Wednesday January 21, 2004

Childhood Memories, Childhood Books

A friend of mine wrote to me
... Clare Turlay Newberry - one of my all time favorite authors of children's books/illustrator of cats. She wrote and illustrated Pandora, the book from my childhood. ... I finally, after many years, have purchased Pandora and am looking forward to receiving the book. As a child, I wanted Pandora as my cat so much.

From my friend's glowing description, I hunted up a copy of Pandora for myself and am now also a fan of the drawings of Clare Turlay Newberry. Her cats are so real; how could I resist them?

A few days later my friend wrote

[My copy of Pandora] arrived today too. I almost cried when I opened it - like seeing an old friend. I don't remember there being color on the cover! Does yours have the paper cover? This one does. It shows its age - geez almost as old as I am (I was two when it was published)! Let's just say it shows much less wear than I do...

But as I reread Pandora's story...well, you know. Finally getting this book is a small treasure to the little girl that lies within...yes, still there even after 60 years...isn't that amazing?


My little girl within is still with me, too. Occasionally, I give her a book as well. Four years ago I found her a copy of Junior Jamboree for Boys :-)

When I was 5 years old, a colleague of my Dad's (Bob Allen) invited our family (Mom, Dad, my younger sister, and me) to spend 2 weeks at his parent's cabin in the Adirondacks in upper New York State on the Great Sacandaga Lake. Oh, it's lovely up there.

We went back the next year and every year thereafter until I was 18.

There were a lot of books at the cabin (well, not "a lot" but plenty enough to interest a child who had two weeks to explore). The Allens had two sons, my Dad's colleague and his older brother, much older than my sister and I; several of their old favorites were at the cabin. I don't recall how old I was when I discovered Junior Jamboree for Boys. It quickly became a great favorite of mine; I read through it every year.

Four years ago this month it occurred to me to look for a copy on the web and I found one! Actually, I found two and bought one for my sister. She hadn't read it as thoroughly or as many times as I did, all those years ago, but it brought back memories for her too.

Just having that book is special to me.


What childhood books evoke special memories for you?

Childhood Memories, Childhood Books - posted by Vicki at Wed, 21 Jan, 17:50 Pacific | Comments (0)

Friday January 09, 2004

Imagery

It was September and the colors along the curve of Lake Michigan were ripening. Autumn is metallic here, chrome yellows on the locust trees, planted along the Outer Drive because they can stand the automobile-scented air, bronze oaks on the campus lawns, and brassy yellow maples near the administration buildings. The few trees that stayed green until the leaves fall take on the verdigris color of aged copper. I sometimes think even the concrete paths change color in the fall. They lose the sandy summer look of warmth and become a chilly brushed platinum, sueded but cold.
Can you see it?

I enjoy Mystery and Fantasy short-fiction collections and I've become a fan of Barbara D'Amato through these. I finally decided to try her novels and visited quite a few used bookstores (all on the web), to build a complete collection of the Cat Marsala mysteries. The paragraph above is the first paragraph from Hardball (1991).

Wow. That woman can write.

Imagery - posted by Vicki at Fri, 09 Jan, 12:16 Pacific | Comments (0)

Monday December 29, 2003

So Many Books, So Little Time

I probably wouldn't like all of the books that author Sara Nelson likes to read; we appear to have very different tastes. But that doesn't stop me from agreeing with, understanding, and liking much of what she has to say in So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading. I was especially tickled to see one chapter address the dreaded dilemma of not finishing a book, and that the last chapter discussed "skipping around", something many readers do (but few admit to).

In early 2002, Sara Nelson - editor, reporter, reviewer, mother, daughter, wife, and compulsive reader - set out to chronicle a year's worth of reading, to explore how the world of books and words intermingled with children, marriage, friends, and the rest of the "real" world. She had a system all set up: fifty-two weeks, fifty-two books...and it all fell apart the first week. That's when she discovered that the books chose her as much as she chose them, and the rewards and frustrations they brought were nothing she could plan for: "In reading, as in life, even if you know what you're doing, you really kind of don't."

