Friday, February 27, 2009

The Kindle - review

By popular demand (well, more like 3 requests, but that's popular for me) I will gladly review the Amazon Kindle version 1. Now, before I offer this review, let me add a few caveats. Number 1, I did not thoroughly research all eReaders in existence. I looked at a Sony eReader about 18 months ago, but that is a lifetime in the world of electronics. So, if there are items that I mention about the Kindle - which are also true about others - please do not shoot the messenger for inaccurate facts. Secondly, I am NOT a tech-savy person. In fact, I really didn't embrace the digital camera until about 5 years ago, and my iPod is typically docked on its iHome with less than 1,000 songs. All this is to say that my review will not be eloquently written with computer tech lingo; the review is strictly a personal opinion about the Kindle from a very modest user of electronic equipment. And finally, please know that Amazon just released - 2.9.09 - the version 2 of the Kindle. I have looked at it and read some of the specs. This is the Kindle that is available at Amazon now. I will try to give some information about this latest model throughout the review. Again, my information is limited, however, so please be kind if I unintentionally misrepresent the facts.

Ok - without further is the review. First of all, I LOVE the Kindle --- in fact I now use it as a verb in my house, such as, "I am going to Kindle now" or "I'm Kindling in here...." Having said that, however, I do not anticipate that my Kindle will eliminate my book collection; it just provides another great option. As I see it, I now have 3 basic options when it comes to books: I can borrow books from the library; I can purchase books for my own personal library; or I can purchase ebooks for my Kindle. Another tremendous benefit of the Kindle is that oftentimes I do not have to purchase the ebooks at all -- they are free (which I will go into more detail later). I will try to organize my thoughts in a systematic fashion that might make it easier for you to sort through:

Reasons why I LOVE my Kindle:
  1. Lightweight portability: The Kindle weighs less than 11 ounces, about the same size and weight of a trade paperback. This has huge benefits. First of all, no matter what size the book, a 50 page mass paperback or a 750 page hardback book --- the weight of the book is the same. Sometimes the weight of those chunksters can limit when and where I choose to read them (not to mention the cramps I get in my wrists if I try to hold them too long without a break). Also --- I can read any book - no matter what size - with only one hand! That's right - I can choose to pet my beloved animals while reading, and not have to reposition every time I need to turn the page; OR I can have a nice cup of tea (or perhaps something stronger if it has been a particular stressful day) and still continue my reading without interruption. I have found the functionality of the keys to be great (but I will give a bit more detail on that later). BUT as if that isn't benefit enough --- the Kindle can actually hold hundreds if not thousands of books for the exact same 11 ounce weight. I currently have over 75 books on my Kindle and I have used a fraction of the memory. I could literally take my entire library with me everywhere - if I so desired.
  2. Instant Gratification: now this could be a detriment if you have no will-power, but I find this to be a GREAT feature. Amazon uses what is called "Whispernet" technology. Now my very basic explanation of this (remember, I am NOT a tech-savy person) is that it is like cell phone technology that allows you to access the internet without wi-fi connection. Although whispernet is not available everywhere -- I do believe Whispernet is associated with Sprint, so it does provide widespread access. For now (and hopefully for a long time) this feature is absolutely free. What this means is that I can access Amazon from anywhere there is whispernet capability -- search the Kindle store -- download a book that I want to read all in less than a minute. Let me tell you --- this is very cool!
  3. FREE samples: That's right. For every kindle book Amazon sells, there is a feature that allows you to download a sample of the book absolutely free! I have found the samples to be approximately 5% of the book - which is generally at least the first chapter. This is a tremendous feature. It allows you to actually read a portion of the book before you decide to buy it. If you decide that you absolutely must have it immediately - one touch downloadss the entire book (for the purchase price, of course) to your home screen. I can't tell you how many samples I have downloaded so far - at least 100 would be my guess.
  4. FREE books: Again .... that is right. Not only has Amazon started carrying free public domain books on their website (so you can easily access and download) -- there are also several other sites online that allow you to download public domain books in the Kindle format. While I know there are other sites out there, the two that I use the most are and The Whispernet capability allows you very basic browsing features, one of which is to access these sites and immediately download these classics to your Kindle. The vast majority of the 75 books I have downloaded have come from these sites. No, you do not receive the wonderful commentary available on other editions (Penguin Classics and Oxford World's Classics are my two favorites), but free is free and I can choose to download or even purchase the hard copy if I wish at a later date.
  5. Save money with kindle versions: so, not all books are free BUT the vast majority of the books available on Kindle are less expensive than their hard copy counterparts. NYT best sellers are always $15 or less - which compares to $25-$30 in the hardback version. Very often Kindle will also run specials where some books are actually free (especially if the author is to release a new book and the publisher want to elicit some interest by offering an older book at a reduced price) OR significantly reduced price.
  6. Huge storage: now, this where my limited computer knowledge and limited knowledge of the version 2 may get me in trouble. Essentially my Kindle has 179mg of memory. I can't remember exactly how many texts this is supposed to hold, but I do know that it is hundreds of books (maybe 500-800??). However, the version 1 also has an SD card slot. I have a 2 gig SD card and that will literally hold 1000s of books. Fascinating!! The version 2 does not have the SD card slot BUT it has more than double the internal memory. I think it is supposed to hold 1500 books (give or a take a few). Bottom line -- it holds a ton of reading material
  7. Look-up feature: ok, I hate to admit it, but I have never really read with a dictionary beside me. I know that I should (and I even teach my students to do that), but I have always just made do with trying to decipher the meaning in context. With the Kindle, I have increased my vocabulary quite a bit. There is a dictionary built right into it. When I come to a word with which I am unfamiliar, I just scroll to the line that contains the word and select "look up" The dictionary will identify all words in that line for which it has entries. I find said word - discover the actual definitioin - and continue reading. How awesome is that!!
  8. Highlighting and notes: this is the primary reason why I was not at first interested in ereaders. I believe in Mortimer Adler's philosophy that a marked up book signifies a well loved book. I have always underlined, written notes, etc. While I am sure other eReaders now have this capability, at the time I was doing my research, the Kindle was the only one that I felt did this with minimal complexity. All highlights and/or notes are stored within each book in its own file. When I want to review my notes for the book, I only need open that file. While I have not tried this yet - I am fairly confident that I can hook up my Kindle to my computer via usb port and actually print off my notes, if I wanted. This feature may come in very handy for future English classes.
  9. Functionality of Design: I have NO problems with my version 1 Kindle. Some folks reported having difficulty when they would accidentally hit certain buttons, which would cause the page to forward or reverse unintentionally. I know that the Kindle version 2 has been redesigned to eliminate this problem -- but like I said, it was never a problem for me. There are two ways to page forward (with right hand or left hand) - one way to previous page (with left hand) and then a "back" button which takes you back to the previous screen (not necessarily the previous page in a book). There is a small scroll button that allows you to literally scroll through the books you have in your collection and/or through the lines of text on a page. Incredibly user friendly. I think it took me less than 2 minutes to understand the basics of this machine. There are a number of shortcuts that you can use -- many of which I do not know. If you want to find the time (perhaps you are so engrossed in your reading you have lost track of it) - you would select ALT-T and the time appears in the lower left hand corner. The QWERTY keyboard is very easy to use -- and this coming from someone who rarely uses the text feature of her cell phone.
  10. Long battery life: I have never really had to test this - as I am always near an outlet and when I start to notice my battery life to fade I just plug it in. However, I think the Kindle version 1 is supposed to run for approximately 1 week without a charge (and if you do not use the whispernet feature). This is plenty fine for me. I think the only time this may be a problem is if you plan a long camping trip. But....since I hate camping....this is a non-issue for me. Once my battery dies (which we all know -- they do not last forever), I can purchase another batter through amazon (or I have also been told through radio shack) and change the battery myself. It is my understanding (but I am not 100% positive on this) that the new Kindle does not have a self-replaceable battery (you will have to send in for a replacement) BUT the battery life is about twice as long as my version (eg - you can go nearly 2 weeks without charging).
  11. Amazon Kindle purchases stored at Again, this is not a feature that I have used much, but I can see where this is a great benefit. Any book that is purchased through Amazon will remain in your account on the Amazon server. That means....if you lose your Kindle - yes, you have to replace the machine, but your elibrary is safe and ready to be downloaded at any time. While my Kindle 1 has an SD card slot -- I understand that the new Kindle does not (although the new Kindle has more than double the memory of version 1). So...if you are a voracious reader, I suppose there could come a day when you might exceed your memory. Not a problem (or at least as far as I can see). All public domain books will always be public domain --- and all Kindle books are permanently stored for you.
  12. Font size adjustment: ok - for the under 30 crowd this may not be an issue for you - YET -- but for those of us significanly older, this feature is a Godsend. There are actually 6 different font sizes. I have found that size 2 is probably the size of a mass paperback and font 3 is the size of a trade paperback (my default is font 3). However, my eyes get very tired at night, and it is wonderful to change the size of the font with a flick of a button in under 5 seconds and continue reading with no eye strain whatsoever.
  13. No Backlight: yes -- this is a GOOD thing. The page on a Kindle is very close to the look of the page of a paperback book. The writing is crisp - but soft on the eyes. Yes, this does mean when it is dark you need a light of some sort. I have found that I truly do not need a clip-on reading light if there is enough light in the room. If not - or if I wish to read outdoors (again, not the camping type, so not much need for this) I can purchase a reading light with a goose neck that will alleviate the problem (I did have an inexpensive clip-on light that I used a couple of times....but the new puppy decided that she needed a chew toy and the light is no longer. I will probably purchase a new one and will select the one that is most often suggested at amazon)
  14. Read Files on Kindle: now, I must say that I do not have the need to read files too much these days (grading papers yes -- but reading files, no). However, there is a way to convert computer files to the kindle software format and then email that document to your kindle. I have, however, used the feature where I have sent myself PDF files to my Kindle and that is pretty slick if I do say so myself.
  15. Read some newspapers, magazines and blogs on Kindle: this is a feature that I have not used at all. I am not much of a periodical reader - and I prefer to read my blogs on the laptop (large screen for those tired ole eyes). But I know some people really enjoy this feature.
  16. oops ...almost forgot....listen to music: I have not used this function a lot, but I have used it some. I can download mp3 files to my SD card and then play those music files through my kindle. Most of the music files I have downloaded tend to be nature sounds, as I just want to drown out the background noise but not distract from the words that I am reading. I use my ipod earpiece to listen.
  17. The only negative: well, several find this a negative, but truly I have not found this to be true (but then again, my kindle library is relatively small at the moment). Neither version of the Kindle has a "folder" system - or index system - for the books stored on the machine. All books are filed in alphabetical order (I sort mine by title, but there is the option of sorting by author as well). Now...Kindle does have a great search feature. If I know the title of the book - I can just input the first letter of the title on my homepage and the Kindle will automatically go to the page where that letter begins (so for example if I wanted to search for Pride and Prejudice - I could just type "P" and the Kindle would automatically go to the page where the titles begin with P. Searching for the specific title at this point is relatively easy). If I am unsure of the title, I can conduct a search using a specific word or phrase. The kindle will then call up all the titles that have that word/phrase. Now for those who have massive kindle libraries (some have almost 100 pages on their homescreen vs my 9 pages) -- this could be cumbersome. But my feeling is that Amazon is certainly working on this and it would seem to be a simple software upgrade solution in the near future.
Well, there you have it. I sure hope this was helpful to some of you. I would be more than happy to answer any specific questions you may have. I will suggest that if you are truly interested in purchasing a kindle -- visit this webpage first. This is a forum for all those who have kindles who are more than willing to show them off to potential owners. I met someone at a local eatery and she allowed me to touch, feel, and use her Kindle before I decided that it was worth the $350 price tag. I then "paid it forward" and met someone at a local coffee shop and did the same thing. It is a big investment (or at least for me it was) and you need to be certain that it is the right investment for you. The Kindle will definitely pay for itself; for some it may take longer than for others. BUT...the convenience of the Kindle - as well as the environmentally friendly issues (less paper - less trees) truly made it a worwhile investment for me.

