Friday, April 30, 2010

April's Wrap-Up

Well we didn't get too many april showers here this year, but we are having a gloriously early spring.  April was a fairly light but eclectic reading month for me.  Here's the breakdown of the 15 books I completed:

As you can see, I'm trying to remember my Excel training, and my graphing leaves a bit to be desired.  I'm just a person who often sees things better when they're pictures rather than just listing numbers, but for those of you who prefer just the facts, they are

Audio 10
Print 5
Fiction 10 (4 mysteries)
Non-fiction 5
Borrowed from library 11
Gifts from publishers/authors 1
From my own shelves 3

With the exception of books for my three book clubs, May and June are going to be spent almost exclusively reading ARCs and contest wins.  I have a shelf full of great ones that are really beginning to weigh on my conscience, so before I go off reading anybody else's wonderful current suggestions, I'm going to clear out the backlog.  I've been really good these past 4-5 weeks and only requested/accepted 3-4 new ones. With warm weather coming up, I'll want to spend more time outside.

At least since I'll be out of town for a chunk of May, I won't have the temptation to load up on library books, although my MP3 will definitely be loaded with audios. However, I will be visiting my sister Cheli (she of Cheli's Shelves) and we will be doing our semi-annual swap of books  between our two libraries.  At least we don't have due dates.  We don't give up the books until we've first read them ourselves, so it's not so painful.

Review: West with the Night

Author: Beryl Markham
Format: trade paperback 296 pages
Setting: British East Africa (1920-1940) 
Genre: Memoir
Source: originally from library, but personal copy bought from Amazon
Challenge: Support your local Library

An amazing memoir written by a pioneering aviatrix about her early life in British East Africa (now Kenya) as a farmer's daughter, race horse trainer, and eventually, bush pilot delivering mail, supplies, and ferrying people across the uncharted territory of eastern Africa.  She was the first person, male or female to fly solo from London to America going from east to west. Her mother left her with her father in Africa to return to England. "Baru" as she was called by the natives, worked with her father, living in mud huts, then later her own wood cottage, reading at night by oil lamp.  There is no mention in the book of any nanny, governess, or tutor.  She appears to be entirely self-taught, a concept making this book all the more exceptional.

Her exquisite prose makes the book. The story is exciting and interesting, almost unbelievable (I supposed teen aged white women could go hunting lions accompanied only by African tribesman and equipped only with a spear!) but told with such clear and image-evoking words that the reader just sinks into this book. It is a book to be savored, read slowly, marked up, and read again.  And if it's first read as a library book, it is one to run out and purchase to have to look back at.

I found myself breathless and stopped dumb in my reading tracks at points, having to put the book down, and then read and re-read passages. My library copy is full of little yellow stickies to mark such passages as:

(speaking of a 'pet' lion kept by her father's farmhands): "He spent his waking hours..wandering through Elkingtons' fields and pastures like an affable, if apostrophic, emperor, a-stroll in the gardens of his court."

"One day the stars will be as familiar to each man as the landmarks, the curves, and the hills on the road that leads to his door, and one day this will be an airborne life. But by then men will have forgotten how to fly; they will be passengers on machines whose conductors are carefully promoted to a familiarity with labelled buttons, and in whose minds knowledge of the sky and the wind and the way of weather will be extraneous as passing fictions." (this book was written in 1942, and she was relating this as she spoke of her early flying lessons around 1925-30.)

Her imagery, particularly when relating treks through African jungles and deserts is spellbinding:

"You could expect many things of God at night when the campfire burned before the tents. You could look through and beyond the veils of scarlet and see shadows of the world as God first made it and the hear the voices of the beasts He put there. It was a world as old as Time....When the low stars shone over it and the moon clothed it in silver fog, it was the way the firmament must have been when the waters had gone and the night of the Fifth Day had fallen on creatures still bewildered by the wonder of their being."

Even Ernest Hemingway, who at some point crossed paths with Ms. Markham, remarks on the back cover:

"...she has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But she can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers...I wish you would get it and read it because it is really a bloody wonderful book."
 Who am I to argue with Hemingway?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Spring Has Sprung

Fiddlehead Ferns

Every area of the country has its own harbinger of spring.  In the Mid-Atlantic where I grew up, we knew spring had really come when the dogwoods and azaleas were in full bloom.  My friends in West Virginia rave about their ramps.  When we lived in Japan, it was the Cherry Blossoms, in Florida and Hawaii spring simply meant higher temps and having to mow the lawn more often.  

Here in Maine we have the fiddleheads pushing through the still damp earth, and the peepers calling loudly in the pond every evening.  We have windows open--after all it's over 50!--and sun shining between the clouds blown in by the afternoon sea breezes.  Ok yes, there are a few black flies, but those don't tend to reside here on the mid-coast.  There are ticks, coyotes, and mosquitoes, but for these few glorious weeks, the ferns and the peepers give us hope for a beautiful summer.

Incidentally, Fiddleheads are considered a Maine delicacy when sauteed with new red potatoes and garlic in butter.  I also saw a recipe for a Fiddlehead Martini--they put pickled fiddleheads into a mixture of peach or pear wine with vodka.  Whew....that would have me opening the windows!

Review: "U" is for Undertow

Author: Sue Grafton
Format: audio - 11 discs (14 hrs), 403 pg equivalent
Narrator: Judy Kaye
Subject: private detective working cold case
Setting: Santa Teresa California (fictional town)
Series:  Kinsey Milhone private detective (Aka Sue Grafton alphabet mysteries)
Genre: detective fiction
Source: public library audio download
Challenge:Support your local library, audio books

I hadn't read a Sue Grafton in several years and was pleasantly surprised by the well-crafted story in this one.  Kinsey Milhone, a divorced, living alone private investigator, is confronted with a cold case and a possible material witness when the police aren't quite sure it's worth pursuing - yet.  By weaving together the back stories of the major players in the crime with the current search for what really happened, Grafton gives us a more complex mystery than some of the earlier ones in the series.

All the regulars are still present-landlord Henry, bistro proprietress Rosie, and detective Chaney Phillips; Kinsey still lives over Henry's garage, still runs most mornings, still eats quarter-pounders with cheese, and still grouses about life in general but wouldn't change a lick of it.

Essentially (NO SPOILERS), this is the story of a young man who 'remembers' seeing what he believes to have been the burial of a kidnapped but never found young girl--of course he saw this on his 6th birthday and he's now 18!  No wonder the police aren't sure they want to believe him.  Kinsey helps him sort through the memories, and goes on---of course---to unearth and solve the case. Nuf said.  A great read.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Review: Cold Sassy Tree

Author: Olive Ann Burns
Narrator: Tom Parker
Format:  discs (12 hrs,55 mins); 400 pages equivalent
Characters: Mr. Blakesley, Miss Love Simpson, Will Tweety
Subject: life in small town Georgia
Setting: early 1900s, fictional Georgia Town "Cold Sassy"
Genre: Fiction
Source: public library audio download
Challenge: Support your local library; audio books

This is often described as a coming of age novel, and is billed as young adult lit.  It is actually a very sensitively written  story set in Cold Sassy Georgia in 1906 and 1907. It is as appealing to adults as to highschoolers. The main character E. Rucker Blakesly  scandalizes the town  by marrying the milliner who works in his general store a scant three weeks after burying his first wife Miss Mattie Lou.