[cf. Publisher's comments at barnesandnoble.com

...Nelson examines phenomena that will make many readers smile with recognition: the false importance of an overhyped book, the recommendation from a friend that makes you think less of your friend, and, most dreaded of all, the book you feel guilty for not having read.

[cf. New Yorker Review at barnesandnoble.com ]

If you are a Reader (with a capital R)... If you believe that Reading is a hobby, a pasttime, a way of life — not, as a nonreader once commented regarding hobbies: "Why mention reading? Everybody reads."... If bookstores grab you and pull you in, even on an out-of-town trip... This book is for you.

So Many Books, So Little Time - posted by Vicki at Mon, 29 Dec, 11:30 Pacific | Comments (1)

Thursday December 18, 2003

What Are You Reading?

I just finished the fourth book in S. J. Rozan's Bill Smith and Lydia Chin series. The stories are told in the first person with the perspective alternating from Lydia to Bill and back from book to book. Book #4 (No Colder Place) is written from Bill's perspective and I'm happy to say I liked it much more than the second book (Concourse). This is good, as I find myself liking Bill when Lydia talks about him in "her" books. I guess my problem with Concourse was the setting and the story then, not with Bill's cases in general. Wheew!

I did find myself going back to read most of Concourse, to fill in some gaps. In particular, there was a back-reference in No Colder Place that referred to an event in the previous book, that I had missed when I stopped reading the first time. So now, although I didn't precisely "finish" the previous novel, I've read most of it (if in a slightly convoluted fashion) and I am up to date on the lives of the characters.

What Are You Reading? - posted by Vicki at Thu, 18 Dec, 11:04 Pacific | Comments (0)

Thursday December 11, 2003

To read... or not to read?

Do you feel funny if you start a book but don't finish it? If you don't want to finish it? If you don't like it? How about if the book is by an author you usually enjoy reading?

I've been reading S. J. Rozan's series featuring detectives Lydia Chin and Bill Smith. The first book, China Trade, is written from Lydia's perspective. I liked it a lot. The second book, Concourse, is from Bill's perspective. While I'd like to know "whodunit" and why... I couldn't finish the book. I stopped about a third of the way in (maybe a quarter).

The third book, Mandarin Plaid, is again from Lydia's perspective. I'm enjoying this one as much as the first. Is it the perspective? Do I prefer the way Ms. Rozan writes when she's "channeling" Lydia? Or is it the subject matter? Concourse involves the investigation of a beating death in the Bronx (not the nicest setting), the Bronx Home for the Aged (even less nice a setting), a neighborhood gang of thugs, more low-socioeconomic dialect than I would prefer and an antagonistic cop with a mouth like a sewer. Maybe that's what I didn't like. I prefer my (mystery) fiction a little less... gritty.

In some ways, I'm looking forward to the fourth book which will, again, be from the perspective of Bill Smith. Will I find one of Bill's cases to be something I want to read?


Dec 15, 2003

Synchronicity!

I just read chapter 7 in So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson. The chapter title is "The Clean Plate Book Club".

So I did something I have only in my maturity learned how to do: I stopped reading. Right there, on page 71,... I might pick it up again, I told myself. And I might. But I doubt it.

Allowing yourself to stop reading a book — at page 25, 50, or even, less frequently, a few chapters from the end — is a rite of passage in a reader's life, the literary equivalent of a bar mitzvah or a communion, the moment at which you look at yourself and announce: Today I am an adult. I can make my own decisions.
...
Now, thanks to maturity, or psychotherapy, or the simple fact that as I get older I have a lot less time and even less patience, I have given up my membership in the book equivalent of the Clean Plate Club. If I don't like it, I stop reading.

To read... or not to read? - posted by Vicki at Thu, 11 Dec, 23:54 Pacific | Comments (0)

Tuesday October 07, 2003

Under the Tuscan Sun

Rich and I recently finished reading Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. It's quite a good read if you enjoy this sort of book; you'll find it shelved under travel memoirs.

