Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz was originally published in 2007 and won the Pulitzer Prize. My paperback copy has 340 pages. I don't know where to begin this review... There is a lot of untranslated Spanish or Spanglish in this book - too much for a non-Spanish speaking reader. For me, the use of expletives were simply too frequent and not necessary. It is just all just too much.
Ah... okay, I really disliked this book. Diaz had brief passages of insight, humor, and genius, but, all in all, I had to force myself to finish it - not a good sign. I don't think Oscar Wao was a good choice for me. I have a feeling this is one of those love it/hate it books. My honest rating is a 1; because of brief sparkling moments, sometimes deeply embedded within, maybe a 3.

Synopsis from cover:
"Oscar is a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd, a New Jersey romantic who dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkein and, most of all, of finding love. But Oscar may never get what he wants. Blame the....curse that has haunted Oscar's family for generations, following them on their epic journey from the Dominican Republic to the United States and back again."


"They say it came first from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that it was a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles." first sentence

"For Oscar, high school was the equivalent of a medieval spectacle, like being put in the stocks and forced to endure the peltings and outrages of a mob of deranged half-wits, an experience from which he supposed he should have emerged a better person, but that's not really what happened - and if there were any lessons to be gleaned from the ordeal of those years he never quite figured out what they were." pg. 19

"Dude wore his nerdiness like a Jedi wore his light saber or a Lensman her lens. Couldn't have passed for Normal if he'd wanted to." pg. 21

"And at that moment, for reasons you will never quite understand, you are overcome by the feeling, the premonition, that something in your life is about to change. You become light-headed and you can feel a throbbing in your blood, a beat, a rhythm, a drum." pg. 53

Monday, September 29, 2008

20th Century Pop Culture

20th Century Pop Culture by Dan Epstein was originally published in 1999. My large hardcover copy has 256 pages. This is a visually appealing, fun book I found for a couple dollars in the clearance section of my local used book store. It is basically a look at the pop culture of the 20th century. There is less information on 1900-1944, which is simply listed as the early years rather than year by year like the rest of the book. This book isn't, however, the definitive record of pop culture in the 20th century. Epstein has a few factual errors that could have been caught with more careful editing ( for example saying "George" instead of "Michael" Dukakis on pg. 209). Even worse than this is the fact that he really interjects his opinion way too much, especially from the 70's on. You really do need to overlook his obvious personal bias once you reach more recent years. Those of us who remember the years covered will also remember many different aspects of pop culture that Epstein left out. No rating


"...1945 saw Percy LaBaron Spencer invent the microwave oven, but at three thousand dollars a pop, the Ratheon Company's new 'Raydarange' was priced far out of the reach of most consumers." pg. 14

1951 "...Don Featherstone invented the first plastic lawn flamingo....The hollow, steel-legged bird soon replaced lawn jockeys as the lawn ornament of choice for taste-impaired American homeowners." pg. 39

1952 "...on March 21, the country's first official 'panty raid' took place at the University of Michigan, as six hundred male students stormed a women's dormitory with the intention of stealing and undergarments they could find." pg. 42

"1,320,000 new homes were built in 1955, many of them split-level dwellings with habitable basements; the age of the 'rec-room'....had arrived." pg 54

1959 " 'Phone-booth packing,' the art of seeing how many people you can fit into a phone booth, briefly became the rage on college campuses." pg 79

1961 "In a speech to the National Association of Broadcasting, Minow called TV a 'vast wasteland,' remarking that 'I do not think the public taste is as low as some of you appear to believe.' Minow's pronouncement was proven wrong when Mr. Ed, a situation comedy about an architect who discovers a talking horse... became an immediate hit." pg. 86

1963 "The TV spot for Hawaiian Punch fruit drink was another popular animated advertisement. 'How'd you like a nice Hawaiian punch?' asked a character known as 'Punchy;' when his hapless companion answered in the affirmative, Punchy hauled off and socked him. Life imitated art as the scene was repeatedly replayed in schoolyards across America." pg. 95 (I can remember saying this.)

1969 "...consumers apparently found the idea of a specially brewed mixture of beer and Gatorade [Hop 'N' Gator] to be extremely off-putting. After a few months, the product vanished from the market..." pg. 121

1973 "There were endless lines at gas stations, thanks to the OPEC oil embargo, and nationwide meat boycotts resulting from the inflated hamburger prices." pg. 138

1975 "[Kung Fu]....was also famous for its atmospheric flashback sequences during which the young 'Grasshopper' Caine pondered the pearls of wisdom at the knee of the blind master Po." pg. 148 (Kung Fu was actually on from 1972-75)

1980 "...Carter authorized a federal bailout for the floundering Chrysler Corporation to the tune of fifteen hundred million dollars in federal loan guarantees." pg. 170

1987 "Along with the 1988 sex scandal involving televangelist (and Bakker rival) Jimmy Swaggart, the PTL affair went a long way towards diminishing the power of the religious right in America." pg. 198 (oh really?)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Saturday, September 27, 2008

In the Woods

In the Woods by Tana French was originally published in 2007. My paperback copy has 429 pages. This is a murder mystery that is also a psychological drama. It started out great and I was totally engrossed in the story, even when I figured out one who-done-it long before the ending. The sad part is that the good writing, intriguing characters, tantalizing story line, and mounting tension and suspense almost all went to waste because of a disappointing ending. French could have done so much more with this novel. All the ingredients for a great novel were there through most of the book, they just weren't present at the most important part, the conclusion, and I felt a little let down. Rating: 3.9

Synopsis from cover:
In Tana French's powerful debut thriller, three children leave their small Dublin neighborhood to play in the surrounding woods. Hours later, their mother's calls go unanswered. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.

