Friday, December 31, 2010
Thursday, December 30, 2010
March by Geraldine Brooks: Really Good/4 Stars
This is the second of Brook's books that I've read recently. I really like her writing style and her imagination!
March is primarily about the absent father in Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women"; meaning, what he was up to while he was absent from that story. But, it's more than just what Mr. March was doing during the Civil War as the tale goes back and forth between "the present" and March's life before he met Mrs. March (Marmee) as well as telling the story of how he and Marmee met.
For anyone who loved "Little Women", this is a must as it's simply a neat concept; write about secondary (if even that) characters from a famous book and provide that character's perspective on the others. In addition to hearing from Mr. March, our thoughts of the seemingly saintly personage of Marmee are knocked out of the sky.
I'll admit I did get a bit frustrated with Mr. March towards the end of the book (probably meant to) and I sometimes found Marmee quite, well, shrill, but, in general, I thought ALL of the characters were well written and the concept, once again, quite fascinating.
FYI, if you read this and enjoy it as well, read "The Wind Done Gone" by Alice Randall who pens a tale around the character of "Gone with the Wind" as told by Scarlet's slave half-sister.
The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi (Book Club Selection): Solid/Good/ 3 Stars
From Goodreads: "Douglas Preston fulfilled a lifelong dream when he moved his family to a villa in Florence. Upon meeting celebrated journalist Mario Spezi, Preston was stunned to learn that the olive grove next to his home had been the scene of a horrific double-murder committed by one of the most infamous figures in Italian history. A serial killer who ritually murdered fourteen young lovers, he was never caught. He is known as “The Monster of Florence." Fascinated by the tale, Preston began to work with Spezi on the case. Here is the true story of their search to uncover and confront the man they believe is the Monster. In an ironic twist of fate that echoes the dark traditions of the city's bloody history, Preston and Spezi themselves become targets of a bizarre police investigation.
Unfortunately, I never really wrote my review of this book after we’d discussed it in book club. Now, I can’t really remember too much about what I thought except I do recall it was a pretty fast and interesting read, despite the multitude of Italian names one had to try to keep track of. Luckily, there was a “Cast of Character” list included, as well as a timeline. This is the brief snippet I did write after reading the book:
Review forthcoming after book club discussion on 1 March.
For now, let me just say:
1. It's a good thing the investigators/police in the US didn't handle the case of, say, Charles Manson in this way or else he'd still be running around murdering and terrorizing people in California.
2. Sometimes, a doorstop is just a doorstop.
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (CD): Really Good/4 Stars
I was enthralled with this story.
Gogol is a typical American teenager growing up on the East coast in the 70s and 80s. His mother and father immigrated to America from Bengali India in the late 60s after an arranged marriage. His name Gogol (his "pet name") was bestowed on him by his father after one of his favorite (Russian) authors (and there is much more to it than that). Gogol was supposed to have a "good name" as well, but the letter from India from his grandmother which contained his good name never arrived. So, Gogol he became. When his parents tried to give him a "good name" (Nikhil) when he entered school, he refused to answer to it.
Although Gogol's parents do their best to fit in, they never quite do. Gogol and his younger sister are usually a bit mortified by their parents and do all they can to encourage them to become more "American" (celebrate Christmas, have one "American" meal for dinner a week).
Gogol grows up, goes to college, chooses a career that is not one his family had hoped for and, most importantly for him, he legally changes his name from Gogol to Nikhil (the "good name" his parents had tried to bestow on him at age five) because he'd become uncomfortable with Gogol; felt people wouldn't take him seriously, etc. Gogol/Nikhil becomes involved with different women, but, none of his relationships really work out; an interesting parallel to the fact that his parents relationship, although arranged, endures.
In the end, this was an enchanting story about two generations of an Indian family and the relationships between father/son, mother/son, brother/sister, husband/wife. Like Anne Tyler, Lahiri is a master of character development and writing a story that isn't really about anything in particular; just, simply, life. I've added her books of short stories to my to-read shelf as I am interested in reading more of her work.
It's poignant, funny and thought-provoking. I think I liked it all the more having listening to it as opposed to reading it myself as the narrator was able to provide the correct accents for the main characters; for whatever reason, I love listening to Indian voices.
