September 28, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Lincoln to Wabash and back ... 60 miles!
(click on photo to enlarge)

September 24, 2011

Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States. (Go here for more information)

Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Myracle, Lauren
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
11. Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
12. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
13. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
15. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
16. Forever, by Judy Blume
17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
18. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
19. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
20. King and King, by Linda de Haan
21. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
22. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar
23. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
24. In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak
25. Killing Mr. Griffen, by Lois Duncan
26. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
27. My Brother Sam Is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier
28. Bridge To Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
29. The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline B. Cooney
30. We All Fall Down, by Robert Cormier
31. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
32. Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
33. Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson
34. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
35. Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison
36. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
37. It’s So Amazing, by Robie Harris
38. Arming America, by Michael Bellasiles
39. Kaffir Boy, by Mark Mathabane
40. Life is Funny, by E.R. Frank
41. Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher
42. The Fighting Ground, by Avi
43. Blubber, by Judy Blume
44. Athletic Shorts, by Chris Crutcher
45. Crazy Lady, by Jane Leslie Conly
46. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
47. The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby, by George Beard
48. Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez
49. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
50. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
51. Daughters of Eve, by Lois Duncan
52. The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson
53. You Hear Me?, by Betsy Franco
54. The Facts Speak for Themselves, by Brock Cole
55. Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Green
56. When Dad Killed Mom, by Julius Lester
57. Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause
58. Fat Kid Rules the World, by K.L. Going
59. Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes
60. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
61. Draw Me A Star, by Eric Carle
62. The Stupids (series), by Harry Allard
63. The Terrorist, by Caroline B. Cooney
64. Mick Harte Was Here, by Barbara Park
65. The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
66. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor
67. A Time to Kill, by John Grisham
68. Always Running, by Luis Rodriguez
69. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
70. Harris and Me, by Gary Paulsen
71. Junie B. Jones (series), by Barbara Park
72. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
73. What’s Happening to My Body Book, by Lynda Madaras
74. The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
75. Anastasia (series), by Lois Lowry
76. A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
77. Crazy: A Novel, by Benjamin Lebert
78. The Joy of Gay Sex, by Dr. Charles Silverstein
79. The Upstairs Room, by Johanna Reiss
80. A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck
81. Black Boy, by Richard Wright
82. Deal With It!, by Esther Drill
83. Detour for Emmy, by Marilyn Reynolds
84. So Far From the Bamboo Grove, by Yoko Watkins
85. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher
86. Cut, by Patricia McCormick
87. Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume
88. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
89. Friday Night Lights, by H.G. Bissenger
90. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle
91. Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George
92. The Boy Who Lost His Face, by Louis Sachar
93. Bumps in the Night, by Harry Allard
94. Goosebumps (series), by R.L. Stine
95. Shade’s Children, by Garth Nix
96. Grendel, by John Gardner
97. The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende
98. I Saw Esau, by Iona Opte
99. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
100. America: A Novel, by E.R. Frank

The books I've read are highlighted in red. So many of these wound up on my "favorites" shelf (The Color Purple; To Kill a Mockingbird; The Giver; Beloved; Bless Me, Ultima; Snow Falling on Cedars; The Kite Runner; The Things They Carried; A Time To Kill; The Lovely Bones; and A Prayer For Owen Meany). Most of these books were read in my pre-blogging days. However, I've provided links to the two that I have reviewed.

How about you? Any favorites from the list that you can recommend?

Click on the Banned Book Week tag for lists from previous years.

September 23, 2011

{this moment}

A Friday ritual. A single photo* - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. - Amanda Soule

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* Today required two photos!

September 22, 2011


Awakening by S. J. Bolton
2009 Minotaur Books
Finished on 8/1/11
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher’s Blurb:

Clara Benning, a veterinary surgeon, is young and intelligent, but reclusive. Disfigured by a childhood accident, she prefers animals to people. When a man dies following a supposed snake-bite, Clara’s expertise is needed. She’s chilled to learn that the victim’s postmortem shows a higher concentration of venom than could ever be found in one snake: The killer was human. Assisted by a neighbor and an eccentric reptile expert, Clara uncovers links to an ancient ritual, an abandoned house, and a fifty-year-old tragedy. But for someone the truth must remain buried in the past—even if they have to kill to keep it there.

Awakening is a disturbing tale of dark secrets that will have readers unable to stop for a breath until they reach the stunning climax of this extraordinary read from acclaimed author. S. J. Bolton.

I had never heard of S. J. Bolton until I read the following on my mom’s blog:

Blood Harvest – S. J. Bolton – This is the third of her books I’ve read, and by far the best. I had to stop reading every so often because it was so tense – but I had to go back almost immediately to see what was going to happen next!

