August 28, 2009

Favorite Quote Friday

Joan unwrapped the strips of linen, then gasped as she saw what they had concealed. It was a book, bound in the Eastern fashion with leather-covered wooden boards.

"It is my own," said Aesculapius. "I made it myself, some years ago. It is an edition of Homer—the original Greek in the front half of the book, and a Latin translation in the back. It will help you keep your knowledge of the language fresh until the time you can begin your studies again."

Joan was speechless. A book of her own! Such a privilege was enjoyed only by monks and scholars of the highest rank. She opened it, looking at line after line of Aesculapius's neat uncial letters, filling the pages with words of inexpressible beauty. Aesculapius watched her, his eyes filled with tender sadness.

"Do not forget, Joan. Do not ever forget."

by Donna Woolfolk Cross

I read this in February 2002. Here's what I wrote in my book journal:

I read this for The Book Spot group read [a Yahoo group]. Informative and entertaining. A provocative work of historical fiction. Based on the legend of a female pope back in the 800s. Doesn't sound too exciting, does it? But the characters are well-written and the plot is a non-stop adventure. It's extremely readable (not a dry, boring paragraph to be found!), yet provocative and educational. There's a bit of romance that keeps things moving along, too. There is a significant amount of "near misses" for Joan and the reader must have a willingness to suspend disbelief in order to not be put off by Joan's incredible luck. I caught myself shaking my head several times, whispering, "Phew! That was close!" A real page-turner. Will read more by this author. Highly recommend. Rating: A (9/10 Terrific! Couldn't put it down.)

It's fun to look back on my journal entries, but they're certainly not as polished as my reviews for this blog!

I re-read Pope Joan a few years ago and was a little concerned it wouldn't be as good as the first time I read it. I was pleasantly surprised that it was just as entertaining. This is a wonderful book. Definitely a keeper!

August 26, 2009

Beach Time!

Virginia Beach (Summer 2008)

We're off (tomorrow)! I've got a few books packed, but I don't anticipate spending much time reading, other than on the flights. I think I'll be busy playing in the surf and sand with a special granddaughter. That is, if Tropical Storm Danny doesn't interfere with our plans.

These are all photos from last summer. Just getting in the mood. :)

I was going to post a list of all the books I'm taking, but I keep changing my mind. I have stacks scattered all over the guest room. I guess I'll decide in the morning!

August 24, 2009

Mailbox Monday

Mailbox Monday is the place for bloggers to share the books that arrived in their homes last week.

I don't know if I've ever mentioned it here before or not, but my mom's a voracious reader. She loves books just as much as I do. And she's so sweet and generous, passing her books on to me once she's finished. After our trip out to see her in Oregon last month, a box arrived full of these wonderful books. Aren't I lucky?!

Click on the titles for more information.

by Carol Shields and Blanche Howard

The House at Riverton
by Kate Morton

Moira's Crossing
by Christina Shea

Life Class
by Pat Barker

by Ann Patchett

People of the Book
by Geraldine Brooks

Thank you, Mom! I can't wait to read all of these great books. I love you.

For more Mailbox Monday posts, visit Marcia at The Printed Page.

August 22, 2009

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland
2008 Knopf
Finished on 8/16/09
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Product Description

A sensation across Europe—millions of copies sold.

A spellbinding amalgam of murder mystery, family saga, love story, and financial intrigue.

It’s about the disappearance forty years ago of Harriet Vanger, a young scion of one of the wealthiest families in Sweden . . . and about her octogenarian uncle, determined to know the truth about what he believes was her murder.

It’s about Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist recently at the wrong end of a libel case, hired to get to the bottom of Harriet’s disappearance . . . and about Lisbeth Salander, a twenty-four-year-old pierced and tattooed genius hacker possessed of the hard-earned wisdom of someone twice her age—and a terrifying capacity for ruthlessness to go with it—who assists Blomkvist with the investigation. This unlikely team discovers a vein of nearly unfathomable iniquity running through the Vanger family, astonishing corruption in the highest echelons of Swedish industrialism—and an unexpected connection between themselves.

