Thursday, November 29, 2007

Venus Envy. Shannon McKeldon

In this book Venus/Aphrodite angers Zeus and he punishes her by making her be a fairy godmother. She’s been doing it for 1000 years when she lands her next assignment in Rachel Greer, a 30 year old woman living outside of Seattle who has sworn off men after 3 disastrous relationships and has overfilled her time with volunteer work. She’s not much interested in meeting prince charming, much to Venus’ frustration.

This was mostly an annoying book and my finishing it had more to do with it being cold out. Because of the cold, I didn’t want to get up and find another book to read, so I just finished this one. It’s a nice beach read.

Monday, November 26, 2007

What I did on my Thanksgiving Break.

I had the entire week off, which was very welcome. I had great plans, and spent the week in a happy combination of work and sloth. A lot of little projects got finished around the house. The biggest one was painting a wall in the living room. It was pretty exciting to see how the color changed the room. I’ll get an entry about it up on the “ours” blog soon.

I spent Thanksgiving with the BroMAunts (Brother, Mother, Aunts.) I’ll get an entry up on the “ours” blog about that too. Thursday night, I stayed over at my mom’s house so we could go with the Aunts to the Rickreal Christmas Bazaar. The town of Rickreal is outside of Salem, so we had a nice drive there. The Bazaar was great, though had mostly nothing I wanted or needed. Do you have a need for crocheted booties to keep your feet warm? Do you long for booties in U of O or OSU colors? This was the bazaar for you! There were three or four booths with your choice of booties in a vast array of colors. There was also a huge booth with many, many, many decorative toilet seat covers. Do you long for a “roll in the hay”? Then the booth with the plastic bag with some hay and a toilet paper roll was for you.

In the car afterward, we were reviewing the highs and lows. They did have some nice stuff, especially some handspun yarn and more than a few quilts I would have liked to have. But there was some pretty bad stuff. The cruelest use of craft items? The room fresheners that were really cute craft teddy bears that some delusional woman had dipped in scented wax. The poor things were strange colors and just looked sad, all covered in wax like that. We laughed hard about them. I found the most useless item to be “Table Leggins.” which were decorative covers for your table legs. You could get them to match your table d├ęcor. They were the biggest waste of money that I have ever seen, aside from those poor bears.

Saturday and Sunday were mostly slothful. I walked to the library to return a boatload of books, and found “Friends” Season 6. I wasn’t sure what season that was, and you can’t tell from the case, but I got it anyway. While I was cooking my first ever brisket, I watched most of the whole season. I finished it the next day. It turned out to be the last season I watched in its entirety, but it was still funny. It’s the one that starts with Ross and Rachel getting married in Las Vegas and ends with Monica and Chandler’s proposal.

Because of my work/sloth combo, I was ready to go back to work on Monday. Yay for an entire week off!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Metropolis: A Novel. Elizabeth Gaffney

Frank Harris is an German immigrant in post-Civil War New York City. His name isn’t really Frank Harris, but it becomes that after P.T. Barnum’s stable, where he works as a stableman, burns down. He escapes the fire, but is fingered as the arsonist. To avoid that charge, he falls in with the Whyos a New York City Gang. He’s not the hardened criminal the Whyos think, so how will he survive in the gang?

This was a great novel, very full of historical detail. I particularly enjoyed the Whyos and the Why Nots—the corresponding girl gang—as they used their musical talents to carry out their crimes. Frank Harris is a great main character. He is a bit idealistic, but also fairly canny. There’s a great bit of socialism and feminism mixed in. I loved this book. I rank it in the top 10 this year.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Storage & Shelving Solutions: Over 70 projects and ideas that fit your budget, space and lifestyle. Readers Digest.

This book rocks! It is so cool that I took it over to show my brother on Thanksgiving. By the time I finished pointing out all the cool projects, he suggested I buy the book. Which I will, if I don’t get it for Christmas. You will most likely see a project or two from this book appearing in my house. For instance: floating shelves. You know how they get them to float? By using hollow core doors. They also have several projects for adding storage between the studs in interior walls. Which is very cool. You don’t know how cool it is until you see the pictures. Very ingenious stuff in here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Rattled. Debra Galant

I can't read the entire blurb on the front of this book--part of it is being covered up by a library bar code--but the part I can read says: "...of New Jersey what Carl Hiaasen did for the swamps of Florida." Because I like Carl Hiaasen's swamps of Florida, I picked up this book. I am very guilty of judging books by their covers, and I went for it. The fact that Tom Perrotta said it clinched the deal. I really like his books.

