Sunday, September 27, 2009

Review: The Lace Reader

The Lace Reader
by Brunonia Barry

Harper Collins - 2006

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Lately I have had a very difficult time staying focused while reading - which is not at all like me. I have started several books over the last two weeks, and while I have enjoyed all of them, they have just not held my interest through to the end. Personally, I blame all you book bloggers for this current illness. If you wouldn't write such enticing book reviews for each and every book you read, I would not feel compelled to drop everything at once and begin reading the newest recommendation.

Recently I read an author interview on The Book Lady's blog. I love reading author interviews, especially when they focus on HOW they developed an idea into a full-fledged novel. The interview with Brunonia Barry was terrific - and I immediately followed the link to the Book Lady's review of the novel, The Lace Reader. I thoroughly enjoy a good psychological thriller with a twist ending, so I immediately requested a copy of the book from my local library.

Last night I was once again restless in my reading and decided to pick up this little gem. I began reading around 8:00pm and finished the book at noon today. It was fascinating! I will warn you, however, that once you finish the book you will want to immediately re-read it. I am sure there were many clues to the ultimate ending of the book that I missed along the way, and I would like to go back and discover them.

What captured my attention right away - and managed to help me stay focused on this story at hand, were the first few sentences of the novel:
My name is Towner Whitney. No, that's not exactly true. My real first name is Sophya. Never believe me. I lie all the time.

I am a crazy woman.....That last part is true.
OK --- I have heard of unreliable narrators before - but when the narrator immediately tells me that she lies all the time, I simply have to finish this book in order to learn if (or when) she ever tells the true. The entire time I was reading I was constantly thinking " this really true, or is there a twist?" Talk about suspenseful and keeping the reader engaged!

The novel is written in 5 parts, and most of these parts are told from Towner's point of view. There are times, however, when the author changes perspective and this makes the story that much more intriguing.

The setting of The Lace Reader is Salem, Massachusetts, and the constant references to the witch trials makes me want to immediately research this time period in our nation's history. There is also a reference to Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables, that I desperately want to read as well. I also have a copy of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane (by Katherine Howe) that is just begging for me to open, and I think this might be the perfect follow-up novel to The Lace Reader.

Each chapter begins with a quote from the Lace Reader's Guide, which I found interesting, but which I also now want to go back and discover the tie-in for the quote to the events in the chapter. While in real life I am not at all interested in anything that involves a needle and thread (I literally do not sew a button on a shirt), I did find the detail of lace making, and the concept of reading the future through lace creations, fascinating.

I hesitate giving a plot summary, as it is most difficult to start without giving away too much of the ending. I will tell you that the characters revolve around the Whitney family: Towner and her twin sister, Lindley, and their younger brother; Eva and her daughters Emma and May and Emma's husband Cal (ex drunken yacht racer turned evangelical cult leader of the "Calvinists"). Rafferty is local law enforcement agent who was a good friend of Eva and is determined to discover why she is missing. The story begins when Towner, who is currently living in California, is notified that Eva is missing and requested to return home. The present mystery, as well as past secrets, are adeptly revealed in a flashback and flash forward (through lace readings) narrative.

I hope this review is not too ambiguous, but rather just whets your appetite enough if this a book that you think you might enjoy. This time of year is certainly a great time to read it, and I am quite sure it would satisfy as an appropriate read for the RIP IV challenge.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Review: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher:
A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective

by Kate Summerscale

Walker and Company - 2008

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

While my interest in the Sensational Novel has been short-lived (I first read Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon in the summer of 2008 and Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White during December of that same year), it is very quickly becoming a favorite genre and one in which I would like to dig deep and learn much. Not only does this non-fiction story contain many of the same exciting elements of a "sensational" novel, but there is a wealth of educational material that has helped enlighten me on the subject - and the time period.

The author initially tells us on page 82:
This was the original country-house murder mystery, a case in which the investigation had to find not a person but a person's hidden self. It was pure whodunnit, a contest of intelligence and nerve between the detective and the killer.

As I mentioned in my Sunday Salon post earlier this week: It is a true account of the murder of a young boy in Victorian England.... The most likely suspects appear to be the boy's father (who could have been having an affair with the nursery maid and when the young toddler woke up in the middle of the night and spied them together, the father felt that he had to silence the lad so that he could not tattle to his mother of this indiscretion) OR the toddler's sixteen year old half -sister who possibly inherited her deceased mother's propensity for madness. As I finished the story, these are still the two likely suspects, and the case is indeed solved, although not without a few twists and turns along the way. There are even some loose ends tied at the very end of the story that could come as a surprise to some.

