Saturday, August 29, 2015

Saturday, August 29: Looking Back at a Fantastic Summer!

2014-15 was a brutal school year emotionally: while my teaching was the best it's ever been (yay!), the appreciation, support, sanity, work demands, and interpersonal work atmosphere was exhausting and draining. Nothing like working harder and more successfully than ever and having the School Board decide it's time to Take A Stand on the contract. Wow. Anyway: what a great time to have an absolutely transcendent summer. Truly. I did some school work, but not a lot; I went into school twice only, and I had a series of fantastic, fun activities that really proved that "a change is as good as a rest." I wonder if I can post a picture for each event! June 23: Andy and I went to see Keb Mo at Stone Mountain Arts Center.

What a great place, and what a great concert. 

A few days later, Nate, Andy and I had a wonderful week in Denmark with Silas and his family:
At Helsingor, Hamlet's castle, with our fabulous hosts

which we followed up with another great week in Norway with Camilla and her family!

Hiking at midnight in Molde with Camilla and Amalia

Even after we returned to the relative normalcy of Ellsworth, Maine, the fun didn't stop. We sailed the newly-restored "Fabulous" out of Sorrento Harbor: 

I went for several hikes with friends: 

On top of Dorr with Dawn and Cathi
went to the twins' first birthday, a Sea Dogs' game with Andy, Dad, and Ann, and spent three days in Rye with Julie! 
Big ice cream!
Whale watching! 
After all that, I ended my summer with a weekend in Brunswick with Ann and Sue. We added to my string of 5ks with the Topsham Veterans' Support Run: 

Post-race: matching tee shirts.

Post paddle. 
and we added Lynne for an afternoon of stand-up paddle boarding!

Back home, there was plenty of this: 

and we still have Labor Day weekend forthcoming. 

First week meetings were upbeat and cheerful, which was great––the magic continues! 

Unnatural Death: The Dawson Pedigree (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries, #3)Unnatural Death: The Dawson Pedigree by Dorothy L. Sayers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a delight: I thought I'd read this one quite a bit, but discovered I'd been confusing it with another Miss Climpson story (the one where she meets with the seance people), so this was only vaguely familiar! What a pleasure to have an almost-new Wimsey. This one moves pretty fast, and has some unusual characters (I will say no more); it's fun to see Miss Climpson in her earliest stages, and Peter and Parker just beginning to set forth.

The 1969 edition is a true classic: acid green cover, tiny cramped font, and various typos/editing mistakes, including a few lines transposed on a page. Not easy to read in dim light, but certainly a vestige of a time when publishers were so sure people would read that they didn't woo their readers with attractive packages.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Thursday, August 27: Finally, the humidity broke!

Paris, He SaidParis, He Said by Christine Sneed
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I agree with many of the reviewers listed below--oddly, with those who say this is wonderfully written, *and* with those who say, "What the heck happened here?" Sneed's writing voice is compelling, clear, and elegant, but the book left me flat, and I almost deserted it midway through. I guess my issue is that the people in the story have no pulse. They have a lot of sex and live interesting lives, however.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Monday, August 24: A Few Post-Weekend

Marry, Kiss, KillMarry, Kiss, Kill by Anne Flett-Giordano
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Certainly a lively plot, but Flett-Giordano tries a bit too hard for the sparkling repartee and Chandler-esque "crackin' wise, see?" dialogue--it gets annoying. Example: one character makes a tasteless remark and another comments that it was offensive "like dry-swallowing an elephant tranquilizer." Or "The sex that night was baby-bear's-bed good." Classic mixed one: "she was stumbling like a new-born colt after a couple of martinis." Colts? Martinis? Really?

Bodies end up everywhere, and character development is heavily of the "tell, don't show" variety, but it would be an entertaining book to find in a summer rental.

Girls' Poker NightGirls' Poker Night by Jill Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nearly gave up on this due to its super short, super zippy one-liner format, but am ultimately glad I stuck with it, as Davis manages some really interesting character development in the last third of the book. Davis is a funny writer, and it was nice to see her turn a laugh-track into a more rewarding and reflective novel about relationships, friendships, and trust. Stick with it!

Treasure IslandTreasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A classic, beautifully structured and paced story written when young adult writers didn't think their readers were stupid. So much to recommend it--listening to the story, which I've known since my father read it to us numerous times as kids, the miles flew by. Highly, highly recommended. Why has no one given this a serious, historically appropriate rendering like Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle's Pride and Prejudice? It could be fantastic!

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Thursday, August 19: Updatin'!

Alice, I Think (Alice MacLeod, #1)Alice, I Think by Susan Juby
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Started off well with an hysterical satire of over-permissive parents who indulge their kids in any weird whim and don't prepare them for the realities of life; Alice's travails as she enters high school start to drag, and then the plot seemed to lose all direction and I skimmed to the end. An early Susan Juby.

Making Piece: a Memoir of Love, Loss and PieMaking Piece: a Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie by Beth M. Howard
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Making Piece was recommended by Orangette, the blogger whom I adore, but I did not like it at all. Her writing is self-conscious and dense, full of mixed metaphors and tortured similes: "His hands crimped the crust's edge, moving aroudn the circle with the deft and speed of a seaman coiling ropes". "This grieving business was like making pie for the first time. One needs some instruction in how to do it--consult a recipe, make a grocery list, and go after the goal with gusto."

She tries to do a symbolic examination of loss . . .and pie. . . but wow. Major fail in my mind.

