Thursday, September 30, 2010

Middle Sis' September Books

This month I signed up with an Internet galley service, so I have reviews below of some recently published and about to be published books. I've been enjoying reading the galleys; I used to enjoy reading them at the PW bookstore. So, herewith:

  • The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths (2011)    Number 2 in the Ruth Galloway mystery series, and I admit that I haven't read the first. But mystery, archaeology, England--what's not to love? Well, unfortunately, some. The main character--a 40-ish female archaeologist--didn't quite resonate with me, but she may grow in future novels. The police inspector, Nelson, didn't elicit much sympathy from me, especially after he ends the critical denouement in a most unprofessional manner, quite at odds with his behavior up till then. Some of the secondary characters were more interesting than the main, and the author should redirect her efforts to bringing the leads to as much life as she did the secondaries. And I never did get used to the present tense, which I usually find awkward at best, pretentious at worst. But the Norfolk coast is superbly drawn, giving the novel a lovely, desolate atmosphere. The mystery itself was not too hard to figure out (and I don't even try to figure out whodunnit), but there certainly were moments of suspense. All in all, I can see potential in this series and this author. (galley edition)
  • Active Senior Living by Jan Curran (2010) Funny novel apparently based on the author's own experiences living in a active senior community while recovering from cancer. Who knew seniors were so randy? It's high school all over again, but with silver hair and walkers. A quick read, engaging, with a sympathetic main character and endearing secondary characters. Life does not end with retirement. That's good to know. (Kindle)
  • Brave New Knits by Julie Turjoman (2010) Interesting addition to the many knitting books flooding the market these days. New, young designers using the Internet to sell their designs are the focus of the book, although three well-established designers are also profiled as they talk about how they've come to use the Internet and online knitting communities to further their outreach. The founder of Ravelry (of which, in the interests of full disclosure, I have been a member since 2007, when it was in beta version), an online knitting community of over half a million knitters and crocheters, provides the introduction. Nice layout, good photos, and thoughtful array of projects for beginner knitters and experienced knitters alike. (galley edition)
  • Crocheted Prayer Shawl Companion by Janet Bristow and Victoria Cole-Gabo (2010) Followup to the first Crochet Prayer Shawl, which outlined how the prayer shawl ministry movement began and spread. Nice layout, nice photos, with added interest in commentary from the designers and prayers the crocheter can use while making these comfort shawl patterns. (galley edition)
  • Dog Days: Dispatches from Bedlam Farm by Jon Katz (2008) Another memoir by Katz of life on a New England farm surrounded by dogs, cats, donkeys, goats, even a cow and bull. I have to say I was somewhat put off in the first part where the death of  a donkey Katz had rescued was described. Well, her death made me teary; the matter of fact disposal of her body upset me. Katz is a big animal lover, but has no problem sending the donkey's body off to to be, well, let's say remaindered, or adding a dog with lots of issues and needs to his overflowing household while he's having serious medical problems of his own that impede his own mobility. I appreciate the no-nonense farmer's approach to animal life, but Katz seems to want it both ways--to be recognized as a superior animal lover, who goes out of his way to take on rescues, and an unromantic farmer dealing with the realities of farm animal life. In reality, he's a middle-aged gentleman farmer who relies on others to run his farm, and takes on a very needy dog while he himself has to use a cane to get around--not exactly responsible in my book. I do agree with his dog-training philosophy, but he's probably find me a bleeding heart. Frankly, I'm not sure I'll read any others by him. Border collie and lab fans will delight in his dogs, though, as did I. (audiobook)
  •  Read My Pins by Madeleine Albright (2009) I heard Ms. Albright being interviewed about this book very early this year, and since I've long been an admirer of her and of pins, I had to read it. Fascinating picture book of her extensive pin collection, with her recollections of where some were found, the people who gave her others, and the messages she tried to send with some of them during diplomatic missions. And she was the commencement speaker at my friend Sarah's graduation! (Who did I have, you ask? Greg Kinnear. Is it any wonder I passed on it?)
  • A Pinchbeck Bride by Stephen Anable (2011)  Another second-in-series-and-I-haven't-read-the-first. Mark Winslow, the former comic improv, is invited to be a trustee of a Victorian mansion to help with grant writing, and discovers the body of one of the docents, strangled, and clad in Victorian dress. Interesting concept that doesn't live up to its potential. The older female trustees are not well drawn, and I was confused for a long time over who was who, and almost all the male trustees and men involved in the mystery turn to to be gay and hit on Mark (himself gay, but in a committed relationship; my gay friend would love to have that many men hitting on him). The author must have been trying to make the first victim multidimensional so as to to confuse the reader over the identity of the murderer, but her very many different personalities were so confusing and conflicting that it just devolved to not caring at all that she was murdered. None of the suspects were sympathetic, and Mark was also a rather bland character. Mark's relationship with his partner was handled pretty gracefully, but there was one allusion to a sex scene that was a little graphic (but all sex scenes make me squirm; I'm most definitely not a voyeur) and may turn off readers. Not sure if this one will move beyond the GLTB community. This straight reader doesn't care if characters are gay or not, as long as they're interesting. Sadly, most here were not. (galley edition--lots of typos and formatting issues, but some may have been Kindle specific)
  • Good Old Dog by Nicholas Dodman (2010) Excellent reference for owners and lovers of geriatric dogs. Most canine care books have a chapter or sometimes just a section on caring for the older dog, so it was wonderful to see a book devoted entirely to issues of aging. Full disclosure--my dogs are 9.5 and almost 11 years old, so I was greatly interested int he topic. Dodman is a well-known veterinarian, so the medical aspects of the book are well done, interesting, and cutting edge (even things I've not heard of, and I spend exorbitant amounts of money at a suite of vet office son my zoo). The one stumble is the usual veterinary trap of not thinking alternative medicines (like Chinese medicine, acupuncture, or reiki, etc.) merit consideration. If Dodman didn't feel competent to address these issues, inviting a specialist to write a chapter or appendix would have been useful. Many older dog owners, myself included, either use alternative as well as traditonal approaches, or are interested in learning about potentially useful and less stressful or harmful ways to ease our dogs into old age. Overall, a great reference that I will have to get to add to my dog library. (galley edition)
  • Identifying and Feeding Birds by Bill Thompson III (2010) Very useful barkyard bird guide that goes beyond traditional backyard bird guides to offer suggestions  on different food, how to guides to build different feeders, and addresses usually forgotten topics like what plants will attract songbirds, what fertilizers should a birder use or avoid, etc. Great close-up photographs. I'd love a real copy of this book to supplement my traditional guides. My one problem--there are no regional discussions. The section on suet feeders doesn't mention that suet in the southwest melts and is a good feeding option only in the dead of winter. Brief tables by region of common backyard birds and tips would have been a handy improvement. (galley edition)
  • The Room in the Tower by E.F. Benson (1912) Another horror story to tingle my spine as Halloween approaches. Atmospheric short story about a man with a nightmare that comes true. Pictures that bleed, dogs scared of something no person can see, a remote tower room... Loved it! And not just because it's by one of my favorite authors. Will now seek out other Benson horror stories.

