Thursday, June 30, 2011

Book Review: Catch Me If You Can by Frank W. Abagnale with Stan Redding

Sometimes making a book into a movie can be the best thing for it, as it gives a book a new life, especially a book published over 30 years ago. (And the adaptation of this book was fairly accurate, if Leonardo diCaprio looks nothing like the hulking, dark-haired Abagnale, see the actual picture below in a flight uniform.)

If you don't already know, this book is the memoir of one of the most successful con men the FBI has ever seen. For three years Frank was on the lam, impersonating Pan Am pilots, a pediatrician, a lawyer, a professor, and who knows what else. But his goal in these impersonations wasn't to do those jobs and get away with it - although frequently he did - but it was a cover for the bad checks he was cashing. He had noticed that uniforms almost blind people and it was much easier for him to pass forgeries while chatting about the glamorous life of a pilot. One interesting thing is that in order for his schemes to be successful, he had to do a lot of research - he read extensively on his topics, interviewed people, and you can see that if his energies and interests had simply been directed more productively, he could have done amazing things in the world, instead of committing amazing crimes. But amazing crimes he did commit, and the story is fascinating! A few times (as the pediatrician and lawyer) he did in fact work a steady job and earn a steady paycheck. He stayed out of harm's way, never performing any medical tasks (he supervised interns on the night shift) or doing more in court than giving an opening statement (and he did pass the bar exam after all, on his third try after four months of studying), so his problem was by no means an aversion to hard work. But it was the combination of the mental challenge, and the adulation he gained from those presitgious jobs, that was lacking in his high school. Yes, high school. He was 16 when he embarked on his criminal career. A large, hirsute, heavily built man he was frequently mistaken for being 10 years older than he was, even when he wasn't trying to be.

The book is a little dated as Mr. Abagnale talks about going out with "foxes" but nothing offensive or difficult to interpret. The story clips along at a rapid pace, keeping the reader on her toes, eager to find out what happens next. With a lot of built-in suspence, you're constantly wondering how long he's going to get away with it all. Unlike in the movie, the FBI agent isn't really a big character here, and we don't know anything really about how he tracked Mr. Abagnale down, or how often he got close. And in the end, Mr. Abagnale does not go to work for the FBI - instead he's an independent consultant who works with banks and large corporations (at least if he has worked for the FBI, he didn't mention it!) And initally after his stint in federal prison (after a horrible term in a Renaissance-era French prison and a spa-like Swedish prison), he works at a grocery store, but is fired when they found out about his record when he's about to get a promotion. Movies naturally compress events, but in this case they kind of glamourized them, and I find the original more interesting in a way.

Thoroughly enjoyable, a fun beach read, I'd recommend this book to anyone who liked the movie, and anyone who likes memoirs.

I bought this book used at the Friends of the Library sale.

Book Review: John Adams by David McCullough, narrated by Edward Herrmann

June is national audiobook month, so I decided it was finally time after months of listening to little snippets of John Adams here and there, to make a big effort and finally finish it. I am so glad I did! I kept hoping that the little snippets would grab me and make me want to listen more, but they never did. However, when I started listening to much longer segments and more often, it became much more enjoyable, as I wasn't always trying to remember who was who and what was going on and where were we, all that sort of thing.

McCullough is of course known for his masterful and exhaustive but readable biographies, and John Adams certainly hits all of those marks. For me, the section on France was a bit too long, and then I felt we got a little bit of the short shrift on his presidency and later years. But I still learned a massive amount and it was thoroughly enjoyable. Did you know that Jefferson thought revolutions were so great, that countries ought to have them every 20 years or so?

The best part of the story of course is the long famous romance between John and Abigail, who adored each other, respected each other, and had an enviable relationship even for today, let alone for the time. I think one reason I may not have liked the long France section so much is that Abigail wasn't there, and for a long stretch John even stopped writing to her.

Before reading this I watched the HBO miniseries based on it, and the miniseries was very faithful to the book (although I did not note any passage in which Franklin takes a bath with a woman in Adams's presence but certain facts are difficult to present visually. And McCullough was a consultant to the miniseries so I doubt he'd allow any wholesale fiction episodes in the show.)

One quibble about the audiobook: it would have been well served if there were little musical bits that could be played to indicate section breaks. Sometimes there was a long pause in the narration and I often wasn't sure if it was intentional or not. Musical interludes would make that obvious, and a lot of audiobooks do use that feature. Especially as the chapters are very, very long (often well over the length of a CD). Mr. Hermann was a perfect choice for narrator: dignified, solemn, and articulate.

Audiosynced is a monthly feature hosted by Stacked and Abby (the Librarian). On the first of each month, they rotate the blogger round up of audiobook news, reviews, and more shared in the blogosphere in the last month. The June round up will be hosted by Stacked.

I bought this audiobook (on CDs) with my staff discount at my previous job.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Shooting Salvationist

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

The Shooting Salvationist: J. Frank Norris and the Murder Trial that Captivated America by David R. Stokes

synopsis from the publisher:
The Shooting Salvationist chronicles what may be the most famous story you have never heard. In the 1920’s, the Reverend J. Frank Norris railed against vice and conspiracies he saw everywhere to a congregation of more than 10,000 at First Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, the largest congregation in America, the first “megachurch.” Norris controlled a radio station, a tabloid newspaper and a valuable tract of land in downtown Fort Worth. Constantly at odds with the oil boomtown’s civic leaders, he aggressively defended his activism, observing, “John the Baptist was into politics.”

