Monthly Archives: October 2012

Books, Dog Sweaters, Talented Sister-in-Laws, and a New Gig

Four things.

  1. Ermahgaad! I’m so excited, y’all! I stayed up half the night finally reading (under the covers with a flashlight, grade school style, so as not to wake Tyler)

    All the books I’m reading and plan to read soon, minus Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, which I need to pick up from the bookstore. I need to get going!

    The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Lead the Revels There. I am exactly half-way through, and though an official review will come in the next few days (duh), so far I love it every bit as much as the first. Also, I finally bought Shadow of Night, the second installment of Deborah Harkness’ All Souls trilogy. I need to hurry if I want to finish them both before NaNoWriMo starts a week from today. (Eeeek! One week! I’m excited and nervous and scared and thrilled and really unsure what to expect. And excited. Speaking of NaNowriMo, am I crazy to expect to get any reading during November? I’d like to read one of three books next month. Is that unrealistic?)

  2. Oscar got a sweater. The cuteness is overwhelming my soul!

    You’re welcome.

  3. I’ve meant to write about this for a while now. I have four sister-in-laws, ranging from my age to 9 years-old. I adore them all. They are smart and funny and creative, but today I want to talk about Charity. Charity is 16, and she’s a writer. A legitimate writer whose getting a story she wrote in a local magazine! She entered a local library writing contest, and won first place! This is fantastic by any standard, but I’m even more proud of her because she choose to submit a story that shared her faith even though New England isn’t exactly a bastion of Protestantism. She won anyway, and now a local Berkshires magazine will be printing her story this winter! So, yes, I am incredibly proud of Charity and her mad writing skills. But I more proud of her for being willing to share what she really believes through her writing, and there are many adults who need to take a leaf out of her book and do the same. writing truth, for the win! (And yes, as soon as I can get my hands on a copy of the story, I will share!)
  4.  I have a new gig. A friend of mine recently started a life-style blog for 20-something women, and asked if I’d like to contribute. I said yes, of course! My first post on Miss Grown Up,  5 Tips for Writers, went live today, and we’d all be grateful for your support as we start this little blogging endeavor. I’ll be writing various articles about writing and marriage and other occasional whims, as well as book reviews that I’ll link to here.
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Filed under Books, Odds and Ends, Oscar

October Poetry, Day 23

Deeper blue, thick with water,
the ocean stretches fingers out from the bay.
Back one, now two miles, down urban streets,
among skyscrapers and taco shops and
the concrete boxes where your people live in smaller boxes.

Drunken laughter, taxi horns,
a homeless woman’s cart beating the endless rythem- cha-chunk, cha-chunk,
cha-chunk.
Bus vibrations, a dogs bark, now two, the street poet’s confused
prose, the saxophonists blaze, the baseball roar, the helicopter hum.
This is your strange California jazz, and on the edge of
America we your people dance our samba,
our clumsy ballet of business and pleasure and what we do because we know
nothing else.
We extend into one in the movement of your nighttime masses,
We plie back into many, the slow release of morning.

4 am, alone.
I stand upon the cusp, looking into the gray of your morning fog,
towards a vast, rolling body I
cannot see. The body
of your voluptuous mistress,
the one that eats away at your edges but you will never ask to leave.
This fog is her checking in, are
all the children in their places? Act 10, Scene 13 is about to begin.
San Diego Saturday, take one and go.

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Filed under California Dreamin', Poetry, San Diego

Gone Girl is Just Okay.

I’m just now getting around to the summer blockbuster book of this year, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. This is a little backwards of me, I know, seeing as I write a blog that consists largely of book reviews telling other people what to read, but when a book suddenly becomes so popular that even that one friend you’ve always secretly thought might be illiterate has read it, I loose all want to explore it for myself. It’s like all my pent-up strong-willedness comes bubbling to the surface, and I just can’t make myself read that one gotta-read book. (I still haven’t read Girl With a Dragon Tattoo for this very reason.) Often times that means that I finally read it a season or two late and then realize why everyone was so gaga about it in the first place.

