Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Atlas of Love by Laurie Frankel

I finished this yesterday and immediately recommended it to a friend. It's not that it was the absolute best book I've ever read, but it had moments of such insight, clarity, and humor, that it captured me. I think one of the things I enjoyed the most was that this patchwork family of three women who come together to help raise the baby one of them has, are all English Lit grad students. The constant interplay of literature in their lives was like hot fudge on ice cream, certainly not necessary, but once added, turned that plain old scoop of frozen deliciousness into a sundae.

There were many, many moments that  captured me. I blogged about one here and then just nodded in agreement with a number of others. The author has a knack of adding little touches that made the characters and the situation seem very real. (Like the story of the candlesticks that Janey's grandfather gave her grandmother. He brought them back for her from Paris, instead of the perfume most men bring their sweethearts, because he remembered how beautiful she looked in candlelight, and carried that image, and the candlesticks, until he could return to her. I'm betting that's a real story, from Frankel's own family lore, incorporated into the story, with love.) (And, for the record, Janey's grandmother is a fabulous character, reminding me so much of someone close to my own heart, that I'd swear Frankel and I were related, though we're not.)

Anyhow, this is a novel both literary, and lovely. Thank you Laurie Frankel.

Tags: a-favorite-author, books-about-books, didn-t-want-to-put-it-down, first-novel-or-book, i-liked-it, read, satisfying, thank-you-charleston-county-library

Thursday, August 28, 2014

I've just fallen in love

You know how you read a book, enjoy the way the author presents the tale, and decide to keep an eye out for other books by that author? Well, yesterday, I stumbled upon one of those "other books". I began reading said book. It's proven to have, at least in these early pages, an unfolding story which I like, characters who interest me, and the promise of a premise which can provide what some folks call "a good read".

Then, this morning, over breakfast, I read this excerpt:
                                                      From The Atlas of Love, by Laurie Frankel

I have found another author who has touched my reader's soul, and clearly had visited my childhood bookself and bookshelf.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Bodies Left Behind, by Jeffrey Deaver

I usually don't post mass market books or older books to this blog, but since my public library played a big part in my ability to finish this book, I thought I would.  And it also give me the chance to post the reminder that very often, my reviews focus more on my response or thoughts about the book than to plot descriptors.  If I fail to do so, and you want the plot summary, there often can be one found on the inside cover or back of a book, or even on a book review site, or so I'm told. (Tongue firmly in cheek, there.)

I recently went on a trip and packed three books to read. Each one got cast aside for one reason or another, and I was left book-less (or at least as book-less as someone with 17 shelves of books in a mountain cabin be.) As a replacement read, I picked up The Bodies Left Behind. This particular book had been given to us a while back by a friend, recommended particularly for my husband, who had read it, enjoyed it and put it aside. (I just read an article that the art of sentence diagramming is dying, which, as I wrote that last sentence, made me particularly sad.) I apparently had brought it up to the cabin when we moved last winter, either to read it or to release it. I do like good thrillers, though it has been a while since I've read any of the more prolific American authors, but remember that Deaver could pen a good plot. Unfortunately, The Bodies Left Behind became "The Book Left Behind" because I inadvertently forgot to pack it when I went home. Thank heavens for Charleston County Public Library, so that I could check another copy out, find my place, and resume reading before the story grew cold in my mind.

As to the plot itself, nicely done. I was interested in the characters, though, never having met any cold-blooded killers couldn't judge how realistic some characters were. They shared characteristics with enough bad guys in other books to convince me that perhaps, maybe, this is how hired guns are. These types of books certainly are a good learning tool for anyone who wants to know what to expect from psychopaths, and other social deviants and politicians. And, I admit it. I didn't see two of the major plot twists/revelations coming, particularly the one around page 266 of the hardback copy (or 72% according to a progress calculator.) The other nice thing about reading this book? It reminded me that I've liked some of Deaver's other books, so I've got an author to delve back into when I want a thriller.

Tags: bookcrossing, i-liked-it, read, read-on-recommendation, suspense-thriller, thank-you-charleston-county-library 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Raising Cubby: A Father and Son's Adventures with Asperger's, Trains, Tractors, and High Explosives by John Elder Robison

If men are from Mars, and women from Venus, then John Elder Robison is from a whole different universe from me. That's not to say I didn't like the book, because I did, or that I didn't think he loved his son and tried his best to be a good father, because he did. Some brains are wired differently, and that difference makes it hard for those individuals to fit into the world where most of us reside. So when you get an intelligent, articulate, and observant man, who has a differently wired brain, telling the story of raising a differently wired son, someone (such as myself) with mundane wiring in my brain, can only marvel at the alternate viewpoint.

