Monday, December 31, 2012

Dec. 31: Thank You, Goodreads!

I just got a "like" from Goodreads on a book I couldn't even remember, so I checked out the review and suddenly remembered which book it was, and that I'd loved it, and I even thought I'd done a good job writing the review itself. . .  so all around, a little "up" from Goodreads! Here's the review:

My Dream of YouMy Dream of You by Nuala O'Faolain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have read her first book, a memoir, and then Julie sent me "My Dream of You" in the Bodacious Box of Books, and I loved it. It's long, and starts pretty slowly, seeming like one of those novels in which the main character keeps doing dumb and self-destructive things again, again, and again. . . but then it had bolts of humor, and some characters who offered insight and common sense, and the main character seemed to be growing and learning from her dumb actions, and I ended up reading it in about three days and really enjoying it. I know a little about Irish history, and O'Faolain's stories helped me understand a little more about (HUGE GENERALITY COMING! SORRY!) what makes "the Irish experience" what it is--I knew the Famine was bad, but parts of this story tie into the fact that the enclosure movement took advantage of the Famine, so that the native Irish were too weak to resist. People were living in holes in the ground! There were dead bodies lying along the roads! And many of the English landlords viewed the native Irish people as vermin. WOW.

BUT that's not even really the focus on the novel, and I think O'Faolain took a huge risk in all the strands she brought together--Kathleen's historical research, her family's immediate history (mother's death and father's behavior), and her life as she turns 50--but I think it works. It's a sad but a healing book--"bittersweet," I think. And I don't think I'd've liked it when I was younger--under 40, say. But I certainly did like it at this stage of my life.

Sad to find out that Nuala O'Faolain died in 2008 of cancer, discovered only 3 months earlier, but good to know she died after a last trip to various countries with some of her siblings. AND that there was a big funeral for her in Dublin and the streets were filled.

I loved the old priest's advice to Kathleen: "Do the thing that's less passive," he had said. "Do the active thing. There's more of the human in that." (509)

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And I do have to review (I think) my yearly re-read of Rosamund Pilcher's Winter Solstice, and I have a feeling I have one other book I read and forgot, but I am in need of a new one. Until I regroup financially I don't want to buy anything, but I would like both the new Barbara Kingsolver and the new Anne Lamott, which I thought I'd find under the tree. HOWEVER, Mom gave me money and I won $20 on a scratch ticket (!!) which would about bankroll two new books.  Still, I think I'll go to the Library today for a free check out. The print out that comes with checking out a book says that I've saved $1599 this year, and it would be fun to push it over the top to the $1600 category!

We have had two big, all-snow, and perfectly timed snow storms in the past week: 10" on the 27th and 12" (here; about 6" in Lewiston) on the 29th/30th, so it is a winter wonderland. Due to get cold tomorrow, so I think I'll take Saki out sledding if she's interested TODAY. Still no snow boots in my life. . . maybe I'll stop by Reny's and see what's on offer.

ETA: We had a lovely time, even scoring Nate as company! What great conditions and fun.

2012 has been a big year, but I really think almost every year is! My resolutions are to stretch more (both physically and mentally--travel and experiences!) and to write at least one political letter/month about gun regulations. AND to finish Moth's sweater.


Winter SolsticeWinter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love this book, and I read it almost yearly. While it glorifies many aspects of life and smooths over others (grief, for example: I don't understand how Oscar could function two months after his loss; a year might be more realistic and certainly give Elfrida more reason to feel it's time for him to move on to healing), relies on "deus ex machina" and various other flaws. . . . it's a good-hearted, warm, nicely written book for an Anglophile in a cold climate, and it nicely fills that "I have nothing to read" gap that often springs up around Christmas!

I remember giving my grandmother a large print copy for Christmas a year or so before she died; I got my copy at a church rummage sale (note the theme! I do this a lot and win a few, lose a few) and it's a lovely hardback that stays open nicely for knitting. Now that I think about Rosamund Pilcher, I wonder if there's a movie version of this bobbing around the UK somewhere.

Anyway. A highly recommended book for people who want the cockles of their hearts warmed but also have some literary standards. Highly enjoyable. Read #4, or so!

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Dec. 22: On Vacation at Last!

The FitzOsbornes at War (The Montmaray Journals, #3)The FitzOsbornes at War by Michelle Cooper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The final installment of the FitzOsbornes saga was the heftiest, but it also flew by the fastest. Cooper did a great job finishing up the story--as several reviewers have remarked, it's hard to go into much detail for fear of spoilers, but many of the lines fell where I'd hoped, though there were some devastating surprises.

Overall, I felt like I had a whole new understanding of what the war was like for the citizens of England. While Angela Thirkell's books go more into the "mom details" of trying to feed people on rations, etc., Cooper seems to capture the way younger women felt at the time.

I do have one spoiler question that I will ask as circumspectly as possible: who are the parents of the two year old mentioned at the end? There's one mention of a father that's dropped into the text and then never mentioned again, and Sophie is usually so open that I was confused. Hmmm. May have to reread.

Our librarian mentioned that she was going for the Downton Abbey crowd when she bought those. Hmmmm. I know I loved 'em, and I am stuck on disc 2 of season 1 of DA!

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A Christmas Beginning: A Novel (Christmas Stories, #5)A Christmas Beginning: A Novel by Anne Perry
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I think this is the second Anne Perry Christmas novel (tho maybe not. Maybe it's another Victorian era writer whose work I dissed earlier--I will check). Found this one at the church rummage sale and thought I'd try 50 cents' worth of Christmas cheer.

It wasn't even 5 cents' worth, though I did read it as my first vacation book (didn't have time to get to the library before it closed and I was feeling lost, having finished Michelle Cooper's FitzOsborne series). It involved Runcorn and a grisly murder, much class distinction and subjugated desire. . . . very little plot and even less suspense. The case is solved through sudden revelations that seem to have no lead-in and very little context.

I'd ask for my 50 cents back, but the church is a good cause!

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Lyle is home; did some pleasant shopping; had a nice time at the AFS Progressive Dinner and got to see my sweet little "niece" who has had a long, hard bout with mono and is feeling pretty discouraged. We'll do something together over the week and see if we can just cheer her up!

Hey, guess what? No school till the WED. of the New Year!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Dec. 15: Heartbreak and Escapism

A dichotomy of a day: lovely, cold weather; lovely family time; satisfying sewing time as I finished Caroline's pj pants and am VERY satisfied with them; lovely tree put up; delicious dinner--and then the news of the shooting in Newtown and the horrible sense of devastating guilt: guilt for our happiness, my happiness, in the face of this horror, and then the anger and guilt for our national refusal to *do* anything about the proliferation of guns in our nation. The NRA and Second Amendment boosters can put up the notes about guns not killing people and spoons making people fat, but the statistics are out and they are damning. And yet--it's our children, our six year old children, and five or so teachers, some of them in their twenties!, who are dead, and each time we say we should do something (or declaim the fact that we don't have to do anything, because it's not our fault), and nothing changes. I am heartsick. When I think about it too much, I cry. . . so I'll post my books, and get ready to write my letters to my representatives, and I'll cling to the idea that treasuring good moments is the only possible response in the moment.

Hug your family. And send thoughts--prayers--whatever you call them--to the families in Newtown. And consider a letter or an email, maybe even one/month until something changes.

