Thursday, September 29, 2011

Review: Twelve by Twelve by William Powers

Our book club likes to read certain categories of books at least once a cycle. So when the non-fiction selection month was available, I jumped on it and chose this book. Not only was the premise fascinating to me, but it takes place in our state so I thought it would be perfect. Unfortunately, I think my choice earned the unanimous rotten tomato award for the year and I'd have to agree. There was so much promise left unfulfilled and that, combined with the fairly sanctimonious tone, was the kiss of death.

Powers, an ecological activist long worried about his own carbon footprint, hears of a doctor living in a 12x12 home completely off the grid. Intrigued by her lifestyle, he is offered the opportunity to move into her home during a time period when she is out west protesting and he jumps at the chance to live the life of a wildcrafter. But this leap is inauthentic at best, while musing on nature and this back to the earth lifestyle, Powers never embraces the life fully, falling back on his girlfriend's car, apartment, and the local wi-fi enabled cafe. He glorifies the tiny carbon footprint of living 12x12 and while his point that we should all do more to reduce our carbon consumption is valid, he also ignores the problems of living as Dr. Jackie has done. A major reason she's chosen her lifestyle is her disagreement with tax money being used for war. A legitimate ideological stance but neither she nor he addresses anything worthy that tax money is used for though, such as education. Opting out of taxes through living small means not supporting your local library or local schools, etc. And many of Power's neighbors during his sojourn in Jackie's home aren't truly living in 12x12 homes. Multiple 12x12 buildings to work around the taxation issue is just plain cheating.

And perhaps these issues wouldn't have been so off-putting had they been addressed in the text. Instead, Powers came across as sanctimonious, certain of his righteousness and superiority, and frankly just plain pedantic. The writing was overloaded with unrelated musings and recountings of his past experiences, including his past relationship which resulted in a daughter. Very little of this had any bearing on his living in a small 12x12 structure. Actually, very little of the book indeed, had much of an account of his daily living there. While this is not intended to be a how to guide (and nor did I expect such), including more of the realities and challenges of a life so different from what most of us generally live would have made for a more interesting read. Simply condemning technology for technology's sake left this reader bored and came off as rather disingenuous given Powers' continued reliance on the technology of which he approves but simply removed from Jackie's homesite.

We do need to be more mindful of our impact on the environment but this book ultimately didn't even detail the author's striving to be mindful. A disappointment all the way around.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Review: The Silver Boat by Luanne Rice

When you see white shells on a book cover, it is generally a pretty good indication that the book itself is a beach read. That is very definitely the case with Luanne Rice's latest, The Silver Boat.

Dar and her sisters are having to say goodbye to their family home on Martha's Vineyard after the long illness and eventual death of their mother. Dar is the only one remaining on the island, her sisters having built their lives and families elsewhere so she is perhaps the most affected by the hard decision to sell the family's house and land. As time winds down for the McCarthy daughters and the memories they have rooted in this home, Dar finds letters from her father to her mother. He had always maintained that his family had a royal land grant on the island and so he left to sail to Ireland in search of proof of his claim. Michael was always assumed lost at sea but something in the letters makes Dar believe that he could possibly have made it to Ireland and found the proof about which existence he was so adamant and so she heads off to investigate for herself.

While Dar takes the majority of the focus here, there is a veritable crush of other characters as well, all of whom seem to be suffering in some way. Both Delia and Rory, the other two sisters, are facing family dysfunction of grand proportions and Dar is a rather prickly, curmudgeonly, recovering alcoholic. Their friends on Martha's Vineyard are not terribly well-fleshed out and are unremittingly eccentric. Family drama this has in spades but it has too much going on and too little focus on the primary storyline to be terribly effective. It does, however, fulfill the promise of the cover: a superficially entertaining beach read albeit one that will stay in memory for a shorter time than the sand will stay in your beach bag.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

For me, I can't wait to read: A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson. The book is being released by Grand Central Publishing on January 25, 2012.

Amazon says this about the book: A GROWN-UP KIND OF PRETTY is a powerful saga of three generations of women, plagued by hardships and torn by a devastating secret, yet inextricably joined by the bonds of family. Fifteen-year-old Mosey Slocumb-spirited, sassy, and on the cusp of womanhood-is shaken when a small grave is unearthed in the backyard, and determined to figure out why it's there. Liza, her stroke-ravaged mother, is haunted by choices she made as a teenager. But it is Jenny, Mosey's strong and big-hearted grandmother, whose maternal love braids together the strands of the women's shared past-and who will stop at nothing to defend their future.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Review: Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson

My husband and I got certified to scuba dive this past spring and I absolutely love it but I have to say that I am incredibly grateful that I didn't read this book before we took our classes. Holy toledo! The bends are a magnitude of 100 times worse than I ever imagined. But being underwater is phenomenal. I don't know that I'd ever want to do deep wreck diving; I'm probably more than content to always be one of the thousands of recreational divers out there. I will never turn down the chance to read about the men and women who dive on the edge of the knife blade though, risking their very lives, especially if the account is as gripping as Kurson's non-fiction account of the discovery and eventual identification of the mystery German U-boat laying in 230 feet of water off the coast of New Jersey, where no U-boat should have been according to official war accounts.

Kurson follows the two divers who were most instrumental in the identification of the U-boat, two men who initially disliked each other but came to respect the driving force behind their different desires to dive the wreck, put a name to it, and to honor the sailors who were forever trapped in their watery grave. Kurson weaves dramatic tension throughout his narrative, even ratcheting it up as he presents the terrible tragedies of first Steve Feldman's death and then Chris and Chrissy Rouse's. He never minimizes the risks taken by all of the divers although his main focus remains on Vietnam vet John Chatterton, who ultimately pulled the spare parts box that would identify the wreck and Richie Kohler, who felt such a responsibility to the long dead sailors that he traveled to Germany to meet with their families.

Kurson does tend to neglect many of the other divers, especially those on the initial dives, mentioning their names briefly but without offering any suggestion of their impressions or contributions. However, his laser focus on Chatterton and Kohler makes for a tight and thrilling narrative that will keep readers, even those with zero knowledge of diving, on the edge of their seats. His descriptions of the dangers inherent in deep water diving, especially in the 90's, before nitrox mixes gained ascendency for such dives, are absolutely heart pounding. And he is spot on when detailing the swirling mess of sediment that contributes to zero visibility. Kurson does not shy away from graphic descriptions of the physical effects of the bends or from the vision of what a drowned body would look like after 5 months in the water and these descriptions will induce horror indeed but they reinforce the dangers and their potential results to which these wreck divers willingly and repeatedly expose themselves.