This instance was like that. Sort of.

This book review is Cambria approved.

I probably wouldn’t have picked Gone Girl up if my book club hadn’t selected it this month. Suspense isn’t usually my thing, but this one was intriguing. The female half of a seemingly idyllic couple, Amy, disappears on the morning of their fifth anniversary. With a messy scene left at the house, the police start investigating the abduction and possibly homicide. As the evidence starts rolling in, all signs point to Nick, Amy’s bar-owning, ex-journalist husband. Cleaned-up blood, his lack of emotion, their marital and money problems, and a bombshell secret make it seem like Nick is a man with something to hide. But as Nick lawyers up and both his family and the public turn against him, something still seems off. What really happened to Amy Elliot Dune? Did Nick kill her, or is there a much more sinister force at work?

Let’s start with the good. Gillian Flynn is an incredibly gifted writer. Although I don’t think she fully understands the meaning of the word poignant (How does one smell or look poignant?), her prose is expertly dealt out and she captures the voice of her various characters well. In addition, the plot is well delivered, fast paced but never rushed,  and I like the way she organized the chapters, flipping back and forth between Nick and Amy’s perspectives, and using diary entries to catch the reader up on the couple’s background. I like the little clues that she left the reader in the first section that later made much more sense in the second and third. This was, overall, a creative and original offering on Ms Flynn’s part.

Now for the bad. It’s rare for me to be engrossed in a book that I don’t end up liking, but that’s exactly what happened here. All of her characters- from Nick and Amy to their families and the police- were singularly unlikable. Sure, I understood them. I understood why Nick cheated, why her parents turned on him, why the Ozark rednecks were thieves, why Amy (to a point) was like she was. But I couldn’t like any of them, even in the beginning before I knew Nick’s secret and when Amy was supposed to be likable. The only one I really liked was Nick’s mom, and she is a periphery character. I’m not some modern Pollyanna who only enjoys books full of sunshine; I enjoy Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie and my fair share of drama and true crime and human messiness. But while I was enthralled, like a train wreck you can’t look away from, I can’t say I enjoyed this book. I felt about it the same way I feel about Ernest Hemingway, or certain movies like Mr. Holland’s Opus- I can appreciate the craftmanship, but it left me felling a bit hollow.

Also, I didn’t like all the cursing. I’m not a prude by any means, I know curse words exist and I’m not opposed to them in literature if they serve a purpose. They could have served a purpose here, but I think they were overplayed- a few too many f-bombs dropped, and suddenly no one cares about the damage anymore, they just want the noise and shrapnel to stop. And I never ever, for any reason at all, approve of the c— word. Ever. If offends me down to my very marrow. It’s almost worse when it’s uttered or written by a woman. I know someone out there will think it’s empowering or very feminist, but it’s almost like a betrayal; even if it’s not true, every use of that word by a woman feels like some sort of collusion with the misogynist of the world, like a small admittance that maybe women aren’t really worth more than that. The argument could be made that it’s usage here fits the profile of the characters, but I feel like any usage in any context says it’s okay in other contexts. I just…no. You can’t convince me it is ever okay.

So there you have it. Gone Girl is not bad, but it’s not dazzling. It earns a solid three-out-of-five stars from me.

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100th Post, an Anniversary, and a Poem.

Big things are afoot today!

First of all, this is my 100th post on this blog! Considering that I took a good chunk of time off, hitting my 100th post just 14 months after I started is not too shabby. Thanks to all of you who have read, commented, shared, and encouraged. A blog is nothing without community, and mine is small but wonderful.

Today also marks our first anniversary of living in San Diego! I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since we rather unexpectedly packed up our lives and moved to a new city. There were some tough, lonely months in the beginning, but we have gained so much since we arrived in our new city: a wonderful home, great friends, a fantastic church home, a cute puppy, and lots of life experience that we are the better for, both individually and as a couple. San Diego is not home in the way that Ohio is home, but it is the next best thing, and I definitely look forward to what the next year has in store for us here. I feel undeservedly blessed.

