Category Archives: Oscar

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

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, NaNoWriMo, and Some Books I’m Excited About

I was going to be such a good blogger today. I had planned to get up early and get this blog out by East Coast lunch time. But then I slept in. And then I decided to start my day reading instead of writing to get my juices pumping. And then I hopped on WordPress, but started reading other blogs instead of writing my own. And then I ate lunch of the patio, and it was such a beautiful day I just had to take the dog for a walk…and you get the drift of how today has done for me. So here I am at East Coast dinner time, just getting started. But it’s okay, because I have some fun stuff to talk about!

1: October Poetry Month: I know I may not seem it in the day-to-day ramblings of this blog, but I am a huge fan of poetry. In fact, I first came to my love of literature and writing through poetry. Well, my friend Christie created her own poetry month, wherein she writes a poem everyday during the month of October. I haven’t been focusing as much on poetry lately as I’d like, so I’ve decided to join her. I’m gearing up already; I’m reading more poetry to prepare my mind, I’m seriously contemplating which journal I want to document my month of poems in, and I’m trying to find somewhere local that sells those sever-year pens Christie mentions, because I feel I am forever in need  of a good, handy pen, and as soon as I find one I love it runs out of ink. Boo bad pens. Yay (hopefully)good poetry!

2: NaNoWriMo: I’ve thought long and hard about whether or not I’m going to take part in NaNoWriMo. In the past I was a bit too neurotic and obsessive to participate, but I’ve changed a lot in the last several years, my approach and thoughts on writing have changed, and I think I’m finally ready.  I’ve had a rather nebulous, though I think good, idea for a novel floating around in my brain for several years, but I never knew exactly where it should go or what the end game would be. In the last several months, though, a more definitive plot has started to take shape in my mind, and I’m very excited to get it going. To get myself ready for this, I’m pretty much just going to do what I already do. I typically write a minimum of 1,000 words a day everyday. The NaNoWriMo goal is 50,000 words in a month, so I just need to raise my minimum, knowing that there will be days I do more anyway. I’m also going to read the book No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty, the founder of  NaNoWriMO.

So there’s that. Since I’ve never done it before, I don’t know how this blog is going to look or my reading goals are going to work for the month of November, but I do know that this is going to be Fun, with a capital F.

3: Books I’m Excited About: There are several books coming out soon that I’m very excited to read, and I though you might be too. October is going to be a good month to be a reader!

  • The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Lead the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente: You probably remember how much I raved about The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making when it came out last year. Well, this is its sequel, and it’s coming out on October 2nd!!! My excitement is nearly incontainable, as you can tell by the fact that I allowed myself three whole exclamation points. (Three is the very outer limit of the number of acceptable exclamation points, or any other punctuation [such as question marks], in my admittedly snobby opinion. If I ever exceed three, assume that I am in the most serious delirium of joy ever experienced, or am dying.) Anyway, I am pre-ordering this book tomorrow, and then the day it arrives I will probably do nothing but read it until either it’s done, or I fall asleep from the exhaustion caused by my  fits of ecstacy. (If you’re reading this, many thanks to rhymeswithchair for the heads up about this book!)
  • Crazy Salad: Some Things About Women, & Scribble Scribble: Notes on the Media by Nora Ephron:  I don’t know if I’ve ever discussed it on my blog before, but I am a great fan of Nora Ephron. When Harry Met Sally is one of my top-three all-time favorite movies, and I first discovered her witty books in our local library when I was in high school. I’m actually fairly certain I read both of these books at some point in high school, because I read everything by her I could find before moving on to Erma Bombeck, but they have long since slipped my memory as well as the printing press. But no more! Because on October 16th both of these beauties will be republished in a single volume. Again, can I say, pre-order!
  • The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling: In case you don’t already have it marked on your calendar,  J.K. Rowling’s first foray into adult fiction comes out a week from today! I know it won’t be the same as Harry Potter, but I’m hoping the world she creates here will be just as captivating. And you can be sure that this time next week I will have this hot little book in my hot little hands, as I plan to wake up early to go buy it. (Yes, I sadly really am that big of a dork.)
  • Does This Church Make Me Look Fat? By Rhoda Johnson: I read Rhoda’s freshman release, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, last year, and adored it. It was pithy but respectful, and deeply interesting to me. (You can read my review here, if you so desire.) This sequel of sorts also releases on October 2, and is Johnson’s story of falling in love again after divorce, fighting breast cancer, and her return to the church. I’m definitely excited to read more from this funny, thoughtful writer.
  • The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton: Morton fans rejoice! I loved both The House at Riverton and The Forgotten Garden (The Distant Hours awaits on my shelf, ready to be conquered, hmmmmm….probably tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow. That solves that question.), and I’m excited for this new historical mystery, which releases on October 16. I’m especially excited because I was under the impression that this book came out next October, not this year, so this is a great little surprise for me!

