September 29, 2010

While You've Been Blogging...

I've been hitting the local bike trails on my trusty Trek.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Yep. That would be corn.

Halfway mark.
Time to turn around and head back home.

Game day. Go Huskers!

In one month, I've logged 240 miles in less than 16.5 hours.
I hope to ride until the snow falls.

September 26, 2010

The Girl Who Played With Fire

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
2009 Random House Audio, Unabridged Edition
18 1/2 hours/ 15 compact discs
Read by Simon Vance
Finished on 9/13/10
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Product Description

Mikael Blomkvist, crusading journalist and publisher of the magazine Millennium, has decided to run a story that will expose an extensive sex trafficking operation between Eastern Europe and Sweden, implicating well-known and highly placed members of Swedish society, business, and government.

But he has no idea just how explosive the story will be until, on the eve of publication, the two investigating reporters are murdered. And even more shocking for Blomkvist: the fingerprints found on the murder weapon belong to Lisbeth Salander—the troubled, wise-beyond-her-years genius hacker who came to his aid in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and who now becomes the focus and fierce heart of The Girl Who Played with Fire.

As Blomkvist, alone in his belief in Salander’s innocence, plunges into an investigation of the slayings, Salander herself is drawn into a murderous hunt in which she is the prey, and which compels her to revisit her dark past in an effort to settle with it once and for all.

Wow. For those of you who struggled with the opening chapters of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, you can rest assured that the second installment in the late Stieg Larsson's trilogy does not disappoint. I enjoyed The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but I loved The Girl Who Played with Fire. I felt the latter was less confusing and more evenly paced and I was immediately drawn in to the narrative, eager to discover more about Lisbeth Salander and her dark past. What an interesting character, so complex and so seriously flawed that one might think she exhibits sociopathic traits; yet, I found her completely sympathetic and likeable.

And, unlike the first in this series, I had no trouble with the Swedish names and locations thanks to Simon Vance's superb reading. Listening to an audio book is so helpful when it comes to a book set in a foreign country. The repetition of hearing the pronunciation of city names, as well as those of the characters, makes for a much more enjoyable reading experience. (Although I did need to glance at the book as I got toward the end, since a few of the names are very similar and I was having trouble keeping track of who the good guys were.)

And speaking of the ending, the final chapter had me holding my breath with trepidation and as the last words were read, I was stunned by the silence. My first reaction (after getting over the initial shock of the cliff-hanger) was relief in the knowledge that Larsson had written the third book prior to his death. My second thought was to hope that he didn't leave his readers with a similar cliff-hanger at the end of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

Final thoughts: The Girl Who Played with Fire is a riveting sequel. I can hardly wait to read the final book in this series.

I'd Know You Anywhere

I'd Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman
2010 William Morrow
Finished 9/4/10
Rating: 2.5/5 (Fair)

Product Description

The acclaimed New York Times bestselling author returns with a new stand-alone novel—a powerful and utterly riveting tale that skillfully moves between past and present to explore the lasting effects of crime on a victim's life....I'd Know You Anywhere.

Eliza Benedict cherishes her peaceful, ordinary suburban life with her successful husband and children, thirteen-year-old Iso and eight-year-old Albie. But her tranquility is shattered when she receives a letter from the last person she ever expects—or wants—to hear from: Walter Bowman. There was your photo, in a magazine. Of course, you are older now. Still, I'd know you anywhere.

In the summer of 1985, when she was fifteen, Eliza was kidnapped by Walter and held hostage for almost six weeks. He had killed at least one girl and Eliza always suspected he had other victims as well. Now on death row in Virginia for the rape and murder of his final victim, Walter seems to be making a heartfelt act of contrition as his execution nears. Though Eliza wants nothing to do with him, she's never forgotten that Walter was most unpredictable when ignored. Desperate to shelter her children from this undisclosed trauma in her past, she cautiously makes contact with Walter. She's always wondered why Walter let her live, and perhaps now he'll tell her—and share the truth about his other victims.

Yet as Walter presses her for more and deeper contact, it becomes clear that he is after something greater than forgiveness. He wants Eliza to remember what really happened that long-ago summer. He wants her to save his life. And Eliza, who has worked hard for her comfortable, cocooned life, will do anything to protect it—even if it means finally facing the events of that horrifying summer and the terrible truth she's kept buried inside.

An edgy, utterly gripping tale of psychological manipulation that will leave readers racing to the final page, I'd Know You Anywhere is a virtuoso performance from acclaimed, award-winning author Laura Lippman that is sure to be her biggest hit yet.