The book is not all diving though; it is also an historical mystery and Kurson takes the reader along as, much to the dismay of Chatterton and Kohler, each credible theory about the identity of the U-boat falls apart. As the wreck continued to withhold its secrets, the divers had to do archival research and in the process discovered that history as it is written is not always accurate and true. And as they waded through both the factual and the murky, they learn quite a bit about U-boats themselves. At the end of the narrative, as the quest for the boat's identity is coming to its conclusion, Kurson also draws a very credible picture of life on this particular U-boat as well as the lives of the lost crew members.

The writing is polished and the story exciting. I gulped the book down in a little over a day, pulled ever onward by the mystery and the persistence of these men. Dramatic and intense, this was a cracking good read. I just hope the image of what happens to your blood in extreme cases of the bends fades from my head before I have the chance to put a regulator in my mouth again.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Loads of good themed reading but not one review to show for it. I am hanging my head in shame! This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books I completed this past week are:

Saved by the Sea by David Helvarg
The Marriage of the Sea by Jane Alison
Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson
Down the Nile by Rosemary Mahoney

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
The Vagabond by Colette
Let the Great World Spin by Colm McCann
The Wishmakers by Ali Sethi

Reviews posted this week:

Not a one. Shame on me!

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

The Silver Boat by Luanne Rice
Twelve by Twelve by William Powers
Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum
The Wedding Cake War by Lynna Banning
Dance Lessons by Aine Greaney
Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
The Paperbark Shoe by Goldie Goldbloom
Someone Will Be With You Shortly by Lisa Kogan
The Art of Saying Goodbye by Ellyn Bache
When the Killing's Done by T.C. Boyle
The First Husband by Laura Dave
Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister
The Mystery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt
Next by James Hynes
Spanish Holiday by Kate Cann
The Little Woman Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly
Left Neglected by Lisa Genova
To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas
Baby Don't Go by Susan Andersen
The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt
Unsaid by Neil Abramson
The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy
Harvest by Catherine Landis
The Sweetness of Tears by Nafisa Haji
The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew
Birds of Paradise by Diana Abu-Jaber
Don't Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley
The Evil B. B. Chow and Other Stories by Steve Almond
Withering Tights by Louise Rennison
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
True Love and Other Disasters by Rachel Gibson
The Winters in Bloom by Lisa Tucker
The Embers by Hyatt Bass
Valeria's Last Stand by Marc Fitten
The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker
River House by Sarahlee Lawrence
The Sea Captain's Wife by Beth Powning
The Last River Child by Lori Ann Bloomfield
Saved by the Sea by David Helvarg
The Marriage of the Sea by Jane Alison
Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson
Down the Nile by Rosemary Mahoney

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Memento mori

I hadn't thought about his name in years. But when I saw a facebook update from a mutual friend that he'd died, well, I've been thinking about him ever since. I really don't know anything about the man he became and so I can only grieve his death for the boy I knew, the one I had a serious crush on one year in high school, the one I kissed not once but twice, the boy who seemed far too cool and fearless to have a clue who I was (those two kisses notwithstanding). About his adult self, I only know the tiniest bits I just now gleaned from his Facebook page: that he has at least one daughter, that he owned a business, that his listed interests suggest that he was still fearless. But I really don't know about all of that. I remember the boy and I'm sorry that he is no longer in this world.

I wasn't your garden variety giddy high school girl giggling over every boy. I was a fairly even-keeled, straight arrow, teacher's pet kind of kid. I had my fair share of high school crushes, most (all?) of whom had no idea I had any interest in them at all. The funny thing is that I didn't have an interest in C. until one December when the junior class' annual "Kissing Elves" fundraiser happened. This is the sort of fundraiser that I'm sure would never be allowed now. Frankly I'm a little surprised that it was allowed then. In any case, the juniors sold messages to help finance the junior senoir prom. Each message had a recipient and a deliverer. The recipient had to kiss the deliverer in order to receive the message, hence the name kissing elves. So if you had a huge crush on someone, your friends would send you a kissing elf to be delivered by your crush. Yes, it was as mortifying as it sounds! But there were twists as well. Your friends could be truly diabolical and have the thing delivered by the "Monster Elf." I don't know what the school administration thought the Monster Elf was but in kid terms, it was known to be not just a chaste little smooch in exchange for your message, it was a full on kiss, tongue and all, delivered by an unknown (identity theoretically kept secret) person. At least that's what I was told it was (did I mention I was also very gullible?--although I've never been told that my interpretation was wrong even lo these many years later).

So that December of my freshman year, a friend told me she was going to send me a kissing elf and wanted to know who I wanted to have deliver it. I told her that I didn't want an elf under any circumstances. She threatened to send me a Monster Elf if I didn't give her a name. I didn't believe her. My friends were just as straight arrow as I was and I never would have had the guts to send a Monster Elf. Imagine my surprise when delivery week rolled around and she admitted that she had indeed sent me the Monster Elf. Once the panic subsided a bit, I had to find out who the Monster Elf was that year so I could avoid him as assiduously as possible. It was C. He was a year ahead of me and most likely didn't have a clue who I was even though we went to a very small school. Surely if I skulked through back hallways avoided common areas, I'd be safe, right? Nope. C. tracked me down right outside the lunchroom doors where a third of the school all stood waiting for lunch to start and planted a heck of a kiss on me. I don't think I have ever blushed harder to this day. I suspect that I blushed every time I saw him for the following year too. You'd be forgiven for thinking that I developed a crush on him because of that kiss but I didn't really. I think the crush came about because I had expended so much mental energy thinking about him (and the best ways to avoid that kiss). In any case, in the following year, I found myself trying to be wherever I thought he might be too.

It thrilled and horrified my little soul when he knocked on my car window after school one day when I was sitting in the ever so cool (NOT!) Student Driver car for a behind the wheel lesson. My instructor was not terribly impressed, I might add. After I got my license, I did convince a friend to drive with me past his house a few times in hopes that he was outside. He never was. I had a few brief conversations with him in school when a friend of mine started dating a friend of his. And the friend who had sent me the Monster Elf sent me one specifically from C. the following year. So he kissed me again. And that was really that. Nothing much of interest ever happened with my crush on C. It just sort of faded away. I admit that I did note where he ended up going to college even though by then I had a boyfriend, but my interest was just a small echo of that once consuming crush and after I noted it, I forgot until I saw it listed on his Facebook page.

