Thursday, December 26, 2013

Dec. 26: Boxing Day!

Well, we had a lovely Christmas--low key and pleasant. The sun came out, turning the icy trees to shining crystal, and the wind did not rise, so we still have heat and power, while thousands don't. We ate good food, enjoyed wonderful presents, watched a funny but woefully profane movie ("The Heat") as a family, and Nate and I went for a cold Christmas afternoon run. Much to enjoy and be thankful for.

And today features snow (stopped now, but 7" forecast??!!!) and, I hope, some cleaning up. I just succumbed to another Audible sale and have two *more* audiobooks waiting for me, so cleaning up (starting with the farthest corner of my bedroom and working slowly down through the house) has a new appeal. One of them is Tale of Two Cities, at 13 hours, which I devoutly hope I won't get completely through!

The jammie pants got made, though Cam's were too small, so she has mine and I am tentatively planning to make another pair for me; both hats are done, tho L will probably regift his (which is fine); I think I'll restart N's Old Friend Pullover, start a basic pair of socks for me with the yarn that was frayed in spots, and start the purple version of N's hat for myself with my Secret Angel yarn. I got TONS of books for C'mas so there is much reading in my future.

Life of Pi: finished. But my, it's a weird book. Just not so sure about it.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Dec. 22: My Favorite Pre-Christmas Date

Not sure why I like the 22nd so much, but the date just appeals to me. I still have shopping and projecting to do, and there's a huge and extremely dreary rain/ice storm reigning outside, but am feeling happy and content. So. There we go.

Andy and I had to usher at church today, so we headed down and enjoyed a small and select congregational viewing of the pageant, a perfect way to handle the bleak weather and low turn out. Fun to see the kids I remember as babies playing lanky Mary and Joseph, blushing angels, flustered shepherds. . . . Really nice. Home now and trying to decide what to do next. Gotta do something!

The Moon and MoreThe Moon and More by Sarah Dessen
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sarah, Sarah, Sarah. . . "As close as this painting behind me, which as the flash popped, I reached a hand back towards, suddenly knowing what it was I'd seen on it earlier" (435). Editing much? Yikes!

Much as I enjoy Sarah Dessen, the book is nearly as muddled as that sentence. Is the plot about Emaline's relationship with her father? with Luke and/or Theo? with her half-brother? Her "dad's" obsession with remodeling? Her mom's lack of boundaries? Her own plans for the future? Her strangely-undeveloped friend Morris's inability to do anything right?

Well, yes. And it remains just that muddled throughout. Waaaaaay too much detail tossed in, wasting characters and plots that could've been interesting and thought-provoking otherwise. There are possibly 4 novels sloshing around in this one. I finished this on the basis of the name on the cover. That said, I really hope she slows down the rate of production and ups the quality of her writing, or she'll lose that vote of confidence.

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Well. It's nearly bed time (10 pm just struck) and it's been raining and freezing all day. Hard to tell how really bad it is, but Camilla, Andy, Nate, Zeus and I walked down town for some errands around 2:30 today and we were slipping all over. Lyle claims the driving is not so bad, but many places have lost power, so I am happy to stay put! I am nearly done with Camilla's stocking, and we watched "The Hobbit, Part I" today, so that was fun. I also did some great vacation tasks. I'll keep a list, because I'm oriented that way. So:

Great Vacation Tasks
read Life of Pi 12/26
clean out dryer so house doesn't burn down
clean my shower drain 12/22
clean my bathroom's fan vent (so dusty!)  12/22
take family picture 12/25
send said family pic out as New Year's card in process
make self a warm hat with either skein of lovely yarn I got for Christmas 12/31
have some people over for some reason 1/3: AFS kids for games!
go bowling, tubing, skating, or sliding: did not do it! COLD and/or stormy. 
go to the movies: Saving Mr. Banks or The Hobbit, II 12/23 Still want to see "Mr. Banks," but the weather did not cooperate. 

Will update as things go!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Dec. 21: Winter Solstice Book Reviews!

A Christmas Carol, The Chimes and The Cricket on the HearthA Christmas Carol, The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I love Dickens, and I love a bargain, so when Audible offered me a Jim Dale reading of this story free as a Christmas thank you, I jumped at it . . . Perfect listening for the week before C'mas vacation, thought I.

Well. It's one weird little story. It opens with a long "conversation" between the cricket on the hearth and the tea kettle. Honest. Then we meet the family who lives in the house: little Dot (whose real name is Mary) ad her (in modern eyes, creepily) older husband. . . . and, luckily, Tilly Slowboy the mentally deficient housemaid and the baby, about both of whom we get some great Dickens humor to leaven the schmaltz that drips from this little offering. There is an evil(ish) toy manufacturer, a saintly father, an angelic blind girl, a nearly undeveloped fiancee, a missing brother. . . lots of spirits of family and goodness and the like. Still, towards the ends Dickens manages to wring the old heartstrings, as he usually does, but I did miss the wry humor and control of his best writing (Great Expectations; Nicholas Nickleby; Christmas Carol). Not a good introduction to his work, but it was interesting to hear anyway.

The Last Dragonslayer (The Chronicles of Kazam, #1)The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really like Jasper Fforde's Tuesday Next series: he's funny, very smart, and creative, so when I saw he had a ya novel, I got it for Nate's b'day. That young man enjoyed it, so I picked it up to read it recently when I unearthed it in a decluttering binge. Unfortunately, I found it only okay, though I enjoyed reading it. I think Fforde needs a bigger canvas than he allowed himself in this novel: the book felt rushed, and the alternate reality felt perfunctory and thin. If this were the length of the average ya fantasy novel (500 pages or so), I think Fforde might've been able to cast his usual spell, but at just under 300 pages, it just falls a bit flat. I liked it––we have the sequel out from the library right now, and I plan to read it, too--but it just doesn't match his usual panache and wit!

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Friday, December 20, 2013

Friday, Dec. 20: Vacation. At Last.

Home and flopped on the couch. Andy and Camilla made her Norwegian sugar cookies. Nate is taking a nap. Lyle is wearing his jammies, doing laundry, and watching bad movies on his laptop. It's raining and due to ice up so C's meet was canceled and we can spend tonight in. Yay!

Good day at school. . . many alums back to say hi. . .I placed second in the cookie contest and ate more sugar than needed for a week or so. Cleaned my desk. Did a few "must dos". Made it home with a lot of student goodies and glad to be here.

Goals for vacation: lots of sleep. Naps, even. Lots of reading. Life of Pi, for sure. I have a new Sarah Dessen, which I might start with. Need to finish my stealth sewing. . . tomorrow, I hope. Would love to go to the Farnsworth. And out to lunch. I'd like to eat a lot of soup. And see some movies. And maybe skate and go tubing? And maybe bowling.

All doable.

Nap now?

Ah, vacation. So glad you're here!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Dec. 18: My First Snowday!

Unfortunately, Camilla and Nate only get a two hour delay, but I think they could've used a whole snow day, too. Oh well. I *really* wanted today off. And I got it!

Here are some snow pics from Sunday, our most recent storm, just to give you the flavor:

      Of course I woke up at 5 am to check, and then since there wasn't yet an announcement, I started getting ready to go for my swim, and then just as I was about to leave. . . the phone rang! I did go back to bed for a brief loll, but I was really too excited to sleep. So here I am. Have been reading my new bio of Ngaio Marsh (recently arrived second hand) and reveling in nostalgia for a time that never existed/I never experienced; plan to swim once the kids get off to school and couple that with a trip down town for some books at Union River Toy and Books, the makings of chai at the health food store, and a stop for vacation reading for me at the Library. . . very exciting! I also have some stealth knitting that I might be able to finish up. 