Twenty years later, Detective Rob Ryan - the found boy who has kept his past a secret - and his partner Cassie Maddox investigate the murder of a twelve-year-old girl in the same woods. Now with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him, and that of his own shadowy past.

"Picture a summer stolen whole from some coming-of-age film set in small-town 1950s." opening sentence

"These children will not be coming of age, this summer or any other summer. This August will not ask them to find hidden reserves of strength and courage as they confront the complexity of the adult world and come away sadder and wiser and bonded for life. This summer has other requirements for them" pg. 2

"What I warn you to remember is that I am a detective. Our relationship with truth is fundamental but cracked, refracting confusingly like fragmented glass." pg. 3

"What I am telling you, before you begin my story, is this - two things: I crave truth. And I lie." pg. 4

"His fingernails were digging into the trunk so deeply that they had broken off in the bark." pg. 5

"I can't explain the alchemy that transmuted one evening into the equivalent of years held lightly in common. the only way I can put it is that we recognized, too surely even for surprise, that we shared the same currency." pg. 16

"In ways too dark and crucial to be called metaphorical, I never left that wood." pg. 31

"You know what it means, Knocknaree?...Hill of the King." pg. 96

"We developed an intense, unhealthy relationship with caffeine and forgot what it was like not to be exhausted." pg. 138

"All I'll say is that there's been something just a little off kilter about that place all along." pg. 188

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here by Stewart O'Nan was originally published in 2002. My paperback copy is 517 pages. As we spend a week with the Maxwell family during their last summer vacation at the family cottage by Lake Chautauqua, we also are slowly, meticulously introduced to each family member's inner thoughts and feelings. The book is broken up into sections covering each day of their vacation. This is a poignant novel that really is a character study of a family. The action and draw of the novel is found in the old and new complex relationships and behavior patterns of the family members rather than an exciting outside mystery. This is a love it or hate it kind of novel due to the slow pace and reliance on the cumulative details. If you like complex character studies, then you will like Wish You Were Here. Rating: 4.5

On a side note, while one reviewer at Amazon thought Emily's battles with ants in her mailbox was stupid, I sympathized with her after recently going through a similar invasion. Sometimes it's the culmination of all the little things and stresses that make a mailbox full of ants important. If you can understand that, and how visiting family can make for the most stressful of times, you'll likely enjoy Wish You Were Here.

A year after the death of her husband, Henry, Emily Maxwell gathers her family by Lake Chautauqua in western New York for what will be a last vacation at their summer cottage. Joining is her sister-in-law, who silently mourns both the sale of the lake house, and a long-lost love. Emily's firebrand daughter, a recovering alcoholic recently separated from her husband, brings her children from Detroit. Emily's son, who has quit his job and mortgaged his future to pursue his art, comes accompanied by his children and his wife, who is secretly heartened to be visiting the house for the last time. Memories of past summers resurface, old rivalries flare up, and love is rekindled and born anew, resulting in a timeless novel drawn, as the best writing often is, from the ebbs and flow of daily life.

"They took Arlene's car because it had air-conditioning and Emily wasn't sure the Olds would make it." first sentence.

"Henry attributed his sister's obtuseness to her school teacher's practicality, but Emily thought it was more ingrained than willful. Arlene seemed constantly on guard, afraid of somehow being cheated." pg. 4

"The thing that secretly moved her to tears now was not death but parting. Watching TV, she would be reduced to sniffling and wiping her eyes by soldiers waving from trains, mothers putting young children onto school buses, confetti snowing over the decks of cruise ships....A long-distance commercial could do it." pg. 5

"Would he be like his father, quietly dedicated to getting along, so steady and stoic that he seemed inscrutable, disconnected from everything except what was in his head and the newest project on his workbench?" pg. 21

"It wasn't PMS, her mother was just like this sometimes, and it frightened her, not knowing when this crazy person might show up." pg. 33

"She couldn't live with that kind of sadness, that kind of man. His distance already took so much energy to bridge. She could feel it wearing away her spirit, like water cutting into rock." pg. 41

"She couldn't say that she was weighing her life, tallying up what was lost, missed, forgotten. The mood had come on her suddenly, would pass like a summer storm." pg. 89

"When he played with the children or palled around with Henry, he was wild and loud, but in Margaret's presence he turned docile, invisible, waiting, it seemed, to escape." pg. 109

"He didn't say that he'd done the same thing yesterday. It was a conceit of hers that his whole family was crazy, the bloodline diseased like in some cheesy old Poe movie, and he was the most normal of the bunch." pg. 117

"It would be nice, she thought, if for once someone else served her." pg. 156

"It was not that he was unfeeling, only that, being a private person, he kept what he felt to himself." pg. 218

"Every family harbored some private heartache, some unfulfilled dream of lives that might have been." pg. 384

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Master Butchers Singing Club

The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich was originally published in 2003. My paperback copy has 389 pages. This is an incredibly depressing, yet beautifully written novel. Erdrich's language is poetic and lyrical. Her characters are rich and complex. She captures their inner thoughts perfectly. We feel their humanity and the intricacies of their relationships. The setting is realistic and believable. The plot is very satisfying and intriguing; it's part family saga, character study, and a mystery. Ultimately, though, it has a very sad, depressing theme, with no great joy or happiness. Rating: 4.5

