Sunday, December 30, 2007

Best and Worst of 2007

Best and Worst of 2007
  • All the books I've read in 2007 follow the lists.
  • The date the book was reviewed here follows the title and author.
  • One book per author.
  • I didn't include any books I've re-read.
  • There were several other books I would probably place in the best of category, but I wanted to limit it to ten fiction and five nonfiction. For this reason there is an honorable mention category... and I probably could have put a few more books on that list.
  • I read the Bible daily, but this is not included in the list.
  • At this point I don't have a rating system in place, so books read earlier in the year may suffer in comparison to those read later.

Best Fiction:
We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver 9/3 (This book still haunts me.)
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett 8/28
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak 4/1
The Cobra Event by Richard Preston 4/11
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield 2/18
The Road by Cormac McCarthy 8/19
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides 8/24
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 9/29
Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult 3/26
Year Zero by Jeff Long 3/16

Honorable Mention:
The Memory Keeper's Daughter 2/5
The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields 5/20
The Chatham School Affair by Thomas H. Cook 10/30
The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver 11/13
Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle 11/20
Eifelheim by Michael Flynn 11/24

Best Nonfiction:
Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson 2/2
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls 2/6
Polio: An American Story by David M. Oshinsky 2/24
Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields 5/30
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris 9/5

Honorable mention:
The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan 1/
Dress Your Family in Corduroy & Denim by David Sedaris 11/7
A Country Year: Living the Question by Sue Hubbell 6/23
Material World: A Global Family Portrait by Peter Menzel 2/4
Hungry Planet: What the World Eats by Peter Menzel, Faith D'Aluisio 2/4

Worst books for 2007:
Nonfiction: Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris 3/13 (pure self-indulgent drivel)
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke 10/22 (had potential if it had been edited down to say 500 pages)
The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos 10/8

Books read in 2007:

98. A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute 12/29
97. The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver 12/26
96. The New Springtime by Robert Silverberg 12/24
95. At Winter's End by Robert Silverberg 12/22
94. Forever by Pete Hamill 12/19
93. Girls of Tender Age 12/16
92. A Gathering of Stars by Donald Moffitt 12/14
91. Crescent in the Sky by Donald Moffitt 12/12
90. Dirt Music by Tim Winton 12/10
87. The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon 12/3

86. Blessed Are the Cheesemakers by Sarah-Kate Lynch 11/29
85. A Perfectly Good Family by Lionel Shriver 11/28
84. The Bright Forever by Lee Martin 11/26
83. Eifelheim by Michael Flynn 11/24
82. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle 11/20
81. I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak 11/17
80. The Rock Orchard by Paula Wall 11/15
79. Borrowed Finery: A Memoir by Paula Fox 11/14
78. The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver 11/13
77. Dress Your Family in Corduroy & Denim by David Sedaris 11/7
76. Whistling In the Dark by Lesley Kagen 11/5
75. The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett 11/1

74. The Chatham School Affair by Thomas H. Cook 10/30
73. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold 10/25
72. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke 10/22
71. Fifty Acres and a Poodle by Jeanne Marie Laskas 10/14
70. The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos 10/8

69. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 9/29
68. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin 9/25
67. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M Miller, Jr. 9/21
66. Deeper by Jeff Long 9/13
65. The Wheel of Darkness by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child 9/8
64. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris 9/5
63. I'm a Stranger Here Myself by Bill Bryson 9/4
62. We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver 9/3

61. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett 8/28
60. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides 8/24
59. The Road by Cormac McCarthy 8/19
58. The Judas Strain by James Rollins 8/17
57. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood 8/11 reread

July: (moved half way across the country this month)
56. The Divide by Nicholas Evans 7/30
55. The Wall by Jeff Long 7/25

54. The Bone People by Keri Hulme 6/30
53. A Country Year: Living the Question by Sue Hubbell 6/23
52. American Gods by Neil Gaiman 6/21
51. The Reckoning by Jeff Long 6/18
50. The Circus Fire by Stewart O'Nan 6/9
49. Man and Wife by Tony Parsons 6/4
48. Man and Boy by Tony Parsons 6/1

47. Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields 5/30
46. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee 8/28 reread
45. Dreamcatcher by Stephen King 5/26
44. Virus X: Tracking the New Killer Plagues by Frank Ryan, M.D. 5/21
43. The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields 5/20
42. Level 4 Virus Hunters of the CDC by Drs. Joseph McCormick and SusanFisher-Hoch 5/16
41. Treasure of Khan by Clive and Dirk Cussler 5/10
40. The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd by Richard Zacks 5/4
39. Under the Black Flag by David Cordingly 5/2

38. Blackbeard: America's Most Notorious Pirate by Angus Konstam 4/27
37. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill 4/22
36. Virus Hunter by C. J. Peters and Mark Olshaker 4/21
35. The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen 4/17
34. The Demon in the Freezer by Richard Preston 4/13
33. The Cobra Event by Richard Preston 4/11
32. The World Rushed In by J.S. Holliday 4/7
31. The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai 4/5
30. Sleeping at the Starlight Motel by Bailey White 4/2 reread
29. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak 4/1

28. The Great Mortality by John Kelly 3/30
27. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult 3/26
26. Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson 3/23
25. The Descent by Jeff Long 3/19
24. Year Zero by Jeff Long 3/16
23. Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris 3/13
22. The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner 3/11
21. The Map that Changed the World by Simon Winchester 3/8

20. Triangle: The Fire that Changed America 2/28
19. Deep Storm by Lincoln Child 2/28
18. Polio: An American Story by David M. Oshinsky 2/24
17. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield 2/18
16. The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester 2/16
15. Eternity Road by Jack McDevitt 2/13
14. Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson 2/10
13. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls 2/6
12. The Memory Keeper's Daughter 2/5
11. Material World: A Global Family Portrait by Peter Menzel 2/4
10. Hungry Planet: What the World Eats by Peter Menzel, Faith D'Aluisio 2/4
9. Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson 2/2

8. Lisey's Story by Stephen King 1/30
7. Thunderstruck by Erik Larson 1/26
6. Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs 1/24
5. Next by Michael Crichton
4. Black Order by James Rollins:
3. The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan
2. The Rift by Walter J. Williams
1. Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Town Like Alice

A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute was originally published in 1950. My paperback copy is 277 pages long. From the book description, "A Town Like Alice tells of a young woman who miraculously survived a Japanese 'death march' in World War II, and of an Australian soldier, also a prisoner of war, who offered to help her--even at the cost of his life..." This is ultimately a love story, but it is not a romance novel.

In the novel a young woman, Jean Paget inherits a large sum of money. She had been a Japanese prisoner of war along with some other women and children in Malaya during WWII and wanted to repay the villagers who sheltered her by digging a well. While there she learns that the young Australian, Joe Harmon, who was crucified for stealing food for them, survived and she went to Australia to try and find him. Joe, at the same time, went to England to find Jean. With the help of her London solicitor, in spite of himself, they eventually find each other. Amazon link

This is a lovely book and I highly recommend it.


"Oh yes...It was the most extraordinary thing, as you say. The Japanese commanders marched them from place to place, till finally they were allowed to settle in a village on the east coast somewhere, and there they lived for the rest of the war. There was a very fine girl who was their leader; she spoke Malaya fluently. She wasn't anybody notable; she'd been a shorthand typist in an office in Kuala Lumpur."

"The best she could do was to recollect the words of a prayer that they had used at school sometimes. 'Lighten our darkness, O Lord, and of Thy great mercy...' That was all she could remember, and she repeated it over and over to herself that afternoon. Her darkness had been lightened by the well diggers."

"[T]hey had an opening ceremony when Jean washed her own sarong and all the women crowded into the wash house laughing, and the men stood round in a tolerant circle at a distance, wondering if they had been quite wise to allow anything that made the women laugh so much."

