Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday Salon - November 29

I hope that all of you in the U.S. had a lovely Thanksgiving weekend. We were lucky enough to get to spend it with almost all of our immediate family and enjoyed entirely too much food, plenty of football, and even braved the crowds on Black Friday, contributing our bit to turning the economy around.
I was very excited this evening to open the blog and find that I now have 100 followers. I've been promising a giveaway for sometime and this certainly seems like the time to have one so look for that announcement coming up this week.

On Tuesday, I'll also be announcing a challenge I'll be hosting beginning the first of the year. It seems that there are quite a few "Gilmore Girl" fans out there and this one will focus on the books that were either mentioned or that appeared on that show. I've got Miss H working on a button for me and my resident computer expert looking at options for how, exactly, it will be set up. Now I'm just hoping that you all haven't already signed up for more challenges than you can handle!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

"Over The Top" Award

Thanks to Al, of Publish or Perish, for this award. Al is an aspiring author, wonderful photographer, and makes his livelihood taking care of his fellow man. How's that for an all-around great guy?!

And here are the rules for this award:
1.) Thank and post URL to the blog that gave the award.
2.) Pass the award along to 6 brilliantly over the top blogs (blogs you love!) Alert them so they know to receive the award.
3.) Copy and paste this quiz... Change the answers, ONE word only...feel free to fudge here!

1. Where is your cell phone? Desk
2. Your hair? Greying
3. Your mother? Friend
4. Your father? Loving
5. Your favorite food? Lobster
6. Your dream last night? Episodic
7. Your favorite drink? Chocolate martini
8. Your dream/goal? Write
9. What room are you in? Family room
10. Your hobby? Reading
11. Your fear? Loss
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? Here
13. Where were you last night? Lincoln
14. Something that you aren't? Thin
15. Muffins? Cinnamon
16. Wish list item? Laptop
17. Where did you grow up? Nebraska
18. Last thing you did? Eat
19. What are you wearing? Jammies
20. Your TV? Everchanging
21. Your pets? Gone
22. Friends? Cherished
23. Your life? Happy
24. Your mood? Content
25. Missing someone? Grandmother
26. Vehicle? Honda
27. Something you're not wearing? Shoes
28. Your favorite store? Antique
29. Your favorite color? Blue
30. When was the last time you laughed? Morning
31. Last time you cried? Thursday
32. Your best friend? Spouse
33. One place that I go to over and over? Lincoln
34. One person who emails me regularly? Dad
35. Favorite place to eat? Upstream

Okay, the hardest part of getting any of these awards is choosing the people to pass it along to! This one does to:

Nicole at Linus's Blanket who includes a wide variety of things on her blog including hosting a new challenge for 2010 and she is also the host on BlogTalk Radio of "That's How I Blog."

Jennifer at The Literate Housewife Review. I just love her header and she reads a wide variety of books.

Florinda at The 3 R's Blog. Florinda and I have read a lot of the same books so I know when I find something on her blog that I haven't read, I'll probably agree with her opinion.

Deb at Bookmagic. Deb's blog is beautiful, she participates in a lot of memes and reads great books.

Care at Care's Online Book Club. Care is witty and she rates books by pies. What more could you want?!

Missy at Missy's Book Nook. In addition to book reviews, Missy does reviews of years and reminds us of the books, movies and events for each year as well as letting us in on what was going on in her life.

Please be sure to take some time to check out these great blogs!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"The Man Who Loved Books Too Much"

By Allson Hoover Bartlett
288 pages
Published September 2009 by Penguin Group
Source: ARC from the Publisher

Several years ago, a friend of Allison Hoover Bartlett showed her a twelve pound book, published in 1630, that he had discovered while sorting through his brother's belongings after the brother died. The brother left a note stating that the book was given to him by a female who stated that she had checked it out from a library but had neglected to return it. She had wanted the brother to return it. Now it was up to the friend to return it. Ms. Bartlett couldn't stop thinking about the book and asked to borrow it for a while, and began looking into where it the story of the book. This led her into the world of rare book dealers, a world that included Ken Sanders, rare book dealer, and John Gilkey, rare book thief.