Amazon.com Review
Louise Erdrich's The Master Butchers Singing Club is a powerfully told story of love, death, redemption, and resurrection. After German soldier Fidelis Waldvogel returns home from World War I to marry his best friend's pregnant widow, he packs up his father's butcher knives and sets sail for America. He settles in Argus, North Dakota, where he sets up a meat shop with his wife Eva, who quickly befriends the struggling yet resourceful Delphine Watzka. Delphine, who runs a vaudeville show with her balancing partner Cyprian Lazarre, has returned home to Argus to care for her alcoholic father. While most of this emotionally rich novel focuses on the changing landscape of small-town life as seen through Delphine and Fidelis's eyes, Erdrich does a masterful job of illuminating hidden dramas through her secondary characters. Erdrich's portrayal of these various townsfolk, including members of the Master Butchers Singing Club, truly shows off her storytelling talent. Her ability to infuse each character with a distinct and multifaceted personality makes this novel an intimate and thought-provoking adventure. --Gisele Toueg
"Fidelis walked home from the great war in twelve days and slept thirty-eight hours once he crawled into his childhood bed." first sentence

"The light pouring through the curtains made a liquid sound, he thought, an emotional and female sound as it moved across the ivory wall." pg. 2

"Although they were tradesmen and master butchers, his family also prided themselves on acquiring a degree of learning and on a talent for producing male voices of special beauty that skipped from son to son." pg. 8

"A stocky Polish girl from off a scrap of farm is not supposed to attract men so easily, but Delphine was compelling. Her mind was very quick - too quick, maybe." pg. 17

"A dog's love is something more or less complicated, according to the owner of the dog. Fidelis, for example, was faintly contemptuous of canine adoration, believing it was based mostly on the dog's stomach rather than the dog's heart." pg. 32

"For a time, the two butcher shops divided the town between them, just as the Catholic and Lutheran churches did." pg. 42

"For of course, every so often the town received a great shock. It seemed that just as people grew into a false assurance, believed for instance that their prayers worked and that evil was kept at bay, or thoughtlessly celebrated the quiet of their community with a street dance, a parade, or any kind of energetic complacence, something happened. Someone turned up dead. A child smothered in a load of grain." pg. 43

"These things happened with such regularity that Delphine developed a nervous twitch in her brain, A knee-jerk response that rejected hope and light." pg. 54

"When small towns find they cannot harm the strangest of their members, when eccentrics show resilience, they are eventually embraced and even cherished." pg. 89

"It was a routine, she later thought, she didn't treasure enough. An even life, without any jumps or starts. No stalls either. It was the kind of life you didn't know at the time you were living it was a happy life." pg. 169

"Neither Fidelis or Cyprian had known glory, and though both had known the granduer of horro, there was nothing to say about it." pg. 177

"The pleasure of this sort of life - bookish, she supposed it might be called, a reading life - had made her isolation into a rich and even subversive thing." pg. 301

Friday, September 19, 2008

Eleanor Rigby

Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland was originally published in 2004. My hardcover copy has 249 pages. Even though I could see the flaws other reviewers pointed out in Eleanor Rigby, I liked it. I like Coupland. I like his writing style. This is only my second Coupland novel and I'm now going to be in search of more of his books. Very highly recommended. Rating: 4.5

The synopsis:
Liz Dunn is 42 years old, and lonely. Her house is like 'a spinster's cell block', and she may or may not snore - there's never been anybody to tell her. Then one day in 1997, with the comet Hale Bopp burning bright in the blue-black sky, Liz received an urgent phone call asking her to visit a young man in hospital. All at once, the loneliness that has come to define her is ripped away by this funny, smart, handsome young stranger, Jeremy. Her son.


"I had always thought that a person born blind and given sight later on in life through the miracles of modern medicine would feel reborn." first sentence

"Sure, I think the zodiac is pure hooey, but when an entirely new object appears in the sky, it opens some kind of window to your soul and to your sense of destiny. No matter how rational you try to be, it's hard to escape the feeling that such a celestial event portends some kind of radical change." pg. 3

"No more trying to control everything - it was now time to go with the flow. With that one decision, the chain-mail shroud I'd been wearing my entire life fell from my body and I was light as a gull. I'd freed myself." pg. 4

"We cripple out children for life by not telling them what loneliness is, all of its shades and tones and implications. When it clubs us on the head, usually just after we leave home, we're blindsided. We have no idea what hit us. We think we're diseased, schizoid, bipolar, monstrous, and lacking in dietary chromium." pg. 10

"You might ask, what was a twelve-year-old girl doing in a semi-remote place near a big city? Simple answer: it was the seventies. Past a certain age, children just did their thing, with little concern shown by their parents for what, where, when, or with whom." pg. 22

" 'You never met your own son?' " pg. 34

"I'm doing the thing that lonely people do, which is fine-tuning my loneliness hierarchy." pg. 67

"I've not discussed my mother much. She's not a mean person, but her moods have always been both extreme and random. Today she takes something twice a day, and she's stable - still random, but the mood yo-yos are gone. Back then? When she lost it, dogs halfway across the mountain bayed and yowled in sympathy." pg. 80