As I look at that list, I realize that my chances of a nap are dwindling!

And we will also head towards the mailbox, as the date for early decision notification is upon us, and Nate is waiting with "Batesed breath". . .  So much going on. 

And, again, I am deeply grateful for the fact that it can be bitter cold for going on three weeks and our only concern is staying warm: we can afford good food, as much fuel as necessary, and warm clothes at will. Not everyone is so lucky. "In the bleak midwinter," as the carol goes, let's extend the light to include as many people as we can. 

(not my image. Linked from

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Dec. 10: A weekend slips by me with no blogging. . . .

Though I surely meant to! The kids were in Quebec, and I had a nice chunk of time to do some stealth sewing and then also to spend time with the man I married 24.5 years ago--a really nice weekend, but time flew! A few audiobooks, however. . .

 Pietr the LatvianPietr the Latvian by Georges Simenon
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Listened to this odd little number just to see what it was like, as Yarnstorm lady had read and enjoyed all the Maigret novels in order. This one reminded me a lot of The Thirty Nine Steps in its woodness and its clear identity as A Police Novel From A Certain Time. A dash of anti-Semitism, a few unique characters, a wife who hardly appears. . . all in all, this first Maigret novel, while perfectly fine as a type, didn't leave me ordering up all the rest!

Tied Up in TinselTied Up in Tinsel by Ngaio Marsh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

About ten years ago I made a New Year's resolution to read all the Ngaio Marsh books, and I did, and highly enjoyed the process. I re-enjoy each one I listen to or reread. This one was a little festive, so it was great for an early December entertainment. Brava! Marsh is truly a master, and the reader (not Nadia May, but another great reader) was terrific.

Stitches : a handbook on meaning, hope, and repairStitches : a handbook on meaning, hope, and repair by Anne Lamott
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Impulse by at Northshire with Julie during the visit to Lyle. Granted, I read it in bits over a few weeks, but right from the start it felt perfunctory and repetitive. Ironically enough, I wondered if Lamott was stitching together (ouch) bits from her other books and essays to create a patchwork quilt (again) of a book. I was, frankly, disappointed. It is a far cry from "Help, Thanks, Wow,"--equally short but moving and reflective--or "Traveling Mercies." I'll reread it soon, and maybe see the error of my ways, but right now, it's a weak "okay."

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Sunday, December 1, 2013

December 1: Happy Advent!

Tell the Wolves I'm HomeTell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

LOVED this book: also a "Lyle trip purchase" at the Northshire Book Store, it absorbed me immediately. The characters are intriguing and the book is inventive and what I've heard people call "fully realized": I could picture each setting vividly. Lots to think about--I actually gobbled down the last 40 pages or so as it was getting late but I wanted to know what was going to happen! My one quibble is that I just wasn't so sure what the wolf theme was getting at. It's multi-layered for sure, but it seemed a little muddy, though that could be completely my fault due to my greedy reading.

Anyway: my two impulse buys were both hits. They'd make great reading for the holiday season, by the way!

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Well, what a nice vacation this became. Some down time, lots of "doing time," good family time, and a fun Santa Run today! We're all tucked in now, expecting to hear from Lyle about his safe arrival at Skidmore any time, with fireplace on against the greasy chilly weather, little lighted trees up in the windows, and us all about starting our work. Putting all thoughts of a movie and knitting out of my head. . . So greedy!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Nov. 27?: Really? Late Thanksgiving!

One for the Money (Stephanie Plum, #1)One for the Money by Janet Evanovich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reread this one as a filler just before T'giving break, 2013. More plot than her latest ones (she's up to 20, I think) and less ridiculous farce. Fun to revisit.

Mrs Tim Of The Regiment (Bloomsbury Group)Mrs Tim Of The Regiment by D.E. Stevenson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Darn! Again, Goodreads doesn't mesh with I listened to Christine Rendel's reading of this fluffy little novel and enjoyed it. The cover is the same as this one, but there's no audio choice. ANyway: I picked this novel as a mental break from anything challenging or intense, and I certainly got that. Lacking any real plot beyond "Mrs. Tim's" daily rhythm and routine, I had no idea when the book would end, or why--it's a bit like an Angela Thirkell novel, but less plot-driven and not as funny/satirical. Stevenson seems like a mid-ground Austen: her inclusion of the batty guest's drivel nearly inspired me to pull over and fast-forward, while Austen's Miss Bates has enough redeeming material in her monologues that I can stick with them.

One interesting aspect, however, was Stevenson's ability to show Tony's obvious devotion to Mrs. Tim while Mrs. Tim clearly had no clue. Also, the book's presentation of the whole idea of what "life in the regiment" was like between the wars was interesting.

Mild and pleasant.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold FryThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I bought this book on my unlikely trip to see Lyle swim over Veterans' Day weekend with Julie, and I very much enjoyed it. Although it took me a few pages to get used to her writing voice, Joyce manages to construct a book that is both realistic and intensely hopeful about humankind, and that is no easy feat. There is a lurking secret plot device that is a tad annoying (though it's pretty obvious what it is) and then a big revelation of both the secret AND Queenie's kindness that is poorly developed, but the book is really about people, action, faith, connection (to the outside, to ourselves and to each other) and the rhythms of life, so those little plot issues didn't derail my enjoyment of the book as a whole.

Unexpectedly powerful, this novel would be a great present and a terrific book group selection!

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Well, I just updated my Goodreads while sitting in the rocking chair in the den, rain pounding on the various windows and the wind howling around. Lyle and Tucker are driving home in Tucker's unreliable truck today, so we'll see how that goes. At least it's supposed to be in daylight. . . !

I am perched on the verge of springing into action: I need to swim and then head to the grocery store for gluten free options for Lyle and ingredients for the pies Nate and I are making for Mom's fest (this crust, tho not filling, will be my offering, while N is making his standard [and delicious] pecan pie). I also need to prep the candles for the Advent candle making activity at church on Sunday, as I inadvertently signed up for the Santa Race on the same day (i.e., didn't realize it was a Sunday till I'd signed up. . . Darn!) so they'll be on their own at church for that. We'll head to Mom's on Thursday morning in two cars, most probably, due to our extreme size, and plan to stay one night and head out around lunch time on Friday.

It's been an interesting stretch of time at school. Family has been warm, wonderful, celebratory, and fun. Nate in "The Sound of Music" was a treat. . . Camilla made wreaths with Andy yesterday. . . Life is good. We are blessed in many, many ways.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Nov?: Things I would Like Framed and Mounted on my Various Walls

Keep Calm and READ A BOOK Poster

Nov. 16: A Weekend Home (Sort of)

Juliet, NakedJuliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have an uneven relationship with Nick Hornby's writing, finding some of it terrific and some dull or so negative that I abandon it midstream. Juliet, Naked, is one of the terrific ones: I read it on the plane and during a recent weekend away, and it was so funny in parts that I alarmed my fellow travelers by laughing aloud. The depiction of the middle-aged "music nerd" and the effect of the internet on such groups of obsessives is trenchant and insightful: when I read it I thought, "You know, he's absolutely right!" even as I laughed and winced (As a knitter, I dabble in an internet-enabled obsessives group myself). The depiction of the depressed seaside town is lightened by the switches to the American setting, and the supporting characters, especially Jackson, Tucker's son, are interesting. My one quibble is that the end of the book seems rushed: the cast of characters assembled in London is dismissed too quickly, leaving both the reader and the plot feeling a little unfinished. Still, overall, I'd recommend Juliet, Naked, especially to people mature enough to laugh at themselves and to remember what life and hobbies were like before the internet began to shape our experience and our obsessions.