Gilkey is an unrepentant thief who believes that he is entitled to steal the books because he needs them to achieve his goals and can't acquire them in any other way. Sanders, who became the security head an association of rare book dealers, is fanatical in his efforts to put not only Gilkey but all book thieves away. Once Sanders tells Bartlett the story of Gilkey, she is hooked on this particular man and first visits him in jail to get his side of the story. Because this type of theft usually only garners a short sentence, Gilkey is soon out of jail and more than eager to continue to tell Bartlett his story. Over the next few years, Bartlett continues to interview Gilkey, Sanders, and other rare book dealers as well as doing extensive research on their world.

This book is the culmination of that research, although it is not the culmination of the story. Bartlett finally comes to believe that she understands Gilkey's motives but is never able to pinpoint exactly what makes someone make the leap from rabid bibliomaniac to thief. She, herself, is concerned, early on, that she could even become an avid collector if she begins purchasing first editions. The book is loaded with examples of book theft and book collectors from the earliest books to the present as well as Gilkey's story. Bartlett, who began thinking the story would be nothing more than a magazine article before deciding it will become a book, immerses herself so deeply into the story that she puts herself in the position of wondering whether or not she is obstructing justice and perhaps becoming too close to her subject.

Bartlett explains the sensory allure of the books as she walked through a rare book fair:

"..the feel of think, rough-edged pages, the sharp beauty of type, the tightness of linen or pigskin covers, the papery smell."

One of my favorite stories in the book was that of collector Thomas Jefferson Fitzpatrick, a botany professor in the 1930's. When he died in 1952, he had to sleep on an Army cot in his kitchen because his house was so full of books. So many books that his Nebraska house exceeded the building code maximum load. Fitzpatrick had accumulated 90 tons of books!

So powerful are books that leaders of different nations and ages have repeatedly destroyed them. Bartlett writes:

"The fearsome urge to destroy or suppress books is an acknowledgment of their power, and not only that of august scientific, political, and philosophical texts, but of small, quiet books of poetry and fiction, which nonetheless hold great capacity to change us."

This is a work of non-fiction and can be a bit dry at times. Other times, Bartlett seemed to be repeating herself. But I was learning so much and found the world of rare books so interesting that the story of Gilkey took a back seat for me. I recommend this book for any one with an interest in the world and history of books.

Bartlett gave me hope for the survival of the physical book when she explained their appeal this way:

"...much of the fondness avid readers, and certainly collectors, have for their books is related to the books' physical bodies. As much as they are vessels for stories (and poetry, reference information, etc.), books are historical artifacts and repositories for memories - we like to recall who gave books to us, where we were when we read them, how old we were, and so on. "

Thanks to Lydia of Riverbend Books for allowing me to delve into this aspect of the book world!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Salon - Happy Thanksgiving!

This week I am looking forward to spending time with family. I don't actually like turkey or stuffing but when I smell that bird cooking, I know that my family will soon be sitting down together - talking, laughing and raving about how my mom has gotten the best "do" on "Great-grandma's Beans" ever. We'll all eat more turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberries, scalloped corn with oysters and frozen salad than we should. And sometime later, my mom will pull out several different kinds of pies and a couple of other desserts and we'll all moan about how full we are as we plop some whipped cream on top of our pumpkin pie.


But Thanksgiving with my family is not entirely about food; it's about the traditions that my parents have created for the family to celebrate each year. When the oldest grandchildren were still in grade school, my parents put together a "turkey trot" for the them. It's a treasure hunt, with clues for each child and, when they were younger, a pilgrim hat to be worn. With grandchildren in their 20's and the baby of the family now in high school, you might think it was time for the turkey trot to fade into history. But, to the grandchildren, the turkey trot is as much a part of the day as the turkey and it has evolved so that they continue to be challenged as they hunt for their treasure box.

As an alternative to walking around the block to burn off some of those potatoes one particularly warm Thanksgiving Day, a group of the guys headed up to the football field at the nearby high school to toss some footballs and kick some field goals. A competition ensued and a tradition was born. Now, no matter what the temperature (and it has been very cold some years) a good portion of the family heads up to the field to compete and watch as my brother-in-law attempts to maintain his dominance of the competition.