It’s a contagiously exciting, stunningly intelligent novel about society at its most hidden, and about the intimate lives of a brilliantly realized cast of characters, all of them forced to face the darker aspects of their world and of their own lives.

One of the things I love about book clubs (in addition to all the great food, wine and conversation) is that I am encouraged to read books I may not have otherwise picked up on my own. Such was the case with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. When it first came out in hardcover, I barely gave it a second look. But August was the month for our mystery selection and Larsson's thriller won the vote by a wide margin.

I don't read a lot of mysteries, but after thoroughly enjoying Tana French's In the Woods and The Likeness, I was ready to give this Swedish author a try. I picked it up toward the end of July and didn't finish until mid-August. This is quite a chunkster!! The mass market is 644 pages in length. And, this was definitely not the sort to grab me from the first page. I struggled with the first 60 pages or so, trying to sort through the various secondary characters (there's a family tree at the beginning of the book, which helped as I got further into the story), as well as the setting and background information. I know nothing about Sweden, so I had no point of reference when trying to envision a certain location or public figure or historical reference.

I really was ready to skip this book, in spite of the fact that it was for book club (and I was hosting). Thanks to a bunch of comments here, I decided to keep plugging along. Once the main characters and main plot were established, I was quickly sucked into the mystery and couldn't put the book down, anxious to get home from work so I could resume reading. My book is littered with sticky notes, not to mark lyrical passages, but rather key points and hints that might help me solve the murder mystery. I followed all the red herrings, suspecting all the wrong people for all the wrong reasons.

While discussing the book with my book club (every member of which, by the way, liked the book -- those who hadn't finished still planned to keep reading even though the ending was discussed), I said it reminded me a little bit of The Silence of the Lambs. I hadn't even read the back cover of the book until today and discovered the following quote from USA Today:

"Mesmerizing... Imagine the movies of Ingmar Bergman crossed with Thomas Harris's novel The Silence of the Lambs."

Well, there you go.

I don't know if I'd go as far as saying this was a good as Tana French's mysteries, but it was definitely entertaining. So much so that I plan to read The Girl Who Played with Fire. Maybe I won't have such a tough time getting interested in it since it's the second in the trilogy. And don't you just love the title for the third installment -- The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest. Yep, that certainly sounds like Lisbeth Salander.

And, yes, there's a movie! You can view the trailer here and a slide show of photos here. There's no release date for the United States, but I've got it saved on Netflix. Hopefully, now that the books are gaining popularity in the U.S., the movie will become available, as well.

Of all the covers I discovered online, this one (from the UK) is my favorite. I love that red comforter!

About the Author

Stieg Larsson, who lived in Sweden, was the editor in chief of the magazine Expo and a leading expert on antidemocratic right-wing extremist and Nazi organizations. He died in 2004, shortly after delivering the manuscript for this and two subsequent novels.

Editorial Update:

I received a nice comment from Reg Keeland (Larsson's translator for the trilogy). He has translated the two maps of Hedeby Island (which were in the original Swedish edition of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) and is happy to send them to any interested reader. Please visit Reg's blog for background information on Larsson's novels. Thanks, Reg! Very nice blog.

August 21, 2009

Favorite Quote Friday

...what a sound that was, his laugh, low and confident again, like your best friend's laugh in the darkness when you believed he was gone forever. (Peace Like a River by Leif Enger)

I read this in September 2001. Here's the review I wrote in my book journal:

Started out great! Very lyrical, humorous and touching. Yet something happened halfway through. It just lost the sparkle. Swede, the younger sister, wasn't as big of a character as she was early on. I have to be fair though. Last Tuesday, terrorists hijacked four U.S. commercial jets and crashed them into the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon, and into the ground in Pennsylvania! Our country has been traumatically altered forever. I couldn't concentrate on my book, so perhaps it was a better book than I thought. What a terrible time for America. My heart breaks for all who were personally affected by this horror! Rating: A- (8/10 Very Good)

How odd that I found this particular quote and review so close to the 8th anniversary of that tragic day. In many ways, it seems like yesterday...

August 19, 2009

Sailing Rocks!