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Bean Trees

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver was originally published in 1988. My paperback copy is 323 pages long. The Bean Trees was Kingsolver's debut novel and you can clearly see her gift for writing. Although her talent is more evident in her subsequent novels, Prodigal Summer and The Poisonwood Bible to name two, this was still a fine story. I recommend it.

From Amazon:

Feisty Marietta Greer changes her name to "Taylor" when her car runs out of gas in Taylorville, Ill. By the time she reaches Oklahoma, this strong-willed young Kentucky native with a quick tongue and an open mind is catapulted into a surprising new life. Taylor leaves home in a beat-up '55 Volkswagen bug, on her way to nowhere in particular, savoring her freedom. But when a forlorn Cherokee woman drops a baby in Taylor's passenger seat and asks her to take it, she does. A first novel, The Bean Trees is an overwhelming delight, as random and unexpected as real life. The unmistakable voice of its irresistible heroine is whimsical, yet deeply insightful. Taylor playfully names her little foundling "Turtle," because she clings with an unrelenting, reptilian grip; at the same time, Taylor aches at the thought of the silent, staring child's past suffering. With Turtle in tow, Taylor lands in Tucson, Ariz., with two flat tires and decides to stay. The desert climate, landscape and vegetation are completely foreign to Taylor, and in learning to love Arizona, she also comes face to face with its rattlesnakes and tarantulas. Similarly, Taylor finds that motherhood, responsibility and independence are thorny, if welcome, gifts. This funny, inspiring book is a marvelous affirmation of risk-taking, commitment and everyday miracles.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.

"I have been afraid of putting air in a tire ever since I saw a tractor tire blow up and throw Newt Hardbine's father over the top of the Standard Oil sign. I'm not lying. He got stuck up there."

"Lou Ann made the baptism decision purely for practical reasons: if one of the grandmothers was going to have a conniption, it might as well be the one who was eighteen hundred miles away rather than the one who lived right across town."

"Sometimes I feel like a foreigner too. I come from a place that's so different from here you would think you'd stepped right off the map into some other country where they use dirt for decoration and the national pastime is having babies. People don't look the same, talk the same, nothing."

"Don't ignore it then... Talk back to it. Say, 'You can't do that number on me you...' or something like that. Otherwise it kind of weasels its way into your head whether you like it or not."

"I realized that I had come to my own terms with the desert, but my soul was thirsty."

Monday, December 24, 2007

The New Springtime

The New Springtime by Robert Silverberg is the sequel to At Winter's End. It was originally published in 1990 and is 358 pages long. You need to read At Winter's End before The New Springtime. I enjoyed The New Springtime more than At Winter's End. I'd have to honestly say that At Winter's End bogged down in the second half (or toward the last third) of the book. The New Springtime kept the pace up better, although in many ways I thought the two books could have been edited down to one, with a part one and part two. I still prefer hard science fiction, though, so that could influence my feelings. Silverberg is a very good writer and that makes his books enjoyable. I recommend his books if you like science fiction.

From Amazon:
[Second of 2 "New Springtime" novels.] The death-stars had come, and they had kept on coming for hundreds of thousands of years, falling upon the Earth, swept upon it by a vagrant star that had passed through the outer reaches of the solar system. They brought with them a time of unending darkness and cold. It was a thing that happened every twenty-six million years, and there was no turning it aside. But all that was done with now. At last the death-stars had ceased to fall, the sky had cleared of dust and cinders, the sun's warmth again was able to break through the clouds. The glaciers relinquished their hold on the land; the Long Winter ended; the New Springtime began. The world was born anew. Now each year was warmer than the last. The fair seasons of spring and summer, long lost from the world, came again with increasing power. And the People, having survived the dark time in their sealed cocoons, were spreading rapidly across the fertile land. But others were already there. The hjjks, the somber cold-eyed insect-folk, had never retreated, even at the time of greatest chill. The world had fallen to them by default, and they had been its sole masters for seven hundred thousand years. They were not likely to share it gladly now. Locus Poll Award Nominee


"What a pathetic imitation of lost greatness we've created here! And we're so proud of what we have done. But in truth we've done so little - only to copy, like the monkeys that we are. What we have copied is the appearance, not the substance. And we could lose it all, such as it is, in the twinkling of an eye."

Saturday, December 22, 2007

At Winter's End

At Winter's End by Robert Silverberg was originally published in 1988. My hardcover copy is 404 pages long. This story is continued in The New Springtime. Although I would recommend this to those who enjoy science fiction, I would have to say that I enjoyed the Majipoor Chronicles books by Silverberg more. My less-than-hardy recommendation could also be based on the fact that I generally prefer hard science fiction. At Winter's End was enjoyable, however, and I'll be reading The New Springtime next.

From Amazon:
After a recurrence of the cataclysm that killed off the dinosaurs and a resulting Long Winter of 700,000 years, the eventual New Springtime sees only two of the far future Earth's original Six Peoples emerge from their deep cocoons: the resilient, insect-like hjjk-folk and the simian tribes who regard themselves as heirs to humanity. Young Hresh-full-of-questions is a member of one of the latter, a small band that must radically change its ancient rituals and taboos to adapt to their new life. Taking up temporary residence in the shell of a once great city, the group fearfully meets another people, is itself torn in half by rivalry and, through Hresh, achieves a new realization of who they are. This solid, dramatic novel expands on a favorite motif of Silverberg's: the mixed terrors and pleasures of freedom, of going out into the wider world without guide, map or a sure sense of one's own capabilities. Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"It is possible that we are the only ones left anywhere, Torlyri thought. The idea was frightening. Just one fragile little band of some sixty men and women and children standing between humankind and extinction! Can we dare take any risk of destruction, she wondered, if we are the sole remnant of our kind?... It would be folly for the People to huddle in their cocoon until the end of time, waiting for absolute knowledge that it was finally safe to emerge. The gods never gave you absolute knowledge of anything. You had to take your chances and have faith."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Forever by Pete Hamill was a pleasant surprise. It wasn't quite what I expected, which was good in this instance. I recommend it. My hardcover copy is 613 pages and was published in 2003 by Little, Brown and Company. There were a few places where the pace of the story slowed down, and, although I can't say that I enjoyed all the sections the same, in the end Hamill tied it all together nicely, at least for me.
From Amazon:
This novel demands that the reader immediately suspend disbelief, but if this summons is heeded the reward will be a superior tale told by Hamill (Snow in August; A Drinking Life) in the cadence of the master storyteller. The year is 1741 and this is the story of Cormac O'Connor-"Irish, and a Jew"-who grows up in Ireland under English Protestant rule and is secretly schooled in Gaelic religion, myth and language. Seeking to avenge the murder of his father by the Earl of Warren, he follows the trail of the earl to New York City. On board ship, Cormac befriends African slave Kongo, and once in New York, the two join a rebellion against the British. After the rising is quelled, mobs take to the streets and Kongo is seized. Cormac saves Kongo from death, but is shot in the process. His recovery takes a miraculous turn when Kongo's dead priestess, Tomora, appears and grants Cormac eternal life and youth-so long as he never leaves the island of Manhattan, thus the "Forever" of the title. What follows is a portrait of the "city of memory of which Cormac was the only citizen." Cormac fights in the American Revolution, sups with Boss Tweed (in a very sympathetic portrait) and lives into the New York of 2001. In that year he warily falls in love with Delfina, a streetwise Dominican ("That was the curse attached to the gift: You buried everyone you loved"), and comes into contact with a descendant of the Earl of Warren, the newspaper publisher Willie Warren. His love, his drive for revenge and his very desire to exist are fatefully challenged on the eve and the day of September 11. This rousing, ambitious work is beautifully woven around historical events and characters, but it is Hamill's passionate pursuit of justice and compassion-Celtic in foundation-that distinguishes this tale of New York City and its myriad peoples.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

"To Robert, such words seemed to be said that day for the first time in the long history of the world. You can't give up. You must try again. Important things to be said by a master for whom the most important of all the things in the shop was the anvil."

"The boy admonished himself for wanting everything to be a story. and now realized that some journeys were not stories. On some journeys, nothing really happened. You just kept taking steps. Once he had that in his brain, even arithmetic seemed easy."

