounds at the time (to my whopping 125), and I managed to carry her in to her safe haven. Baby boyczuk went in too, as well as all the documents etc I had carried out of Charleston. I hefted the mattresses against the bulging window and threw my own force against them as well. I wedged the few towels I didn't use to soften the bathroom under the front door. In the morning, two things were true. Our window was one of the only ones on that side of the hotel that didn't blow in, and we were the only folks in the hotel with clean water, thanks to our tub-full.

There was a strange sound that I couldn't identify--and then I realized it was silence. We were in the eye of the storm. I couldn't resist- I went outside. Silence. Nothing. Void. All the trees which had so enchanted me, were matchsticks toppled and splintered. The rear side of the building was crumpled. Cars in the lot were bashed in from flying debris, though ours was still fine. I got my keys and with heart pounding because I knew the back wall was moving closer by the second, moved it to the clear center of the lot. In the morning, it was there, safe, while a large piece of hotel roof would be occupying the space where our car had ridden out the first half of the storm.

In the morning, we began the long drive back to Charleston- a drive that should have taken the blink of an eye, became a journey of hours. The landscape was totally unfamiliar. Everything was battered, bend or broken. Wires were down- though there was no way of telling which were live and which were dead. Roads were only cleared as people passed through. Sometimes a few folks could move the limbs and branches, sometimes, heavier machinery was needed for the trees. The National Guard was there at work before we even began our journey home. 

We headed back to Charleston, hoping for the best, but trying to prepare each other for the worst. My mother shrieked at every broken tree and toppled building (in other words, it was a continuous wail.) I gave her the task of watching for downed power lines so I could avoid driving over live ones. She wasn't really able to concentrate and be of much help, but the task gave her a purpose, and me some peace as I headed back to the coast and Charleston.

I had my medical ID and was repeatedly stopped on the way back in the city, only allowed through when I showed it. We wound our way through our familiar town that suddenly was strange- driving the wrong way down one way streets to avoid flooding and blocked roads. Finally, we turned onto our street- or what should have been our street, but now was a empty sketch of what had been lush tropical greenery. Our house still stood, but it was totally empty, devoid of husband and brother. Part of our tin roof was on the front steps, and one of our chimneys was in the street. Worriedly, I headed back to the car, unsure of what to tell my mother. I stood in the now unfamiliar street, trying to figure out what to say, and looked down the block, at the fallen oaks and broken houses. There walking towards us, were javaczuk and elder brother. They'd weathered the storm and were out surveying the calling card Hurricane Hugo had left.

They say that hurricanes have a voice- a particular sound. It is true. I have heard it. It is the sound of my mother, weeping.