Thursday, February 28, 2008
Well, I've always been partial to Hermione. She's so smart, funny, and manages to keep Harry and Ron in line (and prevent them from failing their classes).
Another character that struck me was Anna from My Sister's Keeper (by Jodi Picoult). Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match so she could be a bone marrow donor for her older sister Kate, who suffers from leukemia. As a teenager, Kate sues her parents for medical independence so she can decide for herself whether to be a donor to Kate. Kate's life hangs in the balance as the court case proceeds. This was a compelling read and Anna's strength in the face of an impossible situation impressed me.
And finally, I have to add that I love Sabriel from the Abhorsen books by Garth Nix. She is just plain awesome, always kicking some Dead Hand and necromancer butt with her bells. (If that sounds at all intriguing, read the books.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Rusty is demonstrating the basic Sit technique. The cuteness in his eyes that makes it impossible to deny him anything comes extra.
Lie Down. The difference between this and Sit sometimes gets confusing, but once he figures it out, he does it so eagerly.
He's gotten really good at Wait. He gets so intent on resisting the treat that he will back away as you bring it closer to his nose. Up until he hears the magic word: Okay. Then he'll snatch it up in a second.
Okay, I promise something book-related tomorrow. After I run to stop Rusty, who's chewing up the carpet over the in the corner right now.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
This is puppy graduation. After 8 weeks of classes, Rusty is proficient in Sit, Stay, Leave It, Wait, Lay Down, and loose-leash walking (but the loose-leash walking is still kind of iffy).
I don't like to be that mom who brags about how her kid is smarter than all the other kids, but my puppy is pretty darn smart. He picked everything up really quickly. And it only took 4 tries to get this picture!
See, doesn't he look scholarly?
It wouldn't be graduation night without a kegger, would it? My naughty husband wanted to make sure Rusty didn't miss out on that all important graduation experience.
Don't forget to enter my fantabulous giveaway for my copy of Firefly Lane. I've got lots of entries, WILL YOU BE THE ONE???
Monday, February 25, 2008
Speaking of challenges, I'm looking at the pathetic number of books I've read this month. 7 so far. I really thought I was a reader, but it seems I'm not as productive as I thought. And I really do read in all my spare minutes! Except when I'm blogging of course. Guess I'll have to kick it up a notch.
Don't forget to enter my fantabulous giveaway for my copy of Firefly Lane.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
In 1974, Kate is the uncoolest of the uncool 8th graders. Her new neighbor across the street, Tully, however, seems to have it all together. She has the new clothes and freedom that Kate longs for. One night, however, Kate happens to be a listening ear for Tully and a friendship is born. Tully is constantly driven by a need to prove herself, and early in life, she sets her mind on being the greatest reporter in America. Kate is supposed to be right by her side, but Kate's dreams lead her towards getting married and starting a family. So although they go to college together, work their first jobs together, and both get involved with the same man, Kate ends up with a life of domestic bliss, while Tully works 17 hour days and becomes a celebrity.
This book is about the friendship between the two main characters, and there is a supporting cast, but they fade out compared to the amount of words spent on Kate and Tully. Hannah does a good job of setting the scene for the story, I liked the references to all of the music, clothes, haircuts, and celebrities of each era.
It was fun to watch the characters as they grow and change. A large part of this book revolved around the fact both Tully and Kate were jealous of what the other one had in life, even as they remain friends. Tully, never married, is jealous of Kate' s family while Kate, exhausted by the daily grind, sometimes wishes she had the money and fame that Tully has. Still, they manage to stay friends even though Tully is pretty ruthless and betrays Kate for a news story more than once.
Even at the end of the book, though, I didn't feel like I had much insight into the characters. They had this love triangle thing going on for most of the book, but it was kind of just there. Never explored fully, never really resolved fully. And Tully never does seem to learn how to really be a good friend to Kate. She kind of does what she thinks would be good, without ever really taking Kate's feelings into consideration.
If you are into this type of book, make sure to bring some hankies for the ending.
Now, would you like to have my copy of Firefly Lane? Leave a comment below, and I'll enter you into a drawing. Just enter by Friday, 2/29. Post a link on your blog (and let me know that you did) for an extra entry. Ready? Set. Go!
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Getting more paranoid. He’s not there when I’m eating and drinking, but when I’m in bed resting I see him in front of me, tall and white. He wraps himself around my face and I can’t talk or breathe. He makes this low menacing sound and that’s how I know Sitsit and Coffee are in danger. Struggle to talk and then Snatch disappears. I look around the room to see where he has gone, but everything smells normal. He disappears so quickly I can never see where he goes to.
Snatch winks at me and then tries to disappear but this time I see him and I grab. He winks again so I follow but he keeps out of my reach. I grab and spin. I have nothing but a single hair. I taste the hair in my mouth, but Snatch found some way to smell exactly like me. I keep looking, though. He likes to sneak up from the back.
Sitsit and Coffee are home now and they are sitting on the No No. I am talking to them but they don’t smell playful. So instead I am chewing and smelling. There is another smell by the No No. Snatch. I’m chasing him as fast as I have ever run before, and I clamp down. I have him in my mouth, so I shake him to make sure he stays away from Sitsit and Coffee. It hurts me to clamp down. I don’t know why. I hear Sitsit and Coffee making the playful noise again and I drop Snatch to look up. They are squeezing their eyes shut and shaking. I watch them carefully, but they don’t seem to understand that I’ve saved the day again from Snatch. Then Sitsit puts food in my dish and I eat. We go outside to walk. I don’t see Snatch.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Last night the husband and I watched 3:10 to Yuma, a western starring Christian Bale and Russell Crowe. I really enjoyed watching those two amazing actors take center stage. For a western, there was a lot of psychological warfare going on, as opposed to shoot-em-up action. I loved a lot of things about this movie, but at the same time, I really couldn't completely get into this movie. Everyone has a genre or two they just can't get into, and I guess westerns are mine. I don't like how grim they are, I don't get the motivations (it always seems to be about some weird honor code, being really manly and drinking lots of whiskey) and I hate how every always dies!! (Believe me I'm not giving anything away about the movie). I tried watching Tombstone, The Cowboys, and Legends of the Fall with my husband, but during each movie, I sat there the whole time, saying things like "Sweetie, why are they doing that? I don't get it! He wouldn't have died if he would have done this... Okay, I don't get why those guys are enemies!"