"And heard Mary Morrigan speaking to him: If an unjust act is done in the family of a man or woman, it must be avenged. That is the rule... He rose then in a crouch, sheltered now by the seeping darkness. Thinking: I have my tasks now. Things I must do, or live, and die, in shame."

" 'I don't know what that means. To truly live.' Kongo paused again, his eyes wandering to the walls of the cave, to the blackness at the far end. 'To find work that you love, and work harder than other men. To learn the languages of the earth, and love the sounds of the words and the things they describe. To love food and music and drink. Fully love them. To love weather, and storms, and the smell of rain. To love heat. To love cold. To love sleep and dreams. To love the newness of each day.' "

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

2008 Challenges

I was looking over my stacks of books to be read in order to prepare for some challenges this year and realized that by far the challenge I need the most is the TBR Challenge. With that in mind, I'm only going to officially join the TBR Challenge and the book-a-week group even though there were several other challenges that would neatly fit into my TBR stacks. Oh, I will naturally do Dana's Justforthehellofit challenge. And I'll stick with the Book Awards group.

Challenges in 2008: TBR, Book a week, Booker, Pulitzer, Justforthehellofit, Book Awards

Life & Times of Michael K - Coetzee, Booker, TBR
Martin Dressler - Millhauser, Pulitzer, TBR
The Known World - Jones, Pulitzer, TBR
Echo Maker - Powers,TBR
The Lost - Mendelsohn, TBR
Atonement - McEwan TBR
The Uses of Enchantment - Julavitis, TRB
Water For Elephants - TBR
The Kite Runner - Hosseini TBR
Oppenheimer - Bird & Sherwin, TBR
The Amazing Adventures of Kavaler & Clay - Chabon, Pulitzer, TBR
The Terror - Simmons, TBR

The Heavenly Man - Yun
The American Plague - Crosby
The Traveler - McLarty
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan - See
Gold Bug Variations - Powers
The Effects of Living Backwards - Julavitis
Independence Day - Ford
The Bounty - Alexander
English Creek - Doig
Prairie Nocturne - Doig
Ride With Me Mariah Montana - Doig
These Granite Hills - Stonich
The Way the Crow Flies - MacDonald
Tying Down the Wind - Pinder
The Giver - Lowry
Neverwhere - Gaiman
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Haddon
Obernewtyn - Carmody
History - Morante
Their Father's Gods - Rolvaag
Peder Victorious - Rolvaag
Boat of Longing - Rolvaag
The Center of Everything - Moriarty
The Rest of Her Life - Moriarty
Ten Days in the Hills - Smiley

Plus we can add to the alternates the titles in a huge box of mysteries from my father-on-law that I haven't even counted. I need the TBR Challenge and the book-a-week group desperately.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Just Me and Santa

Just Me has been making little Santa figures around Christmas for a few years now. If you want to see close up pictures of her fine work, please visit her blog, Alas A Squirrel Passes By. Looks like someone is itchin' to get coal in her stocking.


I'm officially not a spam blogger!
Now back to our regularly scheduled book reviews and more...

Sunday, December 16, 2007


"Blogger's spam-prevention robots have detected that your blog has characteristics of a spam blog." Sigh... They are now going to have to confirm I'm a real person.
Edited to add: I blame the Cheez Waffies posts for looking like a list of nonsense words. It's either that or I have to stop linking to and quoting from Amazon on my book reviews.

Girls of Tender Age

Girls of Tender Age by Mary-Ann Tirone Smith is a memoir originally published 2006. My hardcover copy is 287 pages long. Although it is entertaining, it is also troubling. This memoir is broken into 5 parts, with the first part, Mortality, being the longest. While reminiscing about growing up in the 50's and her family back ground, she also discusses where the man who would murder one of her classmates was during the same time. An essential role in her family story is her autistic brother, who will bite his wrists bloody over loud noises and a distant mother. At the end of the first part, Smith is in 5th grade and her classmate is murdered. The children are told to not speak of it at home and school. Part two, Brain Jog, deals with the recovery of Smith's repressed memories from two years after the murder. Part three is called The Quest and covers when Smith finally finds out what happened to her murdered classmate all those years ago. Part 4, What Goes Around, and five, The Future is Now, deal with the death of her parents and her brother. I recommend Girls of Tender Age and I will be looking into the other fiction books Mary-Ann Tirone Smith has written.

From Amazon:
The recovery of repressed memories of the 1953 murder by a serial killer of an 11-year-old friend and neighbor in a blue-collar enclave in Hartford, Conn., triggered Smith's absorbing memoir. In recalling her childhood, she is compelled to describe her upbringing in a fractured family whose existence centered on placating her older brother, Tyler, an autistic boy who couldn't bear sounds of any kind (crying, laughing, sneezing, dog barking). The narrative is further enriched by the author's investigations into the life and crimes of the psychopath who preyed on her friend and other little girls, and by her insights about the unequal rights of girls and women before feminism. The making of a writer is the subtext here; forbidden by her strict Catholic upbringing to question her parents, Smith was forced to develop her imagination. She was blessed with a nurturing father, who was the lifesaving antidote to her cold, selfish mother. Smith's ironic narrative voice, familiar to readers of her Poppy Rice mysteries and her sensitive and witty novels, serves her well. Larger than the sum of its parts, this book illuminates a social class as it recounts a tangled story of a family and a crime. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information,

"This is the chronic response to crisis in my family. First, there can be no cry. That is because of Tyler [autistic brother who can not stand noise]...The second response... follows immediately upon the heels of the first; my mother assigns blame... Until I am in the first grade I have no idea that when you are hurt, some people have the urge to hug and comfort you."

"I find that today's weddings aren't the wild fun they used to be because no one is racing around the dance floor. polka-ing and shouting hoop-eye, shoop-eye at the top of their lings."

"[T]here is no room for all the hostesses on the stage, so they face the audience in a long line in front of the stage. In front of me. They each hold flashlights inside of toilet paper rolls painted red to look like Christmas candles. Illuminated from below, their faces are ghoul-like, their nostrils appearing like black walnuts. This means that many of the kindergartners sitting up front on the floor have to be taken out, traumatized."

"This was much better than the time my second grade class made candleholders for Mother's Day out of empty Wisk bottles. My mother opened her gift and said...what the hell are those teachers thinking? Then she threw it in the wastebasket."

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Gathering of Stars

A Gathering of Stars by Donald Moffitt is book two of the Mechanical Sky. My paperback copy was published in 1989 and has 281 pages. This was an enjoyable and satisfying conclusion to the two book series. Donald Moffitt knows how to write good science fiction. I highly recommend all of his books.

From Amazon:

The ambitious Sultan of Alpha Centauri can only claim the illustrious title of Caliph if he makes a ritual pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. This journey completed, he will rule the entire population of the greater Islamic universe. But human knowledge has not yet been able to overcome the significant challenges presented by interplanetary travel. However, the Sultan resourcefully enlists the help of Abdul Hamid-Jones, a clever fugitive with a price on his head and the law on his heels. Thrown into the bewildering world of the Sultan-s schemes, Abdul receives a hasty introduction to complex physics and the even more complex political intrigues of the Sultan-s court. Responsible for the successful execution of the Sultan-s plan, Abdul slowly realizes with horror that the fate of the entire Solar system could be resting on his shoulders.
"The colonel's eyes glittered under his bushy brows. 'Stir things up. spill a little blood. Doesn't matter whose blood it is, in the long run. It makes people disaffected, destabilizes the government.' His eyes misted over as he contemplated truth and beauty."

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Just Me has been posting some good pictures lately.
Check out her pictures of birds at our feeders on her blog. Hopefully she'll get some even better pictures once the sun comes out.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Crescent in the Sky

Crescent in the Sky by Donald Moffitt (the Mechanical Sky series, Book 1) was originally published in 1989. My paperback edition is 280 pages long. Crescent in the Sky begins with an interesting premise, the Islamic conquest of space. Since it was written in 1989, this science fiction novel is set in an interesting alternate history/what if... context. I recommend it. (Since this is book one of a two part series, you will want to have book two, A Gathering of Stars, available when you finish this first book.)

