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. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

July 9: Another Lovely Maine Day!

The heat here broke on Saturday night, and yesterday and today are lovely, dry, breezy, summer days. Yesterday was our 23rd anniversary, and JUST like the day we got married on. Happy memories. It was also the first time we weren't with Lyle on his birthday, so it acted a reminder that time is passing and the family is growing up. Nice that he was with his uncle John, who shares his birthday--an unusual but wonderful treat. Here are the birthday twins:

Wish we'd been together!

Today: off to Brewer to drop off N's retainers at the ortho, and to browse some fabric for a fall portfolio dress. . . . and then maybe some gardening back home. So things unfold. Lovely!

WonderWonder by R.J. Palacio
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

WOW! Julie recommended Wonder a while ago, and then I saw it as a "Martha Recommends" staff pick at our library and picked it up. It is a "you'll laugh/you'll cry/it will change your world" book in the same way Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is: the book takes you inside Auggie's life and his family's life, giving you a vivid sense of what it's like to be the boy with the terrible face, or the sister of the boy with the terrible face. Palacio captures the issues and feelings of kids really well, but also with a strong sense of hope and potential for what we can do when we work for the best.

I highly recommend this book for a family read, a teacher read, a class read. Wow!

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Saturday, July 7, 2012

July 7: Small Towns and Another Book!

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce, #1)The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Huh. I'm surprised I haven't already reviewed SatBotP because I know I read it a few years ago and have read all its sequels since! However: Julie got it for me in a lovely trade paperback at her book sale and included it in my birthday box o' books, and I reread it right after Little Bee. Both times I was struck by the strength of Bradley's characterization--he really creates Flavia de Luce as a vibrant, obnoxious, definite person--and by amazement that the book really worked. Its plot is far-fetched and convoluted, Flavia's flights into chemical knowledge can be tedious, and the lack of consistent development of the other characters (F. will remark that this conversation marked a change in her relationship to X character--but then the relationship never changes) becomes disappointing--but the book is a pleasure. Flavia's relationship to her bicycle, Gladys, is wonderfully described, and Bradley creates a vivid picture of the whole community of Bishop's Lacey, regardless of the fact that there are a few too many zany characters.

I think I read this book the first time over a school vacation--either Thanksgiving or Christmas--because I remember that sense of relief and leisure, and thinking that SatBotP fit that situation perfectly. It's a pleasure.

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Coiling out of that fictional small community is Thursday night, when Nate and I went to see "Wallace and Gromit and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" as part of Ellsworth's Outdoor Movie Series--the first one, in fact. N was super tired after his busy 4th, and I was super-ready to get out of the house after my boring 4th, so at first things didn't look hopeful, but he perked up after dinner and we decided to go. The Grand, the theater that hosts the movies, is adamant about not specifying a specific time for the movies: "after sunset," is all they'll say, so we headed over around 8:15, with sunset at 8:25. We met my friend Mark and his granddaughter Mercedes, settled in with our lawn chairs, and . . . the bugs descended. It's been a wet spring/summer so far, and the mosquitoes are bigger and more ubiquitous (can one be "more" ubiquitous? Oh well) than I can remember. We were armed with bug spray, which generally works well for 20 minutes, but pretty soon we resorted to wrapping our legs in blankets and tucking our upper selves into our sweatshirt hoods and sleeves. Still the monsters swarmed in front of us--but since they couldn't bite us very well, I think the balance ended up tipping in our favor, as every few minutes we'd kill a few just for spite. 

Despite the bug swarms, which drove a good number of people who'd come without combat gear away, the evening was a pleasure. The movie is a hoot, with jokes for all ages, and being able to enjoy it while also watching the sky darken and the stars appear was a terrific experience. With the playground right there at "Knowlton Park," the site of the former K-3 school, the little kids could take off and swing and watch the movie the whole time. Small town life at its finest!