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger was originally published in 2001. My hardcover copy has 313 pages. This extraordinary, well written novel is a quiet story about a family. Narrated by adult Rueben, looking back as an eleven year old, his story is the stuff of personal mythology, the bedrock out of which family histories are built. Yes, it's not all completely realistic, but I believe it is a realistic recollection of memories as seen by an adult remembering this time of turmoil in their family. You can clearly see the father's moral compass, faith, and sense of purpose. You can understand Rueben's struggle with a big decision. And maybe 8 year old Swede couldn't really be expected to write that well or make a complete turkey dinner, but maybe, just maybe, the writing and dinner were perfect because Rueben remembers it that way and because Jeremiah would have reacted that way. Enger's Peace Like a River is a story of family, faith, doubt, history, fantasy, love, evil, innocence, goodness, and hope. I highly recommend this book. Rating: 4.5

Synopsis from cover
Leif Enger's debut is an extraordinary novel -an epic of generosity and heart that reminds us of the restorative power of literature. The story of a father raising his three children in 1960s Minnesota, Peace Like a River is at once a heroic quest, a tragedy, a love story, and a haunting meditation on the possibility of magic in the everyday world.

Raised on tales of cowboys and pirates, eleven-year-old Rueben Land has little doubt that miracles happen all around us, and that it's up to us to "make of it what we will." Rueben was born with no air in his lungs, and it was only when his father, Jeremiah, picked him up and commanded him to breathe that his lungs filled. Rueben struggles with debilitating asthma from then on, making him a boy who knows firsthand that life is a gift, and also one who suspects that his father is touched by God and can overturn the laws of nature.

The quiet midwestern life of the Lands is upended when Davy, the oldest son, kills two marauders who have come to harm the family; unlike his father, he is not content to leave all matters of justice in God's hands. The morning of his sentencing, Davy - a hero to some, a cold blooded murderer to others - escapes from his cell, and the Lands set out in search of him. Their journey is touched by serendipity and the kindness of strangers - among them Roxanna, who offers them a place to stay during a blizzard and winds up providing them with something far more permanent. Meanwhile, a federal agent is trailing the Lands, convinced they know of Davy's whereabouts.

With Jeremiah at the helm, the family covers territory far more extraordinary than even the Badlands where they search for Davy from their airstream trailer. Sprinkled with playful nods to biblical tales, beloved classics... and westerns of Zane Grey, Peace Like a River unfolds like a revelation.

"From my first breath in this world, all I wanted was a good set of lungs and the air to fill them with - given circumstances, you might presume, for an American baby of the twentieth century." pg. 1

"As mother cried out, Dad turned to me, a clay child wrapped in a canvas coat, and said in a normal voice, "Rueben Land, in the name of the living God I am telling you to breathe." pg. 3

"Real miracles bother people, like strange pains unknown in medical literature. It's true: they rebut every rule all we good citizens take comfort in." pg. 3

"I believe I was preserved, through those twelve airless minutes, in order to be a witness, and as a witness, let me say that a miracle is no cute thing, but more like the swing of a sword. If he were here to begin the account, I believe Dad would say what he said to Swede and me on the worst night of all our lives:
We and the world, my children, will always be at war.
Retreat is impossible.
Arm yourselves." pg. 4

"Swede and I had been used to oratory; our former pastor could exhort like everything and owned what Dad said must be a special edition of the Holy bible, for it contained things omitted from our own - references to card-playing, for example, and rock and roll, and the Russian people." pg. 28

"Be careful whom you choose to hate.
The small and the vulnerable own a protection great enough, if you could but see it, to melt you into jelly.
Beware of those who reside beneath the shadow of the Wings." pg. 36

"We wondered how well we'd do in front of Dad - how grateful we could appear for a gift of, say, a navel orange." pg. 109

"Swede said no conversation in any room but the kitchen was worth overhearing anyway, something I'd guess is still true in much of North Dakota." pg. 138

"The fog lay rich and steamy over the barnyard. It was warm as manure; you could weigh it in a cupped hand. And it really did smell like April, though I noticed that it also smelled of wet dog; the two are not dissimilar." pg. 142

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Keep

The Keep by Jennifer Egan was originally published in 2006. My paperback copy has 255 pages. After having been repeatedly on and off my wish list, when I saw a copy of The Keep in the clearance section at my local used book store, I repeated this same exercise: first I passed on it and then decided to pick it up. It isn't what I expected, and I was mildly surprised. I'm not sure that the description on the cover does it justice. I liked the dual story lines. The first narrative is the gothic story line about the two cousins and the creepy castle. The second narrative is the author of the first, a prisoner named Ray. Ultimately, however, I wasn't completely satisfied with the merging of the narratives and the ending in the final third part of The Keep. It was worth reading, however. Rating: 3.5
Synopsis from cover:
Award-winning author Jennifer Egan brilliantly conjures a world from which escape is impossible and where the keep - the tower, the last stand - is both everything worth protecting and the very thing that must be surrendered in order to survive.

Two cousins, irreversibly damaged by a childhood prank, reunite twenty years later to renovate a medieval castle in Eastern Europe. In an environment of extreme paranoia, cut off from the outside world, the men reenact the signal event of their youth, with even more catastrophic results. And as the full horror of their predicament unfolds, a prisoner, in jail for an unnamed crime, recounts an unforgettable story that seamlessly brings the crimes of the past and present into piercing relation.