Should you decide to purchase a Kindle - please let me know. I would love to converse with other Kindle-ites. Also, if you choose to purchase a Kindle based on this review, would you kindly use the link on the side bar? I hope that is not shameful solicitation, but perhaps I could earn a free ebook at some point and time. :)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

BTT - Collectibles

This week's Booking Through Thursday asks us to review our book collections:

  • Hardcover? Or paperback?
  • Illustrations? Or just text?
  • First editions? Or you don’t care?
  • Signed by the author? Or not?
I think my tastes have changed over the decades and continue to evolve with seasons in life, financial status, and technological inventions.

Hardcover or Paperback: I used to love hardcover books and would have preferred to buy them exclusively, if money had allowed. I think I preferred the sturdiness of the binding (I can never read a paperback book without creasing the spine) and the pages seem less likely to rip or tear. I also really like the way hardback books display on the bookshelf: looks like my own bookstore or library and makes me smile.

Over the past few years, however, I have noticed that my buying patterns have changed: I rarely purchase hardback books anymore. Now, the change initially began due to finances --- I could buy 3 paperbacks for the same price as a hardback. Also, I am so far behind the times with reading, that while I may "want" to buy the newest bestseller, I know that I will not get around to reading for quite sometime, so I might as well wait for the paperback version (I also like to think that this has something to do with maturity and I am more patient now and less likely to give into the spontaneous purchase). In making this transition, however, I have discovered that I truly do enjoy reading the paperback versions. They are infinitely more portable: they easily fit into my purse or backpack and I have reading material anywhere I go. As I grow older the print size may become an issue, but I figure I can always get stronger reading glasses.

HOWEVER.......I have recently acquired a Kindle as an early birthday present (I have the kindle version 1 - not the newly released kindle 2) and while I do not ever intend to keep all my reading material on the kindle --- I do have a large number of classics downloaded (public domain books are free and free is good for my limited pocketbook). This means that in the size and weight of 1 paperpack book, I can now carry 100s of books in my purse or backpack. Another benefit for a middle-aged reader like myself, is that I can increase the size of the font with a click of a button.

Illustrations or just text: I have honestly never given this one a thought. I think every one of my literary books is strictly text (or perhaps there is one or two author illustrations thrown in, like in the Hobbit or A Christmas Carol). I have mentioned my "black and white" personality before and I guess it truly comes into play here. When I think of reading a book I want to read -- not look at pictures. Somehow those are two separate activities for me.

However, when it comes to cookbooks -- I definitely want illustrations. I want to see what the finished product should look like (and looking at all those lovely photographs of food definitely inspire to head into the kitchen) - and I also want illustrations to show my how to prepare the dish (sometimes I like step-by-step --- but usually just one or two photos regarding a new technique is what I desire). As a sideline, if there are some of you who enjoy illustrated recipes, you definitely must visit the Pioneer Woman's blog --- absolutely amazing!!

First editions or don't care: I guess for right now my answer would be I don't care. I am more interested in the words on the page and the story they tell than I am with the copyright date and number of printings. Having said that, however, if money were no object, I can easily see myself beginning a hobby of first edition collections.

Signed by the author or not: again, at the present time I must say that I don't care. Although.....I sure wish I leaved in a major metropolitan area where author signings were more prevalent. We have an independent bookstore in Kansas City that will often host author get-togethers that include a book signing, but that is my only resource for now. I only have one signed book in my possession and it is only because my daughter really, really, really wanted to meet Stephanie Meyers and everyone in attendance had to purchase her latest book, The Host. So, the one autographed book I have is a book in a genre that I really cannot relate. Sigh......

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

My book shelves.....

I was so pleasantly surprised at the number of comments on my last post. Many of you sympathized with my "funk" and have helped me realize that I am not alone in this dreary mood. I will chalk it up to mid-winter blahs and hope that a spring break (in 2.5 weeks, but hey, who's counting) will cure it.