My favorite genre is and will probably always be SF. I think a lot of people feel the same way about SF as I do about westerns, so I have decided. I can not like westerns. And that can be just fine.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
I'm developing kind of a crush on Neil Gaiman. This is the third piece of his writing that I've read in a short period of time, and I loved it. Smoke and Mirrors is enjoyable for totally different reasons than American Gods or Anansi Boys, being that it is a collection of short stories. Consuming Gaiman in small bites is entertaining, funny, morbid, and sometimes hazardous to contented eating. (Consider this your warning before you start reading The Daughter of Owls or Only the End of the World Again).
Some of the stories are just plain entertaining, like Chivalry, a story about a woman who finds a grail in a second-hand shop, or The Price about a guardian cat. Other stories prattle on a bit without much of a point (The Goldfish Pond and Other Stories). I laughed out loud at Nicholas Was..., where we learn the truth about Santa Claus and his relationship with the infamous north pole elves.
I have a weakness for retellings of fairy tales, and so I loved his rewrite of Snow White Snow, Glass, Apples which reveals that Snow White was actually a blood-sucking vampire that the Queen had to kill in order to protect her kingdom. I also liked Troll Bridge, a sort of take on the Three Billy Goats Gruff.
There were a number of stories that had a more solid "message" behind them, like Babycakes (written for PETA, it speculates that once we run out of animals to eat, we'll turn to babies) or Foreign Parts (something long and boring about STDs), and they were, in my opinion, less entertaining.
A great feature about this book is the fact he wrote an extensive introduction explaining the backstories of each short story. You get a little peak into Gaiman's brain (the adjectives fun and disturbing both come to mind). Why don't all short story authors do this? It makes the reading experience even more enjoyable, learning what sorts of kooky things give authors their ideas. I've enjoyed my little jaunt into Gaiman-land, now I must leave it and venture into other new territories.
I opened it up, and it was from the First Look Bookclub that I had signed up for weeks ago and forgotten completely about. I had signed up, but I knew that it was kind of a lottery, so I didn't expect to get a book at all. So I didn't even write down my username and password. Making it hard to get back on the website!
So in the next few weeks, I'll be reviewing The Sister. I'm also finishing up Firefly Lane, and by tonight, I should be able to finish my review of Smoke and Mirrors.
It is my second to last day of work at the current job. I'm not too nostalgic yet, but probably next week I'll start missing my friends. Luckily we have some scrapbooking plans.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Up until the wedding, it was either wedding planning or marriage prep books. I still have a bunch on my shelf, but now its money books. I read Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover recently, and got all inspired to pay off debts with "gazelle-like intensity". I also enjoy biographies and/or autobiographies. I read Three Cups of Tea not too long ago, and it pretty much blew my socks off.
b) Would you like to review books concerning those?
I will review them on my blog if I do read them.
c) Would you like to be paid or do it as interest or hobby? Tell reasons for what ever you choose.
Sure, money's nice. I doubt my blog will be much of a money-maker for me, but it is a fun hobby.
d) Would you recommend those to your friends and how?
If the book is good, I will definitely recommend it. Talk to my poor husband. Every time I finish a good book, I'm there peddling it to him, "come on honey, this is a really good book, you should read it!"
e) If you have already done something like this, link it to your post.
Ummm... I read Eat, Pray, Love recently. Going back, I think that's about the only one.
f) Please don't forget to link back here or whoever tags you.
Melody, thanks for tagging me. I see I am about the last one doing this meme, so tag yourself if you haven't done it already.
Monday, February 18, 2008
Author: Orson Scott Card
Challenges: YA Challenge, Sci-Fi Experience, Margaret A. Edwards Challenge
Ender is a gifted kid. Really, really gifted. How gifted? At the age of 11, the fate of humankind rests on his ability to command an army.
This book is a study in army psychology as Ender is recruited at the tender age of 6 for the elite Battle School, where children are trained to fight against the Buggers, insectoid aliens who have twice invaded Earth and nearly wiped out humanity.
Ender is a genius among geniuses. Being prepped to be the commander of an army means that he is constantly up against mind games and impossible odds meant to force out his brilliance. His happiness is never is a part of the equation, so Ender spends a lot of time lonely, suffering, and in pain.
Ender has to fight for acceptance in his peer group, and before he has even had to time to enjoy the tenuous new friendships before he is promoted ahead of his classmates to one of the Battle School's armies, where he has to fight to prove himself yet again. Eventually, he is promoted to the commander of a new army, where he the rules are constantly changed to make the battles nearly impossible for Ender to win.
Large parts of the book are taken up by detailed descriptions of the null gravity battles that the students spent their times fighting. For this, and other reasons, this book reminds me of one of my favorite sci-fi classics, Starship Troopers. (Other similarities: Bugs in ST, Buggers in Ender's Game, similar philosophies about warfare).
He slid forward along the star, hooked his feet on the lip, and flipped himself up to the top wall, then rebounded down to E toon's star. In a moment he was leading them down against the south wall. They rebounded in near perfect unison and came up behind the two stars that Carn Carby's soldiers were defending. It was like cutting butter with a hot knife. Rabbit Army was gone, just a little cleanup left to do.
I really really enjoyed the majority of this book. I was hooked into it (it kept up me up reading late the other night). Ender is a interesting character, and the way he develops into a leader through his many trials is fascinating. The mind games they play on him are relentless, and even when forced to do things he finds abhorrent, he finds a way to keep himself from losing his humanity.
My only quibble came with the ending. In my head, I had the ending all worked out, and then I felt kind of let down by the direction it ultimately took. Despite that, I will be picking up the sequels at some point, because I want to see what happens next to Ender.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
The immense saloon of the club was quiet with dread. But outside they heard the hubbub of the crowd, above which was sometimes heard loud cries. They all shuddered, knowing the ancient evil of the undead that existed outside of the safety of the saloon. The pendulum of the clock was beating the seconds with mathematical regularity, and every player could count them as they struck his ear.
“Forty-four minutes after eight,” said John Sullivan, in a voice in which was heard an involuntary emotion. His daughter had been taken by zombies only months before.