I haven't thought about him in years, yes, but he held a small (strange) piece of my history, even if, as is most likely, he himself didn't remember one tiny bit of it. 41 is too young to die. RIP C. and may your family take comfort from their memories of you.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

For me, I can't wait to read: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. The book is being released by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux on October 11, 2011.

Amazon says this about the book: It’s the early 1980s—the country is in a deep recession, and life after college is harder than ever. In the caf├ęs on College Hill, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to the Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels.

As Madeleine tries to understand why “it became laughable to read writers like Cheever and Updike, who wrote about the suburbia Madeleine and most of her friends had grown up in, in favor of reading the Marquis de Sade, who wrote about deflowering virgins in eighteenth century France,” real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes. Leonard Bankhead––charismatic loner, college Darwinist, and lost Portland boy––suddenly turns up in a semiotics seminar, and soon Madeleine finds herself in a highly charged erotic and intellectual relationship with him. At the same time, her old “friend” Mitchell Grammaticus––who’s been reading Christian mysticism and generally acting strange––resurfaces, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate.

Over the next year, as the members of the triangle in this amazing, spellbinding novel graduate from college and enter the real world, events force them to reevaluate everything they learned in school. Leonard and Madeleine move to a biologicy laboratory on Cape Cod, but can’t escape the secret responsible for Leonard’s seemingly inexhaustible energy and plunging moods. And Mitchell, traveling around the world to get Madeleine out of his mind, finds himself face-to-face with ultimate questions about the meaning of life, the existence of God, and the true nature of love.

Are the great love stories of the nineteenth century dead? Or can there be a new story, written for today and alive to the realities of feminism, sexual freedom, prenups, and divorce? With devastating wit and an abiding understanding of and affection for his characters, Jeffrey Eugenides revives the motivating energies of the Novel, while creating a story so contemporary and fresh that it reads like the intimate journal of our own lives.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Summer vacation chronicles

It's taken me a long time to get around to my usual travelogue after our summer travels and I seriously thought about skipping it but then I realized that if I did, you all might miss out on your bi-annual vomit reading. And that would just be a crying shame. ;-) So here for your reading pleasure, what we did on our summer vacation:

You might be forgiven for thinking that we are incapable of reading a map given that this year we drove south in order to go north. Yes, we drove to Tampa and Orlando to get to northern Michigan. Why not add 10 hours to our already 15 hour trip, right?! R. had dance nationals in Orlando so I shipped the boys up to my parents and packed her, all her costumes, make-up, and assorted dance paraphenalia as well as all of our clothing (warm weather and cold weather) for the month we were planning on spending in the UP, both dogs, the frogs in their aquarium, and a half van load of toys and books that I planned to dump on my small niece and nephews into the van and headed south to my sister's house in Tampa. I got smart and asked the vet for anti-nausea drugs for the carsick dog so the trip south with the traveling menagerie was pretty uneventful. We drove back and forth from Tampa to Orlando each day R. had to dance and I took my niece with me a couple of the days. She is as girlie as they come and she thoroughly enjoyed the glitz, especially loving the day that I told R. to take her onstage for the awards. Pretty sure I'm aunt of the year for that one. Oh, and if it means my sister will have to suffer through dance for years and years too, I will feel like my job is done.

Once the competition was finished for R., we re-packed the car with all critters, clothes, and dance junk but minus all the outgrown toys and books and hit the road. I was caravanning with my sister, S., who had asked specifically for R. to ride with her to help entertain her kids (6, 4, and 2). It was really rather pleasant to listen to the audio book I chose without the constant accompaniment of the binging and pinging noises of a Nintendo DSi acting as background noise. The dogs slept peacefully on the front seat (carsick dog was blissfully drugged once again) and I only ever heard unpleasantness when S. called me from her van to say she needed to stop for gas or food or whatever. Then I was treated to a screaming cacophony over the phone.

The trip ultimately took 3 days and because I was alone for all of it, it was not a bad drive. The first night we stopped at my dad's apartment in Atlanta. Almost as soon as we walked into the apartment, S.'s puppy Packer vomited right at my feet. She dragged him outside as I cleaned up puke not even of my own family's making, Miss Gatsby still being looped on her pill. When S. came back in with Packer, he promptly squatted and pooped in the middle of the family room and since we were screaming at him, moved into the kitchen to pee. Darned good thing that dad was in the process of moving out of that apartment. Because if it hadn't needed to have the carpet replaced before we got there (it did), it sure would have afterwards. Entertainingly, Packer was scared of the open concrete stairs to get up to the apartment so after each accident, S. had to either drag him down them or carry his heavy butt down them. After a day of screaming in her car, she was not in the best of moods that night. I, however, felt perfectly fine. ;-) The second night we spent at my in-law's. Luckily no dogs had accidents or I probably would never be welcome there again. We did have to try and shove Packer into Gatsby and Daisy's travel crate and that provided some hilarity since he didn't fit and kept making it cartwheel across the floor. We left him in it with it collapsed around him, rationalizing that it had mesh ends so he wasn't going to suffocate. Day three of driving was a repeat of days one and two and we were all terribly grateful to finally make it to the cottage.

We settled into our regular summer life once we got there with one big change. For the first year ever, we allowed W. and R. to drive the little boat all by themselves. They got their boating licenses last year and this year they earned a little freedom, at least for a while. We put their licenses in a plastic baggie that they stashed in a cubby in the boat and at some point the licenses must have blown out. Curtailed all their freedom and meant we had to run our own errands again so it was a bummer for all of us. But if their caution in the boat translates to driving a car, I feel much better about the fact that W. can take driver's ed as soon as next month.

One night I was out late picking up R. and we came back to the cottage after dark. I reminded myself to turn off the running lights as I came into the dock. Both of us went to our respective beds and went to sleep. About 2 hours later, my mother came storming into my room, woke me up, and accused me of not turning the lights off on the boat. As she grumbled about dead batteries and responsibility, I went downstairs to head to the dock. We grabbed a flashlight to light the way. I clicked it on and then off again. When it clicked off, the boat lights were no longer on. I asked if there was someone down on the dock but she told me not to be ridiculous and grabbed the flashlight. I admit I was being totally chickenshit, which is probably related to batshit crazy in my case but that's a whole other story, but I was sure there was someone there. Damn near wet my pants when we almost ran into my dad on the path from the dock, where he had been down turning the boat lights off. I kept bleating that I had turned them off and I didn't know how they turned on. No one believed me and I felt like a delinquent little kid. But lo and behold, the local poltergeist turned the lights on at least twice more in the night (turned out it was a loose connection) so I was completely vindicated.