Also, several of you commented on my cozy book nook and indicated an interest in the actual books on the bookshelves. I think there was a meme not too long ago that asked us to comment on our book organization, but I thought my collection was so small compared to many of you, that I did not think it was worth a post. However, since there appears to be some interest in my growing collection, I would be more than happy to share.

Since the room is a dormer, I have limited space due to low ceilings. That is why I have 2 shorter cases and 1 large case. The one large case - closest to the couch (for easy access) - is for my British Literature collection. The collection started as the "texts" that I teach -- but has definitely mushroomed in the past 3 years. The top shelf is mostly devoted to all things Jane Austen: her novels as well as current day "sequels." I also have a few non-fiction books in the mix that concentrate on the criticism of her works, as well as a few of her biographies. I have a dream of someday teaching a course on just Jane Austen - but for now, I will bask in the small collection of her works. I also chose to put works by the Bronte sisters on this shelf - although I am not sure of my logic there.

The 2nd shelf is devoted to the Victorian era of British Literature - with a concentration on Charles Dickens (including his 1500 page biography by Peter Ackroyd which I have yet to open). Other authors on this shelf include: Wilkie Collins; George Eliot; Mary Elizabeth Braddon, etc.

The 3rd shelf will be devoted to Shakespeare. I do not have too many of his works yet, although I do have several biographical pieces. I am hoping to take a pedagogical class this summer on Shakespeare and I know I will add several titles to this shelf at that time.

The 4th shelf focuses on 20th century -- which for me teaching in a small Christian school mainly include Tolkien and CS Lewis. Again, I have their major works, plus several non-fiction works as well. I am very anxious to read some of Virginia Woolf, but have yet to accomplish that goal.

The lower shelf includes mostly non-fiction works that focus on literary criticism -- how to read literature - and how to read the Bible as literature.

The shorter shelf directly opposite the couch (where my "ambiance" purchases reside) house what I would call my very limited YA collection and American Lit classics. I have a very limited scope of American Lit --- which is something that I plan to work on after my Master's is completed (hopefully in 4 more summer sessions).

The 2nd shelf is mostly teaching related materials --- how to write rubrics - teach reading - teach writing --- etc. The lower shelf houses mostly anthologies for fiction and poetry to help me in my teaching endeavors.

The shorter shelf against the far wall is mostly for what I might consider "contemporary" reading. The top two shelves house those books - most of which are in the TBR category, rather than the "already read" category. I keep my library books on the top - so that I can easily find those that need to be returned in order to avoid the daily fine. The lower shelf is to showcase my new addiction -- mystery/crime fiction. Fortunately these books are small paperbacks and can easily be doubled on the shelf to allow for more purchases.

So there you have it -- probably far more insight into my nook than you wanted to read --- but it was sure fun to tell you about it. It is a cozy place that I find very serene and the perfect way to end a stressful teaching day.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Random Ramblings

I am in a funk. I have no idea why - it is not that anything negative has happened (or positive for that matter - but positives rarely coincide with funks). The puppy is about 80% house trained -- but it is the other 20% that is driving me nuts. For the most part classes at school are going fine. Perhaps it is the "end of winter" blahs that have me down. Anyway.....I have spent little time on the blog because, quite frankly, I have not been in the mood. However, I have read enough writing by writers that say you need to develop the discipline of writing. You need to write no matter what. Don't wait for the inspiration, just write. OK --- so here it goes.

I have managed to complete my first reading challenge ever, and I must say I can now understand why some of you are so addicted to them. What a great sense of satisfaction - which creates a desire to experience that same feeling again and again. Sheri sponsored the "Just for the Fun of It" reading challenge that runs from Jan - April. The premise is to read only books that I want to read, when I want to read them. I did not have to publish a list of books for this challenge, and if I did publish a list, I was free to change it at any time. This challenge spelled "success" from the get-go. I had decided that I would try to read 4 books for this challenge (I figured one book a month). I did not pre-publish a list because for me that would defeat the "just for the fun" aspect. I actually exceeded my goal with 5 completed books (so far):
I realize that I still have 2 more months to go, and I will still try to read some more "fun" books, but I have to start my Master's reading for summer classes soon, and that will take a lot of my "free" time. Sheri, thank you for empowering me to take time out for myself every once and a while.

I have also spent some time trying to create some "ambiance" in my cozy book nook. The idea for my blog coincided with my decision to redecorate my son's room. While Brian is always welcome to come back home (and I do miss him terribly), the truth of the matter is.....I doubt that he will for longer than a visit. He has been living on his own in Nashville for nearly two years now, and the odds are against him wanting to give up that freedom. I decided that his room was going to waste and I desperately wanted a place where I could go and escape. I put up several bookshelves (over the past 3 years the number of books that I own has grown exponentially) and an old love seat. This weekend I purchased an indoor water fountain on clearance - as I truly do find the sound of babbling water quite soothing. I also elicited the help of my brother, a collector of music extraordinaire, to find some soothing classical/jazz music that I could play in the background. He recommended the Bill Evans Trio which I have found to perfect for my liking. I now have decided that I need to add a splash of personality to the bare "red" walls. I would like to obtain some framed prints of England and/or Paris to keep with the serenity/inspirational theme. All in all this small dormer room has truly become my cozy book nook and I am very grateful.

I was so very honored this week when Kaye bestowed upon me the Fabulous Blog award. I must admit, I think this is one of the cutest buttons I have seen around the blogosphere and I was secretly coveting one myself (not that I think my blog deserved it, mind you......I just liked the sheek, cosmopolitan woman with her cute pedigree pooch). Now comes the hard part --- who to publicly acknowledge for this award. I always struggle with this. I love every blog I read (and I am subscribed to over 100 right now) - and I don't want to leave anyone out. On the other hand, I know that several have already received this award from others, and I do not want them to feel obligated to acknowledge me on their blog. What to do.....what to do......

I have decided that I will post the list of blogs that I read on a daily basis. I mean, I actively look to see if they have posted anything new --- rather than passively wait for google reader to let me know. I am sure that they have all received this award (probably numerous times), and if that is the case, please know that I do not expect you to give a shout out on your blog. If, however, you have not been duly honored, please accept this award with my hearty gratitude for your contribution to the book blogging community. Most of you read these blogs as well, but if you haven't checked them out....then you absolutely, positively NEED to do so:
WOW -- I didn't realize that I had that many "must read" sites, but trust me, they educate, entertain and inspire me - and I cannot imagine missing a single one of their posts.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Hour I First Believed

I am not quite sure why I have such a fascination with the Columbine massacre. It is not an interest in the gruesome, morbid destruction, but rather, I think it is the psychological aspect of the tragedy: what would possess two teenage boys to take pleasure in such a senseless act? I think it also causes me to stop and take stock in my own high school career. I think every generation has its share of high school cliques: the "in" crowd of cheerleaders and jocks; the "artistic" group of bandies and thespians; the "greasers" who prefer to smoke in the commons rather than go to class ---etc. They may go by different clique names in the 21st century - but they are the same groups. It is fascinating to me how some students can "seemingly" handle the complications of adolescence and eventually find their voice - while others are so defeated by the taunts and jeers of heartless peers. We had our share of tragic teenage suicides --- but I do not remember the personal despair carrying over to widespread vengeance. What has caused this shift? Televised newscasts that give these sinister acts their "15 minutes of fame"? The easy access of information --- any information on the internet? The demise of the American family as we "used" to know it where quantity time was as important as quality time? I am sure the issues are much deeper than this -- but I am fascinated.

It is because I have the pre-disposed interest in the affairs of Columbine that I was immediately drawn to the book. I must admit that I was a bit daunted by the size of it (about 750 pages) - but the lure of delving deeper into the lives of those who actually survived this event helped me to overcome that fear. This is the first book that I have read by Wally Lamb. I own his first two books, but have just recently acquired them and have not read them. I understand that some think his early work is better than this later one. While I would not rate this book as top notch, I did really enjoy it and I do look forward to finding the time to read the others.