So Debra Galant doesn't quite do for the whatever of New Jersery...etc. It was a pretty okay book. Heather and her husband buy a McMansion in rural New Jersey. One day while her handyman--a lifetime resident--is working in her backyard, Heather sees a rattlesnake. She screams for the handyman to kill it. He does, and it turns out to be endangered. Heather is arrested and hijinks ensue.

The book follows Heather, the handyman, the head of a local conservation group as well as the developer of the subdivision as they all react to the crime. In a Hiaasen way it is supposed to show the silliness of the rural/suburban divide. Mostly, Heather comes off as shrill, stupidly entitled and demanding and thus, the last 5 pages of the book when she is supposed to be a good and normal person ring a bit false. It was a good diversion, though.

Eleanor Rigby. Douglas Coupland

I came across Coupland's Miss Wyoming in the Cambridge library early in the century and quickly read all of his books. I love his writing style, his quirky characters, his sometimes supernatural plot lines and the fact that he loves to set his books in Vancouver, B.C.

This book is about Liz, a person so settled in her loneliness that she has the email address EleanorRigby@something.com. It is also about Jeremy, a young and troubled man. What do these two people have in common? I'll leave that to you to find out.

This was more of a caring, Microsurf-ian novel than a sci-fi Girlfriend in a Coma-ian type novel. I liked it, though.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Bizarro has been cracking me up.

Our paper has a darn good comic section. I read a lot of the comics on the 2-page spread, but last week Bizarro was funny.

This first one made me laugh because when I was young and Speak and Spells were popular, we had one. I was a bit hopeless at it, and had endless troubles with "Level One"

"Spell Angel." It would say.

"A-N-G-L-E" I would type in every time.

"In-cor-rect." If you had a Speak and Spell, you know what it sounded like. "Try a-gain."

I would furrow my brow and type again. "A-N-G-L-E."

The Speak and Spell never got tired of my continued misspelling of this word. It would just continue on, "In-cor-rect. The cor-rect spelling of Angel is. A-N-G-E-L." And it would move on. After all these years, I still pause and visualize the word "angel," or "angle" before I write them.

Note. If you clicked on that Speak and Spell link, you may have been as delighted as I was to see the box. "Makes spelling what it should be--fun!" What an hopeful slogan that was. Advertisers. So jaded on the inside and optimistic on the outside.

The humor of this comic depends on if you have a "Friendly Retired Guy" in your life:
I actually laughed out loud on the train when I read this. My father was a friendly retired guy long before he was retired. I have several memories of him going out on a walk after dinner and returning ninety minutes later to report that he'd been talking with the guy 15 minutes down the street for an hour or so. He can start a conversation with anyone, anywhere.

Don't Die, My Love. Lurline McDaniel

When I was younger, I loved, loved, loved Lurline McDaniel's books. Six Months to Live, about a 13-year old girl that gets leukemia, was a particular favorite. All of McDaniel's books deal with teenagers put in a tragic situation. They usually don't have happy endings in the "everyone gets better" sense. I came across this book in our school library and was thrilled to find it, having forgotten all about the joy of reading McDaniel tragedies.

In this book, Julie and Luke have been sweethearts since the sixth grade. Luke is a star football player and Julie's dad is the football coach. After the football season is over in their Junior year, Luke begins to feel run down. It turns out to be Hodgkin's Lymphoma. The rest of the book explores how everyone accepts or doesn't accept Luke's battle with the disease. Will he get better in time to lead the team for his Senior year? Will Julie be able to have a life with a boyfriend with cancer? Will her mother ever get off her back about choosing a college?

It was a pretty typical McDaniel book, though I loved the "message" Luke gave Julie at the end of the book. It was a surprisingly touching scene. I think these books a great for teenagers who want to explore life's potential tragedies in a safe environment. Especially teenagers who want to read sad stories.

