Sleep is for the Weak - edited by Rita Arens

    Sleep is for the Weak is a collection of blog entries and essays by some of the most prolific Mommy Bloggers (and one dad.) They are funny, poignant, and true. This book showed up in my Christmas loot and I dove in happily.

    I would have read it in one sitting, but baths are increasingly more and more uncomfortable. It’s a quick read - each entry is shorter than your average People Article - and it is a complete page turner.

    Every topic is covered: sleeping, potty training, the endless advice from the outside world, illness, time management, and personal growth (which “blows”.)

    I’m having a hard time writing a review, here. Because the book is awesome, but it’s not plot driven - unless you consider pages and pages of anecdotal advice to be a plot. There are few recurring characters, and no real sense of time passing.

    Sometimes, however, that’s exactly what you need - little snippets of insight into the lives of other parents so that you know you’re not alone (or will be joining the other side, rather than wandering into the great unknown, as it were.)

    So I’m going to leave it at that. If you’ve got kids or want kids - and regardless of your gender - this book is well worth the read. If only so that you can say “whew! It’s not just me!”

    Also there are a few essays that will make you laugh so hard you cry (for me they were always about poop…) and that alone makes this book well worth the price of admission.


The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

Confession: I am reviewing a book that I am not even a quarter of the way through.

Explanation: it’s a cookbook, so there are a significant amount of recipes so I’m spending a lot of time being either hungry or nauseous while I read (yay pregnancy!) It’s also a primer, so I feel like I should be practicing as I read...which means that this book will take a long time to get through.

Also, it’s from the library and I have hit my “renew” limit because someone else wants to read it. So I’m going to have to buy it.

There’s been a lot of talk about food lately. In the media (mostly related to contamination and food-bourne illness,) in politics (that pesky White House Garden,) hollywood (Julie and Julia, Food, Inc, The Botany of Desire, etc. etc. etc,) and of course - in my kitchen. Husband hates the word “foodie” but it applies. (We say “epicureans.”) We are big fans of Michael Pollan, but this is my first exposure to Alice Waters. Which is a shame because she’s a chef who’s been espousing eating the way I like to eat for roughly as long as I’ve been alive. If you flip the book over to read the blurb on the back you’re met with her fundamental guidelines:

  • Eat locally and sustainably
  • Eat seasonally
  • Shop at Farmer’s Markets
  • Plant A Garden
  • Conserve, compost, and recycle
  • Cook Simply
  • Cook together
  • Eat Together
  • Remember food is precious

Yup. Get Waters and Pollan together on a “this is how our food should be” task force and the commercial food industry will start sleeping with their lights on. As well they should.

Here’s what makes this a compelling read (in addition to being a book full of tasty recipes) is that Waters genuinely loves her subject, and that makes the reader love her subject. You not only want to follow her every instruction, but you want to sit in the kitchen with her and listen as she explains the “why” behind the “how” and demonstrates how to mash garlic just so to bring the clove to its full potential and make your dish that much better.

And then you want to sit around the table with her and relish every bite.

Or maybe I’m just hungry...


Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

I feel like I should say that it took me until I was about a third of the way through the book to figure out that the cover art is ear buds in the shape of people kissing.  I had thought it was some kind of bizarre alien-thing.
Anyway, we’re here to talk about the content, not the cover-art (although the way Hornby likes to overlap music and literature, they might be very much inter-connected in his mind.)
There are three main characters here - Duncan (the Super Fan), Annie (his long-term live-in girlfriend), and Tucker Crowe (a retired, reclusive, singer-songwriter from the 80s...guess who Duncan is a Super Fan of? Right.) The book opens with Duncan and Annie in the middle of the Super Fans’ dream tour of America: venues, the home of a muse, and a pivotal bar bathroom. It’s apparent from the second page that Annie, while a fan herself, is not quite on the same level as Duncan. And because this is a book by Nick Hornby, the astute reader knows that this will lead to some reflection on the state of their relationship.
There is also a good deal of reflection regarding the internet, fan sites, and rumors. Particularly the extent to which Wikipedia can be wrong. One of Hornby’s great feats: taking a thought that has idly wandered through the brain of an ordinary person and turning it into something that can seem - if not profound - then certainly worthy of discussion.
Zing forward and we meet Tucker - a character I found myself being intrigued by.  Like all poets he has the gift of self-reflection, but like so many washed-up has-been’s, he regards himself as a failure in every aspect of his life. Particularly in the realm of fatherhood. It’s not often that a reader is allowed to see the Failed Father from his own perspective. We are allowed to feel sympathy for him because his failure is borne of his own sense of hopelessness and his current situation allows him to try and redeem himself. Characters seeking redemption are hard to hate, no matter how repulsive they may have been in their younger years.
This is the age-old story of taking things you perceive to be true and being forced to re-examine them. I thought many times “I know exactly where this is going to end up, but I like the route we’re taking to get there.”  In fact, I often did not know where the story was going. I did not see the things which - in observing the book as a whole - make it feel like it could be a story being told between friends catching up at a pub. For all we know, that’s where his inspiration could have come from.
Also, it’s written by Nick Hornby, who brought us the greatness of High Fidelity and About a Boy - and who served as the inspiration for this very blog. (See the sidebar on the right.)


The Book Seer

One of my not-book blogs this morning featured a new (to me) site:

The Book Seer

Where you put in the title and author of a book you've enjoyed and it crawls through Amazon, BookArmy, and LibraryThing and recommends what you should read next.

Attempt one: the book I'm currently reading: Tool or Die (I know, I should spread them out more but I can't help myself...)

It gave me nothing (but recommended I ask my librarian, natch) so I entered a classic:

and got a nice list...of books I've already read.

It's bookmarked for the next time I hit a dry spot...in 2012, probably.

It's a cold, chilly weekend here in the Bay Area, perfect for a fire, peppermint cocoa, and a good book, don't you think?

Have a good weekend!


Confession: 13 Books I Should Have Written Full Reviews For...but Didn't

I have been remiss. I've been reading and not reviewing. Not because what I've been reading sucks (please see sidebar) but because I am so scatterbrained I've let myself fall behind.

So, to wrap up - the 13 books that have been on a sticky on my desk for me to review for MONTHS. Seriously. Since the spring.

I've decided mini-reviews are the way to go. Just to give you a taste. All of these are recommended. Trust me.

In alphabetical order:

 Eoin Colfer (who's first name is pronounce "Owen") has taken it upon himself to fill the Very Large Shoes of Douglas Adams and write another installment to the Hitchhiker's Saga. We return to meet all of our good friends as Earth is -yet again - being exploded. Everyone has gone on to lead their own lives and are very surprised to find themselves back together again. Antic ensue. Colfer has captured Adams' voice nicely and the book didn't disappoint me. Of course, I also think that Mos Def and Zooey Deschanel make the best Ford Prefect and Trillian to date, so that tells you my opinion of the state of things. Enjoy!

Ah...Jenny McCarthy. You either love to hate her or hate to love her...or count her among your guilty pleasures. This little memoir (essays, mostly) about her journey through pregnancy is full of pre-vaccine angst and is quite amusing. I haven't felt as cute as she looks, though, and I think I hold that against her. If you find yourself in the family way, this is a fun read (you can do it in an afternoon). If not, then I wouldn't bother. It just won't resonate unless you, too, experience what she's talking about.

The Gears (yes, they're married) are experts in their subject: paleo-indians living right around the end of the last ice age in what is now Canada. It's Young Adult, but don't let that sway you. It's full of archeological tidbits woven into a compelling plot about a civilization on the brink of destruction. There's even some nice tribal warring to spice things up. I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment.