        Wednesday, September 29, 2010

        Photo Project Week 1

        Okay, since you suggested I choose the first photo subject... Books.

        Let's take a few days to take the photo, and post it on Saturday.

        Why don't we add the photos right to this blog post?  The first person to post the photo can delete this commentary and just leave the subject and add their photo...

        Middle Sister writes:
        Nah, let's have a new post. I'm about to post my monthly reads list, so it will get lost. Okay, Oct 2, my photos of the theme books.


        Photo Project

        So I think we sort of decided to do a photo project, right?  Each of us would post a photo a week following a pre-determined theme?  Have we decided when to start it and what the first few themes will be?

        I'm in the mood to start something like this, and perhaps, after a few weeks, I can start putting together a project containing all the photos, yours and mine...

        Do you know if there's a way to post both pictures in one post?  Where you could post one and I could post the other?  I looked at settings and you can have different authors, but can two people contribute to one post?  Or will one of us have to email the photo to the other to have it added to a single post per theme?

        I thought of a couple of other themes:
        specific colors
        sunsets (or sunrises)
        our work desks

        Or perhaps it might be better to simply post a photo a week, not following any particular theme or direction, but on the same day, let's say - just to see what photo we chose for that week, and how often they are similar in content, perspective, etc.

        Let me know what you think.  I'm going to start looking for photos...

        patrysia writes...
        Okay, I've just granted you and cookiedough admin privileges, which means you can edit my post and vice versa. So we could post photos in the same post.

        Why don't you pick the first theme, pick the dates we wander with our cameras, and pick the day we need to post the photo? I'm not too keen on the friends theme, just because my real life friends, like me, are camera shy and Internet shy, and strangers might think you were some crazy stalker taking photos of them. I post lots of food photos anyway, so personally, I'd want to see that theme paired with something, like "garlic" or "fruit." But we could do that if you are in the mood to cook. I cook a lot more than you, I think, so that would be an easy one for me.

        Okay, let's post and see how this looks.