The god of animals. Aryn Kyle.

I've been deciding for days if I like this book or not. I think I'm leaning toward "sort-of." This is a coming-of-age story of Alice, a 12-year-old girl whose father breeds and trains horses. Her mother never leaves the house, but stays upstairs in her room all day. Her 17-year-old sister Nona has recently run off to marry a cowboy she just met. This is bad for the business, because the sister was the talented rider, who could lure in girls for lessons.

This story deals a lot with class. Alice's father is mostly a jerk, but more because of life circumstances. The business is hard and he doesn't know how to do anything else, so he will do anything to make his barn work. After the departure of the sister, they only have one riding client, which they hope will bring more clients. Due to their lack of clients, they are forced to board horses which brings a group of wealthy women to their barn. They spend afternoons drinking and grooming their horses, but never riding them.

Over the course of the book we see how Alice adjusts to her sister's disappearance and the family's lack of money. Saviors appear and disappear as the book winds on, in the form of grandparents, a rich horse owner and, surprisingly, her sister's husband. I liked how Alice accepted her family's tragic flaws and just kept working. I suspect this may be based on the author's own life. I also liked how complex the characters were, especially the father who was both a gentle soul and a tyrant. The writing was good, with especially good descriptive language. The class issues were very well drawn too. Obviously, if you are a horse person, this is a book you should read. So, overall, a good book, but dark enough to keep me from really liking it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The invisible circus. Jennifer Egan.

The story of a girl, Phoebe, who sets out at 18 in 1978 to trace the last journey her sister took at age 18 in 1970, before she fell from a cliff in Italy. It apparently was made into a movie of the same name in 2001, starring Cameron Diaz. I won't be seeing it. It was an okay book, but I have a feeling which parts of the book were over dramatized for the screen.

Pat Conroy said on the cover, "If there were justice in this world, no one wold be allowed to write a first novel of such beauty and accomplishment." I would say that is overstating the case by a lot.

Soon I will be invincible. Austin Grossman.

I had this book on hold for a long time at the library, but it was worth it. It was like a comic book without the pictures and with better writing. This book follows Dr. Impossible, an evil Super Genius as he battles the Champions, a group of superheros including Fatale. Fatale is the newest member of the Champions, part human, part robot. The book had a great plot, and also let you see the human side of these "super" persons as in this excerpt where Dr. Impossible is talking about what went wrong with his only girlfriend.

"I guess she got bored with me. Some nights on the island, it's beautiful--tropical constellations, jungle sounds, and luminous fish. But when it's five in the morning in the hideout and you can't sleep, and CNN's stuck on another economic summit, well, that's another feeling. You're blacked out and can't work because some hero team is trolling the South Seas, the heat is unbearable, and it's an hour until dawn, the slow tropical sunrise over the lagoon, and you're thinking about how far you are from home, and that this whole thing was maybe not such a brilliant idea after all, but there's nothing you can do about it now.

"My style of work takes a lot of preparation. I building things and test them out. I have to order parts, or cast them myself. I have to pull all-nighters to debug my robot's pathfinding routines before an invasion. It isn't that interesting to other people."

I loved this book so much it made the next three books I read entirely unreadable. Fabulous.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Book: All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Management Plan.

All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Management Plan.
Elizabeth Warren & Amelia Tyagi
This mother and daughter pair wrote a book about managing your finances by using percentages. 50% of your after-tax income goes to Must Haves (things you have to have to live, such as food, shelter and any long-term contracts you are signed into), 30% to Wants (everything that isn't a must-have or savings) and 20% to Savings (money you save or money you pay toward credit card debt). I think the percentages method might work well for people who don't want to spend hours crafting and refining a budget, and everyone can save more money. There is also a helpful section about Bankruptcy. Not only if you should declare it, but also what actually happens during the bankruptcy process. I've never read anything like that in a personal finance book and found it very interesting and sympathetic. I enjoyed this book and think their system is a pretty sound one. Interestingly, I read about this book in the paper and put it on hold in the library. I was 12 of 12 on the hold list and the library had three copies. I checked in now and then to see how things were progressing and nearly everyone returned the book late. I wonder how their finances are?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