This one should be titled: "A History of Tectonics and the Settling of the West...and a Few Chapters About The Great California Earthquake of April 1906." Dense, rife with information that you missed in High School Earth Science/Geology, this took me a loooooong time to read. But I did read it - cover to cover. And I now feel like I know a little bit more about the ground upon which I live. Even better that currently that ground houses the San Andreas Fault and I have a better understanding of earthquakes. I also have added a few places to my "must travel" list - places where the earth is so new it hasn't even hardened yet. If you're at all nerdy, this is a book you should at least take a stab at.  Good stuff.

Like all of Green's recent novels, this one is about people who are putting their lives back together the best way they know how. There are also nice sub-plots: romance, intrigue, general life-happenings... She gives back story on every  recurring character and that helps make them all the more real. It's a good beach/pool/bedrest book. More interesting than your basic fluff, but not so taxing that you miss what's going on if your poolside beverage is a little boozy.

Read. This. Series. Start with One For The Money and keep going. You've got LOTS to catch up on. With the exception of number 7 (which was great, but certainly not the best) there are guaranteed laugh out loud moments. Murder, mayhem, an ex-ho, an ex-special ops guy who is now a bounty hunter, a cop who makes everyone drool (in a good way) and generally pathetic criminals...what's not to like? Oh, and did I mention the crazy grandmother whose favorite passtime is going to funerals? It's a recipe for delightful. Trust me.

This one addresses my love of what realtors refer to as "The Handyman Special." The title refers to a family house that has been allowed to fall into disrepair...it also refers to the woman who's going to fix it. She's just been the unwitting pawn in a gigantic financial scandal and she flees home with her tail between her legs. She's got romance trouble, family trouble, financial trouble, and a giant decripit house- complete with a cantankerous old sqautter - buried deep in the South where people want to know who your "people" (relatives) are before they want to know anything else about you. I read this one by the pool in Vegas (ok, in the bath, but by the pool sounds much better) and then I was sad that I read it too quickly. Andrews delivers exactly what you're looking for: a feel good book with just the right amount of suspense, intrigue, and home-repair/antiquing tips.

Ah...the Mommy Memoir. I picked this one up based on a recommendation from my Aunt and the title. Because it's true. As with Belly Laughs, though, if you're not a mom/parent I'm not sure it would resonate with you. If you are, however, it's a fun little afternoon on the couch book. Interesting tidbit: Kogan's son plays young(est) Spock in the new Star Trek. He's very good for the five and a half minutes he's onscreen. Well, done! Also - I love that she whips around town with her kids on her Vespa. She's lived all over the world and she's not afraid of a little traffic. It's inspiring.

When I was seven or so, I was home sick from school one day and my mom brought me this book. Twenty (or so) years later, I still pull it out to read whenever I'm not feeling well. Morning sickness that lasts for months on end counts. It's a fairy tale - but this princess is not one dreamed up by Disney. She's quite plain looking and she has a distinct awkward phase, but she's full of moxie and isn't afraid to stand up to her parents when they decide that a dragon being allowed to lay waste to the countryside is the only way to marry her off. Finally, a princess I could relate to! Obviously this book is awesome because I have it memorized and still read it from time to time. You will, too. Especially if there's a seven year old girl who secretly wants to be a rebellious princess living inside you.

Why this book has been banned I will NEVER understand. It's got math, grammar, moral lessons...AND a talking dog with a clock in his side. I will be reading this one to my kids when the time comes. Assuming they don't mistake it for homework and grow bored with it on principle, that is.

Yes, they keep writing more of these. It's still Christmas, they're still in St bath's, and someone is still trying to off our Heroine. I'll admit that I was shocked at who the culprit was, but I'm not giving it away. The books are significantly better than the lame web-series they put together. Save your five-minutes-at-a-time streaming attention span and READ these instead. You'll be much, much happier. These are for the Seventeen year old girl who secretly wants to be a rebellious princess living inside you.

The last in the Ivy League/Secret Society Girl series. And still very good. Start with Secret Society Girl and work your way through.  They're based at a very poorly disguised Yale (Eli University) and follow the senior year of the first group of girls admitted to the exclusive Rose and Grave Secret Society. Antics, near-death experiences, love-affairs...the stuff good summer reading is made of.

This is not the first in the series. I read it anyway - having read not one word of Alexander's work before. I was not disappointed. A murder mystery set in the late 1800s, told from the perspective of a female amateur detective (in this book she is on her honeymoon, having recently married a professional detective.) They are, of course, wealthy and connected. They are, of course, eventually wanted dead - but that doesn't happen until after they try to solve a murder that has taken place in the Sultan's palace. Yup. There's a Sultan involved. I may have to start at the beginning with these and see where they lead me.

So there you have it. Thirteen VERY late reviews.

Happy Reading!


The Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl

I feel, in the spirit of full disclosure, that I should admit how much I adore Roald Dahl. He’s dry and witty, his writing is tight. His plots have morals without sugar-coating the immorality of (often) more than half of the characters...and even his heroes aren’t always clear-cut Good Guys.

Take Mr. Fox. He’s a thief. Yes, he’s stealing to feed his family, and he’s a fox so it’s assumed that that’s what he’d do...but he’s still a thief. And when it’s pointed out to him he rationalizes that it’s the only way to feed his family. It’s steal or starve to death. And after all, the people from whom they are stealing are three Very Bad Men, so it’s really not harmful.

And that’s the gist of it, really: three awful farmers (and to hear Dahl tell it it’s amazing they manage to have farms, employees, and spouses) get fed up with the fox stealing from them nightly and set out to do something about it. Namely: kill the fox. They chase Mr. Fox into his hole with his family and, when shooting and digging prove not clever enough, decide to starve him out.

I won’t tell you how it ends, except to remind you of the title of the book. It’s a little chapter book, it would take barely an afternoon for an adult to read, but could be spread out over a week for a young reader. I wouldn’t hold back from giving this to your kids to read, either. Certainly before the movie comes out. Dahl doesn’t sugar coat things, but he doesn’t discount virtue, either. It’s a worthy read.

Wes Anderson loves it so much that he’s written a screenplay and directed a stop-action film based on the book. From the trailer and the interview it appears that he’s given more story to the story, but that’s to be expected: a direct cinematic translation would be either full length and boring or thirty minutes and interesting. Staying true to Dahl’s vision is the trick, but I feel if anyone, Anderson is the man for the job.

Interview here:  
(there’s also an amusing anecdote regarding Anderson’s desire to shoot a sci-fi space movie on location at the end)

And Trailer:

Mallets Aforethought by Sarah Graves

I warned you that I was picking up the next one in the series to see if I was right about the foreshadowing.

And without spoiling too much: I was and I wasn’t. That particular plot involved Jemmy, Jacobia’s old partner-in-”crime” who has been in hiding from the mob since book one. It has always been a B-plot and remains so in this book, which I found disappointing. I enjoy Jemmy when he makes the rare appearance and would love to have seen this character fleshed out even more - not to mention the insight we get into Jake’s previous life as a slightly shady investment tycoon. Luckily, there are several more books just waiting to be read and maybe he’ll pop back up now and again.

Graves doesn’t waste any time mucking about with catching the reader up on what happened between the last book and this one - by page two you know that Ellie is pregnant (I know - that’s a spoiler, but it’s page two. I promise not to spoil anything else.) The historical society is restoring a house that was once in the possession of Ellie’s family, but hasn’t been for at least a generation and is now falling apart. Ellie and Jake, perpetually curious, have found a hidden room and not one, but two dead bodies. One of them is very fresh and is the much-reviled president of the Historical Society, and the other appears to have been killed in the twenties right before the room was sealed off.

