Saturday, July 31, 2010

Stuff and July Reading Wrap Up

I actually had a very good reading month in July, but I couldn't resist the above cartoon, which describes how I felt the last (2) days.  Between work, housewifery chores, and a Nissan Altima with a keyless starter that has been acting up, I feel like I need more than a lousy - 2 day weekend...who invented just (2) days for the weekend anyways?

So my husband followed me to the Nissan dealership yesterday (thank goodness for Saturday service appointments) to have the starter checked out. Thank goodness ALSO that the car is still under warranty, so that means FREE right?  Well, they fixed the problem. It was a brake peddle sensor that was malfunctioning at times, so the car would not start on the first try.....FREE??....not so fast, while I was out with my hubs car getting a mani and pedi, the dealership called to say (2) filters were really dirty (air and another ?? filter --how many are there anyways??) so hub gave the OK to change them.  BIG MISTAKE...$104.00 for (2) filters with labor (yeah right)...but the warranty work was free (and the car starts , so what am I complaining about??....LOL. I really needed to been taken advantage!

July Reading Wrap Up 

  • I read (17) books, but (2) were children's books, and (1) was an art book. 
  • (4) of these were audio books
  • (3) NF
  • (7) library books
  • (8) review books)
  • (2) my TBR books
  • I did add (2) DNF books to the list, for a total of (3) in 2010. This month, I was unable to finish: You Lost Me There; Baldwin (debut novel) and America, America; Canin 
Completed Books
  1. Men and Dogs; Katie Crouch (audio) - 3.5/5 (library)
  2. The Lovers; Vendela Vida - 4.5/5 (review copy)
  3. The Sisters From Hardscrabble Bay; Beverly Jensen - 4/5 (review book)
  4. Worst Case; Patterson and Ledwidge (audio) - 3/5 (win)
  5. Sea Escape; Lynne Griffin - 4/5 (review book)
  6. Pearl of China; Anchee Min (audio) - 3.5/5 (library)
  7. Live To Tell; Lisa Gardner - 4/5 (review book)
  8. The House on Oyster Creek; Heidi Jon Schmidt - 3.5/5 (review copy)
  9. Love is the Best Medicine; Dr. Nick Trout - 3.5/5 (library)
  10. Backseat Saints; Joshilyn Jackson - 4.5/5 (review book)
  11. My Name is Mary Sutter; Robin Oliveria - 5/5  - favorite (review book)
  12. Biblioburro: a true story from Columbia; Winters - 5/5 - favorite (library)
  13. The Red Thread; Ann Hood - (audio) 4.5/5 (library)
  14. Frida Kahlo: The Still Lifes; Grimberg - 4.5/5(library)
  15. It's a Secret; John Burningham - 4/5 (library)
  16. Blind Hope; Kim Meeder - 2/5 - least favorite (my stacks)
  17. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet; David Mitchell - 4.5/5(review copy)
August Reading Plans

I am committed to reading and reviewing at least these books (but others as well I hope) :
  1. The Good Daughters; Joyce Maynard (read but needs review)
  2. Such a Pretty Face; Cathy Lamb 
  3. The Lion; Nelson DeMille  (audio)...John Corey is back !
  4. The Gendarme; Mustian
  5. Fragile; Lisa Unger 
  6. Displaced Persons; Schwarz
  7. City of Veils; Zoe Ferrais
  8. The Language of Trees; Ilie Ruby
  9. A Secret Kept; Tatiana
  10. Ape House; Sara Gruen
YTD Book Spending

(68) Books Purchased - $198.49

    Hope all of you enjoyed your reads in July, sadly summer is half over!

99 - The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet; David Mitchell

David Mitchell 's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet  is a well done work of literary fiction, told in three parts. The story takes place in coastal Japan at the end of the eighteenth century (1799). Jacob de Zoet is an innocent young Dutchman who comes to work at the Dutch East India Company, on the artificial island of Dejima. Jacob hopes to work at the post for (5) years as a clerk, so he can earn a lot of money and return home to marry his wealthy fiance. The post is almost like a prison, and his coworkers are corrupt and unsavory characters. Despite the politics and corruption, Jacob is determined to stand firm, refusing to go along various schemes and scams that he finds while auditing the records. Needless to say, Jacob is not very popular.