4: Animal Pictures: Because there is no better way to end a blog.

Nobody takes baby out of her corner!

Oscar says, “I’ll do anything, just love me pleeeeeeeas!”

Have there ever been two more adorable animals? I think not!

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Filed under Books, Cambria, NaNoWriMo, Oscar, Poetry, writing

What I’ve Been Reading, Part 2.

I think it’s only fair to warn you that these are mostly books that I have started but not finished yet. Some of them will be finished very soon, though, because I’m doing another week of trying to read a book every day. My writing has been slumpish this past week, and a good dose of vigorous reading usually helps me un-slump. Anyway, all that to say that my opinions may change by the end. We shall see.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynn Jones: A reader recommended this book to me several months back after a post about comfort books. I finally picked it up at my local Barnes and Noble last month, but just haven’t gotten around to really diving into it. I have dipped my toes in, though, and so far I’m intrigued. A girl who is turned into an old woman? A castle that moves about like it’s alive? If this book doesn’t absolutely tickle my brain I’ll be shocked.

Afternoons With Emily by Rose MacMurray: I’m about a fourth  of the way through this chunkster challenge book about a fictional girl who becomes close friends with the ever eccentric Emily Dickenson. I like it, but I have to be in the right mood to get into it otherwise I find myself reading the same pages over and over. I’m waiting for the perfect afternoon to curl up with some tea and really get into this promising story.

I Capture the Castle by Doddie Smith: I love going to a book store without any specific book in mind and just perusing until I find some unexpected treasure. I almost always find something fantastic, like this book which I first discovered in 2008 on just such an expedition. Doddie Smith is most famous for her classic The Hundred and One Dalmatians, but I can’t figure out why she isn’t better known for this coming of age novel, which is narrated by 17 year-old Cassandra who lives with her impoverished family in a rundown old castle. Witty, charismatic, and just the right amount of quirky, I immediately fell in love with this book. I am sorely overdue for a re-read.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett: Y’all, I’ve joined a book club! I’m fairly new to San Diego, and making friends takes time. We were lucky that Tyler joined a company full of wonderful people that we have become true friends with, but outside of that I have yet to meet many people, and almost no book-ish ones. Them I met Gina. Her husband also works for Tyler’s company, and I think she may be my long-lost twin. And she has asked me to join her book club, where I am hoping to meet many more kindred spirits. This is the book club choice for the month of September, and  also my book for today. Why on earth have I never read anything by Ann Patchett before?! I could barely force myself to put it down long enough to write this post. An official review will follow soon. (Also, book club meets for the first time this coming weekend. I will definitely let you know how it goes.)

Half Broke Horses by Sheila Walsh: I read Walsh’s dynamic debut, The Glass Castle, in a single afternoon. Her sophomore offering has sat on my shelf for a while, often passed over for newer prospects. But after reading just 30 pages yesterday, I already know that this is going to be a new favorite. Walsh’s voice is pitch perfect and her story is, thus far, captivating.