The tradition that most reminds each of us how very much we have to be thankful for happens late in the afternoon when Grandma, the moms and the grandchildren head over to do some shopping. But we are not shopping for ourselves (a point that was often difficult when the children were in single digit ages!). Each of the grandchildren is giving an amount of money by my parents to select gifts for children whose families need help at the holidays. Most years we adopt a family. The grandkids are in charge of selecting gifts for the children. The moms and Grandma make sure the parents have gifts to open as well. When we get back to my parents’ house, we wrap the gifts. Knowing that we are able to bring some happiness to another family is something we are all grateful for each year.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Challenge Update

Only went for the Bronze Medal on this one, which is a good thing. Because I have yet to even pick a book. Although I'm leaning toward "The Shipping News" by Annie Proux. I'll have to get busy because this one ends December 31st and it would be embarrassing not to be able to finish.

Have my books all picked out and numbered for this one and have figured out that I will start with Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Wait 'Til Next Year." But haven't even started reading yet.

And here is where I really get embarrassed! I had such high hopes for completing this challenge. I had six great books picked out; I even owned all six of them so no trips to the library or bookstore were required. How have I done? One read, "The Red Tent," and the deadline is December 1st.

I did finish the "Everything Austen" challenge. But I almost feel like I cheated on that one. I ended up with eight things finished but only two of them were books. That just doesn't seem right!

What I've learned about challenges: challenges and review books do not always mesh well! I've been so excited about being offered books to review that I've been unable to get to the books that I already own or the books I need to read for challenges. In the coming year, I'm really hoping to find the right balance. Which will be necessary because I've still got the Random Reading Challenge to carry into 2010 and I've signed up for the All About The Brontes challenge and The Michener Challenge.

I'm eager to host a challenge and have an idea for one that would start the first of the year. At this point, I have to decide if I have the time to put it together and run it. And to find out if there's any interest. Any Gilmore Girls fans out there?

Friday, November 20, 2009

"Olive Kitteridge"

By Elizabeth Strout
304 pages
Published September 2008 by Random House
Source: purchased

In this Pulitzer-prize winning novel (actually it's a collection of short stories), Strout explores the life of Olive Kitteridge, a retired middle school math teacher who is the kind of person that people avoid in her small town of Crosby. Olive was not a perfect neighbor, not a perfect wife and certainly not a perfect mother. She is abrasive, outspoken, and not in the least able to communicate well with anyone in her life. Her husband, Henry, was the town pharmacist until a big chain moved into town and Henry was beloved by everyone. Her son, Christopher, does everything he can to avoid his mother after he's an adult. But somehow, in some way, Strout is able to convince us that Olive is someone we should call about.

As a mother, Olive admits that she made mistakes but she says that she loved her son and believes that she raised him in a way so that he always knew that. She has had her own issues growing up that make the reader understand why she is the way she is, so you can understand why she might have been a cold mother. But Christopher remembers things differently. As readers, we are not given a full picture of the past so that we never reach a point where we can judge either party.

In some of the stories, Olive is something of a ship passing in the night; the reader almost misses her presence in the story. In others, she is a peripheral player. It was in those stories that I felt like Strout gave us glimpses of Olive that made her a more bearable person, such as the story where she sits in a car with a suicidal young man and just talks to him until he begins to doubt his choice. And when Olive takes her revenge on her brand new daughter-in-law, readers may just think that it was the most brilliant and realistic piece of revenge they've ever read and justifiable.

Throughout the book, Strout deals with issues of love, marriage and infidelity in all of it's guises as she writes about the people in the town of Crosby that cross paths with Olive. There are cases of unfulfilled extramarital love, a case of infidelity discovered in a seemingly happy marriage of decades, and a case of infidelity in a marriage where one person has given up on the physical relationship. Strout never passes judgement; she puts these situations out for the reader to consider.

My book club read this for our November selection and everyone liked this book. There is a lot here to discuss and I do recommend it for book clubs.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"The Secret of Joy"

By Melissa Senate
352 pages
Published November 2009 by Simon & Shuster (Downtown Press)
Source: ARC from publisher

Rebecca's life seemed to be a track for a happily-ever-life. She has a great job as a paralegal, is dating one of the firm's partners, lives in a wonderful condo and has a terrific dad. But things aren't always what they seem. As "The Secret of Joy" opens, Rebecca has serious concerns about where her relationship with Michael is headed and her father's battle with pancreatic cancer is about over. Then Rebecca's father makes a startling deathbed confession. Twenty-four years ago, he had a daughter by another woman. He has never seen the child nor spoken to the mother since the day she called to say the baby had been born. But, he tells Rebecca, there is a stash of letters to the daughter in a safe deposit box and he would like Rebecca to read them.