In part two, Jacob's infatuation with a disfigured, Japanese midwife named Orito Aibagawa moves the story into high gear. She is the daughter of a doctor and a samurai, and both Jacob and one of the translators he befriended are both attracted to the disfigured Orito.  Without giving away too much of the story, I'll leave part three to the reader to experience for themselves, and just say the ending did not disappoint. 

MY THOUGHTS - The novel was written in the third person, and was not a light read.  I received this book in June, and finishing it about a month later, and actually felt glad that I took my time. This was my first David Mitchell novel, and I felt that this book required slow and steady doses for maximum reading pleasure. I loved the vivid historical details, in fact, attention to "every" detail was a strength of this novel. Some parts were a bit slow for me, but the story did have sufficient doses of action, and laugh out loud humor, to hold my interest. Add to that an eccentric group of quirky characters, and colorful descriptions of life on a small island (drinking, gambling, prostitution), made for thoroughly all encompassing historical read.

RECOMMENDED - 4.5/5 stars
(review copy)

Friday, July 30, 2010

98 - Blind Hope: An Unwanted Dog and the Woman She Rescued; Kim Meeder

Blind Hope; Kim Meeder with Laurie Sacher

I haven't purchased many books lately, but I made an exception when I saw the cover on this one. I am a big sucker for animal stories, especially ones that can bring a tear to your eyes.  So naturally when this book arrive last week I could not wait to read it.  It is an easy book to read in one sitting, and that is pretty much what I did.

In case you are not familiar with this book, Kim Meeder tells the story of Laurie Sacher, a broken, troubled, woman who came to work at her ranch, Crystal Parks Youth Ranch in Oregon. Laurie suffered from a food obsession, equating thinness to happiness. She decides to adopt an Austrailian Shepherd mix dog, but when she went to see the dog, it was not the dog she imagined it might be. The dog was skinny and smelly, and had lots of issues. Despite this Laurie took the dog, renamed it Mia, and, little by little, the dog transformed her life.  How did Mia, the blind dog do this? By teaching Laurie life lessons and bringing her closer to God. 

MY THOUGHTS - The story is not what I expected!  I was prepared for a tear jerker story about Mia, the blind dog, but that never happened. Instead of the tears, what hit me in the face was that this book was more about Laurie and her learning to listen to, and follow God. It was very preachy, and  just not the kind of book I would ever enjoy. I was not expecting that. I would not have purchased this book had I realized this from the beginning. My cover attraction did me in this time.  If you do not mind heavily faith based stories, this book might work for you; Mia was inspiring and the photos were great. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this book.
(Rating - 2/5 stars / personal copy)

Friday Finds

Here's (3) books that I have not read, but I hope to someday soon :)
Kings of the Earth; Jon Clinch

(amazon)......In Clinch's multilayered, pastoral second novel (after Finn), a death among three elderly, illiterate brothers living together on an upstate New York farm raises suspicions and accusations in the surrounding community. After their beloved mother, Ruth, dies, Audie, considered mentally "fragile," is devastated, but goes on tending to the Carversville farm with his brothers Vernon and Creed. When Vernon, frail at 60 and not under a doctor's care, dies in his bed with evidence of asphyxiation, Creed is interrogated by troopers, along with Audie, the brother closest to Vernon. Family histories and troubles are divulged in short chapters by a cacophony of characters speaking in first person. Secrets and hidden alliances are revealed: Vernon's nephew, Tom, grew and sold marijuana, which the family used medicinally; the brothers endured painful, bloody haircuts administered by their father. Alongside the police troopers' investigation, each player contributes his own personal perspectives and motivations, including allusions to homosexual behavior. Inspired by the Ward brothers (of the 1992 documentary My Brother's Keeper), Clinch explores family dynamics in this quiet storm of a novel that will stun readers with its power.