Told from the viewpoint of his grandson, Will Tweedy, we see how the young second wife Love Simpson is shunned by Blakesly's two grown daughters  Looma and Mary Willis, and how  young Will is taken into Love's confidence when she claims that she is only a housekeeper to his grandpa, and it is a marriage in name only.

As time passes, we see southern culture at its best and worst.  The townsfolk are given ample opportunity for greatness and meanness.  Grandpa opens a car dealership in addition to his general store, Will Tweedy learns to drive, and discovers he is attracted to girls. Olive Ann Burns gives us a loving picture of small town life, and leads us through an exquisite story of love, forgiveness and hope.

This is one of those fortuitous finds recommended by one of my fellow staff members at the local library. She is another audio book fan, and focuses a lot on material for our school age, and teen age readers. She knows me well enough to say "Tina, you will love this--you must download it and read it." I'm so glad I listened to her.  She was right.  The audio was absolutely delightful, but I'm sure it would be just as entertaining and uplifting in print.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Review: Brunetti's Cookbook

Author: Roberta Pianaro with Culinary stories by Donna Leon
Format: 288 pgs
Subject: Food

Genre: cookbook
Source: Amazon online purchase

This is not a beginner's cookbook. There are no pictures of the recipes, nor are the dishes familiar to the majority of Americans raised to believe Italian equals breaded veal parmesan, and ravioli with meatballs.   What it does offer is a collection of wonderful northern Italian dishes, featured in the very popular Commissario Brunetti detective series written by Donna Leon.  I could read these adventures over and over. Brunetti is one of my favorite fictional characters, and between his wife Paola, his dear, now departed Mama, and all the lovely tratorria in the area, a story of his adventures always includes many scenes of food, eating, and family mealtimes.

There are wonderful essays by Roberta Pianaro about food sources, growing and harvesting, and the changes taking place in the modern city of Venice in which the old markets are being replaced by glass shops, and other tourist attractions.  The recipes are well presented, well arranged, and definitely have one reaching for the olive oil, the apron, and a glass of wine to begin the cooking adventure.

Each section of recipes includes an except from one of Leon's books featuring not only the food, but the entire philosphy of eating that is the foundation of Italian life: Mangia, mangia, ti fa bene (Eat, eat, it's good for you).  It even has the recipe for Brunetti's mother's "Lasagna con cuori di carciofo e prosciutto" (Lasagna with artichoke hearts and Prosciutto).

I certainly will have no trouble following the exhortations with this wonderful guide at my disposal.  After paging thru the entire book, and reading the essays, I have at least fifteen bookmarks sticking out virtually screaming "Cook this first!"  This is a book for the serious Italian cook, the serious Donna Leon fan, and the serious lover of good seafood and fresh produce.  Tutti a tavola, mangiamo.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sunday Salon...multi tasking

Well, this Sunday, like many other Sundays I settled down to my three favorites things: Reading, cross-stitching and watching the Red Sox.  Let's just say the Red Sox did not live up to expectations, although my mother the Orioles fan is probably in 7th heaven.

I read a couple chapters of Beryl Markham's bio, and then plugged my ears into a terrific audio of "Cold Sassy Tree" - a delightful vignette of life in Georgia around just before WW I.  While 'ear-reading' I was able to finish FINALLY, my current cross stitch project, pictured here.  I've only been working on this for about 4 years, and really wanted it to be finished, so I can start my next one.  It's sort of like trying to finish a long book so you can get to the next one on the about to topple TBR pile.  This picture reminds me a lot of where we live.. we have a yellow house (and up until last fall had a big oak in the front yard.  We live on the river, and can see boats going by, and I like to listen for the Owls Head light, although I can't see if from our deck.

It is always rewarding to finish something that takes a lot of time and energy, particularly when you can have it around for years to come.  I'm now debating where to hang it, and what kind of frame to use, but it will hang among other family treasures because it speaks of place and memories.

Reviews on Cold Sassy Tree and Beryl Markham will be up later this week, along with the Sue Grafton I finished on Friday.  For now, I'm off to sort thread for the great Blue Heron!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Review: Blunt Darts

Author: Jeremiah Healy
Format: hardcover 192 pages
Characters: John Francis Cuddy
Subject : search for a missing teenager 
Setting: Boston and surrounding towns
Series: John Francis Cuddy
Genre: detective fiction
Source: public library
Challenge: Support your local library; Thrillers, Suspense and Mysteries

I read this for a mystery book club discussion.  It's a delightful, well-written example of pure detective fiction.  As the first one of the genre I read after reading P.D. James' book, I really had fun as some of her comments resonated about how such novels are constructed.  There are likable characters, believable plot twists, and enough of the Boston setting to make it quite enjoyable. Basically, John Francis Cuddy, private detective, is hired to find a missing 14 yr old boy, Stephen Kinnington.  Stephen's grandmother is the person doing the hiring, as the boy's father, Judge Kinnington seems to want the lid put on the boy's disappearance, does not seem anxious to find him, and everyone in the town is afraid of His Honor.

Cuddy's search lands him in some unfortunate scrapes as the judge's talons reach further and further, but he is determined to find the boy.  No spoilers, but it's a quick read, easy to follow, not at all banal example of good detective writing. As the first of over a dozen in the series, it has whetted my appetite for more of this gentleman's detecting.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Review: Talking About Detective Fiction

Author: P.D. James
Format: hardback 196 pages
Subject: writing crime fiction
Genre: non-fiction
Source: public library

A short, readable treatise on the history, structure, and importance of detective fiction written by one of the genre's best practitioners. P.D. James, at the age of 90 has more than a few decades of successful crime writing to her credit. In this easy to understand book she reviews what works and why, features the best of the Golden Age of detective fiction --defined as between the two world wars-- and goes on to opine about where the genre is heading in the future.

She gives us quotes from other critics and writers; she explains how she develops her stories; she offers her thoughts on which is more important-setting, plot, or characters. There is a delightful chapter about four of the women who were the stars of the Golden Age-Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh.

In explaining why this is such an important form of the novel, she writes:
The classical detective story is the most paradoxical of the popular literary forms. The story has at its heart the crime of murder, often in its most horrific and violent form, yet we read the novels primarily for entertainment, a comforting even cozy relief from the anxieties, problems and irritations of everyday life. (pg. 175)
 She certainly validated my love of the genre when she ended by saying:
Our planet has always been a dangerous, violent and mysterious habitation for humankind and we all are adept at creating those pleasures and comforts, large and small, sometimes dangerous and destructive, which offer at least temporary relief from the inevitable tensions and anxieties of contemporary life.  A love of detective fiction is certainly among the least harmful.  We do not expect popular literature to be great literature, but fiction which provides excitement, mystery and humour also ministers to essential human needs. (pg. 195)

Well worth reading for any lover of crime or detective fiction.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Review: Death in a Strange Country

Author: Donna Leon
Format: 8 discs (9+ hrs), 304 page equivalent
Characters: Guido & Paola Brunetti, assorted cops and criminals
Subject: murder, corruption
Setting: Venice and environs
Series: Commissario Brunetti
Genre: detective fiction
Source: public library
Challenge: Audio Books, Support your public library

In this episode of the Commissario Brunetti series, Guido Brunetti is called to investigate the body of an American soldier found floating in the canals of Venice.  The soldier is stationed at Vicenza, over an hours train ride away.  Brunetti feels he is not getting honest answers from the Americans he interviews, and feels he is being rushed to come up with a 'death by mugging' verdict that doesn't seem to fit. At the same time, he is also called to deal with the 'theft' of three priceless paintings from a wealthy business man's palazzo.  Eyewitness accounts of the crime don't seem to match the victim's account.