From Amazon:
A junior cloning technician for the Royal Stables of the Emir of Mars becomes a pawn in an interstellar struggle between Islamic planets for the right to unite all the Muslim worlds under one great Caliph. Featuring an intriguing premise--the Islamic conquest of space--and an engagingly ingenuous hero, this sf adventure/intrigue belongs in most collections. Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"Like it or not, he was an Anglo-Arab - forever to be known in the social scheme of things as an Arab al masta ariba, 'one who becomes an Arab.' "

"Strength, he had often had cause to notice, was not as important in the world as height; it was eye level that counted."

"The Nadha [Great Awakening] had been predicted for centuries. When it finally came it was because of a convergence of historical forces - four of them, principally... Demographics. Oil. Fervor. And the historical coincidence of a newly available frontier in space that was able to give shape to them."

"The second thing the oil-rich nations did was to buy into the West in a big way, to make their temporary affluence permanent. They worked to gain control of banking, real estate, basic industries, agriculture."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Insignia® Shelf System

5 Minutes For Mom is giving away an Insignia® Shelf System! Check this out!

Best Buy also has an excellent sale on it right now. You could purchase it for $127.99 and save $32! (There is still time for guaranteed Christmas delivery too. Check out Best Buy for details.)
Here is a quick rundown of the product features of the Insignia® - 75W DVD/CD/HD Radio Compact Shelf System with USB Port
* CD/DVD playback compatible with DVD/DVD-RW/DVD+RW/CD/CD-R/MP3/MP4
* Digital AM/FM with 60 presets
* HD Radio receiver
* iPod device docking with charger and function control
* Front USB input
* Audio outputs: optical and coaxial
* Video outputs:componet and S-video

Two more memories

Two more memories from when I was attending public school in the 60's.

1. I wore a dress or skirt to school every day. All the girls did. If it was winter and bitterly cold, we girls would wear pants over our tights, but we took the pants off at school. This would have included 3 different cities. I never wore pants to school until we moved to the (disliked) small town in the early 70's.

2. At one large city school we all brought butter knives or dandelion diggers to school one spring day and all the classes were assigned the removal of dandelions from part of the lawn. Obviously, this would never be allowed now. I'm actually kind of surprised it was allowed then.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Dirt Music

Dirt Music by Tim Winton was originally published in 2001 and is 407 pages long. This was my first novel by Winton, an acclaimed Australian author. Initially I had to overcome Winton's style of writing (no quotation marks; sparse, stream of consciousness writing) and my lack of knowledge of Australian slang. Both interfered slightly with some of my enjoyment reading Dirt Music. I almost set this book aside after the first 90 pages or so, when the two protagonists, Georgie and Lu meet. For me it was a weak, contrived beginning. After that point, when they went their separate ways, the story actually became stronger. Their inner turmoil made more sense. I may need to reserve my judgement on Winton until I read another one of his books.

Arguably one of the finest of all Australian novelists, Tim Winton shows that he remains in top form with Dirt Music, a wistful, charged, ardent novel of female loss and amatory redemption. The setting is Winton's favorite: the thorn-bushed, sheep-farmed, sun-punished boondocks of Western Australia. The cast is limited but spirited: the two chief protagonists are Georgie Jutland, a fortysomething adoptive mother with a vodka problem, and Luther Fox, a brooding, feral, bushwhacking poacher.

The plot is something else altogether: an elegantly wearied, cleverly finessed mutual odyssey that opts to follow the sometimes intertwining, sometimes diverging lives of poor Georgie and Luther as they try to deal with the odd alliance they comprise, as well as the complex and fractured lives they want to leave behind. The way Georgie deals with her unwitting inheritance of two dissatisfied adopted kids is particularly touching, poignant, and well written.

Best of all, though, is the prose. Somehow it manages to be simultaneously juicy and dry, like a desert cactus. This is especially true when Winton touches on the scented harshness of the Down Under outback: "the music is jagged and pushy and he for one just doesn't want to bloody hear it, but the outbursts of strings and piano are as austere and unconsoling as the pindan plain out there with its spindly acacia and red soil." This is a wise and accomplished novel. --Sean Thomas,


"When Georgie sat down before the [computer] terminal she was gone in her seat, like a pensioner at the pokies, gone for all the money. Into that welter of useless information night after night to confront people and notions she could do without. She didn't know why she bothered except that it ate time."

"Here on the midwest coast the wind might not be your friend but it was sure as hell your constant neighbour."

"She had never understood the grip that places had over people. That sort of nostalgia made her impatient. It was awful; seeing people beholden to their memories, staying on in houses or towns out of some perverted homage."

"I did think about goin north, he said. Just wanted to leave everythin and bolt. You know, disappear. I already felt like a ghost...But then I thought, I'm gone already. Why not disappear without leavin?"

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Do not drink and take drugs

Just the other day I was thinking about something that happened way back when I was in junior high, in the very early 70's. We had moved from a large city to a small town. This was not a good move. It was a difficult adjustment in numerous ways, especially socially. But the move is not what I was thinking about.

Part of the curriculum in this small town school system was, naturally, to warn us of the evils of alcohol and drugs. The teachers told us, "Do not drink and take drugs." Seems simple enough, huh? The only problem was that these teachers assumed that you knew the "drink" they were speaking of was alcoholic and the "drugs" they were referring too were illegal. That assumption in itself implies something highly interesting and very true about the community, but I digress. Coming from a comfortable large city suburban school system to the melting pot of an insular small town didn't exactly include an instruction manual on small town living. I was, perhaps, the only student in that middle school (another concept I had difficulties with at that time) who did not know that "drink" meant alcohol and "drugs" were of the illegal variety.

When I was told, "Don't drink and take drugs," I took it at face value since I had no other information to base it on. In my mind it meant you shouldn't take any drug (legal, prescribed variety) with any liquid other than water... and just enough water to wash the pill down. Sometime after hearing this anti drug and alcohol "lesson" my older brother was taking an asprin. He was going to take it with, gasp, orange juice. Having taken the lesson to heart, I had to tell him, just in case he had missed that class, "You aren't suppose to drink and take drugs!"

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Cloisonne vases

This is my first Cloisonne vase. I love it.

Front detail
Back detail
Isn't it pretty! I always thought it would be my favorite but...

This is my second vase. I love it.

See the pretty little birds?

Look how pretty it is... see all the intricate details on this one?
It's hard to say which one is my favorite now. I guess I love them both the same, just like I love Wonder Boy and Just Me the same.

Just me likes the sparkles in the new vase's enamel.

Thanks to Just Me for taking the pictures so I could share my vases with you.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Speed of Dark

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon is the story of an autistic man living in the not too distant future. Even though The Speed of Dark falls into the category of science fiction, it is not hard science fiction so it can be appreciated by a wide variety of readers. The Speed of Dark was originally published in 2003 and is 340 pages long. This is a thoughtful, compelling book that actually takes you into the mind of an autistic man and his day to day anxiety to live with people who are "normal". I highly recommend this book, especially if you know someone who is autistic. Moon's son is autistic and you can clearly see her intimate knowledge with autism.

