- Fizzy Thoughts: June 2009


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sam Savage
December 2008
165 pages

Publisher Comments:
I had always imagined that my life story...would have a great first line: something like Nabokov's 'Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins;' or if I could not do lyric, then something sweeping like Tolstoy's 'All happy families are alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.'... When it comes to openers, though, the best in my view has to be the first line of Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier: 'This is the saddest story I have ever heard.'

So begins the remarkable tale of Firmin the rat. Born in a bookstore in a blighted 1960's Boston neighborhood, Firmin miraculously learns how to read by digesting his nest of books. Alienated from his family and unable to communicate with the humans he loves, Firmin quickly realizes that a literate rat is a lonely rat.

Following a harrowing misunderstanding with his hero, the bookseller, Firmin begins to risk the dangers of Scollay Square, finding solace in the Lovelies of the burlesque cinema. Finally adopted by a down-on-his-luck science fiction writer, the tide begins to turn, but soon they both face homelessness when the wrecking ball of urban renewal arrives.

In a series of misadventures, Firmin is ultimately led deep into his own imaginative soul-a place where Ginger Rogers can hold him tight and tattered books, storied neighborhoods, and down-and-out rats can find people who adore them.

A native of South Carolina, Sam Savage now lives in Madison, Wisconsin. This is his first novel.

Joanne came up with a toughie this time: “This looks awesome, is it? How do you feel about authors who use anthropomorphism to tell a story? Did you ever feel like you were reading about a human rather than a rat? Is there any underlying messages about society?”

First, I love the design of this book.  Even Hamburger noticed, and that’s saying a lot.  Well, he noticed that the book seemed to have a chunk missing.  It’s made to look like a rat nibbled on it.  Second, I have no problem with anthropomorphism in literature.  Anyone read The Roaches Have No King?  Until it was dethroned by Geek Love, it was the weirdest book I’ve ever read.  In that one, the cockroaches ate the glue used to bind books and absorbed some of the story.  So I’m afraid Firmin has been done, to a certain extent.  Yes, the stories are different, but both rats and cockroaches are a tricky subject to humanize.  And, to some extent, both stories are commentaries are human nature.

I’m sidetracking, as usual.  I loved Firmin the character, and it was hard to remember he was a rat.  I kept visualizing him as a cute little mouse, but then he would remind me of his hideousness (this happens a lot) and it would be a bit jarring to remember I was reading about a rat.  I don’t think I ever felt I was reading about a human, but I definitely envisioned him as a charming, erudite rodent who I could have a conversation with, if we ever met.  (Hey, I still watch Sesame Street on occasion, so this is not a big stretch for me.  And let’s not forget Bubba.)

And now for the tough part…underlying messages about society.  Be more understanding and tolerant, maybe.  Look under the surface.  That’s me projecting onto Firmin, though.  I think the tragedy of urban development is an underlying message.  Granted, Scollay Square, which actually existed, was a run-down, has-been part of town.  But if you look at the pictures of what it turned into?  Ewwwwwww.  So there’s an example of the government invoking eminent domain (I might be mixing up my terms there) and ignoring the character and people of a neighborhood.  Is modern always better?  Firmin also illustrates different aspects of human nature.  The two main human characters, the bookstore owner and the writer, are very different, especially when it comes to the images they project versus their true natures. So yeah, now that I think about it, there are quite a few messages in this book.  You should read it.  :-)


Game On!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Starting today, I'm participating in the Game On Challenge. Along with my fellow Ding-Dongs, and our opposition, the Twinkies and the Ho-Hos (and yes, those are really our team names), I will be spending the next four weeks trying to eat healthier, exercise more, drink an ocean of water (okay, only 3 liters a day...but that's kind of close to an ocean), get 7 plus hours of sleep, give up a bad habit (mine would be all things Starbucks) and start a healthy habit (I'll be trying to remember to wear sunscreen every day). I just gave you the Reader's Digest version...we are actually following a book, The Game On Diet, by Krista Vernoff and Az Ferguson, which will be released tomorrow.

What makes this a true challenge is that we earn points for each of the above activities. We also lose points for certain things (snacking, drinking diet soda). At the end of four weeks, the team with the most points wins. Obviously, there's more at stake here than health. It's about winning, and crushing those Twinkies into the ground!

Okay, kidding on that last part. Although if anyone would like to send a pizza to the chief Twinkie (Dawn), I certainly won't stop you. After all, it's her fault I'm doing this.

For the next four weeks, expect to see lots of chatter on twitter between teams and teammates (we also get points for communication). If you want to follow us, we're using #gameondiet. There might also be a few comments made under #twinkiefail and #dingdongsrule, just to liven things up a bit. :-D I will also write an actual review of the book, at some point, so stay tuned for that.

Here are the contestants:

Team Twinkie
Denise of M. Denise C.

Team Ding Dong
Julie of Booking Mama
and me

Team Ho-Hos
Kathy also has other team mates, but they aren't bloggers, so I have no links. Oh, except for a last minute addition...Vasilly!

