Monday, March 30, 2009

Atop Mount Battie

One of the wonderful reasons we live in Maine is that we can be close to the ocean and the mountains at the same time. In a recent discussion on LT one of my online 'friends' gave a great review of a book of Edna St. Vincent Millay's poetry. That nudged my brain to remember that she is a local poet, born right here in Mid-Coast Maine. When I went to the Literary Map of Maine and clicked on Ms. Millay, it brought up her beautiful short poem Renascence Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) All I could see from where I stood Was three long mountains and a wood; I turned and looked the other way, And saw three islands in a bay. So with my eyes I traced the line Of the horizon, thin and fine, Straight around till I was come Back to where I'd started from; And all I saw from where I stood Was three long mountains and a wood. Mount Battie is one of our favorite places to take visitors, and this poem sent me diving into the photo archives to match a picture with her wonderful words. A great way to welcome spring, and start looking forward to summer. A click on the picture will fill your screen with cool ocean breezes.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Review: Heart and Soul by Maeve Binchy

I've always been a big fan of Maeve Binchy, but didn't have this one on my radar. I noticed it on the new audiobooks shelf while I was waiting to check out at the library last week. I'm always looking for 'cozies' to listen to in the car, and while I'm dropping off to sleep at night....while this didn't disappoint, I wouldn't give it as many stars as some of her previous books. Again, she presents us with a cast of characters, all tied together by place (appears to be small suburb of Dublin), and sorta by their purpose -- a heart clinic -- but each has his or her own story, and motivation. Ultimately of course, there is the on again-off again romance (at least one good one, and a couple less well developed on the side) there are the duty nasties who may or may not melt into good guys at the end (I'll not do any spoiling), and several cameo appearances from characters in her previous novels. It's Irish, so there's the duty priest, the town widow, and in a newer twist, there are some Polish immigrants. Again, while the setting may be different, the script is becoming fairly predictable. Still enjoyable read.

Review: Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis certainly writes with clarity, although there is little splash and dash to his prose. His willingness to tackle all subjects, dogma and doctrine can at times be actually sleep inducing. I was not as impressed as I expected to be, but can't tell you why. I graduated from Catholic college with enough credits for a minor in theology, so none of this was new, and that may be why I found it so boring. I had never read any of his works before, so this was definitely an 'expand your horizons' volume, but it's probably not going to be on the 'read it again' list too soon.

Review: Being Catholic Now by Kerry Kennedy

This was another of my Lenten reads. Ms Kennedy interviews almost 40 people who are or were Catholic, asking them about their upbringing, their current beliefs, their relationship with the Catholic Church (both past and current) and what they would do if they could be Pope. The range of interviewees is wonderful -- from a 19 year old wannabe nun to an almost 80 year old retired cardinal, from actors to activists, from Irish, Italian, and Hispanic descendants to first 1st generation immigrants, from college graduates to school drop outs, from priests to agnostics. Their experiences of Catholicism are vast, diverse, and fascinating. For someone who is Catholic, the read will be both comforting and frightening at the same time. For those who are not, it provides a look behind the curtains at one of the most diverse religious groups in the world. It is a well-written, well-planned, and beautifully presented groups of readings. Easy to handle in short batches as each interview goes only about 4-5 pages. 5 stars.

Review: Great Souls - Six Who Changed the Century

Another nominee for Best of the Year. I picked this book as an audio and almost returned it because I didn't think I'd have time to listen to it. I decided to listen to the first track and was hooked. David Aiken, a reporter for Time, draws on interviews and 23 years of world wide reporting to bring us a deeply personal, thoroughly inspiring group of biographies of the six people he considers to be among the most influential of the 20th century. His nominees are Billy Graham (salvation), Nelson Mandela (forgiveness), Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (truth), Mother Terasa (compassion), Pope John Paul ll (human dignity), and Elie Wiesel (remembrance). He shows both the warts and the halos, and explains why he finds these "souls" not only a personal inspiration, but important historical figures. It is a book that certainly will have me looking for more about every one of the six personages. I was absolutely thrilled with this book. If I could give it 6 stars, I would. I will be haunting the book vendors to get my own copy to read and re-read.