The most unfortunate part of all of this is that said Historical Society President is discovered dead mere days after Ellie’s husband, George, was seen by more than half the town in a local bar, drunkenly ranting about how much he’d like to see the other man dead. Apparently this puts George at the top of a long list of possible suspects, but his refusal to give an alibi coupled with the fact that Bob Arnold (our beloved local law enforcement) is out of town lands George in the clink.

As I read through the book (one which I could not put down) I was struck time and time again by how much improved Graves’s writing has become. She hasn’t lost her voice, by any means. But her prose is tighter, her plots layered and interesting enough that - while you may have an inkling - you never quite know if what you suspect will turn out to be the way it happened. Also, because she knows her characters as well as most people know their close friends and family, their actions become more fluid and when they drop in and out of the story it’s with an ease that only comes from years of familiarity (both in real life and on the page.)

Have I mentioned how glad I am that I am so far behind? If you’re just picking these up (start with Dead Cat Bounce, please and go from there) I am jealous that you are getting to read them for the first time.


Unhinged by Sarah Graves

*Note - I read Wreck the Halls in the spring during my bed-rest...it was really good but I dropped the ball and didn’t review it and now I’ve read the next one and so that ship has sailed. But let me say this - it was really good. I read it in a single afternoon, which is easy to do when getting out of bed is a Bad Idea and you just can’t sleep anymore.

Unhinged opens as so many mysteries do: with a missing person and a home-repair nightmare. Ok, not all mysteries have home repair nightmares, but Sarah Graves’ do and that’s part of their charm. The other part is her characters: Jacobia, who is afraid of heights and sometimes clumsy but who insists on going up the ladder herself. Ellie who dresses like an extra from Dumbo’s circus but is unfailingly loyal and intuitive and bull-headed when necessary. In addition to the rest of the crew we’re coming to like (I’ll admit it...I’m even starting to like Victor when I’m not rolling my eyes at him) we meet a few new characters in this installment: all of whom are potentially murder suspects.

It’s nice and juicy. There’s a little bit of gossip, a little bit of romance, some explosions, some suspense...all the good stuff is there. Even home repair tips, although the recurring theme in Unhinged is to hire a professional because some things go beyond what mere mortals can accomplish without dragging an entire house down with you.

The book reads (again) like a love-letter to Eastport, Maine. I’m not complaining...but every time I read about the hijinks gotten into by Jake, Ellie, et al, Maine moves a little higher on my must-visit list.

I do like that while Jake and Ellie are well-known around town for snooping into shady events and often getting themselves completely embroiled in them, that it’s not always someone they know who is the victim. Because in some series you just think “Man, you sure are a magnet for murder. I’m glad I don’t know you in real life!”

By the end of Unhinged I found myself being rather moved - emotionally - by the events that were unfolding. There was just enough suspense and grit without a complete unravelling that you get caught up in the events...and by this stage of the game it’s entirely possible to forget that these characters we are beginning to know so well are imaginary so their fates feel just that much more important. I was satisfied by the ending, and am not going to hesitate skip a few books in the TBR stack to move straight on to the next one...mostly because I suspect some foreshadowing in the last chapter and I want to know if I’m right.

Have you started reading these yet? Catch up!


The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman

If you’re not familiar with Alice Hoffman, it’s time to rectify that. And please don’t judge her based on the film adaptation of Practical Magic, because as chicky and fun as that movie was, it felt like a huge divergence from what had been put on the page...and as such, the movie was lacking.

    Her latest novel is so enticing and haunting that I could barely put it down. It surrounds the lives of three sisters, Elv, Meg, and Claire Story, from their early teen years into adulthood. Some of Hoffman’s recurring themes pop up yet again as welcome as old friends. Their mother has a garden in which they spend a lot of their time, they talk about the color of the light and the scents on the air and each other...they are tuned in to what gets lost too often during a busy adult life.

    Elv, the oldest, has created a fantasy world that the girls live in for a while. It sprung up suddenly and out of nowhere on what Elv and Claire refer to as “The Bad Day” - a day that Meg was thankfully absent from, but which defined all of their lives nonetheless. They all grow up in its shadow (even Meg and their mother, from whom Elv and Claire keep the day a secret) and it effects each in her own way. Elv becomes more reckless and frantic, Claire blames herself and turns inward, Meg feels more and more alienated until ultimately she can no longer relate to either of her sisters. Their mother watches helplessly as her girls grow up and away - because she does not know what happened, she cannot begin to help them heal.

    Details unfold as new friends and boyfriends enter their lives through the stories they tell each other. Stories that are interlaced with magic (dresses made by hand that glow with moonlight, fairies, demons) and superstition. Generations of women come together to help the girls find their way, bringing with them their own superstitions and intentions.

    I read this in the course of a few days and noticed as my perception changed: at first Elv was remarkable and untouchable, Claire was delicate, and Meg was certain to be the voice of reason who snapped them all out of it. But, as happens too often in real life, things spiral out of control and the unexpected becomes routine. By the end I found myself wondering what would happen had I been their mother: would I have known instinctually that very evening that a life altering Bad Day had occurred? Would I know what to do if the lives of my children splintered in a way I’d never imagined? Would I be able - as their mother is - to ask for help? I would venture to say that those who have watched someone unravel will find this book resonating more than those who do not have that experience to draw on. Either way, it’s a book that you can open up and fall into. Hoffman creates worlds we’d all like to walk through now and then, and The Story Sisters is no exception.


The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

     Let me just start by saying that Sarah Vowell is ridiculously smart. She’s also funny, engaging, and charming. I would love to be able to claim that I came to know her  - and by “know her” I mean recognize her name as a smarty-pants author/editor/NPR voice- through, well, those very things. But no. The first thing I think of when I hear “Sarah Vowell” (or her distinct voice) is Violet Parr. You know who she is:

Right. So then I realized that as a regular NPR listener I knew who she was. And a few years ago my mom read (and recommends) Assassination Vacation...so when I heard that this witty woman had tackled one of my favorite subjects I had to add it to my To Be Read List.

What subject is that, you ask? Why, it’s the Puritans and the settling of the colonies, of course! The Wordy Shipmates takes place primarily in the 1630s with the emigration from England of the Arbella and it’s passengers ultimate settling of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (You know that as Boston) and the strife therein. After all, they are Puritans. The government they set up was certainly religion-based, with the laws equating to the ten commandments...which is all well and good when you’re up against a murderer or a thief, but not so good when you’re up against someone who’s committing blasphemy, which often led to banishment. And Rhode Island. That’s right, Vowell covers not just Boston, but Rhode Island as well.

There is also the question of The Natives. Keeping in mind that this particular story takes place almost twenty years after the Pilgrims and their Thanksgiving, as well as the fact that the new Puritans feel that the Small Pox outbreak cleansed the land and left it wide open for their settlement...and you end up with a lot of blood soaking the ground. But I won’t spoil it. Vowell’s rendition reads like a series of gang wars, only with cannons and wigwams.

Overall, the only thing I can think of that would have made this book better would have been a timeline at the back I could refer to, as Vowell bounces back and forth a little bit to keep the narrative of the particular situation fluid. I want to gift this to anyone who is currently studying United States History in school because it’s infinitely more interesting than any history text I ever encountered.

But you don’t have to take my word for it... she's very convincing on The Daily Show.