I borrowed Mom’s copy of Awakening and started in after we returned from our visit to Oregon. I thought it was pretty good, but not outstanding. The mystery became a bit complicated and the finale was convoluted, but that seems to be my usual complaint about a lot of mysteries. It may be that I get too wrapped up in the main characters’ story and forget to pay attention to the details of the murder as they’re revealed. I liked Clara, but I lost track of some of the other characters and their relationship to one another.

With that said, this is quite an intense read and several times I commented to my husband that I was surprised that my mom actually read it. She has a great phobia of snakes, as do I. I can hardly bare to touch a magazine page if it features a snake. And the following passage had me holding my breath, as I too once had a snake (a very large snake!) in my house—when I was about 7 months pregnant!!

The snake and I were holding eye-contact, and I was beginning to wonder if there was something in the old stories about snakes having the power to mesmerize, ‘No,’ I said, ‘that isn’t a grass snake.’

‘What, then? It doesn’t look like an adder.’

‘Get the others out of here. Don’t let them touch anything else. If you can close windows and doors, that’d be good, but don’t go near any more snakes. The man who was bitten — make sure he gets to hospital straight away. He needs to be under constant observation. Then get me an empty carry-box. And a weapon of some king — hammer, axe — something like that. Be as quick as you can.’

‘But what…’

‘Just do it!’

He was gone. I heard him cross the corridor, feet pounding on the bare wooden floors, running downstairs, shouting to the other three men. I heard them questioning, even arguing, and then all of them left the house. The front door slammed shut and the house was silent.

The sudden flurry of noise had disturbed the snake. It moved, heading for the refuge of the open wardrobe. If it went inside I could trap it, wait until help and proper equipment arrived. Oh, please let it go inside.

The snake didn’t go inside the wardrobe, but instead started to glide up the door, the carvings on the old oak making it an easy task. Reaching the top, its body shimmered and disappeared over the rim.

OK, I had to stay calm. The snake on top of the wardrobe had to be caught or, failing that, killed. And I had to do that knowing there could be others in the room, or elsewhere in the house I felt sick, realizing the danger I’d put those men in. I should never have let them stay in the house.

Oxyuranus microlepidotus,
which is endemic to Australia,
has the most toxic venom
of any terrestrial snake species worldwide.

My friend, Wendy, enjoyed this thriller a bit more than I did:

I love when a novel keeps me guessing…and even though I had thoughts about the central mystery, I found that my assumptions were often “off” just enough to keep the plot interesting. Readers who are afraid of snakes will not want to read this novel at night when they are alone – the snakes become central characters in a book which feels gothic and creepy. (Wendy, of Caribousmom)

You can find Wendy’s complete review for Awakening here.

I’m anxious to read Blood Harvest, as well as Bolton’s recent release, Now You See Me. From what I’ve read, Bolton’s mysteries get better and better with each new release. Nancy Pearl said:

Before she published Blood Harvest, S. J. Bolton wrote two mysteries. The first (Sacrifice) was terrific; the second (Awakening) was even better; and Blood Harvest is, not to put too fine a word on it, outstanding. . . . All the ingredients for a top-notch psychological mystery by a novelist who adroitly melds the natural and (possibly) supernatural into a spine-tingling gothic thriller. Fans of Barbara Vine, Mary Stewart, Daphne du Maurier, and Dorothy Eden shouldn’t miss this one. —Nancy Pearl, NPR’s Morning Edition, on Blood Harvest

Fall is here and there's a chill in the air. If you enjoy gothic thrillers, this may be just the book for you. It's certainly a page-turner and will keep you up until the wee small hours of the morning...hopefully reading and not with nightmares of snakes!

So, how many of you have heard of S. J. Bolton?

About the Author:

S. J. Bolton is a two-time Mary Higgins Clark Award winner and an ITW Thriller Award, CWA Gold Dagger, and Barry Award nominee. Her fascination with British folklore, especially the dark and haunting side of those legends, fuels her writing. She grew up in Lancashire, England, and now lives near Oxford with her family.

September 21, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Lincoln City, Oregon
July 2011

September 18, 2011

Sea Escape

Sea Escape by Lynne Griffin
2010 Simon & Schuster
Finished 8/10/11
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher’s Blurb:

Acclaimed novelist and nationally recognized family expert Lynne Griffin returns with Sea Escape—an emotional, beautifully imagined story inspired by the author’s family letters about the ties that bind mothers and daughters.