"Danny was nervous about seeing his cousin after so long. The Howie he knew as a kid you couldn't picture grown up..." pg. 7

"Howie's troubles were a favorite family topic, and behind the shaking heads and the oh it's so sads you could hear the joy pushing right up through because doesn't every family like having one person who's [messed] up so fantastically that everyone else feels like a model citizen next to him?" pg. 8

"Danny felt uncomfortable around Howard. But uncomfortable sounds mild and what Danny felt was not mild, it was miserable. He couldn't define the misery. He couldn't even name the symptoms, except one: he wanted to get away. Now." pg.24

"The keep is the place where everyone holed up if the castle got invaded. Kind of a last stand. The stronghold." pg. 26

"But being inside changes everything. Stuff you'd call common or even flat-out invisible in the outside world turns precious in here, with magical uses you never thought of." pg. 57

Sunday, September 14, 2008


We have a pear tree in the yard and needed to harvest the pears today.

I was looking up and holding a branch back while Wonder Boy was up on the ladder. He knocked a pear off the tree and it hit me dead center - right smack on my nose.

If my nose swells up or bruises I'm telling people he hit me.

(Pears need to finish ripening off the tree.

Gone with the Wind

Saturday Movie night
Gone with the Wind
Lover Come Back

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Star Wars

Last night's movie night was Star Wars.

Now it's called episode IV, but to ME this is the first Star Wars, the original.

Movie Dude originally wanted to start a Planet of the Apes marathon, but we had weather issues which delayed the start of our movie night. Movie Dude and Just Me were both happy to share much Star Wars Trivia. It is disturbing how much trivia they know.

I was the only one in the room that didn't grow up from birth with Star Wars. Concerning the next generation: Be afraid; very afraid.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Palin banned books rumor

Let's stop the spread of this stupid false rumor.

According to Snopes.com, the leader in defining internet pranks, the list of library books banned from the Wasilla, Alaska, Public Library by then Mayor Sarah Palin is False.

This rumor is easy to disprove, especially since many of the titles weren't even published at the time she was mayor...

The Grizzly Maze

The Grizzly Maze by Nick Jans was originally published in 2005. My 2006 paperback edition has additional material and is 274 pages including an index and bibliography with annotations. The description from the back cover says: "Timothy Treadwell dared to live among Alaskan grizzlies, seeking to overturn the perception of them as dangerously aggressive animals. When he and his girlfriend were mauled and killed in 2003, it created a media sensation. This gripping, thought-provoking, and unsettling account penetrates the darkness of one man's fascination with the wilderness." There is also additional information about bears and why bear attack. A very interesting, highly recommended book. Rating: 5


[I]n a montage woven from Timothy's own self-shot videotape from Katmai interspersed with staged scenes and didactic narrative, Grizzly Man [a movie] presented a disturbing vision of a man teetering on the brink of sanity, then plunging into self-destructive madness as his world unraveled - essentially committing suicide by bear." pg. xii

"I do, however, find it ironic that I, an Alaskan, find myself defending Timothy against the Hollywood version of his story, which seems an impressionistic blend of docu-drama and reality, rather than a documentary in its purest sense." pg. xiv

"This was the place where Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard had died just five days before - attacked, mauled, and eaten outside of their tents during a violent rainstorm....Their desperate struggle for life had been captured on a camcorder's audiotape, starting with cries for help and fading into high pitched screams. A day later, would-be rescuers, hoping to find someone alive, had been menaced by bears at close range and shot and killed two..." pg. 2

"Yet, in the history of the Katmai Park and National Monument, stretching back over eighty-five years, not one person had ever been seriously mauled, let alone killed - until Timothy Treadwell." pg. 3

"Timothy Treadwell was the sort of guy most Alaskans loved to hate. You don't go around on Kodiak Island or Katmai crawling on all fours, singing and reading to bears, giving them names like Thumper, Mr. Chocolate, and Squiggle. You don't say things to them like, 'Czar, I'm so worried! I can't find little Booble.' Not unless you're from California, that is, and your name is Timothy Treadwell." pg. 10

"Though he choose to call the bears he met at Hallo Bay 'grizzlies,' they were and are considered by Alaskan biologists to be brown bears - the coastal version....The distinction between grizzlies and brown bears is, most Alaskans would argue, the difference between pit bulls and Labrador retrievers." pg. 20

"Exactly what he is doing will become a topic of considerable debate. But at this point, the only agenda actually supported by his actions seems to be...to become friends with the bears." pg. 22

Somewhere in those first years....the idea of Grizzly People is born: a grass-roots nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the bears, studying them, and educating people..." pg. 23

"Timothy's rising media star rankles the bear establishment further, goading them toward an all-out charge. It's one thing for this upstart to pull his goofball, New Age, commune-with-the-bears routine in anonymity; but to have it broadcast to tens of millions is another. No matter that Timothy continually promotes bear safety; the footage of him practically nuzzling and petting wild bears sends an opposing, hypocritical, and far more powerful visual....And Timothy's real message isn't about bears, they argue, but himself, a cult of personality." pg. 55

"The sad part is, these deaths were predictable and totally preventable....We can go right down the list of errors he made. It didn't have to happen. He was warned and warned and warned. Yet he negated, defied, and ignored all common sense....The hypocrisy here is what really gripes a lot of us... The general inconsistencies in his life's stated mission makes you wonder, really, if Treadwell was mentally well. Protect bears by putting them at risk. Study them by crowding." pg. 163

"Chuck Bartlebaugh, director of the Center for Wildlife Information in Missoula, says, 'It's my belief that the media is creating an enthusiasm for wildlife without instilling proper respect or responsibility... They see Jeff Corwin faking a grizzly experience and think it's safe if they do the same thing in the wild.' " pg. 206