Stones for Ibarra; Harriet Doerr

(amazon)........This is the story of an anglo married couple, Richard and Sara Everton, who, in a burst of idealism, move from San Francisco to an old family home and abandoned mine in Mexico. Why, in the face of vociferous objections and concern from all their friends, would they move to a house they know has no electricity or water and aren't even sure is still standing? Richard and Sara go "in order to extend the family's Mexican history and patch the present onto the past. To find out if there was still copper underground and how much of the rest of it was true, the width of sky, the depth of stars, the air like new wine, the harsh noons and long, slow dusks. To weave chance and hope into a fabric that would clothe them as long as they lived." Their years as Ibarra's only foreigners - Richard's work, his illness, Sara's work, her care of Richard, their neighbors and friends, the constantly surprising landscape, the stones - is a story told with affectionate and patient wisdom. Perhaps it is a story a long time coming: Harriet Doerr got her BA at age sixty-seven and published this (her first) book a year later. 

The Seven Sisters; Margaret Drabble

(amazon).....It's hard to get across just how flat-out thrilling, how readable, how absorbing is Margaret Drabble's novel The Seven Sisters. It sounds positively dull when you describe it: Candida Wilton, a faculty wife of late middle age, has been dumped by her allegedly do-gooder husband. Her three daughters aren't too impressed with her, either. The mousy Candida decamps to an inglorious flat in London, where she measures out her time in visits to the health club, trips to the grocery store, and her weekly evening class on Virgil. She tentatively makes a few new friends and rediscovers some old ones. This opening section of the book, told in diary form, is a marvel of tone. With very little action, Drabble makes Candida's forays into the world quietly electrifying. One of her new pleasures is recording in her diary her mounting dislike of her ex-husband. You sense a giddy freedom: "Andrew had come to seem to me to be the vainest, the most self-satisfied, the most self-serving hypocrite in England. That kindly twinkle in his eyes had driven me to the shores of madness." Ah, but there's more life for Candida yet. A small, unexpected inheritance is left to her, and so she organizes her friends--all female, mostly aged, mostly unmarried--into a tour of Naples as Virgil describes it in The Aeneid. Their holiday is a fictional tour-de-force: by turns a hilarious send-up of group dynamics, a metafictional lark, a feminist rant, and a dark acknowledgement of Candida's mortality. In the end, Drabble's novel is a very serious one, and a very good one.

Have you read any of these? 

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I'm at it Again!

Do you drive yourself crazy with self imposed rules?

July has been a great reading month, however,  I am behind on book reviews once again with just a couple of days to go before the end of the month. In case you didn't know this, I have my own self-imposed rules to follow. No book review, means I can't count it toward my monthly totals....LOL  (Do you drive yourself nuts like me?) I mean seriously who cares, or who would even know if I didn't post a few reviews, but added them into my totals. Is there a "blog-cop" checking up on me, or do I just enjoythe pressure, and having something to complain about?

Whatever the reason I read (2) wonderful books, and (1) okay book I need to complete reviews for.  Be sure to read the first (2) books they are awesome:

(it's awesome - review coming)

(OMG...I Loved it!)


Reviews July 31st.....or "I will be punished"....yep, that is what my parents did to me a long, long, long, long time ago, but who holds grudges?    LOL

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

97 - It's a Secret; John Burningham

A cute children's book with a cat theme, and I'm in......such was the case when I came across, It's a Secret, by John Burningham (author and illustrator).

In this story, Malcom the cat leaves his comfy home every evening through the catdoor, and does not return until morning. He then spends his days sleeping inside of his comfy home. What does Malcom do at night? "It's a Secret"!
One night little Marie-Elaine sees Malcom getting ready to go out. She and her friend Norman persuade Malcom to take them with him, and they are in for the magical surprise of their lives. Where did they go and what did they do, you ask? Sorry, I can't tell you;It's a Secret, so be sure to read the book for yourself.

Great whimsical illustrations; magical story; ages 3-6.