        Ah, it just adds text without noting who wrote what, so we'll have to identify ourselves.

        Sunday, September 19, 2010

        This Weeks Photo

        Unnamed pink rose in my backyard, blooming today, Sunday, 19 September 2010.

        Monday, September 13, 2010

        Photo Challenge

        Okay, since you're interested in posting photos weekly, how about a challenge? We all try to get photos of a theme, e.g., leaves (it's autumn where you are, even if not here), or a color, or something. Then we spend a week, toting cameras around, trying to spot that theme and capture it to share.

        Interested? Want to suggest something?

        Best Motivation Video Ever

        Sunday, September 12, 2010

        The Zoo

        The fluffy ones.
        The snoring one.

        The frail one.

        The nerdy one.

        Sunday, September 5, 2010

        Wednesday, September 1, 2010

        Big Sister's August Reads

        Back when I was a book buyer, summer reading was a HUGE deal for us.  Trashy novels, beach reads, not too much to challenge the brain cells...  So with a nod to my past incarnation, I read nothing this August of any significantly redeeming social value (that was some awkward sentence construction there, that sure was!), but I read a lot of fun books!

        Scarlet Nights (Jude Deveraux) - One in the Edilean series...  I didn't realize it when I picked it up, but it is one in the series and brought back some characters I recognized from previous books.  Ms. Devereaux has made a name for herself as a romance author, but I find the Edilean books to be less romance, and more general fiction.  Sure, they met, they disliked, they loved, they found each other, but it was less the bulk of the story and more a nice backdrop to the mystery Mike is trying to solve which, coincidentally, involves Sara...

        Fired Up (Jayne Ann Krentz) - Not a favorite in the Arcane Society series, and #1 in The Dreamlight Trilogy.  I was disappointed.  I'm not heavy into the paranormal in my love stories but there are some (Kay Hooper's books spring to mind) that are great, but this one?  Not so much.  It was a weak story.  It dragged in spots.  It didn't really, in my humble opinion, wrap up all that well...

        Black Magic (Cherry Adair) - THIS paranormal paperback, on the other hand, was okay!  I love her writing and was waiting for this one to come out for a few months now.  Some of the twists and turns and psychic powers repeat themselves throughout this series of books, but it's okay when the stories are quick-paced and fun to read.  Besides, who couldn't find a hero named Jack (Slater) appealing?!?!

        Veil of Night (Linda Howard) - This one was fun simply because of the setting:  wedding planner is pulled into it all when her most troublesome bride is found murdered and just guess who was the last one the bridezilla beat up before her untimely and very violent death?  You guessed it:  wedding planner Jaclyn Wilde.  Jaclyn and Eric had a wild passionate one night stand the night and while Eric has every intention of seeing Jaclyn again, she's planning for this to have been a real one-nighter...  although she was sort of hoping Eric would call her as promised...  But then the bride is murdered, and guess who shows up as the detective in charge of the case?  Eric the handsome policeman and last night's one-night stand!

        Tough Customer (Sandra Brown) - I do love her current fiction, and this one doesn't disappoint.  I must admit, I really didn't like our hero too much, not the least of which was I hate his name:  Dodge Hanley.  And although he comes running when his ex calls him for help with their 30-year old daughter (yes, another thing that put me off:  he never knew his daughter throughout her entire life), I'm never quite sure I like him through the book.  All's well that ends well, and there's lots of danger what with that madman stalking his daughter...  It was good, and there was a surprise twist in the ending that I really didn't see coming.  I sort of thought when it wrapped up that there was something missing, but since that wasn't truly the end of the story, I wasn't disappointed!!!

        Cure (Robin Cook) - I do love me a medical mystery and one by Robin Cook just fits the bill perfectly!  I love Jack and Laurie so with them as the main characters, one can't go wrong.  And I loved the story line, too, all the big business intrigue wrapped around stem cell research and the Japanese Mafia...

        Postcard Killers (James Patterson and Liza Marklund) - Yes, I know, he writes 600 books a year, or at least it seems like he does!  And to be honest, I sometimes feel like he's just taking advantage of his name to sell a book, but in the interests of being honest, they're all good and fun to read and well, if we're buying, why shouldn't he be writing?!  This one takes place in Europe where young honeymooners are being murdered in creative and very disturbing ways.  And in this book, life most definitely DOES imitate art!  That's my only clue!  I liked the characters, I hated the bad guys, and the story ended well.

        Middle Sis' August Books

        I can't believe it's September already--hooray for autumn! August was a good month for reading for me, as I had several plane flights that provided uninterrupted book time. Now that the school semester has started and I'm teaching again, expect dedicated fun reading time to plummet.