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Well, it's Saturday morning, grey but not very cold, and I am in my "where'd the time go?" mode. It's been a tough week with various family stresses and Nate's hell week leading up to last night's wonderful performance of "The Sound of Music".

Today I finally made (with some alterations due to laziness and/or lack of ingredients) these wonderful pumpkin scones, which are not very flaky but are certainly light and very delicious. Soon I will . . . well, probably. . . get myself out for a run, and then shower and go have lunch with my beloved friend Lori at a newly reopened lunch place downtown. Yay! I am hoping that I might also tuck a nap into my afternoon, but I'm not at all sure, things being as they generally are. I do have AP correcting to do, but with one week left before our week off from teaching (two professional days; kids are gone for the whole week), there is a sense of roominess which is not always the case!

To my delight, I have finished stealth hat #1 and am about 1/5 through stealth hat #2, and I also spent a happy hour and a half at school on Thursday working on the stealth sewing project--got all the fabric ironed and one pair of pants pinned and partially cut out. I'll have to up my speed if I'm going to get this done without much stress, but once "they" are all cut out, I think I can production-line things pretty fast. I still need to get pocket fabric, though. Hmmmm.

So.  Onwards.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Nov. 3, Sunday/Time Change Day

Feeling ridiculously upbeat and happy. Not sure why, though it's a cold, clear November day, I did pick up the house so it feels less "heckish," (as my mama used to say), we have an early release day tomorrow as it's the end of the quarter (and I think my correcting is under control!), and on Friday I head to CT/NY to see Julie and Lyle! And, this:

The BookstoreThe Bookstore by Deborah Meyler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At last, at last: a book I had low/no expectations for that delighted and surprised me! I really liked The Bookstore. It looks like a feel good/chick lit/pick it up at Target fluff number, but it's thoughtful, well written, funny, and full of interesting, original portraits of people, some horrifying and some decent and humane. I started noting cringe-inducing lines, but I ended up noting lovely references to other works of literature, unusual turns of phrase, insightful statements. Meyler's voice is intelligent, funny, and sharp: describing a chic gallery opening where she met her fiance, Esme says, "The women were in shiny gold cocktail dresses with leopard-skin accessories, not a tummy between them, and in very high, pointy heels. I--well, I can't remember what I had on. It might have been knitted." (27) Even though I am an ardent knitter, I know *exactly* what she means. Also, "it is a curious thing, to feel so glad that someone else is in the world, to feel that it is almost a privilege to love them." (16). There are many passing reframings of famous lines that delighted me, because I think that's how most of us quote--not perfectly, but imitating the pattern, the key images. I was reading so fast by then that I didn't dogear pages, but just go read the book for yourself.

You might skip the inane interview at the end, however. Meyler is entertaining, but the questions are pretty flat.

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Friday, November 1, 2013

Nov.1: A Windy Friday!

John Saturnall's FeastJohn Saturnall's Feast by Lawrence Norfolk
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well. Just finished listening to the audiobook version, although Goodreads says one doesn't exist, and I am torn, again. The book had a lot of interesting details and ideas in it, but, ultimately, it didn't hold together. The story of the First Feast and the first ancestor, the idea of the Feast of the title--call me stupid, but I just didn't see how Norfolk tied that idea up thoroughly. Why would Marpet flee the face of the first ancestor? I felt almost like my story skipped big sections--but it didn't. The stories of John's mysterious father was dropped, even John's wonderful adventures as a cook didn't pan out. And the love plot was the hardest to swallow for me: why were J and L so drawn to each other? Pierce and John's battle for possession of Lucy and then her whole portrayal were stereotypical. I got the recommendation from a favorite book blog, Cornflowerbooks, but I was a bit disappointed in the book. LIked it, didn't LOVE it--could've been better.

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Friday, October 25, 2013

Oct. 25: Friday, and a Weekend with Not Much Planned!

Well, today Nate got his license. His elder brother got his just before he started spending most of his time away, so that hasn't seemed like a big reality to me, but my! thinking of my baby (yeah, I do that, I have to admit) driving. . . wow. I'm proud of him, but I still feel unprepared. Blessings on him, and may all things go well!

And: I have several books on the go, including a luscious one on audiobook: John Saturnall's Feast, rec'd by a wonderful book blogger, CornflowerBooks. It is absorbing, rich, and I much look forward to listening to it as I adapt and finish the Harry Potter robe I'm making for a son's friend. Also, I am loving the secret Christmas project I'm knitting (Tweet), and listening to the book will make the knitting even more fun. Last weekend I started reading The Art of Fielding (and dreamt about it during my weird wakeful stretch early last week) and I also checked a fluff book called The Bookstore out of our library at school.

I've also been browsing recipes: Joy the Baker comes through with Pumpkin Pecan Scones, and I want to make no-knead bread, and pumpkin coconut bisque. Now I only wish I had a week off, maybe!

Later: just watched "What to Expect When You're Expecting," and found it to be a much funnier and more moving film than I'd expected. Wish I'd convinced Andy to watch it too: lots of memories of first moments and deliveries and the like. Not perfect, but raised a lot of interesting points. So: soon to read a bit and then to bed. It's chilly and raining outside: perfect Halloween weather!

So: lots of good, rich stuff happening. Interesting how life is always interesting.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Oct. 21: Monday. Buying a New Audiobook

Rachel's HolidayRachel's Holiday by Marian Keyes
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I like Marian Keyes, and I remembered Rachel's Holiday as being both funny and intense, chronicling Rachel Walsh's realization of her addiction and her steps to cure it. However, as an audiobook it was only okay: the reader seemed over-earnest and lacked the ability to offer any accent besides her own basic Irish; the long flashbacks and retelling of various unhealthy decisions, made unskippable by the audio format, became boring or unbearable. Luckily, it was abridged, you might be thinking: but the abridgement was truly a hatchet job, leaving several noticeable gaps in the story that an alert editor should have sorted out. Chris's car was stolen? What? Jackie's husband wore a wig? What? Lastly, I was flabbergasted by the note in the conclusion thanking all the "brave men and women" who took cocaine for the purposes of research and reported to the author how it felt so she could use it in her book. What the heck was that? Again, maybe an attempt to be funny, but where was her editor? All in all, a weak "okay" at best.

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Now: Just bought John Saturnall's Feast. Should be "rich and strange" and just right to get me out of a rut and maybe through sewing a whole Halloween costume!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Oct. 19: Catching Up Saturday

A lovely day. Camilla was off for her last volleyball commitment, a huge tournament in FALMOUTH, at 5:50 am!!!!, and Nate off for what is possibly his last high school xc race in Hermon at 8:50. I have some pucky things to do, a set of Harry Potter Quidditch robes in deep red flannel to complete for the son of a friend, a tad of correcting, some house cleaning and a run to accomplish and then A and I are heading up to watch N run. Tomorrow we're having some AFS folk over to carve pumpkins, and then: a full week of school. Whoosh!

Much of my work lately has been powered by the Pandora "Americana Radio" station that Elana suggested. It is wonderful!