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro was originally published in 2005. My paperback copy has 288 pages. In Never Let Me Go, Kathy H is a 31 year old woman looking back at her past as a special child in the elite boarding school, Hailsham, while living out the reality of what makes her and her friends special. While Ishiguro slowly, carefully, subtly reveals bits and pieces of the whole story, familiar words take on new meanings that hint at the difference between their reality and ours. Every reflection and encounter slowly reveals the truth. This was a masterful story. It is a coming-of-age story of friendship and love combination with a very restrained, atmospheric novel of social commentary - with hints of science fiction and psychological thriller. What you discover in the first of three parts is that this is an alternate universe, one that might have happened. The alternative world, however, is just the vehicle used to explore the inner emotional responses of the characters. It's a dark, sad, unforgettable novel. Rating: 5

Synopsis from cover:
From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day comes a
devastating new novel of innocence, knowledge, and loss.

As children Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive
boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of
mercurial cliques and mysterious rules - where teachers were constantly
reminding their charges of how special they were.

Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her
life. And for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared
past and understand just what it is that makes them special-and how that
gift will shape the rest of their time together. Suspenseful, moving,
beautifully atmospheric, Never Let Me Go is another classic by the author of
The Remains of the Day.

"My name is Kathy H. I'm thirty-one years old, and I've been a carer now for over eleven years." opening sentences.

"Carers aren't machines. You try and do your best for every donor, but in the end it wears you down." pg. 4

"That was when I first understood, really understood, just how lucky we'd been - Tommy, Ruth, me, all the rest of us." pg. 6

"She said we weren't being taught enough, something like that." pg. 29

"So you're waiting, even if you don't quite know it, waiting for the moment when you realise that you really are different to them; that there are people out there like Madame, who don't hate you or wish you harm, but who nevertheless shudder at the very thought of you - of how you were brought into the world and why - and who dread the idea of your hand brushing against theirs." pg. 36

"But those last years feel different. They weren't unhappy exactly - I've got plenty of memories I treasure from them - but they were more serious, and in some ways darker." pg. 77

"You were brought into this world for a purpose, and your futures, all of them, have been decided." pg. 81

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Getting Stoned with Savages

Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu by J. Maarten Troost was originally published in 2006. My paperback copy is 239 pages. This is an engaging book which provides a witty, funny, light, read. It's not a travel log, but rather an account of the author's experiences in Vanuatu and Fiji. I liked the long one sentence explanations for each chapter The shortest chapter title sentence is: "Chapter 4; In which the author is introduced to kava, which he likes very much, oh yes, very much indeed." The books title is derived from the drinking of kava. Although I haven't read Troost's first book, The Sex Lives of Cannibals, which generally seems to be considered better than Getting Stoned With Savages, this was an interesting entertaining book and I recommend it. The titles are a bit unfortunate, however. Just Me gave me that raised eyebrow look when she saw the titles of Troost's books on my list, but she did find this copy for me. Rating: 4

Synopsis from cover:
With The Sex Lives of Cannibals, Maarten Troost established himself as one of the most engaging and original travel writers around. Getting Stoned with Savages again reveals his wry wit and infectious joy of discovery in a side-splittingly funny account of life in the farthest reaches of the world. After two grueling years on the island of Tarawa, battling feral dogs, machete-wielding neighbors, and a lack of beer on a daily basis, Maarten Troost was in no hurry to return to the South Pacific. But as time went on, he realized he felt remarkably out of place among the trappings of twenty-first-century America. When he found himself holding down a job—one that might possibly lead to a career—he knew it was time for him and his wife, Sylvia, to repack their bags and set off for parts unknown.

Getting Stoned with Savages tells the hilarious story of Troost’s time on Vanuatu—a rugged cluster of islands where the natives gorge themselves on kava and are still known to “eat the man.” Falling into one amusing misadventure after another, Troost struggles against typhoons, earthquakes, and giant centipedes and soon finds himself swept up in the laid-back, clothing-optional lifestyle of the islanders. When Sylvia gets pregnant, they decamp for slightly-more-civilized Fiji, a fallen paradise where the local chiefs can be found watching rugby in the house next door. And as they contend with new parenthood in a country rife with prostitutes and government coups, their son begins to take quite naturally to island living—in complete contrast to his dad.

"I have been called many things in my life, but if there has been but one constant, one barb, one arrow flung my way time after time, it is the accusation that I am, in essence, nothing more than an escapist." first sentence

"Begone, gray suits. I won't be needing you anymore. I'm off to an island nation where formal wear consists of a leaf tied around a penis." pg. 15

"When it comes to singing, Pacific Islanders would give Southern Baptists a run for their money." pg. 28

"[S]he had clearly adopted the tropical temperament: Stuff happens, but tomorrow the sun will rise again." pg. 40

"Oceania is a world of villages, each with its own rules and routines." pg. 43

"I was beginning to realize that kava is like the sausage of the Pacific. One doesn't really want to know how it was made." pg. 61

"The real appeal of the paper, however, was in its 'Mi herem say' section. This translates as 'I heard that...,' and this is where readers had an opportunity to share all the lascivious gossip they had acquired." pg. 78

"Cannibalism there was more like the cannibalism practiced by Jeffrey Dahmer: very disturbing." pg. 85

"What this conclusively proves, of course, is that mooning transcends culture. A display of the buttocks speaks a universal language." pg. 136

"For awhile we became amenable to the idea of having the child in Australia, despite worries that our son - we sensed he would be a boy - would grow up to have a predilection for wearing short-shorts well into adulthood." pg. 158

"Apparently while we were living abroad, someone had sent a missive to all Western women under the age of twenty-five: Put a large tattoo above your butt." pg. 193

Monday, September 8, 2008

An Open Letter to Wise Foods Concerning Cheez Waffies

Dear Wise Foods,

Consistently "Cheez Waffies" is one of the top five searches that bring people to my blog. Considering the nature of my blog, this should give you a hint that, obviously, people are looking online trying to find out where they can buy Cheez Waffies. Once a Waffies addict, always a Waffies addict. Cheez Waffies are the best in snacking goodness.