The summer was filled with the usual swimming, sailing, and tennis fun. T. attended a 3 day kayak camp and according to him thoroughly enjoyed himself, except for how hard he had to work paddling. Uh, yeah, that's kind of the deal with kayaking!

We went out for pizza one night and looked away from the box just long enough for one ballsy seagull to snag an entire piece of pizza for himself. Unfortunately, he was also a discerning seagull and snagged a piece of the fantastic Greek pizza instead of going for the plain cheese. No wodner sea gulls are so rotund.

Miss Gatsby, who is also fat as a little toad (from lack of exercise, not from stealing pizza) played and romped with my mom's dog but continued to get fatter. I'm claiming she's got a glandular disorder but I think that might be a bit like me stuffing my face with cookies and then wondering if I have a thyroid problem. We might not share any DNA but it's good to know my dog emulates me in the ways that make us truly family.

T. spent the summer impersonating Nature Boy. He told my mom that I told him he only had to wash his pits so he didn't bother to soap any other parts. Obviously I have to be more specific with dirt boy. He also decided that plain old peeing on a stump wasn't enough of a break for the septic system so he was apparently regularly pooping in the bushes (thank heavens we're isolated on our bay!) until the dog busted him. I swear the child has an allergy to cleanliness.

Every night in my bed, I tried to claim alpha dog status but by morning it was clear I'd lost again. (And no, this is not a reference to my sex life; get your dirty minds out of the gutter.) Trying to share a single bed with two small dogs is not recommended unless you too like hanging your uncovered, goose-pimpled butt off the edge of the bed.

This summer I acquired a new name: Aunt DooDoo. Rather charming, don't you think? I suspect that I will be thanking my two year old nephew for that one for years to come. I'm pretty sure that translated to "Hey $hithead, I'm trying to get your attention." I could be misinterpreting though.

There were several statements this summer impossible to misinterpret. The best of these was when I had my friend's youngest with me in the boat. He told me that T. told him "If Ki-Bam (our boat) was nicer, we could pick up babes." So I looked at C. and asked him he he wanted to pick up babes. His response? "No. But T. does." Yeah, that's about right too. Of course, he'll have to start bathing and stop shitting in the woods for any girl in her right mind to be interested in him so I guess I don't have to worry any time in the near future.

The other unmistakeable comment this summer? Both W. and I signed up to play in the annual, just for fun Butzie Tournament. W. twisted his ankle rather badly in the first set but my partner (who is a phenomenal tennis player) and I made it to the finals. Before the last match, W. looked at me and said, "Good going mom. You can get second!" Brat! R. and I didn't get second. We won. So when we got home, T.'s comment on finding out that I'd brought home the crystal clock? "So I guess R. did all the work, huh?" Both boys are fired as my kids until further notice!

Other highlights of the summer included having a damsel fly land on my nose causing me to go just about cross-eyed. Better up close and personal with that bit of nature than with the skeeters and black flies though. W. got up close and personal with a nasty case of creeping crud from the water. He played stump the ER doctor one night and had us driving 45 minutes to see a dermatologist a few days later. Turned out to be a particularly virulent case of impetigo. He's still all polka-dotty from it, just how he intended to start high school, I'm certain. On the plus side, I now know that if I insult him to the point that he is laughing uncontrollably, blood draws are much easier. I suspect that the ER staff thinks we're completely loony tunes but they have no idea how much easier I made their lives!

This year we were up north for the annual Pirate Party and that was good fun to watch as a whole pirate flotilla motored up and down the channel, firing cannons, waving cutlasses, and lobbing water balloons. My friend J. and I went to the bar that night but we did not go in costume like so many other people. I fully intended to close one eye and say "Arrrrg" if I was called on it but my smart ass response was not needed, more's the pity.

And lest you think that my sister's dog is the only vomiter this year, I have to add that once I ran out of the good drugs for Gatsby, car travel suddenly got dicier. We took her 45 minutes to Sault Ste. Marie to the groomer and just before we pulled into the parking lot a horrific stench filled the car. I thought she'd pooped all over but it turns out that she had eaten poop and her stomach had finally rebelled. (And given her weight issues, I'm guessing poo is quite high in calories.) With my mother gagging, my kids hollering, and every one of us hanging a head out of the closest window in order to breathe, I pulled into the groomer. Every last one of them fled the car, including all four dogs, at top speed and left me to deal with the atrocious mess. We actually had to buy a bottle of Febreeze to keep in the car.

The last bit of fun this summer was the regatta. Sailing in it alone for the first time, poor R. had every sailing mishap possible short of capsizing (she ultimately took third though). The fact that she kept going back day after day was pretty impressive since I could hear the crying and shouting all the way at the dock on day 2. Rather a good thing that W. opted not to sail because I'm sure there would have been blows. Shortly after R. collected her trophy, we had to pack the critters back up and head home.

15 hours felt positively short compared to the 3 days it took to get up there. And the drive was uneventful if much noisier with the addition of the boys. Of course, just to remind me of her capabilities, the night we got home, R. up-chucked pizza all over the power room. I'm still trying to find paint that will cover those grease marks permanently!

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Well, an appalling week in terms of books for me. Ah well! This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books I completed this past week are:

The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen
River House by Sarahlee Lawrence
The Sea Captain's Wife by Beth Powning
The Last River Child by Lori Ann Bloomfield

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
The Vagabond by Colette
Let the Great World Spin by Colm McCann
Saved by the Sea by David Helvarg

Reviews posted this week:

The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

The Silver Boat by Luanne Rice
Twelve by Twelve by William Powers
Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum
The Wedding Cake War by Lynna Banning
Dance Lessons by Aine Greaney
Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
The Paperbark Shoe by Goldie Goldbloom
Someone Will Be With You Shortly by Lisa Kogan
The Art of Saying Goodbye by Ellyn Bache
When the Killing's Done by T.C. Boyle
The First Husband by Laura Dave
Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister
The Mystery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt
Next by James Hynes
Spanish Holiday by Kate Cann
The Little Woman Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly
Left Neglected by Lisa Genova
To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas
Baby Don't Go by Susan Andersen
The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt
Unsaid by Neil Abramson
The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy
Harvest by Catherine Landis
The Sweetness of Tears by Nafisa Haji
The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew
Birds of Paradise by Diana Abu-Jaber
Don't Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley
The Evil B. B. Chow and Other Stories by Steve Almond
Withering Tights by Louise Rennison
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
True Love and Other Disasters by Rachel Gibson
The Winters in Bloom by Lisa Tucker
The Embers by Hyatt Bass
Valeria's Last Stand by Marc Fitten
The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker
River House by Sarahlee Lawrence
The Sea Captain's Wife by Beth Powning
The Last River Child by Lori Ann Bloomfield

Monday Mailbox

Just one book this past week but one that should be good fun. This past week's mailbox arrival:

A Rather Remarkable Homecoming by C. A. Belmond came from New American Library..
A funny and entertaining caper series I've been enjoying, this is the fourth book and I'm sure it will make me chuckle as often as the others.

