It's Tailgating Season

>> Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Next game - 10/4/08

Next tailgate - 10/11/08

"We're not here for the game. The game is nothing. The game is crap. The game makes me sick. The real reason we Americans put up with sports is for this: Behold, the tailgate party. The pinnacle of human achievement. Since the dawn of parking lots, man has sought to fill his gut with food and alcohol in anticipation of watching others exercise."

Homer Simpson
Season 19, Episode 18 Any Given Sundance


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The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel

>> Friday, September 26, 2008

Genre: Fiction
Publication Date: 2003
Pages: 258
Challenges:
2008 2nds #1, TBR 2008 Alternate #5

It’s hard to say much about this book without spoiling plot elements that I don’t want to spoil, so this will be limited.

Langston Braverman returns home to Haddington, Indiana after abruptly walking out of her PhD orals. She doesn’t appear to be interested in doing anything beyond writing in her attic room and walking her dog. She’s self absorbed, smug and actually a bit insufferable. She also appears to not be interested in doing anything along the lines of getting a job which distresses her mother.

Amos Townsend is the local preacher. He’s struggling with a bit of a crisis of faith as well as how to communicate his thoughts on theology and philosophy to his parishioners.

Langston’s childhood friend Alice has recently died, leaving two little girls who have their own set of issues. They are telling people that they’ve been given the new names of Immaculata and Epiphany. Their grandmother is clearly in over her head trying to provide a home and care for these troubled girls.

I’d read and enjoyed Kimmel’s memoir “A Girl Named Zippy” and was curious to see what her first novel was like. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Yes, it’s got flaws, the writing is beautiful, but sometimes the conversations just don’t ring true. It’s not the same lighthearted stuff that I enjoyed so much in Zippy, but there are still some humorous moments about small town life and quirky families mixed in with the philosophy, theology, and tragedy. Langston isn’t really a sympathetic character, but that also is what makes her interesting.

I would imagine that readers hoping for another Zippy will be very disappointed in this book, but readers who what to see what else a good writer can do will be interested. I wasn’t surprised to see some very mixed reviews of this one, but I liked it a lot.

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2008 TBR Challenge Completed

>> Tuesday, September 23, 2008

For the second year I’ve joined and completed MiizBooks’ TBR Challenge. This is one I enjoy and one of the few I plan on doing again next year.



The rules were:

** Pick 12 books - one for each month of 2008 - that you've been wanting to read (that have been on your "To Be Read" list) for 6 months or longer, but haven't gotten around to.

** OPTIONAL: Create a list of "Alternates" (books you could substitute for your challenge books, given that a particular one doesn't grab you at the time)

** Then, starting January 1, 2008, read one of these books from your list each month, ending December 31, 2008. :o)
Obviously I opted to ignore the one a month part. I did that the first year and it bugged me to want to read a book but have to wait. So this time I picked 12 books for my primary list and 12 alternates. I managed to read 4 of my alternates before finishing the primary list. Now that I’ve read all the books on my primary list I’m calling this one completed.

These are the books I read for this challenge.
The Primary 12:
  • Faithless by Karin Slaughter – this is a series that can be pretty brutal, but I really like it
  • The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander – enjoyable speculative historical fiction about the last Russian Tsar and his family
  • Peter the Great by Robert Massie – a huge sweeping biography of a fascinating man
  • Smonk by Tom Franklin – skip it and read Hell at the Breech instead
  • The Diamond by Julie Baumgold – I expected more from this one and felt that it dragged a lot
  • Jasmine Moon Murder by Laura Childs – this is a cozy mystery series about a teashop owner/ amateur sleuth in Charleston, SC
  • London Bridges by James Patterson – when I want a fast read with lots of action I turn to James Patterson
  • Black Wind by Clive Cussler – The Dirk Pitt series is being handed off to the second generation both in characters and authors
  • The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington – an American classic about changing times
  • Tonight I Said Goodbye by Michael Koryta – a new author for me that I enjoyed
  • Diana Lively is Falling Down by Sheila Curran – funny and entertaining in parts, puzzling in others
  • Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson – a fun classic


Alternates:

  • Aunt Dimity's Good Deed by Nancy Atherton – another cozy series, this one with a ghost
  • Rueful Death by Susan Wittig Albert – more cozy mystery with an interesting main character who is a former lawyer turned herb shop owner
  • Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult – she consistently manages to make me consider alternative viewpoints
  • Pawley's Island by Dorothea Benton Frank – summer reading that makes me feel the sand in my toes and smell the ocean.

