May 27, 2010

Remembering Peachoo

Rachel Elizabeth Scher
February 17, 1981 - May 28, 2005


Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.
~ Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830 – 1894)

For more pictures of our beautiful daughter, go here.

May 23, 2010

The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
2009 HarperAudio; Unabridged edition
Reader: Christopher Welch
Finished 4/29/10
Rating: 4.75/5 (Terrific!)

Your car goes where your eyes go. Simply another way of saying that which you manifest is before you.

I know it's true; racing doesn't lie.

Product Description

Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul, he has educated himself by listening to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver. Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn't simply about going fast.

On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through: the sacrifices Denny has made to succeed professionally; the unexpected loss of Denny's wife; the three-year custody battle with his in-laws over their daughter, Zoë. In the end, Enzo comes through heroically to preserve the Swift family, holding in his heart the dream that Denny will become a racing champion with Zoë at his side. Having learned what it takes to be a compassionate and successful person, this wise canine can barely wait until his next lifetime, when he is sure he will return as a man.

A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life . . . as only a dog could tell it.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I'm really becoming quite a fan of audio books. I have one book on my iPod (for listening while walking or during the first two hours of my shift at work—before the store is open to customers) and one in my car—in spite of my short commute! I especially like being able to give a book a second chance, as was the case with The Art of Racing in the Rain. After reading numerous reviews praising Stein's creative novel after it hit the shelves, I decided to give the book a try. I didn't get very far. I don't even think I posted a DNF blog entry for the book. It wasn't the premise of a story narrated by a dog that bothered me, but rather the auto racing aspect, which early on appeared to be a large part of the novel rather than the backdrop I had hoped for. Having never had an interest in auto racing, it was easy to call it quits and read something else.

A year passed and Stein's book (now in paperback) was still selling very well and I wondered if I had been too quick to dismiss the novel. While browsing the shelves of audio books at the library, I noticed a copy of The Art of Racing in the Rain and decided to give it a second chance. I am so glad I did!! I fell in love with Enzo and found myself looking into my own dog's eyes, wondering if she understands me more than I think she does. I know dogs are intelligent, but I couldn't help but wonder if she, like Enzo, feels almost human.

I've always felt almost human. I've always known that there's something about me that's different than other dogs. Sure, I'm stuffed into a dog's body, but that's just the shell. It's what's inside that's important. The soul. And my soul is very human.

Does Annie wish to communicate with me and Rod in a more sophisticated manner than simple gestures?

Gestures are all that I have; sometimes they must be grand in nature. And while I occasionally step over the line and into the world of the melodramatic, it is what I must do in order to communicate clearly and effectively. In order to make my point understood without question. I have no words I can rely on because, much to my dismay, my tongue was designed long and flat and loose, and therefore, is a horribly ineffective tool for pushing food around my mouth while chewing, and an even less effective tool for making clever and complicated polysyllabic sounds that can be linked together to form sentences.

I found myself laughing out loud as I drove around town, listening to Enzo's story. There's an entire chapter about his hatred of crows and I kept wishing my husband were in the car so he could enjoy the humorous anecdote along with me. Christopher Welch does a remarkable job as the reader of this audio book. At first, I thought he was too dramatic, over-emphasizing the end of each sentence, but I quickly grew to enjoy his voice—Enzo's voice, actually—and now as I reread passages (yes, I bought a copy as soon as I finished listening to the audio), searching for quotes, I hear Enzo's voice in my head. There are so many beautiful passages I wish I had taken the time to note as I listened. Stein's writing is exquisite! I can't wait to reread this book.

This is what I love to do: I love to run through a field of wet grass that has not been mowed recently, I love to run, keeping my snout low to the ground so the grass and the sparkles of water cover my face. I imagine myself as a vacuum cleaner, sucking in all the smells, all the life, a spear of summer grass. It reminds me of my childhood, back on the farm in Spangle, where there was no rain, but there was grass, there were fields, and I ran.


Here's why I will be a good person. Because I listen. I cannot speak, so I listen very well. I never interrupt, I never deflect the course of the conversation with a comment of my own. People, if you pay attention to them, change the direction of one another's conversations constantly. It's like having a passenger in your car who suddenly grabs the steering wheel and turns you down a side street. For instance, if we met at a party and I wanted to tell you a story about the time I needed to get a soccer ball in my neighbor's yard but his dog chased me and I had to jump into a swimming pool to escape, and I began telling the story, you, hearing the words "soccer" and "neighbor" in the same sentence, might interrupt and mention that your childhood neighbor was Pelé, the famous soccer player, and I might be courteous and say, Didn't he play for the Cosmos of New York? Did you grow up in New York? And you might reply that, no, you grew up in Brazil on the streets of Três Corações with Pelé, and I might say, I thought you were from Tennessee, and you might say not originally, and then go on to outline your genealogy at length. So my initial conversational gambit—that I had a funny story about being chased by my neighbor's dog—would be totally lost, and only because you had to tell me all about Pelé. Learn to listen! I beg of you. Pretend you are a dog like me and listen to other people rather than steal their stories.