Other Waters: A NovelOther Waters: A Novel by Eleni N. Gage
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Enjoyed this novel much more than I expected to. It's written by a Greek-American woman in the voice of an Indian-American woman, focusing on the issue of relationships, finding a spouse, and pleasing one's parents. The inside-view of life in India was fascinating even as I wondered how legitimate it was. Enjoyable and vivid, if a little "where is my life going/why can't I find a guy?" whiny in spots.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

August 12: Rainy Day = Reading Time!

Kissing in AmericaKissing in America by Margo Rabb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Moving, funny, well-written, and original, Kissing in America is an outstanding ya novel. Rabb manages to make Eva appealing and understandable while also letting her flaws gradually show through so that we can rejoice at her growth. Highly recommended.

The MiddlesteinsThe Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think The Middlesteins would be a great book group novel, as I enjoyed it but would really like to discuss it with someone! Attenberg's writing reminds me of Elinor Lipman's, but in this novel she tackles a difficult subject--obesity--and shows how it impacts both the obese person and the people who love, or try to love, her. Thought-provoking, sometimes funny and sometimes painful to read, the novel delves into relationships, needs, histories, perceptions, and the whole idea of appearance, health, and what we owe to each other. Highly recommended.

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Sunday, August 9, 2015

Aug. 9: More reading! Look at me GO!

Madam, Will You Talk?Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My sister and I adored Mary Stewart as teens/tweens in Poland, Maine! Found this one at the church rummage sale. Masterful men--lovely, fast-driving war widows--winsome, sad children--and France as the background. Oh, and suspense and love in three days. Classic post-war romance/adventure.

Falling in Love (Commissario Brunetti, #24)Falling in Love by Donna Leon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Her latest. I loved it. Links to her first Brunetti (Death at La Fenice) and also Acqua Alta, neither of which I remember, so. . .more Leon on my list!

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Saturday, August 8, 2015

August 8: A Beautiful Saturday!

Getting the Girl: A Guide to Private Investigation, Surveillance, and CookeryGetting the Girl: A Guide to Private Investigation, Surveillance, and Cookery by Susan Juby
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed Juby's Truth Commission, so I tried a few of her other books. This one, published in 2008, was certainly disappointing. I'm not sure if the male persona was clunky, or if the plot was just too draggy, or what, but the story didn't grab me and I ended up skimming just to see if everything turned out the way I expected it to (it did). Great title, but it certainly lacked zip and energy.

A Good Year for the Roses: A NovelA Good Year for the Roses: A Novel by Gil McNeil
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If this had been the first Gil McNeil I'd read, I think I would've loved it. However, having read her Beach Street Knitting Society series (and loved them!), I was disappointed to find this novel a near-carbon copy of the characters, situations, plots, and settings of those books. A husband has left (divorce, not death, this time); family is difficult (exs and immediate relatives, this time); elderly relatives are lovable, feisty eccentrics; kids are sometimes annoying but good at the core, still nicely differentiated, but otherwise nearly exactly like the Beach Street gang; there is a high-maintenance but supportive friend from away and several on-site supporters; the setting just needs some sprucing up to become a going concern, and, in fact, the whole resolution feels suspiciously like the resolution of the entire Beach Street series. I do enjoy those chatty, funny "chuck it all and start again" stories, but Molly even suffers "slow-motion panic attacks" at night the way the BS woman did, and the kids "tut" in scorn as well. Why didn't McNeil continue that series if she had nothing new to say?

One big new issue was the nearly complete lack of commas in this text: while British usage employs far fewer commas in direct address than we Americans do, in this text the lack was jarringly obvious. Example: "That wasn't Roger's fault Molly, you know that."
"I'll see you later Mum."

While I soldiered on to the end, I was disappointed by McNeil's predictability and lack of originality. While many writers I enjoy (Katie Fforde and Jennifer Crusie, to name just two) create similar plots with happy endings and meet cute romance stories, their books are not essentially interchangeable. A Good Year for the Roses and the other McNeil novels I've read to date are.

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Changed the WorldI Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzai
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I listened to I am Malala over a few weeks, finishing it en route home from my vacation. As a work of literature, there are certainly a few rough spots, and Malala's commitment to providing context and information about family connections makes the plot drag in spots, but the story it tells is remarkable. Not only is Malala a brave, focused, and determined young survivor, but the story of how extremism took over her homeland and nearly cost her her life is informative, scary, and absorbing. As a feminist, a woman, a graduate of a women's college, and a teacher, I want all my female students--the male ones, too, but less urgently--to read this book and consider how we can use our benefits in this world to extend those benefits to other women who are denied them because of their gender.

Questions: why is Malala's mother still illiterate? I was a little bothered by the way Malala was the chosen child in her father's eyes, and no one seemed to consider her mom much.

What is the best way for educated Western women who have enough money to live lives of ease to help women who live lives of unimaginable hardship? I think Nicholas Kristof might have some ideas. Much to think about here.

Beastly Things (Commissario Brunetti, #21)Beastly Things by Donna Leon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another hit: this one is typically disturbing, involving both the issue of our food chain in the 21st century and ethical choices with grave consequences. However, it somehow manages to be both interesting and good, so a strong Brunetti outing start to finish.

Happy ReturnsHappy Returns by Angela Thirkell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Not her best. Way too many skimmable/skippable passages (even pages!), and way too little happening. Still: I read it, and that says something--either about me or about Thirkell. Your choice.

Getting the Girl: A Guide to Private Investigation, Surveillance, and CookeryGetting the Girl: A Guide to Private Investigation, Surveillance, and Cookery by Susan Juby
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed Juby's Truth Commission, so I tried a few of her other books. This one, published in 2008, was certainly disappointing. I'm not sure if the male persona was clunky, or if the plot was just too draggy, or what, but the story didn't grab me and I ended up skimming just to see if everything turned out the way I expected it to (it did). Great title, but it certainly lacked zip and energy.

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