The FitzOsbornes in Exile (The Montmaray Journals, #2)The FitzOsbornes in Exile by Michelle Cooper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, Michelle Cooper has me hooked. My reservations about the whole situation being ripped off from Dodie Smith and I Capture the Castle have faded, even tho the first sentence of this one, book #2, is credited to that novel! The book combines a lot of political history (the situations are mostly accurate, even tho Montmaray is fictional), a nuanced coming-of-age story, and a British society gossip fest. . . . and I am delighted that each book is longer than the other, and I have the final book, The FitzOsbornes at War (I think that's the title!) in my book bag!

Highly recommended for Anglophiles, smart y.a. readers, and fans of Dodie Smith, Jane Austen, and/or Cold Comfort Farm.

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My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I sprinted through this one because it was late back to the library and also because I want to get to the third Montmaray novel, so perhaps I didn't give it a good chance, but this is a typical McCall Smith/Isabel Dalhousie novel: slow moving, thoughtful, predictable, full of unusual ideas and vocabulary (in what other book would "meretricious" be used twice?). McCall Smith has some good things to say about the importance of love and beauty, good food and appreciation. Though this one was not particularly outstanding in any way, I enjoyed this outing with Isabel. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dec. 13: Not Even A Weekend!

Whew. Actually left school at just about 3 today, having had a few moments to deal with some loose ends and actually see Mark A for a conversation about Google docs and such. Came home and whisked Zdog out for a long overdue walk--sun setting around 3:35 as I put on my reflective vest! It was lovely along the river with the gloaming settling in: cold, but no wind. We went nearly 40 mins, and then I settled in with the Ellsworth American and a cup of tea when we got home. I've finally finished a big stack of tricky-to-grade ass'ts, and I have only the big stack of first time thesis papers from my ninthies. . . . but I am taking a breath. This Saturday will be The Day of Handmade Presents during which I complete Caroline's pj pants (this is the general idea) and knit like crazy on L's mitts, all while enjoying our gorgeous new lino in the kitchen/hall/bathroom and our cushy living room carpet. Of course I'd love to add a little reading (finished The FitzOsbornes in Exile. . . loved it!. . .and want to get the hugely fat third one) and such but we'll just see.

Still. Quiet, warm house. Dinner was a Beetnik wrap from 86 This. . . Happy me.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Dec. 8: Santa Run!

Not a great pic (you can't see my Angel of Peace costume very well!) but Nate, Lori and I had a good time at the "inaugural" Santa race today. I got the LAST tshirt, which is very cute and longsleeved!, and my time wasn't bad (about 28. 40 or so?), despite the wings, a slight misunderstanding about the finish (I pushed it up our hill thinking we took a hard right to the finish. . . but we had to go about 1/4 mile further: OOF!), and a generally nasty day, rainy and raw. However, everyone was in great spirits, and we all wore Santa hats--what a great scene as we started out! I think the EHS juniors (Nate's class!) made some good money and even more good mojo.

In addition, I got some great fabric for Caroline's pj pants, and have since gotten even more inspired to make them funky and slightly differently than 1. my usual model, and 2. even the pattern I was using from the Weekend Sewing book says! Thank you, Interweb! I may post a pic when they're done. . . if I manage to conquer my ability to read the directions 80 times and still do something wrong--twice.

I also knitted some today on the mitts I'm making for Lyle. . . It's great to do an ornate pattern that's only about 50 stitches, because you whip through the rows! After N and I recovered from the run, showered, ate lunch, and went to Marden's for bargains, we stopped at Morton's Moo and I got a chocolate cookie sandwich with peppermint ice cream. WOW. Then we came home and watched "Men in Black 3" with Andy as I knitted--what a nice day, esp as it continued wet and nasty--wetter than the race, even, which always makes the race seem nicer, in fact. All in all a great day, except that. . . where did it go? The clock is striking 10, and I know it's five minutes slow!

Ah well. What a lovely day, even though it flew by. Tomorrow may bring "The Nutcracker" at EHS, then next week brings new flooring--so much furniture moving first. Such excitement!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Dec. 1: Ellsworth Holiday Parade

The Mystery of Mercy Close (Walsh Family #5)The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I ordered this newest Keyes from the Book Depository in England because I didn't want to wait for it to come out in the US in April. It was an interesting read--much better than "Brightest Star in the Sky," which had a lame "woo-woo" premise and simply wasn't much of a story. Mercy Close is a long book and it took me quite a while to read it, often in 15 minutes chunks before bed, so I needed to step back a little to evaluate it, and a reread might be the fairest way to do it as I'd have a better complete view. However, once again Keyes has chosen a serious topic to address--depression--and her depiction is pretty darn unflinching. Since I get her newsletter, I know she has struggled intensely with depression, and that adds a layer of reality to the book that makes it poignant, and the honesty of the message (you just have to do your best and ask for help, essentially) is both healthy and helpful.

My quibbles: 1. the plot doesn't zip along. Maybe this is due to my piecemeal reading, but I do feel it could've been shorter by about 100 pages and have been a more absorbing read.
2. What IS it with Helen? Helen can get and be annoying. This improves as the story goes on, but at first it takes some soldiering on.
3. There is not a lot of humor (yeah, I know it's about depression. This Charming Man is about abuse, and it's funny!) and not much happens in the plot itself. Once again, Keyes uses the untold plot effect (the guy who hires her and Helen have some kind of history; what happened to her friendship with Bronagh?) so the story feels a little disjointed. Things come together better and with a few entertaining zingers in the last 50 pages or so, so I guess this points me back to my quibble #1.

However, I would rate this one a "good" versus the "poor" that I remember "Brightest Star" earning. I'm glad I paid the EIGHTEEN CENTS "international currency charge" and got it ! Nice way to keep reading through November.

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Well I am collapsed on the couch after a busy Sat. morning (after a high energy, positive, exhausting week): up around 7:20, putz around, run around 9, shower, go to parade to see Nate on the Morton's Moo float singing Christmas songs with "moo" instead of words; VERY VERY COLD PARADE; go to church fair to try to spend $10 and get some great books, some cute jewelry, and an incredibly ugly hat for Andy; home; take a thawing-out Nate out to lunch at Sylvia's (Walk there); go to Craft Barn for yarn for L's fingerless gloves; walk home; sort and hang out laundry on rack; head to church for Advent candle supplies; G'hopper for better quality candles for this year; to health food store and then the Moo for salted caramel hot chocolate, THEN HOME. WHEW! But what a great town we live in and how nicely we try to take care of each other.

AND my class has raised over $350 through our lobster raffle to buy toys for the Emmaus Center Adopt-a-Family program, and we're going on Thursday to buy the toys (unf. from Walmart due to time constraints), deliver them to the Center and then eat out for b'fast--preferably at Sylvia's as a local and affordable spot. My heart is warm.

And I am sleepy! I think I'll retire to the futon with one of my bargain books from the church sale today. . . . and happy birthday to my sister in law Ellyn!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Nov. 21: Busy First Day of Break!

Bowling AvenueBowling Avenue by Ann Shayne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bowling Avenue is, simply, a good novel. It's well-written, interesting, moving, and full of sympathetic characters. The only thing I don't like is the weird woodcut silhouettes on the back cover--and that's digging for something to quibble about! Ann Shayne is part of Mason-Dixon Knitting, and knitting plays a part in the story, but I was impressed that this is, in no way, a Knitting Knovel. Shayne deals with addiction, loss, grieving, and family in a realistic but optimistic way, and the story is a pleasure from start to finish. I had to special order it from my local bookstore, and I am delighted that I did so!