I agree with others who have reviewed this book (Sandy's review is here and Jackie's review is here), there is a vast amount of detailed, factual information that the reader must decipher, and while this makes for a very interesting read, it also makes for a slow, methodical read (it is almost as if the reader is placed in the position of the detective and forced to ponder every piece of factual evidence). The bibliography at the end of the novel attests to the painstaking research that the author conducted in order to write the book, and the nearly three pages of "List of Characters" found at the front of the book provided a clue that the book would be dense with details. Personally, I enjoyed all the details of this particular case, but did at times become sluggish when reading the details of other cases in which Mr. Whicher was involved. That is really my only tiny criticism.

However.....the real details that I absolutely LOVED were the constant references that Summerscale made to the sensational novelists of the time - and their works: Charles Dickens's Bleak House, Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone and The Woman in White, Edgar Allan Poe's detective Auguste Dupin, Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, and Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret. These authors followed the real-life thriller with great interest, and their subsequent classics were greatly influenced by this tale. I wish to re-read the book again, just to glean more background information on these popular works.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, this book truly educated me on this particular genre of literature, and I would like to end the review with a couple of quotes that illustrate this fact.
While the crime fiction of the 1830s and the 1840s had inhabited the rookeries of London, sensational crime in the 1850s had begun to invade the middle-class home, in fiction and in fact. (page 157)
Sensational novels of the 1860s, such as Lady Audley's Secret, dealt in what Henry James called those most mysterious of mysteries, the mysteries that are at our own doors.....the terrors of the cheerful country house, or the busy London lodgings'. Their secrets were exotic but their settings immediate.....
Many feared that sensation novels were a 'virus' that might create the corruption they described, forming a circle of excitement - sexual and violent - that coursed through every stratum of society. These books, the original psychological thrillers, were seen as agents of social collapse, even in the way they were consumed.....
Sensation novels called forth readers' brutish sensations, their animal appetites; they threatened religious belief and social order..... (page 219)
And finally, let me leave you with a prevalent thought of the Victorian era that found rather shocking (and made me grateful that I was born at a different place and time):
'From twelve or fourteen to eighteen or twenty is that period in life in which the tide of natural affection runs the lowest, leaving the body and the intellect unfettered and unweakened in the work of development, and leaving the heart itself open for the strong passions and overwhelming preferences that will then seize it....sad to say, it is the softer sex especially which is said to go through a period of almost utter heartlessness.' Girls were 'harder and more selfish' than boys; in preparation for the sexual passion to come, their hearts were emptied of all tenderness.....
.....most adolescent girls (in the middle class Victorian era) were given to murderous desires. (page 233)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Writing in Books: Such Controversy.....

Well, BBAW has come and gone, but I must admit that the book meme we completed a week ago sparked an idea for a blog post. I completed the entire meme - approximately 15 questions or so - that detailed my personal reading preferences. The ONE question that elicited the greatest response was the one that asked "Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?"

OH MY! I had no idea that the book world was so divided on this one issue. I had several mention that the fact I write in my books truly surprised them. Hmmm....I wonder what "online personality" has come across in my posts. Anyway, I thought that I owed the book blogosphere a more detailed explanation of my (apparently) taboo reading habit.

First of all, I do NOT write in library books or books that I borrow from others. I am respectful of others' property and would never presume to mark up a book that is not my own. If I read a library book with the intent of posting a book review, I tend to use an index card as a book mark (I do not dog ear books that are not my own either). I make notes on this card to spark ideas for the review. I keep a running list of characters, prominent settings, page numbers for memorable quotes, and perhaps a personal commentary or two. The card is promptly thrown away after the review has posted.

I also rarely write in books that I am reading for pure pleasure -- cozy mysteries, for example. I allow myself to completely escape into the story and do not take the time to stop and write while reading. I do, however, break (or rather, crease) the spine when reading the book (I know - another taboo) - but I do not view the broken spine as book rape. I view a broken spine as I would view wrinkles on an aging parent. They show that the book was fully enjoyed, loved, and became an old friend along the way.

I always mark in books that I read for study purposes - especially those books that I teach, as well as those books that I read for my summer classes. I ALWAYS use pencil. I don't use pen for several reasons, mostly because the perfectionist in me is afraid of making a mistake and I don't want to cross out. I also use pencil because it is lighter in color - and therefore does not distract me when I re-read the book. I tend to asterisk portions of the book that I want to quickly identify as important to the plot or character development. I tend to circle word choice - either because I am unfamiliar with the word and want to look up the official definition at a later date, or I am taken with the beauty of the prose and want to reference it. If I notice foreshadowing - I like to mark the page as such - and then when I discover the event that was indeed foreshadowed, I add the corresponding page number. In the back of the book - on a blank page - I like to keep track of all the pages that I believe offer significant quotes for a class discussion.

Someone questioned whether the writing in my books distracts me when I re-read it. The answer is no. Actually, I find that it enhances my reading experience. There seems to be some connection that if I have already written down an insight, I no longer have to focus on that one thought. It frees my mind to perhaps dig deeper and find something else that I missed the first (or second or third) go around. It is always quite interesting to me to see what attracted my attention in the past. Perhaps I was experiencing something in my personal life that caused me to notice something that I would have otherwise ignored at another time in life.