The Hour I First Believed is written from Caelum Quirk's point of view. Caelum's family has lived in Three Rivers, CT for generations and he is a middle-aged English teacher who is on his third marriage. Due to infidelity and some anger management issues, Caelum and his wife Maureen decide to make a fresh start and move to Colorado (Maureen has an estranged father who lives there with his new family and she is hoping to rekindle a father/daughter relationship). They both manage to secure jobs in the local high school -- Columbine. He as an English teacher and she as the part-time school nurse. Life, though not perfect, seems to be going fairly well for this couple. They are learning to better communicate and both are trying to put their marriage on the right track.

On April 19, 1999 Caelum is called back to CT -- his surrogate mother, an aunt, has just had a massive stroke and Caelum is the only surviving relative. Caelum in not in Colorado on April 20, 1999 and Maureen finds herself in the school library when the two boys enter the room laughing and shooting. Maureen survives, but is forever changed by the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (and I wonder how many other countless "survivors" were also irrevocably changed).

Eventually the Quirks move back to the family farm in Connecticut - in the hope that physically leaving the scene would allow mental healing to take place. Perhaps this would happen for some, but not for Maureen. While Caelum is also a "victim" of this horrendous crime, I do wonder what the story would have been like if told from Maureen's point of view. I think I would have enjoyed hearing her thoughts as she tries to process all the events.

At this point in the novel there is a shift from the tragedy at Columbine to the unsettling discovery that Caelum's family tree is not as he once thought. A large part of the novel focuses on Caelum's ancestral background (mostly through letters and correspondence found in the farmhouse attic) - from the civil war through his early childhood. While this is a devastating discovery for Caelum, somehow (at least for me) this tragedy pales in comparison to Columbine. It almost seems as if Wally Lamb included two storylines in one epic novel. For my own tastes, I think I would have preferred the focus to remain on Columbine: a bit more detail into the repercussions of the disaster and the various ways the victims try to attempt to heal after this grave injustice.

I think I would rate the book a 3.5 out of 5. I truly enjoy Lamb's writing style and his attention to detail. I think most of the characters are well developed, although I would have loved to have more insight into Maureen and Velvet - another Columbine survivor who also survived many other obstacles in life. If the book would have been half as long - with a singular focus - I think the rating would have been higher.

The book has left me thinking about a lot of life's issues, however. For example: we are coming up on the 10th anniversary of Columbine --- how have the other victims faired over the last decade? How have the Klebold and Harris families held up (they are as much victims as anyone else). What has society done to help this issue? I don't mean the "no firearms" in school issue - I mean the enforcement of tolerance in the classroom? When will the bullying stop? When will students learn the valuable lesson taught by Queenie in the Berenstein Bears book of sacred wisdom: you don't have to put others down to build yourself up?

I think above all this book has led me to realize that I still take too much of life for granted. I still assume that when my children leave the house in the morning, I will see them in the afternoon. This should be an expectation, but not an assumption. I tend to still sweat the small stuff, when in the scheme of a Columbine tragedy, most of what I worry about isn't worth one drop of sweat. I still tend to look at what I don't have and wish I did --- rather than be very grateful for all the blessings I have been fortunate enough to receive and enjoy. I am sorry that anyone has to go through something as horrifying as Columbine, but I am grateful for gifted writers who help us all not to forget.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Monsters of Templeton

I finished this book last night and I thought that perhaps a good night's sleep would help me formulate a complete thought for the blog review. It didn't, and I am not sure why. Perhaps this book was not what I had initially thought it would be, and that has caused me confusion. I do not like confusion - especially when it comes to reading a book for fun. When I am confused, I immediately take the blame as the reader (I should be "smart" enough to understand this) - and therefore I finish the book rather depressed.

I did not expect a "horror" book - despite the Monsters in the title. I did expect a ghost story of some kind; perhaps with a gothic element. I was not disappointed here. The protagonist of the story, Willie Upton, is a 28-year old Stanford grad student who has returned home to a small town in upstate New York to try and put her life back together. Through an affair with her archeological professor, Willie has become pregnant - and in a fit of fury she has tried to run his wife over with a bush plane. She has temporarily escaped this predicament, but fully expects to be charged with attempted murder and NEVER be allowed to return to Stanford to finish her PhD. She is still in love with the professor, she is not sure whether she should keep the baby, and she has only returned home because she feels she has nowhere else to go.

Willie's life story is an interesting one. Her mother is a descendent of the town's founder, Marmaduke Templeton, and she herself lived a rather checkered past. At a young age she left Templeton for the West Coast and enjoyed the freedom of the 60s --- sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll. She returned home after her parents unexpected death, strung out and pregnant. She managed to clean herself up, give birth to a beautiful baby girl, Wilhelmina, and vowed that her daughter would not waste her life and God-given intelligence the same way that she did. Vi has now become a religious fanatic, dating her Baptist minister, and working the night shift as a critical care nurse in the local hospital. Vi and Willie have more of a sibling relationship than a typical mother-daughter relationship, yet there is obviously love and mutual respect.

Upon hearing her daughter's tale of woe, Vi chooses to unsettle Willie's world just a bit more by coming clean with the truth about Willie's father. It seems that her father is not an unknown entity from too much free sex in California (what Willie had been told since the day she was born), but rather a local Templeton man - who still lives and works in town. Vi refuses to tell Willie who the man is, however. She thinks that Willlie needs a research project to get her mind off her own problems, and sends Willie on the quest. The quest does lead Willie to her natural father, as well as to self-discovery of who she is and what she wants out of life.

The premise of the story is simple - it is the research into her ancestor's past that I found to be very confusing. Despite "family photos" and periodic family tree adaptations, I feel as though I should have taken notes to help me tie together all the relations. I did enjoy the author's use of multiple Points of View as she reveals the family history. I did enjoy the various narrative techniques in which the past is discussed (through letters - journals - snippets from fictional novels, etc). I think the lack of a strict chronological order caused me some confusion, and perhaps the fact that my dogs continually interrupted my reading time may have played a factor.

The Monsters of Templeton is appropriately named. There is indeed a monster, Glimney, that lives in the lake (much like the Loch Ness monster - or at least that is how I picture her) - and her death has affected the entire town. She is a very beloved monster and it is as though the town itself has partially died along with her. There are also other "monsters" of the human variety that are discovered as Willie researches her past. They have died too, but the consequences of their evil still lingers. The town itself is a major character in the book. A fictional Cooperstown, NY - it is filled with historical pride of its past, baseball memorabilia collectors of the present, and the hope of maintaining smalltown America in its future .

All in all I would rate the book a 3 out of 5. I truly enjoyed the author's writing style, and found Willie, her mother and the town of Templeton to be viable characters. I think I will try to re-read this book another time, perhaps during the summer when I do not have school obligations looming on the brain, and the story will be less confusing the second go around.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Weekly Geeks - 2.14.09

For this week's edition of Weekly Geeks, we're going to take a closer look at character names. What are some of your favorite character names?

Go to Google or a baby name site like this one or this one, and look up a favorite character's name. What does their name mean? Do you think the meaning fits the character? Why or why not?

If you'd like, look up your own name as well and share the meaning.