From Amazon:
"If I had not been what I am, what would I have been?" wonders Lou Arrendale, the autistic hero of Moon's compelling exploration of the concept of "normalcy" and what might happen when medical science attains the knowledge to "cure" adult autism. Arrendale narrates most of this book in a poignant earnestness that verges on the philosophical and showcases Moon's gift for characterization. The occasional third-person interjections from supporting characters are almost intrusive, although they supply needed data regarding subplots. At 35, Arrendale is a bioinformatics specialist who has a gift for pattern analysis and an ability to function well in both "normal" and "autistic" worlds. When the pharmaceutical company he works for recommends that all the autistic employees on staff undergo an experimental procedure that will basically alter their brains, his neatly ordered world shatters. All his life he has been taught "act normal, and you will be normal enough"-something that has enabled him to survive, but as he struggles to decide what to do, the violent behavior of a "normal friend" puts him in danger and rocks his faith in the normal world. He struggles to decide whether the treatment will help or destroy his sense of self. Is autism a disease or just another way of being? He is haunted by the "speed of dark" as he proceeds with his mesmerizing quest for self-"Not knowing arrives before knowing; the future arrives before the present. From this moment, past and future are the same in different directions, but I am going that way and not this way.... When I get there, the speed of light and the speed of dark will be the same." His decision will touch even the most jaded "normal." Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Blessed Are the Cheesemakers

Blessed Are the Cheesemakers by Sarah-Kate Lynch surprised me. It is simply a delightful book. Blessed Are the Cheesemakers was published in 2002 and my hardcover copy is 324 pages. Very simply, it is the story of two old Irish cheesemakers who are waiting for their successors to miraculously arrive. But the story is so much better than that, for example the cows are milked by pregnant vegetarians who sing along to "The Sound of Music" soundtrack as they milk. I highly recommend this book.

From Amazon:
In the spirit of Chocolat, Lynch's debut novel is a tender love story told through the medium of food, in this case cheese. In County Cork, Ireland, Joseph Corrigan and Joseph Feehan, better known as Corrie and Fee, are the aging manufacturers of world-renowned Coolarney Blue. Their chief worry is a conspicuous lack of successors, and the narrative chronicles the solution to their quest in the unlikely but fated convergence of two characters. Abbey Corrigan, granddaughter of worrywart Corrie, who hasn't seen her in 24 years, sits abandoned on the Pacific Island Ate'ate while her irrigation-obsessed and hypercritical husband gets biblical with the natives. Meanwhile, in Manhattan, Kit Stephens is a burned-out stockbroker and despondent alcoholic, heartbroken by the recent departure of his wife and now fired from his job. In a series of fantastic coincidences, the two end up at the Coolarney factory, a meeting that will forever change their lives and the future of cheese. In an engaging and humorous style, Lynch details the cheesemaking process (sun, rain, a salty sea breeze and of course, grass, are the essential ingredients, along with constant music and a secret mold), and enlivens the narrative with eccentric, loquacious and comical characters, including three ginger cats named Jesus, Mary and All the Saints. The pace of this heartwarming novel is brisk, and the background detail so colorful that the reader will henceforth eat cheese with a new appreciation for its magical properties. From Publishers Weekly

"The Princess (a cheese) oozed annoyance. She emanated anger. She fumed. Literally. She fumed. And when a good Princess turns bad, it was an eye-watering experience."

"Her mother had always told her that she'd blossom "overnight" but then her mother had also told her that Santa Claus was a child molester and that it was good luck to have nobody remember your birthday, so she hadn't been holding her breath."

"Corrie and Fee, like other artisan cheesemakers around them, had been forced to undergo inspections by pimply young men with thick spectacles and excessive dandruff who had tut-tutted a lot and written very tidy notes on gleaming clipboards."

"In my experience there's not a state in the world that cannot be greatly improved by close proximity to cheese."

"Abbey and Kit were sitting on a tartan blanket under the oak tree on the hill behind the house, testing their dental work May's nut toffee. It was delicious, but something of a challenge orthodontically speaking."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Perfectly Good Family

A Perfectly Good Family by Lionel Shriver was originally released in Great Britain in 1996. My Harper Collins paperback edition is a 2007 re-release and is 277 pages long. While not as memorable as her novel We Need To Talk About Kevin, this is still a very good book. You need to know that every character in A Perfectly Good Family is realistically flawed. In fact none of the characters are particularly likable at all, but much like any real family drama, what will happen in the end compels you to finish reading. A Perfectly Good Family is highly recommended
From Amazon:
Following the death of her worthy liberal parents, Corlis McCrea moves back into her family's grand Reconstruction mansion in North Carolina, willed to all three siblings. Her timid younger brother has never left home. When her bullying black-sheep older brother moves into "his" house as well, it's war.
Each heir wants the house. Yet to buy the other out, two siblings must team against one. Just as in girlhood, Corlis is torn between allying with the decent but fearful youngest and the iconoclastic eldest, who covets his legacy to destroy it. A Perfectly Good Family is a stunning examination of inheritance, literal and psychological: what we take from our parents, what we discard, and what we are stuck with, like it or not.
Shriver continues to use her extensive vocabulary in order to employ the right word for everything. She is a masterful writer and I am in awe of that fact alone. In the back of my copy is information about Shriver written by Shriver. She says she is a pedant, She insists on correct word pronunciation and usage going so far to correct people, so she has no friends. Although I know she would find cause to correct me if we were to ever meet, I can't help but like her (from a distance) for revealing this annoying flaw.


"My mother crafted an emotion in front of herself, much the way I worked up a sculpture - patting here, smoothing the rough edges, and only presenting it when fashioned to her satisfaction, My experience of real feelings, however, is that they do not take shape on a turntable in view, but loom up behind, brutal and square, and heavily dangerous like a bag of unwedged clay hurtled at the back of your neck. Feelings for me are less like sculpture and more like being mugged."

" 'Then it hit me: Strauss, stale crackers, hard cheese, and guilty politics - this was Sturges McCrea's idea of a good time.'
That's when the idea first entered my head that my parents might be tiresome to other people."

"In truth, not I but Truman had become the family flagellant. Barring that unconvincing tirade about routering baseboards, Truman overflowed with stories, like one of Mother's spurned apple pie, that only illustrated his neglect. I knew them all by heart."

"Around Mordecai I am impressionable, acquiescent, soft. Around Truman I am caustic, canny, imperious. They have completely different sisters."
"In any family there may be one worm, a single wriggle of corruption from which every other foulness spreads, and in the McCrea case the source-lie was that my parents were happily married. The irony? They were happily married. They just didn't believe it. They were afraid that... it might not keep, and so they turned a perfectly serviceable relationship into a religion and thereby into a fraud."

"Maybe the sibling relationship was intrinsically penultimate; maybe all our alliances with each other were brief marriages of convenience, and we tread a thin crust over a boiling magma of rivalry, which could readily spit to the surface as outright hatred. Maybe the real marvel was that we ever got along at all."

"Outside rare blow-outs, our family was congenitally civil. That doesn't sound like such a curse until you consider that as a consequence we didn't know how to fight; that is, fight within limits. Families accustomed to airing grievances understand that even when things heat up the rules may change, that does not mean that there are no rules; another set slides in, with wider margins but margins all the same. But we were conflict amateurs... so that when we finally said what we were thinking all hell broke loose."

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Bright Forever

The Bright Forever by Lee Martin is highly recommended. Originally published in 2005 my hardcover copy has 268 pages. The Bright Forever was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and definitely worth the distinction. Although some reviewers have compared The Bright Forever to Sebold's The Lovely Bones, in my opinion Martin's work is superior and I enjoyed it much more. As far as I can see, the only comparison is that they both involve the tragic death of a young girl. After setting the time and place, the story in The Bright Forever slowly unfolds from five points of view: four of the characters and a narrator. Martin is an elegant writer and this would be a great discussion book.

From Amazon:
"Thirty years after the fact, a schoolteacher in a small Indiana town narrates this gripping tale of a crime and the lives it has forever changed. On a quiet evening in July, nine-year-old Katie Mackey leaves home for the library, and never returns. In chapters written in different voices and jumping back and forth between that day and four days later, the author carefully lays out his simple yet mesmerizing plot, gradually revealing the dark secrets held by those involved--secrets that, when woven together, propel the action to its seemingly preordained conclusion. The teacher, Henry Dees, is a lonely misfit who longs for a child of his own. His neighbor hides a drug addiction even from his wife, and his discovery of Henry's secret longings gives him a sense of power. This lethal combination leads to a horrendous crime that leaves Henry wracked with guilt, knowing he'll "always be living that summer in that town." Martin's novel is hard to put down, as these dark and intertwined lives march inexorably to tragedy. ~ Deborah Donovan"

"I'm an old man now, and even though more than thirty years have gone by, I still remember that summer and its secrets, and the way the heat was and how the light stretched on into the evening like it would never leave."