Would anyone want to borrow a book that I have defaced? Well, perhaps my students would think that my insights might help them on the final exam, but other than that - NO. And that is fine with me. I have taken the book and made it my own. I have related to the book - and the author - in such a way that it has become an integral part of my literary life, and I would not wish to share those personal thoughts with anyone. I have no problem recommending books to others, but I would greatly encourage them to either purchase their own copy - or perhaps utilize the local library.

As a side note, let me give you an example of how I LOVE my marked books. I read The Hobbit for the first time five years ago when I consented to teach it to my British Literature students. I am NOT a fan of fantasy fiction, and this compromise was truly a great sacrifice on my part. The first time I read the book, I focused on the the character names (for some reason they are very difficult for me to discern) and basic plot time line. In each of the subsequent years, I have been able to focus on other aspects of the novel. The fact that Oin and Gloin are always fire starters (and how Tolkien does an amazing job of developing consistent characters throughout the course of the novel). I have been able to truly focus on Bilbo's development as a "burglar" and subsequently a hero. I have been able to see the strong correlation between Bilbo's quest to steal the dragon's treasure - and the Christian walk (if you don't see that correlation - that is OK - this is strictly my interpretation of the book). And there is so much more.

This copy of The Hobbit is totally falling apart. I have an entire section that is separated from the spine. There is writing on nearly every page. I finally purchased another copy of the book to use in class this year BUT.....I will forever treasure this first copy. I plan to shelve the book in a prominent place - as this book represents to me a literary turn in my life. It proves to me that I can read and understand and enjoy fantasy fiction. It has shown me that there is pure joy in re-reading a book over and over again. It is like the ratty, old, blanket that Linus carries around and would never forsake. That is the significance that this book holds for me.

I hope that I have not offended too many here with my highly controversial reading habits. I hope that you will still welcome me in the fold of book bloggers, for I truly do LOVE books. I guess I just have a different way of showing my affection.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Musing Monday 9.21.09

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about reading music…
Do you listen to music while reading? Does this change if you’re reading in or out of your house? Do you have a preference of music for such occasions?

Unlike most females, I do not multi-task well. I tend to be singularly focused and some might even go so far as to say that I often cannot see the forest through the trees. This has also been true of my reading habits. I often will find an out-of-the-way space that is clear of any visual or auditory distractions. I want to focus all my attention on the author's story, and I want to give it my undivided attention. Last spring, however, when I had finished my book nook and finally had a place to call my own, I realized that ambiance was as important to relaxation as the physical space. I have always enjoyed the atmosphere of Barnes and Noble, with the overstuffed chairs, the aroma of rich coffee, and the soft classical music playing in the background. I decided to try a bit of that atmosphere in my own home. I purchased an iHome and started playing a few of my classical music selections while I read. To my great surprise this truly enhanced my reading pleasure, rather than distract from it.

During the 24 hour spring read-a-thon, I branched out and started playing some smooth jazz as the background music. Unfortunately, my selection in this genre was quite limited and after about 10 hours I realized that I had listened to each of the tunes a minimum of three times. My dear brother, the musical guru of my side of the family, came to the rescue and has since sent me several CD compilations of various jazz artists --- all of whom I greatly enjoy. I am very much looking forward to the fall read-a-thon, as now I have plenty of books AND plenty of tunes to keep me focused, relaxed, and happy.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

TSS 9.20.09 - Busy Week

Well, this week was a busy week for ALL book bloggers, but I am afraid that the busy-ness in other areas of my life prevented me from participating as much as I had wanted in BBAW. My typical school day this week (I only work on Mondays - Wednesdays - Fridays) was to leave the house at 7:15 am and arrive back home around 5:15 pm. I then had about 8 hours of grading on Tuesday (no joke --- I started at 8:30 am - took a 1o minute lunch - and made myself stop at 4:30 pm) and then another 6 hours of grading on Thursday. There was simply not enough hours in the day to accomplish all that I had hoped. I did manage to add about 10 more new blogs to my reader, though, and I am very much looking forward to following these new cyber friends in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

I began reading a book that I just picked up from the library last weekend, The Suspicions of Mr. Wichler by Kate Summerscale, and I am enjoying this non-fiction book. I was first introduced to this title by Jackie of Farm Lane Books and I have been interested in reading it for quite some time. It is a true account of the murder of a young boy in Victorian England at the same time that Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins were writing their enormously popular serialized mysteries. In fact, these two authors are mentioned several times in this book, giving their personal commentary on what they think actually happened. I have not finished the book yet (I have about 60 pages to go), but as of now the murder is unsolved, although the most likely suspects appear to be the boy's father (who could have been having an affair with the nursery maid and when the young toddler woke up in the middle of the night and spied them together, the father felt that he had to silence the lad so that he could not tattle to his mother of this indiscretion) OR the toddler's sixteen year old half -sister who possibly inherited her deceased mother's propensity for madness. This true story definitely has all the makings for a sensational thriller with the cast of characters, the gothic-style house, and the Scotland Yard detective.