Following the death of William Jennings Bryan, Norris was a national figure poised to become the leading fundamentalist in America. This changed, however, in a moment of violence one sweltering Saturday in July when he shot and killed an unarmed man in his church office. Norris was indicted for murder and, if convicted, would be executed in the state of Texas’ electric chair.

At a time when newspaper wire services and national retailers were unifying American popular culture as never before, Norris’ murder trial was front page news from coast to coast. Set during the Jazz Age, when Prohibition was the law of the land, The Shooting Salvationist leads to a courtroom drama pitting some of the most powerful lawyers of the era against each other with the life of a wildly popular, and equally loathed, religious leader hanging in the balance.

Publishing July 12th 2011 by Steerforth.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays: Catch Me If You Can

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Catch Me If You Can by Frank W. Abagnale and Stan Redding p. 88

"I realized I was playing a role that had reached its limits. I'd been lucky so far, but I suddenly knew some child could die as a result of my impersonation."

This is the book that the Leonard DiCaprio movie was based on. In this section, Frank's been impersonating a pediatrician.

Monday, June 27, 2011

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
John Adams by David McCullough (audio)
Shogun: A Novel of Japan by James Clavell - I am also now past halfway with Shogun! Last week I set most everything else aside to make a good dent in it.
Home-Based Business For Dummies by Paul Edwards, Sarah Edwards, Peter Economy

Up next:
Out of Africa by (Karen Blixen) Isak Dinesen
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
The Writing Class by Jincy Willett

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Season to Taste

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way by Molly Birnbaum

synopsis from the publisher:
An aspiring chef's moving account of finding her way—in the kitchen and beyond—after a tragic accident destroys her sense of smell

At twenty-two, just out of college, Molly Birnbaum spent her nights reading cookbooks and her days working at a Boston bistro, preparing to start training at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America. She knew exactly where she wanted the life ahead to lead: She wanted to be a chef. But shortly before she was due to matriculate, she was hit by a car while out for a run in Boston. The accident fractured her skull, broke her pelvis, tore her knee to shreds—and destroyed her sense of smell. The flesh and bones would heal...but her sense of smell?And not being able to smell meant not being able to cook. She dropped her cooking school plans, quit her restaurant job, and sank into a depression.

Season to Taste is the story of what came next: how she picked herself up and set off on a grand, entertaining quest in the hopes of learning to smell again. Writing with the good cheer and great charm of Laurie Colwin or Ruth Reichl, she explores the science of olfaction, pheromones, and Proust's madeleine; she meets leading experts, including the writer Oliver Sacks, scientist Stuart Firestein, and perfumer Christophe Laudamiel; and she visits a pioneering New Jersey flavor lab, eats at Grant Achatz's legendary Chicago restaurant Alinea, and enrolls at a renowned perfume school in the South of France, all in an effort to understand and overcome her condition.
A moving personal story packed with surprising facts about our senses, Season to Taste is filled with unforgettable descriptions of the smells Birnbaum rediscovers—from cinnamon, cedarwood, and fresh bagels to rosemary chicken, lavender, and apple pie—as she falls in love, learns to smell from scratch, and starts, once again, to cook.

Publishing July 1st 2011 by Ecco.

Wondrous Words Wednesday: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy aka Bermuda Onion where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading. Feel free to join in the fun.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

karst p. 11
"Aunt was plump, and her teeth were like jagged stones protruding from a karst cave."
an area of limestone terrane characterized by sinks, ravines, and underground streams.

enfeoffment p. 68
"My husband's uncle was a jinshi scholar, who had received much land from the emperor as an enfeoffment."
1. to invest with a freehold estate in land.
2. to give as a fief.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Book Review: One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde

This is the 6th book in Fforde's Thursday Next series. Have you read them? No? Are you an English major? Are you crazy? Then get yourself to a bookstore or library TODAY to get The Eyre Affair, and 6 books later you will thank me. This series are hands-down the funniest books I've ever read (and yes, that includes David Sedaris). But the one down side to them is that you really need to have been an English major to get even half the jokes. (If you are intrigued but worry you won't get the jokes, try Fforde's The Big Over Easy, which starts another mystery series, these based on nursery rhymes. Detectives Jack Spratt and Mary Mary are looking into the murder of Humpty Dumpty.)

In The Eyre Affair, we are introduced to Thursday Next, a detective in Swindon's literatec division in 1985, where she has a pet dodo, Pickwick, and where the Boer war is still being fought (yes, for over 100 years). Her uncle Mycroft has invented a machine that allows readers to go into a book, literally, so you can hang out with Elizabeth Bennet, or go down the rabbit hole, or debate with Yossarian. But then resident baddie, Acheron, angry about his brother Hades's recent capture, steals the invention. He also steals the original manuscript of Jane Eyre, and kidnaps Ms. Eyre right out of the book. When you use Mycroft's invention on a manuscript, you change everyone's books. Now Jane Eyre ends on page 30. Thursday has to get her back and capture Acheron and recover the invention.

