Sunday, March 23, 2008


I wanted to take a moment to remember our very special dog, Abby. It may seem funny, but she was a member of our family for the last ten years. Unfortunately, she died last night, and our house is very sad.

Abby was found wandering the streets by our former neighbor who took her in. Abby (for Abandoned) was abused by a former owner. She couldn't stand to be around poles or brooms. She loved our pool man because he treated her with compassion, and gave her dog treats! Our neighbor cared for her for two years until his untimely heart attack. Abby came to us and has been part of our family ever since.

Abby was a Scottish Terrier with a heart of gold. She loved to ride in the car and danced for her dinner every night. Our neighbors always knew she was getting fed by her lusty barks, and they would say to each other that it was Abby's dinner time.

We will miss her, but I wanted to take a chance to let other people know how important she was to us. Can she be replaced? Never. Will we get another dog? In a while, when another dog steals our hearts.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

March Bookworms Carnival

The March carnival is up! The theme is women in literature, and it's a great one.

Check out all the submissions and mine, too. I'm off to add books to my TBR list.

Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult

This is my third Picoult book and I read it for the A to Z Challenge. It is a long one at just over 500 pages. I picked it up because the concept of Picoult mixed with Amish culture was appealing. I also really liked My Sister's Keeper and Salem Falls.

This is the story of two women. Ellie is a high powered defense attorney who is having a life and career crisis at the start of the book. She is also having a "biological clock ticking" crisis as well. Katie is an 18 year old unmarried Amish girl who lives and works on her family's dairy farm. Ellie and Katie share an aunt and, when Katie is accused of murdering her newborn infant boy, Ellie is recruited as her defense attorney. To further complicate the plot, Ellie is forced to live, and work, on Katie's family farm as a term of Katie's bail agreement. Thus, Ellie, and the reader, are immersed in Amish life and culture throughout the story. Also, in the story Katie has an Amish boyfriend who is not the baby's father, and Ellie rekindles a romance with an old flame who she calls in to assess Katie's mental competence.

Strengths of Plain Truth: As usual, Picoult is a great story teller with interesting twists and turns to the plot. Katie does not remember the events of the boy's birth so Picoult is able to bring out a variety of facts throughout the story to engage the reader's interest. It appears that she did some extensive research on the Amish because this book really made their culture and beliefs come alive for me. Also, Ellie and Katie are both strong characters in their own ways. Katie has a quiet strength which Ellie learns to appreciate, and Ellie has a worldliness that Katie appreciates as well.

Weaknesses of Plain Truth: I honesty did not like this one as much as the other two books I've read by her. I intensely disliked the ending. If you've read the book, I'd be curious about your reaction. It seemed too easy and too much of a cop out after the trial was over. I also saw the final twist coming about halfway through the book, and I don't like twists that are so obvious. While I did like the details about Amish culture, I thought the book could have been more carefully edited and didn't need to be quite so long. I also got a bit fed up with Ellie's romantic side plot and all of the emphasis on the shunned brother's character. I actually started to skim about 3/4 of the way because I was getting fed up with the characters and drawn out plot.

Overall, this one was not one of her best. I'd have to give it 3 stars. I'd still recommend My Sister's Keeper over this one.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Friday Fill In

1.Spring Break is so exciting!
2. Strawberry fields forever (who can resist a Beatles reference).
3. Breakfast out on a Friday morning sounds like it would taste delicious!
4. Why does sleep and reading make me feel so good?!
5. Washington D.C. in Spring is something I've always wanted to see.
6. It's sad when a good book ends.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to Disneyland with friends, tomorrow my plans include running sound for a wedding and Sunday, I want to enjoy Easter with my family and get ready to leave for Las Vegas and Death Valley!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - The End

Here's this week's BTT question:

You’ve just reached the end of a book . . . what do you do now? Savor and muse over the book? Dive right into the next one? Go take the dog for a walk, the kids to the park, before even thinking about the next book you’re going to read? What?

(Obviously, there can be more than one answer, here–a book with a cliff-hanger is going to engender different reactions than a serene, stand-alone, but you get the idea!)