The book also mentions Edgar Allan Poe's famous detective, M. Auguste Dupin. I believe that I have mentioned on this blog before my embarrassment for never having read Poe to date, but my extreme desire to do so for Carl's RIP IV challenge. Well, I decided that Saturday was the day to put my plan into action. I dusted off my Kindle (which I am sad to say has not seen much action since the spring) and downloaded a free version of Murders in the Rue Morgue, the story that introduced this protagonist to the world. I was immediately engrossed in the novel and remained fascinated at M. Dupin's deductive reasoning skills. This is considered a "locked room mystery" in which the crime happens in a closed-in area that appears to have no possible means of escape. While there are some gruesome details of the double murder, I found that I was not adversely affected by them as my mind was constantly trying to predict what clue (or clew, as Poe wrote) Dupin would discover next. The story is told from an anonymous friend's point of view (similar to the Sherlock Holmes stories being told from Dr. Watson's point of view). This first person perspective allows us, the reader, to feel as though we are alongside this great detective observing his investigation and thought-process first hand.

I was so taken with this first introduction to Poe, that I quickly downloaded the two other Dupin short stories: The Mystery of Marie Roget and The Purloined Letter. I hope that I can find time this afternoon to complete this trilogy, before I have to think about grading more papers.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

WINNER -- Summer Vacation Reading Challenge

Well, summer has come and gone and I am very late in posting the winner of my first reading challenge. I learned a lot from this challenge - namely that I have a lot more to learn! Of course, it didn't help matters that Mr. Linky experienced many technical difficulties in the midst of my challenge, nor that I was out-of-town for six weeks this summer and did not have time to adequately answer questions or cheer contestants on. I apologize for that and promise that the next time I undertake such an endeavor, I will be sure to find the time to properly encourage and motivate those who are kind enough to participate.

I had a total of 15 participants complete this challenge and a total of 52 books were read - so I was quite pleased that so many literary vacations were enjoyed this year! The drawing for the $20 gift certificate to Amazon was indeed random, as the Mr. Linky problem caused contestants to post links to their reviews in several different locations. It took me a while to consolidate all reviews in one place in order to organize an excel list, but after inputting all 52 entries, and using to generate a winner - number 25 - I am very pleased to announce that JENNERS is the recipient of the prize!!!

Hmmm.....I wonder if she will use it to buy some ebooks for her Kindle?

Friday, September 18, 2009

The ABCs of Me

As I was browsing the blogs last weekend, I came across this fun, quick meme at Melissa's Bookshelf, and while she didn't tag me to participate, I have decided to borrow this wonderful post idea for my last BBAW entry. While there is a simple list of rules to follow (most self-explanatory), I will choose not to tag anyone in particular for this meme, but encourage anyone who would like to use it, to do so.

Here it goes --- the ABCs of me:

Available or Married? Married for 27 years!

Best Friend? Hard to say....I have a few very close friends. Otherwise, I am an extreme introvert

Cake or Pie? Pie, definitely --- and preferably a fruit pie (I figure it is somewhat healthy if it contains fruit, right?)

Drink of Choice? Coffee in the morning; iced tea in the afternoon; chardonnay or a cup of tea at night (and yes, I feel very guilty that I have not mentioned water)

Essential item for everyday use? my watch -- I am totally lost if I forget to put it on in the morning.

Favorite color? sage green

Google? Isn't that an essential part of life --- like air and water? Truthfully, I could not do my job if it weren't for Google

Hometown? Houston, TX until I was 12; Weston, CT until I was married

Indulgences? I don't allow myself to do it very often, but I absolutely LOVE massages! The rest of the time I relieve my stress by going to the Half Price Bookstore at least once a week (and since we have 4 within driving distance, I very often go more than once a week) and try to find a great bargain!

January or February? February -- not only is it the shortest month of year, but there is a national holiday too!

Kids and their names? Megan is 23; Brian is almost 21; Mandy will be 16 next week.

Life is incomplete without..... my 3 yellow labs welcoming me home

Marriage date? June 26, 1982

Number of siblings? 1 younger brother, Rodger

Oranges or Apples? Apples --- I cannot peel an orange to save my life

Phobias and Fears? to quote Jim Stafford --- "I don't like spiders or snakes"

Quote of the day? I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13)

Reason to smile? Snow days (teachers like them more than students - believe me!)

Season? Fall --- I love the crisp air; I love wearing fall turtlenecks and sweaters; I love the colors of fall: orange and rusts, goldenrod and cinnamon, scarlet and eggplant; I love the family holiday of Thanksgiving, complete with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and the start of the Christmas season.

Tag 3 people? I promised not to tag any one in particular for this meme. If you are interested in participating, then consider yourself tagged.