Several of these were the next book in one of the many series I’m reading. Others were just books I’ve been wanting to read for a long time. Most of them were either good or very good. None of them were excellent, which is probably why they’d been on the TBR list for a while.

The only read disappointments were The Diamond which didn’t live up to my expectations and Smonk which was awful and a huge let down from an author I really like.

I’ve already decided that for next years TBR challenge, I’m going to ignore the one a month rule

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Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

>> Monday, September 22, 2008

Genre: Fiction
Publication Date: Originally 1883, this edition 2000
Pages: 340
Challenges:
Decades 08 #10 (1880’s), TBR 2008 #12

This is yet another of those classics that I managed to miss. It’s part coming of age story, part adventure and really just an enjoyable read.

Jim Hawkins is helping his parents run an inn as the story opens, before long, he’s off on an adventure as a cabin boy in search of treasure. Long John Silver is a great character. There were more twists and turns in the story than I’d expected. I somehow managed to never see a movie version either, so this was truly my first exposure to this book.

For a book written so long ago, it was easier than some ‘classics’ to read. That’s probably because it was written for a younger audience. Definitely a classic worth reading.

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Initials Challenge Completed

>> Sunday, September 21, 2008

Another Challenge in the ‘done’ column. The Initials Challenge was hosted by Becky, who routinely manages to come up with interesting and fun challenge ideas. The Rules were simple and flexible – I like that in a challenge (in fact it’s not too late to join in if you want):
April 1, 2008 - November 30, 2008
Read five to eight books by authors who publish under their initials.
No lists are necessary.Sign up at any time between now and November 1, 2008.
Read as many books as you like, as long as you meet the minimum requirement of five books.

I had no trouble finding 5 books on my TBR and current challenge lists.

These are the five books I read:

  • A Room with a View by E. M. Forster – I had a bit of a hard time getting into it at first, but ended up really liking it.
  • War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells – loved it. Wells was a genius.
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling – I know I’m way behind the rest of the world on this series, but it doesn’t keep me from enjoying the heck out of it.
  • Seduction in Death by J.D. Robb – “Brain Candy” or “Mental Popcorn” but at the same time a fun mix of romance, light science fiction and crime procedural. Besides, it’s got Roarke.
  • Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse – Thanks so much to all the book bloggers (AKA “enablers”) who convinced me that I needed to read Wodehouse.
Thanks Becky! It was another fun challenge.

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Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

>> Thursday, September 18, 2008

Genre: Fiction/Horror
Publication Date: 1967
Pages: 245
Challenges:
A-Z Reading #42 (L Author)

I had forgotten this book even existed until I saw
Sharon’s review during last year’s RIP challenge. I’d read another Levin book (The Boys from Brazil) many years ago. It was seriously creepy. I’d also seen the 1975 movie of The Stepford Wives, but somehow had missed out on Rosemary’s Baby (both the book and the movie). Even though I opted to skip this year’s RIP challenge, this book worked out well for the A-Z challenge.

I used to read a lot of horror and supernatural type books, but I tend to pass up that genre now. It was interesting to read what is considered a bit of a classic.

Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse are a young couple who finally get their dream apartment in the old Victorian Bramford Building. Despite a friend’s stories of the building being the site of mysterious happenings, the young couple is thrilled to move in. Guy is a sometimes employed actor and Rosemary is looking forward to decorating their apartment and starting a family.

Soon they meet the elderly neighbors and before long Rosemary and Guy are drawn into a circle of older people who become very involved in their lives. Unsettling things start happening. Rosemary has vivid dreams and one particularly disturbing nightmare is a major turning point in the book.