"So that was how their friendship began, with this moment in the garage when they both admitted, without saying as much, that they were less than satisfied with the way their lives had turned out. They never said the words. They never said "lonely." They never said "afraid." They never spoke of the yearning or the wrong turns they'd taken over the years and the hard places they'd come to, but it was all plain in what they did say, which was, as Mr. Dees knew, as much as they could risk because they were just starting to get to know each other and how much could anyone stand to feel pulsing in another person's heart?"

"It embarrassed Mr. Dees for Ray to see how much the martins mattered to him. He couldn't begin to say what it did to him mornings when he heard their song."

"I couldn't have explained this then, but now I suspect that I had started to sense that he carried his own secrets, that he was expert in covering them over, that we were bound together by the dark lives we tried to hide."

"Life had gone on. It always did. That's what you learned as you got older. Time. It kept moving. You couldn't stop it. You couldn't go back to the moments you wish you could change. They were gone. They left you in a snap."

"I'd tell her there's always something around the corner, no matter how old you get, no matter how much you're sure you got a handle on things. Sooner or later you live long enough - I hope that girlie-girl got the chance - and the love and the heartache get all mixed up and that's what you've got."

Sunday, November 25, 2007

fat bottomed girls

It's true! As found in the Chicago Tribune, fat bottomed girls ARE smarter and they have smarter kids!

The brain/butt theory
November 18, 2007

We hope the Nobel Prize committee didn't miss this week's release of a groundbreaking study titled, "Waist-hip ratio and cognitive ability: Is gluteofemoral fat a privileged store of neurodevelopmental resources?"

Translation, for the benefit of you size zeroes out there: Are fat-bottomed girls smarter? Answer: Yes. They also have smarter kids, according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Middle-age women reacted with glee -- "We're getting smarter every day!" -- and men with trepidation. (What's the right answer to the question, "Does this PhD make my butt look big?") Skeptics, most of whom likely tend toward the skinny side, seem to want to file the wider-is-wiser theory with that old baloney about men with bigger noses having bigger, um, noses. We've never seen any empirical evidence on that one.

The data on the brain/butt theory, though, is pretty convincing. In a study of more than 16,000 women, the curvy girls consistently outscored their slender counterparts on cognitive tests. Their kids outscored the skinny moms' kids too. But the researchers don't posit that bigger is automatically better. What matters is the size of the hips relative to the waist. That's because fat stored around the buttocks and thighs is high in omega-3 acids, which promote brain growth, while fat stored around the middle is loaded with omega-6 acids, which make your pants too tight.

Women with "pear" or "hourglass" shapes have greater reserves of omega-3, which nourishes their own brains and is essential to fetal brain development in the third trimester of pregnancy.

So grab a tape measure, girls, and see how your IQ stacks up. Just divide your waist size by your hip size. The smaller your answer, the better.

Now compare: Your typical runway model, with a 24-inch waist and 34-inch hips, has a waist-hip ratio of .71. Your average size 10, with a 28-inch waist and 39-inch hips, is a .72. Jennifer Lopez, at 26 and 39, is a .67.

And therein lies the scholarly merit of this study -- a scientific answer to what we thought was a rhetorical question: Why is J.Lo so hot? Because males have a biological imperative to produce intelligent offspring, that's why. "Men respond because it's reproductively important," explains Pitt's William Lassek, whose next study will no doubt attempt to identify the biological imperative associated with an eye for blonds. But let's not quibble.

The great thing about this study is, it lets everyone off the hook. Go ahead and gawk, guys. We know you're just searching for signs of a deep and genetically transferable intellect. And ladies, pass the nachos. Those size 4 jeans would just make you look dumb.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Eifelheim by Michael Flynn is a well crafted hard science fiction novel. Originally published in 2006, my hardcover copy is 320 pages. Flynn is a good writer, which makes Eifelheim a satisfying blend of hard science fiction and literature. To complete the total package, in Eifelheim Flynn has also meshed hard science fiction with historical fiction. The majority of the book takes place in the 14th century. The chapters from the present day are interspersed between the medieval story line and present the hard science fiction aspects of the story. The plot is two fold; basically an alien spacecraft crashes near a Medieval village and the villagers react to it while in the present day two university professors who are domestic partners from very different fields are working on their research projects. Just as the villagers meet the aliens, historical research meets physics. Flynn does a masterful job of blending the
authenticity of the historic characters with the extra-terrestrials, and, as one reviewer pointed out, there are no dragons.

Eifelheim is strongly recommended for fans of hard science fiction. I'm going to be looking into more of Michael Flynn's books.

From Amazon:
"In the fourteenth century, the Black Death ravaged Europe. Most towns decimated by it were eventually resettled, except for Eifelheim, despite its ideal location. Mathematical historian Tom discovers this anomaly and an unexpected connection to his domestic partner Sharon's research in theoretical physics, which seems to be leading to a method of interdimensional travel. In fact, as Eifelheim's priest back then, Father Dietrich, relates, before the plague's arrival, an interstellar ship crashed nearby. The encounters between its passengers and the people of Oberhochwald, as Eifelheim was first called, reflect the panoply of attitudes of the time, from fear of the foreign to love and charity for one's neighbors to the ideas of nascent natural philosophy (science), and the aliens' reactions are equally fascinating. Flynn credibly maintains the voice of a man whose worldview is based on concepts almost entirely foreign to the modern mind, and he makes a tense and thrilling story of historical research out of the contemporary portions of the tale. ~ Regina Schroeder"

"Sometimes he envied the monk his ability to stir men's hearts; but only sometimes. Stirred, a heart could be a terrible thing."

"It is not a beautiful thing, this world of hers. The geodesics are warped and twisted things. Space and time spiral off in curious, fractal vortices, in directions that have no name. Dimensions are quicksilver slippy - looked at sideways, they would vanish."

"There is something true about Sharon Nagy in that one half-missed detail: that she uses a pen and not a pencil. It betokens a sort of hubris."

"Sharon regarded his verbal popcorn much as a miser does a spendthrift. She was the sort of person for whom the expression, That goes without saying, really does induce silence."

"Yet, if the Krenken were ruled by instinctus, the rational appetite could not exist in them, since a higher appetite necessarily moved a lower one. Which meant that the Krenken were beasts."

And finally this gem which foretells a fable or two (keep in mind the Krenken are grasshopper like aliens):

"The krenken might have spent the summer building snug cottages instead of collecting butterflies and flowers."

Friday, November 23, 2007

finished Babysteps

I thought I had better note the fact that I finished the Babysteps Challenge!

I read:

The Post-Birthday World
by Lionel Shriver

The Chatham School Affair by Thomas Cook

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Te Vaka

I love the group Te Vaka. I blame Just me and her love of world music.
From the Te Vaka site:
The band Te Vaka, led by Opetaia Foa'i, has brought original, traditionally-influenced, contemporary Pacific music to the world. Te Vaka has released five internationally acclaimed albums and two DVDs. They have toured the world constantly since 1997 performing in over 30 countries, been nominated for two BBC Radio 3 World Music Awards, Best International Achievement Award for "Ki Mua" in 1999, the Best Roots Album for "Nukukehe" in 2003 and won Best Pacific Music Album for "Tutuki" in 2004 in the New Zealand Music Industry Awards.
For Christmas last year I ordered 3 of their CDs for Just me and me to share. We got "Tutuki", "Ki Mua", and "Nukukehe". We haven't gotten "Te Vaka" or their brand new CD "Olatia". Head's up squirrel girl! Yes, they have a new CD!

"The End of Hardbacks?"