Unknown fact about me? I considered majoring in music and becoming a music teacher. I took 7 years of piano and about 10 years of flute.

Vegetable you hate? Brussel Sprouts!!!!

Worst habit? I am sure my family can answer this question better than I can. I would say that my worst habit is that I am a perfectionist -- and in turn, expect others to be the same. Or maybe that I am prone to forget about my clothes in the dryer and others have to empty it for me OR I have to fluff them because they have sat so long and become wrinkled.

X-rays you've had? numerous chest x-rays when I was in elementary school. They thought I had tuberculosis (although the x-rays always came back negative)

Your favorite food? Pizza or Chipotle, I can't decide

Zodiac sign? Sagittarius

Well, there you have it.

Even though I have not posted as much as I had hoped this week (I have spent approximately 20 hours this week just grading papers!! It is insane) ---- I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog entries, and finding new blog friends. Amy truly out did herself this year!

I think the next big event to look forward to in the blogosphere is the 24 hour Read-a-Thon the weekend of October 24 - 25, 2009 and I already have it marked on my calendar! How about you, will you join us for some great, concentrated reading time and book loving fellowship?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

BBAW: Reading Meme

Well the topic of today's post is a reading meme with "brevity" being key. Hmmm....this is an area in which I struggle, but for the sake of the BBAW community, I will try to comply:

Do you snack while you read? Not really....but I do enjoy a cup of tea every now and then

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you? I constantly mark in my books: underline - circle - asterisk - notes in the margin. When I finish reading it it is truly mine (a la Mortimer Adler's essay, How to Mark a Book.)

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Well, since I already write in the book, I go ahead and dog ear the pages too (don't hate me -- please)

Laying the book flat open? Yes, I find it difficult to read otherwise

Fiction, Non-fiction, or both? Both, but I lean toward fiction

Hard copy or audiobooks? Hard copy used to be my exclusive format (trade paperback preferred), but I am really trying to work on becoming an audio learner.
Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point? Since I am rather structured, I like to stop at end of the chapter, but life does not always allow for that

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away? If I read on my Kindle, absolutely. Otherwise I make note and look up at another time.

What are you currently reading? I just finished The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley; just started The Suspicions of Mr. Wichler by Kate Summerscale

What is the last book you bought? Dog Gone It by Spencer Quinn

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time? I can only read one novel at a time - but I do like reading short stories or a non-fiction book along with my novel for variety.

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read? I read any time I have free time. I enjoy reading in my book nook

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books? I have really only read stand alones up until now but I am looking forward to trying some cozy mystery sequels.

Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over? No, although I do find myself recommending thriller/suspense novels more than anything (besides books on dogs, that is)

How do you organize your books? I organize by genre - and then within the genre try to organize by author's last name.,

Well, I didn't exactly keep it to the 5 word minimum, but for me, those are pretty concise answers. So how do we compare - and - How do we differ in our reading styles?or’s last name, etc.?)

Monday, September 14, 2009

BBAW - the long list

OH MY GOODNESS --- it has finally arrived! The week we have all been waiting for!! BOOK BLOGGERS APPRECIATION WEEK. This time last year I did not even know what a book blog was (I had heard the term "blogging" but just didn't get it). My - what a difference one year makes. I am so very excited about this week and look forward to reading posts for old friends, and meeting new friends along the way.

Amy has encouraged us to spotlight some of our favorite blogs that did not make the short list, but are worthy of recognition none-the-less. I am thrilled to be a part of this BBAW posting. I read, on what I would say a very regular basis, a minimum of 50 blogs; I follow about 200. I am always learning something new from each and every book blogger and the length of my TBR list is visual proof. Here are a few blogs that I hope you take the time to check out this week, as I think they are fabulous!

Best Literary Fiction Review: while I find something to love about every single review that I read, there are three blogs that truly inspire me. Matt, at A Guy's Moleskin Notebook - who uses his professorial calling to give each and every one of a literary education; and then two bloggers who live "across the pond" - Simon of Savidge Reads and Jackie of Farm Lane Books. Both of these bloggers challenged themselves to read the Booker Long List - and have posted wonderful, thought-provoking reviews for each of the nominees. These two bloggers not only challenge me to read more, but to read more works that challenge my intellectual curiosity.

Best Historical Fiction Blog: now I must confess that I have not read much historical fiction --- yet, but Meghan's Medieval Bookworm blog is so inspiring that I feel as though I have missed out all the years and need to make up for lost time. If you are not familiar with her site, then you simply must check it out. If you are familiar with it, then you know exactly what I am talking about.

