Thursday, June 27, 2013

June 27: Grey, Chilly, a Book, and a Finished Project!

Trains and Lovers by Alexander McCall Smith

While not on par with the Ladies' No 1 Detective OR Sunday Philosophy Club (Isabel Dalhousie) series, this quick little book was intriguing. It left a good number of loose ends, and I did find the switching narrators a little annoying at times, but it was another pleasant book for the couch on a rainy June evening.

And, even tho it looks like part of my Goodreads review, here are some pics of the most recent pair of bootees I finished as a break from the unending leg of Andy's second green sock! These are very silky and fuzzy, sort of a Muppet/Grover undertaking. I think they'll go to Mark's grandson in Colorado. Next up, a pair of pink ones, I think!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

June 26: And the grey settles in. . .

Dumping Billy by Olivia Goldsmith

A heartily mediocre book: characters were kind of interesting (very stereotypical, many of them, but not 100%), plot kind of original (not 100% sure where it was going to end up), writing kind of interesting (too much telling, too little showing, but certainly not the least original I've ever read). . . Basically, it was an okay book to pay 50 cents for and to rip through, part skimming, on a rainy, dreary afternoon/evening.

People magazine's comment ("What a great feeling to fall into the capable hands of Olivia Goldsmith.") makes me question their definition of capable hands. Ah well. Back to the book sale with it!

Monday, June 24, 2013

June 24: A Good Sequel

Scumble by Ingrid Law

A strong sequel to Savvy, Scumble manages to surprise and entertain with a fairly unpredictable coming-of-age story. Meaty and well developed--a pleasure to read!

And, seeing as it's summer, another one as well, though the picture is the completely wrong edition. . . .

Presenting Miss Jane Austen by May Lamberton Becker
This classic, quirky biographer for young readers is a period piece that unashamedly promotes the idea of great books and The Literary Canon. May Lamberton Becker ( has a definite voice and a definite world view, and, luckily, Jane Austen aligned neatly with both. The book is interesting in both its content and its freedom in embroidering historical fact with personal opinion: Becker twice remarks that since Austen children never heard nor spoke bad grammar or slang, it was natural that Austen was such a great writer, for example. Interestingly enough, when I dug into who exactly MLB was, I found that the glowing blurb on the back of my vintage 1952 (Goodreads says "first published" in 2006--ha!) was written by Beatrice Warde, who happened to be Becker's daughter. Curiouser and curiouser! Still, the book is interesting, if only as an historical example of the inherited cultural canon and its promotion. I wonder if it has been brought up to date at all in its "new" edition.

Friday, June 21, 2013

June 21: First Day of Summah (and another book)!

Austenland (Austenland, #1)
Well, this tie in to the Jania that ruled the world a few years ago (it was pub'd in 2009) is an mildly amusing read. Because it's set at a place that reenacts Austen's society, the plot doesn't have to walk that line between outright copying and pale imitation that has doomed so many other retellings. However, it's only okay for several reasons: 
1. the editor was asleep at the switch for several pages: ". . . keeping one eye on the twins battling over blocks, the other eye ensconced in a throw pillow." (16). What? I reread that about 5 times, trying to figure out if the heroine had a fake eye or if the printer had skipped a few words.  "He was a few years younger than her" (134). . .  younger than her was? Please. And then, before she leaves, our Jane "used [a piece of metal] to carve Catherine Heathcliff to the underside of the windowsill." (171)  I think American English is Hale's first language, and don't we say on or into in that case?  And then, "On impulse, she took his hand, rubbed his index finger between her fingers. It was an intimate gesture, yet felt natural." (191). It IS an intimate gesture? Weird. There were a few other odd constructions--nothing that an alert editor wouldn't catch--but they began to grate. Well, this tie in to the Jania that ruled the world a few years ago (it was pub'd in 2009) is an mildly amusing read. Because it's set at a place that reenacts Austen's society, the plot doesn't have to walk that line between outright copying and pale imitation that has doomed so many other retellings. However, it's only okay for several reasons:
2. The bigger reason Austenland is only okay is that the woman's character is just never presented in a coherent way. Her mood varies, and she gives herself so many pep talks that I kept losing track of why she needed a pep talk *this* time: was she too careless? Too needy? Playing too much in the role, or too little? The constant twittering gets a bit old.

So why did I read this? Well, O Magazine said there's a movie version coming out, and it seems like just the right kind of eye candy for August, and I wanted to be prepared. Now I am!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

June 19: Lovely Day, Last School Work Day, and a book!

Just finished Ingrid Law's Savvy, a fun ya novel about a family whose members each possess a unique "savvy," or power: Grandpa can move Earth, brother Fish can control water and wind, Rocket can conduct electricity. The focus of the book is Mibs Beaumont on her thirteenth birthday, the birthday when her savvy will reveal itself. . . A student recommended this book to me, and I really enjoyed it: Law's narrative voice is unique but never affected, creating a singing, swinging Western tone to the story. There's a sequel out, and I think I'll look for it!

Thank you, Matt, for the recommendation: a nice way to start summer vacation!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

June 17: Book Review, and Last School Day!

Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge.

Due to the craziness of the end of the school year, I just finished the book now, and I am a bit conflicted: I felt it was both very boring and very readable at the same time. Nothing really happens, does it? In fact, Maugham admits he doesn't know what happened to Larry; Larry never really changes as a character; much of the action, if it can be called that, comes out of order or in retelling. Still, I was involved in the book, at least until Larry's Indian sojourn, when, for the first time, the "told over dinner" style began to pall. Even the revelation about Sophie's death didn't alter anything.  So: one of the most interesting aspects of the book for me is the question of what makes it interesting! I agree with Mr. C: Larry was a little too good to be true to me, and his trust fund seemed a tad too convenient.  Still, I'm glad I got to read the book!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

June 15: A Real June Day!