One more minute and the bet would be won. The evil zombie lord that had they had sent off around the world on a bet would no longer have a stranglehold over London. Their children would be able to safely walk the streets again. Andrew Stuart and his colleagues played no longer. They were counting the seconds! Would freedom await them? Or death, under the hypnotic gaze of the zombie lord?
At the fortieth second, nothing. At the fiftieth, still nothing! The loudest beating was inside each man’s heart; the sound of death.
At the fifty-fifth, there was a roaring like that of thunder outside-shouts, hurrahs, and even curses kept up in one prolonged roll.
The players rose. Could fate cheat them this close to the end of the reign of the zombies?
At the fifty-seventh second, the door of the saloon opened, and the pendulum had not beat the sixtieth second, when Phileas Fogg appeared, followed by an excited crowd, and in his calm voice, he said:
“Gentlemen, here I am!”
Sadly, not a mortal man survived. Alive, anyhow.
Friday, February 15, 2008
And you thought seriously about what could pass the time a little quicker. I offer you this, my friend: pictures pass the time. Pictures of office supplies, arranged artistically. Truly, I feel a revolution in art form coming on. It's hip and trendy, yet harkens back to the days of yore, when a bowl of fruit, tastefully composed, could become high art. I feel a photo contest coming on. Opinions?
I call it "Springing out of words".
This one is creatively entitled: "Jewel-Go-Round"
Am I the only one who has ever been struck by the muses to photograph office supplies?
Thursday, February 14, 2008
So hurry up! It's not hard. I popped off two already, which I will no doubt share at some point for a Weekend Fiction Break. I know you all have immense piles of books, surely one of them can be spiced up by a zombie!
In non-Zombie news, the February Bookworms carnival is up! And it is pretty darn amazing. The host this month, Renay, put a lot of work into it. Check it out, and you'll be adding tons to your tbr pile.
Here’s something for Valentine’s Day.
Have you ever fallen out of love with a favorite author? Was the last book you read by the author so bad, you broke up with them and haven’t read their work since? Could they ever lure you back?
I loved Beauty, The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. Loved, loved, loved. Like reread constantly and did not get sick of them. It took me anther three books to realize I didn't like her other stuff. I didn't like The Outlaws of Sherwood, but I still went and purchased Spindle's End. Hated it. Checked out Rose Daughter from the library and couldn't finish it. I didn't want to give up on Robin McKinley, but to tell you the truth, I gave her three chances and my heart was just broken after that. Maybe a special valentine's day miracle will bring me back as a fan.
(Side note: I forgot it was Valentine's Day until I was looking at the BTT link. Don't tell my husband.)
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Author: Colleen Gleason
Challenge: The heck of it
Thanks to strong recommendations from Chris and Carl V, I did something I don't believe I've ever done in my life before. I entered the romance section of the library and picked up a book. I checked it out.
Thanks in part to a nasty stomach virus, I read this book instead of working yesterday and today. What did I think of my first foray into the romance section of the library?
This book does have some of the same conventions that annoy me about romance novels: a heroine that is entirely too modern-day for her time period, the age old choice between the dashing, wealthy man and the sexy loner, the racy sex scenes.
However, Gleason gives our heroine an excellent reason for her independent, modern attitude. She's a vampire-hunter in training, and between attending swanky balls she has to constantly make excuses in order to kick some vampire butt.
Victoria Grantworth learns that her family has a long legacy of vampire hunting, and accepts her role at first with little thought as to the consequences. Throughout the course of the book she learns that even though she is endowed with extraordinary strength to match that of the vampires, there will be sacrifices in this fight. Her love life, for example. Would the dashing Marquess of Rockley love her still if he knew she kills vampires for fun? Victoria has to decide. And although there is some (unsubtle) sexual tension between her and Max, the sexy loner I mentioned before (who also happens to be a vampire hunter), the author wisely doesn't force the situation to become sappy.
Consider it a strong endorsement that a NON-ROMANCE READER managed to relax into this book and enjoy it for what it is. I can't think of any other romance I've ever picked up and managed to read more than a few pages of. I will most likely even read the sequel. So go. Pick it up. There is fun to be had in this book.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Challenge: My Year of Reading Dangerously
I didn't want to miss out on discussing February's read for My Year of Reading Dangerously challenge, (like I did with Great Expectations), so I pushed myself to finish this ahead of other, lighter books. Reading this heavy examination of racial hatred, violence and victimhood is sort of like being the first responder to a car crash. There is nothing but ugliness there and you have to just push your thoughts aside in order to finish your work, but you feel pride in yourself after the job is over that you had the experience, though it isn't something you want to repeat.
I don't mean to make it sound like this is a terrible book, but it is really hard to read. The reader is dropped into the world of 12-year-old Pecola Breedlove, who as a young, poor, black girl has already seen so much ugliness in the world that it is a wonder she has survived to the age of 12 at all. Her alcoholic father and angry mother are constantly beating up on each other, her brother is always running away. Her only wish is to have blue eyes, so she can be beautiful, instead of ugly. She is tormented by children at school, ignored by white people, and treated with derision by most of the black people around her. The book is about the events that lead to her downfall.
The book alternates between the point of view of Claudia, the young narrator who describes her encounters with Pecola and an omniscient narrator who gives us the detailed history of some of the characters in the book. This format requires more thought as a reader to incorporate all of the events together, but even the passages that don't seem to make sense do relate back to the narrative eventually.
The narrative is relentless. It describes to us in graphic detail what Pecola’s life is like. When the new sofa is delivered and the fabric splits immediately, the store will not take it back because Pecola’s family is too poor and inconsequential to have that sort of pull:
You could hate a sofa, of course-that is, if you could hate a sofa. But it didn’t matter. You still had to get together $4.80 a month for a sofa that started off split, no good, and humiliating-you couldn’t take any joy in owning it. And the joylessness stank, pervading everything. The stink of it kept you from painting the beaverboard walls; from getting a matching piece of material for the chair; even from sewing up the split, which became a gash, which became a gaping chasm that exposed the cheap frame and cheaper upholstery.
Claudia describes a scene where she and her sister are visiting Pecola in the house where her mother is a servant for a white family. They are admiring a blueberry pie that Mrs. Breedlove recently took out of the oven when Pecola accidentally knocks it over. Mrs. Breedlove walks in and
In one gallop she was on Pecola, and with the back of her hand knocked her to the floor. Pecola slid in the pie juice, one leg folding under her. Mrs. Breedlove yanked her up by the arm, slapping her again, and in a voice thin with anger, abused Pecola directly.