As always, if you'd like to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Amused by Books as she is hosting this month's Mailbox Monday and have fun seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday Salon: Themed Reading

Autumn has blown in with a vengeance here. One day we were suffering hideous humidity and wearing shorts and t-shirts and the following day we were bundled up in sweatshirts and long pants looking at a flat grey sky. Up until this sudden weather flip-flop, it was hard to believe that fall was upon us, despite having pushed all three of the kids out the door for their waiting buses. Now there's no doubt though. And in my life, fall means the resumption of Women's National Book Association meetings.

I am the secretary of our local chapter so every fall, in preparation for October's National Reading Group Month, I am asked to compile a themed list of books good for reading groups. Last year I wrote up a list of foodie books. This year, my friend C., past president and she who is in charge of the list compilation, suggested that I do something centered around water given my known weakness for any book that even hints of a connection to water. The lists should contain mostly paperbacks and a mix of fiction and non-fiction. And because I have always been a teacher's pet, I not only scour my past reads for inclusion, but I pull titles I have sitting around and try to read as many of them as I can to see if they too should be on the list. So far, the list as it stands now (subject to change, of course):

Safe From the Sea by Peter Geye
The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker
Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel
Eternal on the Water by Joseph Monninger
The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey
The Secret River by Kate Grenville
Pocketful of Names by Joe Coomer
River House by Sarahlee Lawrence
The Sea Captain’s Wife by Beth Powning

As you can see, I am not doing so very well on non-fiction titles this year. It's hard because the book can't just be one that appeals to me (a long and quite honestly easy list to make) but also be appropriate for a sustained book club discussion. So I'm still reading and deciding. I have bookmarks in Saved by the Sea by David Helvarg and The Last River Child by Lori Ann Bloomfield. I also have a stack pulled from my shelves to potentially read as well: The Marriage of the Sea by Jane Alison, Ocean Sea by Alessandro Baricco, River by Colin Fletcher, Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson, The Last Dive by Bernie Chowdhury, and Underwater to Get Out of the Rain by Trevor Norton. I am certain there are many others in my collection that fit the theme as well so please let me know if I am missing one for consideration. And if you have any suggestions for pithy list titles, send 'em along. So far I've heard The Old Book and the Sea (but some of the books are river or lake focused) or Drowning in Books (but that might be a bit negative even though some of the books do indeed have drownings in them).

It should probably go without saying that this past week, most of my reading has taken me to sea, down rivers, and underwater. It feels like my home element. If someone would just develop a truly waterproof book, I would strap on a scuba tank and only resurface for more air! Reading and water, my world. Where do you love to have your reading take you?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Review: The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen

Grief is quiet and consuming and solitary but it eats away at happiness and connection like an acid. In Leah Hager Cohen's exqusite new novel, grief is smothering the tiny flicker of life left in the Ryrie family. John and Ricky's marriage is failing as they mourn the loss of their infant son a year previously. Not only can they not find their way back to each other, but they cannot find their way to helping their older children, 13 year old Paul, a target of bullying, and 9 year old Elizabeth, called Biscuit, who is skipping school regularly and obsessed with cultural death rituals. The loss of Simon, born with anancephaly and only living 57 hours past his birth, magnifies the existing cracks in the Ryrie family. And the collective silence about his existence and death serves to split the cracks wide open. Into this struggling house comes Jess, John's oldest daughter and the product of a prior relationship. She is in her early twenties, single, and pregnant. Her presence complicates evyerthing and highlights the happier time years before when, as a young teenager, she vacationed with the Ryries.

The narrative follows each of the six main characters, getting into their heads and showing the different ways in which their grief and longing cripples them. Each of the characters, the four Ryries, Jess, and Gordie, a young man reeling from his own father's death and introduced to the Ryries through Biscuit, is complete and realistic. While some of the decisions made by the characters, John and Ricky in particular, are hard to understand, the truth and burden of their individual mourning make the decisions real and wrenching, especially when seen in the context of the family and in the impact on each of the other, equally needy, characters. The narrative timeline moves back and forth from the present, capturing the months before Simon's birth and immediately following as well as eight years prior when Jess last spent time with the Ryries. This allows the reader to see into the heart of the familial relationships to their very core, even before grief so overwhelmed them.

Cohen's writing is simply gorgeous, filled with amazing descriptions that take your breath away. She has effectively isolated her characters from each other even when they need each other the most and it is impossible to feel anything but deepest sorrow at their very alone-ness. That each of them is profoundly lonely and incapable of re-establishing long frayed bonds is overwhelming and adds to the pervasive sadness of the story above and beyond the loss of a baby. The characters' very secrets hold them at arms length from each other, husband from wife, parents from children, Ryries from family outsiders, and the revelation of their deepest beliefs will change their lives forever. While it is hard to comprehend the remoteness of the characters, Cohen has done a marvelous job drawing these broken people who have lost the ability to trust and to nurture and to make a family. Absorbing and effecting, this was a moving novel about loss and secrets and family and trust and the struggle to emerge from grief not unchanged but whole.

For more information about Leah Hager Cohen and the book visit her webpage, her blog, or visit her on Facebook.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

For me, I can't wait to read: Following Atticus by Tom Ryan, especially because it has a schnauzer on the cover and I have two at my feet even as I type this. The book is being released by William Morrow on September 20, 2011.

Amazon says this about the book: Middle-aged, overweight, and acrophobic newspaperman Tom Ryan and miniature schnauzer Atticus M. Finch are an unlikely pair of mountaineers, but after a close friend dies of cancer, the two pay tribute to her by attempting to climb all forty-eight of New Hampshire’s four-thousand-foot peaks twice in one winter while raising money for charity. In a rare test of endurance, Tom and Atticus set out on an adventure of a lifetime that takes them across hundreds of miles and deep into an enchanting but dangerous winter wonderland. Little did they know that their most difficult test would lie ahead, after they returned home. . . .