The main thing that jumped out at me, aside from how much Robison loved his boy, is the vast imagination of the man. The stories he told his son were marvelous: getting Cubby from a store that sold kids, rather than that vastly unbelievable "mommy and daddy made you" or "the stork brought you"; how Santa got started, what that stone figure of a child holding a lantern at the end of someone's driveway really was. The activities he and his son did together were wonderful, too, and the solution to getting past security guards who wouldn't let him take his son to explore stockyards, energy plants, etc that they wanted to see, was brilliant. It was such a different world view than my own, and so fascinating.

My favorite (as in most heartwarming for me) of the different wiring examples builds on that enormous love element, as well. When young Jack (aka Cubby) was born, Dad became obsessed with the idea that somehow, by accident or intent, the wrong baby would go home with them. So, in the delivery room, moments after fresh baked baby had emerged, he carefully drew a temporary tattoo on the baby's foot with a sharpie, so no one could run of with his son, and foist a changeling on him.

Robison was diagnosed at age 40 with Asperger's; his son was diagnosed shortly after that. The boy's mother also turns out to be on the autistic spectrum, as do several other people who appear in the book. (And while not on the autistic scale, Robison's younger brother has written about his own life in the memoir Running With Scissors. Finding a way to work in the mainstream world is a struggle and a challenge for such folks. I know people in my own life who also fall in this spectrum, some who have managed more successfully than others, but I do know the hard work it takes.  This book not only recounts the story of getting Cubby from babyhood to young adult (with a few minor blow-ups, pun intended, along the way), but it serves to help raise the awareness of those of us with the standard brain wiring of the gifts and challenges "different" folks bring to our world.

Tags: biography-autobiography-or-memoir, blogging-for-books, made-me-laugh-out-loud-for-real, made-me-look-something-up, read, taught-me-something, wow

Thank you to Blogging for Books and to the publishers for sending me a copy of this book.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

In Search of the Rose Notes by Emily Arsenault

I picked this up because I've really enjoyed several others of this author's works. This one, however, I just found incredibly sad.  All the characters, both before and after Rose's disappearance, were deeply broken.  There wasn't a moment of lightness in the whole book. Writing was good, but I had to go sit outside on the dock, and feel the breeze on my face, the sun on my shoulders, to lift the darkness. Which only goes to show that though I found the book morose, the writing was evocative.

Why do so many books of late name a character Rose? This must be the eleventh or twelfth read, in recent memory, to do so.

Tags: a-favorite-author, made-me-sad, read, thank-you-charleston-county-library, thought-i-was-gonna-like

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan

A bit too clever for my brain right now. I'm tired of girl-geniuses with sharp wits, but clumsy social skills. May try again later.

tags: put-aside-for-another-day, thank-you-charleston-county-library, ya-lit

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok

Lovely, lovely book. Tai chi, dancing, the sensation of swallowing a Chinese medicine brew made up of insect parts and floor sweepings, love between siblings, recovery from loss, all captured and pulled together like a heady tango or a joyful salsa. There were times reading when I'd have to put the book down to move through a Tai Chi form, feeling my qi flow, or practice a dance step, working my hips just a little differently.  I can't recall a book that caused such a dilemma in me before, where I wanted to read on to follow the story, but the sheer physicality of the dance or Tai Chi called to me. Oh the decisions! And, confession time, I picked up the book from the title, cover, and cover blurb, not realizing until I was almost done that I'd read and loved the author's first book. But, like that book (Girl in Translation), even though I am not Chinese, I felt a strong awareness of the culture of the American born Chinese, and those who have immigrated from China. I learned.  Kwok's words match what I have heard from friends of Chinese ancestry, and was portrayed with loving sensitivity.  As the granddaughter of immigrants, I was very interested, as well, to see how another culture blended into this country, even though it was at a very different time.

There were so many moments, so many gems, within the pages of the book. I only marked a couple:

"A true dancer dances from center to center"  He drew a lone in the air from his torso to mine. "We dance heart to heart. I am still amazed by the number of students who believe the steps are dancing. The steps are nothing. A true dancer moves with her body, her center, her heart, and the legs are only there to catch her so she does not fall. If the movement of the center is correct, the feet will be where they need to be."

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” 

“The core power of tai chi begins with awareness. Our stance is the posture of infinity: not tense but relaxed and upright, expectant. From this nothingness, all things begin.” 