Stephanie at Stephanie's Confessions of a Book-a-holic had an interesting post this week titled "The End of Hardbacks?":
"It seems that unless there is a "guaranteed profitable hardback market", then all books that are launched will now be in paperback format, and Picador is estimating that at least 80% of books will be released this way."
Then she posed the question:
"Do you think this would be a good thing or a bad thing?"
I've been thinking about this blog entry ever since I read it, knowing that I personally feel that ending hardbacks is a very bad thing. While I used to get paperbacks all the time and eagerly anticipated when a hardcover would be released in paperback, now I tend to get many authors in hardcover. When a beloved author releases a new book I will always look to get the hardcover, if at all possible. Any more I often look for used hardcovers that can be purchased as inexpensively as paperback. The print in hardcovers tends to be a bit larger too, and thus it is currently easier for me to read. Hardbacks are also more durable and last longer. I will concede that some of the larger paperback editions are also acceptable and I purchase them.
We're quickly approaching the time when I need to make a list of the best books I've read in 2007. This should be interesting. I may not be able to put definite numbers on them (i.e. my number one choice in 2007 is...) but I can probably come up with a top ten list.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle won the 1993 Booker Prize. It was originally published in 1993 and my paperback edition has 282 pages. Paddy Clarke lives in the working-class Irish town of Barrytown in the late 1960s. I was uncertain about how I felt about Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha until the very end of the book. This is one book that I would encourage people who are not initially enjoying it to stick with it until the end. The writing style really is a sort of a stream of consciousness from a 10 year old boy. The meaning of the title doesn't become clear until the end of the book (although a hint for those who read reviews: if someone refers to the "ha ha ha" as laughing, they didn't finish the book. It's a tad bit more poignant than that.) I appreciated this book after I finished it and recommend it. I did have to make myself continue reading it at one point, though.
From Amazon:
In Roddy Doyle's Booker Prize-winning novel Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, an Irish lad named Paddy rampages through the streets of Barrytown with a pack of like-minded hooligans, playing cowboys and Indians, etching their names in wet concrete, and setting fires. Roddy Doyle has captured the sensations and speech patterns of preadolescents with consummate skill, and managed to do so without resorting to sentimentality. Paddy Clarke and his friends are not bad boys; they're just a little bit restless. They're always taking sides, bullying each other, and secretly wishing they didn't have to. All they want is for something--anything--to happen.

Throughout the novel, Paddy teeters on the nervous verge of adolescence. In one scene, Paddy tries to make his little brother's hot water bottle explode, but gives up after stomping on it just one time: "I jumped on Sinbad's bottle. Nothing happened. I didn't do it again. Sometimes when nothing happened it was really getting ready to happen." Paddy Clarke senses that his world is about to change forever--and not necessarily for the better. When he realizes that his parents' marriage is falling apart, Paddy stays up all night listening, half-believing that his vigil will ward off further fighting. It doesn't work, but it is sweet and sad that he believes it might. Paddy's logic may be fuzzy, but his heart is in the right place. --Jill Marquis --

"You ran down to the jetty and jumped and shouted Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, and whoever got the most words out before they hit the water won. No one ever won. I once got as far as the second The but Kevin, the ref, said that my bum had gone into the water before I got to Of."

"Liam said she farted once when he was sitting beside her, during The Fugitive.
-Ladies can't fart.
-They can so
-No they can't; prove it.
-My granny always farts, said Ian McEvoy.
-Old ones can; not young ones."

"-Vigour, vigour, vigour!
For a day we called ourselves the Vigour Tribe. We got one of Sinbad's markers and did big V's on our chests, for Vigour. It was cold. The marker tickled. Big black V's."

"We charged through on our bikes. Bikes became important, our horses. We galloped them through the garage yards and made it to the other side. I tied a rope to the handlebars and hitched my bike to a pole whenever I got off it. We parked our bikes on verges so they could graze."

Saturday, November 17, 2007

I Am the Messenger

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak was OK. The actual story, when Ed is receiving the cards and trying to figure out what his missions are, was engaging, however, it certainly was not as good as The Book Thief. My hardcover copy was originally published in 2002 and is 357 pages long.

I will conceded that there were parts of I Am the Messenger that were simply wonderful. Frankly, though, while the premise for the story was interesting, two parts of I Am the Messenger disappointed me: the language and the ending. Although I can handle quite a bit of adult language, I felt like there was simply too much swearing that involved taking the Lord's name in vain. I'd rather see the s- or f- word. Then, even though I can appreciate the ending, I didn't think it suited the book, so it was a huge let down. Add to these two major complaints all the sexual content and I also feel the book needs to be for an older audience. So, this book is only going to receive a limited recommendation by me with the notation to be forewarned about the language. If you want to read a great book by Zusak, get The Book Thief.

From Amazon:
Grade 9 Up - Nineteen-year-old cabbie Ed Kennedy has little in life to be proud of: his dad died of alcoholism, and he and his mom have few prospects for success. He has little to do except share a run-down apartment with his faithful yet smelly dog, drive his taxi, and play cards and drink with his amiable yet similarly washed-up friends. Then, after he stops a bank robbery, Ed begins receiving anonymous messages marked in code on playing cards in the mail, and almost immediately his life begins to swerve off its beaten-down path. Usually the messages instruct him to be at a certain address at a certain time. So with nothing to lose, Ed embarks on a series of missions as random as a toss of dice: sometimes daredevil, sometimes heartwarmingly safe. He rescues a woman from nightly rape by her husband. He brings a congregation to an abandoned parish. The ease with which he achieves results vacillates between facile and dangerous, and Ed's search for meaning drives him to complete every task. But the true driving force behind the novel itself is readers' knowledge that behind every turn looms the unknown presence - either good or evil - of the person or persons sending the messages. Zusak's characters, styling, and conversations are believably unpretentious, well conceived, and appropriately raw. Together, these key elements fuse into an enigmatically dark, almost film-noir atmosphere where unknowingly lost Ed Kennedy stumbles onto a mystery - or series of mysteries - that could very well make or break his life. - Hillias J. Martin, New York Public Library; From School Library Journal

Friday, November 16, 2007

withholding information

I've noticed something about myself that I've known for a long time, but never really pondered until after this last move. If a friend or family member calls and asks me, "How are you?" I will ALWAYS say, "Good!" or "Fine." even if things are not good or fine. Then, since other people don't seem to have this reticence, I will patiently listen to all their complaints, woes, struggles, illnesses, and whines for a very, very long time. It is at this point, after the caller has exhausted all their issues, that I might see if they'll listen to me. Maybe. I might say what is really going on in my life or I might not say a word.

Often I've found that once I'm ready to open up, the caller is ready to say "Bye!" and go about their business. People rarely extend the same patience in listening to me as I extend to them. Interesting, huh? There are only a few people who can get me to open up sooner than "my" time frame or who I will immediately and honestly share my concerns with on the phone. This little quirk of mine has also helped me to know who really cares about what is going on in my life. If I could recall when this behavior pattern started, I could probably figure out why it started. I have a feeling it began many years ago, when some "friend" enjoyed talking about themselves and I stayed their friend because I enabled this behavior by learning to repress my concerns.

I do have several online friends that I've known for years. They tend to hear exactly what is going on in my life. Maybe that is why we are friends. Perhaps we wouldn't be friends if we talked on the phone and I did my weird withholding information habit until they were done talking. Or perhaps they are people who are more like me and we can be more forthcoming online because they know I'm "listening" to them and I know they'll wait for me to tell it all when I'm ready. I have a feeling that even on the phone, I would open up to them right away because I trust them - but let's not test that, ok?

I also never say "Yes, it is a bad time" when asked if it's a good time, but that's a whole other issue.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Rock Orchard

The Rock Orchard by Paula Wall was originally published in 2005. My hardcover copy is 244 pages long. This was Wall's first novel. Her writing is reminiscent of Fannie Flagg - only it's not as good. Wall has considerably less character and plot development than Flagg. Although this was an enjoyable book to read, with it's one-dimensional characters it was also quite predictable and, in some ways, came off as an extended series of one liners. I enjoy humorous writing as much as the next person, but I also enjoy a little intelligent development to a novel beyond the obvious. Don't get me wrong, if you stumble across a copy, feel free to read it but know that it's not going to have a whole lot of depth. This would be a great recreational read for summer or over the holidays.