RECOMMENDED - 4/5 stars (Library Book)

DNF - America, America; Ethan Canin

Has anyone read America, America; Ethan Canin, or listened to the audio version?  I've struggled with the audio version for over a month, and finally gave up, and chalked it upas a DNF.  The reader, Robertson Dean was very good, it is just that the story seemed to go off in too many different directions. Before long, it became harder and harder to turn on my iPod and continue listening.  I saw this Booklist review, and it pretty much summed up what I was feeling before I called it quits.

BOOKLIST.....Canin received much acclaim for his short story collections, Emperor of the Air (1988) and The Palace Thief (1994), and, despite middling results with the longer form in his subsequent novels, he remains quite popular. In this, his fourth novel, he again struggles with pacing issues, an awkward chronology, and underdeveloped characters. He reimagines the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination with a libertarian senator, a beacon of hope for “the great decline of FDR’s party,” as the eventual front-runner to dislodge Nixon from the White House. Behind the fictional senator’s meteoric rise and tragic fall (which come off as neither meteoric nor tragic) is kingmaker Liam Metarey, head of a powerful New York family with deep union and progressive roots. Told from the point of view of Corey Sifter, a young man taken under the wing of the Metareys during the historic campaign, the story often jumps forward to focus on Corey’s present-day relationship with his daughters and father. Instead of playing off of each other, the two plotlines simply come off as two distinct novellas too thin to survive on their own but gaining little resonance from being grafted together. The novel is trying to be too many things at once—there are a lot of ideas and plenty of elegant passages but not enough to carry this one through.

The average Amazon reviewer gave this book 4/5 stars so maybe I'm the problem? In the end it just was not my kind of book.  I'd love to hear from other who read this novel.

Waiting on Wednesday; The Bells

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill @ Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.  What are you anxiously waiting for?

I've been thinking about this book lately:

The Bells; Richard Harvell
(Sept. 14 - Crown Pub.)

(amazon).......I grew up as the son of a man who could not possibly have been my father. Though there was never any doubt that my seed had come from another man, Moses Froben, Lo Svizzero, called me “son.” And I called him “father.” On the rare occasions when someone dared to ask for clarification, he simply laughed as though the questioner were obtuse. “Of course he’s not my son!” he would say. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

But whenever I myself gained the courage to ask him further of our past, he just looked sadly at me. “Please, Nicolai,” he would say after a moment, as though we had made a pact I had forgotten. With time, I came to understand I would never know the secrets of my birth, for my father was the only one who knew these secrets, and he would take them to his grave.

The celebrated opera singer Lo Svizzero was born in a belfry high in the Swiss Alps where his mother served as the keeper of the loudest and most beautiful bells in the land. Shaped by the bells’ glorious music, as a boy he possessed an extraordinary gift for sound. But when his preternatural hearing was discovered—along with its power to expose the sins of the church—young Moses Froben was cast out of his village with only his ears to guide him in a world fraught with danger.

Rescued from certain death by two traveling monks, he finds refuge at the vast and powerful Abbey of St. Gall. There, his ears lead him through the ancient stone hallways and past the monks’ cells into the choir, where he aches to join the singers in their strange and enchanting song. Suddenly Moses knows his true gift, his purpose. Like his mother’s bells, he rings with sound and soon, he becomes the protégé of the Abbey’s brilliant yet repulsive choirmaster, Ulrich.

But it is this gift that will cause Moses’ greatest misfortune: determined to preserve his brilliant pupil’s voice, Ulrich has Moses castrated. Now a young man, he will forever sing with the exquisite voice of an angel—a musico—yet castration is an abomination in the Swiss Confederation, and so he must hide his shameful condition from his friends and even from the girl he has come to love. When his saviors are exiled and his beloved leaves St. Gall for an arranged marriage in Vienna, he decides he can deny the truth no longer and he follows her—to sumptuous Vienna, to the former monks who saved his life, to an apprenticeship at one of Europe’s greatest theaters, and to the premiere of one of history’s most beloved operas.

In this confessional letter to his son, Moses recounts how his gift for sound led him on an astonishing journey to Europe’s celebrated opera houses and reveals the secret that has long shadowed his fame: How did Moses Froben, world renowned musico, come to raise a son who by all rights he never could have sired?