Lit by Mary Karr: May Karr may very well be the perfect writer, if not the perfect person. Her word choice, the tone she strikes, and her honesty have all turned this into one of the best memoirs I’ve read despite the sometimes difficult subject matter. And I’m not even finished yet. I plan to do a full review when I’ve completed it, so I won’t say too much more, except I will be reading much more of Mary’s work in hopes that some of her genius with the English language rubs off.

New and Selected Poems, Vol. 2 by Mary Oliver: I bought this book during a Modern Poetry class in college, but I could never get into Mary Oliver’s work, and then I discovered Denise Levertov and officially shelved this poet. But then yesterday I was looking for something to read for my book of the day, and nothing was really grabbing me. So I took Mary off the shelf again and what do you know, I feel in love. She writes a lot about nature, but her poems are so much deeper, about so much more, than just simply animals and plants. I read all 172 pages of poems yesterday. My mind in blown and my soul is opened. I think I’ve discovered a new life-long favorite.

On Writing by Stephen King: Like I mentioned before, I had a rough time in regards to writing last week, so I thought it was the perfect time to break out this highly recommended memoir/writing advice book. I’ve tried to read a few pages every day, but I’m so fascinated that I’ll probably end up reading it all in one big chunk later this week.

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi: I first read this book in a World Literature class in college. That was my favorite college course ever, and this tied with Dr. Zhivago as my favorite book from that class. Nafisi is a literature professor who used to teach in Tehran. She and seven of her most dedicated students started reading classics from the Western canon in secret, and this is the story of that experience. It is a true testament to the power of literature as well as a fascinating exploration of womanhood in the face of tyranny. Like with I Capture the Castle, I’m simply itching to read this fantastic memoir again.

So, after I finish all these up, I’ll have a few weeks worth of books that I actually own to read and then I’ll run out of books! I’m sure I don’t have to explain to you why I simply cannot EVER let that happen! So I need some suggestions. So far I plan to get:

  • The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
  • In the Garden of the Beasts by Erik Larson
  • Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2) by Deborah Harkness
  • What We Talk About When We Talk About Ann Frank by Nathan Englander
  • Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson
  • Where I Was From by Joan Didion
  • Love, Life, and Elephants by Daphne Sheldrick
  • Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything by Geneen Roth

I know that seems like quite a list, but if these are all as good as I anticipate, they will last we a few weeks at best.  Plus, I think my reading is getting faster. That means that in a month, I may not own any books I haven’t read. Eeek! And though I have a long to-read list, nothing else is jumping out at me. So, dear friends, give me your suggestions! What books do you love, what are you dying to read, what great new tomes would my life be incomplete without?

And finally, I leave you with a gratuitous animal picture. Because I just love my little furballs oh-so-much. And because they aaaaalmost like each other, and it’s starting to get cute!

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Cambria, Oscar, Poetry, writing

What I’ve Been Reading, Part 1

The funny thing about making resolutions is that you never know what the future will bring you, so you never really know if your resolution will be practical, or even possible. I mean, a girl can vow to lose fifty pounds, but if she gets pregnant that just is not happening. (No, no! Don’t do it! I can see you doing it- your brain is jumping to conclusions! I’m not hinting at anything, mom and various baby-crazed friends!) You can vow to travel more, but if you break both of your legs in a skiing accident you’ll probably be more home-bound than expected. Or maybe your priorities will shift and your resolution to write a new chapter in your book every day won’t matter as much as making what you do write really good.

As I’ve stated in earlier posts, I’m probably not going to meet my goal of reading 104 books this year, and I’m okay with that. Instead of continuing my obsessive reading habits of years past, I’m spending a lot more time with my husband and friends, and I’ve made time for some other stuff in my life, like cooking more and adopting a dog and writing more and taking really long, refreshing walks.