I have blogged about Cheez Waffies three times

Cheez Waffies


The public is clamoring for Cheez Waffies. All of you at Wise Foods need to be wise and consider resuming distribution in the Midwest. Certainly the whole Kansas City metro and surrounding suburbs and cities could alone make it worthwhile. Let me know if I can help. Really.
Thank you for your consideration,


Saturday, September 6, 2008


Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson was originally published in 1980. My paperback copy is 219 pages. Housekeeping was a winner of the Pen/Hemingway Award. First, it must be noted that Robinson is indeed a very good writer. Her prose is lyrical and beautiful. However rich prose alone can not carry a novel. I felt the plot was lacking in clarity and the characters were never fully developed. I'm going to admit that while I may have been a bit distracted while reading Robinson's novel, it was not holding my rapt attention and the plot, what little of it there was, was remote and lacking substance. Sadly, I really didn't care what happened to this family. Although I appreciate that the novel is full of symbolism and literary allusions, I still want a plot and character development Rating: 3

Synopsis from cover:
A modern classic, Housekeeping is the story of Ruth and her younger sister, Lucille, who grow up haphazardly, first under the care of their competent grandmother, then of two comically bumbling great-aunts, and finally of Sylvie, their eccentric and remote aunt. The family house is in the small Far West town of Fingerbone, which is set on a glacial lake, the same lake where their grandfather died in a spectacular train wreck and their mother drove off a cliff to her death. It is a town "chastened by an outsized landscape and extravagant weather, and chastened again by an awareness that the whole of human history had occurred elsewhere." Ruth and Lucille's struggle toward adulthood beautifully illuminates the price of loss and survival, and the dangerous and deep undertow of transience.

"My name is Ruth. I grew up with my younger sister, Lucille, under the care of my grandmother, Mrs. Sylvia Foster, and when she died, of her sisters-in-law, Misses Lily and Nona Foster, and when they fled, of her daughter, Mrs. Sylvia Fisher." pg. 3

"If heaven was to be this world purged of disaster and nuisance, if immortality was to be this life held in poise and arrest, and if this world purged and this life unconsuming could be thought of as world and life restored to their proper natures, it is no wonder that five serene eventless years lulled my grandmother into forgetting what she should never have forgotten." pg. 13

"She put our suitcases in the screened porch, which was populated by a cat and a matronly washing machine, and told us to wait quietly. Then she went back to the car and drove north almost to Tyler, where she sailed in Bernice's Ford from the top of a cliff named Whiskey Rock into the blackest depth of the lake." pg. 22

"Fingerbone was never an impressive town. It was chastened by an outsized landscape and extravagant weather, and chastened again by the awareness that the whole of human history had occurred elsewhere." pg. 62

"Then, too, for whatever reasons, our whole family was standoffish. This was the fairest description of our best qualities, and the kindest description of our worst faults." pg. 74

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Garden Spells

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen was originally published in 2007. My paperback copy is 290 pages. From the description of Garden Spells, it appeared to be a book I would easily dismiss as too close to a light fluffy chick lit romance, but I picked it up on the recommendation of Dana, who hasn't steered me wrong yet. Garden Spells is not fine literature, but it is a whimsical, charming book overflowing with fragrances. There were parts of this book that made my heart and senses soar. Toward the end it did dance a little too closely to a romance novel for my personal taste and the danger in the climax never felt real, but this is a very pleasant, magical book. I kept thinking that it reminded me of another author and then it hit me: it reminds me of some of Alice Hoffman's books. Garden Spells provides a very delightful escape into a book. Rating: 4

Synopsis from cover:
In a garden surrounded by a tall fence, tucked away behind a small house in the smallest of towns, is an apple tree rumored to bear a very special sort of fruit. In this luminous debut novel, Sarah Addison Allen tells the story of that enchanted tree, and the extraordinary people who tend it.

The Waverleys have always been a curious family, endowed with peculiar gifts that make them outsiders even in their hometown of Bascom, North Carolina. Even their garden has a reputation. For the Waverley history is in the soil. and so are their futures.

A successful caterer, Claire Waverley prepares dishes made with her mystical plants—from the nasturtiums that aid in keeping secrets to the snapdragons intended to discourage the attentions of her amorous neighbor. Meanwhile, her elderly cousin, Evanelle, distributes unexpected presents whose uses become uncannily clear. They are the last of the Waverleys—except for Claire’s rebellious sister, Sydney, who fled Bascom the moment she could, abandoning Claire, as their own mother had years before.

When Sydney suddenly returns home with a young daughter of her own, Claire’s quiet life is turned upside down. Together again in the house they grew up in, Sydney takes stock of all she left behind, as Claire struggles to heal the wounds of the past. And soon the sisters realize they must deal with their common legacy—if they are ever to feel at home in Bascom...or with each other.