At the heart of this remarkable journey is an extraordinary relationship that blurs the line between man and dog, an indelible bond that began when Tom, following the advice of Atticus’s breeder, carried the pup wherever he went for the first month of their life together. Following Atticus is ultimately a story of transformation: how a five-pound puppy pierced the heart of a tough-as-nails newspaperman, opening his eyes to the world’s beauty and its possibilities. It was a change that led to a new life among the mountains; an unforgettable saga of adventure, friendship, and the unlikeliest of family; and an inspiring tale of finding love and discovering your true self.

Monday, September 12, 2011

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I had a busy week that allowed for a lot of reading (mostly in the car waiting on kids or appointments) but not much time to write reviews. In lieu of writing much, I ran a 5K to beneift the libraries around here (my first one in ages) and volunteered at a Special Olympics tennis tournament. So although my "needs reviewing" list grew, I feel like I made a difference and that's a good thing. This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books I completed this past week are:

Little Black Dress by Susan McBride
The Embers by Hyatt Bass
Valeria's Last Stand by Marc Fitten
The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
The Vagabond by Colette
Let the Great World Spin by Colm McCann
The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen

Reviews posted this week:

Book Lust to Go by Nancy Pearl
Little Black Dress by Susan McBride

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

The Silver Boat by Luanne Rice
Twelve by Twelve by William Powers
Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum
The Wedding Cake War by Lynna Banning
Dance Lessons by Aine Greaney
Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
The Paperbark Shoe by Goldie Goldbloom
Someone Will Be With You Shortly by Lisa Kogan
The Art of Saying Goodbye by Ellyn Bache
When the Killing's Done by T.C. Boyle
The First Husband by Laura Dave
Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister
The Mystery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt
Next by James Hynes
Spanish Holiday by Kate Cann
The Little Woman Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly
Left Neglected by Lisa Genova
To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas
Baby Don't Go by Susan Andersen
The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt
Unsaid by Neil Abramson
The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy
Harvest by Catherine Landis
The Sweetness of Tears by Nafisa Haji
The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew
Birds of Paradise by Diana Abu-Jaber
Don't Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley
The Evil B. B. Chow and Other Stories by Steve Almond
Withering Tights by Louise Rennison
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
True Love and Other Disasters by Rachel Gibson
The Winters in Bloom by Lisa Tucker
The Embers by Hyatt Bass
Valeria's Last Stand by Marc Fitten
The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker

Monday Mailbox

As I slowly work back into my regular life again (and yes, it is a wildly slow transition for me), books have started to trickle in again as well. This past week's mailbox arrival:

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach came from Little, Borwn and Company..
I was never so happy as when both of my boys decided that baseball wasn't for them anymore because I find watching it akin to watching the grass grow. So go figure that a book with baseball at its very core would intrigue me so much but this novel does just that.

Fiction Ruined My Family by Jeanne Darst came from Riverhead Books..
The memoir of a woman who emulated her alcoholic mother and writer father before finally having the courage to become herself despite her inheritance, this sounds totally entrancing.

As always, if you'd like to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Amused by Books as she is hosting this month's Mailbox Monday and have fun seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Review: Little Black Dress by Susan McBride

Just about everyone has one hanging in her closet, a little black dress that is. They are the workhorses of the female wardrobe, generally flattering and appropriate for almost any occasion. But what if your little black dress was capable of giving you visions of your future, not a possible future but the fated, unchangeable future? You'd have the dress in this appealing, charmed novel.

Toni Ashton is certain that her cautious accountant boyfriend is about to propose and this wedding and events consultant is going to finally get to plan her own wedding instead of other peoples'. Instead, she gets a phone call telling her that her mother has had a stroke and is in a medically induced coma. She rushes home, not ready to lose her mother, despite the two of them having had a difficult relationship for quite a while. Once home Toni must face her feelings about the relationships in her life, the secrets of her family's past, and figure out why her mother was up in the attic wearing a little black dress so early in the morning when she had her stroke.

Narrated in alternating chapters by Toni and her comatose mother Evie, the tale also flips between the present and the past that led up to Evie and her sister Anna's estrangement, which is at the crux of the entire novel. Toni has no access to Evie's tale and so she must uncover answers herself. Meanwhile, Evie remembers the day that Anna bought the little black dress and the havoc it wreaked in their lives, causing Anna to run out on her elaborate, much anticipated wedding the night before the ceremony and devastating her family in the process. The chain of events leading from that moment onward seems fated and almost driven by the visions that the little black dress gave Anna and then Evie in turn. And now Toni, home and looking for answers, will inadvertantly try on the dress as well and discover the magic in it.

The tale is whimsical although quite predictable and the source of the dress and its magic is a plot point that is quickly abandoned in favor of the family drama. The characters are generally likable although the obviousness of one particular plot twist will leave the reader wondering if Toni is particularly thick since she never does seem to cotton on. It is slightly strange to have a comatose woman narrating the back story so that the reader will understand far more than Toni does but if you ignore Evie's current circumstances, it does work. The narrative pace is generally steady until the ending, which is a bit rushed and has all ends neatly tied up.

A novel of regrets, forgiveness, family, and coming home, this quick read enlivened by the hint of magical in the fateful little black dress was a pleasing way to spend a day. And while I don't know that I'd want to unleash the sort of chaos that ensued as a result of the titular little black dress, I might like a glimpse or two here or there or my own future when I next slip into my own little black dress.

For more information about Susan McBride and the book visit her webpage.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

For me, I can't wait to read: Running Away to Home by Jennifer Wilson. The book is being released by Riverhead Hardcover on October 11, 2011.

Amazon says this about the book: Jennifer Wilson, her architect husband, and their two kids lived the typical soccer-and-ballet practice life in the most middle-American of places: Des Moines, Iowa. They overindulged themselves and their kids, and as a family they were losing each other in the rush of work, school, and activities. One day, Jen and her husband looked at each other - both holding their Starbucks as they headed out to their SUV parked in the center lot while the kids complained that the store didn't have their favorite soda - and asked themselves: "Is this the American dream? Because if it is, it sort of sucks." Jim and Jen had always dreamed of taking a family sabbatical in another country, so when they lost half their savings in the stock-market crash, it seemed like just a crazy enough time to do it. The family packed up and left the troubled landscape of contemporary America for the Croatian mountain village of Mrkopalj: land of Jennifer's ancestors. It was a village that seemed hermetically sealed for the last 100 years, with a population of 800 (mostly drunken) residents and a herd of sheep milling around the post office. For several months, they lived like locals, from milking the neighbor's cows to desperately seeking the village recipe for bootleg liquor. As the Wilson Hoff family struggled to stay sane (and warm), what they found was much deeper and bigger than themselves.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Safe From the Sea out in paperback!