Catching up on some books that I haven't entered into Goodreads yet. Stay tuned!

  The Spectator BirdThe Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first few pages of this story simply blew me away: Stegner's ability to choose exactly the right word to create a vivid picture, tone, and character is staggering, even when I was listening and not looking/reviewing/revisiting actual text. However, as the book went on, I found the character of Joe Allston and his perspective on life and people to be depressing and exhausting, so I took a break from the audio to listen to music (and follow the government shut down scenario. . . ). When I returned, the incredible scenario of the Countess's family tale caught me and carried me through to the end of the novel.

Overall, I found the book strange and uneven: the story of the Danish nobility is weird and scurrilous; the "front story" of the Allstons' retirement is depressing and unfinished, as the novel ends with the dinner party with the fatally ill friend still ahead; the whole conceit of Joe and his wife reliving this 20 year old experience through his journals is both unrealistic and odd. Overlying the whole experience was my deep awareness of Stegner's skill as a writer, and my matching wonderment about why he chose to craft this particular bundle of ideas and characters. When I learned it was written in the 70's, somehow it all made sense, as this odd combo of grief, loss, longing, skill, and insight seems to fit with the characteristics of that time period (writes one who was 7 - 17 during it!).

Anyway: interesting but uneven.

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Okay. I guess I have only finished one, and an audiobook at that! I am partly through the audiobook of Marian Keyes's Rachel's Holiday, which was my antidote to the darkness of Winter's Bone, Burial Rites, and Spectator Bird, but I am finding it to be surprisingly dark, even as it's funny. I'll listen to it while I sew today, I think. Last night, after reading "at" Joanne Harris's Gentlemen and Players but not finishing it, I started The Art of Fielding, and I think I dreamt about it: certainly it was suddenly 10:30, which is the sign of a good book! I may try to finish the Harris novel and then commit to Fielding. I do like to leave a tidy pile of finished books behind me! I also feel a hunger for what the Common Reader catalog used to call a "thumping great read," possibly a 19th c novel. Am I ready for Bleak House? Since I have plans to complete two of these for Christmas presents, I might need to stay with the audiobook format so I can knit and read at once! I am really enjoying knitting on the first one: the yarn is unusual but interesting, and the pattern is involving but not difficult.

Anyway: off to cue up Rachel's Holiday and sew the hood to the robe. . .

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Oct. 6, Sunday: Breathing through The Now

Well, we're up to a busy busy week: I have drifts of correcting that didn't get attended to last week, and more coming in; I have NEASC meetings at school that will consume a good deal of my lovely Sunday afternoon and had me stress dreaming last night (!!); I have a library meeting (and extra library meeting) to prep for another extra Library meeting; I have my usual life and unfoldings, and then, like a light in the mist, we have parent confs. all day Friday and a three day weekend.

I have had a lovely fun trip to Belfast with Camilla and Andy to see Nate run well at his race; an overnight with Nate to visit Bates (and see Gram and Anita),  a delicious feed on the freshest lobsters possible, caught by a wonderful new friend of Camilla's and her 14 year old brother; I have started a Christmas project (knitting) that is both doable and instructional (I hope), and I have been experiencing, as is so often the case in times of demand, the "next step" of hormonal variations in my life, so have had that level of reflection and excitement as well.

A rich and full life, indeed.

Onwards, breathing, and enjoying the now.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

September 28: Time Flies!

Burial RitesBurial Rites by Hannah Kent
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, Julie sent me this book and followed it up with the full page rave review from the NYTRB, so I read it. Hmmmmm. Here I wish Goodreads had another response format than "like", because that chatty verb doesn't quite cover this novel. It is dark, despairing, depressing, and, in many ways, the hopeless story of a hopeless life. It's full of mucus, excrement, urine, rain, snow, cold, blood. Lots of blood.

So, my thoughts were, "Why would anyone want to read this book?" coupled with "why would anyone want to write this book?" and seasoned with ""How could people survive living like this?" and "What incredible details and impact! I am living this life!"

There is no humor in the book. There is little love or redemption (when you see it, you pretty much know the end is near for somebody), and there are very few likable characters at all, including Agnes, who is mysterious, troubled, and downright weird in places.

I do think Kent's craft is remarkable. I also feel the book appeals to the side of us that rubbernecks at a car accident. I did not like it, I don't know why anyone should read it, but it is impressively researched, well-written, and powerful. That said, I'm off for something cheery.

Winter's BoneWinter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Again, "liked it" doesn't really fill the bill. Woodrell is an amazing writer, and his first few pages knocked my socks off: his voice, his descriptions, his ability to put the reader completely into the head of a backwoods survivor like Ree in about a page--WOW. But the story of these people's lives is tough, tough, tough. There is humor, there is love, there is some hope, but overall the story is dark, sad, haunting, and gorgeously written. Ree as a character is both like and unlike the people she lives around and with, and she's a remarkable creation. I'd choose this novel as a less devastating read that Burial Rites, though it's surely damning in its depiction of the lives people still struggle to lead in the US today.


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Saturday, September 21, 2013

September 21: Saturday Evening: Bring It On!

It's getting grey and chillyish out there, and it's due to rain. I'm tucked up on the futon, having had a day that featured
rise at 6:30, tidy house, meet with Nate, Andy, and Sam Eliot for college talk, quick errand run with Camilla, make a batch of greasy o'malleys for care packages, run, shower, correct AP papers for two hours (woot! woot!), deal with laundry, FLOP onto futon, 

Andy is watching something on tv but will probably fall asleep soon, Camilla is at homecoming and then an overnight with some friends, and N just got home from Aaron's, mowed the lawn, and is putzing on his laptop. We are all breathing deeply after a busy week, but we're doing well!

I wish I could make zucchini relish and also watch some good movies while knitting. . . . alas. . . but in general I feel pretty happy. I have just gotten some good backup drive advice from Anne Swann, so we'll see how that works. Leftovers for dinner, and more greasy o'malleys to box up!

Monday, September 2, 2013

September 2: Rainy, Sleepy Labor Day Monday

Well, this is the official, no-matter-how-you-slice-it, absolute last day of summer vacation. Tomorrow I'm up and off for a full day of real deal classes, as is Andy; the kids may pretend they're still on vacation, but everyone *except* 10th - 12th graders at their high school are back to school, and Nate has to go help orient 9th graders, so their Wednesday start is inevitable.

So this am is full of rain and still very dark: Katniss, pictured above on my skilled photobooth shot, spent the night outside but raced inside as soon as I opened the door and crashed into sleep; Zeus the dog is sleeping on the couch; the teens are still snoozing, their Blue Hill Fair plans probably on hold due to the rain; I am enjoying this quiet time with no pressure to get outside as a way to do various final/loose endy tasks that remain.

We had a lovely lawn party yesterday, designed to introduce the hosting families and their students to each other, and it was a lot of fun and not a lot of work. Both our kids were hospitable, helpful, and outgoing--we're so proud of them!--and the memories of Silas, Mia, Dani, and Lyle from three years ago were strong. Pic below: well, maybe not. I have to get some off Facebook, and that may take some tweaking. HA! Did it!

However, my goals for today:

--pack Julie's care package, designed to prep her for her new job as an English/social studies tutor at Ridgefield High School. I am *so* proud of her for taking action and happy about the position! I think she'll gain happiness and some calm in her busy life. Yay! I'm sending her a nice dressy tshirt, a gorgeous soft dressy scarf (perfect for dressing up a wardrobe that is pretty outdoors oriented at this point), and a box of really strong black tea--nothing like it for the 1 pm drowsy fits.