The Color of Law by Mark Giminez

    It is no secret from the moment you crack the cover on this book that it was inspired by To Kill a Mockingbird. As far as inspiration for a debut novel goes, one could do significantly worse than the illustrious Harper Lee.  Giminez, himself a lawyer, has set this modern-day Lawyer’s tale in Dallas...Murder Mystery + Dallas = Win in my book. Add to that equation fully rounded characters (not all of them likable), a thought-out plot with a nice set of curves, and a working knowledge of the law and you get what appears to be the recipe for a Very Good Read.

    And it is a Very Good Read. A. Scott Fenney (two guesses what the “A” stands for...and his daughter is called Boo…) is a hot shot young attorney working for a snazzy law firm in a downtown Dallas skyscraper. He over bills his clients, eats and works out in exclusive clubs, lives in Highland Park (think Beverly Hills but with really old money and even more of a superiority complex), and regularly trades on the fact that he was - at one point - a football star for Southern Methodist University. He pulled himself up by his bootstraps and never looked back.

    And then...the son of the next Presidential Hopeful candidate is murdered one night. He’s home from Washington for the weekend (he likes to do his whoring in Highland Park where the family’s deep pockets have some sway) and the circumstances surrounding his death could prove fatal to a presidential campaign. He was with a black hooker...and it turns out he has a history of abuse.

    In a case of what can only be Very Bad Timing (or Very Good Timing depending on how you look at it) Fenney is giving a speech on the virtues of being Atticus Finch to a group of lawyers and local judges - one of whom decides that he has finally found a decent lawyer and assigns Fenney to the Defense of the poor (heroin-addicted) black woman who is charged with the murder of the Senator’s Son.

    Yes, Giminez wades through predictable racial (and neighborhood) stereotypes to try and prove his point - that the color of law isn’t black or white anymore: it’s green. He often falls flat, but the growth of the character alone is worth the read. And did I mention the curves? This plot has curves. Because what do you do when you’re abandoned by the very people who forced you into the situation to begin with? You re-examine. And you regroup...and if you’re A. Scott Fenney, you stick to your guns and make your six-year-old daughter (who is a much more interesting character than your wife, by the way) proud, regardless of the outcome of a very stacked trial.


Before It's Too Late

Read Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin.

Actually. Read EVERYTHING by Ira Levin.

Trust me.

Then see Rosemary's Baby with the incomparable Ruth Gordon. Realize that the book is better but the movie is still awesome.

And then cross your fingers and pray to whatever God you believe in that Michael Bay's remake either dies a quiet death or is so awesome that it makes the book look like crap. OR that he realizes NO ONE can be Ruth Gordon except Ruth Gordon so he decides to adapt Son Of Rosemary, since Ira Levin already went there.


The Devil's Kiss by Sarwat Chadda

I read this one months ago and it still stays with me. One could almost say that it’s haunting. Not that it gave me nightmares, but for those prone to it -- I can see nightmares occurring.  I read it in an afternoon because I couldn’t put it down. It’s purported to be for ages 13 and up, but a movie based on the book would either be very watered down or rated R for the violence.

Billi (aged fifteen) is the only daughter of one of the few remaining members of the Knight’s Templar. If you’re unfamiliar with this groups of Catholic Knights (some say they are sacred protectors of the people, others call them vigilantes) I suggest doing a little independent research. If nothing else, it’s a fascinating group of men who have spent history getting the short end of a very dangerous stick. Billi is being inducted as the book opens; there is no question that the existing members aren’t fond of the idea of a girl joining their ranks. In the grand scheme of things, though, this is a minor obstacle for her.

I picked up a lot of Joss Whedon undertones while reading this - if Whedon were a hard-core Catholic with an extensive knowledge of lore and mythology: a barely pubescent girl with a destiny forced to give up her own life pursuits (boys, normal school life, a decent night’s sleep) in order to fight vampires, werewolves, demons, and fallen angels. She is well-schooled in martial arts (although they admit it’s less formal and more street-fighting,) church history, and a fair amount of what would be considered witchcraft were it not sanctioned by the Church.

The Knight’s are, of course, a very deeply kept secret. Tour guides take groups through London and stop in front of the church where the Templar’s “used” to meet before they were “disbanded” - this fact coupled with impending doom add an urgency to the tale as it spins out: save the world, but no one can know you did it. Billi finds help in unlikely places, while being surrounded with the sacrifices that matter but which are rarely required of anyone in the modern age...and this is a modern book. It might deal with lore that is thousands of years old, but Billi lives in modern London where the souls of man are in as dire a need as they were centuries ago.

A coming of age tale meant for those who can take the idea that the things going bump in the night might actually exist...and that the organizations we do or do not look to for protection are also the same ones who are being manipulated to harm us, I feel it should be a must-read. Regardless of your age or religious affiliation this is a book that will make you rethink what you’ve long assumed...and even if you’re not left wondering what else the Church is hiding, you’ve certainly enjoyed the story.


Worth Reading

I couldn't get into Tropic Of Cancer. It's stream of consciousness and I think my pregnancy-addled brain just can't take it right now. Also, it's calling up all sorts of "Portrait of the Artist of a Young Man" unpleasantness.... I'm far enough in to understand why it was banned/challenged, but that's not why I'm putting it down (temporarily.) I will come back to it later because the narrative is truly interesting. But stream of consciousness at a time when my own train of thought is easily and frequently derailed...no bueno.

I do want to point you here, though - certainly worth reading. Especially if you are, like me, a fan of libraries, controversial topics (gay marriage), and children's books.


I'm also adding that blog as a permalink on the right side of this blog.

Happy October!


Sucks to be Me by Kimberly Pauley

The subtitle reads: The ALL-TRUE confessions of Mina Hamilton, Teen Vampire ^maybe. And you think “not another teen vampire novel! Argh!” But then you pick it up and flip it over to read the back because you just can’t help yourself.  What you’re awarded with is a top five list of the reasons Mina thinks it sucks to be her. Starting with “bloodsucking vampire freaks” and ending with “please don’t read this book. It’s just embarrassing.” And then you think “Sure. This could be good beach reading.”

Then you’d read it and be glad you did. The American Library Association has awarded this tasty little morsel it’s “Reluctant Reader Selection” approval. I whole-heartedly agree. Pauley allowed her main character to tell her story with an honest voice. Seventeen-year-old slang doesn’t always age well, but it sure is fun to read. I had a few spit-takes during Mina’s confession and even recognized some of her angst because it’s universal: prom, friends, secrets, trying to talk to cute boys.

Mina’s parents are “accidental vampires” who’ve been raising Mina in as normal a household as possible. Until the council finds out that she exists...and that she knows about her parents. They (the way all councils seems to) decide that this isn’t acceptable and Mina either has to turn herself or suffer consequences. In this case, the consequence isn’t death, but to a seventeen year old girl it’s just as bad: never see or talk to her parents again. So she embarks on her quest for knowledge. This includes vampire classes (the council wants everyone to know what they’re getting into so they can make an informed decision) with a group of kids she’d normally not socialize with and an overly helpful (and very weird) Uncle as a mentor. The ending is a bit of a forgone conclusion, but getting there is a lot of fun.

It’s a debut novel, and we all know how I feel about stumbling onto a debut novel before more have been written. Sweet, sweet agony. Luckily, there’s a sequel in the works. I’ll be reading it.


Happy Banned Book Week!

In honor of this week I have two goals.

1: Update this blog. I have a list of at least a dozen books that I've read that haven't gotten reviewed. Luckily I also have detailed notes.

2: Read at least one Banned Book. Specifically: Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller. Also, Gossip Girl is one of the most challenged of 2009...but I'm all caught up on those.