Highly recommended as a well-written, warmly optimistic, entertaining pleasure. Go special order it for yourself!

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We are ALL in the livingroom: Lyle is home from college, which is great! Tomorrow we will go to Mom's, leaving around 9:30, and spend the night, then come home about the same time--a quick trip, but it'll be good to see everyone.

Today was super busy, though I woke up at 8:30, amazingly, despite waking at 5 first and lying there thinking, "I might as well get up!" and then having A's alarm go off at 6 (thank you, ihome). It felt great! I then. . . made piecrust and oversaw N's making his pecan pie and me making my pumpkin pie; a quick ingredient shop with Nate driving; setting up the turkey carcass for broth; making three batches of hot fudge sauce for the church fair next week; hanging out laundry; making L's bed; taking N to the eye dr's where we discovered his lenses were four powers off in one eye and three in the other (!!) and I did some correcting, of which I have oodles; went for a walk with A and Z and then a run by myself; then sorted through a huge pile of booksmagazineslettersschoolstuffrandomoddsandends. . .  WHEW. I am thrilled but tired.

Much, much, much to be thankful for this year as every year. So much! Wish that we might all start to realize how much we need to be grateful and then start being so! Am skipping Black Friday and doing Small Business Saturday in a small way instead. . .  spices from the health food store; a replacement spatula from Rooster Bros. . . . Onwards!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Nov. 15: November Mornings

When we talk about the time change, and we mourn the earlier dark, we tend to forget the lovely, longer, limpidly clear mornings. It's 29 and completely still today; everything is frosted silver, and the blue sky is tinged with pink in the east. Nice balance for the sunset (often equally lovely) at 4:15 pm!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Nov. 10: All in the Family!

The Reverend Jacob Bailey, Maine Loyalist: For God, King, Country, and for SelfThe Reverend Jacob Bailey, Maine Loyalist: For God, King, Country, and for Self by James S. Leamon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First off, my father wrote this book, so there you go! However, I also found this to be a fascinating new take on the American Revolution and the politics of revolution and religion. It's dense, not a breeze-through, and it took me a while to get going (probably because I only had time to read JB right before bed!), but the picture of a man who felt strongly that the order represented by Great Britain was God-ordained and right, AND that the oath he had taken to the church affiliated with that order could not be broken became increasingly compelling.

As a kid, I always assumed, fired by Johnny Tremain and other stories of plucky, independent rebels, that my family would have been rebels too--and I still remember my siblings' and my collective shock when my father mentioned that we'd probably have headed for Nova Scotia as soon as possible. Reading JB, I can see what he meant. I can also appreciate much more clearly the trauma that our country's birth represented for all concerned. JB's lingering "startle response" is only one visible sign.

I am delighted that I read this analysis. As an American, a person of faith, a Mainer, AND as a Leamon, I found it valuable and enlightening. Good job, Dad!

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Saturday, November 3, 2012

Nov. 3: Ah! My Favorite Month

I have loved November ever since it marked the end of my incredibly busy coaching season so my life could settle into my "just teaching" pattern. It seems clear, clean and simple to me, with the newly-denuded grey branches a perfect metaphor for the new clarity that it brings into my life. I especially love cold, sunny Novembers because the light is simply amazing without the contrast of the leaves, and the air gets so dry that everything stands out sharply.

Today is the first Saturday in November, and I am reveling in having nothing I "have" to do--oh, I have a list of tasks and errands so long that my nine year old self would call me crazy for feeling free today. But I can pick and choose what I do, and I have winnowed my list so that it suits my desires. I plan to correct a little (end of the marking period on Tuesday), do some gentle picking up around the house, write a few letters, go for a run, and read either Jacob Bailey or a new fluff book I got at the library (A Brief History of Montmaray). I'm considering a quick run to the store for something nice for dinner, and that seems about it! What a pleasure to have this freedom of election!

Last night I knitted a bit on a new pair of socks while we watched "Batman Begins" for our family movie; I have also been considering starting one of my new sewing projects--another portfolio dress for the winter, or another market skirt in corduroy. Just one week of (relative) calm, and my spirit is peeking its head out again.

I do love a good orderly life!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Oct. 30: And one more!

ChompChomp by Carl Hiaasen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

No big surprises here: I scooped this up for our longish car ride this weekend, and we all enjoyed it. Typical Hiaasen: strong message of environmental respect; memorable, vivid characters; fast-moving plot. It's a young adult novel, so there are some spots that could use development, but the audiobook reader is terrific, and the book as a whole is a lot of fun. Recommended!

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Hurricane Sandy, aka "Frankenstorm," seems to have swept in without much effect, but my heart goes out to the areas that got smacked hard. Finished Chomp! in the car en route to school today, coldy but back to the regular routine. 

AND I voted. Whew. Done. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

October 29: Frankenstorm, Frankenmonth. . .

Well, I'm back after a wild stretch of time, time dominated by the preparations for Andy's dad's service, which happened in MA on Saturday. We stayed with his aunt and uncle and had a wonderful time, but two weekends away (we went to see Lyle at Skidmore the weekend before) left me frayed and exhausted, so I took today off and did a lot of putzy school stuff, food shopping, lowkey house stuff, and fought off the cold that arrived with a vengeance. Hurricane Sandy, plus various other fronts, are converging tonight, so it's a crazy weather stretch as well. On the bright side: I have a lot of books to blog!

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: A NovelThe Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: A Novel by Deborah Moggach
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well, I was suspicious when I noticed that the book's name had been changed to take advantage of the movie, but I loved the movie, so I went for the audiobook anyway. The reader was great, but the book is not--most of the characters are unlikeable, the plot. . . well, actually, when I think about it, the characters really are the start and finish of it--they're almost completely lacking appeal. I wonder what caught the movie makers' attention and made them decide to turn this flat and unprepossessing book into such a wonderful movie?
The characters' crudeness becomes the writer's as well, and. . . well. I'd suggest skipping this experience. Go see the movie and leave it at that!

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Touch Not the CatTouch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this book, partly because it reminds me of my childhood reading with my sister! I had to get it through interlibrary loan for the Cornflower Book Group, and I read it very quickly and with great pleasure. Mary Stewart is one of the oldies and goodies: this novel does show some of the supernatural themes she develops in her later works, but her deft characterization, vivid description, and fast-moving plotting remain strong and enjoyable. I realized, also, that I had very little memory of the story, which made reading the whole novel an extra pleasure.

For fans of Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh, Mary Stewart stands right there in line--with her mysteries at least. Fondly recommended!

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My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Vintage Christie, and vintage cozy. Great readers. . .  highly recommended. What a pleasure! 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Oct. 8: Reading With My Ears. . .

Used WorldUsed World by Haven Kimmel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I bought this audiobook because I like Haven Kimmel so much, and I'd just reread The Solace of Leaving Early. Listening to it over the course of two weeks was a little tricky, since Kimmel's structure is convoluted: flashbacks, dream sequences--I'm sure in the book some were even in my much-despised italics!--and antecedent-free discussions about "him" or "her" plus the usual and much-in-vogue varied narrator approach. However, the story is Kimmel's usual blend of funny one-liners, straight-on grappling with the dark corners of human nature, and subtle inclusion of plotlines from other books, topped off with a strong helping of belief in human goodness and resiliency.