--finish the toe and finishing on Andy's socks that have been taking time, time time. I have about 30 rows and the ends to deal with. Git 'em done!

--prep a syllabus for AP and GL so I am ready for the week!

--get flowers in my role as Sunshine Club assistant for two teachers who are returning tomorrow after various health issues. Yay!

--POSSIBLY: iron some clothes (linen, I love you, but I never seem to get to the ironing. . . ) and write a few thank you notes. AND talk Nate into baking something luscious.

Shazamm! I don't know if the kids will go to the Fair in the afternoon (totally weather dependent, I would guess), but I am NOT swimming Branch Lake with Steve and Andy this morning in the gloom and rain. Ah well.

What a lovely summer this has been: lots of reading and sleep; lots of live theater; a wedding; much family; lots of use of the Park and outdoor activity; much appreciation in general. Onwards!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday, August 30: End of (Sorta) Week One

Just wanted to record my statement: I am done with people who tell me how heretical or radical they are. For some reason, I find that incredibly self-vaunting and conceited. I'm not sure why, but I will say that I am tired of hearing the story that goes, "Well, you know me, I just reared back and told it like it is. . . " or "And, radical that I am, I refused to accept that excuse. . . " or "Of course, you know how I'm so . . . . . " . Maybe it's flattering self-generalizations I am tired of. But I am tired of them! Prompted by some blog reading, not (hooray) by my first contact with the bulk of this next year's students (new 9th graders), my next FOUR years' advisees (also 9th graders) or (most of) the staff for my next academic year. Those three days have been positive but exhausting. Can't imagine what next Friday will feel like, but this Friday fit nicely next to a gin and tonic on the patio. Wish I could've fit in a nap! Relish: My Life in the KitchenRelish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First book from the high school library this year--a fun combo of cookbook, memoir, and graphic novel. A tad disjointed, but, more troublingly, also poorly edited, with way too many grammatical and usage errors (misplaced mods, etc) for a book with little text! Bothers me to see such careless editing. Otherwise, it's an interesting book and I hope to make a few recipes from its pages!

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

August 28: First Day Back and All is Well

Happiness Sold SeparatelyHappiness Sold Separately by Lolly Winston
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I enjoyed Good Grief, so when I saw HSS at the library book sale, I scooped it up, and it was an okay read. The characters Winston creates are interesting, but somehow I found the plot disjointed and lacking in power overall. There are a lot of them: the husband and wife, the various lovers, the tree guy, the various lovers' lovers, the kid (who was one of my favorite characters, actually), the friend. . . . and that whole cast o' characters weakened the overall impact of the story. Okay but not stellar.

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Monday, August 26, 2013

August 26: The Days are Waning!

Speaking from Among the Bones (Flavia de Luce, #5 )Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really enjoyed this outing with Flavia in the waning days of my lovely summer vacation. She is less obnoxious and a little more reflective while losing none of her sass. My quibbles are that the solution to the murder (you know there's a murder!) is ridiculously convoluted: I still can't figure out why one character is locked up, and the details she notices and uses to draw her conclusions become mindboggling. Also: WHY IS SHE SO FOND OF HER FATHER? She goes on and on, but he's sullen, selfish, withdrawn, and a terrible parent from start to finish. Surely someone as independent as Flavia could see his shortcomings and expect him to work to mend them.

Still: highly enjoyable!

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Aug. 22: Taking a Breath!

Well. It's 8:08 a.m.; I am sitting on the futon in the den, helping Nate edit his AP Lit summer reading paper, and planning to spring into action soon to start completing an outline of my AP Lit class for the year. . .  Camilla is at an overnight/tubing/shopping trip, and Lily is sleeping upstairs. Andy is out the door to tutor, and Nate works 5 - 9 tonight. In less than one week, I'll be back to the round of school meetings, with the reality of my new school year on tap.


This summer has been an interesting and rich one, as usual--less full of projects and more full of work and reflection that some. I did a lot of school prep and thinking, which is great; I did a lot of reading, which was also great, and I slept a lot as well--what a pleasure! I think one of the biggest pleasures was my evening routine, which wasn't really a routine, but just a conscious sense every evening that I could do whatever I wanted to: watch the Sox, go out for ice cream, knit, read for school, read for pleasure, futz around on the lap top. . . . I may be a routine person, and my school year routine works really well, but I do love the freedom of my summer evenings!

So: a trip to Bangor for school shopping still needs to happen, along with our kayaking trip on Sunday, a lawn party to welcome Camilla and kick off Nate and her senior year, the Blue Hill Fair, and perhaps an AFS mini-golf trip. Ah, such goals.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

August 21: One More Week!

The Redeemer (Harry Hole, #6)The Redeemer by Jo Nesbø
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jo Nesbo lives in Molde, our exchange daughter's home town, so she brought us a copy of this book. It was an exciting read, with the troubling exception that it really read almost exactly like The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo: a cranky detective character, corruption, winter Scandanavian setting, deviant sexual appetites, torture scenes. . . . Weird. It was a page turner, but I don't think I'll read any more Harry Hole adventures.

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

August 15: And now time speeds up. . .

The Woman WarriorThe Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another "reread for teaching" book. I think I read this in my late high school career and possibly for a class in college, but I remember being really challenged and confused by its narrative structure. What was real? What was fantasy? What was the point?

This time around, I loved it--the various layers of the story were fascinating and absorbing, presenting different realities: some of them familiar to me from my own experience, from stories friends told me, from other stories of assimilation, struggle, and identity; some strange and unsettling. I am really looking forward to using this novel with my AP class this year! I look forward to reading critical essays about it and Kingston's work in general as well.

Highly recommended.

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So much I still want to do, and so many other things I still need to get done. Stunning weather, great people, good work. . . . Je ne regrette rien!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

August 11: Fluff reading during Camilla's arrival!

Ladies' NightLadies' Night by Mary Kay Andrews
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A pleasant, fluffy read. . . nothing earth shattering, nothing particularly original but nothing incredibly irritating, either (tho there was a typo: "his facial features taught". Whoops! ). Purportedly a home decorating theme, but really didn't follow through with that enough to make it much fun. Oh well. Not a bad read: tailor made for the statement, "It was okay."

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Thursday, August 8, 2013

August 8: Updated Review of My Favorite Summer Read, and various other musings.

Well here I am at 9:28 on Thursday morning. It just started raining, after a lovely stretch of spectacular Maine weather: 75 and sunny during the days, then becoming a chilly 50 or so during the clear, lovely nights. The usual August routine of appointments and such has settled in. . . and our big push is getting things decent for Camilla, who arrives on Saturday. She at orientation at UNE in Biddeford now, and Nate and I will depart early on Sat. to get her.

Here's my updated review, done before I send the book to Julie for her reading pleasure. . . .

AmericanahAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I *gobbled* this book down. I want to write a more developed review (I added more stuff below)  when it's not 9:42 pm after a busy day and Shakespeare at the Fort and all, but I loved it. The story is one that takes a unique perspective and experience and opens it up so that it includes the reader. It is gentle with people, allowing them to make mistakes and to change. It's funny and sad, but always hopeful, and it shows that life happens all over the world, celebrating the struggles and the triumphs that people face. I would love to have a chance to talk over it all with Adichie: her strong, clear voice, her willingness to draw positive male and female characters of all races and backgrounds, and her sense of humor make her seem like a person who'd be great to know!