Guess who had his book reviewed in Sailing ?! Yep, my husband! :)

Whether long-time aficionados or new readers discovering him for the first time, fans of Joshua Slocum will rejoice in Rod Scher's The Annotated Sailing Alone Around the World.

To read the full review, pick up your copy of the September issue of Sailing. For a retailer near you, click here.

August 18, 2009

Tuesday Teaser

A freshwater river let mankind drink and be refreshed, but a saltwater river let it return to first things, to moonstruck tides, the rush of spawning fish, the love of language felt in the rhythm of the wasp-waisted swells, and a paperboy's hands covered with newsprint, thinking the Ashley was as pretty a river as ever a god could make. I would start the last sprint of my route, flinging papers with confidence and verve, serving the newer houses built in the filled-in corpses of saltwater marshes as I headed due east again...

With the last paper nesting against Berlin's doorstep, Charleston ceased to be mine, and I released its ownership to the other early risers who had a greater claim on it than I ever would, a boy at ease in darkness. (South of Broad by Pat Conroy)

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

August 15, 2009

The Big House

The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home by George Howe Colt
Nonfiction - Memoir
2003 Scribner
Quit on 7/16/09
Rating: DNF

Product Description

Faced with the sale of the century-old family summer house on Cape Cod where he had spent forty-two summers, George Howe Colt returned for one last stay with his wife and children. This poignant tribute to the eleven-bedroom jumble of gables, bays, and dormers that watched over weddings, divorces, deaths, anniversaries, birthdays, breakdowns, and love affairs for five generations interweaves Colt's final visit with memories of a lifetime of summers. Run-down yet romantic, the Big House stands not only as a cherished reminder of summer's ephemeral pleasures but also as a powerful symbol of a vanishing way of life.
..."We're here!"

When I was a child, this was the moment we had been waiting for all winter. As the car slowed to a stop, my brothers and I would kick off our shoes. Then we'd spring from our seats to run barefoot from place to place, making sure the things we had dreamed of during the last nine months were still there. We'd run down to the beach to test the water with our toes, a foretaste of the hundred swims that lay before us. We'd patrol the rocky shore for sea glass, jingle shells, and the skates' egg cases that my grandmother called mermaids' purses (but that to me looked more like devils' pillows). We'd touch the dinghy from which we'd fish for scup. We'd race across the lawn to the barn, where we'd run our fingers across the winter's dust that furred the pool table's protective plastic cover. And then, like the child at supper who saves his favorite food for last, we'd turn to the house.

When I first began reading Colt's memoir (coincidentally, while traveling to our family reunion in Depoe Bay, Oregon), I was reminded of many childhood summers spent at my grandparents' beach house in Leucadia, California. The house (which everyone who knew of it referred to simply as The Beach House, and always pronounced as if it were capitalized, so I'll do so here) sat high upon a bluff, overlooking the Pacific Ocean; eighty-plus steps led down to the sand where my brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles and family friends would spend long days playing on the private beach. We would dig huge holes that would fill with sea water as the tide rushed in; build castles dripping with wet "icing" made of sand, surrounded by protective moats; bury one another with only our heads exposed, warming our chilled bodies beneath the sand; shiver under sandy towels, popping seaweed bulbs as we obeyed that dreaded parental order to wait one hour after eating before going back in the water; dig for sand crabs that we'd use for bait in the early morning hours, catching perch and the occasional stingray; ride the waves on styrofoam surfboards which rubbed our stomachs and legs red and left us with sore rashes (this was long before boogie boards); join my grandmother on long walks, stepping cautiously as we searched for shells, sand dollars and other treasures along the shore, avoiding the slimy jelly fish that would wash up on the beach, hidden amidst the piles of kelp.

My grandparents, great-grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins and brothers.
It's probably pretty obvious which one is me.

My grandmother sitting at her dining room table.
What a view!

My grandparents, Nathan (Nate) and Margaret (Mardie) Searles.