I read this book last year and I still mention it with unbridled enthusiasm whenever someone asks me for a book recommendation. It is a truly magnificent book and it's out now, this very day, in paperback. So if you were waiting to read it, you have no excuse as you can do it less expensively than ever. If the fact that I'm still talking about it more than a year later doesn't convince you, here are a few excerpts from my review of it: "Geye's writing in this first novel is superb and even sublime" and "Everything about the novel was captivating to me, from the father-son dynamics to the running of the freighters. And the theme of events, certainly catastrophic events but also simple ones, that forever change lives and relationships is monumental and artfully handled. I can't say it enough: read this book and revel in its beauty." Want my whole review? Read it here. I'm not the only one saying this stuff though. Newspaper reviewers loved it. Bloggers raved about it. Industry publications enthused over it. It won the 2010 Indie Lit Award for literary fiction. Simply said, it's gorgeous and you need to read it. Go! Now! You can thank me later.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Review: Book Lust to Go by Nancy Pearl

My husband saw me reading this latest collection of book lists by Nancy Pearl with a pen in my hand and he just shook his head and groaned. The implication of course, was that I needed a book of book lists like I need a hole in my head. Of course, he's not far wrong either but I do enjoy reading other people's recommendations. And Nancy Pearl, probably the most famous (former) librarian out there is a fount of these recommendations.

In this, her fourth book (following two general books and one for YA and kid's books), she chooses to focus on books set in or about very specific places on our planet. Chapters are based on the country or city being highlighted and as such the book is perfect for travelers who like to read about the country or city which they intend to visit to get a better sense of it. The lists include travel narrative, fiction, and authors native to the place (although they may not live there currently). Certain sections of the book are more packed with recommendations than others, especially when there's a paucity of works in English translation from which to choose. And as in her previous books, Pearl suggests both current and out of print books that might be available at your local library.

What I noticed as I read along in this particular book is how very many mysteries Pearl recommends. Obviously this is a genre she enjoys and with which she is familiar but as I am not a mystery reader, I found the number of these suggestions a bit excessive. Purely a taste thing. Also, I enjoyed those sections where Pearl annotated the titles a bit rather than just mentioning the title and author and moving on. I like to have some sense of the general premise of the book and am more inclined to look for more information if I have that than if I just read the title in an unenlightening list of books set in, say, East Tumble Bumble. But these are minor quibbles and as mentioned above, I read with a pen in hand and came away from the book as a whole with quite a substantial list of books I intend to further research and possibly add to my ever expanding library. Plus, now I have an easy way to find a vacation-set book before my next trip.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books I completed this past week are:

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller
Just My Type by Simon Garfield
Anthropology of an American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann
The Winters in Bloom by Lisa Tucker

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
The Vagabond by Colette
Let the Great World Spin by Colm McCann
Little Black Dress by Susan McBride

Reviews posted this week:

You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon
False Colours by Georgette Heyer
Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller
Just My Type by Simon Garfield
Corked by Kathryn Borel

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

The Silver Boat by Luanne Rice
Twelve by Twelve by William Powers
Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum
The Wedding Cake War by Lynna Banning
Dance Lessons by Aine Greaney
Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
The Paperbark Shoe by Goldie Goldbloom
Someone Will Be With You Shortly by Lisa Kogan
The Art of Saying Goodbye by Ellyn Bache
When the Killing's Done by T.C. Boyle
The First Husband by Laura Dave
Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister
The Mystery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt
Next by James Hynes
Spanish Holiday by Kate Cann
The Little Woman Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly
Left Neglected by Lisa Genova
To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas
Baby Don't Go by Susan Andersen
The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt
Unsaid by Neil Abramson
The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy
Harvest by Catherine Landis
The Sweetness of Tears by Nafisa Haji
The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew
Birds of Paradise by Diana Abu-Jaber
Don't Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley
The Evil B. B. Chow and Other Stories by Steve Almond
Withering Tights by Louise Rennison
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
True Love and Other Disasters by Rachel Gibson
The Winters in Bloom by Lisa Tucker

Monday Mailbox

As I slowly work back into my regular life again (and yes, it is a wildly slow transition for me), books have started to trickle in again as well. This past week's mailbox arrival:

Tantra Goddess by Caroline Muir came from Meryl Zegarek Public relations, Inc..
My husband's eyes about popped out of his head when this one, subtitled A Sexual Awakening arrived. I'm not entirely certain I'm the proper audience for this one, but I guess we'll see.

Catherine the Great by Robert Massie came from Random House..
Massie is a wonderful writer and I have enjoyed his other biographies of Russian tsars and tsarinas. Couple that with the impressive person of Catherine and this should be a fascinating read.

As always, if you'd like to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Amused by Books as she is hosting this month's Mailbox Monday and have fun seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sunday Salon: Borders

Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that Borders is going out of business, kaput, liquidating, disappearing forever. Other people have written about the effect this bankruptcy will have on the future of bookselling and why this is something to mourn. Their elegies are lovely and many but I'm still going to add my voice to the choir. Losing a bookstore is always a bad thing and you have to feel for the dedicated folks who are losing their jobs. Those feelings did not keep me from heading over to my local Borders (which I did support while it was in business, I might add), list in hand now that books are marked down to 70% off the cover price. I felt a little (okay, a lot) like a vulture picking through the books. The thrill I felt at finding so many on my list was coupled with a slight nausea and sadness over being present at what felt like not just a funeral but an interment. As I scoured the shelves, I saw loads of wonderful books I wanted to pull out and rescue. (This impulse is why I cannot go into pet stores either.) At the very least I wanted to push them into the arms of my fellow vultures.