If you want a synopsis, I can't give it to you.  I can only say this book captured my soul.

tags: a-favorite-author, didn-t-want-to-put-it-down, great-cover, great-title, i-liked-it, made-me-look-something-up, places-i-have-been, read, taught-me-something, thank-you-charleston-county-library, want-to-re-read, will-look-for-more-by-this-author

The world according to Mike

My friend Mike is amazing. I knew that before his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, but since then, I'm upping that amazing a couple of amps. He and Olive, and Ricardo, their son, all have a special place in my heart for allowing those of us who love him to travel this journey with him. (If I have forgotten to say so, thank you.) My own inclination when health problems come up, is to curl up within myself and hide. (The two notable exceptions to this were my mother's battle with breast cancer, where I found myself her spokesperson to keep in touch with what she lovingly called her "fans", and my own experiences with latex allergy and the resultant pulmonary problems, which I've tried to use as a teaching tool to increase awareness about this problem.)

A few friends who have not made the leap from LiveJournal or Dreamwidth to Facebook have written me for news of Mike. Today, yet another friend wrote, and I ran an idea by Mike. I asked, simply, if he would mind my reposting some of his health updates when he makes them on FB. It would be a way to pass the information without taxing his energy, which is a precious commodity these days. I'm posting Mike's response, edited only to remove the name of the latest person to write me. I will do my best to remember to repost, from here on out, but if I forget, nudge me and I'll zip over to his FB wall, brush aside the cricket posts, travel links, Humanism/Atheist or Organized Religion objections, and find the latest update.

And without further adieu, heeeerrrreeee's Mike!

Hi Czukie!

Feel free to forward/repost any of my FB posts! I keep meaning to e-mail (redacted) directly, but I only have her e-mail address on my laptop, not iPad, and to use the laptop I have to trek upstairs. I know that sounds dumb, but sometimes these days my body moves slower than my brain and I am becoming an even worse procrastinator. Anyway, if you speak to (redacted) first, give her my love, also from Olive.

I'm determined to make another LJ post soon. A lot of people ask me how I am. I appreciate their concern but it's burdensome to reply to everyone individually. Basically my health has stayed the same since May, nothing to report. No news is good news! If there is something to say, I'll let people know. Neither I nor my doctors can predict the path of this illness - it may strike suddenly, it may not. I'm not going to waste a second wondering about it. I just want to have fun!



Sent from my iPad

But I want to close with a recent post that may go down as one of my most treasured quotes from a treasured friend. It sparked a wonderful dialogue on FaceBook, and maybe it will here, too. (I've blocked out Mike's last name, because I neglected to ask him if I can post it, and this is a public blog. )
Thanks, my friend. Keep on keepin' on.


Thursday, August 7, 2014

It's the little things we do for our friends

It all started with a picture a friend posted of something at work. It grabbed me for many reasons: my love of nature, of surprise, and of the downright squeeable elements in the photo.  That it had distinct bawdy elements also delighted me. It was too much to resist.

So, I began to paint. And fiddle with details. And tweak this, fix that.  But soon, my painting was ready. Now I needed a title. I could have gone simple, basic, but there was the obvious earthy humor staring me in the face. Since I intended on gifting the painting to my friend, I needed her input, but wanted to keep the element of surprise, so I included her in a group chat with a number of wonderful women, all of whom I have met through the world of The Wheel of Time. The question I posed was simple: 

For a project I'm working on, I need a slang/pet name for vagina. Lady Bits just doesn't work in this situation. Help, please!

The resulting conversation, which has now stretched on for two days has been hilarious. Wonderful. Bawdy. Enlightening. Charming. Fun.

I realized that one word wouldn't suffice for my title. So, I took a large selection of words, and put them on magnetic tiles, and placed a magnet, serving as a space in the title, where my friend can add the word of her choice, depending on her mood.

Lady Bits by other names
But the whole process was so enjoyed by this marvelous cadre of women, that they wondered what the project was. My original idea had been to bring the painting to JordanCon, and gift my friend there. You know, the whole idea of seeing someone's face when they open a package. But, I really adore all these other women, too, and I hate to make them wait, particularly if they won't get to JordanCon (plus, it's often hard to make sure everyone gets included when you're mingling with 500+ people.) But, wonder of wonders, my friend's birthday is coming soon, so, there's really no reason to wait. Sure, I'll miss her expression, but she can fake it and send me a picture. (And then again, she might not like the end result, so I'm spared seeing her fake looking like she likes it.)

Sooo.... below is the original photo, and my rendition. 

It's called "Racoochie; or Raccoon in a _____ Tree".