The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry: Didn’t Much Care For/2 Stars
I probably would have liked this book a lot better had it been about what I thought it was going to be; lace readers, witches and tarot readers in Salem, MA. Well, it WAS sort of, but, just barely.
I went to Salem, MA with my step-mom back in the 70s. Thanks to Arthur Miller's "The Crucible", I had some understanding of the Salem Witch Hunt of the late 1600s. Even though it was definitely tacky, I was fascinated by The Salem Witch Museum and the various shops filled with "witch stuff". I bought a deck of Fortune Telling Cards that I had for many years after (maybe this was what planted the seed of interest for my future Tarot reading?) We also stopped by Hawthorne's fabled house of 7 Gables.
Anyway, back to the task at hand, this book. Someone in my book club mentioned she'd read it; come to think of it, I don't remember her saying if she liked it or not. All I heard was "Salem", "Witches", "Readers"; so, I got the book.
Turns out that these things were in the tale, just on the periphery, though. I found the actual story to be vaguely interesting if a bit old; a troubled woman tries to come to terms with the death of her twin, childhood abuse, etc. Add in a half-hearted romance with the local (alcoholic) cop, a weird bunch of religious freaks, some wild dogs on a lonely island and a emotionally distant mother, well; I felt I'd read this before.
Still, I got through it quickly so it WAS readable. But, another problem, though; it was a bit convoluted and so I kept forgetting what had happened and had to go back and reread portions.
I don't think I should have bothered because the ending twist was so unexpected (and happened in the last 10 pages of the book) that I don't think I ever could have seen it coming (or else maybe I could have, had I been paying better attention). Seriously, the end came with a BANG and left me thinking, "WTF?" Not to mention, there were many aspects of the tale that were just sort of left hanging out there or unexplained.
So, I guess this is one of those books that, should I care to, I might reread, knowing the ending, and getting more out of it. But, I didn't like it enough to reread it, so, there you have it.
I did get a kick out of (the limited) exposure to Salem, the witches, etc.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Monday, December 27, 2010
With echoes of Wuthering Heights and Rebecca, Robert Goolrick's intoxicating debut novel delivers a classic tale of suspenseful seduction, set in a world that seems to have gone temporarily off its axis.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Friday, December 24, 2010
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Friday, December 17, 2010
One of the things those of us in Human Resources used to say to employees and managers was, once you learn a new skill or develop an aptitude or live through and grow from a particular difficult experience; these things are now tools in your toolkit and, no matter what, regardless of where you are or what position you find yourself in, you will from here on out carry them with you. Obviously, in that environment, we were referring to knowledge, skills, aptitudes, talents, experiences, abilities, etc., etc. which were mostly work-related.
And, so, we all have tools in our toolkit that pertain to our own professions (or prior professions). We also have tools that are either just an innate part of who we’ve always been, or, tricks we’ve picked up along the way in this game of life. Frankly, I find these a heck of a lot more interesting and fun to discover about people. For instance, you’re at a cocktail party and a person you vaguely know whom you always felt to be somewhat of a stick in the mud and rather boring shocks you by their admission that they play guitar in a grungy rock in roll band. Or, another person who never says “boo” at work cannot be stumped by any quote from a movie; always knowing what movie it was from, which character said it (and to whom) and who the actor was playing the role.
Then, there are folks that you know fairly well who amaze you in your discovery that, outside of your sphere of involvement with them (whether it be work, church, book club or even a good friend or family member) there is something totally unexpected that they either do (sky dive, cater gourmet meals) or can do (play the ukulele, tie a cherry stem in a knot with their tongue).
I woke up this morning, my birthday (the number of years is slightly over the speed limit in a 45 MPH zone), thinking about the tools I have in MY toolkit. Because anyone reading this probably won’t give a rat’s about my professional tools, I’ll leave those out of the list.
· I read Tarot cards/spreads and cast Astrological charts. This is a fun party trick, but, I think a few folks have found these readings/charts helpful during difficult times of their lives.
· I went through a Teaching English as a Second Language certificate program at Duke. I absolutely love coming up with creative lesson plans and teaching individuals who need to be able to function effectively in our country. It’s time consuming, though, so it’s not something I’ve chosen to do as a second career.