So. We're off. To inspire my fellow Ding-Dongs (and make all those other snack cakes jealous that they don't have a kick-ass song), here's our official theme song (please channel Eddie Veder as you sing this one)... Smells Like Team Spirit

Load up on veggies
Bring your friends
We’re going to win
I portend
Healthy habits
Ding-Dongs assured
Sugar soda
Dirty words

Game on (x 16)

With my teammates its less dangerous
Here we are now
Don’t feed us
I feel healthy and courageous
Here we are now
The Ding-Dongs
A rhapsody
A softdrink
A mama
My friend Amy

This is not what I do best
But Ding-Dongs won’t make me depressed
Our little group has always been
And always will until the end

Game on (x 16)

With my teammates its less dangerous
Here we are now
Don’t feed us
I feel healthy and courageous
Here we are now
The Twinkies
A rhapsody
A softdrink
A mama
My friend Amy

Don’t let us forget
Just what it takes
To stay on track and kick Twinkie butt
If it’s too hard
If we unwind
Don’t let us say, oh nevermind

Game on (x 16)

With my teammates its less dangerous
Here we are now
Don’t feed us
I feel healthy and courageous
Here we are now
The Ding-Dongs
A rhapsody
A softdrink
A mama
My friend Amy


Fragile Eternity

Sunday, June 28, 2009

fragile eternity

Fragile Eternity
Melissa Marr
May 2009

389 pages

This is the third book in Melissa Marr’s faerie series, following Wicked Lovely and Ink Exchange.  While the books don’t exactly knock my socks off, they are compelling enough to make me keep reading.  Fragile Eternity actually picks up from Wicked LovelyInk Exchange can pretty much be considered a detour.  A very dark detour.  (Side note:  I read that there are 5 books in the series.  Books 2 and 4 are stand-alones, so book 5 will pick up where Fragile Eternity leaves off.)

Fragile Eternity is primarily Seth’s story.  Remember Seth?  He’s Aislinn’s boyfriend, although things have been a little rocky since she’s become a faery queen.  Not to mention immortal.  Feeling a bit put out (the whole immortality thing, plus the weird Aislinn/Keenan (he’s a faery king) vibe), Seth ends up hanging out with yet another faery queen.  And if you haven’t read Wicked Lovely, you’ll be horribly confused.  Even more confused than this short synopsis has probably left you.

Let’s move on to a question.  Eva wants to know:

Does Fragile Eternity live up to Wicked Lovely and Ink Exchange?

Since I’m not a rabid fan, I can only say it’s on par with, if that makes sense.  The books have the same dark tone, the same sexy, slightly bad faeries, and will likely leave you with the feeling of “I want more.”  Amy, however, argues that the books get better and better…so check out her review to see what a rabid fan (sorry, Amy, but I just had to) has to say.

As for me, I’ll keep reading, but I have the sneaking suspicion the series will end and I’ll be left with that “it’s missing a little something” feeling.


The Lost Legends of New Jersey

Saturday, June 27, 2009


lost legends of new jersey 

The Lost Legends of New Jersey
Frederick Reiken
July 2001
336 pages

From Publishers Weekly
Elegiac and unsparingly direct, funny and poignant, this second novel by the author of the well-received The Odd Sea is a beautiful story about loss, hope and survival. Between the summer of 1979, when Anthony Rubin is 13, and the winter of 1983, when he is a hockey star in high school, he experiences the breakup of his parents' marriage, loses a close friend, falls in love several times and moves through adolescence with a mixture of yearning and rue. On the one hand, Anthony has grown up fast: his emotionally volatile mother, Jess, has a nervous breakdown because of his father's adultery and leaves the family home in Livingston, N.J., for Florida. Anthony has a sense that good things in his life are already a part of the past. He always sees the present moment at a distance, so he can capture and preserve it in memory. On the other hand, he is slow to mature; afraid of being rebuffed, he is shy with girls. Two astute and kind teenagers intuit his need for mothering. An "older woman," Alex Brody, the senior manager of the hockey team, seduces him so he can lose his virginity, and his next door neighbor, Juliette diMiglio becomes his friend and sex partner. While all the characters are drawn with warmth, Juliette will haunt the reader. Her mother commits suicide; her crude, abusive father is regularly beat up by loan sharks; Juliette herself submits to her boyfriend's sadistic behavior and earns a reputation as a slut. Juliette is trapped in the circumstances of her life; Anthony will rise above them. But it is his grandfather, who at 81 meets his b'shert (a Yiddish word that means your fated spiritual other half), who teaches Anthony that he must wait for love. There are some wonderful, almost dreamlike set pieces in this novel, as when Anthony and friends discover a graveyard for musical instruments in the Meadowlands. If Reiken has a fault, it is endowing his characters with feelings that they immediately interpret into emotional insights. At times the psychologizing seems manipulated; too often characters get a mystical feeling that "something had shifted" inside, lifting them to a new stage of understanding. But these are small cavils in a narrative in which separation and loss are palpable, yet faith in survival is conveyed with a sweet but unsentimental clarity. Reiken's message is in a passage from the kabbala: even in the deepest sadness, one can find "sublime joy."

Well, that pretty much says it all.  Although I’m still wondering how this one ended up on my bookshelf.  I’m pretty sure I bought it and then forgot about it, but it doesn’t seem like a book I would normally buy.  Oh well…at least it was worth it.


First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria

Friday, June 26, 2009

First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria

Eve Brown-Waite
306 pages

In all of the reviews that I read about this book, it wasn’t until I read Ali’s that it really sunk in that this was a non-fiction book. A few days later, I bought it. And I read it that night.

I love travel memoirs. I know I’ve said that before, but I’m saying it again. I love to travel, and since I’m neither retired nor independently wealthy, I just don’t have the time or the money to feed my compulsion. So I travel vicariously through others by reading about their adventures. 2007 was a big travel memoir year for me (actually, since that was the year I went to Italy, it was a big travel year period). Last year, however, I slacked off on the travel books.

First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria made me fall in love with the genre all over again. This is the story of Eve who has always believed she would join the Peace Corps, because, well, it’s the right thing to do. With self-deprecating humor, she tells of the application process, how she fell in love with her recruiter, her posting to Ecuador, her return and marriage, and finally, her move overseas with her husband to Uganda. Eve shares her struggles to find purpose in working overseas, as well as her cultural struggles. In the process, the reader learns a small bit about life in Ecuador and Uganda.