Vaguely familiar with the author's name, I picked up the ARC of this thriller at work a couple of months ago, deciding it was time to give her a try. I'd never read anything by Lippman, but knew she'd written What the Dead Know, about which I recall hearing good things. I love a great mystery that has me marking pages with sticky-notes, working through the complicated clues and red herrings, racing to uncover the villain before he or she is revealed by the author. I love an edge-of-your-seat thriller that keeps me reading late into the night, scaring me just enough to make my pulse race, yet not so much that I need to sleep with a light on! So basically, I was expecting a read along the lines of Cody McFadyen, Stieg Larsson or Tana French. Unfortunately, I was pretty disappointed when Lippman's stand-alone novel failed to hold my interest for more than a few pages every evening. What should have only taken a week (tops!) to finish wound up dragging on for almost an entire month. The storyline was just compelling enough to keep me from quitting, but the grand finale was anticlimactic and characters easily forgotten.

Final thoughts: Meh. Three weeks to read and three weeks to review. Not a good sign, but you never know. What the Dead Know may turn out to be just what I'm looking for in a thriller.

September 21, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

My new car!
2010 Subaru Forester

September 19, 2010

Fly Away Home

Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner
2010 Atria
Finished 8/8/10
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Product Description

Sometimes all you can do is fly away home . . .

When Sylvie Serfer met Richard Woodruff in law school, she had wild curls, wide hips, and lots of opinions. Decades later, Sylvie has remade herself as the ideal politician’s wife—her hair dyed and straightened, her hippie-chick wardrobe replaced by tailored knit suits. At fifty-seven, she ruefully acknowledges that her job is staying twenty pounds thinner than she was in her twenties and tending to her husband, the senator.

Lizzie, the Woodruffs’ younger daughter, is at twenty-four a recovering addict, whose mantra HALT (Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired?) helps her keep her life under control. Still, trouble always seems to find her. Her older sister, Diana, an emergency room physician, has everything Lizzie failed to achieve—a husband, a young son, the perfect home—and yet she’s trapped in a loveless marriage. With temptation waiting in one of the ER’s exam rooms, she finds herself craving more.

After Richard’s extramarital affair makes headlines, the three women are drawn into the painful glare of the national spotlight. Once the press conference is over, each is forced to reconsider her life, who she is and who she is meant to be.

Written with an irresistible blend of heartbreak and hilarity, Fly Away Home is an unforgettable story of a mother and two daughters who after a lifetime of distance finally learn to find refuge in one another.

This was my very first eBook and I have to say I loved the entire experience. I was able to quickly download the book to my iPad while sitting on a plane in Virginia Beach. I'd been reading Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English and it simply wasn't holding my interest. I had other books in my carry-on, but didn't have time to get out of my seat since we were about to push back from the gate. I was so impressed by the ease and speed with which I was able to download the book and even more impressed with the iPad reader. I love the layout and the ease of turning "pages." Quickly sucked into the narrative from the opening pages, I completely forgot that I wasn't reading a "real" book. So much so that I caught myself reaching up toward the top right corner, ready to turn the page! And, I know I wasn't, but it sure felt like I was reading faster than usual. Maybe that had more to do with the nature of the book and not the manner in which it was read. Nonetheless, it was a great experience and I look forward to reading more eBooks.

Fly Away Home was just what I wanted for the trip home from our vacation. It was light and easy to get into, yet not so simplistic that I wound up focusing on the aircraft noises or felt all the bumps and drops during the all-too-typical encounters with turbulence. I've only read one other book by Weiner (back in my pre-book blogging days) and as I recall, it was also light and entertaining. And yet as I reflect on the novel, I have to admit that the characters were somewhat flat and unmemorable. Maybe I'm just itching for another great read like The Help, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle or World Without End. Fly Away Home fits the bill for a light summer beach read, but I'm ready for something more complex, peopled with rich, fully-drawn characters who will stay with me long after I've read the final lines.

Final thoughts: Worthwhile, but grab a copy at your local library.

September 16, 2010

Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English

Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons
2010 Reagan Arthur Book
Finished on 7/26/10
Rating: 2.5/5 (Average)

Product Description:

At the outset of World War II, Jack and Sadie Rosenblum and their baby daughter escape Berlin, bound for London. They are greeted with a pamphlet instructing immigrants how to act like "the English." Jack follows it to the letter—Savile Row suits, the BBC, a Bently—as he and his family settle into a prosperous new life.

But one key item—membership in a golf club—remains elusive. In postwar England, no golf club will admit Jack Rosenblum. He hatches a wild idea: to build his own. As Jack sets off on a quixotic adventure in the Dorset countryside, Sadie quietly mourns the family and life they left behind.

Despite ancient customs, British snobbery, mythical wildlife, and a shrinking bank account, Jack and Sadie persevere in this triumphant, tender, sweetly comic love story about a couple making a new life—and making their wildest dreams come true.

Set during one of my favorite time periods in one of my favorite locations, this novel had my name all over it. And yet (just like La's Orchestra Saves the World), it failed to impress me. I read it on and off during my flights to Virginia Beach, as well as sitting poolside at our hotel, but I never came to care about Jack or Sadie. Jack's proud, yet naive tenacity started to wear on me around the halfway point. Yes, it's a sweet story, but I wanted something a little deeper and not quite so hokey.