Also, I feel like this blog needs some gratuitous animal pictures. Because blogs without pictures are booo-riiiing!

This is what Oscar looks like when someone takes a bath without him. He really likes baths.

And this is what Cambria looks like when she wants more food (because a half-full bowl is not good enough for our little queen), but you ignore her and blog instead.

Now, on with the show.

Today is the 15th day of Poetry Month, so as promised, I will share. Here goes nothing:

When most are just beginning to thing about running, we
are finishing the first major lap. We stop for
a drink, and they ask our advice, but their eyes
are glazed. “Run hard and don’t be selfish.” They smile
and nod, as though what we have will
be so easily attained. As though we did not battle and
bleed, as though a good marriage can be
selected and gift wrapped at any department store of choice.
We continue running, smiling our secret smile because we know that
soon they will begin, and words will be thrown that no one really
meant, and she will cry and he will
feel a little fooled by her rosy lips that tricked him here, and
the real marathon of love will begin.

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Filed under Odds and Ends, Poetry, San Diego

October Poetry, Day 10

There are so many poems inside these fingers,
but words are complicated
and a good pen is hard to come by. Someday I
shall peruse greatness, but
today the triumph is just getting the
words, a few small words,
onto paper
in order
without fear.

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Filed under Poetry

Book Reviews? Who Does Those?

Strange little women who are putting off writing real things for real jobs, that’s who!

But in all seriousness, I believe I promised book reviews a couple of weeks ago and then sorely failed to deliver, yes?

First, a few items of general business:

  1. It’s the second week of Poetry Month! Feel free to join in- it’s so simple. Just work on one poem every day for the 30 days of October. I’ve been doing pretty well so far, and I’m feeling very exciiiiiteeeed! I plan to share some of what I;m working on on the 5’s- the 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th, etc.
  2. I walk/jogged a 5k mud run and obstacle course on Saturday. I wore a t-shirt and tennis shoes.  Appreciate it, because you won’t see it often. (Tennis shoes, the vile things, are nothing but cruel prisons for your feet. And t-shirts make me feel sloppy, and I despise feeling sloppy.)
  3. I miss real fall weather. I’ve been wearing fall pieces is rebellion against the warm weather (some goldenrod corduroys here, a flannel button up there, and boots always), but it hasn’t really been making me feel any better. At least the weather lady is predicting it will stay in the 70’s here all week instead of the 90’s it was this time last week. (Yes, the high on the first day of October was 93. Outrageous!)
  4. Gratuitous animal picture! Because it’s Monday, and I need some cute in my life.

    Ma-am! We’re trying to sleep, leave us alone!

And now, for something completely different. (Name that 1970’s television show!)

I read State of Wonder  by Ann Patchett for a book club that I, sadly, did not get to attend. The book’s protagonist, Marina Singh, is a doctor contentedly working for a pharmaceutical company in Minnesota when her lab partner, Anders, goes missing in the Amazon Rain Forest. He had been sent on a reconnaissance mission for their company, charged with making contact with one Dr. Annick Swenson and her team, who are supposed to be developing a new fertility drug.  Anders’s wife asks Marina to go down to Brazil and find out as much as she can about Anders’s death, and her company asks her to go to complete his original mission. But once there Marina discovers that nothing is as it seems, and her own hidden past with Dr. Swenson threatens to knock her entire mission, and perhaps the entire life she has built for herself, off course.

I asked Oscar his thoughts on this oval. He just licked the cover and said, “Seems tasty.” He’s a very helpful dog.