Laura Martinez is wedged in the middle place, grappling with her busy life as a nurse, wife, and devoted mom to Henry and Claire, when her estranged mother, Helen, suffers a devastating stroke. In a desperate attempt to lure her mother into choosing life, Laura goes to Sea Escape, the pristine beach home that Helen took refuge in when her carefully crafted life unraveled years ago, after the death of her beloved husband, Joseph. There, Laura hunts for the legendary love letters her husband wrote to her mother when he served as a reporter for the Associated Press during wartime Vietnam. Believing the beauty and sway of her father’s words will have the power to heal, Laura reads the letters bedside to her mother—a woman who once spoke the language of fabric; of Peony Sky in Jade and Paradise Garden Sage—but who can’t or won’t speak to her now. As Laura delves deeper into her tangled family history, each letter revealing patchwork details of her parents’ marriage, she finds a common thread—a secret, mother and daughter unknowingly share.

No marked passages to share and until just now, as I typed up the publisher’s blurb, I’d almost forgotten not only the secret, but several major plot points of this novel. While I was entertained as I read the book, something was missing and I wasn’t as drawn into the characters’ lives as I have been with similar familial stories by Anna Quindlen, Lisa Genova, Marisa de los Santos, and Erica Bauermeister. Earning a fairly high rating on Amazon (4.5/5 stars and yet, only 16 reviews in all), I thought I was in the minority, but Publishers Weekly hits the nail on the head:

Though most of the right women's fiction boxes are checked, this suffers greatly from characters who don't feel particularly real and plot complications that thud into place without adding tension.

However, Bellezza felt otherwise:

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, which revealed layer upon layer of emotion as well as secrecy. I love how it explored mother/daughter relationships, mother/child relationships, and husband/wife relationships. I love the way that Laura came to terms with her life at the novel's conclusion.
(Bellezza, of Dolce Bellezza)

Go here to read Bellezza's complete review.

Wendy’s opinion falls somewhere in between:

I mostly enjoyed this book, especially the parts told from Helen’s perspective as she grows from a young girl into a married woman during the 1960s and 1970s when America was embroiled in the Vietnam War. It is Helen’s story that anchors the book.

It took me awhile to develop empathy for both Laura and Helen – women who I didn’t understand until I was well into the story. At first I felt this to be a weakness of the writing, but later came to appreciate how Griffin reveals the danger of pre-judging someone before we know their history. It is easy to label a person cold, bitchy or uncaring based on their outward behavior, but only when we learn their life experiences can we grow to see why they might behave as they do. And it is through that process that empathy develops. (Wendy, of Caribousmom)

Wendy's review can be found here.

I haven’t read Griffin’s debut novel, Life Without Summer, but it earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly, so I won’t be hasty to dismiss this author. Everyone deserves a second chance.

September 16, 2011

{this moment}

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. - Amanda Soule

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September 14, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Blue Angels...
flying over my house
(click on photo to enlarge)

September 13, 2011

Sea Glass

Sea Glass by Anita Shreve
2002 Little, Brown and Company
Quit 8/11/11
Rating: DNF

Publisher’s Blurb:

With all the narrative power and emotional immediacy that have made her novels acclaimed international bestsellers, Anita Shreve unfolds a richly engaging tale of marriage, money, and troubled times—the story of a pair of young newlyweds who, setting out to build a life together in a derelict beach house on the Atlantic coast, soon discover how threatening the world outside their front door can be.

Sea Glass is the third volume in a series set on the coast of New Hampshire. The large coastal home featured in The Pilot’s Wife and Fortune’s Rocks is once again the focal point of this story. I thoroughly enjoyed the earlier novels in this series, so I was disappointed that this book didn’t live up to my expectations. Each chapter centers around one of six characters and is typically only a couple of pages in length. I usually don’t mind short chapters and can go back and forth between narrators, so it wasn’t the style of formatting that bothered me, but rather a general disinterest in the thin plot, coupled with a lack of affection for any of the characters.

Looking back on all the books I’ve read by Anita Shreve, it’s a wonder I keep trying to find a winner. I loved Fortune’s Rocks and The Pilot’s Wife, but was less impressed with A Wedding in December, Light on Snow, The Weight of Water, and now Sea Glass. I still have some of her backlist in my stacks, so we’ll see if any of them are as enjoyable as the first two I mentioned.

Summer People

Summer People by Brian Groh
2007 Harper Perennial
Quit on 8/4/11
Rating: DNF

Publisher’s Blurb:

Nathan Empson has just accepted the most unusual summer job of his life. In exchange for serving as a “caretaker” for Ellen Broderick, the eccentric matriarch of an exclusive coastal community, he’ll earn a generous paycheck and gain access to one of the last bastions of old New England wealth. But not everyone in town is welcoming—or even civil. And while he discovers companionship with a philosophical, ex-punk Episcopalian pastor, and more than companionship with the alluring nanny to the pastor’s children, Nathan finds it increasingly difficult to ignore his employer’s unnerving behavior. With each escalating mishap, a new aspect of Ellen’s colorful past comes to light, exposing the secret lives of her old friends, flames, and enemies, as well as the story behind a scandalous incident Nathan must prevent her from repeating. Yet to sound the alarm about her condition would mean leaving his beachside oasis and the romance that may well change him forever.