The beauty of this book is that it neither glorifies life as a foreign relief/aid worker, nor does it paint it as all bad. Eve is honest with the conditions, and her reactions to them (although I’m sure her sense of humor helped quite a bit).

Joanne (aka Book Zombie) asked me, “Did the descriptions of the Peace Corps experience make you think it is something you would find fulfilling?”

Ummm, to be honest? No. But that’s because I don’t like camping and I’m not afraid to admit it. I think that living here as a child pretty much cured me of any longing to join the Peace Corps.

Oh wait…that doesn’t quite answer the question, does it? But see, it’s a factor. I think I’d be so uncomfortable that I would be miserable, which would pretty much ensure there would be no fulfillment. Plus, yes, Eve’s experiences don’t exactly paint the experience as save-the-world fulfilling. While in Ecuador she searched for quite awhile before finding a post…for a time, it was more like a bare-bones vacation than the Peace Corps. And her descriptions of her and her husband’s experiences in Uganda were a bit grim at times (and I’m not referring to the living conditions, in this case). There were people who took advantage of them and the overseas companies trying to institute change. And there were times when it all seemed like just a drop in the bucket. But I think the overriding message is still it is what you make of it. I don’t think she’s down on the Peace Corps or other relief/aid/change agencies…just upfront about her experiences. It was neither all bad, nor all good.


The Flying Troutmans

Thursday, June 25, 2009

the flying troutmans 
The Flying Troutmans
Miriam Toews
October 2008
275 pages

Louise recently asked, “I love Miriam Toews and her quirky style - one of my fave books is A Complicated Kindness - and I have been thinking about getting The Troutmans-book, but reading about it on Amazon, it didn't really appeal to me at all. So, I am curious to know if it has got the Toews-flavor?”

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, I was introduced to Miriam Toews.  Okay, not really.  But a couple of years when I was in Victoria, Canada, I did buy one of her books, A Complicated Kindness.  And, like Louise, I loved it.  It was quirky and different…a little out there, but then, I like out there.

More recently, I read another one of Toews‘ books, A Boy of Good Breeding.  This one ended up being a bit of a disappointment.  I thought the mayor was going to start offing people so he could preserve his town’s status as Canada’s smallest town.  Because that seemed like such a Toews-like thing to happen.  I still haven’t gotten over the disappointment.  So going into The Flying Troutmans I was 1 and 1 with her books.


I can happily report I’m now 2 and 1.  (2 being the wins column, for those of you who may not live with people who like to watch sporting events.)  I’m not sure that it’s equal to A Complicated Kindness, but the characters are original and it sort of reminded me of “Little Miss Sunshine”, which is an awesome movie.  (And I’m only making that connection because of the weird characters and a van and a road trip…the ending is in no way similar!)

Anyhoosie, back to the Troutmans.  Hattie is living the ex-pat life in Paris when all of a sudden her life turns to shit.  To begin with, she gets dumped.  Then she learns that her sister Min is in desperate need of either an intervention or a hospital stay, which means that Hattie will have to return to the States to take care of Min’s kids.  And Min’s kids are no picnic.  Teenage Logan is a budding juvenile delinquent, while his younger sister Thebes is, um, unique?  Creative?  Protective?  Kinda stinky because she hates to bathe? Aha…all of the above!  While Min recovers, Hattie comes up with the not-so-swell idea of a road trip to find Logan and Hattie’s dad.  To say that hilarity ensues wouldn’t really be true.  There’s some angst.  Some family bonding.  And much weirdness.

So yes, it does have the Toews flavor.  It might be a wee bit watered down, but I say go for it!  In paperback.  Or from the library.


Lipstick Jihad

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

lipstick jihad 
Lipstick Jihad
Azadeh Moaveni
320 pages

Publisher Comments:

As far back as she can remember, Azadeh Moaveni has felt at odds with her tangled identity as an Iranian-American. In suburban America, Azadeh lived in two worlds. At home, she was the daughter of the Iranian exile community, serving tea, clinging to tradition, and dreaming of Tehran. Outside, she was a California girl who practiced yoga and listened to Madonna. For years, she ignored the tense standoff between her two cultures. But college magnified the clash between Iran and America, and after graduating, she moved to Iran as a journalist. This is the story of her search for identity, between two cultures cleaved apart by a violent history. It is also the story of Iran, a restive land lost in the twilight of its revolution.

Moaveni's homecoming falls in the heady days of the country's reform movement, when young people demonstrated in the streets and shouted for the Islamic regime to end. In these tumultuous times, she struggles to build a life in a dark country, wholly unlike the luminous, saffron and turquoise-tinted Iran of her imagination.

When I asked people to give me their questions on some of the books for which I had outstanding reviews, I wasn’t expecting this one to be so popular.

Eva asked:  I've been avoiding Lipstick Jihad because it seems a bit superficial. Am I just being silly?

Much as it pains me to tell Eva she’s being silly, in this case, she is.  Because this book was actually more complex than I was expecting.  As in I thought it would be more lipstick-y and less jihad-y.  Although there is still plenty of lipstick (lots of discussion about appearance and the chador), there is quite a bit of jihad, too.  In fact, the political discussions were what made me put the book down for awhile.  I’m more into cultural observations.  For someone who finds discussions about American politics deadly boring (I know!  No lectures please!), the chapters on politics sometimes lost me.  So I think this book is actually more complex than you might have been led to believe.  Although I should clarify a bit…the first part of the book focuses on Moaveni’s life growing up in the US and her clashes with her mother.  It’s not until she moves to Iran that the book gets weightier.