This contrasts sharply with what happens when the young daughter of the white family, who witnesses this event, begins to cry.
Mrs. Breedlove turned to her. “Hush, baby, hush. Come here. Oh Lord, look at your dress. Don’t cry to more. Polly will change it.” She went to the sink and turned tap water on a fresh towel. Over her shoulder, she spit out words to us like rotten pieces of apple. “Pick up that wash and get on out of here, so I can get this mess cleaned up.”
See what I mean? It is painful to watch a mother abuse her daughter so thoroughly then comfort a little girl who is simply the child of her employer. These sort of abuses have been so deeply ingrained in Pecola that she is not only unsurprised at them, she seems to expect them.
When the violence is inflicted on Pecola that finally pushes her off the edge, Morrison writes the scene from the point of view of the person who victimizes her. So we don’t even experience the final indignity from her point of view. It is like Pecola is so worthless in the eyes of the world that she can’t even be dignified with a point of view.
So many people have complicity in Pecola’s downfall, black and white. I think this book is meant to push our noses into the ugliness of her situation and plead with us not to be a part of creating more Pecolas, to show us that we all have the potential to shape a child’s view of world with either a show of compassion or indifference. If you are up for it, this is a book that will challenge you. It is the sort of read not content to just push you a little outside of your comfort zone, but rather wants to grab you by the neck and lead you to a place where comfort zones don't exist. You may wrestle with this book. Why couldn't anyone show Pecola a little kindness? Why did the fulfillment of her desire for blue eyes have to come at such a high price? Why did the majority of the blacks look down on her?
But if you are like me and need your preconceived notions messed with every once in a while, this book is an excellent route to go.
Monday, February 11, 2008
So we finally decided where to go to celebrate my new job! Husband and I ended up going for sushi on Thursday night. We went to a little restaurant called Sushi Tango, and it was fabulous! We had scallops, spicy tuna, and striped seabass. Then we impulsively decided to drive around to look for a place to get dessert. We ended up going to a coffee shop that also serves crepes. Crepes!! I had a nutella crepe, which if I may say, is the most fantabulous delectable chocolately hazelnutty goodness this side of heaven. Then to top it off, some friends came to visit from out of town and they took us out to an Irish pub. So I ended up getting to celebrate twice. On Saturday I also had a great shopping success and have outfitted myself for the new job.
I was tagged by Eva for 10 Signs I've Written a Book, so here are the features of my future book (I think those are the rules?):
1. It will be science fiction or fantasy.
2. The main character will most likely be female. I find that I don't write male characters whenever I'm jotting down my story, I probably need more work there.
3. If I go the sci-fi route it will be some sort of adventure story. I have a lot of work to do on my action writing, though.
4. If I go the fantasy route, it will be involve magic of some kind, but it will be subtle, not Harry Potter style magic.
5. Right now I'm trying to hone my character-writing skills, so no matter what route I go, it will have interesting, rounded characters.
6. My future book will have a really interesting title. Like The Flying Monkey Warriors of Dol-ca-Set. Or something like that. Or maybe not like that at all.
7. My book, if fantasy, will probably be a retelling of a fairy tale. I love those! I would love to try my hand at one.
8. If I go the sci-fi route, the main characters will be teenagers. I want to know their take on living in the futuristic world I'm going to create for them.
9. My book will probably be rejected by at least 57 different publishing houses
10. But I will keep sending it in anyway. And it will be published eventually.
Tag you're it! I tag aaron, rhinoa, and debi. Feel free to participate as time and desire allows.
Oh, and I may have to write my book during nanowrimo this year. The idea of a whole book in one month sounds super-overwhelming, but it seems lots of people have done it, so why not me? Chris from Stuff as Dreams Are Made of has been telling me all about doing it last year. I'm not going to lie, it sounds kinda exciting. Let the research and outlines begin!!
Sunday, February 10, 2008
“How can I help you?” asked the secretary in clipped tones. The woman did not respond at first, her attention wandering around the room. Her eyes suddenly snapped back to the reception desk and she blushed deeply.
“Ummm… I’m here to see Tom Ciatta?”
The secretary resisted responding sharply with “Is that a question or statement?” and instead asked the young lady’s name.
The secretary scrolled through the computer. She took an extra moment longer than she needed. “Ah, Miss Hampton. He should be with you shortly. You can have a seat here.” She pointed towards a couch in the furthest corner from the reception desk.
A small squeak that could have been thank you escaped Glenda Hampton’s lips and she turned towards the couch indicated, docile as a sheep. Although there were magazines sitting on the table in front of her, she did not pick them up. She did not pull out a cell phone and start texting. She continued staring around the room, taking in the view. The room was not large, but it had been built and decorated to impress. The walls were painted a dramatic shade of blue, there was a tasteful arrangement of oversized seascapes for decoration. What was it exactly that pulled the entire thing together? Ah yes, the carpet, which was a sumptuous maroon and blue. Glenda searched the room carefully, noting that the outlets had a gold plating and the faux plant next to her had been dusted recently. The gold-plated outlets made her a bit nauseous. She thought about trying to run to the bathroom, but she wasn’t sure if she had the energy saved up to hassle with the receptionist again to find out where it was.
For her part, the receptionist went back to chatting online with her other bored receptionist friends. No one entered or left the reception area for a long time. The receptionist had learned how to look up automatically when she sensed movement, but the woman in the corner did not move much. So the receptionist did not notice when nearly an hour had passed and Glenda Hampton was still there.
Really, it was the arrival of the Executive Vice President who saved Glenda. He passed by the reception desk and nodded briefly at the receptionist. She looked up to accept his greeting (it wasn’t as if the Executive Vice President would ever greet her by name) and realized that the woman in the corner was still there. She was still doing nothing but looking around the room in something akin to real terror.
The receptionist looked down at her computer screen, where she had sent a message to Tom Ciatta over an hour ago. She had forgotten to check back, and her heart thumped loudly for a moment, but when she checked the dialogue box, his only response was okay. Okay could mean anything, and it certainly didn’t mean she should have done anything with Glenda Hampton. She typed Your guest is still waiting, but did not expect a response. Another moment passed, then she tried the phone.
