Saturday, December 29, 2012

You can read in the dark, but not in the cold

Christmas 2012 was not what we expected.
The weather forecasters predicted 2-4 inches of snow -- we got 10.  Additionally, prior to the snowfall, icy rain plagued us for most of the day, which weighed down the many trees in our area.  With the additional snow, trees began to snap and break like twigs.

Thus, most of Little Rock looked like the above.
Nearly 200,000 homes lost power -- including us.
The temperature in the house leveled out at 48 degrees.  Far too cold for us to "tough it out."  Luckily we had generous friends (who were some of the few who retained power) graciously offer to house our family for 3 days.
Fortunately, our power was restored yesterday.
Unfortunately, nearly 30,000 homes in the area are still without power, and probably won't have it restored until next Tuesday.
But one thing I learned...reading by candlelight is easy, reading when your fingers are blue from holding a book, is not.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Book Review -- The Uncommon Reader

The Uncommon ReaderThe Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
My enjoyment rating: 4 of 5 stars
Source:  Personal copy (birthday present!)
Genre:  Fiction -- novella
Objectionable material:  crude mention of sexual act -- and I'm not sure why?

Royal waves, tiaras, weddings, princes, princesses…suffice it to say, I’m a closet royalist.

Diana, Katherine, William, Elizabeth – I love them all (except maybe Camilla) and would gladly live as a royal for at least one day.

With that obsession background – it’s only obvious that I would adore Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader – a reimagining of Queen Elizabeth, in her later years, becoming a voracious reader.

With the appearance of the mobile library in the palace courtyard, Queen Elizabeth’s day to day life is about to change dramatically. Once focused on the needs of her subjects, The Queen is now eager to read the next book in her TBR stack.

I loved this book. In addition to being witty, original, and uniquely British – it was also a lexiconic wonderland of words like opsimath, amanuensis, and solipsistic.

Additionally – the Queen had some great quotes (and thoughts):

“…briefing is not reading. Briefing is terse, factual and to the point. Reading is untidy, discursive and perpetually inviting.”


“Pass time…books are not about passing time. They are about other lives. Other worlds. Far from wanting time to pass…one just wishes one had more of it. If one wanted to pass the time one could go to New Zealand.”


Books did not care who was reading them or whether one read them or not. All readers were equal, herself included.

My only quibble with this book – there was a reference to a sexual act that was odd and totally unnecessary. Really muddied the entire experience for me.

Aside from that – if you fancy a jolly good read (you can read this in one sitting), please pick up this book.  In the end, you’ll realize that you and the Queen have far more in common than you once thought.

Keep calm & carry a good book.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

May you be blessed with family, friends, and books on this glorious day!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Book Review -- Mr. Churchill's Secretary

Mr. Churchill's SecretaryMr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal
My enjoyment rating: 3 of 5 stars
Source:  Personal copy
Genre:  Fiction (not quite historical fiction, not quite mystery)
Objectionable material:  language, including the F-bomb (infrequent at best, though, and totally unnecessary).

Maggie Hope – American, Wellesley grad, gifted mathematician, expat in London, and working directly for Winston Churchill – what more could a girl ask for?

But Maggie’s life is far more complicated: on the eve of World War II, Maggie’s position as typist (well beneath her intellectual capabilities – but she was a WOMAN, after all) provides her access to many of the intimate details of the Battle of Britain. It also puts her in harm’s way – as a potential target for enemy sympathizers. When an innocent “advert” appears in the daily news, Maggie’s keen eyes, and penchant for secret code, puts her at the center of a conspiracy to bring down not only Winston Churchill, but one of London’s most visible landmarks, St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Susan MacNeal has written a spot on period piece, featuring a spunky sleuth, and vivid detail of WWII London. Although a work of fiction, the author used autobiographical details from secretaries who worked for the prime minister, as inspiration.