When Rebecca's father passes away, she is left adrift and can't help but think that she needs to meet her half-sister. Thanks to the internet, the sister turns out to be easy to find. Rebecca hops in a car and sets off to Maine to met her half-sister.

But Joy, who operates a singles tour bus, isn't in the least bit happy to see Rebecca. But she does invite Rebecca along for a weekend tour and as Rebecca spends time with Joy and the ladies on the tour, she learns as much about herself as she does about her sister.

Senate explores relationships of all kinds in "The Secret of Joy," father/daughter, sibling, love. It's a fun, light look that takes the time to dig a little deeper than the usual novel of this type. But, of course, there's always room to add in the hunky local. I've never read any Melissa Senate before, but I know she has a huge following and I can definitely understand the appeal. I'll look for more of her works when I need that book that you know will end with the characters having learned something and having made a better life for themselves.

Thanks to Sarah Reidy and Pocket Book Blog Tours for the chance to read this book.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sunday Salon - November 16

I know, I know--it's not Sunday...again. But I was so wrapped up in football and AMC's "The Prisoner" that I just couldn't tear myself away from the television long enough to get on the computer. I first found out about AMC's mini-series of "The Prisoner" one evening when I was
channel surfing and came across episodes of the original television program "The Prisoner" on IFC. I had to watch the episodes. It was a flashback to my childhood. My dad and I watched it together when it was on in tv in 1967 to 1968. It certainly doesn't seem lik the kind of show a kid
would watch, but there were only four channels in those days and none of them catered to children's programming in the evening, only family shows. We also watched "All In The Family" and "I, Spy" with Bill Cosby and Robert Culp.
My dad read to my siblings and me at bedtime. I remember us as always sitting in the hall; I have no idea why we didn't sit on the sofa except that the hall spot was right by our bedrooms. In particular, I remember Mark Twain's "Tom Sawyer" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." My dad didn't just read the books to us, he performed them.
I've mentioned that my dad is an avid reader. He is also a tremendous lover of music. All kinds of music. So that while classical music was on the car radio almost exclusively when he could find it, I also remember listening to "Woodstock" on our console stereo and one night being allowed to fall asleep on the living room sofa listening to The Chambers Brothers' "The Time Has Gone." It seems an odd choice in retrospect, but I remember it being very soothing.

As the holidays approach, I always find myself thinking of the past. At Thanksgiving, in particular, I am grateful for the very normal upbringing I was given along with the twists that made our life uniquely our own.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

An Award From A Chick


This award comes to me from my friend, Teri, who I "met" on Goodreads in wonderful group called Chicks On Lit. Chicks was the first place I found where I realized you could actually make friends on the internet. Which was a real revelation to a mom who has spent years telling my kids that people you have contact with over the internet are not really friends. It turns out I don't really know everything after all--but don't tell my kids I said that!

Teri, who has a wonderfully creative blog called Quinceberry, passed this along to three blogs and I'm going to do the same. This one goes to:

Mari at Bookworm With A View. Mari's the person responsible for me believing that I could start a blog and for making it look like so much fun! Mari's blog is particularly great if you're part of a book club. She really looks at books with an eye toward whether or not they're discussion worthy.

Care at Care's Online Book Club. Care reads such a wonderful variety of books, again with an eye toward things that are discussion worthy. And she rates her books by slices of pie so you know she has a great sense of humor!

And, Laura at Laura's Reviews. I always find books I love or have to add on Laura's blog and she's hosting a challenge beginning January 1st that is called All About The Brontes. I've got to love any blogger that hosts a Bronte challenge!

Somebody Else's Daughter by Elizabeth Brundage

Somebody Else's Daughter by Elizabeth Brundage
352 pages
Published April 2009 by Penguin Group
Source: Purchased

Nate and Cat, heroin addicts and drifters, realize they can't care for their infant daughter, Willa, and drive across the country to deliver her to Joe and Candace Golding.