To the receptionist’s surprise, Tom answered his phone himself. The receptionist was thrown off for a moment, but recovered and stated briskly that Glenda Hampton was waiting for him in the reception area.
An intake of breath on the other end, an overdone sigh. “Okay. Send her in.” His voice tone was as business-like as usual, but the receptionist could read volumes in his dramatic sigh. If it weren’t for the fact she had been working here now for some years now and was considered very discrete, he might have not relaxed enough to sigh at all. He had revealed everything in his sigh. She grinned a bit to herself. Now she felt for certain that her meanness was justified.
“Glenda Hampton?” she called loudly. Glenda Hampton startled and nearly fell out of her chair. She tripped on her way to the reception desk. “Tom will see you in his office. Go down the hall, take a left, and knock on the third door.” The receptionist looked back down at her computer almost instantly, but she saw out of the corner of her eye that Glenda Hampton had not moved. She was rooted to the spot and a tear was dribbling from her eye. When she noticed the receptionist staring at her, she wiped her eyes, then passed through the doorway.
The receptionist sorted through a few drawers for a slip of paper. While compulsively organized, she had not pulled this one out for several months. It was not titled and contained a short list of names.
The receptionist waited. She surfed the internet, idly. Fifteen minutes, perhaps, went past. Glenda Hampton returned, but now the dribble of tears had become a fountain, and her pale face was a deep red. “There’s a bathroom down the hall,” called the receptionist and pointed. The woman seemed to no longer be able to see, but she did turn and stumble off in that general direction. The receptionist shook her head slowly, smiling as if she had eaten a particularly delicious treat.
The receptionist had not once had any compunction about politely informing the other three people from her list that Tom was out of the office even if she knew for a fact he was there. As an alternative, she especially enjoyed offering to connect them and then hanging up. They were persistent, but they all gave up eventually. They realized soon enough that both Tom Ciatta’s marital status and his promises of a shared life in a mansion by the ocean were not to be.
A few moments passed and the young crying woman came to the reception desk again. Her face was a little less red, now. She looked, for all the world, as if she’d recovered some confidence. She stood in front of the receptionist for a moment, as if gathering herself to do battle. The receptionist felt a flutter of nervousness. She didn’t like being confronted with Tom’s drama in person when there was no way to hang up the phone.
“Tell Tom,” said Glenda Hampton, “tell him something from me. He didn’t have time to listen, but I’m pregnant. I’m not planning on asking for money, because he’d find a way not to give it to me. But I just wanted him to know and I’m tired of being hung up on.” Then she marched away.
The receptionist did not message Tom. She did not call Tom. He would later ask her if Glenda Hampton had said anything on her way out, but she would answer in the negative. Instead, she took her list and added a name.
Glenda Hampton, it said at the bottom. The receptionist smiled a bit, then folded her list back up and placed in a drawer.
Saturday, February 9, 2008
Challenge: Mythopoeic Award Challenge
I really liked American Gods, so I wasn't sure what to expect from this book. Sometimes you read a book by an author you really like and they write another book that ends up being a retread of the previous book. And then you feel cheated. Anansi Boys, however, did not disappoint. It is similar to American Gods only in the fact that both contain gods (and the always-charming Mr. Nancy). Everything else - tone, length, characters, plot - is completely different. You wouldn’t have to read American Gods to understand Anansi Boys, and even elements that occurred in the first book (the world that the gods inhabit, dead characters, the interaction between gods and people) are handled differently so that everything is still fresh and interesting.
Anansi Boys turns its focus exclusively to the African pantheon of gods. Anansi, the trickster spider god is dead, and Fat Charlie, his straight-laced, somewhat bumbling son learns not only that his dad was a god, but that he has a brother he has never met before.
Where American Gods is serious, this book is light-hearted and nimble. Fat Charlie's brother, Spider is a stitch. Endowed with the powers of the gods, a trickster god as a father, and a large sense of his own self-important, he is cocky, charming, and not the type of houseguest you’d want. Especially when he pretends to be Fat Charlie and starts putting the moves on Fat Charlie’s fiancée, Rosie.
Spider was sitting at the kitchen table, enjoying a steak large enough for two people.
"Where did you get that from?" said Fat Charlie, although he was certain he already knew....
"It was in the fridge."
"That," declared Fat Charlie, wagging his finger like a prosecuting attorney going in for the kill, "that was the steak I bought for dinner tonight… for me and Rosie. The dinner I was going to be cooking for her! And you’re just sitting there like a, a person eating a steak, and, and eating it, and-“
“It’s not a problem,” said Spider
“What do you mean, not a problem?”
“Well,” said Spider, “I called Rosie this morning already, and I’m taking her out to dinner tonight. So you wouldn’t have needed the steak anyway.”
Fat Charlie opened his mouth. He closed it again. “I want you out,” he said.
“It’s a good thing for man’s desire to outstrip his something or other – grasp or reach or something – or what else is Heaven for?” said Spider, cheerfully, between mouthfuls of Fat Charlie’s steak.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“It means I’m not going anywhere. I like it here.”
After Spider uses his god-powers to kick Fat Charlie out of his own home while he romances Rosie, Fat Charlie flies back to his hometown to get some wisdom on how to get rid of Spider. He makes a deal with one of the ancient animal gods to get Spider out of his life but gets more than he bargained for when masses of birds start attacking the two of them. This sets off a set of adventures where Fat Charlie and Spider have to work together to stay alive.
This is a book with vivid characters and an offbeat sense of humor. The relationship between Spider and Fat Charlie is funny and touching. Things might get dangerous, but if the two brothers can learn to work together, they can save the day and their respective women from mortal peril. Neil Gaiman is a new favorite of mine, so I have to give a special thank you to the bloggers who introduced me to his work.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Wendy at caribousmom is giving away Lisey's Story by Stephen King on Valentine's Day
If you are participating in the YA Challenge, and linked a post in January, Joy is giving away a signed copy of Violet on the Runway by Melissa Walker. Click here for details.
Like I mentioned before, Renay is hosting the February Bookworms Carnival, so send her your submissions asap before the 8th. Her theme is speculative fiction and she has 12 submissions so far, so look through your blog, people and help her out! If you promote the carnival on your blog, you can be entered to win 2 free books.