But wait, isn't this supposed to be a review of One of Our Thursdays is Missing? Yes, but I had to set it up since this is the 6th book in the series. Luckily, the way this book is written, there aren't really any spoilers that will ruin the other books for you. Because this book is told from the point of view of the written Thursday Next. Not the real one. So when you are reading any of the books, the written Thursday is who you are interacting with along the way. And when no one is reading, or when she has an understudy to stand in for her, the written Thursday can explore the rest of Fiction Island, and also perform her duties in JAID, the Jurisfiction's Accident Investigation Division (unlike her real counterpart, the written Thursday flunked out of Jurisfiction Training School.) And in investigating an apparent accident, the written Thursday discovers not only was it no accident, but hey, is someone trying to kill her? And why? (And I suppose there is now a written version of the written version of Thursday in the Fiction world for this book!)

I swear you will laugh throughout these novels, you will want to read the funny bits aloud to whoever you are near (which will only work if they are also English majors or else they'll think you are slightly off your rocker.) They are erudite, literary, clever, and also hard to put down. You might think that with so many literary allusions and such smart literary plotting that the story would get bogged down in showing off how brilliant it is, but it doesn't. You really do care for Thursday (and Pickwick - I want a dodo that says "Plock plock"!) and it's exciting and the action moves forward at a pretty breakneck speed. If I remember correctly, no less than Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times called Thursday a cross between Nancy Drew and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Please read them. Now.

I borrowed this book from the library.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
Pure Dead Magic by Debi Gliori
One of Our Thursdays Is Missing by Jasper Fforde

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
John Adams by David McCullough (audio)- woo hoo I am past halfway in this one!
Shogun: A Novel of Japan by James Clavell
Home-Based Business For Dummies by Paul Edwards, Sarah Edwards, and Peter Economy

Up next:
Everything I Needed to Know about Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume by Jennifer O'Connell (Editor)
Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse by James L. Swanson
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman (for book club)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Book Review: Pure Dead Magic by Debi Gliori

My friend K loaned this to me a year ago, promising it was cute and fun, which it was. A little bit derivative, but not in a way most kids would pick up on. To me, it was basically like a Lemony Snicket book, but with computers. Three kids, the youngest still crawling and not talking with a funny name (Damp), get into some trouble, have parents who aren't much help, a funny nanny, and a lot of odd monsters as pets/guard dogs. They all (including the mother) think their father has left when in fact he's been kidnapped by his brother, a mafia don. The end result of the mobsters sent to kill the family was quite amusing, the nanny is excellent but unfortunately not used enough (in my opinion) and it's nice for once to have a fantasy book for middle readers where the protagonist children aren't orphans. The addition of computers might make this book a little more palatable for boys, although it's also aging the book quickly - a CD-rom drive figures significantly.

There is always room on the shelf for a brief, amusing, middle grade book with a good lesson (don't fight with your siblings, don't try to feed every prospective nanny to the crocodile), decent action, and a happy family.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I borrowed this book from a friend.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Book Beginnings on Friday: One of Our Thursdays Is Missing

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Katy from A Few More Pages. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

One of Our Thursdays Is Missing by Jasper Fforde

"Everyone can remember where they were when the BookWorld was remade."

The BookWorld is now physical! Fiction is an island with smaller islands off the sides, and in between books there are actual roads and border guards, etc. Meanwhile, Thursday Next (the real one) is missing and so Thursday Next (the written one) is looking for her, and someone is trying to kill her (the written one)!

Book Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

I am late to the game but I finally read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (another Friends of the Library find!) And I'm so glad!

Set in mid-nineteenth-century rural China, This book tells the story of Lily and her sworn best friend forever, Snow Flower. At first Lily is self-conscious of her low standing, and Snow Fower teaches her the finer details of embroidery, manners, and the secret women's writing, while Lily teaches Snow Flower how to draw water from the well and feed the pig. Lily has been matched with Snow Flower due to her perfect feet, which should become perfect "golden lilies" after their binding when she is seven, which will raise her family's standing. What Lily doesn't realize until much, much later is that the reason Snow Flower's family agreed to this match is that their fortunes are on the way down. They remain friends as they get married and have children, though they live in different towns and in increasingly different circumstances. These friendships between women are sacred, expected to be the closest relationships they will ever have (for instance, Lily doesn't ever call her husband by his first name until they have been married for 15 years, and then it's under extenuating circumstances.)

Needless to say, there is eventually a crisis in their friendship. It is heartbreaking and frustrating and beautiful nonetheless. And I learned a lot about the culture and the formality of the society, even in the countryside, that was fascinating.

While I still lived in NYC, I went to an exhibit at The Museum of Sex that was about footbinding. I'm glad I did as I don't know if I otherwise would have understood the complex explanations of the process. I have included one photo here, as most of them are pretty grotesque. So if you want to know more, you'll have to Google it yourself, so I don't gross you out. But it's a wild, bizarre, debilitating practice that I am very glad has gone out of fashion.

I bought this book used at the Friends of the Library sale.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Kid

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

The Kid by Sapphire

In The Kid bestselling author Sapphire tells the electrifying story of Abdul Jones, the son of Push's unforgettable heroine, Precious.

A story of body and spirit, rooted in the hungers of flesh and of the soul, The Kid brings us deep into the interior life of Abdul Jones. We meet him at age nine, on the day of his mother's funeral. Left alone to navigate a world in which love and hate sometimes hideously masquerade, forced to confront unspeakable violence, his history, and the dark corners of his own heart, Abdul claws his way toward adulthood and toward an identity he can stand behind.