Charles Dickens was the first name that came to my mind when I read this week's topic. Not because I like his name, per se, but because I love so many of the names he has given to his myriad of characters. Very often just the sound of the name is indicative of the character's personality. For example:
  • Uncle Pumblchook (doesn't that sound like a pompous arse?)
  • Mrs. Pardiggle (can't you just see a hypocrit wiggling down the street?)
  • Mr. Turveydrop (a most suitable name for a man of "deportement")

There are so many other wonderful examples from Dickens' writing, Harold Skimpole, Philip Pirrip (Pip), Fagin, Caddy Jellyby, and Lady Honoria Dedlock also come to mind. But I think my most favorite character is Ebenezer Scrooge. I love the setting of the novella (Christmas - my most favorite time of year), I love the theme of the novella (it is never too late to change and be redeemed); and I love the way the name - Scrooge - perfectly fits his personality. I did, however, decide to research "Ebenezer" and wonder if his first name fit him as well as his last. From Behind the Name's website I learned that Ebenezer means "stone of help" in Hebrew. While this was somewhat interesting, I did not feel enlightened. Upon further investigation I discovered that Ebenezer can further be translated as "
a reminder of God’s Real, Holy Presence and Divine aid. Spiritually and theologically speaking, an Ebenezer can be nearly anything that reminds us of God’s presence and help" (Thank you Dr. Gregory S. Neal)

Now this makes more sense. Isn't it just like God to use the least likely character in our lives to reveal Himself to us? And isn't it just like God to gently and persuasively lead the one lost sheep out of 100 back to His fold? I used to read this story and focus on the name Scrooge --- but after doing the research, I think I will now focus on the name Ebenezer --- it is, in fact, the true meaning of Christmas after all.

As far as the meaning of my name -- well it appears that I am several "diminutives" removed from Maria. It seems that Molly is a diminutive of Mally which is a diminutive of Mary which is a diminutive of Maria (English) or Miryam (Hebrew) - good grief! According to Behind the Name, it seems that there are several possible meanings: The meaning is not known for certain, but there are several theories including "sea of bitterness", "rebelliousness", and "wished for child". However it was most likely originally an Egyptian name, perhaps derived in part from mry "beloved" or mr "love".

Hmmmm....there appears to be a preponderance of negative nelly possibilities. Sea of Bitterness?? Well, I do often see the glass as half-empty rather than half-full, but I don't think I am bitter. Rebellious? Well, I suppose my parents would say that I went through a rebellious phase, but truly, I am probably one of the most conventional people around. Wished for child -- perhaps there is truth in that statement. My parents were married 9 years before I happened upon the scene - and I think they had probably given up hope of having a child. I would like to think that I was "wished for" -- so I will choose to believe that I was appropriately named for that reason alone :)

I truly enjoyed this meme and actually learned quite a bit about myself. Will any of you choose to participate this week?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Long Weekend Plans?

I have been looking forward to this long weekend since - well, since the last long weekend a month ago. This weekend is not only Valentine's Day (not my favorite holiday - but it is nice to celebrate the loves in our lives) and for many - it is also a 3 day weekend in honor of President's Day. So my question is --- do you have any great plans for the weekend? Are there any traditional Valentine's meals/foods you prepare? Do you go anywhere special? Do you celebrate at all?

Right now the only Valentine's plans I have involve going out to dinner with my hubby (no place picked as of yet - but since we received a gift card to The Cheesecake Factory for Christmas -- my all time favorite restaurant - perhaps we can go there to split a meal and a dessert).

I am really excited for Saturday morning, however, and it has nothing to do with the Heart Holiday. I plan to attend my first library book sale (I have always "just missed" them in the past - but this one has been on my calendar for a month). After finding some terrific bargains there (hopefully), I plan to go to HalfPrice Bookstore and browse the shelves in the hopes of using the 20% off coupon I received via email this week.

I do NOT plan to do much in the way of school preparations until Monday --- and I also plan to sleep in later than my usual 5:30am alarm (how late will depend on the dogs' schedules).

I hope all of you are able to enjoy a fun, relaxing, and perhaps romantic this weekend as well.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Library Loot - 2.12.09

I have a dilemma. There is no possible way that I can read every book that I brought home from the library today. A couple of these books I actually requested quite some time ago and my turn finally arrived - but most of the books from this week's visit are a direct result from book blog recommendations. My usual mode of operation is to quickly skim all books (which I will probably do this weekend) and then decide which ones I may want to have in my own personal collection (and then perhaps use my 20% off coupon at Half Price Books this weekend to purchase them) --- which ones I do not necessarily want to purchase, but would like to read soon --- and which ones I can probably wait and read at another, more convenient, time. Here is the list of the "stash":

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff -- this has been on my list for quite sometime and I managed to pick up a copy at the library from the "new releases" shelf. Since this one is a limited loan book, I will probably start reading it this weekend.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I am a great fan of The Thirteenth Tale, and this book has been paired with that one quite often. I have read some good reviews and am anxious to read it for myself. If it begins as well as the Thirteenth Tale, it will definitely be put on the "to be purchased for personal library" list.

The Meaning of the Night by Michael Cox. I really have heard very little of this book, except that it is another book that is often paired with The Thirteenth Tale.

I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb. I have read an excerpt of this and loved what I read so far. I understand that the narrative can get a little dry after a bit - but I am truly fascinated by the events of Columbine High School.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. I truly do not remember when I saw this recommendation, but I do remember going directly to the library website and putting a hold on it.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. I did not see the movie, nor do I think I want to -- but I am fascinated by this true life story.

Cotillion by Georgette Heyer. I have never read any of Heyer's novels. In fact, I had never heard of Georgette Heyer until about a month ago. I am fascinated by Jane Austen (but I think I am more fascinated by her sarcastic wit than I am about her Regency period romances) --- but I wanted to try one of Heyer's 50 novels to see how she compares. For those of you who are familiar with her work -- would you consider this to be one of her best?

So....are there books listed here that you would consider "must" reads? Can you recommend which book I should read first - and which ones perhaps can wait until summer - when I have more time and less stress in my life?

A is for........

There is a fun little survey going around the blogosphere and I have been tagged by Kristi at Books and Needlepoint to take part. I was assigned the letter "A" and have been asked to come up with a list of 10 things that I love that begin with that letter. Let me tell you, this is much easier said than done! I had to really think outside the box in order to force my favorite things into the A category. Without further ado, here is the list (in no particular order):

  1. Academics - I LOVE to learn. When I was a college senior and constantly asked the proverbial question "so....what do you want to do after graduate" --- I would respond "If it didn't cost money - I would be a professional student". I mean that sincerely. However, since that is a financial impossibility, I have chosen to do the next best thing --- become a teacher.
  2. Angleterre - ok - this was a real stretch of mind association - but try to follow my logic. I LOVE to travel (a "t" word) and would like to visit so many different regions of Western Europe (Italy - France - England) --- but alas, they all eluded the A requirement. French major came in handy and I was able to utilize the francophile term Angleterre for England :) I have traveled to England twice already - but only for a week at a time and always with a group of students. It is a true dream of mine to visit England for an extended stay - like 3 - 6 months - and not only visitLondon, but many of the surrounding countryside. I especially want to walk a large part of the Cotswald trails.
  3. Atlantic Ocean -I really love the beach, but alas I am hampered by that starting vowel. But as I thought about it, I really enjoy the warmer beaches of the Eastern seaboard, rather than the cooler Pacific waters. My husband was born and raised in CT and we lived there until 1990. While we love our life in the midwest, I think there is a part of each of us that would like to retire to a small beachfront bungalow. If you have ever read any of Joan Anderson's books (A Year by the Sea is my favorite) - that would be my dream. Either a small cottage in Maine (where I could still enjoy the 4 seasons of the year) OR a littleFloridian condo where I am guaranteed warm weather 12 months out of the year.
  4. Amazon - another stretch....but not really. I love reading (an R word) and I especially love reading books and novels in particular (neither one of them an A word) and then it hit me --- I probably go to the Amazon website at least once a day to either add a book to my wish list, or see other recommendations for a book I enjoyed.
  5. Arf - Arf ---- this is not an original idea - this was actually offered to me by a fellow teacher when I was relaying this survey. I voiced that I really want to let folks know my love of dogs, but thought that animals was too broad a term. He came up with the "arf arf" and I thought it was great. We have had 3 sets of yellow lab puppies - and have just recently inherited a 10 week old female. about 2 years we should be happy breeders once again.
  6. Alone - ok - be patient with me on this one too. When I think of things that I really love, the first thing that my family would mention would be my "I" time. See, I am an introvert - an extreme introvert - and I LOVE my solitude (an S word). While I would not classify myself as a hermit, I can easily spend weeks on end totally by myself and being perfectly content.
  7. Advent - actually, my brainstorm led me to my favorite holiday which is Christmas - but as I thought about it, I really like the anticipation of Christmas --- the decorations, the food, the hunt for the perfect gift, etc. , so advent is probably more accurate than I originally thought.
  8. Autumn - truly my all-time favorite season is autumn. I love the cooler weather and the typical fall colors of orange, red, yellow, and even brown. I love wearing turtlenecks and sweaters and cooking such comfort foods as meatloaf, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie.
  9. Alpha and Omega - another stretch, but I think it works. How could I possibly make a list of the things that I love - the things that mean the most to me, and leave out my Lord. Well, many of the words that I could use for Lord, Jesus, Christ, etc do not begin with my chosen letter. BUT...what aspect do I love most about my Lord? The fact that He is unchanging. That fact that He knows the past as well as He knows the future. The fact that we might be living in uncertain times, but nothing is uncertain with Him.
  10. Apple pie - well, not just apple pie --- any pie and nearly any dessert. I am a sweets fanatic. I like cakes - cookies - pies, etc. Not really a candy or chocolate lover (I know - how could I be female and not love chocolate) -but give me a nice warm piece of apple pie with a little bit of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of caramel - and I am a happy camper.
So....there you have it. Some of the answers are rather "forced" - but hopefully this gives you a bit of insight as to who I am.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Musing Monday - bookmarks