And the plot gets messier and murkier.  NO SPOILERS.  It's a great mystery, with compassionate, intelligent, educated and urbane characters.  Leon gives us an inside look at corruption at all levels of the justice system, as well as poignant vignettes of regional dialects and characters. This series reminds me quite a bit of Leighton Gage's series featuring Inspector Mario Silva. Both Silva and Brunetti are well-educated and almost aristocratic in their thinking, but at the same time they are entirely sympathetic and caring about all the people on whose behalf they are supposed to be fighting crime. Another detective that comes to mind in this same vein is Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley. The Brunetti series is fast becoming my favorite, and I'm already trying to figure out how I'm going to get to Venice to visit the scene.

My only minus to this particular audio was the narrator.  I have listened to several others in this series all done by David Colacci, but this one was done by Anna Fields and while I've been pleased with other books she's read, her voice just didn't do it for me on this one.  Brunetti is a macho hunky male, and part of the joy of listening to these has been Colacci's wonderful ability to use Italian dialect and accents for all of Leon's diverse characters.  The female voice detracted from the story for me, but it is a measure of Leon's great writing that it didn't deter me from finishing it.  I even got in an extra 20 minutes in the pool because I wanted to finish listening to it!

Review : Churchill

Author: Paul Johnson
Format: audio - 4 discs ( 4 hrs, 40 min) 192 pgs equivalent
Subject: Winston Churchill
Genre: biography
Source: audio book, public library
Challenge: Audio Books, Support your local library

Paul Johnson is one of my favorite writer/historians. He has the ability to present his material in a manner that is both intelligent and readable. This was a refreshing and short biography of Churchill focusing on his political career.

It is obvious from the beginning that Johnson is a devotee, and he mentions several times that he actually met and spoke with him, but still in all the book is fairly objective. I found the chapter where he discusses Churchill's immense power held during WWII quite thought provoking. He poses the question "Did Churchill save Britain?" and the presents 10 reasons why he would answer in the affirmative. The book is worth reading for that chapter alone.

I was fascinated to read that Churchill stood for Parliament under six different 'labels': Conservative, Liberal, Coalition, Constitutionalist, Unionist, and National Conservative. I knew about his service as a journalist, 1st Sea Lord, and Chancellor of the Exchequer, but some other achievements were new to me.  I heartily approve of Churchill's answer to the question: "To what do you attribute your success in life?"

Without pause or hesitation he replied: "Conservation of energy. Never stand up when you can sit down. Never sit down when you can lie down."

This is a well-written and well-researched biography touching on the high points of the life of a great statesman. It can stand alone or serve as the jumping off point for more in-depth studies. It certainly made me want to pull out a few of Churchill's books sitting on our shelves and read them.  He is credited with writing between 8 and 10 million words in his lifetime.  I think I'll look for a few thousand to start with.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Review: Miss Julia Delivers the Goods

Author: Ann B. Ross
Format: 8 discs (10 hrs, approx) 352 page equivalent
Characters: Julia Springer Murdock, Hazel Marie, Mr. Pickens, Lillian
Setting: any small town in North Carolina
Series: Miss Julia
Genre: cozy mystery
Source: public library
Challenge: audio books, support your local library

Miss Julia is always good for a dose of Southern charm, manners, and lessons on the proper way for a lady to comport herself and butt into everybody's business.  In this episode, Miss Hazel Marie finds herself "in the family way" without benefit of the propriety of matrimony.  Miss HM has sent Mr. Pickens (her erstwhile suitor) packing, and refuses to have anything to do with him, or to tell him of his impending fatherhood.  Oh, and Miss Julia has to help Sam, the police, and Mr. Pickens the private detective find out who broke into Sam's office and stole the papers he had for the book he was writing.

She is concerned, naturally, about Hazel Marie's reputation in this small town, but HM swears Miss Julia to secrecy.  The zany schemes concocted by Hazel Marie, Miss Julia, and the long-suffering maid Lillian, for keeping her 'condition' hidden from the busybodies, and how and what she is going to explain to her son Lloyd, are quite entertaining.  The author could have probably chopped 50 pages out of this one without losing anything.  Reading this is like eating piece is delicious, two is great, but by the time you get to the third piece, you realize you've had about enough.  Miss Julia's interference in everyone's life, and Hazel Marie's over-the-top performance as the put-upon (can you say "Woe is ME"?) southern belle got to be a bit much toward the end.  If you're a fan of southern cozies, this is one for you.  If you prefer your tea unsweetened, this one may need several slices of lemon to tame it.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sunday Salon..Let's talk Book Clubs

Since I've moved to Maine (6 years ago next month), I haven't made time to participate in any live book clubs, or book discussion groups.  I have had plenty of discussion/feedback from my buddies over on the threads at, and many of you have provided some lively discussion here in the blogosphere.  Still, there's nothing quite like a face to face discussion with real people in a civilized setting.

Acting like the over-achiever I'm sometimes accused of being, I took the plunge this month and joined not one, but three different groups.  The first meets at a local senior center once a month.  It is a small group, but one I found offered the chance to discuss the chosen tome in a low key and non-structured manner.  April's book was Plainsong, which I read and reviewed earlier this month.

Then later that same week, I joined a group at one of our local libraries (not where I work) to discuss Cutting for Stone.  This was a much larger and more structured, but still fun, group whose leader kept us on track, but who allowed the group to have a very intellectual discussion of several aspects of this award winner.   I  found myself really enthusiastic about re-reading  the book to plumb everything that everyone got out of it.  The leader even sent out a follow-up email to group members re-capping our discussion. (Gosh Jenni, if I'd known you were going to do that, I'd have waited and copped your comments for my review---just kidding.) It was a great way tho to review what we talked about, and I printed out the email and tucked it in the book so I'd have those thoughts available when I do get around to re-reading.

Lastly I've joined  a Mystery Book Club at another local library.  This one sounds really fun.  Instead of picking a specific book to read each month, they simply pick a mystery writer.  We have to read anything written by that author and then will come together at a member's house to discuss.  As you know, I'm a mystery fanatic, and will have no trouble with this one.  Of the twelve scheduled this year, I unfortunately missed the first three:  Robert Crais ( I just read his Monkey's Raincoat earlier this year), Louise Penny - whose Fatal Grace I read and reviewed the end of January, and Kate Flora, a Maine/Massachusetts writer who has been on my radar screen for awhile now.  I'm going to have to check out one of hers (we have several at the library) soon.

So what's up next?  The Mystery Club is meeting the end of April, and this month's author is Jeremiah Healy, a new author for me.  I've just gotten Blunt Darts from the library and can't wait to get into the adventures of Boston investigator John Francis Cuddy.  I'll keep you posted.

The Senior group alternates fiction and non-fiction and for the May book has chosen West with The Night, the critically acclaimed memoir of Beryl Markham, a pioneering aviatrix who was the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west, and who spent thousands of hours flying people, mail and cargo in eastern parts of Africa.  I'm a really looking forward to this one.  It was a totally unplanned read about someone I'd never heard of.  The book looks fascinating, it's well reviewed and I just love finds like this one.

Finally, the library group has chosen the read The Sixteen Pleasures by Robert Hellenga. This one is the fictional story of a young woman who travels to Florence in 1966 to help save rare books damaged in the horrible floods that afflicted the area at that time.  Having just been to Florence for the first time last summer, this one is really ringing out "read me read me" so I was thrilled when the group chose it.