If I were Kimmel's editor, though, here would be my advice: 1. Don't use CJ Tritt as a narrator. Kimmel is a dry, understated writer, and Tritt's over-the-top delivery is grating. If I'd known she narrated, I'd've chosen the print edition. 2. Pare down some of those Hazel dream sequences. Yikes. How weird were they? The woo-woo astrology crap clouds the focus of the story, and the dreams don't help. 3. Give Amos, the one good man in the book, something to do. That might counteract the fact that all the other men are weak and annoying, or strong and downright terrifying.

I guess I'd also like to reread the book in print. It's a mixed bag as an audio experience, but it has kept Haven Kimmel's reptuation as an interesting and rewarding writer intact. I'm curious what she'll come up with next!

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Our weekend has been shaped by Andy's dad's passing. Parkinson's disease had really shaped his last few years, so the end was welcome. The brothers' steadfast care and attention for their dad have been amazing, clear, and unflinching, and their presence at his passing was equally loving and honest. Sad, but inevitable. Nate and I got to see him and say goodbye on Saturday, spending Sat. night with Andy and the rest of the family, and then came home to hold the fort and tidy up up here. A learning process throughout. 

Today is a stunning fall day, complete with wet, shiny, colorful leaves, blue sky, and a brisk breeze. Such reminders of the wonders all around us!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Sept. 29: A Belated Book Post

Home after a good b'fast with Dad and a really nice kid/runner/Saki filled day. Yay!

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and WarMayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fascinating "listen"--another book that had me telling everyone factoids and left me with a major crush on Benjamin Church, tho I was a tad disillusioned by the fact that in later life he became so fat he needed two supporters to help him walk! I expected a heart-wrenching story, but the truth (as it so often is) was a tad more complicated: there were heroes and villains on both sides, and even the sides themselves changed and morphed. Squanto was not the hero I learned about in grade school (I'd accepted long ago that he didn't wear feathers stapled to the elastic from an old pair of briefs, either). . . neither was Miles Standish! Philbrick definitely does not gloss over the violence, but he doesn't dwell on it, either.

Mayflower would be great addition to any US History class! 

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Friday, September 28, 2012

September 28: How the heck did THAT happen?

I'm at Mom's house in Auburn for the night. She had a new patella put in last Friday, and this seemed like a good day to visit. I'm combining this drop-in with breakfast with my dad at 8 tomorrow, and then I'll head to Belfast to see various xc teams run in the pouring rain (Nate has a sore Achilles and is not running) and cheer my exchange "niece" on, then dry and clean Saki up and we'll go out to lunch in Belfast.

The ride down was pretty, with lots of trees changing, and the heavy rain holding off pretty well. I got here at six so it wasn't too dark yet, either. Mom is more laid up than I expected--she's so tough that I'm certainly not used to seeing her less than 100%, and with a walker??? I think not. But all is going as planned, I guess. I managed to make her a pair of pj pants in a pretty brown leaf patterned flannel (the good stuff, from Sewing by the Sea, not discount from Marden's!) during the evenings/afternoons of the week, so that was a fun present. I'm hoping the work over the bandages and that they're comfy!

A little bit of a crazy week--phase of the moon? End of month #1? Not sure, but I was a tad edgy, and overwhelmed, and all that good stuff, so a definite shift of focus is a good idea. Soon I will retire to bed and read Jacob Bailey, Dad's new book, till I fall asleep--5 minutes? But it's a good book, and I'm glad to get to the weekend.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

September 23: Books and Settling in

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is another reread; I love Kimmel's books, though not everyone does (looking at you, Mom!). Even tho Langston, the main character, is annoying, the whole characterization and structure of the book wows me. Kimmel's message--that we get through the best we can, that our treatment of each other creates the meaning of life--is valuable but not facile. After I finish this book, I want to spend more time with the characters--and I am listening to The Used World right now! So I can, I gather!

A subtle, powerful story about the meaning of life, especially in small towns. 

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Yet ANOTHER reread, for a reason: due to various Board-related tensions in the Library at the moment, I've been avoiding it, so I'm digging into the tried and true piles around home. One year I set out and read all the Ngaio Marsh books I could find: I think I got them all. She is a fantastic, detailed, interesting, creative writer, and she never fails to please, so False Scent was a pleasure! It's funny--I visualize the setting as the house from Bringing Up Baby, which also featured in "The Women"--so I almost feel that I've watched a movie. In any case, this whodunnit, even though I knew (and remembered) who had, is a pleasure. Highly recommended. 

It's Sunday afternoon again--time sure flies! I've realized that planning/prepping AND correcting makes for a crazy week, so I've been putting in a solid two hours of work on Sat., and then a good chunk on Sunday afternoon too. Eats up my weekend, but results in a saner week. 

It's been a lovely September: cool at night, sunny in the days. Some rain. The weekends have been less gorgeous than the weeks, but we've gotten some nice weather in them. Tonight is chilling down nicely, too. Lots to be grateful for: Lyle is happy at school, Mom came through her first patella repair surgery fine, Andy had a great sail today, Nate had a great time at a race in NH and ran well and is home and happy again, I am lucky in my school, family, work and community. . . . Today felt like I was really settling into church again, too--this summer I'd gotten out of the routine a bit and was wondering if I'd feel settled in again, and today I sure did. Pat and I had FIVE kids in the nursery, with much good fellowship before and after. 

So. Off to another week. This one should finish on Friday with a visit to my mom and possibly breakfast with my dad and then a trip to see Nate run at Belfast. We'll see, but it would work well. I always forget, when I love my weekends so much, how much I also love my weeks. I am a happy woman! 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sunday, Sept. 16: Wow!

What a stunning day. It is cool--just warm enough that I can stay on the deck in my almost-cold bare feet and big sweatshirt--but breezy and sunny. There's a definite tang of fall in the air. I have swept off the table so I can be outside and do things like register for CROP Walk online and link to Facebook so my family can support me with ease and facility. . . . and also update my Goodreads and my blog! So here I is.

This is a day to take a breath and be grateful, more than anything else, I think. Yesterday Andy and I drove a big load of oak from the tree harvest down to Craig and Heather's, emptied it out (or watched while it was emptied. . .), and then we carpooled over to Tap's to take him out to dinner. He is now wheelchair bound, very frail, and very hard to hear, but every so often he'd fire out a joke or give one of us that clear, interested look that was so very him when he was well, and that was great. After dinner, he started to ask Andy to take him to the airport so he could collect the shipment that was coming in. . . . but I think he had a good time most of the time and certainly knew we were there. And Craig is so amazingly patient and good with him--Craig's feet hurt him a lot so the standing and helping he does for Tap must be hard on him, but you can't tell at all. It's moving to see him with his dad--never a frustration in sight. Wow. So it was a good family visit--the four "kids" laughed a lot, and Tap had a night out, and Andy and I were home by nine,

where poor N had been stricken by his cold really taking over. He missed church today, and finally gave in to my suggestion that he have a nap ("I'm not really that tired, Mo----zzzzzzzzzzzzz") and has been sleeping for a solid hour. I bet he'll be okay to go back to school on Monday, but if he's not, he's not. At least he's taking it easy now.

And church, with the 200th b'day all celebrated last weekend, was reflective and quiet again, though happy and quite full. Henry, the blond bombshell of a 2  1/2 year old, was there flirting with all of us--what a pleasure. It really felt like our focus was warm and full today.