Seventeen years later, Nate returns, all cleaned up and working at the prestigious Pioneer School. Claire has also just returned to the area with her son, Teddy. Claire, an artist, is returning because her father has passed away, leaving her his home and land.

At the Pioneer School, Jack Heath is the head master who has turned the school into one of the best private schools in the area. Maggie, his wife and an instructor at the school, is barely managing to hold things together as she tries to hold on to her husband while struggling to keep keep their disastrous history a secret.

On the surface, everything looks just the way the wealthy residents of the Berkshires want it to; but under the surface lie all kinds of secrets: prostitution, drugs, infidelity, gambling and dog fights. When the worlds start to collide, secrets pour out and lives are in danger.

I've been putting this one off for a few days, trying to decide what to say about this one. On the one hand, I really liked Brundage's use of mirror characters throughout the book. Willa is a mirror of the young prostitute, Pearl. Nate is the mirror of Joe. On the other hand, the book seemed too crowded with characters and took so long to set everything up. I felt like many of the characters were really well developed but then there were others that felt very much stereotypes. I appreciated the idea of delving under the surface and exploring the idea that everyone has secrets they want to keep hidden. I just didn't think it was necessary for all of the secrets to be so awful.

Brundage certainly was able to build suspense once the novel really got going but it felt, in the end, a bit too tidy and neatly wrapped up. And (and I know I'm nitpicking here but it really bothered me) midway through the book, there is what appears to be one of the most glaring errors I've ever found in a book. A character that's supposed to have thrown herself into the Jewish faith is suddenly wearing a crucifix and talking passionately about Jesus. Perhaps it was done intentionally but I was never able to figure out why it would have been. After that, I read on looking for other incongruities which detracted from my enjoyment of the story.

My face to face book club read this book for October and opinions on it were mixed. Some people really liked it, others were lukewarm. But we did have a really wonderful talk with Elizabeth Brundage. She was eager to not only discuss her work but to get to know us. We try to talk to authors about every other month and this really one of the most successful calls we've had. Brundage is also the author of "The Doctor's Wife" and has another book coming out in 2010.

****Warning****
There are some very graphic depictions of animal cruelty and sexual acts in this book.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Favorites - "A Little Princess"

Okay, I'm back to picking a book for my Friday Favorite that's been made into a movie. I cannot remember the first time I read FrancesHodgson Burnett's "A Little Princess" but I couldn't have been more than ten. I must have checked it out from the library because I didn't own it until my daughter was born. If I had ever owned it, I would have kept it, just as I did Louisa May Alcott's Little Women and Little Men; Heidi; and The Five Little Peppers And How They Grew. Even as a kid, I loved the classics!

Sara Crewe is delivered by her wealthy father to a new boarding school while he goes off to war. But when he dies, Sara finds herself penniless and at the mercy of the horrible Mrs. Minchin. Despite being made to become a maid and to live in the attic, Sara never losses her optimism and kindness. Even though Sara is no longer a "princess" in the school, she never stops being a real princess. She remains a favorite of most of the girls and attracts the attention of a mysterious benefactor. I love the lessons this book teaches: kindness is rewarded, it is better to be a good human being than rich, imagination is a wonderful thing and every little girl is somebody's princess.

The book was made into a movie in 1995. It's cast is largely unknown and the budget was tight but the movie was a beautiful realization of the book. My daughter and I love to rewatch this together every few months. I recommend it every bit as highly as I recommend the book!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Postmistress

By Sarah Blake
336 pages
Published February 2010 by Penguin Group
Source: Barnes & Noble First Look program

As the United States watches the war in Europe in 1940 and ponders it's own role in the conflict, two women follow events from two entirely different points of view.

Iris James is the new postmistress in Franklin, a small town on Cape Cod. Iris is a stickler for doing things the right way, following rules, living in an orderly way. But then Iris begins to find her place in Franklin and to care about the people that live there. She falls in love, much to her surprise because she has reached an age when she thought it would not happen, with Harry, the local mechanic. Harry is firmly convinced that the German U-boats are a threat to the U.S. coast line and spends a portion of every day watching the waters for signs of trouble. Then there is young Emma, whose husband, Will, the town doctor, has gone off to London to help the victims of the German bombings. Emma is in the post office every day, posting a letter to Will and picking one up. Iris begins to feel that Emma is someone very fragile that she needs to care for and protect.

