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!