Kim asked:  How well do you think the book explained the Iranian Revolution and the context for the author's experience there? Do you feel like you understand the country more now that you've read the book, or did it make the whole history more confusing?

This is hard, because I’ve read other books that discuss the Iranian Revolution (usually fiction, but those generally make me do a little Googling).  I don’t think it really clarified anything for me…I’m still as muddled as I’ve always been.  But that could be because I don’t retain political information very well.  (This coming from someone with a History degree…for shame!)  I would argue that I know a bit more than most of my co-workers, but not necessarily any more than anyone else who has read similar books.


I have read "Lipstick Jihad"! I also read the author's sequel, "Honeymoon in Tehran". Did reading Lipstick Jihad make you want to read her sequel (whether you actually have yet or not)?
I am also curious whether reading this book has made you attentive and/or more understanding of the current headlines concerning Iran?

If I do read the sequel, it won’t be anytime soon.  I am interested in reading more about Moaveni’s experiences, but I’m not running out to buy Honeymoon in Tehran.  The best I can say is…someday.  And I’d like to say I’m more aware of the current headlines, but it’s pretty much status quo around here as far as news intake goes.

So, let’s recap.  Interesting book.  Looks of info and observations.  A bit dry in spots.  Worth reading if you are interested in other cultures, politics, current affairs and history.  If those topics bore you to tears, this might not be the best choice of books for you.  And thanks for the questions!


The Lost Hours

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

the lost hours
The Lost Hours
Karen White
April 2009
343 pages

Publisher Comments:
The award-winning author of The Memory of Water delivers a gripping tale of family, fate, and forgiveness.

When Piper Mills was twelve, she helped her grandfather bury a box that belonged to her grandmother in the backyard. For twelve years, it remained untouched.

Now a near fatal riding accident has shattered Piper’s dreams of Olympic glory. After her grandfather’s death, she inherits the house and all its secrets, including a key to a room that doesn’t exist - or does it? And after her grandmother is sent away to a nursing home, she remembers the box buried in the backyard. In it are torn pages from a scrapbook, a charm necklace, and a newspaper article from 1939 about the body of an infant found floating in the Savannah River. The necklace’s charms tell the story of three friends during the 1930s - each charm added during the three months each friend had the necklace and recorded her life in the scrapbook. Piper always dismissed her grandmother as not having had a story to tell. And now, too late, Piper finds she might have been wrong.

Once again, I’m relying on people’s questions to jump start this post.

heatherlo asked: And for The Lost Hours, I personally don't read a lot of mysteries, but I found myself entranced with the mystery aspect of this book. What are your thoughts on the mystery part of the book? Did it keep you guessing and interested in the story, or not?

Personally, I didn’t find the mystery all that mysterious.  It definitely added to the story, but I had a pretty good idea of what had happened before all the questions were answered.  Sure there are details that are not uncovered until the very end, but I’m certain most readers will have a good grasp of what will be revealed.  However, I don’t think the mystery is at the heart of the story.  Rather, it’s the characters and the time periods.  As we journey back in time, the story deals with race, class and gender roles in the South during the 1920’s and 1930’s.  Piper’s grandmother and her friends confront each of these issues in various ways, resulting in tension…and yes, the mystery.  As we catch glimpses of their lives the mystery that Piper is investigating unfolds.  The synopsis doesn’t go into details about this aspect of the story, but for me, this is its strength. 

Joanne, everyone’s favorite Book Zombie, wants to know: This one sounds like an excellent read, but after seeing the mention of shattered Olympic dreams I was turned off. How much does this have to do with the main plot?

And this leads us to the present day setting of the book.  The whole shattered dreams thing isn’t a constant presence.  However, Piper’s attitude and fears are.  These are, of course, a result of the accident.  The focus is on Piper accepting her current life and learning to integrate her past with her present.  This is hard to explain…Piper isn’t so much boo-hooing her lost past as she is refusing to engage in her present.  Piper’s story is more about acceptance and resolution…it’s gentler and also has a hint of romance to it. 

So together, there’s a lot going on in this book.  But not an overwhelming lot. 

On the surface, it’s the genteel South.  But underneath, there are many dark layers.  And together, the stories of Piper and her grandmother result in a strong novel. 


The Onion Girl

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Onion Girl
Charles de Lint
August 2002
512 pages

From Publishers Weekly:
Life is truly an act of magic in Canadian author de Lint's triumphant return to Newford, his fictitious North American city, with its fascinating blend of urban faerie and dreamworld adventures. When Jilly Coppercorn becomes a victim of a hit-and-run driver, her happy life as a popular Newford artist comes to a screeching halt. Half of her body, including her painting hand, no longer works properly, and the prospect of a long recovery, despite supportive friends, depresses her. Her dreams - the only escape she enjoys - connect her to friend Sophie's dreamland of Mabon. Another friend, of otherworldly origin, Joe Crazy Dog, calls it manido-aki, a place where magic dwells amid mythic creatures and e-landscapes far away from the World As It Is. Joe also knows that's where Jilly must heal what has broken inside herself to speed recovery of her physical body. Complications ensue when her friends discover that someone broke into the artist's apartment after the accident and destroyed her famous faerie paintings. De Lint introduces yet another intriguing character, the raunchy, wild and furious Raylene, as dark as Jilly is light, who deepens the mystery. Is she Jilly's shadow self, or a connection to a past Jilly would rather forget? This crazy-quilt fantasy moves from the outer to the inner world with amazing ease and should satisfy new and old fans of this prolific and gifted storyteller, whose ability to peel away layers of story could earn him the title "The Onion Man."