Stephanie at The Written Word is giving away a copy of The Friday Night Knitting Club at her blog, plus a Starbucks gift card! Just post a comment at her post here.
Okay, even I can’t read ALL the time, so I’m guessing that you folks might voluntarily shut the covers from time to time as well… What else do you do with your leisure to pass the time? Walk the dog? Knit? Run marathons? Construct grandfather clocks? Collect eggshells?
Well first of all, when I'm not reading, I'm trying to keep my blog updated. And when I'm not doing either of those two things, I might be writing, or playing with my puppy, or hanging out with my husband. Ever once in a while, when I really get a burst of energy, I scrapbook. I always get to where I'm about a year behind, then stop until I'm so far behind it isn't funny.A hobby I've gladly given up now is TV. After graduating college just over a year ago, I started watching too much of it (out of reflex, I suppose since I actually had the time). Luckily, the writer's strike, then my start into blogging means I haven't watched an episode of TV in weeks. I don't even miss it! So writers, feel free to keep striking. You're letting the rest of us get on with our lives.
Challenge: In Their Shoes Challenge
I first heard about this book when Oprah was interviewing Elizabeth Gilbert on her show, and my initial thought was “yeah it would sure be great to have the time and money to just up and travel around the world for a year,” which is what Gilbert did when she was attempting to recover from a bitter divorce and her ensuing depression. I wrote this book off thinking that it sounded awfully frivolous. However, it ended up in my tbr pile thanks to my aunt loading me up with a pile of books, and I’m glad I read it. Gilbert is a terrific and very relatable writer and what sticks out during this memoir she wrote about her journey towards spiritual recovery is that she not only funny, but very very honest about herself, her struggles, and her passions in life.
Gilbert embarked on a year traveling to Italy, India, and Indonesia in order to find inner peace to recover from her demons. In each respective country she had a different focus, and they are (you’ll never guess this one): eating, prayer, and love.
I visited Italy for one short week while studying abroad, so I really enjoyed the section where she describes wandering the streets of Rome, eating gelato and pasta every day, making new friends with the Italians she meets, learning Italian and in essence studying pleasure. “Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing here, I admit it. While I have come to Italy in order to experience pleasure, during the first few weeks I was here, I felt a bit of panic as to how one should do that…. When I realized that the only question at hand was, “How do I define pleasure?” and that I was truly in a country where people would permit me to explore that question freely, everything changed. Everything became… delicious. All I had to do was ask myself every day, for the first time in my life, “What would you enjoy doing today, Liz?”
Gilbert does a wonderful job of incorporating personal insights like that into stories of the friends she makes, and reflections on the country and the language she’s learning. She describes the pure pleasure of buying an asparagus from a street vendor, speaking the whole time in Italian, a language she hadn’t spoken a word of only a few months ago.
Finally, after 4 months in Italy, she has finally begun to recover mentally and physically (putting on 35 pounds!). She then flies off to India to spend time at an ashram (basically a place to meditate for hours and learn about Yoga).
The middle section is my least favorite in the book. I lost interest partly because she narrows her focus to her own spiritual insights to the exclusion of all the interesting anecdotes and insight about living in another culture I liked so much before. But I also found her theology, a conglomerate of different Yogic ideas, and a healthy dose of whatever-floats-your-boat must be God grating. I’m all for understanding and acceptance among different religions, but she basically creates her own religion out of a mish-mash of different ideas she liked. The one redeeming part of this section is her friendship with Richard from Texas, who gives her both the nickname Groceries and sage advice with a touch of gruffness like this: “Groceries, baby, listen to your friend Richard. You go set you lily-white ass down in that meditation cave every day for the next three months and I promise you this-you’re gonna start seeing some stuff that’s so damn beautiful it’ll make you wanna throw rocks at the Taj Mahal.”
Finally Gilbert makes it to Indonesia, where we get back to the lovely writing that drew me in to the book in the first place. She has a knack for bringing the friends she made on her trip to life in a believable manner. The medicine man who gives her direction at a critical time in her life. The healing woman who is on the verge of poverty but manages to adopt two street children because she can’t bear to see them abandoned. My favorite character, though, is the Brazilian man who she gradually allows herself to fall in love with, after finally coming to terms with the broken relationships she’s had in the past. Her time in Bali sounds so beautiful and carefree, I want to give up my career and move there myself.
So if you find yourself in the mood for traveling, but don’t have the time to take off a year, read Eat, Pray, Love instead.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Where should my husband and I go out to celebrate? Poll time!
B. Irish pub
And lest I forget to mention, the February Bookworms Carnival deadline is almost up. This month, the theme is speculative fiction, and you can find out all the information on what posts to submit here.
Monday, February 4, 2008
Well first of all, I've reviewed Great Expectations and found it enjoyable. I seem to have gotten into a habit of writing my reviews the way I wrote papers in college. I think I need to learn brevity.
Husband and I have new gym memberships at the Y and so far we've 0nly lost our membership cards once in the 2 weeks we've been enrolled. Stupid insurance plan doesn't give us the discount we were counting on, but we finally decided to bite the bullet and enroll anyhow.
You'll have to wait a big more for my review of Smoke and Mirrors, but now that I've written my massive thesis of a review of Great Expectations, I can work on it.
What else am I forgetting? Oh yes, computers. I have a new one at work. Everything is supposed to upgrade and transfer and be so much easier and more streamlined, right? Ha. I've lost all my old emails (again) and I'm struggling with Outlook 2007. The moment where it just about went out the window came shortly before I learned that that "Groups" and now called "Distribution Lists" (HUH????) Still I'm grateful. I really am. I also really love the fact I can't download anything now, my photo printing program won't work, and I am stuck using Internet Explorer 6, not Firefox or at least Internet Explorer 7. Thank you, computer gods!
In happier news, I received my first ever advance review copy yesterday, of Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah. Reviews to come!
Challenge: My Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge, Chunkster Challenge
In the introduction to my edition of Great Expectations, it mentions that in its day, it was considered a compact novel. For me the idea of Great Expectations as compact is laughable. It’s a chunkster, a challenging read that requires more thought. So I’ve finished at last, not on time for My Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge, but still finished none the less. I knew the main plots points already (thanks to a Junior Reader edition as a child), but I never understood the motivation behind Miss Havisham, why Pip fell in love with Estella, or what exactly the deal was with that convict.