Best Thriller/Mystery/Suspense Blog: THIS is the genre that I most enjoy and the following blogs have offered such wonderful reviews - and introduced me to some great new authors - that I will always put their blogs at the top of my list: Lesa's Book Critiques. Lesa is not only a librarian (so she obviously knows her books) but she is also a published book reviewer! Her detailed reviews are great, but when she transcribes an author's visit - you feel like you are in the room with them. Bookish Ruth. Ruth ran a series of posts on Sherlock Holmes was that just amazing. I wish I had time to read more of his works, because Ruth certainly inspired me! and Pudgy Penguin Perusal. First of all Kaye's animated and decorated penguins are enough to make me want to visit her blog everyday! But Kaye also loves cozy mysteries and writes great reviews for all of them. She even has amazing give-aways on a regular basis. You need to check her out!

Best Speculative Fiction Blog: this category has always scared me --- just a little. I really don't understand the whole alien, scifi, rich fantasy kind of literature. I am a realist - and I have a difficult time climbing outside that box. But Susan of You Can Never Have Too Many Books has helped me to ease into this genre. She writes with such passion that I can't help but be attracted to the books that inspire her. It was this post that Susan really managed to explain this kind of literature in a way that I somewhat understand. I am determined to read more of these books and expand my horizons - thanks to Susan!

Best Blog Design: Melissa's Bookshelf is a MUST see for this category (in my humble opinion). Once her page opens you instantly feel Melissa's personality bursting forth! She is always so upbeat and bubbly - and it is a true pleasure to visit her site. In addition, Melissa offered bloggers many invaluable tips and tricks that she found to help create her site (including how to add tabs in the header!!). You can easily find her helping hints in a tab at the top of her blog.

Best Commenter: For me - personally - that would have to be Kim of Page after Page. Kim has left such encouraging and supportive comments from nearly the first time I posted to the web. We seem to be kindred spirits and I only wish that Washington state was not so far away from Kansas.

Funniest Most Humorous Blog: ok - this is a no brainer for me - Jenner's of Find Your Next Book Here brings a smile to my face each and every time I visit her site! Her upbeat, positive attitude is evident by the profile picture posted of her giving a 'thumbs up'. I love you, Jenners!

Best Meme/Carnival/Event: I am not sure if this counts for this category, but I want to mention her blog so I will make it fit.....Sherry at Semicolon runs a Saturday Review feature where bloggers from all over post links to their book reviews for that week. This is a wonderful compilation of reviews (better than the Book Review section of the New York Times as far as I am concerned) and I have benefited greatly from this weekly event.

Best New Blog: I am not exactly sure what constitutes "new" - but hopefully these blogs qualify - and if not, then let's call this category, Molly's special interest blogs. Joann of Lakeside Musing has a wonderful blog that I truly enjoy. I think a part of the reason is the header picture is always a peaceful, serene photo of the lake - and this instantly puts me in a relaxed mood. Joann and I are in similar places in life, and I always enjoy hearing her perspective. I also feel a kindred spirit with Margot of Joyfully Retired. Now it could be that I envy her place in life right now (how I look forward to being "joyfully retired") - but I also enjoy her book reviews and thoughtful discussions.

Best Blog for Literary Education: ok, I made up this category but I feel that Ann's blog, Table Talk, fits the description. She is a retired teacher and lecturer who has just recently returned to school to obtain another Master's Degree. Ann writes wonderfully detailed posts about her Shakespearean classes and her book reviews always offer great perspective and detailed analysis. If you are unfamiliar with Ann and her "bears" you simply must check her out.

And while I know that we are all familiar with Amy and her incredible sacrifice, dedication and hard work on the BBAW celebration - I simply cannot post a Best Of......without mentioning her and her appropriately named blog, My Friend Amy. She truly is a friend to all, and we all appreciate her so very much.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

TSS: Best Laid Plans.....

Well, I had such great plans for reading and blogging this week. I received the nicest email from Alyce of At Home with Books encouraging me to participate in her weekly meme, My Favorite Reads, even though my old age has affected my memory of the specifics of each book. When I came home from school on Thursday I had planned to write my first post for that series. I turned on my computer and heard a tic - tic - tic sound - you know, the sound that you imagine accompanies an explosive bomb. Then the dreaded message appeared on the totally blacked-out screen: Operation System can not be Found. I turned off the computer and tried again. Same scenario. I turned off the computer - waited 10 minutes - and tried again. Same thing. I quickly bundled up my less-than-a-year-old laptop and took it into the Geek Squad at my local Best Buy. "Sounds like you need a new hard drive. Are all your files backed up?" UGH!!

Well, 48 hours later I was able to pick up my computer. The good news was that the hard drive was fine - windows just needed adjusting (whatever that means) and all my data files are in tact. The bad news is that this has set me back several days for blog posts ---and this being Book Blogger Appreciation Week. I am bummed.

I still plan to write the first post for the My Favorite Reads meme - but it will just have to wait until next week. I am currently reading The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and should have it finished this afternoon (good thing too, as it was due back at the library on Tuesday but I refused to take it back unread; I had waited nearly 5 months to receive it). I will hopefully post the review sometime this week. I have discovered two rather fun memes in which I plan to participate sometime in the next several days. One I discovered at Melissa's Bookshelf and it is entitled, My ABCs - and the other I just discovered this morning at Bloggin' 'Bout Books.