What are you reading that's causing an uproar? What have you seen on the list and said "WTF? That book was AWESOME?"

BTW - Philip Pullmans' His Dark Materials Trilogy is so much better than that first movie. In so many ways. If you haven't yet, I say Dive In.


Reader Recommendation: Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

Matilda Cook lives in Philadelphia when it was the nation’s capital and home to an historic epidemic: Yellow Fever. In a time when basic hygiene included weekly baths and deciding if a dead mouse is worse thrown onto high street or into the back garden. Water came from wells, the outhouse was referred to as “The Necessary” and the best way to rid someone of “pestilence” was to bleed them. You read that right. BLEED THEM. Historically accurate, yes, but appalling nonetheless.

I read this book in a single day. I couldn’t put it down. I was moved to tears at points and at others found myself truly pulling for the characters whose basic personality traits made them feel already familiar from the first page.

Like any good Historical Fiction writer, Anderson did her research and imbued the novel with it. Historical figures were sprinkled in amongst the imagined characters, and the geography of Philadelphia and the surrounding towns was portrayed accurately enough that the reader can follow Mattie through town without getting lost. The facts of the fever, the panic, and the restoration are outlined in an appendix at the back of the book. The charity group of freed slaves is one of the unsung heros of this tragedy: while the rest of society turned its collective back on the infected (to the point that some who might have lived starved to death instead) The Free African Society rolled up their sleeves and went to work.

As I read, I drew parallels between the fear of Yellow Fever in the book and the fear of various modern diseases now (SARS and H1N1, most notably) and the way people react. If an epidemic were to sweep through the countries most dense cities now, would we react the way the Philadelphians did? Would we barricade ourselves in our houses and send our children to the country? Would help be available and would it come in time? So much has advanced in the past two hundred years, but so much has stayed the same.

When the first signs of Yellow Fever were popping up, life outside of it went on - Mattie helped her widowed mother, grandfather, and their servant Eliza (A freed African Woman) run the family coffeehouse. She sucked on hard candy and flirted with boys at the market. But as the tragedy got closer and closer to home (literally, as it moved inland from the river) life slowly changed. As the panic and illness spread, Mattie is forced to grow up and becomes a very good example of what a young lady can do when she puts her mind to it.

I would not be surprised to see this book turn up on curriculum lists alongside Johnny Tremain - it would do our young girls a great service to know that not just young men helped make this country what it is. That even in a time when girls needed a decent dowry and husband to be considered worth much (and even still needed to produce more boys) these same girls were also truly inspirational.


Coraline, by Neil Gaiman...vs. Coraline screenplay and direction by Henry Selick

Ok - first, a common misconception - Tim Burton had nothing to do with this movie...except probably he was at the premier and watched it because the team who did do this movie worked with him on The Nightmare Before Christmas.

I'm just going to post up the trailer instead of writing an overview because it'll pretty much cover that.

Now, a little book vs. movie.

The book is excellent. It's short and readable in a few hours for most adults. Children could take a few days depending on their willingness to put it down and do important other things like going to sleep. It's not illustrated, but Coraline's blue hair is described in great detail, as is her love of colorful fun clothes and her obvious boredom in their new flat. The book skips a lot of development for the secondary characters and dives straight into the main plot of the book: looking for excitement and attention from the distracted adults around her, Coraline goes looking for adventured and finds herself wooed by the Other Mother and Father. She quickly finds herself sucked in, and then trapped, and then in a game with the Other Mother to win back her life and the spirits of three lost children she meets in the Other House. It's suspenseful and creepy and a page turner. A must-read.

The movie is better. It is film-adaptation at its best. Selick took an already amazing piece of fiction and fleshed it out. It was already a stage musical, so I really can't be sure how much of the difference is attributed to Selick and how much to the stage scriptwriters -- but I do know that the movie is the darkest version of the three (book, stage, film) and that can be directly attributed to Selick.

The secondary characters have larger parts to play - presumably so that the audience is aware of just how different the Real World is from the Other World. Wybie is completely created for a viewing audience (not sure if he's in the play) - neither he nor his grandmother appear in the book. Sometimes, the addition of a random new character feels random. In this case, however, he's someone Coraline's own age that she can relate to, and he gives back story that is missing from the book. When he shows up in the Other World...well that just adds to the scariness and suspense. The voice of the cat (Keith David) is perfect. Indescribably so. Actually, all of the casting is spot-on.

Two notes about the film that are not plot/character related, but which add to the overall atmosphere:

First, the music. In addition to a catchy little song by They Might Be Giants (who originally wrote songs for the entire movie, but when the tone turned away from the Musical and became darker and (I presume) truer to the book they only used one) Selick retained the talents of a Hungarian children’s choir to sing the background music. It’s chilling and haunting and perfection.

Second: the film is also entirely stop-motion. They made use of puppets and sets and filmed the entire thing in 3D. If you have the opportunity, that is the way to see it. (I’ve seen both 3D and flat.) The use of models and puppets over straight CGI adds a dimension of “reality” that -yes- adds to the creepiness.

Pick a drizzly, cold day to read the book. And then wait for a drizzly cold night and watch the movie. I guarantee chills.


(click enter site and it'll take you there)


Cracks by Sheila Kohler

I picked this book up because of a short piece in Vanity Fair in which it is described as The Children’s Hour meets Lord of the Flies. I haven’t read The Children’s Hour, but I have read Lord of the Flies. So given that comparison along with a few other tidbits that appeal to me - I checked it out from the library.

I was not disappointed. Kohler uses the first person plural to narrate the memories of a group of women who were on the swim team of their boarding school together many years ago. This viewpoint, which includes the author as one of the fictional swimmers, removes guilt from a single person and lends their feelings - jealousy, eagerness, shyness, enthusiasm, competitiveness, lust - a degree of credibility. It’s almost as if by speaking for the group rather than the individual it becomes alright for the reader to accept as fact what might otherwise be colored by the time between then and now. It also helps that young teenage girls are cliquey and vicious.

Kohler’s gift for description - both of how the school appeared as they were girls and how it has changed in the decades since - brings South Africa to life. The way that people talk about New York City being a character in movies and tv shows, Kohler has made South Africa a character in her novel. The drought that stretches through the narrative is almost tactile. This “character” - the drought - actually heightens the sympathy the reader has for the girls and their situation. They have a teacher - also their swim coach - for whom they all want to be the teachers pet. The heat, the water rationing, the dust...and the New Girl, Fiamma...it all serves to feed their madness. (Come on - there’s a Lord of the Flies reference, you knew there would be madness.)

This teacher, Miss G., on whom the girls have “Cracks” (crushes) is, in fact, the least sympathetic character in the book. She spews out repetitive speeches during late-night “Team meetings” about letting go of inhibitions and embracing your emotions...it all has an air of Venus Fly Trap about it. And it’s no wonder that things go awry.

I read this book quickly - it is well written and engaging and I needed to know what happened...and when it was over, I closed it, looked at my visiting mother, and said “Well. That was disturbing.” Hauntingly so. But I do look forward to the film of the same name, which will be out at the end of the year.


Private on Teen.com

Trailer...and it's a web series, which I <3 even more. Is it bad that I'm 31 and my favorite thing to watch is the drama of 17 year olds?


Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern

[ed note: the cover of my galley copy is not nearly this cute.]

This release (available in October) says that it’s appropriate for ages 13 and up. I’m gonna bump that to 14. High School Freshmen. Because while it is engaging and funny and endearing and relatable -- there is adult language and some adult situations that these 14 and 15 year olds find themselves in. Just sayin’.