Patchette is a talented writer, deftly creating the tangible, stuffy atmosphere of a jungle village, and drawing the reader in with prose that tics along at just the right pace. Or at least she hits the right pace and pitch for 75% of her story. My main complaint was this: Patchett took her time with lush prose and complex story threads only to abandon them all much too quickly in the conclusion, which was unsatisfying at best. The last several chapters were rushed without explanation, as if Ms. Ann forgot she had a deadline and just bolted out the minimal skeleton of a conclusion in order to meet it. In her rush to end this otherwise good book, she let several story threads that previously seemed important fall completely by the wayside, and there were two events she introduced that literally made me angry. I will not share what they are so I don’t spoil the ending for anyone, but if you read the book to its conclusion you will know exactly what I am talking about. One seemed totally out of character for both parties involved, and the other just seemed like an easy, but ultimately meaningless and unfulfilling, way to solve a problem.

Other than that there are just a few mechanical issues. Marina Singh, our supposed protagonist, ended up being a very flat character, and she seems to be more of a stand-in for everyone else and not a true character in and of herself. Also, there were a lot of snakes involved. I wish someone had told me this before hand because I do not, I repeat I DO NOT deal with snakes. There was a scene with an anaconda and I literally cried. If you are as snake sensitive as I am (just typing that vile word so many time makes me cringe inside) skip the anaconda event!

All in all, this book would earn a solid three stars from me. Pick it up at the library or borrow it from a friend, but use the $15.99 jacket price to pick up a better book.

Perhaps that money could go towards this next book instead, The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson.

The 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago is one of our countries forgotten shining moments. In response to Paris’s 1889 Exposition Universelle the United States decided to host their own World’s Fair in 1893. They had made a remarkably poor showing in Paris, where Eiffel’s Tower was first revealed, and were determined to “Out eiffel Eiffel” and show they world what America could do. All the major American cities- New York, Washington, St. Louis, Chicago- wanted a chance to host the world, but Chicago perhaps wanted it the most. Despite being the second largest city in the US, Chicago had a reputation as being a backwater, culturally lacking city, and they wanted to prove the posh societies in New York and Washington wrong.

Read this book!

Larson tells two tales here, really. The first is of Daniel Burnham, the architect charged with making the fair a reality, and how against enormous odds he created an expedition that not only matched Paris but outpaced it, changing American culture and architecture- and even electricity- forever. But inside of Burnham’s wonder world, a devil lurked, and therein lies the second story.

Largely forgotten by history, H.H. Holmes was a doctor, pharmacist, landlord, and con man who operated mere blocks away from the fair. He was also one of the first prolific serial killers in America’s history. Drawn to Chicago by the large numbers of young women who were moving there alone, and the excellent cover the notoriously rough city with an overworked and understaffed police force would give him, he killed at least 27 people between 1891 and 1893 before the authorities caught on to what he was doing. It is a chilling but fascinating tale that Larson tells with both precision and the appropriate amount of horror.

Larson deals purely with fact, but his writing flows so seamlessly and is executed with such superior prose that I forgot I was reading nonfiction. History buffs and appreciators of good stories alike will devour this book. It will definitely be on my favorite books of 2012 list, of that I have no doubt.

I’m now working my way through another of Larson’s best seller, In the Garden of Beasts, as well as Kate Morton’s The Distant Hours. I’ve also picked up Rhoda Jenzen’s newest offering Does this Church Make Me Look Fat?, and Catherynn M. Valente’s second Fairyland book, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There. I have lots of work-y things to do this weekend, but my only weekend plan is to read, so I will tell you all about these hopefully wonderful tales very soon.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Cambria, Oscar

October Poetry, Day 5

I have the love of ten hearts beating inside my chest- they thrum
in one accord
for you, love of my youth,
man with the strong jaw and silent lips.

(You are also beautiful, but that is beside the point.)

You don’t say much of your own inner expanse,
but I can see it when you brush the hair off my forehead, or catch my
gaze across a room, or when I find you looking at me when you should
be looking at a movie screen.

You are not a words man, preferring to use your hands and mind in silence.
But every night your arms surround
me as sleep overtakes us, and I can feel under
your ribs the thrum of ten hearts beating
in one accord for
me.

(Man of my youth and my heart and all my ten loves,
you are beautiful in your silences, and nothing of you has
ever been beside the point.)

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Filed under Love & Marriage, Poetry