Go here to check out my previous thoughts on de Lint. Then, if you feel like it, go read this post to find out why people are asking me questions about The Onion Girl.

Bart’s Bookshelf asked “I've read and enjoyed (but not loved) a couple of De Lints, is this one, the one that might fully convert me to the De Lint cause?”

Hmmm, sorry to dash your hopes, but I don’t think so. But then, I'm not exactly an expert on de Lint. I started with Dreams Underfoot. Have you read that one? It’s a collection of interwoven short stories, and I absolutely loved it. Then I read The Onion Girl, which I found interesting, but a bit long. And finally, I never finished Widdershins, another of his novels. So while I still love de Lint’s work, I think I do better with his short stories.

And Heidenkind wonders, “Okay, Onion Girl--do you need to read de Lint's other books to enjoy that? Because I tried to read it a while ago and I was just totally lost. Then I was talking to someone else about it (who really loved it), and she said I need to read all of de Lint's short stories in order to get it.”

I can see why you would be totally lost if that was your first attempt at de Lint. As I just mentioned in response to Bart (whose name isn’t really Bart, but whose real name escapes me at the moment), I started with Dreams Underfoot. After that I read The Onion Girl, and I did just fine. I’m sure I missed a few things because I haven’t read ALL of his short stories (and there are a lot of ‘em), but oh, well

If I were to pick up another de Lint book, I’d gravitate to his short stories. While I’m not usually a fan of short stories, there’s just something about his writing (and my reading his writing) that lends itself to that particular format. At least in my opinion. What do the rest of you de Lint fans think?


Adios Bloggiesta

Sunday, June 21, 2009

So I spent a good chunk of Friday evening (4 hours) and the majority of Saturday (I’m guessing a good 10 hours, if not more…and this is thanks to the earthquake that jolted me out of bed at 5:30am) working on my Bloggiesta to-do list.  To recap, these were my original tasks, with later additions in dark green:

On fizzy thoughts:

  • The Onion Girl, Charles de Lint
  • The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, Lewis Buzbee
  • First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria, Eve Brown-Waite
  • Fragile Eternity, Melissa Marr
  • Lipstick Jihad, Azadeh Moaveni
  • The Flying Troutmans, Miriam Toews
  • Firmin, Sam Savage
  • The Gangster We Are All Looking For, le thi diem thuy
  • The Lost Legends of New Jersey, Frederick Reiken
  • Bound South, Susan Rebecca White
  • The Lost Hours, Karen White
  • Little Bee, Chris Cleave
  • The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
  • The Widow's Season, Laura Brodie
  • The Only True Genius in the Family, Jennie Nash
  • The Last Beach Bungalow, Jennie Nash
  • Bitter Sweets, Roopa Farooki
  • Into the Beautiful North


*Fix broken links (I did some of this…I fixed everything broken that the link bar led to, so that’s the most important.  But I know my blog is riddled with broken links.  This will be ongoing.)
*Update/clean-up sidebar
*Add search button (just for Veens)
*Disable push to twitter
*Write Sookie Stackhouse Challenge post
will post 7/1
*Write review policy and add to link bar

*Update Google profile pic to match blog

*started using Live Writer in the hope that it resolves the weird formatting blogger likes to impose upon my posts

On Weekly Geeks:

*Weekly wrap-up (I actually did this Thursday night, so it doesn’t count)
*Update community list (this is a big need-to-do, but honestly, it’s so tedious I couldn’t bear to start)

On goodreads:
*Enter books read
*Update profile

*submission to Bookworms Carnival

*minor Google Reader cleaning
*ended up installing Google Chrome after Firefox fail, and then struggled to get favicon back…although it finally happened

*occasional twittering

*meta-tags (kind-of)

What I didn’t do:

*any of the challenges
*comment on other people’s blogs (although I did keep the Reader nice and tidy)


Overall, I’m pretty happy with how much I did.  And very grateful to Natasha at Maw Books for motivating us all to participate!  I wish I would have finished more reviews, although now that I have posts scheduled through 7/1 I have time to work on the rest of the list.

My biggest failure was a lack of commenting, and oh, the irony…because this was the subject of the mini-challenge I hosted.  However, I knew from the read-a-thon that commenting can eat up your whole day, so I had pretty much planned to stay away from the blogosphere (with the exception of twitter). I do, however, plan to write a post for later today featuring the mini-challenge participants.

Again, a huge thank you to Natasha at Maw Books for thinking up and hosting this marvelous party.  It was definitely the kick in the patootie that I needed to get started on my blog tasks!


Go forth and comment

Friday, June 19, 2009

Welcome to the Bloggiesta!

Are you ready for a mini-challenge? This one is about making connections. One of the wonderful things about blogging is connecting with other bloggers. While other people may look at us askance when we talk about our blogging friends, those in the book blogging community have discovered that our fellow bloggers can truly become “kindred spirits.”

Since reading is such a solitary occupation, blogging offers us an opportunity to reach out to others with similar interests. If you’re not in a book group and want to discuss the ending to that last book you read, blogging can provide that opportunity. If the people around you don’t share your taste in reading, you’re bound to find someone in the blogosphere with similar tastes who will love you forever for your recommendations. Bloggers can tell of the virtual conversations they have had about books, authors, book festivals, genres, childhood reads, libraries, new cars, children and even pregnancy. While we might occasionally digress from our shared love of books and reading, it is these common bonds that draw us together.