In a generational story that moves with the speed of thought from a Mississippi dirt farm to Harlem in its heyday; from a troubled Catholic orphanage to downtown artist's lofts, The Kid tells of a twenty-first-century young man's fight to find a way toward the future. A testament to the ferocity of the human spirit and the deep nourishing power of love and of art, The Kid chronicles a young man about to take flight. In the intimate, terrifying, and deeply alive story of Abdul's journey, we are witness to an artist's birth by fire.

Publishing July 5th 2011 by Penguin Group.

Wondrous Words Wednesday: Year of Wonders V

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy aka Bermuda Onion where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading. Feel free to join in the fun.

This is the last week for Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks! I promise, it was really good despite the very long list of words I didn't know! I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it highly!

fother p. 182
"...instead of freeing out a fother of ore, the entire weight of the ground above can come piling down to bury you."
A wagonload; a load of any sort.

chouse p. 190
"How can you chouse the suffering so?"
to swindle; cheat.

sward p. 190
"We could stand where we would on that sward, although most of us kept to that old order, with the yeomen and the miners towards the front, then the artisans, then the crofters and the hands."
the grassy surface of land; turf.

spud p. 191
"And so a person who yet lived would lie in his sickbed and listen to the rise and fall of my father's spud."
a spadelike instrument, especially one with a narrow blade, as for digging up or cutting the roots of weeds.

guerdon p. 192
"...for even in the tales of the ancients, the ferryman who carried souls across the Styx had required his guerdon."
a reward, recompense, or requital.

cucking p. 194
"That, I would say, could be counted also as a good thing brought by this grim season; that the stocks and the cucking stool and all such barbarous implements have fallen into disuse."
A dunking stool.

siling p. 203
"By morning it was siling down with a force that peeled the soil from the hillsides and filled the streams until they broke brownly over their banks."
a colander (this doesn't quite work - it'/s a noun not a verb - but perhaps it's related to draining water through a colander, therefore meaning draining?)

turves p. 222
"Jane Martin lay sprawled on some turves, her dress pushed up to her head, too drunk to even cover her nakedness."
plural of turf.

blebs p. 245
"Her skin, where it had been immersed all night, was all broken out in blebs."
a blister or vesicle.

blenched p. 248
"Instead, I had begun to believe that fear - of my father, while he lived, and of Aphra's oddity since - had blenched the will to speak away from her."
to shrink; flinch; quail.

spavined p. 271
"Those horses had been old or spavined creatures, so the feel of Anteros unsaddled underneath me was a surprise."
being of or marked by a decrepit or broken-down condition.

placket p. 273
"His gray eyes scanned me, and I suddenly became aware that I was barely decent, riding astride with my skirt tugged up above my placket, my hair loose to my waist, my cap lost upon the moors, my cheeks flushed and misted with sweat."
the opening or slit at the top of a skirt, or in a dress or blouse, that facilitates putting it on and taking it off.

carrack p. 299
"As it happened, and fittingly enough, I suppose, a carrack loaded with Peak-mines pigs was the only ship sailing on that morning's tide, bound for the great glassmakers of Venice."
a merchant vessel having various rigs, used especially by Mediterranean countries in the 15th and 16th centuries; galleon.

cuddy p. 299
"So I paid out some of the Bradfords' gold for a cuddy and more to quiet the wet nurse, who wailed that she had not bargained on a sea voyage."
a small room, cabin, or enclosed space at the bow or stern of a boat, especially one under the poop.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Book Review: Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer

Mormons have been in the news a lot lately. From the Broadway show to the trial of Elizabeth Smart's kidnappers, it seems every time I turn on the TV or pick up Newsweek or People, there's an article about Mormons. And considering that there are over 11 million of them in the U.S. and it's the fastest-growing religion, I shouldn't be surprised. Did you know there are more Mormons than Presbyterians or Episcopalians? Of course the only Mormons I've ever met were the missionaries earlier this spring who knocked on my door and wanted to convert me.

I had heard about this book when it first came out and it was intriguing, but I never picked it up. Jon Krakauer is an amazing writer. I loved Into Thin Air, and I didn't finish Into the Wild because I hated Chris Chandless, not because of Mr. Krakauer. But this book has never completely left my book consciousness, and so when I saw it at the Friends of the Library book sale, I snapped it up. A comparison on the front cover to In Cold Blood didn't hurt

The heart of the book is the story of the murder of Brenda and Erica Lafferty by two of Brenda's brothers-in-law (her daughter Erica was less than two years old). But in explaining why Dan and Ron Lafferty committed this horrible crime, Mr. Krakauer has to explain fundamental Mormon splinter group and zealotry. And to explain that, he has to explain Mormonism. So in this book, we get a full and complete history up through 2003 (the recent crisis of teenage Fundamentalist Mormon boys being turned out of their homes and abandoned in cities, so they don't compete with the elders for young teenage wives hadn't become known yet) of the only successful American-born religion.