There are many different answers to this one. It really depends on the book. There are some books that I need to talk about, or write about, as soon as I'm done. For those, I either get a blog review going or talk to a book loving friend.

I don't tend to muse too much about a book once I've read it. I'm normally eager to move on to the next book in my TBR mountain ... it's not even just a pile anymore:)

As part of my daughter's nightly homework, she's required to read for twenty to thirty minutes so we've instituted "Family Reading Time." Everyone sits quietly and reads books together to support her reading progress. That tends to force me to move to the next book so that I always have a book going for these nightly reading times.

Sometimes, if the book was made into a movie, I'll add it to my Netflix queue because I'm always curious, and sometimes disappointed, in the movie versions of books I've read.

I guess I've answered that I do just about everything once I finish a book. How about you?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Negativity Meme

I found this one floating around at a few blogs. Since I haven't posted in awhile, I thought I'd play along.

1. When you dislike a book, do you say so in your blog? Why or why not?

Yes, I do. It's pretty rare but I have taken great dislike to a few books since I started my blog. It actually leads to some great discussions in my comments section.

2. Do you temper your feelings about books you didn’t like, so as not to completely slam them? Why or why not?

I try to be balanced and give strengths and weaknesses for each book I review. I do realize that authors work very hard and are very proud of their work. There have been a few where this was not possible. I did slam at least one book that I can think of.

3. What do you think is the best way to respond when you see a negative review about a book you enjoyed?

Sometimes I'll leave a comment pointing out something I liked from the book. However, each reader brings their own opinions and life experiences to a story so it's important to acknowledge that as well. Every one is entitled to their opinion. I welcome debate on my own blog and have had some great comment exchanges with people who disagree with me.

4. What is your own most common reaction when you see a negative review of a book you loved or a positive review of a book you hated?

I think that's part of the last answer. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

5. What is your own most common reaction when you get a comment that disagrees with your opinion of a book?

I love when that happens. It means that someone read what I wrote and really thought about it. I would never delete a comment like that. Sometimes, those type of comments will make me think and readjust my opinion. Other times, they make for some great debate. That's part of what I enjoy about book blogging.

6. What if you don’t like a book that was a free review copy? What then?

I haven't had the chance to get any review copies yet. I have gotten some free books directly from authors. I haven't reviewed them yet but will note that I received the book from the author as a part of my review. I still intend to be honest because the authors deserve my honest opinion.

7. What do you do if you don’t finish a book? Do you review it or not? If you review it, do you mention that you didn’t finish it?

That hasn't happened recently. I tend to put a book aside and come back to it. If I truly don't finish it, I wouldn't review it. I would probably just write a short entry indicating that I gave up on the book. Hopefully, someone who liked the book might give me a good reason, or encouragement, to try and finish it.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Gregg Gilmore

I saw this one at my local small town bookstore and just couldn't resist the title. Finding salvation at the Dairy Queen sounds quite appealing, and tasty! It is also Gilmore's first published novel. I read it for The Pub challenge since it's a 2008 release. It is also part of my A to Z Challenge. Just to make it more interesting, the author is speaking soon at the bookstore so I'm curious to go and see what she's like.

This is the story of Catherine Grace Cline who is the daughter of the preacher in the small town of Ringgold. Her father is a widower who is raising Catherine Grace (who is always referred to by both names) and her younger sister, Martha Ann. There are plenty of townspeople populating the story, including the five times divorced next door neighbor, Gloria Jean, and Miss Raines, the young Sunday school teacher who is smitten with Reverend Cline. Catherine Grace spends each Saturday at the local Dairy Queen making plans (and eating a Dilly bar!) to leave her small hometown as soon as she turns 18.

STRENGTHS OF LOOKING FOR SALVATION AT THE DAIRY QUEEN: Gilmore seems to understand the people and rhythms of a small southern town. These characters are human with their flaws and artifices. Catherine Grace is a likable character, even as she plots to leave everything, and everyone, she knows behind. Her father, the Reverend, is also a well-drawn character who is shown with his flaws, even if he doesn't recognize them himself. I loved Gloria Jean. She was larger than life and quite funny. I spent a great deal of time trying to picture who would play her in the movie because I'm sure this one will be a movie someday. There are too many good roles for women for this one to get away.