MPR's Select a Candidate Survey

Don't know who to vote for? Minnesota Public Radio wants to help you figure it out. They offer a quiz to help you select a presidential candidate. I took it and my results are below. (MPR doesn't have the fancy "post your results" feature that many surveys have. You have to type the results in yourself, if you want people to see them.)
  • Chris Dodd (29)
  • Dennis Kucinich (24)
  • Hillary Clinton (23)
  • John Edwards (23)
  • Barack Obama (22)
  • Bill Richardson (20)
  • Joe Biden (17)
  • Mike Gravel (17)
  • Ron Paul (11)
  • Rudy Giuliani (10)
  • Mike Huckabee (4)
  • John McCain (3)
  • Mitt Romney (2)
  • Dunchan Hunter (1)
  • Fred Thompson (1)
  • Tom Tancredo (0)
You too can take this informative quiz. Wouldn't it be fun to post your results (or at least your top five) in the comment section? I think so!

http://minnesota.publicradio.org/projects/ongoing/select_a_candidate/poll.php?race_id=13

Things I read, started to read and didn't read in October

I read a lot. I always have, and the insomnia problem I'm dealing with just gives me more time to read. I spend more time reading than probably anything in my life with the exception of working and sleeping. So I decided to keep track here of what I read. I added to this entry all through October, with the intention of publishing it at the end of the month. About a week ago I realized that this is a very long entry and I would be better off posting as I finish books and save my end of the month recap for the books I give up on or end up not reading. So new format next month.

Finished:
The Royal Treatment.
MaryJanice Davidson.
What if the U.S. hadn't bought Alaska, but instead it had become it's own country? With a king? And what if the King ran into a feisty American who he thought would be perfect for the crown prince? And what if hijinks ensue? This is a the usual girl-meets-boy book, but setting it in the Sitka Palace in Alaska made it interesting.

Sleeping With Cats: a memoir.
Marge Piercy.
Marge Piercy has lead a very interesting life. And I am an incredibly boring middle class girl. This was a great book.


The Friendship Test.
Elizabeth Noble.
After immersing myself in Ms. Piercy's fascinating life, I needed some fluff to cotton my mind again. Four friends meet in college, then stay friends and are there for each other when two have problems in their mid-thirties. And there is a romance. I didn't hate anyone, it didn't tax my brain and now it is over.

Cataloochee: a novel.
Wayne Caldwell.
Set in Appalachia, one of my favorite kind of books: sprawling time period with a family tree at the front to keep track of the characters as they age and reproduce. It began just as the Civil War was ending and kept going all the way to the 1920's. This book had me flipping to the family tree constantly, because it had a lot of characters, but I enjoyed getting to know them as they aged.

Sex Wars.
Marge Piercy.
This was a great book. I really like Marge Piercy, her novel Gone to Soldiers is one of my top 10. It's not about that type of sex, but what we would refer to as gender. The book takes place in the 1870s and follows a few main characters: a Jewish Immigrant from Russia, Anthony Comstock (of the Comstock Laws), Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Victoria Woodhouse. Their stories intertwine and made me both happy that women have a lot of rights now and also angry about the status of women, both historically and today. Marge Piercy really brings this time period to life.

Fun Home
Alison Bechdel
Matt is the graphic novel reader in the house--my skimming style of reading and leftover classist issues mean that I don't read them. I did read Craig Thompson's "Blankets," which was good, and Matt also introduced me to the serial comic "Dykes to Watch Out For" drawn by Alison Bechdel. Matt being Matt, he also checked out all the "Dykes" books from the library so we've both read the whole series. It's good. Anyway, the foremost author of "Dykes" has written a memoir about her father's death when she was 20 and he was 44. A few months before his death, and right after (like the sentence after) she came out as a lesbian, Bechdel's mother told her that her father slept with men. This book is a history of her life with her family and is beautifully told and drawn. In discussing with Matt, I learned that it is better to read a chapter, then put the book down and come back later for the next, rather than devour it in two days as I did.