Yes, a lot of what I read about Mormonism sounds absolutely insane. However, as one of the psychologists who explained how Ron was sane to stand trial explained, so does any religion - we're just used to the insane things about traditional Christianity/Judiasm. But what does make the Mormon religion stand out is its history of violence, and its initial embrace of polygamy. The mainstream Mormon religion denounced polygamy a century ago, however fundamentalists sects all over the West (including in Mexico and Canada) practice it today. Personally, if all polygamists were like on "Big Love", I wouldn't have a problem with it. My problem comes with abuse, incest (which includes adoptive and step family members), child molestation, brain-washing, etc. Many of these fundamentalists sects have more in common with the Taliban than even with mainstream Mormonism. The women and children aren't allowed to watch TV or movies, read books (except fundamentalist Mormon books) or magazines, drive, go in public alone, wear pants, hold jobs, and so on. As a former fundamentalist at the end of the book explains, education is what they fear.

And while mainstream Mormons have a reputation for being upright and hardworking, their past is a bit scary. Yes, all religions have some violence in their past, but for Christianity and Judaism, it's centuries ago so with the time there is distance. Plus, unlike Christianity (except for the Crusades) and Judaism (but not perhaps all branches of Islam), they seem to have often sought out violence. In the early days in Missouri and Illinois, they were trying to be peaceful at first, but it seems like when that didn't work they decided violence was the way to go. I had heard about the Mountain Meadows Massacre before but didn't know anything about it.

This book was well-researched, and thoroughly explained an aspect of American history I knew nothing about. Of course the Mormon church doesn't like this book (and in the paperback edition, Mr. Krakauer prints a dissension by the head of Communications for the LDS, he does fix a few errors that were pointed out, and refutes the rest.) But as a fan of American history, I think it's important that I now know about this segment of our country. By no means do I think all Mormons are violent, or that the mainstream Mormon religion condones violence in any way, but fundamentalist branches sometimes do, and they are scary. At the rate this religion is growing, it would behoove everyone t know more about them. This book was riveting, fascinating, hard to put down, and while towards the end I did get overwhelmed with names and more so with confusing relations between people (thanks to incest and polygamy), I learned a lot and now have some ammunition, should the missionaries stop by again.

I bought this book used at the Friends of the Library sale.

Teaser Tuesdays: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

"To that end, my goal was to chieve a pair of perfectly bound feet with seven distinct attributes: The should be small, narrow, straight, pointed, and arched, yet still fragrant and soft in texture. Of these requirements, length is most important."

The descriptions of the foot-binding process were grotesque. It was horrifying and disgusting but I couldn't put the book down.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Movie Review: The Help

I was thrilled last week to get to go see a sneak preview of The Help (along with a half-dozen of my fellow WNBA members!) I read it last year for book club and I loved it, here's my review.

Naturally, a movie (especially of a longer book like this one) will need to compress some of the storyline and for the most part I didn't really notice where it was abridged. One thing I was disappointed by (although without making the movie both much longer and more tedious I'm not quite sure how they would have included this) is how Hilly was portrayed. I found in the book that her character was made very complex (as were my feelings towards her) as she was shown very much to be an excellent mother. None of her peers were - the maids were the ones parenting their children, and many of then, like Elizabeth, were such dreadful parents that the maids needed to counteract their parenting. Hilly otherwise is just a monster, but that one good trait made her much more sympathetic, and made it hard for me to just hate her, which enriched the experience so much. That, sadly, is lacking.

Otherwise, I found it excellent. As a Southerner, I am always on the lookout for overblown and obviously put-on accents, but all these were good. The acting was top-notch, as was the casting. I am very impressed with Emma Stone, First Easy A, and now The Help? For such a young actress, she does an excellent job picking very smart but accessible (and literary!) films. I was skeptical of Bryce Howard playing Celia when I first heard about the casting last year, but she was terrific.

It had been 18 months since I read the book, so large parts of it were fuzzy in my head. It was nice to be both surprised at what was coming next, but at the same time to recognize scenes that I had forgotten, but which came roaring back with just a moment of clarity. One anachronism that Kristen from BookNAround picked up on was in the scene where Skeeter changes the article in the Junior League newsletter to something funny and embarrassing (I won't spoil it), using Wite-Out. According to Kristen:

"Wite-Out was invented in 1966. Liquid Paper was invented in 1951 but sold out of the Betty Nesmith's home kitchen in Dallas for 17 years. So the first is too young to have been in existence for The Help (1963) and the latter is so unlikely as to be unbelievable."

I agree but it didn't hurt the movie at all for me. But after the movie we did discuss if correcting typewriter tape or those funny eraser pencils or something else would have been more appropriate for the era.

This movie would be perfect for a book club outing. I teared up at one point (I am not much of a movie crier), I laughed several times, and I might actually go see it again when it's released.

The trailer is here, and it opens August 12.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
Karen Kepplewhite Is the World's Best Kisser by Eve Bunting
Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
John Adams by David McCullough (audio) I just learned this month is Audio Book Month, so I am determined to finish John Adams (or at least make a good dent in it!) I have been listening to it a lot and have made a dent.
Shogun: A Novel of Japan by James Clavell - my plans to move this book forward have not been going as well as planned. I was supposed to be reading it during lunch but last week I went out lunch with friends 3 days. Next week should be a more boring week at home, so maybe I can resume that plan.
Home-Based Business For Dummies by Paul Edwards, Sarah Edwards, Peter Economy

Up next:
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler
The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Book Review; Karen Kepplewhite Is the World's Best Kisser by Eve Bunting

OMG, this book was my FAVORITE for a few years when I was about 11-13. When I saw it in a used bookstore last week, my super-sweet BF offered to buy it for me. This is even the exact same hardcover, jacketless Weekly Reader edition!