It may feel awkward initially to leave a comment on a stranger’s blog. I’m sure we’ve all felt hesitant, had that fleeting thought of “this person’s going to think I’m a total dork.” But oftentimes, you leave a comment and before you know it, they’ve returned the favor, you chat a bit, and voila, you discover that you’ve made a new friend.

Beyond our shared love of books and reading, I would argue that what really makes us a community is our discourse. For new bloggers, it’s necessary to reach out and connect with other bloggers in order to get traffic to your own site. Consider your blog as an extension of yourself. If you want people to talk to you (leave comments on your blog) you have to be willing to engage and talk to others (leave comments on other blogs). Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as “blog it and they will come.” It takes effort, people!

So for this mini-challenge, I (actually, it’s Natasha’s idea, I’m just channeling her for the moment) challenge you to seek out 10 (yes, ten!) new blogs (from the list of bloggers who signed up for the Bloggiesta) and leave a thoughtful comment on their blog. Saying “Just popping in to say hey ‘cause Softdrink told me to” ain’t gonna cut it for this challenge. Find a book review that intrigues you and tell them why. Look for something you have in common and chat about it. Ask them a question about their blog design. You get the idea, right? Be original…be engaging…be yourself!

After you have visited ten (10!) blogs and left the most awesome comments in the history of blogging, come back here and leave a comment on this post telling me you completed your homework. Extra credit for mentioning a few of the blogs you visited (okay, not really on the extra credit part, but I’ll think it’s really cool if you introduce me to some new blogs). Your comment will enter you in one of the sponsored giveaways that will be given out after Bloggiesta is done. So you have from now until 8am Sunday morning (your time) to complete this mini-challenge.

What are you waiting for? Go on…get out of here…go meet new friends!


Bloggiesta To-Do’s

This is my list of everything I would like to accomplish during Bloggiesta. Yes, I dream big.

On fizzythoughts:

  • The Onion Girl, Charles de Lint

  • The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, Lewis Buzbee

  • First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria, Eve Brown-Waite

  • Fragile Eternity, Melissa Marr

  • Lipstick Jihad, Azadeh Moaveni

  • The Flying Troutmans, Miriam Toews

  • Firmin, Sam Savage

  • The Gangster We Are All Looking For, le thi diem thuy

  • The Lost Legends of New Jersey, Frederick Reiken

  • Bound South, Susan Rebecca White

  • The Lost Hours, Karen White

  • Little Bee, Chris Cleave

  • The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

  • The Widow's Season, Laura Brodie

  • The Only True Genius in the Family, Jennie Nash

  • The Last Beach Bungalow, Jennie Nash

  • Bitter Sweets, Roopa Farooki

*Fix broken links

*Update sidebar

*Add search button (just for Veens)

*Disable push to twitter

On Weekly Geeks:

*Weekly wrap-up

*Update community list

On goodreads:

*Enter books read

*Update profile


The God of War

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The God of War
Marisa Silver
April 2008
271 pages

I read this book on my flights to Portland. Since I flew the scenic route (San Luis Obispo to Phoenix, Phoenix to Portland) I had plenty of time to read. And for once, I was surrounded by other readers. It was quite relaxing.

Ares is the God of War. He is also our narrator, a young boy of 12 living with his mother Laurel and his younger brother Malcolm on the edge of the Salton Sea. It’s 1978 and Laurel is somewhat of a hippie, preferring to live in a trailer on the edge of society.

While Laurel refuses to label Malcolm, or even have him diagnosed, it is apparent that he is developmentally disabled, possibly autistic. Ares isn’t really sure what is wrong with his brother, but he is sure that it’s his fault. As a result, he is both protective and resentful of Malcolm. As Laurel struggles to keep herself together, Ares becomes increasingly defiant and is drawn into a friendship with a troubled teenager. His actions lead to some pretty shocking consequences.

The Salton Sea is in the desert in Southern California, and its stark beauty provides the setting for the novel. Like the area, the tone of this novel is bleak. Ares is reflecting back on this period of his childhood, and while there is no apparent joy, neither is their great sadness. Rather, there is the frustration of a budding teenager unsure of his body and his place in his family and the world. This is a coming-of-age story, as Ares fights to establish an identity separate from his family. I’m sure it’s full of all sorts of metaphors and other meanings, too, but I’m going to stop before I go places I know nothing about.

While I found this to be an excellent book, it's not one of those books about which you say “I loved it! You should read it!!” But if you like thoughtful coming-of-age stories focusing on boys, juvenile delinquents, remote locations and people who drop out of society, then this one’s for you. You can read an excerpt here.


The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
Katherine Howe
June 2009
384 pages

Harvard graduate student Connie Goodwin needs to spend her summer doing research for her doctoral dissertation. But when her mother asks her to handle the sale of Connie's grandmother's abandoned home near Salem, she can't refuse. As she is drawn deeper into the mysteries of the family house, Connie discovers an ancient key secreted within a seventeenth-century Bible. The key contains a yellowing fragment of parchment with a name written upon it: Deliverance Dane. This discovery launches Connie on a quest to find out who this woman was, and to unearth a rare colonial artifact of singular power: a physick book, its pages a secret repository for lost knowledge of herbs and other, stranger things. As the pieces of Deliverance's harrowing story begin to fall into place, Connie is haunted by visions of the long-ago witch trials, and begins to fear that she is more tied to Salem's dark past then she could have ever imagined.

For this week’s Weekly Geeks I invited readers to ask questions about any of the books I haven’t yet reviewed. For this book, Joanne asked:

“I am chomping at the bit to read this, please tell me this is amazing and that I will absolutely love it?”