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about bookmarks… What do you use to mark your place while reading? Do you have a definite preference? Do you use bookmarks, paper, or (gasp) turn down the pages? If you use bookmarks, do you have a favourite one?

I have truly enjoyed reading all the postings for this meme. Truthfully, until today, I have given no thought to bookmarks. I tend to use whatever scrap piece of paper is lying around and yes -- I have actually (gasp!) dog-eared a page or two. Of course, I am one who annotates in my book, so to me a turned down page to mark a worthwhile passage is not a big deal. However, in reading these posts I have been reminded of my youth. I distinctly remember my 2nd grade teacher giving me my first bookmark and I LOVED it. I loved the feel of the slick hard plastic; I loved the beautiful watercolor picture and inspirational scripture verse; I even loved the silky-smooth tassel
that whimsically marked my spot with a touch of pastel color. In fact last year, unconsciously inspired by this touching gift of my past, I gave each senior in our graduating class a bookmark - to remind them of their high school days as they journeyed into their future as college adults. I so enjoyed selecting just the right bookmark to "mark" this occasion.

Then it hit me --- if I receive such pleasure from giving and receiving these little gems as gifts -- why don't I just use them myself?! DUH. They are such inexpensive little treasures that can instantly brighten my day. I read on one blog (sorry, I did not make note of whose it was - but it was a GREAT idea) that she keeps her bookmarks in a holder on her desk. She can easily select a bookmark to match her mood for the day. I read on another blog that she actually color coordinates her bookmark to match the cover of the book. Now you may laugh -- but I can totally sympathize with this mindset (and would probably do the same).

So, as you can see, I have been giving this bookmark usage a lot of thought (in between the 6 classes that I taught today). Then....guess what. After school the principal asked me into his office to discuss class schedules for next year. Before we started he gave me a gift to say "how special" teachers are. Do you know what it was?! YEP --- a bookmark! Isn't that so cool?! He had no idea that I had been thinking about this topic all day -- and he gave me my first bookmark to start my new collection. I LOVE IT when Mondays are such a happy start to the work week.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sunday Salon - Murder is Binding

Does anyone else find it hard to believe that it is already February 8, 2009??? My mother said that time flies as you get older, and she was right. I don't know if it is the realization that time is passing me by - or the desire to overcome this week's melancholy mood that prompted me to re-evaluate my priorities and begin to make time for what I feel is important rather than only focus on those events that are most urgent. I have decided that I have been a victim of the "tyranny of the urgent" far too long and I want to take some steps to rectify that. This week, my baby steps included a visit to the bookstore (my all time favorite past-time - I think I may enjoy fantasizing about all the books that I plan to read almost as much as I like reading them) and reading two books that I wanted to read (not books for a class or for some higher academic gain). The two books I chose to read did not disappoint in the least - and proved to be the right prescription for my temporary despondency.

The first book I read was The Sister by Poppy Adams - and I even forced myself to write a book review (there is something very intimidating about putting my writing samples out on the web for the world to view and criticize --- but as with most of my fears, this was totally unfounded. The book blogging community is a very accepting and encouraging group of people and I thank you). When I finished that book I decided that I wanted to read something fun that would allow me to escape into a fantasy world (well, for me a fantasy world - you already know how I feel about that particular genre of fiction) and relax. I chose Murder is Binding by Lorna Barrett and I simply could not have chosen a better read for my particular mindset.

I first discovered this new mystery series at the Cozy Mysteries group on the GoodReads website. Shortly after hearing about it, I happened to find the book at my local used bookstore and excitedly posted the find on my blog. Little did I know that my joy of finding a "bargain" would elicit such a response in the blogging community (if interested - you can read my posts here and here). One of those who commented on this entry was none other than the author herself - Lorna Barrett! She was so kind and gracious in her post - and subsequent email - that I knew I had to read this book the moment I had (or rather - made) the opportunity to do so.

This book absolutely fits the bill for a "cozy" mystery. While I know the story is fictional, I must say that I truly long to retire to Stoneham, New Hampshire - or at least the Stoneham, NH described in this book. This sleepy little New England town was on the verge of economic ruin when the local realtor, Bob Kelly, decided to entice business owners from elsewhere to open specialty bookshops in this town. The move proved successful, Main Street was revitalized, and it has now become a destination place for bus tours from all over the eastern seaboard. While the series focuses on the Haven't Got a Clue mystery bookstore, and its proprietor, Trish Miles, some of the other bookstores that line this quaint village street include the Cookery (cookbooks), History Repeats Itself, Have a Heart (Romance), and the Armchair Traveller. (Doesn't this town sound just divine?!) One of the characters in the book, Mr. Everett, is a retired grocery store owner, and he spends his days sitting in the nook of Haven't Got a Clue, reading, browsing and people watching. Soft jazz music is playing in the background and fresh ground coffee is always available. I want to be Mr. Everett when I retire!!

The basic premise of the book is that the owner of the Cookery, a 70 year old crumudgeon of a woman, has been murdered and Trish Miles is the number one suspect - only because she was the last one to see her alive. It is very evident to the reader - and most residents in town - that Trish is not the culprit, but for some reason the female sheriff refuses to take any other possibilities seriously. There are at least three other characters that could easily have motive and ability to commit this crime, but it is up to Trish to investigate these leads if she wants to clear her name. Trish uses her lifetime passion of reading crime fiction to help her investigate and follow the clues.

Another sub-plot that runs throughout the story is the strained relationship between Trish and her older sister, Angelica. They have never been close and Trish is somewhat perturbed that her New York City high-class sister decides to come to Stoneham and stay for a while. While the two sisters have not quite put the past behind them, they are working on their relationship, and Angelica enjoys cooking meals for Trish (and recipes are included at the end of the book!) and helping Trish sleuth for clues (Angelica's knowledge of crime comes from watching all the episodes of CSI). I am sure that this relationship will continue to develop in subsequent books in the series.
As you can tell - I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I am very excited that the 2nd book in the series, Bookmarked for Death, was just released this week. On her website, Lorna informs us that the 3rd book will be released in December and the publishing company, Berkeley Prime Crime, has just negotiated for another 3 books in the series. If you consider yourself a bibliophile - and you enjoy a good cozy mystery, I urge you to try this first book in the Booktown Mystery Series!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Book Review - The Sister

My first book review --- here it goes!

The Sister by Poppy Adams
Published by Alfred A Knopf in 2008
273 pages

I was first introduced to this book a few weeks ago when I read The Literate Housewife's review. While I was intrigued by her plot summary and character analysis, I knew I had to read this book when she compared the voice of Ginny Stone to that of Vida Winter in The Thirteenth Tale (one of my favorite books). I am glad that I followed my instinct and immediately obtained the book from my local library.