Jessie, our heroine and narrator, is looking forward to the start of the school year. She has two best friends, an older brother who is part of the Cool Punk Scene, and a nice back-stock of funny/irreverent skirts that she has spent all summer making because she is - and I quote - “A fan of funny clothing.” She makes these cute little ironic skirts while listening to audio books about doom and death (Stephen King, and a few post-apocalyptic numbers) and she is looking forward to adding pre-calculus homework and girls nights to these two activities.

Of course - if things worked out that way we’d all be bored. So, as with all good coming of age novels, Things Go Wrong. Her “best friends” turn up “punk” overnight and start to obviously use her. There is even The Biggest Girlfriend Transgression a 15 year old can commit (I don’t want to give it away because it’s a major plot point, but I’m sure you can guess.) It quickly becomes clear to Jessie that these girls are not her friends. Or, at the very least, they’re not people she wants to be friends with any more.

So Jessie starts out on what my English professors always called a “Rite of Passage” - trying to find her own identity while keeping her own humorous outlook on the world - and come to terms with the fact that her Cool Punk Brother is doing the same thing - and she starts to socialize with other groups of new people. She also - gasp - starts to see her family in a new light.

Halpern (who works as a school librarian for the very age group this book is targeted at) has the vernacular down. Will it seem dated in 10-15 years? I hope not. Or if it does, I hope it’s dated in a Judy Blume way...where you don’t really notice because the story is so darn good and you know Exactly How Jessie Feels. Because I think a lot of girls do. And will, once they read this. She’s certainly a unique character (audio books and funny skirts, anyone?) but she’s also a recognizable one. Even for us girls who are twice her age.

[ps - I think that this would even be a good read for moms...she might just be this generation's Judy Blume. So pick it up and understand your daughter that much better.]


The Rights of the Reader by Daniel Pennac

Pennac is a very well-respected and popular French author. This book, which I read translated into English but which retains its French flair, focuses on the journey one takes from being an avid reader of picture books through being a student who reads only because it is required but will otherwise avoid it at all costs, to the adult who may or may not have returned to reading...and what parents and teachers can do about it. I’m not sure how to summarize, or even chat about it more without just quoting bits of it. Not that this is a bad thing. It’s a quick read, but neither my library nor my local megabook emporium had a copy on hand, so I picked it up off of Amazon and I like that it has a place on my shelf.

I did hijack a quote and have put it on my facebook profile...particularly because it appeals to me not just as a former interior designer (the skill and desire are there, I just haven’t practiced outside of my home since we moved) and an aspiring novelist (desire and practice...but maybe not skill? That remains to be seen.)

“We human beings build houses because we’re alive, but we write books because we’re mortal.” (this is where I ended my quote. His next sentence reads: “We live in groups because we’re sociable but we read because we know we’re alone.” Also applicable to my life, but not nearly as inspiring, no?)

I don’t normally pull from the back of the book, but his Rights of the Reader are printed right there for all the world. So I will reprint them here:

1) The right not to read.
2) The right to skip.
3) The right not to finish a book.
4) The right to read it again.
5) The right not to read anything.
6) The right to mistake a book for real life.
7) The right to read anywhere.
8) The right to dip in.
9) The right to read out loud.
10) The right to be quiet.

And there you have it. Read the whole book, though. Teachers, parents, people who interact with hesitant readers...this is good for all of them. And it’s illustrated by Quentin Blake, which is a bonus in my eyes.


Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

I re-read this (and some other) classic children’s books during my two months “bed rest” and I enjoyed it. To clarify before you start jumping to conclusions - I just read this one, and not Through The Looking Glass, which came next and had the Jabberwocky in it.

Alice starts off being spectacularly bored by her older sister, as any child would be on a beautiful afternoon when there are more interesting things to do than read a book...so she drifts off for a minute until she is startled awake by the White Rabbit. I’m going to assume you know the story. Everyone does.

It’s not surprising that as I read I heard the soft voice and saw the cartoony characters that Disney put on the screen decades ago. And then I realized something when I was about halfway through the book…it had been Disneyfied! Lewis Carroll was on (HAD to have been, but I haven’t done the research. Forgive me) drugs. Opium, maybe? The caterpillar was. And it’s the only way to explain the baby turning into a pig (left out by Disney.)

I was also struck by how RUDE all of the adults were and how creepy everyone else was. I’ve had some weird dreams lately (yay hormones) but Wonderland puts them all the shame. Which is why the reader is never quite sure if Alice dreams it all or if it actually happens - which is one of the common threads I’ve found in the books that last: where the author decides that the reader is smart enough to figure it out.

That doesn’t mean that this book isn’t dated, because it is. Who curtseys anymore, when they’re not meeting the queen? The language and the lessons place it squarely in the place and time in which it was written, but that only adds to the magic and mystery of Wonderland. A lost little girl speaking a language that sounds like English but which isn’t as familiar as our own English encountering people who in turn are speaking an even less sensical version of the language. If you think too hard on it your brain might turn to mush.

It’s a short little book, and filled with lovely woodblock illustrations - I do recommend reading it before heading to the theatre to see the Tim Burton version. Relying on Disney as the yardstick against which to measure it...well, that will only leave you wanting.

Click here for the trailer of what could be the best possible cinematic interpretation.

This is only slightly related to the book, it's more of a family drama in which wonderland plays a role, but I watched it and I feel that everyone should.


Second Nature by Michael Pollan

As a new gardener (seriously - aside from a few failed indoor window-pot plants, this is my first foray into the world of growing things) I picked up this memoir with the hopes that it would offer insight, sympathy, and the occasional Thing That Makes You Go Hm… I got all three. And some laughs.

Pollan begins his story where all memoirs begin: with childhood struggle. This struggle takes place between his father (who is happy to let the lawn go longer than he should) and his grandfather (who trucks to their house not only his own rosebushes but also his own soil.) It grows to encompass his own struggle with what is generally acceptable in suburban society against what he finds aesthetically pleasing and what still falls under the rigid guidelines set up by his grandfather.

He settles, with his wife, eventually in an old Connecticut dairy farm with offices above the detached garage and a rambling sprawling back yard - quickly being reclaimed by second-growth forests. He tells of his own trials and obsessions, his experiments, his failures...his first garden as an “adult” which falls desperately short in the eyes of the one man he’s trying to impress with it (his grandfather)...his attempts to get rid of a woodchuck (and since it’s on the back cover I’m not going to hesitate to tell you: he fire bombs its hole)...he vacillates between the Naturalists romantic view that the only beauty is natural beauty and anything “artificial” is forced and garish and the idea the you can bend the earth to your will, if only you have the knowledge to make it pliable.

He does inspire, in the midst of his pontificating, and I found myself perusing seed offerings online and making sketches of what the back garden could be if only I have the power to make it so.

Pollan winds up striking a nice balance within his garden life - the book is broken up into four sections for each season, but spans from childhood until it went to the editor so we get a nice umbrella view - somewhere between the complete lack of interest shown by his father and the iron (if also VERY green) fist of his grandfather...with emphasis the entire journey on how man interacts with nature: what is a “Weed” and what makes something “invasive” and if we were all gone tomorrow, what would nature do? The result is a garden in which I wouldn’t mind meandering...especially if at the end I got to sit down with Pollan and exchange ideas on the proliferation of pumpkins.

Ultimately, the idea that the reader is left with can be boiled down to one little quote: “A lawn is nature under totalitarian rule,” he says. And there you have it.