We're both fans of Peter Mayle (A Year in Provence) and similar sorts of books. This is very much in the same vein. I could almost feel the sunshine and taste the food. I was quite happy, however, to be reading about all the heavy work, rather than helping to haul stones!

There's a movie adaptation of the book which we have not (yet) seen. When I was halfway through the book I wondered "How could anyone make a movie out of this?" It's a set of loosely connected descriptive passages. It doesn't exactly have a "plot" other than "Frances and Ed buy a fixer-upper in Italy and renovate it over the next few summers. "

Then I went to the Internet Movie Database and read the synopsis of the movie. Ah... they invented a fictional plot. For starters, they elided Ed!

If you've seen the movie but not read the book, it may interest you to know that Frances is divorced from her previous husband but she is not alone, lonely, or having major life turmoil at this point in her life. She has a new husband, Ed, and has had him for several years now. The decision to buy a summer home in Italy follows on a series of summer vacation rentals in the same area; buying is a major decision but not, perhaps, quite the major unexpected thing the movie makes it out to be. And the pregnant lesbian friend of the movie is entirely a work of fiction :)

Nevertheless, I'm told by a friend that the movie retains much of the scenery and landscape of the book, so we'll probably see the movie simply to enjoy seeing what we could only read about. And, the house is still in the movie. Much of the book is about the house — a centuries old Italian farmhouse that needs a fair amount of work to make it liveable (all within the constraints of the Italian historical preservation laws; e.g. no exterior windows may be added).

In all, we enjoyed the book and recommend it. Rich has already read (and I plan to read) the "sequel", Bella Tuscany.

Under the Tuscan Sun - posted by Vicki at Tue, 07 Oct, 11:07 Pacific | Comments (0)

Friday September 26, 2003

Friday but no Five

The Friday Five is taking this week off, so in its place we bring you.,.. a book report.

If you like the sorts of questions the Friday Five provides, look for these books: The Little Book of Stupid Questions (David Borenicht; publ. Barnes & Noble Books; 1999) and The Big Book of If... (Questions for the Game of Life and Love) (Evelyn McFarlane & James Saywell; publ. Villard; 1995-1997). The latter is a combo volume comprised of three previous books, If, If2, and If3.

If... It's a question. It's a game. It's a journey.
The Big Book of If... calls itself "the ultimate book about fantasy". Each of its questions is "meant to spark and tantalize the imagination." Each question begins with "If..."
  • If you were to be granted one wish, what would it be?
  • If you could dine alone with anyone from aany period of history, which person would it be?
  • If you could inherit a vacation home anywhere in the world in which you could spend one month a year, but that you could never sell, where would it be?
  • If you could be guaranteed one thing in life besides money, what would you ask for?

The Little Book of Stupid Questions claims to be the "perfect ice-breaker for parties, gatherings around the water cooler and — yes — even blind dates". Again, it's a book of fantasy and fantasizing.

Ask someone a stupid question and they clam up. But ask them a provocative, funny, sexy, stupid question, and there's no telling how much their answer will reveal about them — how they think, what bothers them, and what they fantasize about.
For example:
  • What superpowers do you have if you are a supermodel?
  • If you could have a third eye, where would you put it?
  • Would you rather be lost in space or on an uncharted desert isle?
  • Do you believe the expiration dates on food you buy? What sort of margin of error do you work within?
If you like thought-provoking questions of this sort, head for your nearest online or brick&mortar bookstore and look for these books. (Note, The Little Book of Stupid Questions is only available at Barnes & Noble; if you can't find The Big Book of If... look for the three smaller, original volumes, entitled If...(1, 2, and 3).
Friday but no Five - posted by Vicki at Fri, 26 Sep, 22:20 Pacific | Comments (0)

Friday September 05, 2003

Maggie Needs an Alibi

Do you like mystery fiction? Try this one: Maggie Needs an Alibi by Kasey Michaels.