Although happy to have her husband’s career on a successful turn and thrilled to be pregnant with their first child, Rosemary is soon suspicious of nearly everything that is happening to and around her.

This is a quick read and I managed to finish it in just a couple of sittings which is good because the tension in it builds gradually through a series of seemingly innocuous events that added together have the reader as suspicious as Rosemary.

After 40 years, the book is only slightly dated and the story and the building suspense are well done. Disturbing, but well done.

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Herding Cats Challenge Complete

>> Wednesday, September 17, 2008

342,745 Ways to Herd Cats, or tl;dr was the official name, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I found a great list of recommended books that I find myself referring to over and over again.

The post announcing this challenge was so darn entertaining that I just had to join in. Trust me and just go
here to read it. Besides, I had to have that adorable button on my sidebar.


Renay at Bottle of Shine hosted this challenge in which the reading list to choose from was made up of books submitted by the participants. Everyone had to submit 10 recommendations and read at least 3 books recommended by other participants.

Here are the details:
1. Make a list of ten books you love. That's the only qualification; you had to love (or at least like it) the books on the list.
2. Share the list
3. Browse the lists created by other participants (
Reading lists by participant or Master Reading List)
4. Between May 1st and November 30th read at least 3 books recommended by other participants.
5. Write reviews of the books you read.
6. Share the links to your reviews.

This is the list of books I recommended:

Sarum by Edward Rutherfurd (I’m actually planning on re-reading this one myself soon)
One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash
Hell at the Breech by Tom Franklin
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (I know a bunch of folks have already listed it but I can’t not include it)
Homestead by Rosina Lippi
The Girls by Lori Lansens
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (but only if you read the Richard Pevear Translation)
Heartsick by Chelsea Cain
Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson
Centennial by James Michener

These are the 3 I chose to read:
Cats Eye by Margaret Atwood (recommended by 3M). This was my second Atwood book and won’t be my last.
A Room With a View by E.M Forster (recommended by Corinne). I really enjoyed this book and the movie too.
The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (recommended by Becky). A Science Fiction Classic that I’m very glad I finally read.
What a fun challenge. Thanks Renay!

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The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

>> Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Genre: Science Fiction
Publication Date: 1898 (originally), 2005 (this edition)
Pages: 284
Challenges:
Herding Cats #3, Initials Challenge #5, Decades 08 #9 (1890’s)

This is a book that has been on my “I want to read that someday, but just haven’t picked it up yet” list. This year I listed it for a couple of challenges so that I’d finally get to it.

I was surprised to discover that this book had been written in 1898. I’d always associated it with the 30’s due to the famous Orson Welles broadcast. I also associated it with black and white Science Fiction movies on Saturday afternoons while playing monopoly with my family.

The Scholastic books edition of this book that I read includes a wonderful introduction by Orson Scott Card. It really did a lot to put the story in context of H.G. Wells’ time for me. The part of the introduction that really spoke to me was the comparison of the British empire’s expansion into the continent of Africa and more primitive peoples with the invasion of Earth (and England specifically) by the Martians.

It really is quite interesting to read this book knowing that it was written before World War 1 and the development of airplanes. The story of the Martian invasion and the reaction of the English people is really quite interesting and I’m very glad I finally read it.

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What he said, everybody!!

Craig Ferguson says it all so much better than I could ever hope to :


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The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story by Diane Ackerman

>> Friday, September 12, 2008

Genre: Non-Fiction
Publication Date: 2007
Pages: 423
Challenges:
A-Z Reading #41 (Z Title)

I first heard about this book when
Jenclair reviewed it last year. Since then I’ve seen several other positive reviews and the title made it perfect for the A-Z challenge.

For some reason I had been under the impression that this book was fiction, so I was a bit surprised when I went to find it at the library and it had a non-fiction call number. It’s the story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski and also of Warsaw during World War II. The book begins in 1935 and tells how Jan became the zookeeper at the Warsaw Zoo. When Germany invaded and the zoo was bombed, they stayed to try to care for the animals who had survived and ended up caring for both Warsaw and many of its Jewish citizens. The Nazis allowed the Zabinskis to use the zoo first as a pig farm and later as a fox fur farm to help feed and clothe their army.