I've put Heretic's Daughter back into my queue for the time being to finish these up first.  Also want to finish Paul Johnson's excellent bio of Winston Churchill. I'm about 1/2 way through.  And I've got several brain candy cozies lined up for audio while I watch the SOX play this afternoon and work on my needlework.

Enjoy spring..if you are fortunate enough to have it. We're still on the edges of wintah up here, so I'm delighted to have such good reads to make the waiting bearable.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Coffee anyone?

If you are looking for a book review, this is not the post for you. Permission to skip this one!
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

As you can see, we take coffee drinking very seriously in this house. After all, how can you do any serious reading or writing, particularly early in the day, without a decent cup of coffee to stimulate the brain cells? We started out our married life receiving four different coffee pots as wedding gifts. There were two electric perks, a stove-top Corningwear, and a big 30 cupper for parties. We kept them all, and over the years, wore them all out.

We've had espresso machines, both as a combo with a regular dripper, and standalone. We've had melita drips, french presses, Italian Moka machines, percs and drips. There isn't a brand that sells for under $100 that we haven't tried. We've had digital programmable, auto turnoff, we've had simple 'put it on the campfire' pots. I can't begin to count the number we've gone thru in almost 43 years of marriage.  We also have three grinders (for regular, decaf, and flavored), three canisters (to store any excess beans-again in regular, decaf and flavor), and several different sizes and shapes of paper filters hiding in that corner "garage"---where all the tea bags hide too.
Currently we own 7 different machines. #8, a one year old Korean-made drip is on its way to the dump tomorrow---more on that in a minute. We have a little four cup perk inherited from Auntie, 2 electric drips (12c and 4 c), 2 melita drips (big and little,) a french press, and a moka.

And I still can't find one that doesn't spit and drip all over the counter when you pour the coffee!!!  It's embarassing. Even guests have this problem, so I know it's not my pouring technique. Only the small melita drip brews directly into the cup --I use that one at the library where we only have a big 30 cupper and no microwave.
Tomorrow's dump donation has actually been the politely drips, brews, and pours the coffee INTO THE CUP--it was only $10 at the local Wally World, and we loved it.  It is however, made of very cheap plastic (whaddya want for $10?) which is disintegrating around the heating element at an alarming rate.  We decided we did not need to burn the house down just to be able to pour we bought a replacement. Naturally, that model is no longer available.
The white one in this photo is the soon to be deceased.  The pot in the foreground is the latest culprit.  I really want to like this new one, it's got an auto shut-off, a cone shaped filter (a type I love because it uses less coffee), and it lets you 'pause and pour'.  However, it also contributes a fair amount of boiling coffee outside the cup when you pour. What's a girl to do?

So to get to the real question : why do we go through so many coffee pots so quickly?
A. We love coffee and we each drink three or four cups a day, and often have a cup of decaf or flavored coffee 'of an evening.'
B. We have a well here on our property, and our water is FULL of iron and iron rust.  Even with a whole house filter installed, the rust deposits collect in the innards of the pot pumps and clog thing up so they just stop working.  No amount of vinegar, cleaner, baking soda, or any other iron out, rust out anything will clean them out, so we gave up buying expensive machines, and have gone to using the cheapies.  The best one is actually the Melita drip because we can boil the water on the stove and then pour it into the filter and thus into the pot. It's getting it OUT of the pot and INTO the cup that is still problematic. And it  means we have to spend more time brewing and messing unless we want to do the microwave thing to heat up anything after the first cup.

Don't the manufacturers have real people test these puppies before they launch them on an unsuspecting public?  Or is there a class I missed someplace on "How to pour from a modern coffee carafe"?

That's my rant for the month....

Friday, April 16, 2010

Unfinished Friday: Half Moon

Half Moon
Henry Hudson and the Voyage that Redrew the Map of the New World

Author: Douglas Hunter
Format: 308 pg galley proof
Subject: Maritime exploration and navigation (non-fiction)
Setting: 1608, North Atlantic, North America
Genre: non-fiction, history
Source: ARC from publisher Bloomsbury Press

Well every once in awhile, you get a book that is interesting but unreadable. When I find I'm stopping every 2 or 3 minutes to look back or refer to something else, I can't get into a book, and that's not reading---it's schoolwork.  I'm done with that!

Don't get me wrong, if you have an extensive background in celestial navigation, and are familiar with ships (particularly 17th century ones) and navigational charts and soundings, this book is probably readable.  I'm just not qualified to say that.  In principle, I understand everything that Hunter is writing about.  I have a degree in math so I passed physics. I served in the Navy, I've passed basic sailing courses, and done some sailing, but this book is not written to be a sit down and enjoy it book for the non-professional.  There's a lot to love for the historian, and I tried skimming and skipping parts that did not readily register, but I found I was having to skip too much, make too many references to all the different names I had to jot down to keep the players straight, and was constantly referring to a map so I could see just where the line was for 45 degrees north etc., etc.

I asked my husband, a retired Navy surface ship sea captain and then retired high school history teacher, to read a few passages.  He read, looked up, turned the cover and said "Who wrote this?"  He was not impressed and suggested I would be better off letting it rest for awhile until I had NOTHING ELSE TO DO.

I read 95 pages. Here's just a sample of what I felt I couldn't deal with anymore.  After the latest series of  four or more pages of turnings, soundings, sightings, on pg. 90:
None of this cartographic confusion would have mattered, had the wind not then turned against Hudson, compelling him to retreat almost due East*
with the footnote then elucidating(?)thusly:
*Juet gave the course as "south-east and by east," which is a bearing of 123 degrees. With his corrections for magnetic variation applied of 17 degrees, we arrive at 106 degrees: 16 degrees southward of east, hence my description "almost due east."
At that point I gave up.  It's going onto the "give it another look someday" shelf, with my current notes tucked into it. I don't really care how he arrived at that description, although I can understand how Hunter wants to be sure his work and his premises are considered historically accurate.  He certainly has researched thoroughly and uses primary sources to the hilt.  It is an academic tour de force.  I'm just not ready to read at that level.  It's a shame it couldn't have been published in a plain English version for those who want the history without having to wrap their brains around all the science.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Review: James Madison the Founding Father

Author: Robert Allen Rutland
Format: 12discs (11 hrs 40 min) 287 pg equivalent
Subject: Life and contributions of James Madison
Genre: Biography
Source: public library audio book download
Challenge: US President's Biographies

Several years ago--I think it must have been in the late 70's--I decided I wanted to read a biography of each of the US Presidents in order of their service. I figured that way I could learn about the history and the personalities in an organized fashion. I did fine until I got to Madison. There just didn't seem to be any good solid but readable edition of his life on the shelves in Northern Virginia where I was then living. So I put the whole endeavor on hold. Last year, my sister and I decided to open the challenge again, and began the quest on LibraryThing. We now have almost 50 people reading along with us. So I had to take the plunge and get on with it.

This is a well researched, very readable biography of one of our early presidents. Rutland makes the case that Madison is truly "The Founding Father" since he was present and actively involved in all aspects of the nation's birth and early years up to the cementing of the concept of a united group of states acting and being perceived by the world as one nation.