Happy birthday (several days early), Jen. Face it. You're loved.


And for fun, here's how the back looks:

This may be the start of a new career!

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

Lost chances, lost ways of life, Lost Lake; a little story about finding, forgiving, moving on, and healing. Sarah Addison Allen's most recent novel doesn't have quite the same magic as some of her previous novels, but it still delivers a gentle story, for one that starts out with Kate coming out of the frozen period that defined her first year of widowhood. Staring an existence mapped and planned by her calculating mother-in-law, all it takes is the discovery of a postcard from her Great Aunt Eby to make her grab her daughter Devin and flee to the refuge of Lost Lake. It was a spot where she spent a happy summer as a child, at lakeside cabins owned by Eby. But instead of a thriving retreat, she finds Eby on the verge of selling the place to a sleazy realtor. As Kate unthaws, and the regulars who've come to Lost Lake try to figure out what to do, a little of Allen's magic slips in. Some of the characters are a bit forced, but others, like Lissette, and Devin in her mismatched clothing, the costume of childhood, were lovely.

The book interweaves several stories starting with Eby's magical honeymoon trip to Paris decades ago. From there, other points of view follow Kate, and also several of the "regulars" who've come to the lake for years, and Wes, who Kate met as a boy the summer she came to Lost Lake. Like Allen's other novels, to date, this one is set in the South, in Suley Georgia, a land originally settled by people who'd moved up to Georgia from the Everglades. I loved that the name of the lake represents not the fact that it's hard to find (it is), but that , with cypress knees and murky waters, it reminded the early inhabitants of their home left behind.

My favorite Sarah Addison Allen? No. But still a decent read on a summer's afternoon.

Tags: a-favorite-author, audio, magical-realism, read, set-in-my-stomping-grounds, set-in-the-south, southern-author

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Queen of Tearling by Erika Johansen

Clearly there's something wrong with me, because I liked this book. Maybe it's because I stumbled upon it on the shelf rather than hearing all the hype and predictions of "book of the century". I will admit that I am a little annoyed that this now appears to be the first in a trilogy (how unusual) and I'll have to read on to have a couple of questions answered, if the books come out in a timely fashion.  But even knowing that, the story interested me.

Essentially, something caused the world as we know it to cease, and the survivors got in boats and sailed to the new world (okay, this part could have used a bit more explaining, or a map, at least, as there are references to an old America on one side of the ocean and to New Europe on the side where the story takes place. Yes, a map would actually be nice.) Once there, a sort of feudal/ medieval  society started up, and of course went amok. Tearling, a small country, with not much of value besides farming and Tearling Oaks, has become subservient to Mortmesne, ruled by the Red Queen. (Okay, eye rolling is acceptable. I'm not sure if names were chosen as tribute, foreshadow, or what. Seriously, even without a Red Queen, you know that Mortmesne is gonna be the bad guy.) Tearling has a lazy, weak regent, in power since his sister died years before, but not before she sent her infant daughter Kelsea safely into hiding. But now, Kelsea is 19, and it's showtime!

The story is that of Kelsea claiming her throne and making the first salvo into getting Tearling into a better place. There's the Queen's Guard on her side, and a mysterious Robin Hood type character, named Fetch, and some rescued souls. But there are also the requisite baddies: evil do-ers,  schemers, workers of magic, traitors. It's not a genius tale, but it's not bad. And Kelsea is not a beautiful, strong, athletic young woman, but she grows to overcome her shortcomings.

But my greatest pleasure in this book? All the references to books -- books we know and love, or know and despise. Books! And Kelsea's greatest joy in life is reading. Books!

“Even a book can be dangerous in the wrong hands, and when that happens, you blame the hands, but you also read the book.” 

I'll read on, because  I 'm kind of curious to find out who her father was and why it's so important.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Graveyard Shift (Lana Harvey, Reapers Inc. #1) by Angela Roquet

We were big fans of the TV show a decade ago called "Dead Like Me". When a book that had a reaper as a main character showed up for free for my e-reader, I figured I'd give it a whirl, especially when I saw it had a number of good reviews on various places in the readers' portion of the internet.

Angela Roquet has made a kingdom or two out of the afterlife. I felt like I needed a guidebook and a map to keep everything sorted. The underworld here is an amalgam of every sort of human belief in what happens after death, and where you go depends on what you believed in life. It's the reaper's job to collect your soul and get you to where you need to be. There's even a spot for atheists, which amused me no end:
<blockquote>The Sea of Eternity used to be a river, but that all changed when humans began dabbling in science. More atheists and agnostics die every day. It's their souls that fill the sea, making my job even grimmer.</blockquote>

All is not well in the underworld, though, and Angela is caught in the middle of it, when her boss (yes, the Grim Reaper, generally known as Grim) gives her the chore of finding a special soul who will help keep eternity in order. The bad guys want that soul too, and soon it's angels, reapers, demons, and gods all in a tumble.