Repair to Her Grave, by Sarah Graves

If you remove the relative abundance of death from this installment of the Home Repair is Homicide series...what you are left with is very nearly a Cozy Mystery. Nearly. It all starts out simply enough: it’s summer in Eastport, which means it’s time for some projects around the house. Add in a wall that won’t stay plastered, a son spending his last summer before college getting SCUBA certified and diving for treasure, an ex-husband who is still painfully aware that the only reason he’s not still incarcerated is because of his ex-wife, a best friend/next door neighbor who will happily help with anything you need, an upcoming meeting of the Eastport Ladies Society (in Jake’s home, no less), and an unexpected houseguest...and you’ve got the start for a very interesting few months.

But you can’t forget the ghost. The one that has vaguely haunted the house since Jacobia moved in. The one whose every action can be explained by a draft or something equally innocuous. The ghost who is supposed to be the original owner of the house - a famous violinist who disappeared over a hundred years ago, leaving behind a handful of compositions and a minor mystery: a stradivarius... The ghost who is the reason for this new houseguest (who shows up humming one of the tunes that Sam unearthed in that last book.)

So of course people are falling off cliffs. Falling? Or being pushed? And because of the water, their bodies aren’t being found. There is lots of local turmoil as tourist season kicks into high gear (Lobster Festival, anyone?) amidst these unfortunate accidents. People are coming and going and it’s hard to keep track of just who might be sinister and who is merely odd...until, of course, it isn’t anymore.

Graves has a gift, people. I keep eeking these out so I don’t run out of new installments. They are multi-layered and filled with real-life drama - in addition, of course, to the amateur sleuthing that’s always going on. Graves acknowledges situations that other (lesser) writers take for granted: of course the small town would talk about how Jake and Ellie are almost better at solving murders than the police are. Of course life doesn’t stop just because some stranger wandered into town and fell (or was thrown) off a cliff. Those old ladies are still going to show up at your house exactly at the time on the invitation and they’ll want their tea hot and their sandwiches crustless, thank you very much.

This is the sort of thing, after all, that keeps us coming back for more.


Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

Charlotte’s Web...a Children’s Classic written by a man who specialized in Children’s Classics. I picked this up to re-read after exhausting all of my in-house unread books and waiting for the next group to arrive from the library and Amazon. Unlike a couple of the others that I remember fondly from childhood - this one aged very well.
In case you grew up on a commune or in a third world country, here is the basic plot: 8 year old Fern rescues a pig (the runt of the litter named Wilbur) from an almost immediate death and nurses him to piggy adolescence, at which point Wilbur is moved from Fern’s kitchen to the farm down the road to live out the rest of his life...which is going to be Christmastime until a clever spider named Charlotte steps in and creates a spectacle out of Wilbur by spinning praises of the pig into her web. All of the farm animals are anthropomorphized, which is a nice touch for any children’s book.

As a testament to its awesomeness, this is a book that has been made into (according to IMDB.com) two movies and seven video spinoffs. None of which I’ve seen.

There’s not really a lot to say about this little book other than to reinforce it’s solid place in every child’s library. And by “child” I mean in both the chronological and the figurative sense.


Private: The Series

Oh...my... I'm going to be sucked in. You know it. I read all the Gossip Girl and now I watch the show religiously...

Private is being made into a tv show.


Aunt Dimity Slays the Dragon by Nancy Atherton

The latest installment of Nancy Atherton’s cozy Aunt Dimity series starts off innocently enough. Ex-pat mom of twins, Lori Shepard, is finding herself bored with life in their small English Village, but is trying to throw herself into village life anyway in the hopes of making it slightly more interesting. Her husband is working away in his law-office, her sons are doing their five-year-old thing, and she’s coming off of a wedding-planning high.

Luckily, with summer comes event-season in Finch: The Tidy Cottage Contest, Best Garden, etc etc. Even more luckily, at the town meeting one of the nephews of a local farmer announces that on his Uncle’s land that summer will be held a Renaissance Faire of the type generally seen in America: historical accuracy isn’t as important as enthusiasm, come in costume for a more enjoyable time...and oh yes, a daily joust will be held.

Even incorporeal Aunt Dimity thinks it’ll make the summer slightly more interesting around town and encourages Lori and family to take part and report back. So costumes are made - the boys will be pages, Lori will be...well she can’t really decide what she wants to be, and her husband has put his foot down: over his dead body will he don a costume. They’re lucky he’s going, and that’s really only because the boys are in the daily parade.

But, because this is a mystery, shenanigans occur. Accidents happen during the opening ceremony, the town is trashed, and Lori’s imagination runs wild.

Admittedly, I read this months ago so some of the details have been pushed to the back of my brain (I was also deep in the throws of early-pregnancy grossness and so my retention wasn’t what it normally is) but I can say these things without a doubt: I do love this series. I love that it’s not generally gory. I love that the characters are at once familiar people and “characters.” I love that Lori is in a stable, very loving, long term marriage. I like that time passes as we read. When we first meet Lori (not in the first book) she is young, single, penniless, and casting about for something outside of her work and now she is a happily married mother of two who hasn’t lost who she is even though life has taken her places she never imagined.

This is a good rainy-day book. It’s good “I thought morning sickness was only supposed to last the morning” book. Or a flu book. Or a “it’s too cold, let’s sit by the fire with cocoa and a book” book.

If you haven’t read this series, pick up the first one (like I said, they move forward and build on the last) and enjoy yourself. If you have read the series, you won’t be disappointed with the latest installment.


Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven by: Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin

Ed Note: So THAT’S where I’ve been. You know you wondered. I’ve been reading up a storm, so reviews will start trickling in. Also, I’m breaking my own rules. But I’m knocked up so I get to.

This book. THIS book. It starts off well enough - hey, you’re pregnant, we’re going to tell you straight. They have a “bitchclaimer” in which they tell you that if you’re looking for friends you should go to lamaze. They didn’t write the book to make friends, they wrote it so that women everywhere can have a healthier pregnancy. Awesome. I’m all for the lack of sugar-coating. So I dove in.

I knew, from interviews read well before I picked up the book, that the authors are vegan. Were vegan through their entire pregnancies and remain vegan. I anticipated basic guidelines that I hear all the time (cut back caffeine, stay away from over-processed foods, etc etc) and it started off pretty much like that. Of course, since they’re not making friends, it was more in the vein of “caffeine causes ADD and Diabetes...so don’t risk it..Happy Birthday! I got you Diabetes! Love, Mommy.” [misquoted, but you get the gist] A little alarmist, but everyone has their thing.

And then...they moved into animal products. At which point I started SKIPPING. That’s right: Skipping. And I’ll tell you why. I was 6 weeks pregnant when I started that book and there was a lot of morning sickness. And milk was already turning me off. [I think at that point I was a cheerios, green grapes, and grilled cheese girl.] So to hear them talk about how bad non-organic milk is was bad enough but then they got graphic and I got nauseous. So I skipped. And then they got to the meat part.

More Graphic Than Fast Food Nation. [Which was awesome, btw.]

So here I was, 6, 7, 8 weeks pregnant [I kept trying] and having raging hormones - causing everything from actual illness to crying jags. And I’m reading things that [yes, I already knew] just inflamed those things.

In other words, they went from Not Making Friends to Losing Friends and Alienating People.

I put it down. It sits, collecting dust, on my coffee table. The much more helpful [but not likely to be full-on reviewed for the sake of not boring people to death] Your Pregnancy Week-by-week and The Complete Organic Pregnancy move around the house with me.

So there you go. I’m coming right out for the sake of all the other hormonal women out there: There are better, less upsetting, books to read in order to figure out how to eat healthy so you can have the best possible pregnancy.