SPOILER ALERT: One of my favorite parts was the ending so skip this paragraph if you don't want to know. I loved how Catherine Grace found everything she was looking for right where she was. I also liked the fact that Gilmore gave her options at the end, and the strength to do the right thing for Miss Raines. It was refreshing that her salvation was not a heavy handed moment of spiritual awakening, but a quiet moment, at the Dairy Queen!, where she realized the power of the people and the town of Ringgold.

WEAKNESSES OF LOOKING FOR SALVATION AT THE DAIRY QUEEN: The author made a point of stressing that the story was set in the 1970s yet some of the plot twists made the story seem much older than that. When Catherine Grace leaves for Atlanta, her father and sister act like it's a world away. I realize that Gilmore was making a point about how different the two places were, but I really think everyone would have used the telephone, especially in an emergency.

Overall, this book is a quick read and thoroughly enjoyable. I'd give it four stars and highly recommend it. I'll do an updated post after I attend the author event. If you've read this one, I'd love to hear what you think. My bookstore friend thinks Gilmore writes like Fannie Flagg, who I've never read. If you have read her and have suggestions, let me know.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Friday Fill In

1. Ahhhh, it's so nice to be looking forward to spring break in two weeks. I'm looking for suggestions for a last minute trip. any ideas?
2. One of my favorite things on my desk or bureau is my symbolic (and quite hefty) railroad screw given to me by a friend who is now deceased.
3. Japanese Cherry Blossom is not something I think about or can even identify.
4. The beach is my favorite place to sit and read.
5.Chocolate and more chocolate is delicious!
6. I love to watch my daughter's face and hear her laughter in movies.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to dinner out with friends from work, tomorrow my plans include a kid's birthday party and planning my daughter's upcoming sleepover party and Sunday, I want to enjoy the tickets we have for a sold-out Master Chorale concert.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Heroes

Here's today's BTT question:

You should have seen this one coming … Who is your favorite Male lead character? And why?

I didn't get a chance to play last week when the question was easier for me. I tend to read a lot of novels with female leads. As a matter of fact, my first real connection to reading was Nancy Drew. I just wanted to be her growing up.

Anyway, a male lead character is harder because I don't tend to identify with the men in the stories as much as the women. There are a few characters that do come to mind:

  • Quoyle from The Shipping News - He's almost the anti-hero because he doesn't really fit the stereotype of a male hero. Maybe that's why I like him so much. He was human and showed real human emotions. I ended up admiring him for the choices he'd made in the story.
  • Henry from The Time Traveler's Wife - He is the same kind of sympathetic male character. I may be putting him on the list because I read the book so recently. I found him to be an intriguing and likable character. I was really drawn in to his emotional life in the story.
  • Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird - This was the first time where I realized that people can change things in our society. I read this one in junior high, and my strongest reading memory is thinking how brave Atticus was and how much I wanted to meet men like that in my life. It was almost like I wanted to find men who had that strength of their convictions. It really changed how I viewed people.
  • the father in The Wall by Eve Bunting - Today was "Thinking Thursday" at my school. We were talking to the kids about books that make us think. This is the book I always come back to. It's the book that I can't read to kids without crying. The father is unnamed but he's everyman. He's the man who takes his son to the Vietnam Wall to find his own father's name. Somehow, this man touches something essential in my soul and personifies the effects of war in a very human way.
I didn't go for some obvious choices like Hamlet and Macbeth. While I love Shakespeare, these are the male characters who changed something essential in me as I was reading about them. Who are your heroes? Any thoughts on mine?

Monday, March 3, 2008

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

As many of you have read, I just recently discovered Jodi Picoult and just had to read another of her books. Some of you recommended this one, and I can see why. I also read it for the A to Z Challenge.