I’m sorry, Jo, but I just can’t. I want to, but I can’t. And it's not that it’s a bad story. It’s entertaining, it’s got hints of woo-woo. I enjoyed it, but I can't gush about it. And I think it's because I’ve read both The Heretic’s Daughter and The Lace Reader and I couldn’t stop making comparisons. For example:

  • Both Katherine Howe and Kathleen Kent (author of The Heretic’s Daughter) are descendents of people accused of being witches during the Salem Witch Trials. And then they both wrote books about the Salem Witch Trials.
  • Deliverance Dane has a jail scene sort of reminiscent of the jail scene in The Heretic’s Daughter.
  • Deliverance Dane and The Lace Reader feature modern day Salem and characters/shops that capitalize on the Salem Witch Trials.

So while the stories are still different (The Heretic’s Daughter is entirely set in the past and is pretty bleak, The Lace Reader is more character-driven), there were still enough occasional similarities that had me thinking “I’ve read this.” If you haven’t read The Heretic’s Daughter or The Lace Reader, I’m thinking you’ll enjoy Deliverance Dane.

Also, as Chris at book-a-rama recently pointed out, Connie is a bit oblivious at times. Especially for a PhD candidate. You might find yourself wanting to shake some sense into her. And I had a hard time with the accents…I thought it was overdone. If the author was trying to illustrate how phoenitic spelling can hinder research, I think the point was made early on with Professor Chilton’s pronunciation of Mercy (mehcy) and Marcy (mehcy). The continued use of the heavy accents for the scenes in the past made the book almost unreadable at times.

If you’d like a second or third opinion, check out these other reviews:
Devourer of Books
S. Krishna

What do you think of the recent flurry of books based on witch trials? Are they starting to blur together for you, or do you still look forward to more books on the subject?


Teaser Tuesday

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
Okay, it's a bit more than two sentences, but I was having a hard time finding two sentences that stood alone. And besides, this short conversation doubles as a synopsis!

"Wait, you're going across illegally to collect vatos to take home?"
"You're collecting men?"
"Seven men."
"And you'll smuggle them out of the Yunaites?"
"Back to Mexico."
"But you have to sneak."
"Because it's illegal to transport illegals."
"Even if they're going south."
"Holy Christ, I love this story!"

from Into the Beautiful North, by Luis Alberto Urrea


when Geeks wear sombreros

Monday, June 15, 2009

Wow. I'm 19 reviews behind. How did that happen?!? Lucky for me, this seems to be a trend and both Weekly Geeks and Natasha are conspiring to get me caught up.

First, Weekly Geeks. This week Becky revisits an oldie but a goodie:

1. In your blog, list any books you’ve read but haven’t reviewed yet. If you’re all caught up on reviews, maybe you could try this with whatever book(s) you hope to finish this week. (Be sure to leave a link to this post either in the comments of this post, or in the Mister Linky below.)

2. Ask your readers to ask you questions about any of the books they want. In your comments, not in their blogs. (Most likely, people who will ask you questions will be people who have read one of the books or know something about it because they want to read it.)

3. Later, take whichever questions you like from your comments and use them in a post about each book. Link to each blogger next to that blogger’s question(s).

4. Visit other Weekly Geeks and ask them some questions!

Okay, so here it is. The list of unreviewed books:

The Onion Girl, Charles de Lint
The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, Lewis Buzbee
First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria, Eve Brown-Waite
Fragile Eternity, Melissa Marr
Lipstick Jihad, Azadeh Moaveni
The Flying Troutmans, Miriam Toews
Firmin, Sam Savage
The Gangster We Are All Looking For, le thi diem thuy
The Lost Legends of New Jersey, Frederick Reiken
Bound South, Susan Rebecca White
The Lost Hours, Karen White
Little Bee, Chris Cleave
The God of War, Marisa Silver
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
The Widow's Season, Laura Brodie
The Only True Genius in the Family, Jennie Nash
The Last Beach Bungalow, Jennie Nash
Bitter Sweets, Roopa Farooki
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, Katherine Howe

Help me out here people! Ask me any question (or two or three or four) about any of the above books (or two or three or four). Just leave your question(s) in the comments.

On Friday night and/or Saturday, I'll be participating in the Bloggiesta, and I'll use your questions to get me started on the 10 bajillion 19 reviews I need to write.

What is the Bloggiesta you ask? Well, besides an excuse to break out the chips and guacamole, it's a chance to get caught up on blog related things. Sombreros are optional.

I'll be working on all those reviews, as well as updating the Weekly Geeks Community page and my own neglected sidebar. At least, that's the plan. I might just hang out and eat chips and guacamole and dream of Mexico.


my loot from Powell's

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Many people were wondering what I bought on my four trips to Powell's. Well, here you go.

Actually, this pile doesn't tell the complete story. I also bought The Hunger Games, The Only True Genius in the Family and The Last Beach Bungalow, all of which I read on my vacation and then sold back before I left. I also read and sold back A Widow's Season, which I found at a Hood River bookstore along with The Island of Eternal Love. In Europe was a Book Bin purchase, the Book Bin being conveniently located across the street from the restaurant in Salem where I met bethany for dinner.

With the exception of Kinky Gazpacho, The Hunger Games and The Only True Genius in the Family, none of the books were on my "books I want" list. I discovered them browsing, particularly in Powell's Red and Green Rooms. The Red Room being the location of the most awesome aisle of travel writing I have ever seen. And the Green Room has sales tables. Who can resist sales tables?

Powell's is a dangerous place. Although if I was better at math I could tell you how much I saved by not paying sales tax, which is 8.25% at my local bookstores. And yes, that's the excuse I keep using to make myself feel better.


do you know where your automobile is?