I also plan to post the winner of my Summer Vacation Reading Challenge 2009 which ended on Labor Day. I am so pleased with the number of bloggers who participated and thrilled at the vacation spots that were visited this summer. The winner of the challenge will receive a $25 Amazon gift card.

I also thought that I would combine the end of summer (and my first reading challenge) with the beginning of BBAW and offer a give away. One of the highlights of my trip to the Book Expo this past May was to meet the authors of Novel Destinations. I had skimmed the book twice and was thrilled to finally have my own copy. The two authors are as friendly as can be and when I asked if they would be kind enough to autograph a copy for a book giveaway on my blog they were only too pleased to oblige. I am not sure when I will have the giveaway posted - so be sure to check back this week to enter.

I began reading The Lovely Bones for my daughter's 11th grade English assignment, and hopefully we will begin our joint discussion sometime this week. In re-reading the book I am reminded how much I enjoy Sebold's writing style. She has a way of painting a vivid word picture with very few words. The horror of the crime is portrayed without any gory details. I hope to post the discussions that Mandy and I have on the blog - after we have them (we are having difficulty coordinating our schedules --- surprise, surprise).

I have read two Victorian short stories from the Oxford Anthology of Victorian Ghost Stories for Carl's RIP Challenge: The Old Nurse's Story by Elizabeth Gaskell and An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street by J. S. LeFanu - and I must say that I am really enjoying this genre. While there are several novels that I would also love to read for this challenge, I am just not sure that I will have the time once school is full swing. This week alone I will have 50 papers to grade and that will probably take me 6 to 8 hours. This full-time job significantly crimps my personal reading time. But as you can see, I still manage to do lots of bookish thoughts even if I don't always have the time (or means) to post them on my blog.

I hope you all have a GREAT Book Bloggers Appreciation Week. I know that I certainly appreciate every single one of you!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

BBAW short list

The voting for Book Blogger Appreciation week has begun! On Monday the short list was announced - and truly I cannot imagine how Amy and her faithful helpers were able to narrow the field from 1,000 registered book blogs to only 5 nominees per category. I am so excited to read all the "new to me" blogs over the next few days, as well as catch up on the prize winning entries of my favorite blogs. I know that casting my vote will not be easy, but I am looking forward to the week's awesome events (September 14-18, 2009).

While my blog was fortunate enough to be nominated in two categories, it just could not compare to the other wonderful blogs out there. I have SO much more to learn about blogging in general and writing cohesive, interesting book reviews. I am thankful to all of you who have helped me along the way - and I look forward to honing my skills in the months - and years to come. I was nominated for the Best New Book Blog and Best Book Reviews this year, and in honor of those who were shortlisted, I would like to feature their blogs here. PLEASE check them out -- comment on their posts -- and vote this week at BBAW!

Best New Book Blog:

Best Book Reviews:

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Review: Dog Gone It

Well, I am sure that you must know by now that I LOVE dogs! If money, land, and allergies were no problem I would probably own at least a dozen dogs and love each and every one of them. Their humorous personalities, fierce loyalites, and deep desire to please are just a few of the charactertistics that make them Man's Best Friend.

It should therefore not surprise you that I have been on the waiting list for Dog Gone It at my local library since I first heard about it ealier this year. Unfortunately, my turn arrived when I was in Asheville this summer, so the wait was nearly twice as long as it should have been. No worries, I managed to find my very own copy of the book this weekend at the Half Price Books 20% off sale (the subject of another post) and I promptly came home and read the entire book in one evening.

The novel, a first in the Chet and Bernie mystery series by Spencer Quinn, did not disappoint. In fact, it was exactly what I had thought it would be: a rather humorous, easy read with just enough plot twists and suspense to keep me fully engaged. The story is told from Chet's point of view, a K-9 "near" graduate who has a keen sense of smell and a rather good understanding of the human language. The "voice" of Chet is very reminiscent of the old Dragnet television series (for those of you who are old enough to remember Sargeant Joe Friday and his partners in law enforcement): very straight forward; short, crisp sentences that tend to focus on facts and rarely on hypotheses. What really captures the "reality" of this canine POV is the fact that he is easily distracted from the situation at hand. One thought quickly leads to another and in a very short amount of time he has free-associated himself into another time and place that it is not at all germaine to the case. For those of you who have ever taken a dog for a walk, you can easily relate to this attention deficit condition. If you have seen the summer Pixar movie, UP, you can also relate to the fickleness of a dog's mind when he is reminded of squirrels.