On the other side of the ocean is Frankie Bard. Frankie is a reporter, living in London, and working on the radio with Edward Murrow reporting on the war. Frankie thinks she's in control until people that she cares about begin to die. When she ends up with Will in a shelter during a bombing raid and that time changes the course of her life. Frankie becomes convinced that what is happening to the Jews in Europe needs to be reported and talks Murrow into letting her go onto the continent to investigate. There Frankie becomes a changed person as she deals with one horror after another. When Frankie can't handle it any more, she heads to Franklin to deliver a letter.

Iris and Emma listen to Frankie's reports on the radio and throughout the book, Blake jumps back and forth from one side of the ocean to the other using the radio transmissions to connect the two. This can be a jarring, particularly at first as the reader is trying to get acclimated to the writing style. Blake writes beautifully and I really liked the juxtaposition of life on Cape Cod with life in war-torn Europe. Some who have read the book have found this difficult. When we're in Franklin, we're largely reading a character study. When we're in Europe there is much more action and a direction to the story. Frankie is a wonderful character; watching her change throughout the book really kept the book interesting for me. I also could really empathize with Emma, who really was a fragile person, an orphan living in a place where she had no real friends.

This was the third book centered around WWII that I read in a row, which was not at all planned. I really enjoyed it's look at war from yet another angle, the writing, and the characters. Blake throws in enough surprises to keep things interesting and I found myself being pulled through it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"The Imposter's Daughter"

By Laurie Sandell
256 pages
Published July 2009 by Little, Brown & Company
Source: Publisher review copy

When Laurie Sandell was a growing up, she was in awe of her father, who told incredible stories of a life of privilege, heroism, academic achievements and more than mere brushes with famous people. In attempt to also live a life fit for great stories, Laurie puts herself out into the world experiencing life as a Tokyo stripper, seducer of women, yogi and even Ambien addict. Then she stumbles into a job as a celebrity interviewer which she loves. It's during this time that she decides to write about her dad and when she starts doing research, she discovers that he's not the man that he says he is. When she confronts her parents, her mom essentially tsk-tsks her. But Laurie needs to know "if this man, who I based my life on, is a fake, then what does that make me?"

This was my first graphic novel. I read it as part of Dewey's Read-a-thon and I read it almost toward the end of the 24 hours. I discovered two things: a) a graphic novel was the perfect choice for that time of the night since it was bright and quick to read, and b) I remembered very few details when I started writing this review. I don't know, in retrospect, if that was entirely because I was so tired when I read it, if it was because I was not that taken by a story told in graphic novel form or a bit of both. Sandell tells an interesting story but, for me, the graphic novel format made it feel lighter than the story truly is. Because Sandell really has a powerful story to tell, although she does seem to gloss over some parts, such as her stint in rehab.

If you're looking for something different, this is a unique and fun book. Do bear in mind that just because this is a "cartoon" book, it is not for children. There is a fair amount of sex, drug use and alcoholism portrayed in the novel.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunday Salon - November 8

Chances are if you live on either coast there are only three things you know about Nebraska:

1) It's flat. True enough but only in some places. We also have our fair share of river bluffs and the Sand Hills.

2) It's nothing but corn. Not true. There is a lot of corn, to be sure. But Nebraska also has a lot of ranches and even a national forest and waterfalls.

3) We are crazy about the University's football team. Now that is entirely true! In my family, we're more then just a little bit convinced that the things we do can effect the outcome of games. Everyone in my family hangs out a Nebraska flag on game days and a Husker figure of some sort that stands out front. Oh yes, we are certain that each of these things must be in just the right place. Team's not playing well? Maybe Herbie needs to be moved. And to say that we are loud when we watch games, especially together, is a major understatement.

Why do we love our team so much? Tradition. Love of the game. And scenes like the one above, where a coach can look like a little boy.