This is a modern-day gothic novel - complete with the crumbling mansion, mysterious and suspenseful setting, unsettling questions, and, I think one could argue, a "mad" woman. The story takes place at Bulburrow Court, a dilapidated mansion situated in the Dorset countryside. The Stone family has lived here for well over a century, but currently there is only one sister who occupies the 4 story - 4 wing house. Ginny Stone is a 70+ year old retired lepidopterologist (now there's a word for Bermuda Onion's Wondrous Words meme --- it means one who scientifically studies moths) who has closed off most sections of the mansion and sold nearly all the furnishings. The story is told as a first person narration from Ginny's point of view, and almost immediately the reader is suspect of her reliability in relaying events as they truly happened. As a result, we are left with many unanswered questions at the end of the novel.

The novel begins as Ginny is waiting for her long lost younger sister to return to Bulburrow Court after nearly a 50 year absence. Ginny seems cautiously excited about this reunion, yet she wonders why Vivian has decided to come back after so many years. That is one question that is never completely answered. During Vivian's 5 day stay (the book is divided into 6 parts spanning a period of 5 days: Friday - Tuesday and then, what I would call an epilogue, is entitled, "Today") Ginny reveals the family's history. What began as a truly idyllic childhood ended in great tragedy: Vivian experiences a horrible accident that leaves her nearly dead; their mother, Maud, becomes an abusive alcoholic; their father, Clive, who seems oblivious to his wife's drinking problem because he is so absorbed in his moth studies, ends up in a mental institution after her death; an infant is born, but only survives a few hours; and Ginny is left alone in the sprawling mansion for nearly 50 years.

Sounds incredibly dramatic, does it not? However, since the story is told from Ginny's point of view - and she is a trained scientist (which she reminds us over and over) - there is little to no emotional response when these events are narrated. Ginny tells us the plain facts - just like a scientist writing a final report for an extensive experiment. However this report does not tell us ALL the facts - and the reader is left with many unanswered questions. For example: who is THE sister - is it Ginny or Vivian? Why did Vivi decide to return home after a 50 year absence? What did Vivian know about Ginny - and want to share with her - but never had the opportunity to do so? How did Maud really die? What was the real cause of Vivian's nearly fatal childhood accident?

I very much enjoyed this suspenseful, thought-provoking tale. I must admit that the detailed descriptions of lepidopterology were, for the most part, lost on me (who knew there were so many different species of moths - I just thought they were gray insects with paper-like wings that were attracted to light) - but I do suppose that gave us insight into Ginny's compulsive personality and mental thought process (the woman is obsessed with knowing the correct time at all times). This book begs to be re-read, as I am sure there are many subtleties that I missed on this first go around.

All in all, I would rate the book a 4 out of 5 - and I am in awe that this is Poppy Adam's first novel.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Thrifty Thursday

I always read your book blogs at the start of each week with great anticipation! I can't wait to hear what you have received on "Mailbox Mondays" Since I haven't bought books online for a while, I don't participate in contests and giveaways (I'm not sure why - perhaps it is because I don't want to face the rejection of not winning?) and I am not a part of the ARC reviewers (it took me a while to realize that this had nothing to do with Noah and the Great Flood), I rarely have books in my mailbox. Today, however, I decided to give myself a $20 bill and visit the local used book store. I love the alliteration aspect of Mailbox Monday - Wednesday Words - Friday Finds, I decided to call today's post "Thrifty Thursday" (it will by no means become a weekly meme, however).

Well, there is nothing like finding a book bargain to help me out of a funky mood - and I am definitely in better spirits this evening. For those who might be interested, let me share my finds. While there was no particular theme to this purchase, I did intentionally pick a few books that are outside my comfort zone for the sheer reason that I want to challenge myself. As I have posted before, Science Fiction is just NOT my genre. I am a realist (actually a pessimist, but we prefer to call ourselves realists as it sounds more positive) --- and the concept of stories taking place in other "fantastic" worlds just does not compute with me. However, after reading Susan's post last week, I have decided that I am probably missing out on a lot and I need to give this genre another valiant effort. Well, as luck would have it, the first book that I happened upon in the clearance section was the Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. I have not been in the book blogging world long, but I have read enough blogs to know that this book is a definite favorite. I think Becky (whom I greatly appreciate her literary tastes, skills and analysis) reads this book once a year. When I saw the price was only one dollar - I snatched it up without hesitation. I will probably not read this soon, but I WILL read it.

I have also seen the movie trailers and read some recent book reviews for Cornelia Funke's Inkheart. While this would be considered science fiction -- I am quite intrigued by the plot: as a father reads his child stories, the characters come to life. While this is by no means "realistic" -- I could see where this might be a dream for bibliophiles - and for that reason alone I want to read it. I have heard that some find this first book a bit slow at times. My usual reaction would be to just stop reading the book and determine that it "is just not right for me." In an effort to challenge myself, I vow to complete the book - and if that means skimming through the long parts, well, so be it (I HATE to skim novels! I know authors pour over each and every word, and I feel I owe them the courtesy of reading each and every word. I will try to work through the guilt).

A third book that I purchased in this genre is Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair. I was enticed to try this book once before - for the same reason as stated before. The premise of this book, as I understand it, is that characters are actually missing in the stories and the detective, Thursday Next, needs to try to find them. Fascinating idea to me. The first time I tried reading the book I experimented with the audio version. Poor choice. My mind would do its wondering thing (as it is always prone to do with anything auditory in nature) and I would only be jolted back into the story when the protagonist would be slightly irritated and shout "sh--" Now I am sure that the cussing is probably at a minimum in the book - and I can easily overlook it. But in an audio version, that seemed to be the only words that I focused on. Hopefully the written version will better suit my tastes.

Other books that I found in the bargain section included Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky and an Oxford Anthology collection of Victorian Ghost stories. I have wanted to read Suite Francaise for quite a while now, and I was thrilled to find it in my price range. The ghost story book was definitely an impulse purchase - but for only one dollar and with stories written by Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, Wilkie Collins, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and Henry James (just to name a few) I simply could not resist.

The remaining books have actually been on my "to buy list" for quite some time and I decided to go ahead and take the plunge. While historical fiction has never attracted my attention before (it is not that I am opposed to reading it, I have just never taken the time to do so), I did download a sample of The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory over Christmas break and found it to be rather entertaining. I succumbed to the temptation to buy it today. Again, this book will probably not be read in the near future, but I know that I will enjoy having it on my bookshelf when the mood hits me.

The final book purchase was the 3rd book in the Fitzwilliam Darcy series by Pamela Aidan - These Three Remain. I had purchased the other two volumes quite a while ago, and was thrilled to be able to complete the set in an affordable way. It is my desire to take some time this summer and read all of Jane Austen's novels - and then to read this series at the conclusion. I would not consider myself a Janeite (at least not yet), but the more I read her works, the more enthralled I am with her eloquent writing and satiric wit.

So there you have - the cure for the blahs: take a $20 dollar bill and spend two hours in the thrifty bookstore. You will exit the store in better spirits and arrive at home with a smile on your face. do I find more time in my day to read these wonderful finds? I am serious. I would really love to hear how you make/find the time to read something fun and enjoyable just for you? If you have any words of wisdom, please post and enlighten me :)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Pity Party......

Warning....Negative Nelly post on its way.

So, I woke up this morning with a headache. I hate that. If I have a headache in the morning it remains with me throughout the entire day. Just now - after 2 excedrin and a bowl of soup, it is finally beginning to fade into the distance.

Well, since the headache prevents me from concentrating on lesson plans, and I really have nothing much to say in the way of an entertaining book blog, I thought perhaps I would take part in the Wordless Wednesday meme (I am not sure who started it - but I can tell you that Beth F has some of the most amazing pictures ever). I decided that I would post a picture of Parliament/Westminster Cathedral that I took on my first trip to London in 2007. I found the picture, pressed the button, and wait.....and wait....and wait......Blogger apparently does not like this particular photo and refuses to upload it. So, I abandon the Wordless Wednesday idea.