But lest you think I’ve given up on my great love of reading, here are a few of the books I’ve read since the spring:

The Magicians by Lev Grossman: I really wanted to love this book. The premise is everything I adore. I love fantasy oh-so-very-much, and the prospect of a book about a sort of Hogwarts for grown-ups seemed so promising. (And this book is for grown-ups. Like, pay-all-their-own-bills grown-ups. Anyone under legal voting age need not apply.) The world Grossman built at Brakebills was fascinating, and the story was solid and well told, but I just couldn’t love it. It was, in a word, stark. Cynical and jaded would also have sufficed. And I am none of those things. I can normally stand them in doses, but even Grossman’s wordsmithing genius could not sweeten the morose tones enough for me. I probably won’t read the sequel.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness: Move over Twilight. This is a story that has Vampires aplenty, but it’s actually well-written, and it won’t make your teenager think a boy secretly watching her sleep is romantic and desirable. Diana Bishop is a witch who doesn’t want to be, Matthew Clairmont is an old vampire of great power, and Ashmole 782 is the magical manuscript that draws them together. And also attracts he attention of some of the most dangerous and influential members of the underground world of magic. No big deal. Harkness takes all the preconceived notions of magic and modern fantasy and turns them on their ear so effectively that it creates a wholly unique experience. I really enjoyed this book, and I will definitely be reading this sequel.

The Death of King Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory, retold by Peter Ackroyd: Any Arthurian fan or folklore buff will enjoy Ackroyd’s modernization of the classic Le Morte d’Arthur. He remains true to the spirit of the original stories while making the language more digestible and taking out some of Malory’s superfluous repetitions. Not a text-book retelling, but perfect for the layman enthusiast.

100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson: This delightful little young adult fantasy is a quick but good read. It’s not as deeply developed as say, the first Harry Potter or The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Seriously. If you haven’t read that one yet, do it!), but it’s the first of a trilogy, so I’m hoping Wilson will broaden and deepen the story as we go. It really annoys me when authors don’t fully develop the potential of a story just because it’s for kids. Children aren’t stupid, they can handle a real story and probably do it better than many adults. So please, Mr. Wilson, please develop this well. There is so much potential here! End impromptu rant.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White: Speaking of a well-developed children’s story, I just have to re-visit this beloved classic every now and then. As the term “beloved classic” implies, it does not disappoint. In fact, it’s so well-loved that this little blurb was probably unnecessary.

The Story of Charlotte’s Web by Michael Sims: I started this book last year, but never got past chapter three. It just wasn’t the right time. Until now. I’m about three-fourths of the way through this book that is both the story of the creation of one of the worlds best-loved books and a biography of its brilliantly eccentric creator. I have long loved all of E.B. White’s children’s books, but now I’m falling in love with the man himself. I’m going to have to read some of his essays very soon.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman: I’m about half-way through this novel which follows the lives of various reporters at an English-language newspaper in Rome. Written with a journalistic sensibility, but still somehow plump with detail, I am really loving this book. So far my favorite chapter was the second, in which a lazy obituary writer goes to interview a famous, dying intellectual…without telling her he’s interviewing her for her own obituary. One of the best things about Rachman’s writing is the one-liners. My favorite? “If history has taught us anything, Arthur muses, it is that men with mustaches must never achieve positions of power.” Hipsters beware.

I’ve read several other books as well, but I’ll turn them into a part two for the sake of time and space and not getting bored.

Wait. What’s that? Adopted a puppy you say? Tell us about him, you say? Well, okay. I guess I can do that before I skadaddle out of here.

This is Oscar.

He’s the Boston Terrier we adopted a few weeks ago. We think he’s about two years-old, and despite the fact that he always looks like he’s frowning, he is actually very cheerful and snuggly and sweet. He loves every one, including Cambria, who is okay with him being here as long as he leaves her food and toys alone. And as long as she does not get left out of anything and is still the Queen of everything. Naturally. I’m sure you’ll be seeing a lot of our new boy in the future. Those goggly eyes and scrunchy face are so adorably photogenic that I may or may not have used up all the memory on my phone and had to erase a bunch of duplicate shots. Oooops!

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Oscar