Lest you think we're all football lunkheads, we also love to read...about our Huskers! Kenny Walker, who played for the Huskers and is deaf, wrote "Roar of Silence." When Kenny came onto the field or made a play, the fans did the sign language equivalent of clapping. "Hero of the Underground," which made the NY Times best seller list, was written by Jason Peter who played on championship teams at Nebraska and went on to play in the NFL. Our beloved coach and now Athletic Director, Tom Osborne, has written several books including "Beyond the Final Score" and "Heart Of A Husker."

* photo taken by Matt Miller, Omaha World-Herald

Friday, November 6, 2009

"The Bright Side of Disaster"

By Katherine Center
256 pages
Published April 2008 by Random House Publishing
Source: Library

Jenny Harris always thought she'd do things the old-fashioned way: fall in love, get married, have a family. After her parents' divorce, it was very important to her to get it "right." But life doesn't always work out the way we think it will. Jenny and Dean are, at least, engaged before she finds herself pregnant. And Jenny thinks that will be fine. And it would have been, of course, if Dean had been a different person. Not the kind of guy who would sleep in while his very pregnant girlfriend is hauling things out onto the lawn for a garage sale.

"Right around eleven-thirty, Dean woke up. He showed up on the porch, still in his clothes from the night before, which were wrinkled and emitting a thick odor of cigars. His boxers were edging up out of his waistband. He did not appear to have brushed his teeth. There he stood, hungover, unshaven, squinting."

Not the kind of guy that would suddenly express an unusual amount of sadness over a coworkers death and significantly less interest in Jenny right when she needed him most.

"I wanted someone to rub my feet and tease me about my belly. I wanted a friend, a distraction from the interminable waiting, anything to give me some assurance about something."

Particularly not the kind of person that would walk out on his pregnant girlfriend. The day after Dean leaves, Jenny goes into labor. It turns out that raising an infant is much more work than Jenny ever expected.

Fortunately, Jenny has some people in her life she can still count on. Her mother helps as often as she can, despite her terrible allergy to a cat that Jenny has somehow gotten saddled with. Mom is full of practical advice, although Jenny isn't always willing to take it.

And there's Gardner, a neighbor Jenny met when he saw her hauling furniture out the morning of her garage sale and stopped to help. When Jenny next sees Gardner, the baby has been born and Jenny is feeling very lonely and shut in.

"He got it. In twenty-five words or less, he knew my whole, sad, cliched story. And knowing the story seemed to make him angry. Most people seemed angry when they found out. But there was something extra nice about his response. A touch of big-brother protectiveness. I breathed it in like a good aroma. Cookies baking, say. Or onions sauteing in butter."

For months Jenny struggles trying to figure out how life with a baby works. Then just when she's starting to get it altogether, Dean returns and Jenny is forced to make some decisions about the life she wants for herself and her child.

Center writes a story filled with humor and warmth. While there are some things in the story that are predictable in this kind of story, the story kept me interested. I was cheering for Jenny to make the right choices and I looked forward to the times when her mom was in the story. Having raised a family while working full-time, I didn't always have a lot of patience with Jenny. I often wanted to shake her by the shoulders and say to her, "quit whining." After all, she was able, thanks to a monthly income from Dean's parents, to stay home with her baby. Yet she never seemed to stop complaining about how little sleep she got, how difficult it was to go anywhere, how showers were all but impossible. Even so, Center was able to make me sympathize with Jenny. A side story about Jenny's father's attempt to reconcile with her mother was delightful. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I'll certainly be looking for Center's most recent book, "Everyone is Beautiful."

And The Winner Is...


The winner of the autographed copy of "Only Milo" by Barry Smith is:

Amy

Amy, I'll contact you by email to get your address. I think you're really going to get a kick out of this book!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish: A Novel by Elise Blackwell

The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish by Elise Blackwell
210 pages
Published April 2007 by Unbridled Books

The year is 1927 and Louis Proby is growing up in the small town of Cypress in southern Mississippi as the rising river begins to become a concern. Louis has concerns of his own. A sister he feels he needs to help watch out for, a new girlfriend, and a father that may not be the larger-than-life person Louis has always thought he was. When Louis gets a job with the richest man in town, driving him into New Orleans, it opens up a whole new world for Louis, one that allows him to meet the movers and shakers of the time. And to learn how much they are willing to sacrifice. The book is based on historical events and narrated on the eve of Hurricane Katrina.