Ackerman used Antonina’s diaries as a primary source for her story and while it does focus on her, there are many side stories of her husband’s activities in the Polish resistance as well as the many ‘guests’ who hid from the Nazis in their villa and the empty cages and enclosures at the zoo.

The book contains many powerful episodes of courage and sacrifice in the face of horrible circumstances. I found it to be a fascinating book.

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Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

>> Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Genre: Fiction
Publication Date: 1988
Pages: 462
Challenges:
Herding Cats #2

I read this book for the Herding Cats Challenge based on the recommendation by
3M. I really liked this book, but it's difficult to explain why. There's a lot that happens, but it's told in such a spare quiet remembrance of things past manner that it seems like there's not much happening at all.

Elaine Risley is a middle aged painter who's visiting her childhood home of Toronto for a retrospective showing of her work. While there she thinks back on her life and the book is the thoughtful telling of her current visit to Toronto intermingled with the intricate story of her past.

I liked Atwood's writing style in this one. The only other book of hers I've read is The Handmaid's Tale, but I intend to read more. When Elaine is telling about being a little girl and her friends it really struck a chord with me. Like Elaine I was more comfortable playing with my brother and his friends than I was with the girls in school and in our neighborhood. Atwood does an excellent job of telling the story of young girls and their peer pressure and cliques. Elaine's early childhood was not typical. Her father was an entomologist and the first 8 years of her life were unusual due to her family's traveling lifestyle. When the family settles in Toronto Elaine is introduced to the world of little girls and some of the ways that friends can be cruel to each other.

It's a different book, disturbing in places, amusing in others. My guess is that it's one that you either really enjoy or really dislike. I enjoyed it.

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Diana Lively is Falling Down by Sheila Curran

>> Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Genre: Fiction
Publication Date: 2005
Pages: 227
Challenges: TBR 2008 #11

The plot is just too convoluted to try to summarize myself, so I’ll take the easy way out and quote the publisher’s synopsis.

From the publisher:

Like the legendary London Bridge, Diana Lively has been transplanted from England to the Arizona desert.

Trained as an architect and top in her class, she makes dollhouses. Widowed at a young age, she distrusted people who were kind to her, and married Ted, the one man who wasn't. Maybe it's a good thing that Diana Lively's life is suddenly out of her control.

A brash American billionaire wants to put up a King Arthur Theme Park smack in the middle of the Arizona desert. With dollar signs dancing in its head, Oxford University is only too happy to send Ted Lively, their resident Arthurian expert, to consult on the project. There, in the most unlikely place, in the most surprising ways, Diana is about to discover that the happiness she thought was lost forever can shower down on her again, can flood her dry life like a lake in the desert, and make it bloom.

Oh, and Ted. Ted is about to discover that there is justice in the world...

At first I thought the reason that this book took longer than normal to read was because I’ve been so darn busy the past couple of weeks, but I really think that’s only partly the reason. Although I enjoyed parts of this book and some of the characters, there were other parts that just were too farfetched and didn’t work for me. All in all, I think my biggest issue was why, oh why, would the smart, compassionate Diana still be with AwfulTed. So what if they had kids. He’s horrible and mean to both Diana and the kids. I could almost believe it if he was only mean to Diana, but a mother who would put up with the character of Ted and the way he treated her children was just not believable, even in a book that you know going in will ultimately have a happy ending.

The plot is more complicated than the publishers summary indicates. It’s a very quirky book – part fantasy, part romance, part revenge, part environmentalist, part mystical, part comedy, way too much coincidence.

That all sounds like I really hated the book, but I didn’t. I was enjoyable as a bit of escapism in the midst of the very busy couple of weeks. There was no doubt that the ending would not be a downer, so the ride was enjoyable enough after I accepted the need to suspend some disbelief.

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The Queen of Denial


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