This is the story of Anna and her sister, Kate. Anna is thirteen, and her sister is sixteen and dying of a rare form of leukemia. Anna was conceived, via assisted reproductive fertility, as a perfect genetic match for Kate. Over time, Anna had donated blood and bone marrow to her sister. At the point the story starts, Kate's kidneys are failing, and Anna has been told that she is to donate a kidney. Anna hires an attorney, Campbell Alexander, to sue for the right to make her own medical decisions.

STRENGTHS OF MY SISTER'S KEEPER: Picoult is an excellent story teller. This story is filled with complexity of plot and character. First, Anna is thirteen and allowed to have all the complexity and angst of a thirteen year old girl. Her mother, Sara, is the most compelling character in the book for me. I can absolutely understand all the actions she's taken to save Kate, and can see how it could become all consuming. Yet, I never doubted that she loved Anna, or her son. It was clear how Kate's illness had colored every family decision and, ultimately, impacted the parent's marriage and their relationships with their children. There were times that Sara made decisions I questioned and withheld information from Kate or Anna. I don't even want to think about being in that same position.

Kate was also a fascinating character because she wasn't a maudlin stereotype of a dying child. She had spunk, and I felt that she truly loved Anna. At one point in the story, Sara realizes that you don't "have" children, but you are given the opportunity to be a part of their lives and development. What a wonderful realization!

The parallel story of the lawyer was interesting, but not as compelling as the main plot. Campbell is probably the character who changes the most in the story. He is the one who was truly affected on a deeply, personal level by the moral questions in the story. He became our "everyman," the character I tended to look for to see how to feel and react since I couldn't always trust the reactions of the Fitzgerald family.

WEAKNESSES OF MY SISTER'S KEEPER: There was a subplot involving Julia, Campbell's college love and Anna's court-appointed guardian, and her sister. This felt a bit contrived, and I didn't think Picoult needed to push the sister comparison on the reader. Also, there was a separate subplot involving Jesse, the brother, and his firefighter father. Again, I understood that Jesse was damaged by his sister's illness, but, again, felt that Picoult didn't need to beat me over the head with it.

Overall, I'd give this one four and 1/2 stars. It lost 1/2 a star for the multiple subplots. The main story of Anna and Kate was compelling, thought-provoking, and emotionally shattering. I will tell you that I cried for the last twenty pages. I'd love to hear what other people thought of this one.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Still Life by Louise Penny

I read about this one on a number of blogs and since I like mysteries I decided to use it for the Canadian Reading Challenge . It was the winner of the Arthur Ellis Award for best first novel by the Crime Writers of Canada.

The story is set in the small Quebec town of Three Pines where a woman has been murdered on Thanksgiving weekend. We meet a variety of suspects including a renowned but strange poet, a married couple who are struggling artists, and the gay couple who run the local B & B. Chief Inspector Gamache is sent to investigate the murder. The novel alternated between the investigation and interweaving back stories for the suspects and Gamache.

STRENGTHS OF STILL LIFE: Penny created a very likable and interesting world in Three Pines. The characters all had a sense of depth and it was clear that many of them had some sort of trauma in the background that led them to this small town. Penny created a group of people that had many different stories to tell. I also liked how she weaved the elements of art and mystery together. Jane, the victim, painted a piece that was the key to solving the mystery. I almost wish Penny had given us a version of the painting. I wonder if my imagination created the same work of art as hers. It was a good mystery with a number of twists. I really didn't know who the murderer was until it was revealed. Penny did a good job of leading me in another direction. I like stories that come together well, but that aren't so totally obvious.

WEAKNESSES OF STILL LIFE: There is a subplot where the inspector, Gamache, mentors a young police woman, somewhat unsuccessfully. At 400 pages, the book could have easily lost this subplot which didn't seem to advance the main story. For some people, the number of characters introduced might be a problem. Penny was trying to immediately populate her town, and it was a bit confusing at times.

Overall, I'd give this four stars. I'm definitely interested in reading the other books in this series. I'd be interested in hearing other people's opinions. Just a disclaimer, I have a tough time writing mystery reviews because I don't want to give anything away so I apologize if this one seemed too vague.