Karen is sweet and quiet, and her best friend Janet is not. In preparation for Karen's upcoming boy-girl birthday party, Janet has bought Karen a book called How to Kiss Like an Expert. Karen likes Mark, and Janet likes Danny, and there are going to be kissing games at the party! But to their horror, a new girl moves to town, Star, who is beautiful and also really nice, and they worry they'll lose their boys to her!

This whole book takes place in just 3 days (and less than 100 pages!) I can still feel the curious longing I felt when pre-teen me used to read this over and over (kissing one's closed fist is actually not a bad substitute for lips, when a live person to practice on is not available.) I wanted (and got!) knickers just like Karen's and Star's. The book isn't too dated, except for a mention of culottes (and the knickers). In fact, ballet flats are totally back in. Rubik's cubes play a part but it's mentioned that they're already past their peak.

Rereading is always a nerve-wracking experience as the book might not live up to memories. But even 25 years later, there were lines I could still quote from memory: "Me?" I pointed to my chest, then quickly let my hand slide down to a less noticeable part of my anatomy. Actually my chest is the least noticeable part of my anatomy, unfortunately.

I love how Janet often talks in all caps, and how Karen says she can almost see the words coming out of her mouth, like in cartoon bubbles. The book is subtle when Karen figures out that the boys all like Star not just because she's pretty (after all, Francine is pretty) but because she's nice (Francine is not), and also when she figures out that Janet likes the obnoxious Danny because no one else does and therefore it'll be easier for her to get him. Some good lessons, but the book doesn't beat the reader over the head with them. Yes, Spin the Bottle and Truth or Dare are played, and naturally everything works out in the end. But it's all utter innocence and sweet, earnest G-rated action. I still love this book. And I am keeping it, until one of my nieces is old enough for it.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

My boyfriend bought this book for me at a used bookstore.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Invisible Bookshelves Follow-Up

When I posted last month about wanting to put up invisible bookshelves in my office, I was thinking of homemade (and therefore cheap) ones like the ones featured here or here, but after a couple of trips to Lowe's and Home Depot, we were unable to find the required L-brackets. I think one problem was that my BF kept telling the employees we wanted to make bookshelves, and so they kept sending us to the bookshelves aisle. I think if he had just told them L-brackets, we'd have had a better chance at getting the right thing, but once they had bookshelves in their heads, they couldn't think of anything but bookshelves. So in the end we caved and went to B&N

They had 2 sizes, so I got 2 of each, knowing I'd automatically put bigger books on the bottom ones and smaller books as the displays went up. Aesthetically, it's just the only way to go. As an added bonus over the DIY version, these don't hurt the bottom book at all. It's a pretty clever design, in fact! We borrowed a drill, and they were relatively easy to put up, once I convinced the BF to ignore the studs (which were very much not in the center of where we wanted to install them) and instead to rely on the plastic anchors. (Those do not come with the shelves, but I had leftovers from previous projects.)

And they're up! I figure I will still be doing my book reading selecting from the living room, so I didn't want to have books on my TBR pile in these stacks. Unfortunately, I mostly get rid of books once I've read them so my options were limited. I do though collect Jane Austen sequels/prequels/one-offs with no intention of reading them, so that's what's on the bottom 2 shelves. The top 2 have an assortment of read books that I am hanging on to, and unread books I never intend to read for whatever reason but need to hang on to (such as a political book written by a college friend, and an economic book my father gave me.)

Quest Invisible Bookshelves was ultimately successful! The book piles in my living room are gone, there's a little extra space on the living room shelves even, and hopefully this combined with my efforts to reduce my book acquisitions will keep me in business for a year or so, while I continue to scheme to get my Dad's white Storehouse bookcase (400 miles away, I don't have a truck, he's not sure he wants to give it to me.)

Book Beginnings on Friday: Under the Banner of Heaven

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Katy from A Few More Pages. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer

"Almost everyone in Utah County has heard of the Lafferty boys. That's mostly a function of the lurid murders, of course, but the Lafferty surname had a certain prominence in the county even before Brenda and Erica Lafferty were killed."

I did two sentences. I feel like they really go together. The first sentence is a preamble to the second one. This sets up the whole book, which is about fundamentalist Mormon zealots and how their misguided faith led to murder.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Book Review: Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

This book has a terrific first line, and a very intriguing concept: a novel about bigamy, told from the point of view of the daughter of the illegitimate marriage. Although what surprised me is that it isn't only told from the point of view of Dana, but also from her half-sister, Chaurisse. Unlike most dual-narrator books, the narration doesn't alternate. Instead Dana takes the first half of the book and Chaurisse the second. Because I wasn't expecting the narration change, the first few chapters of Chaurisse's section were a bit jarring to me, but I got back into the story pretty quickly.

The story mostly takes place in 1980s Atlanta, but does jump around a little bit when explaining how and why the second marriage, between James and Gwendolyn, takes place. It's very interesting to see all the repercussions through the eyes of the daughters, instead of the husband and wives, which is what you'd normally expect. Dana has always known about Chaurisse, but Chaurisse doesn't know about Dana. Living only a couple of miles apart, they do run into each other occasionally, despite James's efforts (at Dana's expense) to keep them apart. Unfortunately for James, Dana's curiosity and resentment gets the better of her and she doesn't stay away from Chaurisse.

