Friday, January 30, 2015

Sorry I Haven't Visited Lately But I'm Reading!

I can't chat long, I've got to get back to my books but wanted to let you know if you needed an excuse to plop down and read all weekend, it's never to late to join the A Winter's Respite Read-A-Thon. 
I'm taking advantage of it to work my way through several books I have going. I read and reviewed Mr. Popper's Penguins, which was on my Classics Club list, I've got a good start on Girl Runner for an upcoming TLC Book Tour and I'm making good progress (finally!) on Death Comes To Pemberly, for a readalong. A nasty allergic reaction one day, some extra hours at work, and a birthday have cut into my reading time some but I'm hoping to get things in order so that I can spend most of Sunday reading. I'll finish the books I've gotten started and then I think it's time for another nonfiction read. I'm thinking maybe Tolstoy's Purple Chair. Or not. Whatever strikes my fancy when the time comes!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater

Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater
First Published 1938
Source: purchased our copy for my children

In the 1930's in small-town Stillwater, Mr. and Mrs. Popper and their two children are scraping by on the seasonal work Mr. Popper does painting and wallpapering houses. Mr. Popper is a man who dreams of the Antarctic and grand adventures and is content to spend his off season reading about that part of the world and following the explorations of Admiral Drake. He's even written to the Admiral who one evening surprises the family by addressing Mr. Popper on the radio, telling him that a gift is on it's way.

Shortly, a special delivery arrives on the Popper's doorstep - a penguin Mr. Popper names Captain Cook. Soon the refrigerator is fitted out as a home for Captain Cook and the well-behaved penguin becomes something of a local celebrity. When he becomes ill and it's clear he is lonely, Greta comes to join the family as well. Before long, ten eggs result in ten more penguins and the Popper's basement becomes a frozen home and playground for the feathered family. Just as the expense of keeping the penguins becomes more than the Poppers can manage, a solution presents itself and off go the Poppers and then penguins on a national theater tour.

My Thoughts:
In the 1930's in small town America, penguins were still such a novelty that it's entirely believable that people wouldn't even know what the creatures were. Even today, the penguin exhibit at the zoo is one of the most popular and I've often said I could go to the zoo just to sit and watch them.

Maybe that's why, even though this story is preposterous, it's also so charming. I love that Mr. Popper's dreams come true and that the practical Mrs. Popper succumbs to the birds' charms. The drawings are delightful and there's actually quite a lot to be learned from the book. Perhaps because it was already an older book when I first read it, it feels less dated to me than other childhood favorites I've reread and it's one I look forward to reading to my someday grandchildren.

That movie adaptation, starring Jim Carrey, however...what were they thinking?!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Secret Place by Tana French

The Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad #5) by   French
Published September 2014 by Viking Adult
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
The photo on the card shows a boy who was found murdered, a year ago, on the grounds of a girls’ boarding school in the leafy suburbs of Dublin. The caption says I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM.

Detective Stephen Moran has been waiting for his chance to get a foot in the door of Dublin’s Murder Squad—and one morning, sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey brings him this photo. “The Secret Place,” a board where the girls at St. Kilda’s School can pin up their secrets anonymously, is normally a mishmash of gossip and covert cruelty, but today someone has used it to reignite the stalled investigation into the murder of handsome, popular Chris Harper. Stephen joins forces with the abrasive Detective Antoinette Conway to find out who and why.

But everything they discover leads them back to Holly’s close-knit group of friends and their fierce enemies, a rival clique—and to the tangled web of relationships that bound all the girls to Chris Harper. Every step in their direction turns up the pressure. Antoinette Conway is already suspicious of Stephen’s links to the Mackey family. St. Kilda’s will go a long way to keep murder outside their walls. Holly’s father, Detective Frank Mackey, is circling, ready to pounce if any of the new evidence points toward his daughter. And the private underworld of teenage girls can be more mysterious and more dangerous than either of the detectives imagined.

My Thoughts:
In The Secret Place, French alternates chapters between Moran and Conway in the present (two loners who will have to learn to trust each other and work together) and Holly and her group of friends, both past and present, as they try desperately to hold onto the bonds of a friendship they were once certain was unbreakable. It's a tool that works well for the most part, often giving readers a peek into things the detectives have yet to discover; but it also made things just that much more confusing. Which may have been French's intent. Because if you tell me you figured out who killed Chris Harper and why before the end of the book, I'd be sorely tempted to call you a liar.

Liars, in fact abound, in The Secret Place. French's teenaged girls use lies to both hurt and protect and  only through manipulation and their own lies are the detectives likely to get anything useful out of them. All of those lies will slowly unravel but the damage has long since been done by the time they do.

My favorite things about this book? The dialect, the relationship  between Conway and Moran, and the Mackeys, both father and daughter. A couple of gripes: the slang occasionally felt like a bit too much and, at 452 pages, it felt about 25-30 pages too long. Some things just got a bit repetitive. But, again, since the present day portion of the book is all set within one long, draining day, perhaps French wanted readers to feel that same exhaustion, that feel of going no where. I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt because I really liked this book, despite a being left with a feeling of hopelessness for the characters.