More later. For right now, go buy it. Full price, at your local bookstore. I did, and I don't regret it one bit. This book deserves to be a bestseller!

ETA: Before I send this off for Julie to read, I wanted to tie in a few passages I marked to give a sense of Adichie's way with language. Ifemelu reflects on the kind of books her boyfriend likes: "novels written by young and youngish men and packed with things, a fascinating, confusing accumulation of brans and music and comic books and icons, with emotions skimmed over, and each sentence stylishly aware of its own stylishness. She had read many of them, because he recommended them, but they were like cotton candy that so easily evaporated from her tongue's memory." (12). And then she describes Obinze's mother: "She was pleasant and direct, even warm, but there was a privacy about her, a reluctance to bare herself completely to the world, the same quality as Obinze. She had taught her son the ability to be, even in the middle of a crowd, somehow comfortably inside himself." (69/70) What a vivid way to describe that particular element of certain people--and that element defines Obinze's character and the relationship Ifemelu has with him throughout the novel.

Another thing the novel did was discuss how Americans deal with foreigners, especially those from African countries. Ifemelu comments on the usual response being "Isn't there a war there?" as well as the attitude toward accents and toward non-American names. Having read those sections, I took a deep breath and forced myself to stop skimming the names and thinking, "There's the main character, her name starts with an I" and really figured out how Ifemelu's name was spelled and (probably) pronounced. Adichie doesn't hector, but she presents a clear picture of what it's like to be on the receiving end of such stereotypes and expectations. Also, she creates a character, Ifemelu, who is known for being outspoken, who alters her accent into Americanese and then, deliberately, recaptures her Nigerian style of English when she realizes what she's done. Ifemelu has advantages, has opportunities: she is aware of them and how they enable her to make a life in the US and a life in Nigeria. If we're moving toward a "world is flat" type global identity, Adichie's Americanah and her characters offer a possible model for how that reality could be lived.

Hopeful, humane, articulate, and perceptive, Adichie has created a valuable, arresting novel full of characters I'd love to meet in real life.

I am using my new MacBook Air from school, which has "ipad tendencies" so occasionally a page will change with no warning, etc. Ah well. I will adapt. Talk about 1st world problems!

Lyle is off in Nepal, out of range for a few more weeks. I am sure he's having a great time, but I do confess that I am marking off the days in my head!

Okay. Must sort through a few boxes, do some laundry, vacuum, and then head to the Y before going for my mammogram. . . Ah, what a life I live. I will share a few pics if possible just to lively up this space. Oops. But not from this laptop! Haven't yet transferred my files over. Later, I guess! When You Were MineWhen You Were Mine by Elizabeth Noble
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well, this one started well, but when I finished it, I was really down, and I finally realized that it was because Susanna, the main character, was such a jerk. Really. The copy of this book is all about second chances, but it's more like sixth chances because she keeps being selfish and shallow and demanding. The relationship she's in with Doug is already in trouble, but she refuses to do anything about it, and her passivity makes her much much less sympathetic. When she finally goes away to think about her needs and her life, I was thinking she'd finally grow up and become responsible------- but the doorbell rings, and there's the end of her really coming to terms with her own issues.

SO: the book is written well enough, but the character is frustratingly selfish and immature, and we're asked to sympathize with her which makes for a bad overall reading experience. Some of the plot details, like Rob's wife being deployed to Afghanistan, are updated but tired, trite themes from romance plots goneby. Back to the book sale shelves it goes.

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Sunday, August 4, 2013


AmericanahAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I *gobbled* this book down. I want to write a more developed review when it's not 9:42 pm after a busy day and Shakespeare at the Fort and all, but I loved it. The story is one that takes a unique perspective and experience and opens it up so that it includes the reader. It is gentle with people, allowing them to make mistakes and to change. It's funny and sad, but always hopeful, and it shows that life happens all over the world, celebrating the struggles and the triumphs that people face. I would love to have a chance to talk over it all with Adichie: her strong, clear voice, her willingness to draw positive male and female characters of all races and backgrounds, and her sense of humor make her seem like a person who'd be great to know!

More later. For right now, go buy it. Full price, at your local bookstore. I did, and I don't regret it one bit. This book deserves to be a bestseller!

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Thursday, August 1, 2013

August 1: Gorgeous Start to the Month, but a not-so-good book

Agnes and the HitmanAgnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I do like Jennifer Crusie, and I have liked some of her efforts with Bob Mayer (Don't Look Down, for example). However, Agnes, which I just found at the booksale and thought I'd read before, but haven't, is a decidedly mixed undertaking. There are definite signs of Crusie's general storyline: a cobbled-together, oddball family; strong female characters; a dog; a cooking/eating subtext; her breathy, non-stop style that features long sentences strung together by more conjunctions than my students would approve; sex scenes featuring women who aren't stick thin. However, this novel has a complex betrayal/conspiracy/Mafia/government plot that means the first three chapters are nearly incomprehensible, given Crusie/Agnes's addle-pated delivery and some very unsettling hitman/murder on demand scenes that add a jarring note. More jarring, however, is the scenario of Agnes's murderous rages that have left one fiance with a steel plate in his head and another wounded; a third episode of betrayal leads to her attacking the hitman of the title in a bout a sex that if it had been perpetrated on a woman, would've been unequivocal rape/domestic abuse. I *get* that this is fluff. I *get* that this is a ditzy, wham-bam-thank-you-m'am madcap caper. . . . but it's slightly unsettling, not to say troubling.

This hybrid doesn't work. It was written in 2007, so that gives me hope that she/they matured their style. Back to the library donation bin with Agnes and her hit man!

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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

July 31: A Heaping Helping of Summer

Well. The last of two goes of summer family visits left about an hour ago. They are excellent picker-uppers, stripping the beds, collecting their gear, and double-checking for forgotten items, so it was easy to get the laundry in and hung out and that sense of peace and space back. And today is one of the heart-breakingly gorgeous Maine summer days that have been threaded sparingly through the chain of this summer. It's breezy, so the bugs stay off, but the sun rules about 97% of the time, so I am sitting on the patio in my now-dry bathing suit as Andy snoozes in the hammock and Nate is delivering the paper with the rest of the day off. These two weeks of July have been largely vacation: no school reading, no school emails, no school planning. We have been to a wonderful family wedding, seen all of our family except my step-niece and nephews, seen Lyle off to his Nepal adventures (and heard a bit from him!), contacted our AFS daughter who arrives August 10, spent some quality time at the Park biking, hiking, wading, and sight-seeing, done several touristy trips through Bar Harbor (whew), eaten a lot of ice cream, eaten out some but not too much thanks to my lesson in planning from the Skibsholts' visit last year, had some fun festive meals out and in, and generally lived it up. Yay, us.

However, I think patio time is my favorite part of summer. The cats are lolling around (okay, that's a bit pastoral as I just rescued a snake from Katniss's clutches and chucked her inside), Z has been snoozing on the warm stones and recovering from his very active swim with us this morning, I'm reading a fluff book, and Andy has been asleep. The leaves rustle in the breeze, I can see the lake sparkling at the bottom of the road, and there's a nice ratio of sunshine to shade. I could do school work, I could make phone calls, or I could do what I'm doing: not much. I am sucking the juice out of my last day of July, prepping for the demands of August. What luxury!