The Art of Racing in the Rain is so much more than simply a story about a family and its dog. While I enjoyed Marley and Me (click on the title to see pics of my first dog, Sidney), Stein has taken the run-of-the-mill dog tale to the highest level. I can't imagine any dog-lover not finding pleasure in this insightful story of man's best friend. Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants, said, "The Art of Racing in the Rain has everything: love, tragedy, redemption, danger, and—most especially—the canine narrator Enzo. This old soul of a dog has much to teach us about being human. I loved this book." Perhaps that's why I fell in love with Enzo. He's an old soul... just like my Annie-dog.

A Seattle Times Best Book of the Year

A Pacific Northwest Book Award Winner

A Publishers Weekly Listen Up! Award Winner for Fiction

An AudioFile Magazine Best Fiction Book of the Year

An IndieBound Bestseller

A Hudson Bookseller's Best Book of the Year

An Amazon Customer Favorite


soon to be on Lesley's Top Ten List for 2010. This is a great book, folks!

Annie's Photo Gallery

May 9, 2010

Mother's Day

My beautiful daughter
my wonderful mom.

I love both of you beyond words.

May 8, 2010


And the winner is... Beachreader! Congratulations!

I would like to offer my beautiful hardcover copy of Wench to one of my visitors. You don't have to have a blog to win. Just leave me a comment, telling me what your favorite book is so far for 2010. Since this is a hardcover book (and, thus, more expensive to ship), I'm going to limit the contest to residents of the United States. Be sure to include your email address! I will select the lucky winner on May 16th.


Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
2010 Amisted
Finished on 4/28/10
Rating: 3/5 (Good)
FTC Disclosure: Received final book from publisher

Product Description

An ambitious and startling debut novel that follows the lives of four women at a resort popular among slaveholders who bring their enslaved mistresses

wench \'wench\ n. from Middle English "wenchel," 1 a: a girl, maid, young woman; a female child.

Tawawa House in many respects is like any other American resort before the Civil War. Situated in Ohio, this idyllic retreat is particularly nice in the summer when the Southern humidity is too much to bear. The main building, with its luxurious finishes, is loftier than the white cottages that flank it, but then again, the smaller structures are better positioned to catch any breeze that may come off the pond. And they provide more privacy, which best suits the needs of the Southern white men who vacation there every summer with their black, enslaved mistresses. It's their open secret.

Lizzie, Reenie, and Sweet are regulars at Tawawa House. They have become friends over the years as they reunite and share developments in their own lives and on their respective plantations. They don't bother too much with questions of freedom, though the resort is situated in free territory–but when truth-telling Mawu comes to the resort and starts talking of running away, things change.

To run is to leave behind everything these women value most–friends and families still down South–and for some it also means escaping from the emotional and psychological bonds that bind them to their masters. When a fire on the resort sets off a string of tragedies, the women of Tawawa House soon learn that triumph and dehumanization are inseparable and that love exists even in the most inhuman, brutal of circumstances–all while they are bearing witness to the end of an era.

An engaging, page-turning, and wholly original novel, Wench explores, with an unflinching eye, the moral complexities of slavery.

Just as with recipes, I'm always searching for something better. I loved The Book Thief and continue to look for another Holocaust book that will wow me as Zusak's novel did. I can't praise Kathyrn Stockett's amazing debut novel, The Help, highly enough. And yet I continue to reach for other books set in the South, dealing with racial injustice, hoping to come across another stellar read. I wish I could tell you that Wench is that book. Unfortunately, it only just barely kept my interest. It took quite a few pages to draw me in, and while I liked it well enough to complete, it never hit that sweet spot.

I sympathized with Lizzie's situation as slave and mistress:

She was just a slave like any other—beaten, used, and made to feel no different than a cow or a goat or a chicken.

However, I never felt a strong emotional pull toward her or any of the other characters. My sister-in-law read the book before me and said it was a quick read, but I wound up spending over two weeks with the book.

On the desire to learn versus the power of a slave-owner:

He brought her books. The first word she learned to read and write was "she" and it delighted her so much she wrote it everywhere she could. She wrote it in the biscuit batter with her spoon. She dug it in the dirt out back with a stick. She sketched it in the steamy windows when it rained. When she pricked her palm with a kitchen knife, she squeezed the skin until she could write her new word out with blood on a scrap of cloth. She traced the word with her fingers on the smooth parts of his body while they lay together in the storeroom at night.