The book dwells mostly on his years when he represented Virginia at the Continental Congress, then served in the House of Representatives during Washington's term. He also served as Secretary of State before becoming the 4th President. His authorship of the majority of the Federalist papers in support of ratification of the constitution was explained with many elucidating quotes to highlight how he felt the nation should progress. At the time of his death, he had the only set of notes surviving from the Continental Congress, notes that have served to enlighten us as to the thinking of the founders as they brought the country to birth.

This was a very interesting and enlightening book about one of the most important and influential presidents we have had, who often gets lost in the shadows of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson.

As I've been doing this US President's Challenge, many of the participants have remarked on how difficult it has been finding a good biography of Madison. This one is bare bones, but does have enough flesh on its bones to give us a decent feel for the man and his accomplishments. It certainly has opened my eyes to see how he fits into the procession of presidents, and will form a good basis for going to the next one in the line. It was especially well done in the audio format I found, holding my interest even through boring workouts on the elliptical

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Review: Man from Saigon

Author: Marti Leimbach
Format: hard copy - 347 pages
Subject: female reporter in vietnam (non-fiction)
Setting: Vietnam late 1960's
Genre: fiction
Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewer program
Challenge: ARCs completed

I'm not really sure how to review this book.  It's a novel, purportedly a love story?  It's set in Vietnam at the height of the Vietnam war and is written by an author who has never been to Vietnam, even after the war. Never served in the military.   She indicates that her primary resources are others' writings about their experiences.    I guess for fiction it's ok, but I couldn't buy the premise, and I felt she took a story that could have been written in 150-200 pages, and stretched it to 300.  I found my eyes glazing over often. The physical descriptions of the jungle are well done; the rest  of the descriptions seem to me to be hackneyed re-runs of other's imagery and depictions.  The constant back and forth of settings and POV is really disconcerting.  I often found I had to stop and figure out where we were and who was talking.

Having read non-fiction stories  by several of the actual female reporters who did go to Vietnam, I had a hard time believing or relating to this one. The story is about the experiences of a female reporter who is sent to Vietnam to produce women's interest stories.  Susan, the reporter, has an affair with an American reporter, but also forms a working relationship with a young vietnamese photojournalist named Son who uses her hotel bathroom as his darkroom, and sleeps on a pallet in the corner of her hotel room.  Her American lover is convinced the Vietnamese is a spy.  Susan and Son are captured by Vietcong and held captive for a large portion of the book.  It is difficult to determine who Son is, what his actual role and allegiance are and what Susan's feelings are about him.  In the end, the reader is left for far too many questions about what the author was trying to say.  I was disappointed.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mailbox Monday

It's Mailbox Monday, a fun weekly meme sponsored by Marcia at The Printed Page.  Just as the post office or mailbox is a place to gather to share the news, this gives readers  a chance to share the books that came into their house last week.

This week spring fever took over...there were only two from the postman-and one from the big brown truck:
The first is a delightful children's book The Yellow Hummer by Ivet Graham-Morgan.  Although it focuses on holiday gift giving, the story is appropriate all year long. 
Jordan is looking forward to the big Christmas party where his mother works.  He is thrilled when he receives one of the gifts high on his wish list: A Yellow Hummer with a remote control.  When he gets home he shows it to his grandma who offers to help him free the remote from the heavy plastic wrapping.  Grannie is not wearing her glasses however, and mnages to cut through the cord for the remote, rendering it inoperable.  Jordan is crushed.  How he handles his anger, and how the adults in his life handle this unfortunate episode is beautifully portrayed. In the end, Jordan comes to understand that people and love are much more important than things.

This one is well-written, easy to read to young children, and would be a terrific addition any children's collection.

About the author:

Ivet Graham-Morgan has had fulfilling careers in education, banking and lawinforcement, but she has always been a writer at heart.  Finding herself in the role of single parent, she was unable to follow that career path until she reached her sunset years.  Now,k surrounded by her children and grandchildren, with the luxury of free time, Ivet has returned to her first love--writing....

Many thanks to the author for the opportunity to read and review this well done story.

My latest Early Review Book from the Library Thing program: The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry.  Author of  The Lace Reader, this is one I'm definitely eager to read.

Description: Zee Finch has come a long way from a motherless childhood spent stealing boats—a talent that earned her the nickname Trouble. She's now a respected psychotherapist working with the world-famous Dr. Liz Mattei. She's also about to marry one of Boston's most eligible bachelors. But the suicide of Zee's patient Lilly Braedon throws Zee into emotional chaos and takes her back to places she though she'd left behind.

What starts as a brief visit home to Salem after Lilly's funeral becomes the beginning of a larger journey for Zee. Her father, Finch, long ago diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, has been hiding how sick he really is. His longtime companion, Melville, has moved out, and it now falls to Zee to help her father through this difficult time. Their relationship, marked by half-truths and the untimely death of her mother, is strained and awkward.

Overwhelmed by her new role, and uncertain about her future, Zee destroys the existing map of her life and begins a new journey, one that will take her not only into her future but into her past as well. Like the sailors of old Salem who navigated by looking at the stars, Zee has to learn to find her way through uncharted waters to the place she will ultimately call home.
Many thanks to LibraryThing for the opportunity to read and review this one.

A Captain's Duty by Richard Phillips.  This one I bought from Amazon for hubbie.  But when it arrived, and I thumbed through it, I told him he'd better read it quickly, because I wanted to have a chance to read it also.

Description from Amazon:
It was just another day on the job for fifty-three-year-old Richard Phillips, captain of the Maersk Alabama, the United States-flagged cargo ship which was carrying, among other things, food and agricultural materials for the World Food Program. That all changed when armed Somali pirates boarded the ship. The pirates didn't expect the crew to fight back, nor did they expect Captain Phillips to offer himself as hostage in exchange for the safety of his crew. Thus began the tense five-day stand-off, which ended in a daring high-seas rescue when U.S. Navy SEALs opened fire and picked off three of the captors.
"It never ends like this," Captain Phillips said.
And he's right.
A Captain's Duty tells the life-and-death drama of the Vermont native who was held captive on a tiny lifeboat off Somalia's anarchic, gun-plagued shores. A story of adventure and courage, it provides the intimate details of this high-seas hostage-taking--the unbearable heat, the death threats, the mock executions, and the escape attempt. When the pirates boarded his ship, Captain Phillips put his experience into action, doing everything he could to safeguard his crew. And when he was held captive by the pirates, he marshaled all his resources to ensure his own survival, withstanding intense physical hardship and an escalating battle of wills with the pirates. This was it: the moment where training meets instinct and where character is everything. Richard Phillips was ready.

Off to spend a fun week reading.  What was in your mailbox this week?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Time to lighten up.

After reading the big chunksters, Wolf Hall, Cutting for Stone, and the serious Man from Saigon (review later this week) I spent my weekend watching ball games (GO SOX, and the Bruins), doing some cross-stitch, working out  and listening to delightful audio books that were the perfect antidote to the heavier reading I'd been subjecting my brain to.  I'm still reading an excellent biography of James Madison, and the narrative history of Henry Hudson's voyage on Half Moon, so I really did need to lighten up just a bit.  Both of these are from two of my favorite authors: Donna Leon and Patrick Taylor.  After finishing them, I can't decide where I want to go first: Ireland or Venice.  Either will do.  If you haven't read these (or even better, listened to them) get thee to the public library as quickly as you can..