Maggie Kelly is a writer. Six years ago she wrote Historical Romances (with 15 books to date); then her publisher hired a new accountant who fired most of the "mid-list" authors (including Maggie).

Unable to afford a long vacation, Maggie reinvented herself as a Historical Murder Mystery writer and slipped a new pen name past the accountant (with her editor's assistance). She created a dashing series hero, Alexandre Blake, the Viscount Saint Just, along with his stalwart friend and sometime partner, Sterling Balder. Her new books soon hit the New York Times bestseller list and everyone was (reasonably) happy... until several weeks ago.

Until the day that Maggie, wrapping up the latest Saint Just novel, turned around to discover Alexandre Blake, the Viscount Saint Just, standing in her living room. She'd made Saint Just (and Balder) so real, they were able to leave her mind and materialize in her Manhattan apartment.

Maggie Needs an Alibi is funny and fun. The characters are real (although, not quite real enough to materialize in my living room). The conversation sparks. -- Try it. Let me know if you like it. (If you can't find the book shelved in Mysteries, check Romance; it's not a Romance novel, but like Maggie, Kasey Michaels is also a Romance novelist).

The sequel, Maggie by the Book, is currently (August 2003) in hardcover. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Maggie Needs an Alibi - posted by Vicki at Fri, 05 Sep, 11:01 Pacific | Comments (1)

Monday July 14, 2003

Recommended Reading

We've read some good books lately; I thought I'd share. Instead of an entry for each, I'll just put them together.

We recommend:

  • Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next novels (The Eyre Affair...)

  • Lee Harris's Murder in Hell's Kitchen

  • Kathy Reich's Forensic Procedurals (Deja Dead...)

Thursday Next

Thursday's books combine Literature, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, and a lot of humor into one tidy package. Thursday Next, a special operator in Literary Detection (SpecOps LiteraTech) lives in a somewhat surreal alternate universe where computers still run on steam but cloning dodos is considered commonplace. They're weird; they're fun, and we can hardly wait for the third book.

Titles, in order:

  • The Eyre Affair (trade paper)
  • Lost in a Good Book (hard cover)
  • The Well of Lost Plots (upcoming, 2004)
Visit Thursday on the web at thursdaynext.com

Murder in Hell's Kitchen

Lee Harris is the author of over a dozen mysteries featuring former nun, Christine Bennett. Her latest work, Murder in Hell's Kitchen, is different. The book introduces a new character, NYPD Detective Jane Bauer, in an intriguing puzzle of a murder mystery. A few months from her 20th anniversary with the NYPD, Det. Bauer is re-assigned to a special squad investigating "cold cases" (unsolved murders from several years ago). Her team's 4-year-old case turns hot however, as the investigation turns up new clues and begins to point in new (and dangerous) directions. An intricate mystery with good characterization and a surprise ending.

Lee Harris shares a website with three other mystery authors.

Forensic Procedurals

If you don't enjoy the technical aspects of a forensic investigation, you probably won't like Kathy Reichs' books. However, if you're interested in the science of forensic work, from facial reconstruction, to age & sex determination, to blood-spatter analysis, you should find this series fascinating. Reichs' main character Temperance (Tempe) Brennan is a forensic anthropologist, splitting her time (and her work) between North Carolina and Quebec. The realism of the series is not unexpected; author Kathy Reichs shares a very similar background with her character.

Reichs' writing style is excellent and a delight to read, combining short clean sentences intermixed with expertly crafted imagery. For example,

Everything about his face was vertical, the lines and folds moving from high to low, paralleling the long, straight nose and ears. The plan was pure basset hound. It was a face that had probably looked old in youth, its arrangement only deepening with time. I couldn't have guessed his age.
and
The Hydro workers watched in silence as I approached. Both wore aviator shades, and the late afternoon sun shot orange beams off alternating lenses as one or the other moved his head. Their mustaches looped in identical upside-down U's around their mouths.