In some ways the ending is inevitable from the very first line. It's no spoiler to tell you the climax comes with the revealing of secrets. But what results from the uncovering was not exactly what I had expected. I thought something more would happen with Raleigh, James's best friend and constant companion through the book. I was also surprised how James's relationship with Gwendolyn and Dana changed. Although it probably was much more realistic than what I was expecting to happen.

Ms. Jones has a good ear for teenagers (Dana and Chaurisse were only 4 years older than me so I really loved the scenes in the '80s in high school, as it was very close to my own high school years.) She captures the fears, insecurities, the rebelliousness, and even the plain contrariness that sometimes causes teens to do things that even harm themselves in the end, purely to hurt someone else. Especially if it's retaliation for having been hurt. Although this novel is marketed towards adults, I see big potential for cross-over to teenagers.

Well-written, with an eye for detail and authentic language, Silver Sparrow gives voice to both sides of a very complicated family.

I got this book free at the WNBA book swap.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Sisterhood Everlasting

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares

from the publisher's catalog:
From #1 New York Times bestselling author Ann Brashares, the fifth installment in the blockbuster Sisterhood series. This heartwarming novel about four best friends trying to find their way in the world as young adults will become an instant favorite for fans of the Sisterhood series and new readers alike.

Carmen, Tibby, Bridget, and Lena have been friends since they were born within three weeks of one another to moms who met in a pregnancy class. They've grown up side by side, with a friendship so strong that it was a touchstone at the center of their lives even when all else failed. Now their story continues, years after we saw them last in Forever in Blue. In their late twenties, and struggling to figure out their adult identities, they've settled far apart--Bridget in San Francisco, Lena in Providence, Carmen in New York City, and Tibby abroad.

In a much-needed attempt to reconnect, Tibby sends them all plane tickets to meet in Santorini, where they share many memories. But when the trip takes an utterly unexpected turn, the sisters must cling together to discover if friendship really can last forever.

Publishing 6/14/2011 by Random House.

Wondrous Words Wednesday: Year of Wonders IV

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy aka Bermuda Onion where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading. Feel free to join in the fun.

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

pipkin p. 135
"In the end, I brought it home again and placed it guiltily in a pipkin."
a small, earthen pot.

serried p. 135
"The sun glinted off the serried instruments and then I could see the notes of music, molten, dripping like golden rain.
pressed together or compacted, as soldiers in rows

gall p. 136
"My mouth was as dry as ashes and tasted as if I'd sucked a gall."
any abnormal vegetable growth or excrescence on plants

posset p. 136
"I crept around, making up the fire and warming a posset with the slow, crabbed gestures of a crone."
a drink made of hot milk curdled with ale, wine, or the like, often sweetened and spiced.

stooks p. 140
"From the high point I could see down to the Riley farm, where the stooks from the harvest still stood in the field, mildewed now and useless."
sheaves of grain

purl p. 157
"I hurried to the kitchen, warmed a mug of purl for him, and carried it back out to where he stood, waist deep in the dirt."
a curling movement of water; eddy (this doesn't seem right but it's the closest definition to a drink.)

caudle p. 162
"Charity was stirring in her corner then, so I warmed the child some caudle, instructed her how to complete the making of the stew I had begun, and set out with the rector."
a warm drink for the sick, as of wine or ale mixed with eggs, bread, sugar, spices, etc.

ricks p. 170
"...while they didn't get what you would say was a warm greeting here, at least they didn't have to fear their ricks being fired or their poultry poisoned..."
Also, hayrick. Chiefly Midland U.S. a large, usually rectangular stack or pile of hay, straw, corn, or the like, in a field, especially when thatched or covered by a tarpaulin; an outdoor or makeshift mow.

drake p. 170
"George Wickford, up late and pacing because he could not sleep for worry about how to feed his family, saw a great burning drake streaking its white path across the heavens."
Archaic: a dragon. (here used to mean a shooting star.)

sprags p. 171
"By morning he had dug out his cross in the turf to mark his claim, had cut his seven timbers for the stowe, and was whittling away at the wooden sprags to hold it upright."
Mining: a short timber for propping up loose walls or spacing two sets.

bouse p. 175
buddling p. 175
"You shall have much to do in sorting the bouse we raise into ores and deads and buddling the ore in the wash to rid it of toadstone."
bouse: to haul with tackle. (I assume here it means what IS hauled?)
buddle:a shallow trough in which metalliferous ore is separated from gangue by means of running water.

trews p. 177
"Then I plunged a few holes in the waist and ran a rope through like a drawstring to keep the trews upon me."
close-fitting tartan trousers, worn especially by certain Scottish regiments.

stemples p. 178
"Wickford had wedged great slabs of gray limestone carefully into the walls and hewn sturdy bought to make sound stemples."
(Mining) A crossbar of wood in a shaft, serving as a step.

cluzened p. 180
"The cold cluzened my fingers so that instead of gaining skill with practice, my numb hands fumbled more and more."
frozen (this word I couldn't find anywhere, except in an article by Geraldine Brooks, so I know it's exactly what she meant.)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays: Silver Sparrow

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

"Nine years married, with no high-school diploma and no baby to show for her efforts, my mama was not a lucky person. Blessings were rare enough that they caught her attention when they showed themselves, and she had good sense enough to snag a good thing before it could get away."

We should all remember to do this, even if we've not had much bad luck in our past.

Monday, June 6, 2011

What Should the Teenagers Read?