If you're a fan of mysteries or have heard great things about French and want to read one of her books, start at the beginning of the series. I didn't do that. I started the series with the fourth book, Broken Harbor; this is my second in the series. Unlike other series, it's not essential to start with book one; there's not a continuum of events and not all of the characters carry through from book to book. But French does carry some characters from one book into later books (primarily moving a character that had been secondary into the forefront), and knowing the background would be helpful in understanding the interplay of the characters.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Life: It Goes On - January 25

Well, we've had a fun weekend! Miss H spent the night Friday night so that the two of us could have some girl time Saturday; brunch and a couple of movies. Then The Big Guy and I took off for Kansas City. He needed to pick up a work car and convinced the powers that be that it was cheaper to pay for us to have a fun evening on them than to have the car shipped up. So we both drove a car back up to Omaha. Okay, that part was not so much fun! We got back to Omaha in time to for an early birthday lunch for BG with the kids (well, Miss H wasn't actually eating with us; she had to work so we let her wait on us).

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I started listening to Life After Life on my drive back from Kansas City. Really loving it so far.

Watching: Yesterday Miss H and I watched "Grease" and "Freaky Friday." Today I'm watching "I Captured The Castle" and "Across The Universe." I'm hoping to talk BG into sopping up a lot of BBC America off Netflix this week since it will soon be gone from there and there is a lot there that I'd like to get caught up with.

Reading: I finally finished The Secret Place this morning while we were lounging around the hotel. I have no idea why I could not make myself sit down and read it; I really did like it quite a lot. Today I'm starting Girl Runner for an upcoming TLC Book review.

Making: Two vinaigrettes (raspberry balsamic and honey mustard), honey mustard chicken, and pork chops. I'm sure there must have been more. I know we ate every night this past week!

Planning: In the kitchen, more new recipes. On the organizing front, it's time to start the dining room. Plus, I'm ready to get back into "my" room; it continues to be a work in progress.

Grateful for: Making the right choice 32+ years ago. We tease BG about what a grumpy old man he's going to be but I can't imagine myself with anyone else. He makes me laugh and talks me down when I'm getting high strung.

Enjoying: BG let me spend an entire hour browsing in the four-story Barnes and Noble last night. In the end, I only came away with two books: The Autobiography of Malcolm X for book club and Frozen In Time which I found on clearance. Am I the only one who gets a little pain when you find a really great book stacked on the clearance shelf like some has been?

Feeling: Excited about all of the great books that have come into my house this week. Beside the two I got last night and Life After Life, which I picked up Friday for the trip, I also picked up Tell The Wolves I'm Home and Love and Friendship And Other Early Works by Jane Austen arrived on my doorstep. Glad the reading bug bit me again this weekend!

Looking forward to: A (hopefully) quiet week with lots of time to read and a mellower work week. BG's actual birthday is Wednesday but it will be a low-key affair on account of all of the celebrating this weekend. What are you looking forward to this week?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg

From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
Published: 1967 by Atheneum
Source: I bought this copy for my kids almost twenty years ago

Publisher's Summary:
When suburban Claudia Kincaid decides to run away, she knows she doesn't just want to run from somewhere, she wants to run to somewhere -- to a place that is comfortable, beautiful, and, preferably, elegant. She chooses the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Knowing that her younger brother Jamie has money and thus can help her with a serious cash-flow problem, she invites him along.

Once settled into the museum, Claudia and Jamie find themselves caught up in the mystery of an angel statue that the museum purchased at auction for a bargain price of $225. The statue is possibly an early work of the Renaissance master, Michelangelo, and therefore worth millions. Is it? Or isn't it? Claudia is determined to find out. Her quest leads her to Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the remarkable old woman who sold the statue, and to some equally remarkable discoveries about herself.

My Thoughts:
It was odd, as I started reading, to get my head wrapped around the demographic the book was aimed at and enjoy it as it's meant to be enjoyed. And it was hard to imagine, in these days, that two children could get away with living in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I had to remind myself that times were different then. It was good to remember a time when that could, perhaps, have happened. When research had to be done in a library. When there were no cell phones. When less than $30 might be enough to live on for a few days.

Claudia and Jamie had to work as a team, using each of their gifts and their brains to succeed in their grand adventure; wonderful lessons for people of all ages. When they finally arrive on Mrs. Frankweiler's doorstep, she helps them consider their adventure in a new, more adult way.
"The adventure is over. Everything gets over, and nothing is ever enough. Except the part you carry with you. It's the same as going on a vacation. Some people spend all their time on a vacation taking pictures so that when they get home they can show their friends evidence that they had a good time. They don't pause to let the vacation enter inside of them and take that home."
Konigsburg won the Newbery award for From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler in 1968. I'm certain it had to do with her ability to write for her target audience without talking down to them.
"I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. An you can feel it inside you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you just accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them."
Now I'm wondering if we still have A View From Saturday somewhere. I just might have to pick up another of Konigsburg's books - it's good to touch base with the writers who encouraged you to become a reader.