Reviews - Books that were not my Cup of Tea

These are books that for a variety of reason did not appeal to me. However, I've been around long enough to know that each of us has different tastes, so in the interest of fairness, I'll say why they did not suit my fancy and invite you to tell if you had a different impression. In no particular order:
  • Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz
This one underwhelmed me. I enjoy a good mystery and always look for new authors-particularly those that promise me a series. I probably won't be looking for the rest of this series though. Our heroine, Isabel Spellman, is a Stephanie Plum type private eye, with lunatic parents who own a PI agency, a really stuck-up big bro who is an attorney (since this is a family site I won't use the word I'd like to use to describe him), a teetering on the edge of sobriety/unsanity uncle, and a baby sister whose character is so bratty, precocious, obnoxious, and stupid that she literally cannot be believed. In addition to family liabilities, throw in drinking, doping, and discarding boyfriends like some people change underwear, and you've got our gal. This group of dingbats goes careening thru solving their 'cases' by spying on each other for practice, spying on Isabel's potential beaux, and racing toward a less than believable ending. The plot dragsssss on , the characters don't develop --they only get more out of sight---and you just keep praying for it to be over! If you like Janet Evanovitch's books, you'll probably like this one. I didn't hate it but...
  • Wicked by Gregory Macguire
I haven't seen the Broadway show, but I tried this one in print and on audio....just could not get into it, can't tell you why, and respect your right to love it. Judging by reviews, lots of people do.
  • Portuguese Irregular Verbs - Alexander McCall Smith
I have this love/hate relationship with AMcSmith...I really really love his First Ladies Detective Agency series, BUT.....I have never been able to get into the adventures of Prof. Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld, the inept, hapless, and I think he's supposed to be lovable? hero of this quaint little tome.
  • Sarah: The Novel - Marek Halter
I'm not too fond of authors who take so much liberty with historical (or at least semi-historical) characters and embellish them to get a good read. Don't want to do spoilers, but suffice it to say I found some of Sarah's activities and attitudes downright implausible, and no matter how I suspend belief, these did not make even good fiction. I certainly didn't like this spoiled brat was portrayed as Abram's wife.
  • Year of Living Biblically - A. J. Jacobs
The subtitle of this book is One Man's Humble Quest to follow the Bible Literally. Humility is not this guy's forte. It is billed on the cover as humorous, and while parts of it can be seen as funny, it was a rather pathetic attempt by an agnostic Jew to 'find himself'-and let's face it--to make money by trading on the fact that he was already "published'. I put up with the book thinking that he must go thru some kind of religious conversion/epiphany/awakening at the end---I certainly wasn't looking for an altar call--but all I saw was a slight increase in his appreciation for his ancestors.

Review: The Dark Side by Jane Mayer

While this is a scary book, it is an important book. At times, I shook when I read it, and had to take it in small pieces. Mayer writes convincingly of what I would consider illegal acts committed in the name of freedom. I don't believe in making book reviews into political speeches, but after reading this, I was driving and pulled up behind a car with a bumper sticker that said : "I love my country. I fear my government." I couldn't have said it better. This will be an important work in coming years for those attempting to understand what the administration did and the justification it used in reacting to the attacks on 9/11. History and maybe the justice system, will determine whether it could have or should have been done differently. Small wonder it was a National Book Award finalist.

Review : Any Bitter Thing by Monica Wood

This is the book chosen by our "Read Around Maine" group, and it is definitely going to be one of my best of the year. Seldom do I stay up all night to finish a book, but I could not put this down. A poignant. gripping story, with well developed characters, and a plot line that has you sitting on the edge of the chair, convinced that something is not being said. The ending certainly doesn't disappoint. Essentially this is the story of a woman, orphaned at age 2, raised by her uncle, who happened to be a priest, and their subsequent loss of each other, when she was nine, under questionable circumstances that resonate with today's clergy scandal . Her adult quest, 21 years later, to fit together missing pieces of her life is extraordinarily well could so easily have become a daytime soap, but isn't. Rather it is a quiet, believable, compelling story of friendship, betrayal, and atonement that really spoke to me, perhaps because I was raised in a Catholic environment that forms the basis for the story, but I don't think you have to be Catholic to read it, soak it in, and love it. The themes of friendship, relationship, failure, and redemption are not depressing, but validating of the human condition. The ending (without giving it away) is perfect--surprising, gut-wrenching, sad but believable, better than happily ever after. You can walk away feeling that everything fits into place.