I pondered whether to respond to the Wall Street Journal article, "Darkness Too Visible," and decided that I love YA too much to ignore it.

When I was a young teen, books kept me sane. I was the class scapegoat at my elementary school/junior high school for many years, but books (and summer camp) convinced me that I was not the freak that the other kids said I was; they were the problem, not me. Reading books by Beverly Cleary, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Betsy Byars, I met other little girls who were independent, impulsive, and imaginative. When I read about other girls like me, I saw that I was actually pretty ordinary, which was a very good thing. Bullying is more pervasive than ever, and also harder to escape after school and on weekends, with social networking and smart phones. (And all these "safe" authors' books are still in print if parents are looking for books for teenagers. While there are excellent new YA books out there, you CAN buy them an old book. See this cute new edition of Sister of the Bride? Lovely old-fashioned values from 1969, teaching girls to get married before they finish their freshman year in college.)

Books also taught me what to do if a tricky situation ever came up. Luckily I personally didn't have to deal with death or illness, but I did with divorce. I remember being given both Dear Mr. Henshaw and It's Not the End of the World when my parents divorced (would it have been better if I'd read Dear Mr. Henshaw earlier, so I already had some of the resources built up?) And thanks to books, I knew what to do when my best friend in 9th grade said she didn't want to dress out for gym class because the bruises from where her father had beat her with a belt were still on the backs of her legs (I told a student teacher that I trusted) and in 12th grade when I went to a party with alcohol (I just kept saying, I'm the designated driver, refusing all drinks even the ones that were supposedly "just Coke" since they tasted funny.) And I'd like to think that no matter what issues came up, I was prepared. If I had read only "safe" books, would that have been the case? Would I have known how to deal with friends who were depressed, suicidal, anorexic, date raped, or possibly pregnant? (And readers, I went to the best public school in the city, where 1/3 of the student body was in the honors program - these problems go on anywhere there are teenagers, no matter the income level or whether or not they live in "the hood." Thinking you can shelter your kids because they won't experience any of this stuff at their white-bread prep school is doing them a horrible disservice.)

One argument the article makes is that NEW YA books are the problem. Those are the books that are all dark and depressing. Really? I remember reading Lisa, Bright and Dark (bipolar disorder), Between Dances: Maggie Adam's Eighteenth Summer (anorexia), and That's My Baby (teen parenthood), among others. Also supposedly YA books today are all unrealistic, dystopian and fantasy novels. Again, examples that I read in the 80s: Many Waters, The Girl With the Silver Eyes, Ghosts Beneath Our Feet, This Place Has No Atmosphere, and Alien Child.

Teenagers DO face problems. You don't have to like it (and if you would like to help stop it, please volunteer to be a Big Sister or otherwise work in reaching out to teens. Just complaining or denying the problem exists, doesn't cut it.) Kids start gravitating towards these kinds of books both so that they are better able to deal with problems, and the fantasy/futuristic books make the problems safely distanced from reality where it's a little easier to deal with them. While hopefully the teens you know won't personally go through any of these problems, knowing how to deal with Problem A doesn't only equip a teen to deal with Problem A. Sometimes, having read about how kids deal with Problem A and get through it, coming out the other side wiser but in one piece, can help a teen extrapolate when Problem B happens to them, and maybe they'll think they can get through it too.

TALK to a children's bookseller. Talk to librarians, to other Moms, to friends who are big readers, read book reviews and book blogs. If after reading the backs of 87 books, you and a bookseller still can't find a single book that is remotely appropriate, I might recommend some Amish romances to you as perhaps your expectations are a little out of sync with what will interest and be appropriate for a teen, not a small child.

Oh, and a small detail to pick at with the last paragraph: no one suggests that a parent limiting their own child's reading material is censoring. That's parenting. Censorship is when parents insist on parenting other people's children and pressure schools and libraries to remove or limit certain books.

YA books are perhaps the most important books out there. I don't know how I would have made it to adulthood without them. Before Young Adult, children read novels simply to read cool stories, to learn to read better, maybe learn some manners, and for distraction. YA novels are the first (and perhaps only) books we read that really try to teach us about the world, our place in it, how we can change things if we have the courage, and how to find that courage within ourselves. You might want your children to keep reading books that are only distracting, but without arming your kids for the real world, you are sending them out at a disadvantage. I can only hope they're sneaking them behind your back.

Book Review: Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi, Anjali Singh (Translator)

Last year I read both volumes of Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, in my explorations of graphic (novels) memoirs, and a co-worker recommended this book as well. Marjane mentions her great uncle Nasser Ali once in Persepolis (that I remember), and this book is the story of his life, although told in the structure of being about the last 7 days of his life.

After a fight with his wife, during which she breaks his beloved Tar (a Persian instrument, like a guitar), Nasser Ali, a musician, decides he is done and wants to die. He then refuses to leave his room and eat or drink, and in the end he is successful. Through flashbacks (and one flash forward), we learn the story of his life. He grew up as the rebellious failure of the family (Marjane's grandfather was the studious, goody-goody), but he found music which gave his life meaning and direction. After a failed romance, he married and had four children.

As with Ms. Satrapi's previous books, the stark black and white images are very evocative, despite their simplicity. This book has less politics than Persepolis (although the Shah and the coup and a few other events are referenced), but is still very powerful.

I borrowed this book from a friend.