While I am sure that this story would be very pleasing to canine lovers, I do think there is enough of a mystery element to the story that those who enjoy this genre minus the animals would also find the book interesting. The final resolution to this who-done-it does not occur until the very last pages, and while the reader has suspicions of the guilty party early in the novel, it is cleverly cleared up in the end. There are a few places where circumstances are rather contrived in order to move the plot forward, but if total realism is what you are looking for, then a book told from a dog's point of view is not going to satisfy.

We are introduced to several characters, other than Bernie and Chet, who I am sure will be developed more as the series continues. Bernie is a divorced private eye whose ex-wife causes financial tension in his life. They share custody of his son, Charlie, and the relationship between father, son, and dog is poignant and entertaining. A young female reporter has written an article about Bernie for the local paper, and the two of them seem to have a mutual interest in one another. I am sure this will be a relationship that will continue, and I am anxious to see how she manages to help Bernie shed some of his old, bachelor ways.

In doing a bit of research on the internet I discovered that the 2nd book in this series, Thereby Hangs a Tail, is scheduled for release in January, 2010. I, for one, will be very excited to read of Chet and Bernie's next mystery adventure.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

TSS: Reading Routine

Well, I am obviously not quite back into the routine of school. I only wrote one blog post last week and I didn't read a single page of a book until Friday night! I am hoping to develop some kind of routine that will allow me the necessary time I need to prepare for school, efficiently grade the 70 plus papers that I will soon have to add to the weekly schedule, and maintain my personal reading to fuel content for this blog. I know this is possible, it is just taking a bit longer to organize than I had originally hoped. Please be patient with me.

On the bookish side of life - I did manage to start Dog Gone It by Spencer Quinn yesterday afternoon and it is proving to be exactly the sort of fun, entertaining mystery that I had hoped it would be. Ever since the movie, Homeward Bound was released in 1993 (which is based on the book The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford) I have been fascinated with any story that is told from the dog's point of view. Their simple minds, humorous outlooks, and fiercely loyal character traits easily translate into a sympathetic narrator with whom this reader can fully relate. I am about half way finished and plan to have a review written sometime early next week.

On another bookish note, my daughter, who is a junior in high school, has to read Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold for her AP Language class. The twist to this assignment, however, is that she has to read the book with a parent and then schedule four separate book conversations with chosen parent over the next 4-6 weeks. Well, it appears that I am the "chosen" one, but since I read this book about a year ago, I am truly looking forward to re-reading it and actually talking about it with Mandy. I think it will be interesting to compare our perceptions of the book (given our 30+ year age difference) as well as discuss the author's writing style (the main focus of the English course). I think I will also post our conversations on this blog, if there is an interest.

Finally, I am giving some thought to the "book club" class that I offered at school last year. At that time it was a one credit course and met on a regular basis. This year I simply do not have time in my schedule to offer the class for credit, but I have had a few students ask if we could meet on an informal basis. What English teacher could say no to that request?! I must say that I am very excited that there are still high school students who love to read as much as I do.

Since the class will not be taken for credit, I feel as though we can be a bit more relaxed in our reading requirement and that has truly opened my mind to several possibilities. One idea that I have is to devote each month to a separate genre. We could all read one book together and discuss it at the first meeting of the month. Then, each member would select a book of his or her choice within that genre and report to the group at the remaining three weekly meetings. This will allow all of us to be exposed to a variety of different books (and of course add to our TBR lists), and it would also allow us to experience a true book club environment. I even think it might be fun to have theme style "parties" at that first meeting of the month - which introduces the new genre.
Another idea that I have for this group is to devise our own reading challenge --- similar to the many challenges available in this blogosphere. In fact, I was going to show them the Novel Challenge website and let them see just how creative we might be. Some of these students read several books a week, so I think they can probably develop some fairly elaborate challenges, if they so desire.

Finally, I thought it might be a fun fund-raiser opportunity to schedule a read-a-thon for the school. I am not sure that I can pull it off to concur with the Dewey 24 Hour Read-a-thon on October 24-25 (my thought would be to schedule the school event on Friday, October 23), but I might be able to coordinate a school-wide event to coincide with Dr. Seuss's birthday, the first week in March. My plan (somewhat selfishly) would be to have all my classes bring in a book of their choice to read for the entire class period (each class is 55 minutes and I teach 6 classes --- just think of the reading I would accomplish!). Students could solicit donations prior to the event (say 10 cents for each minute read) and then collect the money afterwards. The money collected could either go to support the school (our financial needs are tremendous) OR we could choose a literacy foundation and donate the money to a good cause. Obviously this is just in the beginning stages of my brainstorming process, but I think it may have potential. What do you think?

Finally, I am thoroughly enjoying this US holiday weekend that honors all those who Labor in life :) I am very excited that Half Price Bookstore has decided to celebrate this long weekend with a 20% off sale and I plan to take advantage of their generosity. I will be sure to post my bargains on this blog.

I hope you all are enjoying the last official weekend of summer and are looking forward to a great fall season filled with cooler weather, seasonal treats, and relaxing reading.
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