Review: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Abandoned book: I bought this used book to participate in an online group read. I had mixed feelings about joining, but respected the others in the Highly Rated Book Group on LT. Since I did not like the Handmaid's Tale, the only other Atwood I have read, I had a negative attitude going in. I looked at the reviews and although it wasn't jumping out at me, I figured that if so many of my LT buddies were so sold on Ms. A's writing abilities, and since it won a Booker, it would be worth giving it a chance. I gave it 100 pages, then tried listening to the audio thinking maybe that would give me another interpretation. I went back about a month later and still no go. I couldn't follow the many threads of the story, I DETEST science fiction, and I have too many exciting books on the TBR shelves to spend time struggling. Maybe later, but not now.

Review: I'm Fine with God....It's Christians I Can't Stand

Another abandoned book... I bought this book by Bruce Bickel thinking it was written by a friend of ours by the same name, who also happens to be a preacher. I should have done more checking first. I agree with the premise of the book (that some people who call themselves Christian are giving the rest of us who share that belief a bad name) but this collection of sound bites is just plain dull, patronizing, platitudinous, repetitive and as if the writing weren't boring enough, the typography of the book was just plain awful. The paper was cheap, the font very hard to read, the ink was very pale. A total waste of money. other than that, it was ok....

Were there good ones? Not so good?

When I look at the list of the books I've read so far, several stand out because they were memorably wonderful, or they were just not my cup of tea. I'll be doing individual reviews of these to explain my reactions. Let's get the awfuls out of the way - there really are three categories: AWFUL AWFUL: Books I wouldn't give to my worst enemy to read:
  • Bestseller! by Jane Daniels
Abandoned: Too many books, too little time to waste on these:
  • I'm Ok with God, It's Christians I can't stand by Bruce Bickell
  • The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Not my Cup of Tea: Books that didn't appeal to me, but might to you:
  • Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz
  • Wicked by Gregory Macguire
  • Portuguese Irregular Verbs - Alexander McCall Smith
  • Sarah: The Novel - Marek Halter
  • Year of Living Biblically - A. J. Jacobs
But these were easily forgotten when I was able to dive into these terrific reads: Nominees for Best Reads of the Year
  • The Dark Side by Jane Mayer
  • Any Bitter Thing by Monica Wood
Look for more comments to follow.

So where are all these books?

To use a well worn expression, I think I've had my nose buried in a book since I was about 5 years old. Some of my fondest memories are the weekly trips to the bookmobile when it stopped just two blocks away from the house. I still remember being especially thrilled when the librarian told me I didn't have to stick to the children's selections (which was buried down under the dashboard up front). Today, I still find at least 50% of my books at the public library--either the two local towns, or as downloadable Audio books. Maine has recently formed a consortium and we now have access to audio books from Overdrive right from the comfort of our homes. It's wonderful. Audio books help me 'read' while I'm 'watching' the Red Sox, preparing dinner, or doing needlework (my other passion). The other 50% come from our personal library here at home. Five years ago, when we moved here to Maine, we had over 150 cartons of books. As we unpacked, we realized we had to get some sort of handle on the collection, and ultimately I decided on as one of my primary databases. There I discovered a world of other people who also love books, and love to talk about books. If you click on the picture here, you can have a full screen view of Tutu's library. Just remember, dull women have immaculate houses. These online book friends are quite fond of challenges, and never being one to walk away from a 'betcha' I found myself joining several. Listed below, these have formed the basis of my reading since August 2008. I've also been doing an online book discussion with the Read Around Maine project tied to the Literary Map of Maine. So I'll be posting about each of these separately to get caught up, and then will post periodically to mark progress.
  • 75 Books in 2008
  • 75 Books in 2009
  • 999 Challenge
  • Dewey Decimal Challenge
  • US Presidents Challenge


Welcome! This blog is a new experience for Tutu (nee Tina). I've only recently been introduced to the world of social networking and found I was spending hours posting hither and thither--mostly about the books I've been reading. The majority of my posting has been on, screen name is "tututhefirst". You can see my profile and library here. Plans for this post include general blather about BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS, in all formats: e-books, audio books, and real old-fashioned and still luxurious paper books. There will be reviews about books I've read, discussions about books you might want to recommend, and links to others who may say it better than I. As I get going, I'll be blogging about some of the book challenges in which I'm participating, and will post at least 2009's books read so far. Then we can chat about what's up next.