I read this book as part of Dewey's Read-A-Thon and it was a great choice. I was hoping for books that I wouldn't be able to put down and that's exactly what I got in this book. Blackwell has crafted a beautiful story of relationships - between people and with nature.

Here Blackwell writes about Louis' "first time:'

"Later I would try to reconstruct each sound, each rustle of clothing or leaf, each sigh or gasp, each kiss and touch and realization. I would strain to remember the precise order of events, the character of each senstion and wash of feeling."

And here a bar setting from Louis' first encounter with the man who would make his father seem much smaller to Louis:

"The stale smell of the previous night's liquor and cigars soaked the unmoving air, and the floor was littered with matchsticks, cigarette butts, losing raffle tickets, and paper napkins, some bearing names and addresses that had been cast aside."

A part of the book deals with a leper colony. Did you even know that leperosy was around in the south in this time? Treatment of lepers had not advanced much in nearly 2000 years.

"Lepers entering the colony at Carville in the early decades of the twentieth century were encouraged, if not coerced, to change their names. It was thought that both the lepers and their families were better off parting ways for good."

"Many a carefully drawn family tree had a stunted limb, a truncation bearing only the first name of an aunt or uncle or cousin who - though everyone had known where he or she had been taken - had disappeared as if forever into the mysterious word Carville."

So sad, as is so much in this book. But well worth reading. Wonderful story, wonderful characters, beautiful prose.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Everything Austen Challenge #7 - Intimations of Austen: Stories Inspired by the Works of Jane Austen

by Jane Greensmith
116 pages
Published August 2008 by Lulu.com
Source: Author

This is a collection of nine short stories based on the works of Jane Austen. Greensmith gives some of the stories backstories, some sequels, and others what-ifs. In one story, Greensmith finds out how Fanny Price overcame her jealousy and self-doubt that was threatening her marriage to Edmund Bertram. In another, we learn of a love that Jane Bennet had before Charles Bingley. And in the last, and longest, story, Greensmith poses this what-if: what if Darcy, in order to get Wickham to agree to marry Lydia, had to agree never to marry Elizabeth?

I read this as part of Dewey's read-a-thon. I figured I'd need something nice and short sometime around hour 18 and I was right. I was dragging so badly by that point that this ended up being the slowest I have ever read 116 pages. And it was no fault of the book. Well, maybe it was a little bit the fault of the book. Because I really liked these stories and I just couldn't make myself race through them. The book opens with a story written from Mrs. Bennet's perspective about her relationship with Mr. Bennet. Greensmith did a marvelous job of making me see what might have made Mrs. Bennet the person she was in Pride & Prejudice. Greensmith also mixed in a bit of the otherworld--in one story wraiths are central and in another handwriting appears in different colors to Mr. Darcy.

Ms. Greensmith does not attempt to write in a way to mimic Austen. She has her own style and, as these are short stories, things move along at a much quicker pace that Austen used while remaining true to Austen's characters.

I have a hard time with short story collections. I find that I'm generally better off if I don't try to power my way through the entire collection at once. I wish that I would have done that with this book. I enjoyed it a great deal, but I think I would have been better able to savor each story if I had taken my time with this collection. I do recommend it lovers of Austen, particularly if you also enjoy the spin-offs and sequels.

"Raising A Reader"

By Jennie Nash
160 pages
Published July 2003 by St Martin's Press

Jennie Nash was one of those parents. You know the ones. They're the people that run up and down along the sidelines, screaming, as their child plays soccer. They're the parents that push their children onto the stage despite extreme stage fright. In Jennie's case, though, it wasn't sports or theater or even scholastics in general that Jennie pushed. It was a passion for reading. She loved to read and she assumed that she could instill that same passion in her children. She assumed that...until she realized that she couldn't. In this book, Nash has passed along to the rest of us the lessons she learned along the way. She shares the mistakes she made as well as what did work. Nash learned that the magic moments happen in their own good time. Our job as parents is to make it possible for those magic moments to happen.

Along the way, Nash shares tips she's picked up from others as well as what she's learned in her own life. There is also a wealth of books listed that are not only excellent books but books that will inspire children to want to read more. I highly recommend this for all parents of young children.