Dressed for Death
Author: Donna Leon
Format: audio book (8 discs, 9 hr 45 min) 278 pgs equivalent
Characters: Guido and Paola Brunetti
Subject: murder and crime
Setting: Venice
Series: Commissario Brunetti
Genre: police procedural mystery
Source: public library
Challenge: Audio Books, Support your Local Library

Another great episode of Commissario Guido Brunetti and his crew as they solve the murder of an alleged transvestite prostitute, and the criminal activities of a large non-profit involved in the murders.  This is the 2nd of the series, and in this one we meet the Senorina Electra, Brunetti's secretary and admin assistant extraordinaire.  More great scenes of Venice, and the surrounding area.  More wonderful tempting descriptions of Italian eating , and a well developed plot with great characters.
An Irish Country Doctor
Author: Patrick Taylor
Format: audio 9 discs (10 hours, 48 minutes, 352 page equivalent
Characters: Dr. Barry Laverty, Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly, "Kinky" Kincaid
Subject (non-fiction)
Setting: rural Irish village of Ballybucklebo
Series: Irish Country
Genre: fiction
Source: public library
Challenge: Audio Books, Support your Local Library

This is the first in this really fun series.  Think James Herriott without the animals.  It's the story of Dr. O'reilly, the curmudgeonly but loveable small town GP who knows everyone and their secrets, and who isn't afraid to use placebos when he thinks they'll solve the problem.  He is getting on in years, however, and the workload is increasing, so he advertises for an assistant.  Enter Dr. Barry Laverty, fresh from medical school, full of book learning and under-tested people skills.  The two strike up an immediate if grudging respect for their different styles, and Dr. L settles in. Like most small GPs of the era (probably mid 70's) the office (or surgery as it is called in Ireland) is co-located with the living quarters, ably presided over by the housekeeper-cook, Kinky Kincaid.  The story is one of love, respect for people, and small town life.  The adventures of the "Doctors Dear" as Kinky calls them, are heartwarming and just the  things for a quick, loving read.  If you liked Jan Karon's Mitford series, you'll love these.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Favorites from the Past

The Power of Myth
by Joseph Campbell
with Bill Moyers

Every Friday, Alyce At Home With Books features this meme inviting us to look back at a favorite book from the past. This week, as I was re-shelving several of my lenten books, I brushed up against this beautifully illustrated version of Joseph Campbell's series he did with Bill Moyers on PBS so many many years ago.  Both hubbie and I were enthralled listening to these discussions.  We immediately bought and read the book.

Campbell was one of those very talented thinkers and writers who had the ability to take very complex subject matter and present in words that were not only understandable, they were interesting.  He draws in his audience and brings us an understanding of the subliminal influences from our anthropological past.  He explains the various story-telling traditions of humankind, makes us aware of life as narrative, and in a series of discussions Moyers and Campbell explore the evolution of life as story from pre-historic times to modernity.

It's been too long since I've read it to write a decent review, but here's the Amazon description:

Among his many gifts, Joseph Campbell's most impressive was the unique ability to take a contemporary situation, such as the murder and funeral of President John F. Kennedy, and help us understand its impact in the context of ancient mythology. Herein lies the power of The Power of Myth, showing how humans are apt to create and live out the themes of mythology. Based on a six-part PBS television series hosted by Bill Moyers, this classic is especially compelling because of its engaging question-and-answer format, creating an easy, conversational approach to complicated and esoteric topics. For example, when discussing the mythology of heroes, Campbell and Moyers smoothly segue from the Sumerian sky goddess Inanna to Star Wars' mercenary-turned-hero, Han Solo. Most impressive is Campbell's encyclopedic knowledge of myths, demonstrated in his ability to recall the details and archetypes of almost any story, from any point and history, and translate it into a lesson for spiritual living in the here and now. --Gail Hudson

The conversations are thought-provoking and beautiful.  They are meant to be read individually and slowly, to be savored and lingered over.  It's taken me almost an hour to type this paragraph because I got lost skimming through the book again.  It's definitely going on the 'read-it-again' pile.  If you're not familiar with Campbell's work, you are missing a treat.  As they used to say in that old commercial: "Try it, you'll like it."

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Review: Wolf Hall

Author: Hilary Mantel
Format: 560 pages , audio 18 discs (approx 24 hrs)
Characters: Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII, Ann Boleyn, Cardinal Woolsey
Subject: Thomas Cromwell
Setting: England 1529-1534
Genre: historical fiction
Source: public library
Challenge: Support your public library, Audio books

The title of this Man Booker Prize book is a bit misleading. Wolf Hall is the home of the Seymour family, and while they were quite influential in Henry VIII's reign, I don't remember even one scene being set there. Nor was the book about the Seymours. This is the story of Thomas Cromwell, beginning with his abused childhood, through his vagabond but experience-rich youth when he traveled far from England throughout Europe, fighting for the French, learning several languages, and honing his intellectual and accounting skills. It concentrates on the years 1529 through 1534 (about the end of the Boleyn reign.)

After his return to England, Cromwell lands a position in the employ of Cardinal Woolsey. Although he remained loyal and grateful to Woolsey, he managed to distance himself from Woolsey's troubles with Henry by keeping his religious convictions very private--in fact, one is left somewhat unsure even at the end as to what were Cromwell's true beliefs about organized religion. In the meantime, he (Cromwell) is diligent about employing and training young, bright, under-advantaged youths to carry on his work.

Before reading this, I did not have many preconceptions of what made Thomas Cromwell tick. Mantel does a superb job of providing us background for his actions, his motivations and his relationships with some of the most powerful people of the era. His relationship with Thomas More is presented as sympathetic, although I felt an almost repugnance for the More portrayed here. Ann Boleyn also comes off rather negatively, but it is fascinating to see Mantel showing us Ann B and Cromwell using each other to get where they wanted to go. And of course, there is his relationship with Henry himself. Mantel's Cromwell seems to be able to tell H the VIII the blunt truth with considerable impunity, and thus is often recruited by other nobles to be the bearer of not good tidings.

Finally, I was enthralled by the portrayal of Ann's sister Mary Boleyn. Was she gullible, vulnerable and used? Or conniving, sly, and manipulating?

This book is long, but written to move right along. I listened to the audio version which was exceptionally well done by Simon Slater. It is a book where it is sometimes difficult to tell who is actually speaking, and Slater's intonation certainly helps sort that out. The descriptions of living conditions, dress, manners, and customs are all richly elaborated, and Mantel uses just enough vernacular to make it truly authentic without making it difficult to follow. 5 Stars.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Mailbox Monday

It's Mailbox Monday, a fun weekly meme sponsored by Marcia at The Printed Page.  Just as the post office, or mailbox is a place to gather to share the news, this gives readers  a chance to share the books that came into their house last week.

This week the mailbox was resting.....I got only two, but quality sure makes up for quantity on these two. -- I got

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. My review was posted yesterday....since it arrived on Wednesday, I've had to force myself to do anything else besides read this blockbuster.  Such a fantastic book.  I'm so glad I broke my resolution not to buy any more books.  This one was worth every penny.