I fell in love with the cover art for this novel.

I should know better than to judge a book by its cover.

In spite of a couple of enticing paragraphs, the promise of which which lured me into the beach setting, I set this book aside after 50 pages. I didn’t care about any of the characters, especially Nathan who is self-centered and immature. The plot is flat and lifeless and the dialogue dull and boring.

September 12, 2011

Sunday Salon - September 11, 2011 (Part II)

I took a break from the Sunday Salon last week since it was a holiday weekend and I was busy catching up around the house, tackling housework I’d been ignoring due to traveling and house guests, and getting outside for a bit. Priorities, ya know?

I’m also now a day late, but I wanted to leave yesterday’s remembrance post up by itself. So hard to believe it’s been ten years. Like most of you, I remember exactly where I was on September 11, 2001. I don’t think I’ll ever forget those images I saw on CNN that day and for the many days after…

Our weather has been so lovely. It’s really beginning to feel like fall is not too far off. I’ve noticed more leaves on the sidewalks and the tips of the sumac bushes along the bike trail are beginning to show off their pretty red hues. And the hummingbirds have finally discovered the feeder & hibiscus bushes in the backyard. Maybe it was too hot for them earlier this summer; I’d about given up on them! We’ve had our windows open all week and even wore sweatshirts on our evening walks with Annie-Dog. I just wish this weather would last more than a month or two. I sure hope our winter isn’t as miserable as last year’s…

With all this nice weather, I’ve gotten back in the biking groove. I rode every day last week, starting off with a long ride with a girlfriend on Labor Day. We headed south from my house and rode on the Rock Island Trail (paved) until we reached the Jamaica North Trail (crushed limestone), which quickly turns into the Homestead Trail (crushed limestone). We turned around at the county line for a grand total of 41 miles. It was an absolutely gorgeous day and we had such a good time that we decided to do it again this weekend. We rode with another friend and went took the same route, only we went to the end of the trail for a whopping 44.8 miles. I had hoped to go 50, but we ran out of trail and I wasn’t up to going further once we got back to town. I was worn out!

I haven’t been reading very much, since my afternoons are filled with outdoor activities (and a terrible new addiction known as Pinterest), but when I do settle in for the evening, I’ve been reading The Arrivals by Meg Mitchell Moore. This is a wonderful “domestic/family” novel, which I’m savoring and looking forward to reading every night.

I finished a couple of books since my last Salon post and need to start composing my reviews before too much time passes. Beachcombing for a Shipwrecked God turned out to be wonderful novel and I find I’m still thinking about the three main characters, wishing I could return to their lives (and boat!). I was also very pleased with Jacqueline Winspear’s The Mapping of Love and Death. After a few disappointing installments in her Maisie Dobbs’ series, this one won me back over! So much so, I’ve started in on Among the Mad. Yes, I realize I’m reading these two out of order, but I’m not going to worry too much about that. The books are great entertainment while I’m working in the morning and I know I’m going to miss listening to Orlagh Cassidy when I finish the series. What a marvelous reader!

Links to the books mentioned in this post can be found by clicking on the cover art in my sidebar.

September 11, 2011

Sunday Salon - September 11, 2011 (Part I)

September 11, 2001
We will never forget

September 9, 2011

{this moment}

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. - Amanda Soule

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September 8, 2011

One Summer

One Summer by David Baldacci
2011 Grand Central Publishing
Quit on 7/26/11
Rating: DNF

Publisher’s Blurb:

It’s almost Christmas, but there is no joy in the house of terminally ill Jack and his family. With only a short time left to live, he spends his last days preparing to say good-bye to his devoted wife, Lizzie, and their three children. Then, unthinkably, tragedy strikes again [spoiler removed]. Just when all seems lost, Jacks begins to recover in a miraculous turn of events. He rises from what should have been his deathbed, determined to bring his fractured family back together. [Remainder of blurb removed due to spoilers]

It’s been close to a decade since I’ve read something by Baldacci. I don’t think I’ve ever read any of his thrillers, but I thoroughly enjoyed Wish You Well and had high hopes for another outstanding departure from his usual books. Unfortunately, after close to fifty pages, I decided to call it quits. Pick a word, any word: Overly sentimental. Schmaltzy. Predictable. Sappy. Contrived. Overwrought.


Note to self: Read the back of the book before adding it to my stacks.