However, as much as I appreciated her central character and foggy London streets, I thought the “mystery” of the novel was elementary at best: a missing father, an IRA spy roommate, a dead co-worker – with Maggie saving the day in the end – was all rather MacGyver-ish, at best.

But, I did like Maggie enough that I would be willing to read author MacNeal’s second installment in Maggie Hope’s escapades: Princess Elizabeth’s Spy.
For those who love Maisie Dobbs or Bess Crawford, Maggie Hope would be a comparable read.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Book Review -- Gone Girl

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn
My enjoyment rating: 3 of 5 stars (I'm not sure you can actually ENJOY this book)
Book source: Personal copy
Genre: Fiction; Psychological Thriller
Objectionable material:  Almost everything -- profanity, graphic sexual innuendo and situations -- if it was a movie it would be R rated.

Amy and Nick. Nick and Amy. A match made in heaven? Or a match destined to be destroyed?
Gone Girl is the IT book of 2012. I was determined to read it before the year ended.
The difficulty in reviewing a book like this, is there is SO much to talk about, analyze, discuss, but in doing so, would reveal far too much of the book’s plot and direction.
So I offer the following:
• Gone Girl is possible one of the best technically crafted books I’ve read. Clearly, Gillian Flynn can write. She mixes wit with trauma, romance with tension, suspense with sympathy. Things that normally make me put aside a book (F-BOMBS – YIKES!), I over looked (or closed my eyes) just to keep reading the novel.
• There is nothing to like about Nick or Amy. Nothing…but Flynn keeps you reading just the same.
• Secondary characters are woven into this novel like embroidery thread. You never know how they will fit in to the narrative – but they do – and successfully. Keep in mind one in particular: Desi.

That being said – this was not a pleasant book. It was much like a match: the first 100 pages exploded off the page – but the longer it read (or burned) the less brightly it continued. By the end, I was SO ready for it to be over.

Speaking of the ending: many of the reviews I’ve “skimmed” complain about the ending. I was completely satisfied with the way it ended. Is it how I imagined it would end? No. But it made total sense – and was in complete harmony with the characters.

Ultimately – I can see why this was a 5 star book for many – but because of the language, sexual innuendo, and overriding evil that pervades this book, I can only manage 3 stars.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Book Review -- Wonder

WonderWonder by R.J. Palacio
My enjoyment rating: 4 of 5 stars
Source:  Personal copy
Genre: Juvenile Fiction
Objectionable material: None

Born with severe facial birth defects, August Pullman (Auggie), must for the first time face, what’s tough for even typical kids, the rigors of public school.

He is taunted and teased, jeered and ignored – he is the one all other 5th graders consider to have the “plague” because of his deformities.

But among the cruelty, there are a few points of light – his friends Jack and Summer, his parents, his sister Via, and his dog, Daisy.

Auggie has every reason to give up on school – and life – but through the eyes of author, RJ Palacio, we see Auggie for what he really is – a truly WONDER of a little boy.

This was a remarkable novel about how the viciousness of school aged kids is directed at one student, and how kindness from a few, brings hope to all.

There were several remarkable aspects to this novel: Auggie’s determination, his relationship with his parents, the resiliency of a few friends, the support of teachers – even the love of his dog. Auggie’s plight was visceral and real.

However, the one aspect of the novel I really struggled with was the age of these students: purported to be 5th graders in “middle school,” the dialog and scheming of the students involved really felt like kids in 7th or 8th grade. As a mother of a 5th grader – a kid like Auggie going to our school (K-5) might be looked at funny – and whispered about – and certainly experience unkindness (unfortunately) -- but the lengths at which some of the kids go to isolate and berate Auggie seem out of line with the social maturity (or lack thereof) of a 5th grader. Also, at the end of the novel, Auggie’s friend Jack makes the comment, “When did Summer get so Hot?” Yeah…my 5th grader has no clue about girls – the only thing he thinks is HOT is the new football he’s playing with on the playground.

Aside from that, Wonder is exactly what it says…a wonder.