"Every smiley moon, without fail, Claire dreamed of her childhood." first sentence

"Something was about to happen, something the garden wasn't ready to tell her yet. She would have to keep a sharp eye out." pg. 5

"Business was doing well, because all the locals knew that the dishes made from the flowers that grew around the apple tree in the Waverley garden could affect the eater in curious ways." pg. 10-11

" 'I don't have anywhere else to go,' Sidney said, forcing the words out, like spitting sunflower-seed shells to the sidewalk, where they stuck and baked in the sun, getting harder and harder." pg. 41-42

"Gladioli here...where the nutmeg stuffing in the squash blossoms and fennel chicken will be. Roses here, where the rose petal scones will go." pg. 90

"Bay had dreamed of this place a long time ago. She'd known they were coming here." pg. 110

"He was footing the bill to renovate the attic space, and workers with nice posteriors started showing up, which Evanelle enjoyed so much she shoved a chair to the base of the stairs just so she could sit and watch them walk up." pg. 160

"...but new friends took time. History took time." pg. 163

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

soap box

“I don’t think you have time to waste on someone who does not respond to you with kindness and respect. You don’t want to spend your time around people who make you hold your breath."
~ Anne Lamott

This is going to be a funny sort of post. Rarely, if ever, have I stood on my soap box and taken a stand on this blog. Normally my readers know what to expect, book reviews and a few extras. Something happened to me that I was going to let slide, and already have done so to a great extent, but then I decided that where I could make my (mild) stand would be here, on my blog. I have already told a cherished group of online friends about this.

As my friends know, my personal life is in a state of total transition right now. New state, no permanent home yet, kids both suddenly in college. I've been struggling with feelings of depression and trying to find my place in this new order of things. One thing I was pleased about was that I could participate in some new online book groups and challenges, which I have enjoyed very much.... until just recently.

Picture this: here I am, rolling along, trying my best to find something positive, which can be a struggle at times since I'm a pessimist at heart, and I'm really feeling like things are ok, maybe even good, I'm finding my new normal. Then someone comes along and bursts that bubble all to pieces and then spits on me. And over what, you might ask.

It started out innocently enough. I noticed that often on various book groups people will send out their lists of books read for the month. I LOVE these simple monthly lists of books and authors and ratings, so I decided to also do this and mention that the dates in my list refer to when I reviewed the books on my blog. Apparently these lists which refer people to a blog review annoyed someone in one group, a book-a-week group.... like REALLY ANNOYED them... enough that they needed to send email to the group about how much they dislike this practice. Now the angry, scolding email was sent after other's also sent in a list with a reference to go to their blog, but still it was obviously directed at a very small number of us list makers. Then a couple other's chimed in, "Oh, I hate that too.... but I do like to see the lists, only....." I didn't respond but just left the group. I sort of liked that group too - before several members decided to get all hinky.

The good news, as far as I'm concerned is that I am at book number 110 for the year now, so I have completed the challenge and don't need to be on the group any more. Since this is the second time in a reasonable short time that a book group has caused me a headache, I may leave most of them... or maybe go no mail for awhile. They can be interesting, but maybe not worth the headaches. I always managed to find interesting books before I joined book groups and could likely survive without them.
"Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people."
~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Goodnight, Nebraska

Goodnight, Nebraska by Tom McNeal was originally published in 1998. My Vintage paperback copy is 314 pages. I'm not sure exactly what I expected from Goodnight, Nebraska, McNeal's debut novel, but it did deliver. In some ways it is another redemptive tale, this time of forgiving yourself, but in other ways it is a bleak, fatalistic novel where, really, in the end everyone has lost something. I do have a few minor quibbles with Goodnight, Nebraska, beyond the inclusion of too many parenthetic comments in the text.

First, in some ways the characters are masterfully drawn, in other ways.... not so much. McNeal examines the weak spots in his character's and that is what we see. Everyone comes across as fatally flawed. I can't help but think, even with all of our flaws, people do have strengths and often those strengths rise way above their flaws. It isn't all bad all the time. I also felt McNeal would introduce characters and then dump them, like Randall's mother and sister, like the coach and his sister, etc.

Second, I really think that a strong case could be made for this novel being closer to a set of short stories featuring many of the same characters. There was a bit too much jumping around and not all of it was beneficial to the story. While the first part of the book set in Utah held my rapt attention, then Randall moved to Nebraska and the story started to shift. The shift wasn't necessarily bad, it just wasn't quite as good as the first part. These shifts continue until the end, in which Goodnight, Nebraska found redemption, as far as my rating is concerned. Rating: 4

Synopsis from cover:
"At the age of seventeen Randall Hunsacker is a young man desperately in need of a second chance: he has just shot his mother's boyfriend, stolen a car, and is on the verge of killing himself. His redemption may lie in a small Nebraska farm town....A seemingly ingrown provincial backwater, Goodnight is also a town full of love and loss that may just be the perfect place for Randall to call home.
Randall is an outcast searching for a fresh start in Goodnight, where he inspires fear and adulation, wins the love of a beautiful girl, and nearly throws it all away. In this pitch-perfect novel, Tom McNeal....explores the currents of hope, passion, and cruelty that lurk beneath the surface of the American heartland."
"I have a college buddy who coaches high school football in Nebraska....He'll assume custody of you. You'll live with his aunt, who's a widow, and he's got you lined up with a part time job at a garage....Your mother's gone, Champ....If you go to Nebraska, the courts will seal your records.... Nobody will know anything about the shooting...." pg. 40