Every Man for Himself: Ten Short Stories About Being a Guy
Ed. Nancy E. Mercado
Not the short stories I thought it would be, a fact which is clearly stated in the introduction: "They are not stories about your voice changing, learning how to shave, or any other 'coming-of-age' cliches like that." Instead there are 10 pretty original stories. About a guy who has a lottery to take a girl to the prom and finds that every action around that becomes a statement for someone. About The Unbeatable, a student at the NewMan Academy for the Enhanced who's name gets him into a lot of trouble. About a boy sent to live with his grandmother who, when she catches him kissing a girl, makes him take care of a piglet. A few of these stories I did not enjoy, but most were good.

Rock Star, Superstar
Blake Nelson.
Pete is a high school student who plays bass in a band. It's a cover band, but they make good money. He joins another band and they suddenly have a chance to make it big. But is this high school student ready for the big time? And how does this affect his relationship with his girlfriend, his father and his friends? I read a good amount of Young Adult fiction and this was some good stuff. It was also set in Portland, so that was fun. And the main character reminded me of one of the kids in my youth group. Blake Nelson wrote "Paranoid Park" which Gus Van Sant adapted into his new movie.

Linden Hills
Gloria Naylor.
I read Mama Day in college and loved the book. I tried to read The Men of Brewster Place and couldn't get into it. So when I was checking out books a few weeks ago I stumbled into the "N's" and happily found Naylor, Gloria. This book is about land owned by a former slave before the Civil War. After the war his son and grandson, etc through five generations build Linden Hills, a subdivision for only the best black people. But all isn't as it seems in Linden Hills as two young men find out as they do odd jobs to make money before Christmas. This was engrossing, but hard to read, I finished three other books as I was reading this one. I kept getting distracted trying to figure out where this Linden Hills was supposed to be set (it may have said at the beginning of the book, but I wasn't paying attention) and also what the time period was. Other than that, it was a great character study of a handful of characters. Mama Day makes a two paragraph cameo.

Paranoid Park
Blake Nelson
Another YA book by Blake Nelson. This one is about a high school kid who inadvertently, well, it's pretty gruesome and I don't want to say what it is, but he didn't mean it to happen. He gets away with it, and the book traces his reaction in the days and weeks after it happens. Gus Van Sant's newest movie is based on this book. The "it" scene is very well written in a screw-up-your-face kind of a way. This is also set in Portland. It may inspire a Gus Van Sant movie with dialog again.

Started but didn't finish:
What goes around.
Alexandra Carew.
I hate this book. I'm only reading it because I have no other fiction right now. Every character I have encountered I have hated. No more!

In a Country of Mothers.
A.M. Holmes.
I really liked the last book I read by her (This Book Will Save Your Life) and expected to like this one. However, the shrink, one of the main characters, was entirely unlikeable by the close to the end point (about 20 pages more to go) and her patient wasn't so great either. Plus, neither of these people seemed to need money. Like they didn't have to go to work. It just bugged and I stopped reading.

Catching Alice.
Claire Naylor.
I grabbed this while I was grabbing Linden Hills. It's one of those novels that Bridget Jones has paved the way to publish. I can't tell you how many books I've found in the last 10 years where the main character is tragically flawed, spends the whole book flailing about and finds love at the end. In Bridget Jones there was much laughter. Most of the other ones range from fluffy to sad. This was sad. I'm not even going to bother telling you the plotline.

Anything Considered
Peter Mayle
I really liked A Year in Provence. Every piece of Mayle fiction I've read since that time. Eh. It passes the time, but I don't really like it. I'm about 20 pages from the end and will I finish? Who knows? Who cares? This story is about an Englishman living in France who is out of money and advertises for a position. Anything considered. He ends up on this convoluted chase. It's kind of boring.

Sugar Blues
William Dufty
I haven't eaten sugar since late September (except the slice of cake I had on my birthday). I checked this book out of the library because it is a classic, but it is so dated. I already think sugar is bad for you, so I don't really need 200 pages to tell me the entire history of sugar and all the havoc, physically and socially, it has created. I skimmed, then skipped entire chapters. Then I flipped to the second to last chapter, read it and then decided that was all I needed of that particular book.

Checked out of the library and didn't even read:

Life your Life for Half the Price: Without Sacrificing the Life You Love.
Mary Hunt.
I just read a book by her and wasn't ready to read another one. I'm not in the mood for financial books, though I do go through stages where I will read tons of them.