After a full day in the sun, we'd make the long climb back up to the house, wash the sand (and the annoying tar, the removal of which required a rag dipped in turpentine) from our feet in the outdoor shower, and head inside where we could continue to enjoy the beauty of the ocean from the wall of windows looking west in my grandparents' living room and dining room. Oh, such memories! As my grandfather sat in his chair, watching a golf tournament or working a crossword puzzle, we could find my grandmother in her large kitchen, making dinner preparations for the crowd. Someone was always gazing out the windows, shouting out for everyone to come see the whales passing by or dolphins and seals riding the waves closer to the shoreline, and my brothers and I always fought over who got to look through the binoculars first. And, oh, the sunsets. Beautiful beyond words.

So many memories of that incredible house on the bluff (and the creepy basement room that had a door leading to exposed crawl space, full of spiders and who knows what!) and the times spent together with other relatives who had also traveled great distances to spend a week (or two or three!) enjoying all the fun in Southern California. In addition to all the beach activities, there were trips to Disneyland, Sea World and the San Diego Zoo (although I'm fairly certain we we didn't do them all in one summer). And, it was at The Beach House that my brothers and I and our cousins all learned how to play Mah Jong. Fun times, to be sure.

And, of course, there's nothing quite like falling asleep to the sound of the waves crashing up against the bluffs. It always took me a couple of nights to get used to that rhythmic sound, just as it always took me a couple of nights to get used to the sound's absence once we'd returned to our home in Northern California.

Yes, The Beach House was a special "summer home," but as I read Colt's prologue in preparation for writing this review, I realized that my grandparents' house wasn't really a summer home. It wasn't the sort of summer home that was closed-up at the end of the season. After my grandfather retired from PanAm in 1966, they moved to the house and spent the next ten years entertaining friends and family year-round. It was their home year-round. Can you imagine?!

However, as I began to read Colt's memoir, I was flooded with another set of memories--those of my parents' cabin near Big Bear (in California's San Bernardino Mountains). Like my grandparents' beach house, The Cabin became the place for many summer (and winter) family gatherings and getaways.

The Cabin
Big Bear, California

My mother teaching Amy how to knit.

Rod relaxing in the living room.

The following passage from Colt's prologue particularly reminded me of many arrivals to our mountain retreat:

The doors that are always open have been closed and locked. The windows are shut tight. The shades are drawn. No water runs from the faucets. The toaster—which in the best of times works only if its handle is pinned under the weight of a second, even less functional toaster—is unplugged. The kitchen cupboards are empty except for a stack of napkins, a box of sugar cubes, and eight cans of beer. The porch furniture—six white plastic chairs, two green wooden tables—has been stacked in the dining room. The croquet set, the badminton equipment, the tennis net, and the flag are behind closet doors. The dinghy is turtled on sawhorses in the barn, the oars angled against the wall. The roasted-salt scent of August has given way to the stale smell of mothballs, ashes, mildew.

Here and there are traces of last summer: a striped beach towel tossed on the washing machine, a half-empty shampoo bottle wedged in the wooden slats of the outdoor shower, a fishing lure on the living room mantel, a half-burned log in the fireplace, a sprinkling of sand behind the kitchen door. Dead hornets litter the windowsills. A drowned mouse floats in the lower-bedroom toilet. The most recent entry in the guest book was made five months ago. The top newspaper in the kindling pile is dated September 29. The ship's clock in the front hall has stopped at 2:45, but whether that was A.M. or P.M. no one can tell.

After gorging on summer for three months, the house has gone into hibernation. They call it the off-season, as if there were a switch in the cellar, next to the circuit breakers, that one flipped to plunge the house from brimming to empty, warm to cold, noisy to silent, light to dark. Outside, too, the world has changed color, from blues, yellows, and greens to grays and browns. The tangle of honeysuckle, Rosa rugosa, and poison ivy that lapped at the porch is a skein of bare branches and vines. The lawn is hard as tundra, brown as burlap. The Benedicts' house next door, hidden from view when I was last here, is visible through the leafless trees. The woods give up their secrets: old tennis balls, an errant Frisbee, a lost tube of sunblock, a badminton birdie. Out in the bay, the water is the color of steel and spattered with whitecaps; without the presence of boats to lend perspective, the waves look ominously large. On the stony beach, the boardwalk—a set of narrow planks we use to enter the water without spraining our angles on the algae-slicked rocks—has been piled above the tide line, beyond the reach, we hope of storms.