I have been reading Haven Kimmel's "The Solace of Leaving Early" and am afraid that I am fighting a cold--both on the brink of a busy week. The book, the weather, and the potential cold make me feel reflective. . .  so I head off to write my Goodreads review and then start my spicy chicken soup. Yum.

"All will be well, all will be well, and all manner of things will be well."  Julian of Norwich

And how apropos that I should find that pretty day lily photo from this summer for a highlight, since my most recent book is. . . 

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Bo lent me this book and told me it was amazing, and it was--I finished it last week but didn't have time to write it up till now. I think I'd give it five stars if I had time to reread it--towards the end I was reading so fast that I know I missed some nuance.

Diffenbaugh has an assured and understated voice throughout this book, though she also employs the unfolding flashback technique that I am ambivalent about: it threatens to become trite, like the 9th graders' favorite conclusion: "And then I woke up." Still, the characters she creates and the plot that unfolds were enough so that I kept going. Granted, the male lead (oops. His name is Grant. Sorry) is a little one-dimensional, but he's attractive nonetheless, and Victoria is difficult and frustrating, but I rooted for her positive growth, too. The problem the novel highlights, of kids aging out of foster care with no support under them, is a powerful one to consider, and her group is inspiring in its efforts (though that's off track from the review. Sorry.).

While some of the events in the story and some of the characters (as mentioned) are a little awkward, overall the book is well-written, absorbing, and warm, the kind of book that leaves me at a loss when I'm finally finished and don't have that reading to look forward to anymore! Highly recommended. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Lucy Sullivan Is Getting MarriedLucy Sullivan Is Getting Married by Marian Keyes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, this is a reread, but I"m surprised to see there's no comment here, even, because I remember reading Lucy Sullivan the first time and I remember the reasons I didn't like it: too predictable, too dragged out. Not sure what changed, but this time when I read it, I was much more impressed by Keyes's facility at describing patterns that the person in them can't see, like the one Lucy is trapped in. The book is not her strongest effort, but there's more here than I saw on first read (about a year ago). Most moving is the description of depression, which, if you follow Keyes at all, you know comes from a deep and painful personal experience with it.

I am looking forward to reading "Mystery of Mercy Close"--plan to get it as my September local bookstore purchase!--and I'd also like to reread the Holiday one: Rachel's ? Holiday, since I remember that as one of her best. So this is up to three stars from my original 2.

But don't you think that Goodreads needs a "reread" category?

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So a semi-fluff book that I'd read already. . . just what I needed for the first real week back to school! It was a good week (a four day week, of course. . . ), and I wasn't quite comatose by the end of it. We had a great inaugural knitting group on Friday--eight people, with a few drop ins!--and I stopped at TJ Maxx en route home to get new washcloths (!! My life is just jam-packed with excitement) and then Nate, Andy and I watched "Mean Girls" and ate Thai food for our Friday movie night. This weekend marks our church's bicentennial, which leaves me cold, but we have a dinner tonight and a special service tomorrow. . . . and it's due to rain or be grey all weekend, so I'd better settle in with some indoor projects to keep me cozy. 

It feels like I'm settling into the routine again, and that's great. Onwards!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sept.2: Rainy Labor Day Sunday

I think Goodreads has instituted a special font and color for negative book reviews. Have no idea why this is different, but variety IS the spice of life, so enjoy!

What Happened to My SisterWhat Happened to My Sister by Elizabeth Flock
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
This book was on the "What to Read Now" list in the September O magazine, and it was the only one in our library, so I got it. . . and I must say I was taken aback: I don't think it's a very good book. The voices switch, but not really: Carrie is a nine year old who's thought to be crazy or disabled, but her grammar and voice are both pretty sophisticated some of the time, which doesn't sit right. Then there's the whole weird connection of (SEMI SPOILER HERE) a nicey nicey normal family who's just lost a girl who looked just like Carrie and WAS NAMED CAROLINE. . .  I read it pretty quickly and did read the whole thing, so I struggled with giving it two stars vs. one, but ultimately I think it's a trite piece with some really flat characters and odd plot twists that alternate with predictability. Not recommended. 

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We got to the Fair after a stunning day yesterday and another forecast for today, and there were a few dark clouds. . . . and by the time we got home two hours later, it was raining! A cozy afternoon, however, good for tying up loose ends. Did a raft of charitable donations, paid some other bills, am about to head up to finish (?) the dress. . .  Maybe a nap later? 

Closing with some fun Fair pictures. . . Cows, and the Ferris wheel!

Friday, August 31, 2012

August 31: First Friday

Well, regardless of the fact that this was a short week, we didn't have any kids till today and then we just had ninth graders (so one class for me), and that I have had a terrific summer, it's Friday and I am BEAT. It's been a pretty good week, despite losing (completely, irretrievably, yup, gone) a big desktop folder of five years of work I've done for my co-taught ninth grade class. We may recover some hard copies of stuff, but I still get a sort of sad, cold chill when I think of how much rich stuff is just. plain. gone.

BUT: new beginnings are good, too, and I can draw from what we know, what we already do. . . . And our class of ninth graders looks fun and great (30 of 'em!), so that's good. The only bad is that I seem to have re-injured (maybe more severely) the calf muscle I hurt in the end of July. I will call the orthopedic dr and ask for physical therapy on Tuesday, but I am disappointed as I had been so careful and wise for so long, and then. . . all I did was a little happy skip off my toes, and ==sproing!== Instant pain. And this is with 3 ibu 3x a day.

But: I hope soon to head up to sew a bit, to finish my summer portfolio dress, and also to plant some perennials in the front garden. N and I plan to go to the Blue Hill Fair for a few hours as a summer "thang," and then also maybe go for a sail or a hike--but with my sproinged leg, probably a sail would be better. And go to a cookout at Saki's house, and do *lots* of school work!

Happy Labor Day weekend! Happy Friday!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

August 26, 2012: Wrapping Things Up?

Actually, I think it's more like "running around frantically, picking things up and jamming them into boxes with my hair standing on end". . .  but it's okay, really. This has been a very new feeling summer, and I have been able to stay aware and enjoy it, so the fact that it's ending on TUESDAY (except for the delicious dollop of Labor Day Weekend) is actually pretty much okay.

So, backwardsing a little:

arrived home yesterday (Saturday) at about 7 pm from taking Lyle to Skidmore for his sophomore year. It may turn out to be the last time we have to drive him there, since often kids get their own cars, etc., etc. We left Thursday afternoon, spent that night at Ann's in Portland (fulfilling one of my summer goals), drove to Saratoga Springs that day, unloaded, got his room open, went to the storage locker, bickered a bit, got something to eat (which fixed our bickering), unloaded that stuff, and then I drove to Richmond VT to spend the night at Tom and Ellyn's, which journey featured a totally cool thing: a car ferry from Essex NY over Lake Champlain:

I arrived at T/E's house (where Mom was, too!) around 7:45 and plunged into a delicious meal, featuring the best fresh corn I've had in years, and then Tom, El and I stayed up till midnight (!!) talking. . . .

There is the lovely family, moments before I loaded up around noon the next day and drove through the gorgeous yank of VT, NH, and western ME to get home. I was pretty fried by the time I pulled in with 895 miles under my belt. Whoosh.