So I was already in a sort of elegaic mood when one of the women who worked there started trying to rearrange the shelf I was looking at back into some semblence of alphabetical order. It was a futile effort, of course, and I have to admit to feeling a slight irritation that she had to swoop in as I was looking closely at the titles on that particular shelf. But my irritation ebbed away to horror as the innocuous older woman browsing next to me opened fire and took the poor employee to task. Her opening salvo was, "Oh, so it's not just the customers messing up the shelves." Now, had this been accompanied by a chuckle or even a grin, it might have been ignorable but she then segued into a 10 minute complaint/tirade about how several days ago when the books were only 60% off, she had been in and found some shelves that advertised an additional 15% off on top of the 60% and so she had found several books she wanted there. When she took the books to the cash register though, she was not given the full discount, which she was careful to note that she had figured out in her head. Instead of the 69% discount she expected, she was only given 66%. And this went on and on with the poor cornered employee trying very hard not only to get a word in edgewise but to also remain civil. But the grumpy old lady was relentless. After literally 10 minutes of this, she finally closed with, "You shouldn't advertise it if you don't intend to honor it. I figured it out in my head at the register and double checked when I got home and I was right."

I am a little ashamed to admit that I did not step in while the woman was ranting away to remind her that this was a liquidation and therefore bargain basement prices already, the employees had no control over on which shelves the customers might wrongly stash things, that the register made any perceived errors rather then the henpecked woman on whom she was taking out her wrath, and furthermore, that this long-suffering employee was losing her job in two weeks or less and was still treating the nasty woman with far more civility than she deserved. I did, however, tell said employee, once the bitter grouch had walked away, that I was very sorry she'd had to endure that and that she had been far kinder than I would have if I had been in her position. Several other people in the area, also complimented her on her composure and then we all stood and sympathized when she admitted that the liquidation had brought out the worst in people and that the employees had been having to endure some truly terrible behaviour from customers. The things she described, the employees sobbing in the break room, people tossing books to the floor, the arguing over prices, etc. made me want to weep. I always thought book people were generally nice, unassuming folks. Don't get me wrong, I worked in a bookstore myself 15 years ago so I am well aware of the we'll be polite and call them pitfalls of dealing with the public in a retail capacity. And I know that not all book folk are civil and decent. But I somehow had hoped that the majority were. So I am mourning not only the demise of Borders and the uncertainty of all their former employees lives now that they are jobless, but also the loss of my own illusion that I am a member of a generally good tribe. Among the many lessons that the failure of Borders has taught us, take this one away too: step back out of your selfishness and strive to rejoin that kind, good tribe of people. The world needs less of the nastiness and more understanding and compassion, in stores, in your neighborhood, and in all areas of your life.

As for my Borders haul? Well, I walked out of there with 43 new books (only two of which turned out to be duplicates I already own) and saved a record setting $549.01. I might have mortgaged the house in return for so much of their inventory. I'm thrilled to have so many new goodies in my collection but I truly do think I'd rather have a world where Borders didn't fail than have all the books right now.

My reading adventures this week took me to Africa during the Happy Valley era, taught me the history behind type and fonts, pulled me along as a not very appealing young woman finally came of age, and as two very fearful parents confronted the kidnapping of their son by facing the secrets in their pasts. Where have your book travels taken you this week?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Review: Corked by Kathryn Borel

Kathryn Borel goes off to France on a wine tasting trip with her oenophile father after she has a terrible car accident that has made her cognizant of her dad's mortality. But her sudden revelation about the fleeting nature of life isn't the only thing that she comes face to face with during this tour the breadth of France. She spends quite a lot of her time deconstructing the romantic relationship she's ended just before leaving as well. While she and her father do indeed travel around to different vineyards, this is more a journey to knowing and understanding each other, and at least in Kathryn's case, in understanding herself better. The wine vacation is simply the framework upon which hangs the tales of Kathryn's feelings and relationships.

This memoir is billed as the tale of a wine innocent daughter and her expert father learning about each other as much as about wine and vintners. Truly though, the information about wine and the trip itself is sparse and not terribly satisfying. Instead, the two relationships, between Kathryn and her father and Kathryn and ex-boyfriend Matthew, take center stage. Unfortunately, in the case of the father daughter dynamics, I'm not certain their relationship translated particularly sympathetically to the page. It is easy to see that Kathryn is reduced to childishness when around her domineering father but he is also reduced to a fairly childish caricature in these pages. The by-play between the father and daughter, which I suspect could be funny and entertaining in real life, limps along on the page. Inside jokes are only funny to those in the know and we readers aren't enough in the know here to recognize and appreciate those found here. When the narrative veers to Kathryn's relationship (or former relationship) with Matthew, it feels as if the reader is being dragged out of one story and into another one entirely, one only tangentially related to the original story. Somehow there had to be a way to connect the two threads and then weave them convincingly against the backdrop of Kathryn's life changing accident, but it's done so loosely that it loses what needs to be an effective, tight connection. Ultimately disappointing, this road trip used as therapy memoir might have been cathartic for Borel to write but therapy sessions aren't engrossing reading for anyone other than the subject(s) or therapists in training to read and this doesn't disprove that.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Review: Just My Type by Simon Garfield

Are you one of those people who reads the typeface information in the back of books? Do you look at the individual letters in the words on posters and signs? Do you frequently change out of the default font on your computer because it's not your favorite? If you said yes to any of the above, this is the book for you. If you didn't say yes to any of the above, this book will get you thinking about all of these things and more.

Garfield's very readable history of fonts and typography is fascinating and accessible even to the layman. Main chapters about the development of printing techniques, the evolution of fonts, and the aesthetics of both surround interstitial "fontbreaks" that focus on a story connected to one particular font. The chapters range from examinations of the difficulties with creating new fonts, the politics and meaning that some fonts carry, the issue of intellectual property and piracy, the most used fonts in the world, those that inspire scorn and loathing in the arts world, and the dramas that have occurred when well-known and corporately identifiable fonts have been abandoned in favor of something new.

Garfield explains what makes a font successful and only delves into the technical aspect of design very briefly. When he discusses the differences in letters between fonts, the astute reader will notice that more often than not, that particular letter is printed in the font under discussion (however, it is only that letter so the font change can be hard to notice for a speedy reader). Some differences are miniscule so the backstories on why certain fonts were adopted for specific uses and how they were tested out to ensure effectiveness are definitely interesting.

The anecdotes make this a fun and informative read. I can now say with confidence that I prefer serif to sans serif and am definitely a traditionalist with regards to my fonts. I don't think I have the aesthetics of a font designer though as each time Garfield asserts that anyone who likes a particular font has no taste, I found the font under discussion perfectly acceptable. Ah well, as long as my books are legible and readable, I suppose I can accept almost any font the designer wants to use. In the meantime, I will now be trying to recognize the more common fonts whenever I come across them thanks to Garfield and his quick and quirky book.

For more information about Simon Garfield and the book visit his webpage or follow him on Twitter.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

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