I also received an autographed copy of The Last Surgeon by Michael Palmer.  I'm really looking forward to reading this one for my medical mysteries challenge.  Booklist says:
Palmer’s best novel in years is a highly suspenseful story that begins with a murder staged to look like a suicide and ends with the exposure of a far-reaching conspiracy. The three central players are Jillian Coates, a nurse who refuses to believe her sister would kill herself; Nick Garrity, a physician still haunted by the disappearance of his best friend three years ago; and Franz Koller, a ruthless hired killer who has several victims to dispatch, only none of them can look like murder. Palmer cleverly teams up Nick and Jillian, uniting them in a common purpose: to find out how Jillian’s dead sister and Nick’s missing friend seem to have come in contact with one another. Palmer keeps his two leads—and us, too—in the dark for a good portion of the book, dispensing the occasional tantalizing hint of some horrible secret lying just below the surface. When we discover the truth behind the mystery, we’re shocked and exhilarated and bewildered, all at the same time. Palmer has always spun a good yarn, but this one is more compelling and features more engaging characters than some of his recent efforts. --David Pitt

I've tried not to accept more review copies than I can handle, so I'm going to really make an effort to stay caught up.  If the Red Sox keep playing well, I'll  be able to turn the sound down, and just keep my eye on their games every night, and now that spring is here, I'll be able to get out and do some walking and listen to a few more audio books too.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Review: Cutting for Stone

Author: Abraham Verghese
Format: audio 18 discs (approx 24 hrs), 688 pages trade paperback
Narrator: Sunil Malhotra
Characters: Marion and Shiva Stone
Subject: practice of medicine
Setting: Addis Ababa Ethiopia, New York
Genre: fictional narrative memoir
Source: audio: Public library; print - my own copy
Challenge: Books from my shelves, TBR, audio, support your local library

I can't believe it took me three tries to read this book.  Late last autumn, I began listening to the audio, but found it difficult going.  It wasn't the accent of the narrator---I found that charming and easy to understand.  It wasn't the writing--that was clear and moved along at a good clip.  It just seemed that the story didn't hold my interest, and it seemed like it was going to be exceptionally long.  Then I got the print copy from the library, and tried reading it.  Again, I found myself unable to get past the first 100 or so pages.  So I put it aside, vowing to try again later.

Two weeks ago I noticed one of our local libraries was having a group discussion of this next week, so I thought  perhaps having some other insights might help me get through it.  I dutifully began listening to the audio again thinking I'd be able to pick up where I left off, but found I had to go back to the beginning. (At least, thought I, even if I can't finish it again, I'll be able to participate in some of the chat.)

This time however, after one hour, I was so hooked, I went to Amazon and ordered myself a copy to come next day air.  I finished it four days later, having both listened and then re-read the text. I did not want it to end.  I LOVED THIS BOOK.

Cutting with Stone is a superbly written, beautifully narrated story of the lives of Marion and Shiva Stone, born identical conjoined twins in a hospital in Ethopia; they were separated at birth.  Their mother, who died giving birth, was an Indian Carmelite nun who worked as a surgical nurse at the hospital where they were born.  Their father, an Indian born Englishman, Thomas Stone, was the hospital's only surgeon who botched the C-section he was called to perform because the obstetrician was out of town.  Dad disappears hours after the birth, unable to deal with a pregnancy he claimed to know nothing about and the death of his beloved Sister Mary Joseph Praise.

The orphaned twins were adopted and raised by two doctors at the hospital, Hema (the obstetrician) and Ghosh (the internist turned surgeon).  There was an entire staff of surrogate parents to help in raising the boys.  Medicine and its practice, including surgery was normal dinner conversation in the household.  It was small wonder both grew to become doctors.

We are involved in the coups and political unrest in Ethiopia during the second half of the 20th century including the arrest and imprisonment of Ghosh, and the twins' later dealings with a rogue army bandit who threatens to kill them; we watch as the humble hospital in Addis Ababa continues to care for a diverse group of patrons, from the emperor's family to the poorest of the poor, with little funding and often crudely fashioned homemade instruments. We are given broad but specific (and sometimes gory) details of medical procedures in language the layman can understand, even though the amount of detail sometimes slows down the story.  We watch as the boys mature, learn to dance, quote Shakespeare, and learn the art as well as the science of medicine from their parents.  We see one of them fall hopelessly in love and then see one betray the other.

When Marion leaves to go to America, we are made brutally aware of the differences in medical practice in the two countries.  It's not that the two countries have doctors of different abilities making the difference, rather it is the difference in resources and expectations that is vibrantly portrayed.  Marion's residency in surgery at a hospital in New York eventually brings him face to face with his biological father and ultimately leads to history making and life changing experiences for all the family.

This book is long.  It is 18 discs on audio (almost 24 hours of extremely well narrated story read by Sunil Malhotra) and 688 pages in print. It is difficult to do it justice in a review because, although written as a fictional narrative memoir, it is a novel with a spectacular ending that deserves not to be spoiled. Forget about my abortive initial attempts (blame it on the weather or something) it is a story that is engrossing, exciting, appealing, easy to read and extremely difficult to put down.  It is also one that I will want to read again and again.  In both its print and its audio versions it is a story not soon to be forgotten.  It is simply one of the best books I've ever read.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Challenges, Challenges

I've been trying to do a post showing how I'm progressing at meeting the many challenges on my sidebar, but the biggest challenge today seem to be getting Blogger to accept my entries.

Does that mean I'm starting to bloviate???? Horrors...

So let's see how far I get this time. I'm not going to list the individual books read toward the challenge, since I've been listing that information as I post the book. I'm just going to list the original challenge (with a link to that post) and how I'm doing so far.

ARC Reading Challenge - 19/25
I've read 19 ARCs heading for the Gold Level of 25 for the year.
Medical Mystery Challenge -  1/6
I've still only got one read, but just got an ARC of Last Surgeon signed by the author so that will go really well for this challenge.
Books Won Reading Challenge 3/10
There are lots still on the pile screaming PICK ME PICK ME
Reading from my Shelves - 5/20 --slowly, slowly, the pile goes down....quickly,quickly the pile grows higher.
War Through the Generations Challenge - 1/5 .
I have one in progress (Man from Saigon), and just got an ARC of the Lotus Eaters, so I'm on track for this one.
Thrillers and Suspense Challenge - CHALLENGE COMPLETED !!! 16 read/12 goal
Typically British Reading Challenge - 1/3
Nothing happening this month, but I've identified future candidates....
2010 Audio Book Challenge - 17/20  moving right along.
2010 TBR Challenge  2/20
This one is going to require some discipline on my part.  We had to put up a list of 12, with 12 alternates.  I fully intend to read every one of these, but those darn ARCs keep getting in the way.  I will have to stop accepting review copies soon, and take a month, to make some progress on this pile.
Support Your Local Library Challenge 25/50
I would be in bankrupcy court if I had to buy every book I want to read.  Public libraries deserve every penny of support we can give them so those of us who love to read can feed our habits.
World Religion Challenge - 2/??however many you want!!!
I did a lot of 'religious' reading for lent, but most of that was not about religions per se..I do have several candidates tho sitting on my TBR shelf that will fit the bill, so I still have hopes of reading 2 or 3 more this year.
50 States Challenge - 18/50 slow but steady progress
US presidents Challenge - I need to set up a link for this one, but don't want to until I make more progress...I had a spreadsheet that got lost in the great February hard drive crash, but suffice it to say, I've read only 4 or 5 so far....
and finally....
ARCs completed - 20/25
Now this one is fun, but frustrating, because ARCs breed in my mailbox like wire coat hangars in a closet, so for every one I read, I seem to get two more....still in all, I've read some great ones this year.

So there you have it....I think I'm making pretty good progress.  Will do another report the end of June for the half-way mark.

It's not to late to join in many of these, and if you're challenge averse, pick just one that you know you can do and go for it.  We all like to feel we've accomplished something we set out to do, and this is a great way to do so.