However, L and I had a great drive over, with time to talk, complain, laugh, and for me to drive while he napped, which is a particularly peaceful situation! And who can argue with a trip that leaves a boy this happy?

I would bet his room is somewhat more decorated by this time, but he's probably still that happy!

So these last two days, I plan to
--do some exercise, because I am feeling CRAMPED UP from all that driving,
--work on my dress, with a goal of completion by Labor Day at the latest;
--complete the two grants I need to report on;
--do one more summery thing like a hike, a sail, or a gorgeous swim;
--write a few thank you notes/letters to tie up the visits and adventures of the last two weeks;
--maybe. even. take. a. nap!!!!

Had a nice but different feeling visit with Julie and Caroline (Andy was very busy and Michael didn't come, so things felt less vacationy than usual, which was good AND bad), but we did a lot of good things, like hiking Cadillac, playing mini-golf, seeing "Paranorman,"going out to Simone's, b'fast at the Riverside, kayaking. . .  I am thinking that next year it might be fun to try to rent a place in NH or something together and then spending a week there. ??!! We'll see.

Closing with a final pic before I change over the laundry and get another cup of coffee!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

HomeHome by Toni Morrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hmmmmmm. This was a "support Sherman's, local book store" purchase in July. It's pretty short but moves quickly and has some of Morrison's great terse but perfect language in it (she refers to "the unbelievable malignance of strangers" (98), and "country women who loved mean. . . The women handled sickness as though it were an affront, an illegal, invading braggart who needed whipping." (121) . Best of all, Morrison refers to "the period that rich people called the Depression and they called life." (122). ) Overall, however, the voice doesn't quite ring true: every other chapter is an italicized reflection from Frank "Smart" Money, the man character. I am NOT a fan of extended italicized sections in books (skipped most of those sections in Empire Falls, for example!), and these don't seem to add much except an extra layer of terrible things Frank has seen or experienced, and could have been told as straight narrative instead.

There are wonderful parts in Home, and it certainly highlights a story of suffering and endurance and love, but it's an uneven work. Longer? Shorter? More on Cee's story? Who knows. Worth reading, but not Morrison's best.

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August 16: A Rainy Day, a Wonderful Book

When We Argued All NightWhen We Argued All Night by Alice Mattison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: my sister gave me this book, is friends with the author, and did the interview with Mattison in the back of the book. Also full disclosure: that means nothing, because Ann and I have always had different tastes in books since we were little kids, and I'd have no qualms about telling her I didn't like it for whatever reason.

But: I LOVED When We Argued All Night. I started reading it on the way home from camp on Saturday, misplaced it for two days in my knitting bag, found it, and finished it Wednesday night. The narrative style drives the book forward: as many European-published books seem to do, it uses dashes instead of quotation marks, and while the early sections of the book are delineated by years, the last 1/3 or so may make big jumps in time without much indication of change. In addition, a paragraph may start with a character's comment, but Mattison might seque right into his/her thoughts without any ado, so it's important to keep one's attention on what's happening.

Mattison certainly crams a lot of the 20th/21st century into this story: the Depression, the acclimation of immigrant families to living in the US, WWII, the Red Scare, the civil rights movement, the 60's, the development of the LGBT rights movement--but it doesn't feel like a textbook or a list. Instead, she creates a rich tapestry of what it must have felt like to have lived through those various events, how they changed (or didn't change) people's daily lives and outlooks. Artie stays more or less the same, while Harold reinvents himself and reflects deeply on that reinvention; by the end of the book, when both men are 94, I had a vivid sense of how human experience just keeps unfolding and reoccurring. Mattison's ability to recreate historical environments reminds me of Michael Chabon's work in Kavalier and Clay--rich, deep, and somehow feeling real.

I also have to recognize the fantastic cover design by Robin Bilardello--the book looks appealing, with the cover photo reminding us that actual people populate the photos from the past! Other bonuses: lots of references to New England--somehow books that mention familiar territory delight me. Also, Mattison does a fantastic job with her descriptions of the joys and traumas of teaching: Harold and Artie love teaching for different reasons, but her description of each man's reasons is insightful, valid, and respectful: they're not just in it for June, July, and August, as so many people think.

Good people, honoring teaching, a wonderful, familiar setting. . . there's also terrific writing. I'll close with some of my favorite passages. This is a terrific book. Bravo, Alice Mattison!

"Boredom and hostility are easy to detect." (112)

"Harold couldn't resist the curious ones." (116)

"Jumping from a subway platform was such an easy, obvious way for New Yorkers to die that it was unthinkable and unspeakable, and for the first days and weeks the primary effort of them all--parents, relatives, doctors, and nurses--was to look past Nelson's act and only at the bruises, the broken leg, as if he'd fallen when out for a walk. Harold could not ask why, . . . because the answer had the coming train in it: it was what Nelson had chosen to accept, the train reaching his body." (184)

"She enjoyed marching too much for someone who was supposed to be angry." (194)

An amazing passage about parental worry: "Nelson lived in Harold's upper abdomen--maybe where his diaphragm was. It had loosened, just because Harold had found him and his face looked better, but while he washed his hands, it was as if someone behind him had tightened a band around his body." (234)

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August 18: Trying for Normal!

 I made some changes to the administration of my blog recently, and the formatting got very weird, esp. around posting reviews from Goodreads, so I hope you'll bear with me as I try to work this  out. Thanks!

Ghost KnightGhost Knight by Cornelia Funke
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

First off, I think I'm too old for this book, so my "okay" rating should not deter anyone. The book was pretty well written and the idea was good, but I just needed something a little more developed to really catch my attention. Other than that, I think an adventure loving 8 - 14 year old reader would really like this book!

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Saturday, August 11, 2012

August 11: Two More Weeks

It's a dark, damp afternoon, but it's not really raining*. We're just back from a mini-reunion at Mom's camp (that's ONE of the two visits I'd put as a goal for the summer)--it ended up being just one night there, and the weather was grey and damp throughout, but it was still nice to see the family groups who made it: two sisters, one with spouse and kids from CA; my dad and stepmom; my mom, who just had a step-family funeral so was ready to heave a sign of relief. We jetted over on Friday and were home by 12 noon today: Nate's up to the 70's in his AP US summer reading book, Zinn's A People's History of the United States, and I got a good deal of knitting done in the car. I need to figure out the neck shaping for the fronts of Moth's cardigan and then start the sleeves, which I need to lengthen. . . . so I figured it was better to do all that work in the house where I could focus.

But there are still a few things I want to do: get blueberries from Maine Sweet and Wild, our friends the Jordans' company and site of Lyle's first summer job!; make blueberry cobbler and other delights; work on some sewing, and plant more perennials in our front gardens. Lyle comes home on Thursday (to Boston around midnight on Wed, then to a hotel and then a bus home on Thursday); Julie and Caroline come for their visit on Friday, and school meetings start on the 28th. Small sigh.

But the reading and various good things continue apace. Nate is working; Katniss has been spayed, and the big cats have had their yearly check up/stuffing-into-the-boxes torture. I've completed my training as an AFS Liaison and Saki arrives in Ellsworth Sunday afternoon. Life is sweet.