· I believe that I can write and that people are usually interested in what I write about. Guess what? If you do a Google search “Microsoft Hearts”, Mrs. B’s Brilliant Blog’s entry about whether or not the game cheats (written by yours truly while in a snit over continually loosing) comes up as #3. Out of 5.6 MILLION results. If you search “Microsoft Hearts Cheat”, the same entry returns at #1 out of just less than a million. Although this is a complete and total fluke, I’m somewhat proud of it!
· I am extremely interested in and consider myself a relative “expert” in these areas:
o The Tudors
o The Wizard of Oz
o The Titanic
This doesn’t necessarily mean much except I can engage in interesting conversation at cocktail parties regailing folks with tid-bits in these areas that they probably didn’t know before!
· I can raise my right eye-brow. I can’t tell you how many times this has come in handy when I’ve wanted to say something not very nice to someone, but couldn’t. This raised eyebrow arch look says it all.
Ok, well, maybe not the most auspicious talents, but, hey, I’m only 47 years old. Who knows what I’ll achieve in the next 50 years! Maybe I’ll finally be able to nail that cherry stem thing.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Every year, it’s the same. I spend quite a bit of my time in the creation of either an informative and interesting (but not too long) Holiday letter OR I comb through the multitude of pictures amassed during the year and design a photo Holiday card with an appropriate quote or quip contained therein. Or, in some years, I’ve done both. Then, I dutifully tromp out to the Post Office to buy a sufficient amount of (non-religious) Holiday stamps; typically Snowmen or other non-threatening (or non-insulting) icons.
I’d say in the past I’ve sent out upwards of 75 of these greetings, knowing full well right off the bat that there will be several that won’t reply in kind:
· Older family members. I cut them some slack, however.
· Certain deadbeat family members and/or friends. They don’t get any slack. After a year of not hearing from them, they came off my list. I have to admit, it does surprise me, year to year, whom I don’t hear back from.
· Jewish friends. I’ve cut them slack in the past but upon thinking of it, why is it that Jewish people cannot send out a Holiday greeting? It doesn’t have to say “Merry Christmas”; it can simply be a letter or a picture or a card with a pretty red cardinal in a snowy tree branch. No more slack to be given.
This year, as I prepared to start “the process”, I have to admit my heart just wasn’t really in to it. It’s not that I don’t have any Holiday spirit, I do, I really do. Case in point, I made a huge batch of Cranberry Liqueur to share with seven lucky recipients. Back before Thanksgiving, I began my Holiday baking and ended up with dozens upon dozens of cookie goodies, including:
· Peppermint Shortbread
· Double Peanut Butter
· Butterscotch Pecan Oatmeal
· Mint Brownies
· Rollo Prezel and Reese’s Pretzel
· Bourbon Pecan Toffee
These I packaged up and shipped out/delivered last week, leaving a sufficient quantity for The Kid’s consumption and to share on Christmas Day.
But, when it came down to it, I just didn’t feel like doing the annual Holiday greeting from the B’s. As I was poking around upstairs in the office, I came across a TON of unused Holiday cards; either leftover from years past or the several different packages of cards I routinely receive from the Humane Society. And, I got to thinking; “Well, let’s do it differently this year”.
So, with the exception of immediate family (who will receive cards I selected for them personally at my local Hallmark), anyone else who receives a greeting from the B’s will receive one of the cards I discovered in our office. Not that there is anything at all wrong with them; they just were not purchased specifically to be sent THIS year.
And, I have another rule, too. I’m not sending a card unless I get a card first. I know, how Scroogie is this, huh? But, seriously, considering how many cards/greetings I typically receive AFTER mine have gone out, I’m fairly certain that others do this exact same thing.
Not counting immediate family, we’ve so far received NINE, which means I have so far sent out NINE. Given we are 13 days away from Christmas, this is a somewhat paltry amount, but, it is what it is.
Oh, and cutsie Holiday stamps? Forget it. I’m using my normal stamps (it just so happens that the Forever stamps now have wintery visions of pinecones and such; it wasn’t planned).
I know Holiday are supposed to be about a lot of things that they never turn out to be about. Like, giving rather than receiving, kindness, being together with family, and, of course, the children. So, maybe I’m being ridiculous with my new stance on Holiday greetings, but, at least I’m not wasting my time, either. I’ve more time to wrap those presents for the children, bake more goodies if I so desire and open up the refrigerator several times a day so I can hear my Snowman in the ‘Fridge telling me to shut the door.
Who says I’ve not got the spirit? It’s just a different approach this year, is all!