And August:
dentist, doctor, eye doctor
Camilla's arrival
prep for Camilla's arrival
school stuff!
school itself (okay, a ways away, but still. Same month.)
cats to vet
flea the animals
N's final college visits?
N's driver's test?
a few more school meetings. . .

But oh, it has been a lovely July.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

July 30: Another book! Summer Rental: Summer reading!

Summer RentalSummer Rental by Mary Kay Andrews
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My sister-in-law gave me this as a fun summer read, and it is--pleasant, entertaining, and written in a workable style that includes a lot of brand names and some predictable situations, but, all in all, Summer Rental is a solid entry in the "stick it in your beach bag" category. I read it as my brother's family visited, so lots of skimming and reading during Red Sox games were involved, but I'm listing Andrews in my "reliable lite lit writers" stand by group. There is a month of summer left, after all!

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Monday, July 29, 2013

July 29: Family, Family, Family! And a book.

Nice Girls DoNice Girls Do by Sarah Duncan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Library book sale. . . what can I say? Fifty cents towards the Friends of the Library's good programming efforts resulted in a modestly acceptable example of Brit chick lit with some garden info thrown in for good measure. A hand-written note by the former owner said "this book had more meaning in it than I'd expected," but I found it pretty trite and predictable, with character development of the "Suddenly, she realized. . . " variety and an overall sense of the author trying too hard. Katie Fforde does these speciality romances with panache and good humor, and I never get the sense that she thinks she's Creating Great Art, but Duncan seemed to strain a bit as she told this story of a woman who has to choose between the dark, glamourous Oliver and the warm but mysterious Will, wending her way through drugs, accidents, and self-doubt to discover true happiness. . . Sound familiar? It is, a little.

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

July 25: A Thumping Good Read, and Thumping Good Visit!

Coming HomeComing Home by Rosamunde Pilcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Okay, so this book is not "amazing" in the high tomes of literature aspect. . . But it is amazing in that it is a Thumping Good Read, as the Common Reader used to say. It's huge, absorbing, and full of historical info that recreates a time period that fascinates me. Even though it's 728 pages (!!!), when I finished it (this is a reread; I've also watched the BBC movie), I thought, "I wish there was a sequel!"--that's saying something! Pilcher is at her best here as she creates characters that we care about and also creates a landscape that feels real. Her description of the Carey-Lowells, their easy elegance, charm, and class, is pitch-perfect, recreating the feeling I've had on certain visits to families who seem enchanted. Yes, there's a lot of unexpected luck and Pollyanna-like belief in the power of a good cuppa, a pretty dress, and a bracing walk on the cliffs, but Pilcher also observes human nature quite shrewdly and perceptively.

All it all, Coming Home presented just what I wanted after reading a good number of edgy, challenging books! It's a great book to keep on hand for a vacation read, or when you're recovering from a cold. Rich, absorbing, and comfortable.

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Friday, July 19, 2013

July 19: A Bunch of Books before We Leave for the Family Reunion!

We Need New Names: A NovelWe Need New Names: A Novel by NoViolet Bulawayo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bought this at Sherman's, my ibs, after reading a review in O Magazine. It is a devastating and beautiful book, with several chapters that could stand on their own as short stories or excerpts to use in a class. What made the book especially impressive was that it didn't fit the usual narrative arc of an immigrant story: I read the chapters set in Zimbabwe with anxiety, watching as things deteriorated, hoping for improvement, for Darling to "get out of there" to some place better--but then, when she gets to the US, the better is muted, confusing, not-always-better. The novel/memoir? is heartbreaking not in its scenes of brutality or suffering, but in its depiction of the fact that home, for better or worse, leaves marks on our souls that can't ever be erased, and leaving home--no matter the reason, no matter the improvement--causes disruption and loss. A beautiful and sad book, We Need New Names should be required reading for anyone considering immigration issues.

Growing UpGrowing Up by Angela Thirkell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not one of Thirkell's most sparkling books, but an interesting view of the start of WWII on the home front. I got a very old edition with a 1960's cover (not the one shown) and the back blurb was entertaining, as the writer clearly was trying to cram Thirkell into a mode of romance novel that she just doesn't fit.

Orphan TrainOrphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Just finished Orphan Train. It's written by a woman with strong local ties--heck, it mentions Ellsworth, the school I teach at, AND Marden's my favorite discount store!--and it has been riding a lot of buzz. I heard Kline speak at our library and she mentioned this book had a print run of 150,000, while her other books were about 50,000, so clearly: it's big!

I enjoyed the story. Though it's a style I've complained about in the past, the switched point of view worked quite well in this format. The Molly/Vivian plot and the Niamh/Dorothy/Vivian plot were equally interesting, and Kline gave each a good sized chunk at a time, so the changes weren't jarring or manipulative. The characters were interesting and the plot did pull me in. It was a good story.

However, my big issue with the book, what kept it from being a really strong piece of writing, was Kline's narration and dialogue. Molly is a disenfranchised teenager who's bounced around foster care for years, but her thoughts are clear and articulate at all times. A description will start effectively: "She is so white-hot furious she can barely see," but then segues into a kind of removed description that just doesn't ring true: "she knows that just beyond the rage is a sorrow so enervating it could render her immobile." Excuse me? One or two of those clunkers might not be a big deal, but they are frequent, and the characters' dialogue shows the same falseness: Jack, the boyfriend, is girl-fantasy articulate, understanding, and chatty; Dutchy, the scrappy survivor of a terrible childhood, tells Viv, "I was such a shell of a person. I had no confidence. Playing the piano gave me a place in the world. And. . .. it was something I could do when I was angry or upset, or even happy. It was a way to express my feelings when I didn't even know what they were." This is 1939, when "talking about our feelings" was much less common than now, and this is a young man. . . It just doesn't ring true. It's great for the story and for Vivian that he says it, but it doesn't feel realistic or convincing.

There's a lot to like in this novel, and I enjoyed it, but it needed a truer voice for some of the characters, especially the teenage ones. Incredible emotional experiences are really hard to summarize, which makes writing about them so tricky. Kline goes a little too far in making her points, even as she tells some important stories.

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Saturday, July 13, 2013

July 13: Top Ten Summer Day!

Dawn (The Night Trilogy, #2)Dawn by Elie Wiesel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another reread for possible "Slant" AP reading, Dawn was more uneven than I had remembered. Its message is hard to follow in places, with apparent non-sequiturs that remind me of the Victor Frankl quote about an abnormal response to an abnormal situation being normal. I am thinking I will still pair this with Night as a slant on the issue of justice/injustice/heroism/terrorism, probably after we've read Hamlet. It's a quick read, and its tumbling, confusing, sometimes contradictory style fits the scenario well, as Elisha waits for dawn and the news if he will have to kill the hostage or not. Not as artistically strong as Night, Dawn still raises powerful and important questions. I'm interested in what my students will say.

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Got Dawn in the mail today and decided that our shady, breezy patio at the end of a lovely day was the best way to reread it. Done. Whew.

Lovely day: it was hot and sticky this am, and then about 9 there was an almost audible "click" and the breeze started, the air dried, and it became a stunning Maine summer day. It has remained so all day--I ran at around 11, and though it was hot, there was a lovely breeze and the shade felt great when I hit it. On Thursday, as I was walking to the outdoor movie, I was noticing how dense and damp and completely still the air felt--Friday was better, and today was even more lovely. Andy and I made a trip to pick up a book at Sherman's and ended up having a lovely time, getting N some books for his b'day and picking up a copy of Orphan Train for me (and a few others). Andy had inveigled me into leaving our gorgeous cool shady patio/favorite place on Earth by offering lunch out, and we ended up eating on the terrace at the Bar Harbor Inn, and then getting ice cream at Mt. Desert Ice Cream. . . The town was nicely busy but not frantic, and people seemed happy and relaxed. It was a great trip, and a great way for me to do summer a little bit. Once we contact Camilla and find out her arrival date, we can also plan some other summer "must do" trips.