She was afraid of him, but with each reading lesson she allowed him to take one more step with her. At first, he told her he just wanted to touch her tiny breast. Then he said he just wanted to place his hand on her hip. At first, he asked to touch her. Later, he did not. Each touch was like a payment for his kindness.


She gathered a stockpile of books, precious gifts from him, and hid them behind the flour sacks in the storeroom. She couldn't read most of them yet, but she enjoyed turning the pages, fingering each book's binding, making out the page numbers as she learned to count and figure.

I have to admit that had I not received the book from the publisher, I still would have been inclined to give it a read. Who could resist that gorgeous cover?!

Final Thoughts: Good, but not of the same caliber as The Help, Mudbound or Beloved. Maybe I should try The Kitchen House. I hear that's quite good!

Listen to (or read) an interview with the author on NPR.

Visit Diane's blog to read a more glowing review of this book.

May 6, 2010

Pardonable Lies

Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear
Mystery - Third in Maisie Dobbs Series
2005 Macmillan Audio, Unabridged Edition
Reader: Orlagh Cassidy
Finished on 4/25/10
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Product Description

In the third novel of this bestselling series, London investigator Maisie Dobbs faces grave danger as she returns to the site of her most painful WWI memories to resolve the mystery of a pilot’s death.

Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone. Alexander McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe. Every once in a while, a detective bursts on the scene who captures readers’ hearts—and imaginations—and doesn’t let go. And so it was with Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs, who made her debut just two years ago in the eponymously titled first book of the series, and is already on her way to becoming a household name.

A deathbed plea from his wife leads Sir Cecil Lawton to seek the aid of Maisie Dobbs, psychologist and investigator. As Maisie soon learns, Agnes Lawton never accepted that her aviator son was killed in the Great War, a torment that led her not only to the edge of madness but to the doors of those who practice the dark arts and commune with the spirit world. In accepting the assignment, Maisie finds her spiritual strength tested, as well as her regard for her mentor, Maurice Blanche. The mission also brings her together once again with her college friend Priscilla Evernden, who served in France and who lost three brothers to the war—one of whom, it turns out, had an intriguing connection to the missing Ralph Lawton.

Following on the heels of the triumphant Birds of a Feather, PARDONABLE LIES is the most compelling installment yet in the chronicles of Maisie Dobbs, “a heroine to cherish” (Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review).

Another winner!

As with most mystery series, it's less about the whodunit and more about the characters that so appeal to me. After just three books, I've grown to care about Maisie and find myself thinking of her, Billy Beale, Maurice, and Pris as I go about my day. The audio format of these books is perfect for listening in my car. I don't have to concentrate on who is speaking, as the reader does such a fine job differentiating between each character. I had planned to take a break between books, not wanting to blur the lines between each story, but I'm already anxious to get on with the fourth (Messenger of Truth) and have placed a request for it at my library. I can hardly wait!

See what other bloggers are saying about Pardonable Lies:

Part of the magic of this series is that you feel like you are in the same time period while you are reading. Winspear captures the mood of the age through her description of fashion, decor, and through the dialogue spoken between the characters. You really get a sense of what is 'proper'. (Booklogged, of A Reader's Journal)

Winspear does an excellent job relating the devastating effects of WWI on the British and, in this novel, the French. Both countries are still, 13 years later, dealing with the suffering and loss inflicted by the war. (Jenclair, of A Garden Carried In the Pocket)

I'm not a frequent mystery reader but I really enjoy these books, particularly for the setting and the heroine. Maisie uses unique methods to solve her crimes and I found that this book helped me understand why and how she is able to do this. Maisie finds herself in danger in this episode which added to the pace of this novel. All in all, a solid addition to the Maisie Dobbs series which left me wanting more - fortunately I have the next two installments waiting. (Tara, of Books and Cooks)

Like the other books in the series this is as much the mystery stories as it is a portrayal of the time and place. England and France between the World Wars were in the process of healing while at the same time hints of future trouble are coming out of Germany. They’re not action packed adventures, but are slower paced period pieces as much as they are mysteries. I’m looking forward to continuing the series. (SuziQOregon, of Whimpulsive)

Winspear has created a truly unique character and one that has become more complex with each new book. (Iliana, of Bookgirl's Nightstand)

What I do enjoy about this series is Winspear's creation of a realistic setting and atmosphere of the late 1930's in England and France. Every book has transported me there without fail. (Joy, of Thoughts of Joy)

May 5, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Click on photos for larger view