I feel that this could actually work as a series, if the reader doesn't get too lost amidst the varying characters, particularly those who appear with vastly different personalities than normally given them. I got lost in the details at times. But the setup is there, and the main characters are set.  With time and space to develop this would probably feel a little less like a short story run amok.  Rounding this up to a 3 from 2.5 because I liked quotes used as chapter heads, the author's note at the end, particularly where she thanked her editors and proof readers for making sure all her heroes had "shiny black hair not shiny back hair". Humor goes a long way with me.

Tags: e-book, ok-but-not-great, read, thought-i-was-gonna-like

Saturday, August 2, 2014

What Strange Creatures by Emily Arsensault

When I finished reading Miss me when I'm gone, I immediately looked for another Emily Arsenault novel. Her latest, What Strange Creatures fell into my lap. Another well-crafted story, centering on Theresa Battle, an ABD (all but dissertation ) PhD candidate. She's got thee cats and a dog (she  acquired one after each breakup, starting with her divorce), a slightly dysfunctional family, and a totally boring copy-writing job at the local candle company. She has been given a deadline to finish her dissertation (which she's been writing for 7 years) on Margery Kempe, the Medieval mystic and pilgrim, who also wrote the first known autobiography. But at the same time, her brother, (brilliant, a bit hapless, jobless, and somewhat of a drinker) finds himself being accused of the murder of his girlfriend. What's a loving sister to do? Theresa sets out to find the truth.

I've somewhat butchering my summary, but let me just say I really enjoyed this book. The characters felt real, the plot revolving around them, not them around the plot. And there was all this stuff about Margery that was absolutely fascinating.

Have already started scouting for the remaining Arsenault left for me to read. Yay!

Tags: an-author-i-read, books-about-books, great-title, literary-mystery, made-me-look-something-up, read, thank-you-charleston-county-library, will-look-for-more-by-this-author

The New Colored Pencil, by Kristy Ann Kutch

I'm currently experimenting with different ways to satisfy my artistic muse. I'm a pysanky artist, and only recently have begun to explore other mediums. My arsenal has several types of colored pencils, which I use only sparingly. Somehow I knew there were other ways to employ the simple colored pencil, but hadn't unlocked the secret. When Blogging for Books offered this book as a selection, I immediately jumped for it, and hauled out my collection of colored pencils in eager anticipation.

The book itself is beautiful, and quite thorough. It explores different types of pencils. and provides many references for identifying quality of materials in colored pencil art, from the pencils itself, to paper, to accessory tools, thoroughly examining the strengths and weaknesses of each. To be honest, I was a bit overwhelmed by it all, as a novice, but think this book will have a happy home on my art reference shelf, and that as I get more comfortable with my own artistic abilities, I'll refer to it more and more. It may be a while though, because, as the book stresses, quality counts. Sadly, only one set of my pencils even made the list, and was moderate at that. If I want to indulge in the techniques explored in this book, I would want to upgrade and to supplement with good quality paper and accessary tools, etc, and my wallet is not yet ready. Even so, there are many techniques and tips that I can apply to pen/marker art and even acrylic painting. Having never taken any sort of art class, this is like having my own private instructor in a book.

Thank you Blogging for Books, the publisher and author for sending a copy of the book my way. I hope someday to be able to fully employ all that it offers.

Tags: blogging-for-books, i-liked-it, not-my-usual-read, read, read-for-review, taught-me-something

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Ink Readers of Doi Saket: A Tor.Com Original by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

 I've often heard it's best to be careful what you wish for. That's the case for a young boy from the village of Doi Saket in Thailand. On the full moon of the 12th month (Thai festival of Loi Krathong), the people of his village collect the krathong, as well as a wishes, launched down the river, and try to grant them. The boy has no wishes, and he journeys to seek the head monk to ask him what he should wish for. What he discovers is that the altruism of the villagers is not universal, and there are nefarious actions afoot. Just like the butterfly that flaps its wings in New Mexico causing a hurricane in China, one boy's quest to find out what he should wish for causes a string of reactions in his own land.

Told in a gentle, Thai-like style by an author of Dutch descent, this short story is another Hugo nominee, made possible for free e-download by the publisher, Tor.

Tags: Tor, short story, magical realism