From Amazon:
The Belles have been in Leaper's Fork, Tennessee, since before the Civil War, and the Belle women have been strong, independent, and lusty. But in spite of their shocking behavior, the citizens of Leaper's Fork don't hesitate to come to them with their problems or have Belles lay hands on their newborn babies, for the Belles seem to have the sight as well. Charlotte likes to smoke cigars and make money. Not a fan of children, she nevertheless begrudgingly takes in her sister's child, Angela. Charlotte's child-raising technique is "free range," which ultimately leads to a young Angela begetting her own illegitimate daughter, Dixie. No one knows who the father is, but it doesn't slow down Angela and her sultry ways. The Belles' influence is felt throughout Leaper's Fork, and just as inviting are the townspeople in Wall's wonderfully endearing story of love, life, and change, and Wall's extraordinary and original style is the icing on one very enticing cake. Maria Hatton, Copyright © American Library Association.

"Despite her flawless track record [in predicting the future], Bedford Braxton Belle wouldn't listen when she told him hard liquor would be the death of him. You can lead a horse to water, but a jackass takes his whiskey straight up."

"Charlotte had no time for weak men or foolish women. She especially disliked tedious people. Since it had been her experience that most people were tedious, she disliked most people."

"Lettie was a born-again Baptist. It had been Charlotte's observation that while the Baptists and the Church of Christ shared the same how-to manual, there was considerable brand loyalty." (Note that this is a whole paragraph in the book.)

"Nothing ties the tongue like knowing a secret that would hurt a man more than the lie he is living."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Borrowed Finery

Borrowed Finery: A Memoir by novelist and children's book author Paula Fox was published in 2001 and is 210 pages. Borrowed Finery consists of a series of well written recollections of many brief episodes from her life as a child to a teen. These memories are presented without any analysis or self pity. "By chance, by good fortune, I had landed in the hands of rescuers," she writes, "a fire brigade that passed me along from person to person until I was safe." It wasn't until after I read the book that I learned she is Courtney Love's grandmother, and Linda Carroll, a famous therapist, is the child she gave up for adoption. Borrowed Finery was chosen as's Best of 2001. If you enjoy biographies, this is recommended.

From Amazon:

"In this elegant, wrenching memoir, Paula Fox looks at her childhood with the same detached acceptance of life's arbitrary cruelties that informs such acclaimed novels as Desperate Characters. Born in 1923, she was abandoned at a Manhattan foundling home by her alcoholic father at the insistence of her panic-stricken, 19-year-old mother. Paul and Elsie Fox were in no way prepared to take on the responsibility of a child, although they couldn't leave her alone either. Fox's austere narrative unflinchingly describes the couple swooping down on their daughter, who was being raised in upstate New York by a kindly minister, for visits that were as alarming as they were intermittent. For reasons best known to themselves (Fox does not attempt to analyze their motives), they removed her from the minister's home when she was 6, then bounced her among relatives, schools, and their own disordered care for the next 12 years, from Hollywood and Long Island to Cuba and Montreal. The restraint with which Fox describes these traumas is a reproach to all those maudlin memoirs of family dysfunction that have been so prevalent in recent years. She demonstrates that you can write about painful experiences honestly without wallowing in self-pity, and her prose here is as perfectly calibrated as it is in her novels. Thank goodness that this sad story is leavened by a running counterpoint of short passages showing young Paula discovering the pleasure of words and the power of literature. Though she too had an unwanted baby at an early age, the book closes with a moving scene of the author's reunion with the daughter she gave up for adoption. --Wendy Smith "


"For a moment the street was transformed into a familiar room in a beloved house."

"His excuses were made with a kind of fraudulent hardiness, as though he were boasting, not confessing. His handwriting, though, was beautiful, an orderly flight of birds across the yellowing pages."

"He said, 'Ah, well... people who've been parceled out and knocked around are always returning to the past, retracing their steps.' "

"My life was incoherent to me. I felt it quivering, spitting out broken teeth."

"What I had missed all the years of my life, up to the time when Linda and I met, was freedom of a certain kind: to speak without fear to a woman in my family."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Post-Birthday World

I was truly looking forward to reading The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver after reading her novel We Need To Talk About Kevin. The Post-Birthday World was published in 2007 and the hardcover edition has 517 pages.

In The Post-Birthday World we follow the life of Irina McGovern, a children's book illustrator. She is in a long term relationship with Lawrence Trainer, a terrorism expert. While Lawrence is away on business he encourages her to dine out for what was a traditional birthday dinner with their newly divorced friend, Ramsey Acton, a champion snooker player. At the end of their evening, she finds herself desperately wanting to kiss Ramsey. It is at this junction that the story splits into two versions, or two alternate universes. In one Irina does not kiss Ramsey. In the other she does.

From Amazon:

"Lionel Shriver's wonderful new novel... creates parallel universes that indulge all our what-if speculations... Irina McGovern, a children's book illustrator... admits, "The only thing I can't live without is a man." In this case, Shriver grants her two.

The first, Lawrence Trainer, a sweetly geeky terrorism expert, offers tranquil domesticity.... For more than nine years, "monogamy had been effortless" -- until the second man turns up. He's Ramsey Acton, dazzling celebrity snooker champion and husband of Irina's collaborator, Jude. Every year on Ramsey's birthday, Irina and Lawrence dine out with Ramsey and Jude. One July, Lawrence, away on business, encourages Irina to meet Ramsey, newly divorced, for the traditional birthday ritual. After four sakes, a deluxe platter of sashimi, cognac and a joint, Irina watches Ramsey play snooker and thinks, "If Ramsey didn't kiss her, she was going to die."

The rest of the story pivots on this will-they-or-won't-they as the novel splits into alternating chapters; in one, they kiss; in another, she turns away. Who is Irina's Mr. Right? In excessive, often obsessive, detail, Shriver explores Irina's life with each candidate through the quotidian and across a larger political and social landscape that includes Bosnia, the death of Princess Diana and 9/11.....

As Irina learns that no matter what kind of man a woman picks, "she'll wonder if she wouldn't rather have the other," the accretion of details, the parsing of characters' angst, the little moments blown into big can seem like so much navel-gazing. However fascinating, the microscopic analysis of the two objects of Irina's affection can also be wearying. Nevertheless, the rewards for sticking with these 500-plus pages are as delicious as one of Irina's feasts. Copyright 2007, The Washington Post"

Although The Post-Birthday World is not as haunting as We Need To Talk About Kevin, I felt it was very successful. This could be a novel that you either like or dislike, with little ground in between. There was a bit too much usage of the f-word but I understand how it suited the characters. Shriver is an intelligent writer and has continued to use the exact words she wants to for the situation and the characters. I've come to the conclusion that I will be following her work from now on.


"The feeling was not of being attractive precisely, but rather of not having to entertain. It was breathtaking: to be ensconced in another person;s company, yet to be relieved of the relentless minute-by-minute obligation to redeem one's existence - for there is some sense in which socially we are all on the Late Show, grinning, throwing off nervous witticisms, and crossing our legs, as a big black hook behind the curtain lurks in the wings."

"To inhabit your own contentment is to be wholly present, with no orbiting satellite to take clinical readings of the state of the planet."

"Boredom with routine is a luxury, and one unfailingly brief. You are awarded a discreet number of mornings and are well advised to savor every single awakening that isn't marred by arthritis or Alzheimer's."

"Like Anne Tyler's characters, these accidental tourists traveled in a hermetic capsule all done up in green baize."

"As in most revolutions, creating chaos is a cinch, restoring order thereafter is an undertaking both dreary and monumental. But however oppressive one's own character can become, long enough as someone else, you begin to miss it. "

"Since the love we distill for each beloved conforms to such a specific, rarefied recipe, with varying soupcons of resentment, pity, lust, and sometimes even pinches of dislike, you really needed as many different words for the feeling as there were people whom you cared for in your life."