March wrap up

In mid-March I started a wrap up of books read since February 1st. It was also intended as a progress report for my many challenges. That one bombed out at a certain point, so I'm finishing it up here - without as many graphics as before. I'm going to do just a listing of books read in March, and then a separate post for challenge progress.

Here's what I read for March. The links take you to my review post.

Children's Books:
Bailey's Day by Robert Haggerty
Share from the Heart by Marilyn Randall

Ghost at Work by Carolyn Hart
Wolf Hall (review will be posted the week of April 4th)
Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler
Cruelest Month by Louise Penny
Morning Show Murders by Al Roker
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Poacher's Son by Paul Doiron
Eastern Stars by Mark Kurlansky
Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
be sure to read the follow-up post for More on Henrietta
Plainsong by Kent Haruf
Be the Noodle by Lois Kelly
Burning Cold by H. Paul Jeffers
Blood of the Wicked Leighton Gage
Shot to Death Steven D. Rogers
Lake Magic Kimberly Fisk

Lenten reads:

All of my comments and reviews are on one post Lenten Reading Wrap up

The Women Around Jesus by Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel
Rome has Spoken by Maureen Fiedler and Linda Rabben, eds.
The Woman who Named God by Charlotte Gordon
Jesus (The Son Of Man: His Words And His Deeds As Told And Recorded By Those Who Knew Him) by Kahlil Gibran
Seven Storey Mountain

If I were forced to pick a best of these it would be a tie between Wolf Hall and Plainsong for fiction, and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks for non-fiction. As I post this, I haven't yet finished my review for Wolf Hall, but I will come back and link it when I'm done.  It's such a great book, it deserves a few concentrated moments for a decent review, and that's not happening for the next few days.

Lenten Reading wrap-up

During Lent, I always try to increase my reading to include some 'religious' topics (or "GOD STUFF") as my children used to call it. This is much more satisfying both spiritually and physcologically than the "giving up something" of my youth. So here's a wrap-up of what I managed this Lent.

The Women Around Jesus
Author: Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel,
Format: 148  pgs
Subject: historical women in Christian theology and scripture
Genre: non-fiction
Source: personal shelves
Challenge: Read from My Shelves,

The author looks at various women mentioned in the bible or other contemporaneous writings and then researches thoroughly future mentions and interpretation of the traditional view of these women.  The reading is very academic, although the book cover mentions that this is an example of "the forgotten art in theology: the use of imagination".   I found the imagination too dry to get my arms around.  Recommended for anyone looking for scholarly discussion, but not for general reading.

 Called Out of Darkness
Author: Anne Rice
Format: 245 pages hardback
Subject religious faith; conversion
Genre: memoir
Source:Public library
Challenge: Support Your local Library

An honest, soul-searching, look into the personal faith journey of one of America's most noted novelists. Going from Roman Catholicism to atheism and secular humanism back to Roman Catholicism, she allows us to see her upbringing in very Catholic New Orleans during the late 1940s and 1950s, her struggles with reading, and gender issues while attending first a Catholic college, and then a state university in Texas. She gives us breath-taking detail, in some cases TMI, and only gives us her "conversion" and subsequent love affair with Jesus in the last 15% of the book.

I've never read any of her vampire or other novels, but have read both of her "Christ the Lord" novels and found both of those very inspirational. This book provides a good introduction to those two by presenting us with the background and motivation for her embracing the subject.

The Woman Who Named God

Author: Charlotte Gordon
Format: 400 pages
Characters: Abram, Sarai, Hagar
Subject: Abram's journey and  the roots of three great religions
Setting: Canaan desert and surrounding area
Genre: non-fiction
Source: blog contest prize (my own shelves)
Challenge: TBR Challenge, Read from my Shelves

A very readable, very scholarly discussion of Abraham's families and their antecedents in modern day religions: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.  While this could have been very dry and boring, it wasn't.  Gordon  covers Abram's entire life from his call by God to leave his home to his meanderings over the years through various lands up to his burial. The research and notes are extensive and well-documented, but don't get in the way.

Gordon looks at Abran's long journey and life through all prisms: Jewish, Christian and Islamic scriptures, (both the Bible and the Koran) as well as other  historical and religious writings. She will present an incident or story and then explain how each religion views the episode, what learned teachers and rabbis have said over the years, and offer the pros and cons of each interpretation.

I thought when I started the book that it was going to be only about Abraham and Sarah, but found that the title really referred to Hagar. In fact, I think when I got it, I thought it was another fiction like Diamont's RED TENT.  It isn't fiction, and  I definitely found myself enlightened by ideas I'd never pondered before.  Although it is deep reading, it is enjoyable and certainly recommended.

  Rome Has Spoken

Author Maureen Fiedler and Linda Rabben, eds.
Format paperback 224 pages + bibliography and notes
Subject Papal pronouncements over the years
Genre: non-fiction, essays
Source: my own shelves, signed copy from author
Challenge: World Religions, Reading from my Shelves

The subtitle tells it all: A Guide to Forgotten Papal Statements and How they Have Changed Through the Centuries.

A very academic but interesting volume reviewing various "issues" that seem to have been interpreted and enforced differently over the two centuries of Roman Catholicism. The topics cover the range from evolution to slavery, from Galileo to usury, and include the current buzz topics of contraception, women's ordination and divorce.
Each topic presents first the scriptural references cited throughout history, and progresses with quotes from the early fathers, to Papal pronouncements over the years, to conciliar declarations (if available) and ends with an essay from a noted scholar of today.

Some topics are more interesting than others, but all are well researched, intelligently and objectively presented. A book worth reading for those wanting to know how the Catholic Church got to certain "beliefs" and what might happen in the future. It's dry, but not so dry that it can't be read. The short essay format lends itself to being read in pieces, so it can easily be picked up and put down without feeling like one has to do it all at once. In fact, I've been 'reading' this one for about four years, and finally think I've read all of it that I'm interested in.

Jesus (The Son Of Man: His Words And His Deeds As Told And Recorded By Those Who Knew Him)

Author : Kahlil Gibran
Format: Hardcover, 216 pages
Genre: fiction,
Source: my own shelves, inherited from Auntie
Challenge: World Religions, Reading from my Shelves

Almost like reading poetry. While it is fiction, it takes words from published sources, some apocryphal, and gives us a portrait of Jesus from the viewpoints of many different people. The vision is mind-expanding, and for believers, inspirational. I really found this to be an excellent Lenten read, as I could simply soak up one short reading at a time. In fact, it will most probably become one of my favorites to go to for short bursts of spiritual energy.

Seven Storey Mountain

Author:Thomas Merton
Format: Hardcover, 423 page
Genre: Autobiography
Source: My own shelves, inherited from Auntie

This one is currently now in the "Did not finish, try later" collection in my LibraryThing catalog.  I got through about 120 pages, and while it was interesting, it wasn't yet at the point where I'd label it inspiring.  Merton writes in an extremely verbose style, making it necessary for modern day readers used to the 'hurry up and get there' lifestyle to slow down and listen, and think.

Unfortunately, this book appears (at least in the beginning) to cover almost every single day of his life in excruciating detail.  I wanted to get to the mountain....but at page 120, it's only a mirage on a distant horizon.   I plan to come back to this one, but I suspect it will be read in chunks over a period of several more years.

So now that I'm inspired and renewed, I look forward to Easter, spring, flowers, sunshine, and another chance to live life to the fullest--ok, more books!