*Not my favorite weather. I'd much prefer rain or sun. Gloom doesn't really do it for me. Not that I get a vote! 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

August 4: Nerves and Books

Today is the Echo Lake Swim, a 1.5 mile "race" (ahem) in a lovely lake on MDI. This will be the second time I've participated, and I *know* I can complete it, but still--the water is deep, and I really don't want to be hauled in via kayak. . . . So of course I woke up at 5 and have been up since. Additionally, the two big cats need to go to the vet's office for their shots, so we have to 1. ignore their pleas to go outside, 2. jam them into their boxes, and 3. Lyle's friend Neal will come pick them AND Nate up to drive them to the vet's, since I double-booked myself for this morning (see above note about the Swim!) and Andy is in Boston, having put Lyle on an early plane to CA for 10 days.   <=that sentence seems to summarize my recent days. Maybe it's having no real set schedule; maybe it's the otherwise happy fact that Nate has gotten a job at Blueberry Hill Dairy Bar (but has no license); maybe it's the fact that it's August so we've scheduled a lot of "got to get this [visit/meeting/appointment/other] done" events. . . . but I'm feeling a tad scattered. I need a good, fat, cheerful read and an afternoon of luxurious sitting around in which to do it. Mission set!

*Found a Susan Phillips which was cheesy but certainly fat and cheerful. Yay! Also did the swim in 57:03, down from 64:plus 2 years ago. Yay!

The ChaperoneThe Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. The Chaperone is a pleasure, a great example of the joys of historical fiction. Unlike The Paris Wife, which felt like it was trying to be non-fiction done without research to back it up, lacking originality, The Chaperone, through the character of Cora Carlisle, creates a vivid, warm picture of what life was like in the 1920's, as well as providing a more general, but equally fascinating, picture of how people adapt their true selves to society's rules and expectations. Throughout the book, the characters reveal more and more layers and nuances, making for an absorbing and interesting read.

The Chaperone was on a lot of summer's best reading lists, and now I know why. If you have three more weeks of summer left, I urge you to pick this one up!

Great lines: "She was grateful that life was long."

. . . "The train windows had been open for most of the trip from Chicago, and she felt as if she'd been basted in grease, thoroughly heated, and finally dipped in dust."

When Cora's grandniece interrogates her about the Klan's development in Wichita, Moriarty writes, "Were people just stupider then? Meaner? Maybe, Cora allowed. But it was foolish to assume that had you lived in that time, you wouldn't be guilty of the same ignorance, unable to reason your way out. Cora herself had only escaped that particular stupidity because of her special circumstance. Other confusions had held her longer."

Aside from her skillful writing and perceptive imagination, I think what makes the book stand out is Moriarty's ability to show how people "reason their ways out" of various conflicts--the book is, overall, a hopeful picture of human nature and what life really is like between the lines of history.

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Right now I am mostly through "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide", by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, but I do need another good piece of fiction for the rest of the weekend. There IS the Olympics, but the coverage is driving me crazy, as they hold the events we want to see till after 10 pm, and, frankly, Scarlett, I'm in bed by then. Ah well. Here I am reveling in summer, all other issues notwithstanding: 

I am off to prep for The Swim--and the Cat Stuffing Event, degree of difficulty 7.8. Hope I survive both unscathed! 

Friday, July 27, 2012

July 27: Post-Great-Visit-Letdown

Well, the Skibsholts are gone, but what a great visit we had! I have learned that making a general plan for meals is a huge bonus for me (and the fridge, our bank account, our happiness levels. . . ) and that having flexible-but-enthusiastic guests makes a huge difference. I had done the hard thinking of what dinner would be, when I'd need to start it, when we'd eat, if we were having a special breakfast, whether we'd eat out and what people would do when Andy and I had simultaneous meetings. As a result, we ate only occasional snacks (ice cream!) out, enjoyed a lovely and much-anticipated dinner out at the Lobster Pot last night, and I only went to the grocery store ONCE midweek and knew exactly what I needed to get. AND we ate like royalty--healthy royalty, if I do say so myself. So.

I'm doing laundry, it's a grey day, and we're feeling a little loose ended. I'm sleepy, so I might head upstairs for a nap (Nate's already there), but I thought I'd post a few pics before I went, and maybe throw out a to-do list for myself to see if that helps.

First: here we all are on our second cloudyish day (yesterday), at the end of our hike up Blue Hill:

And here is the one star-gazer lily that managed to survive dry-then-wet-then-beetles-then-chickens conditions. I cut it and brought it inside for better (safer) enjoyment: 

And now I will go hang the towels on our drying rack, check the load in the dryer, pull out some banking, brush my teeth, and possibly head up for a nap with my wonderful book, Laura Moriarty's The Chaperone. Sounds like a to-do list to me!

A run is in my future, I think, and then tonight, the Olympic Opening Ceremonies and knitting! 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

July 26: Vacationing Hard. . . and lots of other details. . .

I Couldn't Love You MoreI Couldn't Love You More by Jillian Medoff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Good writing and strong characters, even though I was wary at first, since it looks so incredibly well-marketed. It *is* a "crisis book": you know the pattern: happy family; former lover/husband/wife/relative/? shows up; changes occur; while changes are occurring bad choice is made; the rest of the story is about recovering from the bad choice. Depending on author's outlook, main character is left healing in good situation, having learned from bad choice, or main character is left, older and sadder, never able to be fully happy again because of bad choice.

I wonder if there can be actual variations on that theme--absorbing ones.

Medoff does a pretty good job of lifting this beyond "chick lit" by working hard to examine questions of parenting style (especially mothering), sibling relationships, difficult choices (impossible choices, maybe), and the whole idea of love of all kinds. In general, I'd say that the book is an argument for throwing away your damn cellphone--but that's my cantankerous old woman side.

Eleanor Brown's The Weird Sisters is a stronger examination of sisterhood, I think, and a more original story, but I Couldn't Love You More is certainly worth reading as well.

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Fadeaway GirlFadeaway Girl by Martha Grimes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed Fadeaway Girl, a non-Richard Jury novel by Martha Grimes. I gather it's part of another series, but I may just rest with this one outing. In it, Grimes focuses on a single point of view, that of stubborn, sassy, smart, precocious Emma Graham. Emma could be the twin of Flavia del Luce, of the Alan Bradley mysteries: she's cranky, nosy, and very entertaining. Grimes has been experimenting with voice in the Jury novels (I mentioned that part of The Black Cat featured narration by a dog and a cat who can communicate telepathically. . . a bit jarring in a police procedural), but she remains in Emma's head for this novel. What Grimes continues to do--which lost her the final star in my opinion--is obscure the details of the solution, the murder, even the plot itself. Parts of this novel depend completely on the reader having read an earlier novel (Belle Ruin), which I have not read, and instead of providing a clear preface, a conversation that restates the salient details, or anything like that, Grimes scatters bits and pieces, allusions, etc, into the entirety of Fadeaway Girl. If I hadn't enjoyed Emma so much, I'd've quit about 2/3 through--because she does NOT explain the situation clearly at all.

So. It was an interesting read, with a terrific main character, but Fadeaway Girl stands as another example of Martha Grimes's refusal to write a straightforward story, so frustration is part of the package!

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Friday, July 20, 2012

July 19: More Front Porch Reading!