The one on the left was the older of the two, a thin, dark man with the look of a rat terrier. He was glancing around nervously, his gaze bouncing from object to object, person to person, like a bee making sorties in and out of a peony blossom. His eyes kept darting to me, then quickly away, as if he feared contact with other eyes would commit him to something he'd later come to regret. He shifted his weight from foot to foot and hunched and unhunched his shoulders.

[quotes above from Deja Dead, chapter 1.]

Titles, in order:

  • Deja Dead
  • Death Du Jour
  • Deadly Decisions
  • Fatal Voyage
  • Grave Secrets
  • Bare Bones (hardcover)

Ms. Reichs has web pages at Literati.net as well as her personal web site. The latter contains information about Forensic Science as well as her books.

Recommended Reading - posted by Vicki at Mon, 14 Jul, 13:26 Pacific | Comments (0)

Wednesday July 09, 2003

Growing up reading

The Friday 5 for July 4, 2003
  1. What were your favorite childhood stories?
  2. What books from your childhood would you like to share with [your] children?
  3. Have you re-read any of those childhood stories and been surprised by anything?
  4. How old were you when you first learned to read?
  5. Do you remember the first 'grown-up' book you read? How old were you?
  1. What were your favorite childhood stories?
    Goodness! Anything and everything.

  2. What books from your childhood would you like to share with [your] children?
    "My Father's Dragon", Winnie The Pooh, "The Diamond in the Window" (and sequels), Edward Eager, Susan Cooper, Madeline L'Engle, Elizabeth Enright, Eleanor Estes (The Moffat Family)...

  3. Have you re-read any of those childhood stories and been surprised by anything?
    Re-read... yes; some several times. Surprised? ... no...

  4. How old were you when you first learned to read?
    4? I was too young to remember.

  5. Do you remember the first 'grown-up' book you read? How old were you? Probably 9 or 10? I just worked my way through all of the books in the downstairs (juveniles) section of the library and then started going upstairs. But I also read Readers' Digest Condensed books at home. What's a "'grown-up' book" anyway? What's a "kid's book". The important question is... is it a good book?
Growing up reading - posted by Vicki at Wed, 09 Jul, 09:55 Pacific | Comments (0)

Tuesday April 08, 2003

Booklovers' Mysteries

I have recently been reading, and enjoying, Julie Kaewert's series of "booklovers' mysteries". The protagonist, Alex Plumtree, is a publisher, collector and bibliophile, owner of a 100 year old small publishing house in London. I envy Alex his library, as well as the libraries of many of his friends and acquaintances. I think of an "old" book as one printed before 1900. Many of Alex's "old" books pre-date the printing press!

I don't envy Alex his life, however; it contains far too much danger and intrigue! As is so often the case in stories like this, the protagonist keeps getting into trouble with politics, enemies, danger, and dead bodies all around :) A bit unusual, however, for this style of "cozy" mystery series, is that Alex is frequently the initial target of the trouble (usually the "detective" trips over a mystery or a body and is gradually snared).

The books are interesting as well as informative; the characters are real and likable. The series so far, in order: Unsolicited, followed by Unbound, Unprintable, Untitled, Unsigned, and Uncatalogued.

Footnote:
A small chuckle of interest especially to computer people: I looked up the series on Barnes&Noble online (to recommend to a friend) and was interested, then amused, to discover that the 4th book was mis-"shelved" in their online data base, under the "title" A Booklover's Mystery. Given that actual title is, erm, Untitled, I think B&N has a small bug in their database design :-)

Booklovers' Mysteries - posted by Vicki at Tue, 08 Apr, 14:25 Pacific

Tuesday May 21, 2002

Daniel Pinkwater

Rich and I are fans of Daniel Pinkwater. Recently, I discovered some excerpts are available at: xlibris.com. If you haven't yet discovered Daniel Pinkwater, here's your chance. Find his books; read his essays. Listen to his commentaries on National Public Radio.

Eat Pudding.

Daniel Pinkwater - posted by Vicki at Tue, 21 May, 14:13 Pacific