A summer house in winter is a forlorn thing. In its proper season, every door is unlocked, every window wide open. People, too, are more open in summer, moving through the house and each other's lives as freely as the wind. Their schools and offices are distant, their guard is down, their feet are bare. Now as I walk from room to room, shivering in my parka, I have a feeling I'm trespassing, as if I've sneaked into a museum at night. Without people to fill it, the house takes on a life of its own. Family photographs seem to breathe, their subjects vivid and laughing and suspended at the most beautiful moments of their youths: my father in his army uniform, about to go off to World War II; my aunt in an evening gown, in a shot taken for a society benefit not long before her death at twenty-eight; my grandfather as a Harvard freshman, poised on the sunny lawn. I am older than all of them, even though many are now dead.

In this still house, where is the summer hiding? Perhaps in the mice whose droppings pepper the couch, the bats that brood in the attic eaves, the squirrels that nest in the stairwell walls. They are silent now, but we will hear and see them—and the offspring to which they will soon give birth—in a few months. For if the house is full of memory, it is equally full of anticipation. Dormant life lies everywhere, waiting to be picked up where it left off, like an old friendship after a long absence: that towel ready to be slung over a sweaty shoulder, that tennis ball to be thrown into the air, those chairs to be set out on the porch, that fishing lure to be cast into the bay, that guest book to be inscribed with a day in June. Even on the coldest winter morning, this house holds within it, like a voluptuous flower within a hard seed, the promise of summer.

I haven't been to The Beach House for over 30 years. My parents sold The Cabin in 1997. But the memories live on in stories shared and in photographs stored in albums and shoeboxes. This past July, we gathered in Depoe Bay, 15 of us aunts and uncles and grandpas and grandmothers and cousins and sisters and brothers, for a small family reunion. We climbed to the top of a sand dune in Pacific City, kayaked on Devil's Lake in Lincoln City, and hiked in the Silverton Falls Forest near Portland. But the most memorable moments were those spent in my parents' beautiful house in the woods -- watching my sister-in-law make homemade flour tortillas; listening to the soft murmer of early morning conversation out on the backyard deck, as my husband and stepdad enjoyed their coffee in the company of chipmunks, squirrels and hummingbirds; walking through the peaceful neighborhood and along the bluffs with my brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephews; listening to incredibly gorgeous music my niece and nephews created on the piano in the loft above the dining room; learning magic tricks from my niece and nephew; watching one of my older nephews patiently play board games and cards with his younger cousin; and, yes, teaching my nieces and nephews the joys of Mah Jong. As my sister-in-law says, we Jacksons are a competitive bunch when it comes to that game. It was most definitely a fun-filled and memorable week.

My parents' house in Little Whale Cove (Depoe Bay, Oregon)

My sister-in-law, Ana, making tortillas!

Mah Jong!

Ana and my niece and nephews (Julia, Tim and Steve).

My brother, David, and his son, Caymon.

But I digress. This is a book review after all.

I know I was distracted by all the activities of the week in Oregon (and I rarely do much reading while on vacation), but I was quite certain I'd get engrossed in The Big House once we boarded our flight back to Nebraska, especially since I so enjoyed (and related to) the prologue and first chapter. I read and read and read, but I simply could not get interested in Colt's story. Perhaps it was the unfamiliar location (Cape Cod) that failed to intrigue me. Or, maybe the problem was the family history (which, to be honest, wasn't all that compelling). Whatever the reason, I finally called it quits. And yet, I'm not sorry for the time I invested in it. It stirred up a lot of great memories and made me thankful for the opportunities to enjoy so many wonderful summers at the beach and in the mountains -- and in the woods near the ocean.

And, yes. I saw whales off the coast in Oregon. Just a few hundred yards offshore from the bluff that I walked along every morning while visiting my parents in Little Whale Cove. This time I didn't have to fight over the binoculars.

Does your family have a summer home or retreat? Share a little bit about it in a comment and I'll throw your name in the hat for a chance to win my gently used copy of George Howe Colt's memoir. Entries to win this book are open to all! Cut off date is Saturday, August 22nd.