But before we get to that, let’s start at the beginning. Pip, born into poverty and raised with a great deal of abuse by his older sister, is still content with life because of the beautiful friendship shown to him by his sister’s husband, Joe. Joe is a blacksmith, and not the most refined person, but he unfailingly shows kindness to Pip and always tries to balance out the abuse he suffers from his sister.
Pip’s life is shaped by a number of significant events, but the first one I’ll mention is his introduction to the eccentric but wealthy Miss Havisham. She is a bitter, vengeful old woman, who was spurned on the eve of her wedding and from that moment on, never took off the bridal gown or changed anything in the entire house (including the rotting cake-ew!). She invites Pip over as a playmate for her adopted daughter, Estella. Miss Havisham’s motives for inviting Pip over are not clear at first, but the effect on Pip is immediate. He and Estella are instructed to play together, and she begins teasing him almost immediately over his “coarse hands and thick boots.” Pip, never having spent time around wealth, has never noticed that he is poor. But after Estella’s comments to him, he reflects that:
“… my young mid was in that disturbed and unthankful state that I though long after I laid me down, how common Estella would consider Joe, a mere blacksmith: how thick his boots, and how coarse his hands. I thought how Joe and my sister were then sitting in the kitchen, and how Miss Havisham and Estella never sat in a kitchen, but were far above the level of such common doings.”
From that time on, Pip is bothered by the differences between himself and Estella. He falls in love with her immediately and longs to improve himself to the point where he will be worthy of her.
Pip also begins to see everyone around him differently. Pip tries teaching Joe how to read and write, but admits the reason is that “I wanted to make Joe less ignorant and common, that he might be worthier of my society and less open to Estella’s repproach.”
Though he does not see Estella again for a long time, she grows in his mind into a kind of obsession. He is no longer satisfied by being apprenticed to Joe as a blacksmith, and his modest home seems unworthy for his dream girl.
Just as he has resigned himself to the life of a blacksmith, his life is again affected by a stranger, the lawyer Mr. Jaggers, who brings news that he has come into some great expectations from a mysterious benefactor. Now that he is wealthy, he must leave his childhood home for London to be properly educated as a gentleman. It is hard to imagine in today’s world that a child should be taken from his parents simply because he has been given money, but in the more class conscious Victorian society, that must have been the only acceptable way. Pip reacts first with foreboding, then anticipation, as it occurs to him that Miss Havisham might be the founder of his fortune and even better, might intend for he and Estella to be together. Happy in that assumption, he soon begins to feel as if he deserved his rise in fortune, even as he enjoys the power that his new-found wealth brings.
Magnanimously, Pip promises to never forget Joe, but during his whirlwind time of wealth, he hardly visits Joe again. Upon his arrival in London, Pip befriends another young man his age named Herbert Pocket, and they both begin to put themselves into serious debt. Secure that he will inherit significant money someday, Pip hardly thinks of dropping money on fancy clothes, servants, jewelry, and food. He describes being one of the young rich in the city: “We spent as much money as we could, and got as little for it as people could make up their minds to give us. We were always more or less miserable, and most of our acquaintances were in that same condition. There was a gay fiction among us that we were constantly enjoying ourselves, and skeleton truth that we never did.”
Pip’s grand fortune is proved to be a house of cards when his mysterious benefactor chooses to reveal himself as Magwitch, a convict who was exiled to New Zealand. As a boy, Pip once stole food from his house to give to Magwitch, and impressed by the small boy’s generosity, Magwitch dedicated his time in exile to building wealth in order to make Pip a gentleman. Pip is horrified by Magwitch. He first mourns that he was never intended for Estella, and then wishes “that he [Magwitch] had left me at the forge-far from contented, yet, by comparison, happy!”
Throughout Pip’s entire life, he has spent his time trying to improve his own station in life, and has managed to justify to himself the decisions he makes, especially his betrayal of Joe. But when he realizes where his fortune came from, he makes what he considers his only good deed, by assisting his friend Herbert in obtaining a good job.
When Pip first describes his encounter with Magwitch, he is completely repulsed by him and horrified that his fortune is due to a convict. I was happy to see that throughout the end of the book, Pip’s attitude gradually changes towards Magwitch. “For now, my repugnance toward him had all melted away, and in this hunted wounded shackled creature who held my hand in his, I saw only a man who had meant to be my benefactor, and who had affectionately, gratefully, and generously toward me with a great constancy through a series of years. I saw in him a much better man than I had been to Joe.”
At Pip’s very darkest hour, when he is arrested for his debt, Joe comes to help him and pay off his debt. He goes into business with his friend Herbert, taking the lowly position of clerk, but describes finding at last a snatch of happiness. “… I lived happily with Herbert and his wife, and lived frugally, and paid my debts, and maintained a constant correspondence with… Joe…. We were not in a grand way of business, but we had a good name, and worked for our profits, and did very well.”
Pip could have learned a lesson or two from the Biblical parable of the Prodigal Son who demanded his inheritance, then squandered it in easy living, eventually caring for pigs and finally returning home expecting to be shamed only to find his father preparing a great feast for him. Pip goes through many of the same experiences in his rise to wealth and his squandering of his money, and finds a similar outcome to the Prodigal Son when Joe still welcomes him back despite Pip’s unfaithfulness. Pip doesn’t find true happiness until he has experienced the upper class life and come full circle back to working for a living.
I could write pages analyzing this book. But I have no doubt that others have already written long theses on this book so I will try to keep the rest of what I say about the book brief.
The most eccentric character from the book, of course, is Miss Havisham. The fact she was jilted as a bride seemed to cause such psychological trauma that she remained ruined through the rest of her life. It seems crazy to me that no one tried to help her or discourage her from her funk, but it seems that the wealthy of that era were allowed to go along in their eccentricities no matter what harm they brought to themselves. As a very old woman, she finally seems to realize how she had poisoned Estella, when Estella points out to her that she was raised to be proud and cold, and couldn’t be expected to suddenly be capable of love. Pip realizes that Miss Havisham’s only motive in having him play with Estella as a child was to teach Estella to be a proud heartbreaker. At last, Miss Havisham is beyond redemption seemingly, although she does at last realize and regret her harm to Estella.