Finally, a June day that felt like a June day: after crashing to sleep on the couch while "reading" last night after a week that wrapped up classes, final projects, exams, and correcting the aforementioned (all but one batch of exams, final grades, and comments), I woke up at nine am to a lovely summery day. I have had neither that much sleep nor that much sunshine for a long time, and both were welcome. We really used the sunshine by having a wonderful Pie Party which featured four sets of guests and therefore five different pies. Much fun, including some riotous badminton, was had by all, and we were all reminded of our numerous lawn parties the year of Silas and Lyle's graduations and Andy's 50th. . . which seems like a fitting context for the announcement that

we are hosting an AFS student again! Camilla from Norway will be a member of our family for the 2013-2014 school year! We are hoping it will be another success.

Lovely times with Lyle, Nate (when he surfaces) and winding up school. Ready for some downtime, and then a rich and rewarding summer!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

June 11: Another Book, Last Day of Classes!

Gordon Korman: Ungifted. 2/5 stars. (Can't get Goodreads to link effectively here anymore. . . Bummer!)

Had hopes for this book--that, even as a ya novel, it might address issues of tracking, rigid definitions of "giftedness", stereotyping. It was pleasant enough, but no real development of anything. Donovan doesn't learn any self-control; characters are pretty darn wooden; there's a random dog schtick that goes nowhere; tho Korman touches a few points about how terrible the non-gifted school is, he never does anything with the bigger idea in a valuable way. So: ultimately unrewarding!

Friday, June 7, 2013

June 7: Stuff, and Books, and Plans

Well. It has just started raining, and we're due for heavy rain. Am so, so, so glad Michele and I decided that, for different reasons but for both of us, Pilgrim Lodge's Women at the Well was not a good choice for us this year. That felt like good listening to what I needed, not caving to the busy-ness and business of every day life.

We just finished our last full week of classes--where *did* this year go? It has been closer to frantically busy than I like, and I have not been able to do the type of teaching that I like to do, but I have enjoyed my students a great deal and I am very proud of their growth overall. My co-teacher and I have quite a number of our communal kids who stay after on a regular basis for help or just to do homework, and it can be hard to stay focused on work and not chat about music, or food, or movies. . .  I like that family feeling.

As I look towards the summer, I am developing one of my lists of goals. I may consider making a quilt; I definitely want to knit something (and finish the damn never-ending socks for Andy), but right now I am considering this goal: a book and a lunch out a week. Hmmmmmm. Seems fun.

I also just finished an audiobook and, last week, a "real" book that I want to report on, finally, after a long drought. I have put by Life of Pi and another that I have on my "should read" list (can't remember the name right now) because I don't want to do intense right now. I want to do entertaining and, in the words of a former student, "peopley" right now.

So: The Light Between the Oceans. M.L Stedman. Read by Noah Taylor (an odd choice, given his fairly odd lisp? ). Recommended by many people. BUT I am not so sure. The first half of the book or so is absorbing, and the whole thing is well-written, but then, when the conflict truly becomes inescapable and powerful, Stedman lets one of the characters completely off the hook, allowing blame to fall on the other. The internal secrets stay secret, and there's really no meaningful growth--the characters become wooden, I think, and the conflict and suspense feel contrived and shallow. I was swept up in the book, but I was disappointed by the entire resolution. We see only the same thought patterns from Isabelle, no real admission of her manipulation and guilt, and we see only the same secrets from Tom. So: I'd give it a B-. Intense but ultimately unsatisfying. Close, but no cigar. And I'm not really sure where the whole lighthouse theme is going: Stedman spent such painstaking and fascinating detail on it in the beginning, and then: gone.

More satisfyingly:

I sprinted through Heart of Palm, by Laura Lee Smith. It's an interesting, well written story about a fairly regular family with a heightened weirdness factor. Frank Bravo and his dog Gooch are likable from the start, as is Biaggio, the handy man. The story of the family's development/ change/devolution, is well told, and the plot doesn't take itself too seriously, though it does hit on some truisms about family life. An enjoyable book!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

June 2: Summer all at once.

A lovely green and leisurely Sunday morning after two really hot days, one, the Friday, a day off for the high school as a group of kids who should've known better broke in and spread bait through the halls, rendering it disgusting for the day. Weird to have a "snow day" on May 31, but reassuring to have it come after a terrifically moving and inspiring day of an awesome Solutions Fair and a heartfelt final day with my seniors, most of whom I've taught for two years, one for three, and two of whom are my advisees as well. Friday night I went to the MDIHS Band Concert as well, mostly to see one of my advisee's culminating presentation: he conducted the MDI Band in the piece he had written himself. Very, incredibly, wonderfully impressive.

And then this weekend has featured a lot of family and hanging around. Nate did the relay for life AND worked his first real shift at Morton's Moo; Lyle helped put up screens and rewashed Zeus after Z's unfortunate skunk encounter on Thursday night at 9:30 pm; we had a big, fun family-plus-Sam dinner of lobster, salad, rice pilaf, and ice cream sundaes on the deck last night; and this morning we have a cooler morning and a quiet house full of sleeping menfolk. I feel blessed and calmed as we head into the last two weeks (final day pushed off by one due to the aforementioned foolishness): still busy times, but also a strong sense that we are a family, we love each other, and we belong together. Sounds good to me!