        1. The Complete Guide to Walking for Health, Weight Loss, and Fitness by Mark Fenton (2008) Who needs a guide to walk? Don't we do that naturally? Well, yes, but this guide provides a timetable for 52 weeks of walking, with regular distance increases, aimed at getting a new walker ready for a 5 km or longer walk/race. Fenton also provides exercises, encouragement, and practical advice. Another in my series of books to inspire my marathon training. The stretching exercises were of particular interest to me. Well formatted, entertaining and informative, a great guide for the novice trying to start a program, or a dedicated walker trying to rev up her program or train for a race goal (like moi). Trade paperback
        2. The Film Mystery by Arthur B. Reeve (1921) Fun mystery of the silent movie era (and you know how I love silent movies). Well written, nice pace, and interesting first-hand view of the burgeoning film industry just as it was poised to take off and become mainstream American entertainment.The murders were set up well, and the revelation of the murderer undertaken in Classic Golden Era style. Kindle
        3. Mrs. Raffles by John Kendrick Bangs (1905) Very fun vignettes starring the wife of the Master Criminal Raffles, wherein she shows that she is just as clever a mastermind at burgling as her husband. Separate short stories that can be read independently or as a whole, with minor building up across stories to the denouement. Fun! Kindle
        4. A Series of Unfortunate Events No. 3 The Wide Window by Lemony Snicket (2001) The third entry in the tragic saga of Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire. How many forgotten, distant relations do these kids have? And when will the banker Mr. Poe start to believe them when they identify someone as Count Olaf? Love the Edward Goreyness of the series. Kindle
        5. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (1820) I listened to a reading of this on BBC Radio 7 last fall, and when I bought my Kindle it was one of the first books I downloaded. Last week I also watched Sleepy Hollow with Johnny Depp just to continue the wonderful, historic, creepy atmosphere as Halloween lurks around the corner. Great novella, wonderful ambiance, spine-tingling fear as Ichabod is menaced by the Headless Horsemen. Anyone who grew up around the New York/NewJersey/Connecticut area will always have a secret dread of two things: the Jersey Devil and the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow. Definitely recommended. Kindle
        6. The Static of the Spheres by Eric Kraft (2009) Novella of a boy and his grandfather building their own short wave radio set. Touching but not maudlin, a sweet fictional reminiscence. While the narrator never really emerges with much personality from the book, the grandfather and grandmother are more engaging and well-rounded characters. I'd love to eat in their kitchen one Saturday night. Kindle
        7. The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett (1896) Wonderful depiction of life in a small Maine fishing village at the turn of the century, when modern changes were already affecting the fabric of local life. Sympathetic depiction of eccentric characters and warm acceptance of their quirkiness by their neighbors, a lovely little celebration of Yankee fortitude and kindness. I've been wanting to read this one for years, and am so glad I finally have. I'd love to live in that little town. Kindle
        8. Walking to Vermont by Christopher Wren (2004) Now this is the kind of walking book I've been wanting to read (forget that one from last month). Mr. Wren, a former New York Times reporter, decided to start his retirement by walking out of his office in New York City to his retirement home in Vermont. Once he leaves NYC, he hikes along the Appalachian Trail, and takes us along with him in a well-written memoir that weaves reminiscences of his time as a foreign reporter with his hiking experience and the people he meets along the AT. Full of the charming and odd people one meets in out-of-the-way places, we also get to meet big-hearted people, like the woman who has made thousands of chocolate chip cookies that she gives to the AT hikers, the people who let the the hikers sleep on their lawns or leave coolers of cold juice out on the trail. Local historical tidbits are included and help flesh out the journey.  Reading about it is the next best thing to hiking the trail.  Hardcover
        9. Real Murders by Charlaine Harris (1990) First of the Aurora Teagarden mysteries. Members of a club who meet monthly to discuss old, unsolved, historical murders are appalled to find that one of them is recreating these murders, using club members as victims. Enjoyable until a child was kidnapped and threatened; I intensely dislike books where children are hurt or molested or killed. Once I get the bad taste lingering behind from that aspect of the story, I may give Roe and her friends another shot. Audiobook
        10. Brood of the Witch Queen by Sax Rohmer (1918) Egyptian curses! Supernatural appearances! A pair or disembodies hands that mysteriously appears--and kills!Danger! Romance! A great story, very atmospheric, ruined by too abrupt an ending. But the ride to the end is great fun, with an ancient mummy come to life threatening Edwardian London, a fragrance that can kill, human sacrifice, and basically all the ingredients to a rollicking good adventure a la Indiana Jones. Kindle