The Language of Bees by Laurie R. King

Book Nine of the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series is every bit as good as book one. Better, even. King has matured and honed her craft to an even sharper edge (pick up The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and you won’t think it a possible feat, her writing already being top-notch.) As we open this latest installation we feel like we’re coming back to meet old friends as the return from a trip - they are literally returning from San Francisco via Japan - and we know their backstory and what to expect. And we like it.

Don’t worry, though. If this is your first foray into this series of unauthorized Holmes sequels, King gives you enough detail so that you’re not foundering. The unfamiliar reader would be able to read this one as a stand-alone novel, save for the need to read the next one.

On the cover, plain as day, this book brands itself as “a novel of suspense” and it doesn’t disappoint. From the inexplicable failure of one of Holmes’ beehives to the shadowy figure who appears on their porch asking for their help.The reader is grateful for the map in the opening of the book, because the adventure starts on the Southern Coast of England - in Sussex, where Russell and Holmes live - and takes us up to the northern tip of Scotland (in a hurricane, no less) with many, many stops in between.

We meet Holmes’ brother, Mycroft, again - perhaps his largest appearance in a single novel - and are also introduced more thoroughly to Sherlock’s sentimental side. Yes, it is told in the first person through the eyes of Mary Russell, but she would be no match for Sherlock Holmes if she were not brilliantly observant...and it helps that she becomes very emotionally involved in this particular case as well.

Because she is Laurie R. King, I have to say that I pick up her books merely based on her byline. I have never been disappointed. King falls into that category that only a handful of writers manage: “Books I Wish I’d Written”...or, on my more cynical writers-block filled days: “Stop Now Because You Will Never Be This Good.” Luckily, those days are few and far between and instead she is inspiration. Even if you’re not a writer, I have a feeling that you’ll find inspiration.

Ok - I don’t generally like spoilers, but I want to call attention to a particularly timely scene...so if you don’t want even the hint of a spoiler, stop reading now and go get this book. Otherwise:

There is a scene where Mary has apprehended a suspect...at the very least he is a man who has information that she very badly needs. So she trusses him up and threatens to leave him for dead. The setting is one in which not even the reader is positive she won’t. Yes, we all know that she would call to let someone know his whereabouts, but we can’t be sure she’ll do it in a very timely manner. Under the tenets set out by the Geneva Convention - what she does to extract information could be termed “torture.” Given the situation, I was completely on board. I rooted for her. Granted, what she did wasn’t appalling by any means, but her suspect was terrified and genuinely afraid for his life. Emotional/Mental torture, then. Granted, it is a work of fiction. And we all give fiction a lot of leeway because it’s made-up. But her situation is one that even the most mundane woman could find herself in. And if that woman were me...let’s just say I was taking notes. So go and read, and then come back and tell me what you thought. I have feeling it won’t be a debate, though...which makes me wonder about what anyone would do when pushed far enough.

That being said: READ THIS BOOK.


Wicked Fix by Sarah Graves

Book Three in what used to be called the Mainely Murder series and is not the Home Repair is Homicide (much better, in my opinion) opens with...not a murder. A bar fight. It happens off-screen, as it were, and requires the attention of Jacobia’s Love-To-Hate-Him ex-husband Victor.

The next morning there is the discovery of not one, but two murders in the quiet town of Eastport, Maine, and inconveniently right before their annual Salmon Festival. Also inconvenient is that Victor appears to be the murderer. So condemning is the evidence that the state police lock him up and proceed to build their case, which leaves Jacobia and her trusty crew to prove Victor’s innocence and get him out of jail. Even more inconvenient is that Jacobia has put up almost her entire fortune as seed money into a trauma-center venture that Victor is planning to build in Eastport.

As much as we love to hate Victor, we all realize that his presence in Eastport is good for Sam. Also we don’t want Jacobia to suddenly become very, very poor. So in this particular instance we’re rooting for her and Ellie a little more than usual.

The proximity of the Salmon Festival means that the town is packed with tourists - both of the Never- Been- To- Eastport- Before and the Grew- Up- And- Moved- Away- But- Came- Back- For- This- variety. When considering that the “big” murder victim as a known sociopath who grew up with Ellie and Wade (oh, don’t you just love Wade?) the door is wide-open for likely suspects.

So Jacobia is more determined than usual to track down the actual culprit...in between attempting to winterize her possibly haunted Handyman’s Special Historic House. (Don’t you just love the house?) Then Ellie gets sucked into Salmon Festival preparations and Sam and his best friend Tommy Daigle decide to learn Morse Code and use it - via a Ouija Board - to communicate with the dead who may or may not be inhabiting Jacobia and Sam’s house and who may or may not know who the real murderer is.

Which leaves Jacobia to her own devices, and the help of the local police force, which is great except that Bob Arnold is at the mercy of the State People (who are still building their case against Victor) and his wife is going to give birth at any minute. Just as we know she’s getting close (because there are deterrents) and we think we know (ok really we don’t, but maybe we have a clue) more people start dying and then it’s all just a bit much. And Jacobia is still about to lose her money.

I won’t tell you how it wraps up because that would be giving things away, and we all know how loathe I am to do that. But I am glad that I chose this for my summer series to read through. I’m already looking forward to the next installment. (I still don’t want to move to Maine though...and it’s not even winter, yet!)


Generation X by Douglas Coupland

I read this for the first time ten years ago, and because he’s one of my favorite authors and he has a book forthcoming called Generation A, I decided it was time to revisit this modern little gem.

The story, told from Andy’s perspective, revolves around three twenty-somethings who have abandoned their lives in the mainstream and set up in the desert of Palm Springs where they work “McJobs” (a phrase, if not coined by Coupland, then certainly made popular by him) and tell each other bedtime stories, sometimes in the middle of the day. They are minimalists who are floating untethered in the early 90s, a time when you were either a Yuppie devoid of any kind of personality, or you were leftover from the days of Ozzie and Harriet. Andy, Dag, and Claire just can’t see themselves anywhere. What’s worse - they can’t see the future. Dag is obsessed with the threat of Nuclear Holocaust. Claire spends most of her time stuck in a Dead-Celebrity Obsessed funk, and all of Andy’s stories take place in Japan, where he spent time as a student.

Other people drift in and out, but they mainly serve as punch lines or cautionary tales. Andy’s little brother (who might be the protagonist in Shampoo Planet) dreams of working his way to Middle Management, but is right now still living at home because he hasn’t hit 25 and there’s no sense in leaving, yet. There are 5 other siblings that we never meet, but hear about briefly. They are equally cautionary - they “Boomerang” home to live with their parents on a startlingly regular basis.

The margins of the book are filled with cartoons and Urban Dictionary type definitions which serve to help conceptualize the zeitgeist of Andy’s world. At many points it is obvious to see where other people became inspired by Coupland’s opinions. Fight Club, for instance, while brilliant in its own right, appears to have lifted themes right from the pages of Generation X. Or maybe it’s because I was a young teenager when both books were released that I missed the universal cultural apathy that was happening. Perhaps everyone under the age of thirty Checked Out of the expected life in the early nineties.

They aren’t hopeless, though. Not at any point do these three characters stop having plans, obsessions, interests, and fun. They are just achingly self-aware and wittily critical about Life In General.

Coupland’s novels and characters have grown and evolved since this debut novel released eighteen years ago, and they are all worth reading. Start with this novel, though. So you have a jumping off place for all of the neurosis you will surely encounter as you make your way through his catalogue of cultural observation.
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