Friday, June 12, 2009

When Hamburger left for Mexico and I left for Oregon, Gunther, our beloved surf van, was last seen parked at Hamburger's mom house. Here's a picture of Gunther taken last year:

Imagine my surprise when I drove through Hood River and saw this:

Hamburger and I are now convinced that Gunther sneaks off on his own vacations whenever we go out of town without him.


Bee Eff Eeeeeeeeeee

Thursday, June 11, 2009

I did a lot of different things while I was off gallivanting around Portland and northern Oregon. I had dinner with my college roommate, who I don’t see often enough. I watched dragon boat races on the Willamette River. I walked all over downtown, and Old Town (not that there’s much there, except for lots of empty old buildings and a distressing number of homeless people…I say distressing because this seems like an awfully damp place to be homeless) and Chinatown (ditto on the empty buildings) and the Pearl District (hello, Powell’s). I spent a day looking at gardens, which is normally something I’d never do. But the Chinese Cultural Gardens were gorgeous, and the Rose Gardens were full of roses, and the Japanese Gardens were beautiful (although not very tranquil thanks to the kids running around screaming). I drove down to Salem for a quick peek at the Capitol and dinner with bethany (but not Francesca). I had dim sum with Ali and her two wonderful boys. I read (The God of War, The Hunger Games, A Widow’s Season, The Only True Genius in the Family and The Last Beach Bungalow). I bought so many books I had to buy a duffel bag to get them home (and yes, I promise a post on the books later). I even met Herman.

I also drove to Dufur (say Doo-fer, not Duff-er). I believe I’ve mentioned before that I lived in the middle of nowhere when I was a small drink. The middle of nowhere being outside the teensy town of Dufur, which is just south of The Dalles (side note: the “The” is part of the name. If you think that sounds awkward, get this…the west part of town is West The Dalles.).

Anyways, back to my story. On Saturday I decided to drive along the Columbia Gorge. Why? Because it’s absolutely beautiful and Multnomah Falls was calling my name. Can you see why?

I had decided that I would drive to Hood River and back. But when I got to Hood River it was still early afternoon and Dufur was only another 30-40 minutes east and south. So off I went.

At this point it would be really helpful if you cued the banjo music in your head. You know, to provide kind of a Deliverance soundtrack as you picture me driving through Dufur and out into the boonies in search of where we used to live, in the area known as Friend. After driving miles down a gravel road, past quite a few No Trespassing signs (on driveways, not the road...I'm not that stupid) and old, rusted farm equipment, up a very steep and winding one lane road, across more dusty gravel roads with not a house in sight, I finally came to this:

The street I grew up on. I kid you not. This is where I lived, although the little blue farmhouse has been replaced with a modular home. And this is the view in the other direction:

Actually, that’s the view in all directions. And this is the old town of Friend:

Not much has changed. Friend was dead before we lived there.

After that I drove back to Dufur (on a paved road this time, although there were still few signs of life) and then out to Boyd, on the east side of town. There was more driving through hills and up and down dusty roads. To give you some idea of what’s happening in and around Boyd…

I never did find the old farm that we lived on out here. I also didn’t go in search of the old barn we lived in back by Friend…the barn that had no indoor toilet, but did have an outhouse. Some things just don’t need to be revisited.


Have you met Herman?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I just returned from Portland, Oregon. Complete details to follow (whether you want them or not), but first I have to finish uploading the pictures. In the meantime, I'll leave you with this charming picture of Herman (actually, I think this might be Herman's littler, friendlier brother). Herman is a 10 foot white sturgeon that lives at the Bonneville Fish Hatchery.

In case you were wondering, the only reason I went to a fish hatchery is because the Bonneville Dam was closed and the hatchery wasn't. I don't typically go out of my way to visit fish while I'm on vacation.

Before you start worrying, I did visit Powell's Books 3 times. Actually 4, if you count the visit to the airport location.


WG 2009-20: Guilty Pleasures

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

This week's task was sent in by Maree of Just Add Books, who's been thinking about those things that we do when we're not reading or blogging. She asked...

What's your non-reading guilty pleasure? Trashy TV? Trashier movies? Junk food? Share with the group. :)

First of all, there's my itchy feet:

I love to travel. In fact, I just made plans to fly to Portland THIS WEEKEND. Hamburger decided to take off on a last minute surf trip, and I figure it's better to be alone someplace else. In the past four years I've been to England, Italy, Seattle and Victoria, BC, Savannah, Green Bay (go Packers) and Sunriver, Oregon (actually, this is a regular trip for a family reunion...but it's still a trip). The above picture is me in Naples, Italy...ready to hit the road and see the sites!

Second, I have a little thing for shoes (and clothes):

This is my closet. What you can't see is the additional 2-3 feet of hanging clothes and all of the shoes on the floor. Hamburger got booted to the closet in the spare bedroom. We have a running debate over which is worse...my shoe habit, or his Harley parts habit.

Third, I love pedicures:

The current color is Suzi Says Da! Otherwise known as chocolate-brown. And don't laugh at my baby toes. My mom and I argue that we are more evolved, since baby toes are unnecessary and we're that much closer to not having them than the rest of you. :-)

And finally, our thermostat:

While I don't necessarily like hot weather, I do like my house to be nice and warm. But then, I live in the fog. In fact, my heater is currently on, because June in Morro Bay? Brrrrrrrr.

So there you have it...four of my guilty pleasures. Besides the books, because that's just a given. What are your guilty pleasures?

In a real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish. ~S.I. Hayakawa

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
~St. Augustine

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.
~Mark Twain

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