Big family gathering next weekend--would it be too much to ask for next Saturday to be as lovely as this one?

Friday, July 12, 2013

July 12: The Sun Has Come Out!

Hard TimesHard Times by Charles Dickens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, really: "what did you think?" ? I reread this book as I am considering it for AP English Lit. I read it for a high school class--I am pretty sure it was 10th grade, so that would be 1978-79. . . and, amazingly, I didn't remember much about it! it is a critique of materialism and industrialism, and a (sometimes strident) reminder that people have hearts and hands--they are both feelers and workers--and that our educational system needs to address both aspects. It's not as strong a book as Great Expectations: Dickens is angry in many parts of it, and his anger results in less deft, controlled writing, but it still has that Dickensian power of plot and the wonderful palette of characters and the occasional turns of phrase or description that work beautifully.

For Dickens, it's short(ish) at 276 pages in my Bantam Classic edition. It fits well with my first unit's theme (education), but I'm just not sure. I might use A Christmas Carol instead--shorter yet, and certainly filled with cultural resonance. Still, I'm glad I reread it!

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We had another stretch of grey, still, stuffy days, and then last night the skies cleared in time for the first outdoor movie of the summer (YAY! "Charlotte's Web"!) and around 3 am the breeze started and it was a picture-perfect summer day today, a day which included meeting with our new Dean of Curriculum at the Maine Grind, a great experience; a walk and lunch and chat with Lori, a long-overdue great experience, and then a walk around town and Mortons Moo visit with Andy, topped off by some lovely reading outside to finish the book above!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

July 9: Starting 25 years of married life!

Where'd You Go, BernadetteWhere'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, I tried this once this winter, as a hand-me-over from Julie with a very lukewarm rating. It didn't grab me, either, but I kept it around and I kept hearing about it and seeing it in bookstores and such. Working through my "read this summer or donate" pile, I got to this and took it on our luxury anniversary hotel stay--and I really loved it! The format--a compilation of emails, memos, letters, voice mails, etc., involving Bernadette Fox and stitched together with commentary from her daughter, Bee--is tricky at the start, because the shifting perspective can slip by a hasty reader (ahem, yes, me). However, there are some very funny passages, and as the book goes on (I stopped reading 1/3 through the first time, so reread starting at about a 1/4), the plot clarifies and the characters really gain texture and interest. Semple does a great job of presenting unreliable narrators and allowing the reader to figure out their unreliability: I missed that part the first time through and found the story too judgmental and flat. This time, however, I discovered the novel to be a warm, funny, involving story about people, the way we present ourselves to others, and how families function. Highly enjoyable!

Rough Weather (Spenser, #36)Rough Weather by Robert B. Parker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Considering all that the Spenser oeuvre represents (overuse of "said,"; an unaging protagonist; inside jokes that stretch back over the 20 books of the series; completely unrealistic scenarios and characters. . . ), Rough Weather is pretty much fun. The chapters were usually at least 10 pages, instead of the 3 that characterize some of Parker's skimpier efforts, and the plot also featured a tad more development than some. Hawk was around a lot, and Susan, though present, wasn't as annoying as she can sometimes be. Muted though this might sound, for Spenser fans, I think this one is a hit.

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Well, it's 9:10 pm on a chilly and soon-to-be-rainy night, and I just read 24 pages of  Dickens's Hard Times, which I'm considering as an AP Lit book, but which I haven't read since high school (probably sophomore year. That would be. . . 1978-1979. Yikes). I may have mentioned that I am trying to do regular bouts of school prep so that I can have a more sane and organized year, and so that I can give myself official summer time off as well, rather than feeling generically guilty all summer and freaking out in August (trust me, it happens, and it's not pretty). Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are "supposed" to be my work days, but so far that's only happened one week. Today, after Andrew and I returned from our wonderful anniversary luxury-overnight-and-trendy-dinner in Belfast, I put in some desk time since it is Tuesday, but I realized that what I really need to do for a bit is read.

I have several books (ah, that's three at the moment) that I need to read or reread for possible class texts, and one that I have to read for our learning area leader group, with two more coming soon through inter-library loan. It's weird to have reading be homework again, and it's weird to have reading be my schoolwork again, especially since I am so geared toward doing: I want to make a list or plan an unit or create a rubric so that I can pat myself on the back for my progress. Chomping through 24 pages of Dickens somehow doesn't feel so accomplished--and imagine how I'll feel when it's nice again and I can read outside and count it as "school work"!

Ah, the hurdles I create for myself: I love reading. One great loss during the school year is that I can't read as much as I'd like to--and now I am reading. How odd that my Puritanical "must be a human doing, not a human being" finds that so hard to simply settle in and let unfold. Fifty and still amazing myself: I guess that's an accomplishment!

Friday, July 5, 2013

July 5: Summer Arrives--and Hard!

The Last Original WifeThe Last Original Wife by Dorothea Benton Frank
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

So. Advertised as a perfect beach book, LOW has potential, but then the writing style begins to make itself known: constant, trite, unvarying obviousness. Take this excerpt:

"We would toast each other with champagne and feast on oysters and roasted guinea fowl in the private room at Magnolias and cut a small cake with a bride and groom on its top and make small talk throughout the afternoon while my mind traveled the years. When I thought about the individual births of my children, my chest would swell with joy, and for the moment it seemed that they were on the right track. I hoped so with all my heart because I loved them so dearly. They, along with Holly, were my greatest treasures."

This reads like something a 15 year old might write to describe a second wedding of a wealthy woman, and we'd encourage her to be more original. "Readers want something unique, something new," we'd say. Well, Dorothea Benton Frank doesn't give that to her readers, and, judging by the reviews, the readers don't mind. But I do! I'd love to read what Jennifer Weiner would do with this plot. A very disappointing, predictable, trite novel. America, raise your standards.

View all my reviews The Guy Not Taken: StoriesThe Guy Not Taken: Stories by Jennifer Weiner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've read this collection of Weiner's stories before, but I guess I didn't blog it. I am usually mixed about short stories, as I like to spend more time with the characters in my reading, and this collection is no exception. Several of the early stories are, as Weiner points out in her epilogue, unvarying: "My parents got divorced, and it was hard!" over and over. A few tie into her other novels, which makes me want to go read those again. However, throughout the stories, Weiner's sense of humor, her deft way with words, and her ability to create character, emotion and atmosphere make themselves known. It's interesting to see such a variety of pieces by a strong author. Not all of them are great, but together, they're interesting and the collection is worth reading.

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But it's not all reading around 23 Forrest, you know. Nate, Annika, and I (for some wild reason) signed up to run the Jason Sargent Memorial 5k on the Fourth. . . and even though it was humid, hot, sunny, and the race started at 11:15, we did great and had a great time. . . once it was over. Annika and I both got first in our age groups. Wow!

We followed up our escapades with milkshakes, a swim in the river, and then naps. . . at least for me, a nap. Best yet: I was sleeping on the couch with the Red Sox on (heaven!) and I was woken up when Jacoby Ellsbury hit a home run. What a great way to spend the Fourth!