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!

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews


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!

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews


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.

View all my reviews

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! 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

July 2: A Few Ruminations, and a Novel

Cold Comfort Farm   Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had this book on my "read" shelf, but I didn't enter a review, so I think I was just beefing up my Books list when I checked it off. Weirdly enough, I ordered a copy and got a profoundly abridged one, despite its having NO notice of its abridgement. I think I'll interlibrary loan it and then decide if I want to own a "real" copy. However, this novel is a gem, especially for Anglophiles, since it makes fun of exactly the tropes that we all love: the country vs city life, the multitude of characters, the issues of class and accent. . . One reviewer commented that it was a mix of PG Wodehouse and Jane Austen. I'd say AMEN!

I hope to find the movie on Netflix, as I remember loving it once already!

View all my reviews

 (Warm thanks to Mark Arnold, for showing me how to "Post to blog" from Goodreads once again.)

 Well it has been the Wet Week (going on "and a Half"), which we seem to have at the end of June/early July every year lately. If things go as they have in the past, we should be clear by the 5th and then in a drought pattern quite quickly! However, it's always a struggle not to get overwhelmed or depressed by the gloom and dampness, so since last Tuesday, when Andy and I beat the amazing heat with a nice trip to Richmond to see Craig and Heather, I have been:
 1. making 1.5 pairs of booties, the fuzzy green of which have been delivered to their future owner's grandfather already;

2. reading a lot (see posts).

 3. Exercising regularly, with a Fourth of July 5k due up and two excellent yoga classes lately. I like having taken a class with a teacher often enough that I can begin to focus on what my body could be doing to improve the experience: rather than just "not falling over" or "not hurting!", I have been able to think about what Cindy means when she says "tuck in to the midline" and "feel your weight evenly on both feet."

 4. decluttering! Started with a required picture of Camilla's future room, but has since extended to a "let's do it while it's rainy because we won't want to when it's nice" major room clean/book purge/clothes switch-and-purge with Nathaniel. Then delivered the books that we couldn't afford to ship to Ohio to Child and Family Opportunities, where they will be read and loved and used by families who really need literacy support. AND the ya books from that same drive to the Library, where they'll be sold to raise money for activities for youth and children at the library. So, good things, and all out of my side of the garage!

5. lots of small, puckety errands and details.

 6. follow up on Library Board stuff I'd postponed.

7. school planning and work three days/week, as I'd hoped. It's pretty exciting to have time to really PLAN. And today after my yoga/walk Z/ trip to hair cut/mail L's b'day pkg/drop off books, I went to school and did some consultation with Mark A about tech stuff (hence the fixed blog). So I can work when I need to and then not feel guilty when I don't. So nice!

 8. Planning our ANNIVERSARY AWAY! A and I are going to Belfast to stay at the Belfast Bay Inn and eat at the Gothic. ON our 24th anniversary. Really. Only someone whose anniversary falls on his/her son's b'day and a week from his/her second son's b'day could understand how rare that has been for the past 20 years! So: despite being ready for some sun, I feel pretty cheery. Off to read, I think!

Monday, July 1, 2013

July 1: A new month and a few books!

The Poacher's Son by Paul Doiron

Andy recommended this novel to me and it took me awhile to read it, but after the first page I knew Doiron was a skillful writer who'd construct a worthwhile story. The book deals with a young game warden in the Maine woods, and a strong thread in it is the sorrow of losing the wilderness, the access to the woods, and the appreciation and knowledge of it. At the same time, Doiron doesn't glamorize the difficulties of woods life, poverty, and the impact of lack of options and opportunities. The plot moves rapidly, and the characters are interesting and varied, though I hope Mike's girlfriend gets developed beyond her somewhat flat role in this first outing. Mike's relationship with his female mentor and the wheelchair-bound wife of a bush pilot offer some nice variation in female roles. I think I'll keep an eye out for the sequel(s)!

The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore

Another Andy recommendation--actually, a command. This is a warm and "peopley" novel that offers an interesting and humane picture of an African-American community in Indiana. The characters are in their 50's, and their intertwined stories reveal changes and continuities in their experience and history. While I often complain about the new craze for multi-voice novels, Moore handles the format well: Odette is the first person narrator, and the other women's stories are in third person. It's confusing at first, but after a little while things become clear. A few of the revelations were predictable, but the overall structure of community and caring made the book a pleasure to read.

The Golden Egg by Donna Leon
I think I might like to BE Donna Leon--smart, chic, living in Italy. . . Failing that, I'll read her books, despite their clear focus on corruption in Italy and the decay of the environment. This one was a little less focused in general: at one point, Brunetti himself wonders why he's spent this week doing a fairly unnecessary investigation, so I felt justified in my sense of mild confusion! However, Leon does deliver her usual dose of detail and experience, despite the lack of pressing plot motivation. Enjoyable. Oh: and I just figured out the significance of the title as I typed it in!