When the movie ended--late, of course (around 10 pm!)--we packed up our chairs and walked home under the stars, but our big LLBean bag is still packed and ready for next Thursday. Outdoor movies: another reason we love living in Ellsworth!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

July 3: Little Bee and New Dress

Little BeeLittle Bee by Chris Cleave
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. I read Little Bee in two days--it's intense and absorbing. The whole secrecy part about "we don't want to tell you too much about this book" is completely unnecessary (and a tad annoying): the book stands on its own as a morally brave, devastating, but uplifting work without such marketing hoopla.

Reading Little Bee is a bit like getting hit in the stomach. The story raises moral issues that no one should have to face--but it's also funny and loving and redemptive.

Whew. I think I need some fluff!

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And I also finished my first portfolio dress! I think it's a keeper, though Nate told me, "You look a little like Desmond Tutu in it--I think it's the square thing at the neckline." Why, thanks, honey! 

Bad pic, but it'll do until I get a better one. 

Fireworks a'poppin' already on the first year of legalization. Oh joy. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Monday, July 2: Hamlet's Perfection, Indeed

Hamlet's PerfectionHamlet's Perfection by William Kerrigan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I slogged through Updike's Gertrude and Claudius and noted a reference to "Hamlet's Perfection" in the author's closing comments. I decided to dig up a copy, and I am delighted that I did: I don't think I have ever read a work of criticism with as much interest and involvement as I just finished Kerrigan's 150 page discussion of Hamlet and his transformation from Act I to Act V of the play. A huge part of my enjoyment is Kerrigan's voice: he's sassy, disrespectful, and, at times, crude (his use of pejorative slang for female genitalia crossed the line of good taste, I felt, regardless of what Hamlet was saying to Ophelia). He peppers his discussion with allusions to numerous critics, poets, and even jazz numbers. . . . but the base of the book is sharp, fascinating analysis of Hamlet, both text and character. In the meantime, Kerrigan runs roughshod over various critics whom he feels have muddied the waters of Hamlet discussion over the years--I dug around for reviews and found one academic reviewer sounding a bit sniffy, but I declined to pay to read the rest of it. However, even as I felt that a few of his arguments moved a bit fast, presupposing some points as shaky as those he criticizes other experts for holding, I found his diction and overall points enlightening, illuminating, and wonderfully readable.

I will at least share my response to this book with my students this fall, but I have the feeling they'll end up reading chunks of it as well (I think it's available on google books). I am still amazed by the force of Kerrigan's insights and by his ability to marshal his arguments so effectively.

Reread (or watch) Hamlet, then read Hamlet's Perfection. Wow.

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On top of finishing this terrific book, I am ALMOST finished with my portfolio dress: tried it on today, and it looks like a keeper, AND it was a top ten Maine summer day today. I ran (four miles! Go, me!) around 10 and it was perfect weather for it: dry air and a nice breeze to compensate for the strong sun. We did have a brief rain storm with a few rumbles of thunder around 2, but overall--wow. What a lovely day! 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Sunday, July 1: Finishing Stuff Up!

The Girl Who Played With Fire (Millennium, #2)The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well, I wasn't surprised that after about 15 pages of The Girl Who Played with Fire, I couldn't put it down. . . well, it was hard to put it down. I consciously rationed it, having read the first one, so that I had time to read to the end once things got climactic. And, of course, they did.

This, the second in the "Girl" series, is less sexually graphic, but more violent, so I still wouldn't want to see the movie, thank you very much. The plot has several strands that gradually come together, and once again the ending features a few surprises that work even when one is expecting them. In addition, the end of the book does shoot the reader right into the third book (Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest), but, kindly enough, this edition includes the first chapter from it so I got some details. That said, if our library was open on Sundays or if we had an independent book store, I'd head right down to the #3 as soon as I posted this review.

Not for the faint hearted or for those who like their police/investigative novels only on the cozy side, but so far, this series is spectacular.

I do wonder, though, how Larsson's depiction of Sweden as a country full of corruption, sexual predators, and isolated woods full of undiscovered bodies has effected tourism there!

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