Like the voice of Lo Svizzero, The Bells is a sublime debut novel that rings with passion, courage, and beauty.

Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

It's Tuesday - How the Heck Did I Miss That Book?

I 'm feeling like a need a fix of some Japanese Literature, and there are so many books that I am only becoming aware of now. Some of you are participating in the Japanese Literature Challenge 4, and I am feeling sorry for myself that I have never participated in this challenge. I'm now on no new challenges restriction. Self-imposed, as I was making myself crazy.

I found these (2) books yesterday on Amazon. Have you read these? If so what did you think?

The four Makioka sisters lead very complicated, strenuous lives, although on the surface nothing much ever happens to them. Part of a fading Japanese aristocracy in the years leading up to World War II, they cannot escape the wide net of the family name--something always brings them back to the reality of "being a Makioka." Running out of money, living in falling-apart houses, growing older beneath the sunlight of the modern world, they do their best to preserve the rituals of the past. The two older sisters work diligently to arrange a marriage for the third sister, Yukiko. Desperate to find someone to take care of her, they keep lowering their standards. One night they find themselves out with a drunk, selfish crackpot who has no money, but who is supposed to be related to a man who works for an important utility company. The fact that he is even a candidate for their sister's hand is a sign of how far they have fallen.
There are other signs in this remarkable, utterly compelling Japanese epic. At one point, a flood overwhelms their small town of Osaka. The youngest sister, Taeko, is having tea at the impeccably decorated home where her sewing teacher, Mrs. Tamaki, lives with her son Hiroshi. When the rain first appears beneath the door,
the three were still rather enjoying themselves, shouting at each other in the best of spirits. They all had a good laugh when Hiroshi, reaching to grab the briefcase in which he had brought home his school books, bumped his head on the bobbing radio. But after perhaps a half hour, there came a moment when the three fell silent. Almost immediately, Taeko remembered afterwards, the water was above her waist. As she clutched at a curtain, a picture fell from over her head; the curtain had probably brushed against it. It was a picture Mrs. Tamaki was especially fond of.
Junichiro Tanizaki wrestled throughout his career with the idea of a country where tribes of aristocrats live as relics, grasping at the past through gestures, manners, small and intricate private laws. The narrative suspense of The Makioka Sisters is rooted in this single-minded nostalgia, this strict attention to the details of domestic life as the outer world becomes more and more incomprehensible. Pages are devoted to musing about whether Yukiko should "risk" meeting a potential husband when there is a spot above her eye--maybe she should play it safe and go to the doctor about it; maybe the potential husband will interpret it as bad luck. Tanizaki manages to make the struggle over this small, dark spot wildly compelling. I could not sleep until I discovered its fate. If epic literature is based in the dramatic and forward-moving narrative of a male hero's journey, The Makioka Sisters is a female epic of inaction--trying to figure out what to wear, crying for no reason at the same time every afternoon. With each perilous, pathetic step, the sisters are heroes setting out for the new world. They're like Odysseus, except without the ship and without the sea.

 Hardboiled and Hard Luck; Banana Yoshimoto

Like twins whose paths diverge dramatically, these two gentle stories share little beyond the mesmerizing voice of their creator. The surreal subject matter and dreamy narration of "Hardboiled" make it read rather like a bedtime story gone awry. When the young female narrator realizes that it's the anniversary of her lover's death, several curious events suddenly make sense: a stone from a creepy shrine that finds its way into her pocket; a fire at an udon shop where she'd just been eating; and a nighttime visitation by the ghost of a woman who committed suicide. "Harboiled" drags a bit, but "Hard Luck" is a pleasure, even if it's almost as downbeat as its predecessor. This time, a young female narrator is standing watch over her older sister, Kuni, whose brain is slowly dying after a cerebral hemorrhage. As their parents gradually lose hope for Kuni's recovery, the narrator makes her own peace by forging a bond with her sister's fiancé's brother. In this gemlike story, Yoshimoto (Goodbye Tsugumi) takes a subtle, graceful look at the relationship between the sisters and the fault lines in this grieving family, elevating her little book from fine to downright moving.