The Black Cat (Richard Jury, #22)The Black Cat by Martha Grimes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed The Black Cat after a long break from Martha Grimes's Richard Jury novels. As usual, Grimes provides an odd combo of murder, detection, personal demons, quirky characters, and what really feels like complex inside jokes. I read The Old Wine Shades three? two? years ago and enjoyed/was frustrated by Grimes's deliberate refusal to solve the mystery/punish the bad guy/explain anything, and The Black Cat (there are actually three black cats--and three dogs--and they do communicate telepathically) follows the same m.o. by referring to characters and events from that same book, but with no real explanation or clarification. To explain: that means that one whole plot line of this later book all refers, in a "nudge-nudge, wink-wink" manner, to a  completely different book that was almost completely opaque even when one was reading it firsthand.   THANK GOD that was only one plot line. The other plot line dealt with women living double lives, and I have to admit I got DeeDee/Kate/Chris pretty muddled up for most of the time as well. However, that plot line did have a whole "murderer confesses in detail" scene that tied everything up.

Oh, and Jury's love life is continuing in its usual disastrous way. His former love is in a coma, Carole-Anne is as immature and frustrating as ever, Polly shows up once, the call girl he meets is a floozy, not a stunner. . . .

However, I did enjoy the book! It feels that Martha Grimes couldn't give a damn that probably 1/3 of her readers want a straight police procedural, 1/3 of them want a cozy mystery driven by zany characters, and 1/3 want something challenging that involves particle physics and probability (maybe I should rearrange those percents)--and then there's the whole population that likes stories "written by" animals! She seems to be having a wonderful time writing what she wants to write, slamming around from inside jokes to high fashion to string theory and back. It's like watching YoYo Ma, in cutoffs and a tee shirt, sit in a lawn chair and play some of his favorite tunes, top 40 and otherwise. The Black Cat would not be a good first Martha Grimes book, but I think it's a very good 12th (or whatever number it is).

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

July 17: The Next Best Thing

The Next Best Thing: A NovelThe Next Best Thing: A Novel by Jennifer Weiner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Guess what: things go wrong in Hollywood. People are mean, and women are judged by their looks! TV studios are shallow and only interested in the bottom line.

HALF of this book made me crazy, because, like The Devil Wears Prada, we're asked to buy into another story about a shallow, ridiculous, materialistic business, so when plucky Ruth begins to get kicked around, it's hard not to say, "TOLD YOU SO!" or "GET THE HELL OUT!"

The other half, however, is a good story. Weiner's a good writer, and HOORAY! she did not repeat the motif-du-past-few-years (or her last book) and go with a varied cast of narrators. We stay with Ruth and her grandmother, and the story believes in many things like familial love and good food and that women don't have to be size 0. Once the excrement had hit the Westinghouse, as a family friend used to say, the book got involving again: it was walking that familiar path to disillusionment that was unpleasant.

Overall, the quality of the writing was a "very good" (though Weiner did use "relatable" TWICE. Uggggggh.), but the plot is a little weaker. My favorite part was the unexpected concluding chapter or two where the cast-offs get their (partial) revenge. . .  but overall it's worth reading.

One final point: perhaps it's because I just read "Wonder," but piling a badly-scarred woman and a man in a wheelchair into the same plot seems a little "issue of the month." It feels unnecessarily contrived, and I'm not used to feeling like that about Weiner's books. Hmmmm. 

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

July 15: Let's GO!

Woke up early (but not too early!), had a nice visit with Andy and the kitten before leaving for the Y to swim, where I managed to coerce my creaky self into a pretty good, hard workout. During A's and my convo we decided today would be a loose ends day, with no plans to wedge in a sail, etc. I decided to skip church (rarely happens!), so I have a load of laundry in, one more to go, and I am making iced coffee for the first time at home, complete with simple syrup for the complete effect (I hope). Once I'm done with my lovely yogurt/fruit salad breakfast, I will head upstairs and tackle my clutter in our room, accompanied by Great Expectations, ably rendered by Martin Jarvis. . . Not a bad day. Not a bad day at all!

Happy hot summer Sunday, everyone. May you get what you need!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

July 14: Sssssteam Heat!

Wow. Today is the first still, grey-skied, breathlessly hot and humid day. We have had very few of these, trending instead toward either lovely cool, dry, clear, breezy days, or hot, dry, clear, breezy days. Because of the latter, I'd started saying, "Humidity isn't an issue! I can run/be focused/not complain {insert action here} regardless of the weather!"    

WHEW BOY! Today is reminding me that maybe I *can* do all that stuff, but it ain't so much *fun* to do all that stuff.

Silas and I got up early to drive down to Bath for a meet-up and a central Maine sweep of friends from his year here, and the air-conditioned car felt pretty great. At breakfast, we sat with our friends in a sunny nook at Mae's Cafe  (great food! Wish I'd had more appetite!) and I sweated like a fountain--maybe I should've gotten the iced coffee instead of the hot. I hope Silas and friends get some sea breeze!

Driving home, I decided to take the coastal scenic route over the speedy Rt. 95 one, and I was happy I did it. Lots of nice places to look at, and simply something different. Most wonderful was the audiobook of Great Expectations that my wonderful tape-deck endowed Toyota allowed me to listen to. Dickens can write!

So, home to iced tea and sitting on the front lawn doing nothing in particular. I may go for a run late, like around 6 or so, but I may give myself a break. The Fabulous is in at Hancock Marine, so if the breeze comes up, we might sail. I sure hope this heat doesn't hang around long. Thunderstorms, anyone?

Friday, July 13, 2012

July 13: Some More Readin'!

A great yoga class has left me stretched out, tired, and sweaty. . .  the lovely weather has led to great swimming,

and I've done a lot of reading.

Getting Rid of BradleyGetting Rid of Bradley by Jennifer Crusie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jennifer Crusie writes a good fluff book--and did even in her early days! Though the main character is hardly believable as a high school teacher (she misses a week plus of school and there's no mention of sub plans? I think NOT!), the plot and characters are, on the whole, interesting and lively. I have to confess I get Jennifer Weiner and Jennifer Crusie mixed up constantly--I'll think, "This is a good lead up to In Her Shoes," and then realize that Weiner wrote that one, not Crusie. . . . but they both are smart, funny, and literate.

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The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Millennium, #3)The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. I sprinted through this one, helped by a few lovely days at the beach or on the front patio in my new lawn chair. I *did* skip around a little bit at the start when there is a LOT of information about politics/intelligence/history  of Sweden. I had a pretty good grasp of what was up after the second "Girl Who" book, so I skipped over the sections the policy wonks might love. That said, the stuff was skippable! The story in general moved so fast that I just kept moving on, on, on to find out what happened.

SEMI-SPOILER ALERT: Interesting point: the first book is the most disturbing. Granted, there were some gross parts in #2 and certainly some violence and disgusting details in #3, but the sexual detail is much less disturbing. Still, Larsson creates such a sense of fear and foreboding that it took me quite a while to realize that things turned out okay. I could, of course, have become inured: considering that at one point in the book someone comes up with a tally of 8 murders in one place and that's before at least four more deaths, I could see some people protesting. I guess my final, overall statement would be that the whole "Girl Who--" series is excellent, highly-pitched, brilliantly plotted suspense.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

July 10: Summer in Maine

Silas is back from Denmark for a few weeks. We played mini-golf: 

And yesterday he, Andy, and I hiked Penobscot Mountain on an utterly perfect Maine day:

We ended up by hiking around the northeast side of Jordan Pond--no swimming allowed, but oh, what a lovely place to walk. Great breeze, no bugs, nice shade. What a lovely day, start to finish!

Today, I have a Real School Meeting on Response to Intervention. . .  so it will not be as lovely and uplifting as yesterday. Ah well.