On golf:

He contemplated why he was so drawn to the game of golf—what had compelled him to pack up his life, gather his petulant wife and move to this place? Yes, he wanted to be an Englishman but there had to be something more, a reason for his obsession with the game. Perhaps he liked golf because it had rules—within those little laws lay a logical order. If you played the game and obeyed the rules, then win or lose you were safe. The game contained and held you safely within its structures. For the hours of your round, you could live in this perfected world of flowers and silver pools, and exist according to the boundaries of the game. Golf was a great list of rules, all by itself.

On food:

Sadie's mother was a great cook and had ordered her life entirely around meals, keeping time via the contents of her larder. Mutti knew it was tomorrow when the big loaf of bread she baked yesterday was going hard. It was summer when Sadie brought her the first plate of rose petals ready to be iced in order to bejewel her lemon rose cake and autumn was gooseberry fool, or a big round summer pudding, oozing with blackberries, strawberries and the last of the blackcurrants. For Mutti there were no hours of the day, only meals: breakfast, lunch, tea and supper. Things were either before breakfast, after lunch or between tea and supper. A time like three o'clock meant nothing—it was instead the space shortly before apple strudel and freshly boiled peppermint tea. Then there were the recipes themselves that fitted into neat categories: the conventional ones like "dishes so that you can tell it is summer," "meals for times that are cold and wintery," but there were others like "biscuits for when one is sad," or "buns for heartbreak."

Solomons is a screenwriter and the movie rights have already been sold to the makers of Four Weddings and a Funeral. This may be one of those rare cases in which the film is better than the book. Or not.

Final thoughts: Grab a copy at the library.

How's that for brevity? ;)

September 15, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Stormy Weather in Lincoln, Nebraska
September 13, 2010

(Photo credit to Ami Johnson)

I wish I could take credit for this photograph! It was shot by a co-worker of a friend. Be sure to click on image for larger viewing.

September 3, 2010

On the Road

On the Road by Jack Keroauc
Penguin Audio, Unabridged Edition 2007
Read by Will Patton
Quit on 7/20/10
Rating: DNF

Product Description

On the Road chronicles Kerouac's years traveling the North American continent-from East Coast to West Coast to Mexico-with his friend Neal Cassady, "a sideburned hero of the snowy West."

From Amazon:

Though Jack Kerouac began thinking about the novel that was to become On the Road as early as 1947, it was not until three weeks in April 1951, in an apartment on West Twentieth Street in Manhattan, that he wrote the first full draft that was satisfactory to him. Typed out as one long, single-spaced paragraph on eight long sheets of tracing paper that he later taped together to form a 120-foot scroll, this document is among the most significant, celebrated, and provocative artifacts in contemporary American literary history. It represents the first full expression of Kerouac's revolutionary aesthetic, the identifiable point at which his thematic vision and narrative voice came together in a sustained burst of creative energy. It was also part of a wider vital experimentation in the American literary, musical, and visual arts in the post-World War II period.

It was not until more than six years later, and several new drafts, that Viking published, in 1957, the novel known to us today. On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of On the Road, Viking will publish the 1951 scroll in a standard book format. The differences between the two versions are principally ones of significant detail and altered emphasis. The scroll is slightly longer and has a heightened linguistic virtuosity and a more sexually frenetic tone. It also uses the real names of Kerouac's friends instead of the fictional names he later invented for them. The transcription of the scroll was done by Howard Cunnell who, along with Joshua Kupetz, George Mouratidis, and Penny Vlagopoulos, provides a critical introduction that explains the fascinating compositional and publication history of On the Road and anchors the text in its historical, political, and social context.

Until last month, I had never read any of Kerouac's works, so I was pleased when my book club chose On the Road for our July selection. Not a huge fan of the "classics," I decided to opt for the audio version. I wish I could say I was pleasantly surprised with this literary classic, but after four discs, I had to call it quits. I found Patton's nonstop reading of Kerouac's prose exhausting (and a bit annoying) to listen to for more than 10-15 minutes at a time.

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars, and in the middle, you see the blue center-light pop, and everybody goes ahh...

Truman Capote famously said about Kerouac's work, "That's not writing, it's typing".

Final thoughts: If you're looking for a "road-trip" adventure story, read John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley. Excellent book!

About the audio version:

The year 2007 marked the 50th anniversary of this modern classic, and an audio interpretation is a marvelous way to experience Kerouac's free-flowing prose. Will Patton, noted for his performance of books by James Lee Burke, is a fine match for this text. ON THE ROAD is a winding, meandering journey, and Patton's performance as narrator provides the map. His voice brings the vitality of Kerouac's sense of spontaneity into being. Patton creates distinct voices for the two main characters, speaking for Kerouac in the guise of the observant Sal Paradise and for his friend Neal Cassady in the guise of the pleasure-seeking Dean Moriarty. Patton is appropriately quiet or exuberant, optimistic or cautious, and an ideal guide into the experience that is ON THE ROAD.

In other news, Viggo Mortensen will be playing Old Bull Lee in the upcoming re-make of On the Road. Click here for more info.