I feel guilty for not having blogged in the last couple of days, but there has truly been nothing to blog about. I have bemoaned the fact that I have not had a chance to read anything that I "want" to read because I have so many books that I "have" to read for class. I have even had a difficult time reading those books because for the 4th year in row, my school is experiencing "financial difficulties" and unsure whether payroll can be met for February 15. We have been in this situation many times before, and somehow payroll is always (well, nearly always) met --- but still it is very unsettling. That coupled with the fact that my husband is unemployed (scary to say the least in these economic times) - yet has a greater take home pay for unemployment than I do for prepping/teaching/grading for 8 classes has totally demotivated me to do much of anything.

So there you have it --- my little pity party.

However, as poorly as I may feel now, I do truly realize how blessed I am. Financial times my be tough and uncertain, but we do have a roof over our heads (and a nice roof at that) - we do have food on the table (and I have yet to know hunger) - and we have our health (which is the biggest blessing of all since we do not currently have medical insurance). I have plenty of clothes, lots of heat, and wonderful books to keep me entertained. I have a family who loves me - dogs who adore me - and a fulfilling job that I truly do enjoy.

I will soon pick myself up by my bootstraps, dust myself off - and stop the whining. But for now, I will prepare a cup of tea and dream of a carefree life across the pond where I can view Parliament and Westminster Cathedral anytime I wish.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Weekly Geeks - 2009.04

Well, I was quite late posting my first weekly geek entry - yesterday (not a good way to start!) - so I thought I would try to post in a more timely fashion this week. The meme asks:

#1. What are you passionate about besides reading and blogging? For example, are you crafty (knitting, woodworking, scrapbooking, model building)? Do you cook? Into gaming (computer or board)? Sports (player or spectator)? Photography? Maybe you like geocaching, rock climbing? Or love attending events like renaissance fairs, concerts? Music? Dancing? You get the idea.

Tell us why you're passionate about it. Post photos of what you've made or of yourself doing whatever it is you love doing.

#2. Get us involved. Link to tutorials, recipes, Youtube videos, websites, fan sites, etc, anything that will help us learn more about your interest or how to do your hobby. Maybe you'd like to link to another hobbyist whose work you admire or tell us about a book or magazine related to your interest.

#3. Visit other Weekly Geeks. Link in your post to other Geeks who've peaked your interest in their passion. Or maybe you might find a fellow aficionado among us, link to them.

Well, as I have stated before, I am a singularly focused person, so while I have had other passions in my life besides reading, they have tended to be my singular focus for the decade and then I move on. It is not that I decide that I don't like it anymore, it has mostly to do with "life" happening and my priorities shift.

I guess as a student my other passion would be considered music. While I would buy the occasional record (they were not called vinyls at the time) and always listened to the radio, my real passion in music was to play the flute. I started flute lessons in 6th grade and continued through my sophomore year in college. I can honestly say that if I did not have band and orchestra in my life at that time, I am not sure I would have survived those turbulent high school days. The camaraderie of fellow "bandies" fulfilled that sense of belonging that all teenagers desire. (While I do not have pictures of this glorious time in my life right at my finger tips -- I urge you to read Sheri's post to see some lovely vintage photos, as well as a great essay on high school days.)

While band initially fulfilled that same need for acceptance when I began college (especially on a new campus 6 hours from home), by my junior year I had met my own group of friends outside of band and decided that it was time to say good-bye to the bandie lifestyle (and....quite honestly....I never enjoyed marching outside in freezing cold rain during those fall football half-time shows). I am not an artistic individual (my brother received all those genes), but I do enjoy creativity. Somehow I was introduced to Counted Cross Stitch at this time of my life and that quickly replaced the flute practice. I think I liked the feeling of actually "being" artistic without having to have any talent. I mean, you start off with a blank piece of fabric - and end up with a beautifully crafted piece of artwork. It reminded me of a sophisticated "paint by number" - but less messy. This phase lasted through my early thirties and actually led me to meet a group of terrific women at my church. For about 3 years we would meet on a VERY regular basis once a week to cross stitch, chat, and encourage one another. I was very blessed by their friendship. (Again, I do not have any pictures of the cross-stitch I have made, but if you want to see some lovely designs, visit Kim's post).

While I continued to cross-stitch off and on during my thirties (usually incredibly "on" during the holidays when I would have great ideas of making family gifts, and "off" the rest of the year because I had burnt out), I developed a passion for gourmet cooking. I wrote about this in a previous post, so I will not go into details. My real love is desserts. There was even a brief time when I turned this passion into a part time catering business, but since my kitchen was not officially up to code, I had to keep the advertising on the "down low." Cooking also filled that creative need - and the rewards for a job well-done were instantaneous (verbal praise and clean plates). It is funny how the constant complaints of little ones can quickly dampen the creative kitchen spirit ("I like the blue box macaroni and cheese - not this stuff"). Life became stressful raising 3 children, and I began to turn to casseroles and hamburger helper. Now my 15 year old daughter is the dessert queen of the household, and I am more than willing pass the torch on. While I have many cookbooks at home (although I went through a purging stage about 15 years ago and gave away just as many) - and even Mandy is starting to build her own collection, both of us use as a great starting point for any dish.

As gourmet cooking was fading......I was introduced to Creative Memories. This introduction quickly became a big-time obsession. At this time in my life I had several BOXES of unorganized pictures that I was desperate to do something with. I have always taken pictures, but more because I wanted a keepsake of the memory, rather than the artistic hobby of photography. Creative Memories was perfect for me because it was practical (I was doing something useful with objects I already owned) AND it was creative (organizing those pictures in albums that others would want to see). I truly loved the "journaling" aspect that the company was passionate about --- tell the story because photos do not speak for themselves 50 years after the event. I became a consultant and eventually rose to the ranks of Senior Unit Leader. Now, I am NOT, repeat NOT a salesman, and that part of being a consultant never appealed to me. But when I was educating people about proper photo preservation - and when I showed them that anyone can create keepsake albums - I was transported into another world. I loved it. And I truly feel that it is because of this decade-long experience with Creative Memories that I was able to walk into a classroom and teach without any "proper" training or certification.

I am still passionate about scrapbooking - but I simply do not have the time. I have grand dreams of completing many precious scrapbooks once I am fully retired. The craft of scrapbooking, however, requires quite a bit of space - and lots of tools, papers, and decorative items. It is the thought of lugging everything out - and leaving it out - that hinders my progress at this time in my life. I have recently, however, in the past 5 years or so, discovered the papercraft of Rubber Stamping, This uses many of the same tools and products as scrapbooking (there is that practical piece) and it is less time consuming to create one card vs one scrapbook page. I also like the fact that my time spent doing something creative for me can be translated to a word of encouragement for someone else. It is the ministerial aspect of helping others through this craft that appeals to me most. Again, my artistic talent is nil, so I greatly rely on Split Coast Stampers for ideas and tutorials.

A final I went back and re-read what I wrote (again - a little verbose - sorry!) I have discovered that all these passions in my life not only involved some kind of creative expression, they also involved a need for companionship; a need to feel like I belong. Band is a community of musicians; my cross stitch group was an invaluable source of encouragement; Creative Memories allowed me to hold monthly "crops" in my home (similar to quilting bees, for those not accustomed to the lingo) where usually 10-12 women would bring their photos, supplies and friendship. In fact, I met my dearest friend, Jeanne, through Creative Memories and she and I continue to get together on a semi-regular basis and create cards. I think this is why I have fallen in love with this book-blogging community. Not only does it provide intellectual stimulation, introduce me to other genres and authors, and validate my obsessive/compulsive passion for reading and books - but there is a definite sense that I belong to a community who truly cares and encourages one another. If you think I am exaggerating. just take a look at the 56 responses (and counting) to Wendy's loss this week. My thoughts and prayers continue to go out to her.

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