Estella, for her part, knowingly marries a cruel man for her own reasons. After his death, she is finally reunited with Pip and seems at last able to work things out with him. Interestingly, when Dickens first wrote the novel, he did not intend for Pip to end up with Estella, but was persuaded to rewrite it at the last minute. Even in the new ending, it doesn’t tell us much information aside from Pip commenting that “I saw no shadow of parting with her.” No dramatic kiss, no loving platitudes.
Despite my earlier complaints about slogging through the book, I really did enjoy this read. I was so happy to see that Pip finally learns his lesson that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence, and that he protects Magwitch from knowing that his dreams of making Pip into a gentleman will soon be dashed. I probably wouldn’t have picked up this book if not for My Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge, so thank you to the gals at Estella’s Revenge.
Sunday, February 3, 2008
I am smiling. I am chuckling enthusiastically at Nana’s anecdotes as if I did care indeed that Martha’s had her 2nd knee replacement and Therese’s been spotted with a new boyfriend only 5 months after being widowed. Sadly my facial projections are about as authentic as Nana’s dentures.
There’s an elbow stuck into my still tender from previous nudges. “B-45. B-45,” Nana whispers vigorously. “You’ve got a Bingo!” Louder she yells “BINGO!”
Oh God. The caller is congratulating me and I must come to the front of the room for my prize. I stand. And realize that my armpits are slick with sweat, and it has seeped through my button-down shirt like a slimy sweat demon has crawled out of my pores and spat the remains of its last victim up and down the inside of my arms. I glue my arms as stiffly as possible to my sides as I can. I am walking, but my legs are wobbling; my ankles can hardly support my weight atop my heels. Still, they are propelling me towards the meat tableau on the prize table. Despite the vacuum packing on the turkeys and chickens and venison, there is a vigorous odor that hits me, of decaying, dead carcasses bloated, full of rot. Blank eyes rolling towards me, mouths gaping in pain. I wish I was a vegetarian with an ethical reason to turn down my prize.
There is a woman at the prize table wearing a purple sweatshirt, and her fingernails are red. She is digging amongst the carcasses for mine. My prize. Her hands emerge, and she has a chain of small blackish-brown links in her fingers. They hang before me, a string of cat-droppings. “Here you go sweetie,” she says, her voice syrupy. She instructs me to put my name on a small label, so that I can redeem my prize later. The label in small letters spells out my brand of poison. Blood Sausage. My stomach is considering how the contents feel about returning to the surface. I scribble my name. I picture returning home tonight.
Mom, I went to Bingo night, and I won poop. I mean blood sausage.
Saturday, February 2, 2008
Despite Minnesota's reputation as the land of ice-fishers and hicks, we do have plenty of culture, the Minnesota Orchestra being a great example. When I saw in the newspaper that they had brought back their popular Star Trek-themed concert series, I bought tickets that day. I'm a normal, sane, mature woman who happens to enjoy Star Trek. Okay, I'm a Trekkie. And a sci-fi junkie. And I love a good concert. So this just seemed like a good combination for me.
Husband and I arrived to the concert about an hour early to make sure we didn't miss the costume contest.
I was thoroughly entertained before I even made it to the concert. Tables were set up with different Star Trek and Sci-Fi themed books, and we even saw an original Viewmaster, with Star Trek images (in 3-D!!).
Words really fall short of describing listening to the Minnesota Orchestra perform. They started out by wowing the crowd with the TOS theme song (when performed live, it sounds so much less cheesy!). Everyone cheered, then the host for the night came out to introduce himself. Yes, George Takei AKA Sulu was the host for the night. The next song then took us on a voyage through the solar system with Holst's The Planets. (Sidenote: I can never listen to that suite without flashing back to a high school class where we watched a video of The Planets, narrated by Patrick Stewart. When it came to "Mars The Bringer of War" movement, there was the dramatic opening music.... and Patrick Stewart's voice: "MAHS!!!! The Bringer of War!!" Okay perhaps it wasn't mature of us to make fun of British accents, but for the rest of the school year we would all go up to each other and say: "MAHS!! The Bringer of War!!" in our best Patrick Stewart voices.)
We ended our tour of the solar system with Clair de Lune by Debussy, a poetic imagining of the moon as a beautiful, romantic place, contrasting, as George Takei told us, with the reality of the moon, which is that is a lifeless, windswept rock. Clair de Lune is a beautiful and haunting song, especially accompanied by images of the moon.
Last before intermission was the theme of E.T., and we were brought back to 1984, when a cute alien won our hearts with his small vocabulary and love for Reese's Pieces. If only all life's problems could be solved by flying away on a bicycle.
During intermission, Husband and I partook in the drink specials, he with a Romulan Ale, I with a Samurian Sunrise.
The second half of the concert was definitely my favorite. We were whisked off to 2001: A Space Odyssey with it's famous opening song (AKA Also Sprach Zarathustra), and the song that Stanley Kubrick used to accompany the images of weightlessness, The Blue Danube. (Although if you grew up with the Looney Toons like me, you'll probably picture Elmer Fudd.)
Then we learned how music can help us communicate with aliens in the theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The conductor taught us the symbols that go along with the 5 famous notes so that if we happened to be followed home that night, we'd be able to greet the otherworldly visitors properly.
At last, we reached the part of the concert I'd been anticipating the most. First was an arrangement of different Star Trek themes, the most prominent being The Original Series and The Next Generation. Hearing the song performed live and by a masterful orchestra no less brought up lots of happy memories. Despite the cheesiness, despite the poor writing in an episode or two (or three), I grew up fascinated by Star Trek.
Curiously, even though this concert was focused more towards the Trekkies, the best music of the night was the theme from the original Star Wars movies, followed by the Duel of the Fates from Episode I. Much as I despise Episode I, that song along almost makes the ensuing mess of plotlines and terrible dialog worthwhile. And the original Star Wars theme music is so dramatic, its hard not to enjoy it. I grew up on Star Wars, so as the music played, my mind conjured up images of: that blue script marching across the movie screen, "Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope", Han Solo frozen in carbonite, Darth Vader, and of course "Luke... I am your father..."
I can't stress enough how much fun this concert was. If it comes back next year, I'll be buying tickets again, even if the concert line-up stayed exactly the same. If you live in the Twin Cities and ever watched Star Trek or Star Wars, definitely look for this concert next year.