Monday, May 31, 2010

May Wrap-Up

Whew!  what a month. I feel almost as if I accomplished nothing in the realm of reading, but I did have a great visit with mom, the kids, the grand daughter (what a delight she is), and also got to see all three of my sisters.

I did manage to complete the 75 books in 2010 challenge on - 7 months early, so that counts.  And I certainly hauled in a lot of new books, even thought they're technically 'on loan' from my sister Cheli.  So what's the count?

I read 4, abandoned 2 (one so bad I didn't even bother to blog it), and listened to 4 others.  I guess 8 books is not a bad count considering that I was definitely otherwise occupied for 10 of those thirty days.

I do have every intention  of getting back in the saddle for June and July to clear out ARCs.  I spent 4 hours yesterday cleaning out my blog feeder and catching up on reading all of your posts.  I did ruthlessly delete those blogs that hadn't posted something I was interested in for at least 90 days---sorry, but I figure if I only give a book 50-60 pages to grab me, then 90 days is more than enough for a blog.  I entered a lot of contests, and posted a boatload over on the giveaway sidebar, so be sure to get those entries in.

I still have to finish A Separate Country for this month's book club, I want to continue my president's bio reading a little each week (I just started "The Last Founding Father") by Harold Unger and I have to read a book by Nancy Pickard for the mystery book club the end of June.  So I'm setting my goal for June to finish:

The Swimming Pool by Holly LeCraw
Exit Music by Ian Rankin
A Dog About Town by J.F.Englert
Happy Hour by Michele Scott
The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Sol
The Last Surgeon by Michael Palmer (the man was nice enough to send me an autographed copy - you'd think I could get to it!!!)
The Executor by Jesse Kellerman

As soon as the smoke in the air (from the Canadian brush fires) clears, the deck beckons...

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Memorial Day Giveaway

Now here's a deal you can't refuse....what a perfect way to celebrate Memorial Day by entering to win an eReader for a deployed servicemember and get one for yourself too.  Just boogey on over (or click on the link) to The Bibliophilic Book Blog to enter.

Many thanks and a huge salute to this wonderful servicemember for running this really must check it out. Our country is in good hands with people like her serving for us.

And they who for their country die shall fill an honored grave, for glory lights the soldier's tomb, and beauty weeps the brave. ~Joseph Drake

Review: The Help

Author: Kathleen Stockett
Format: audio 18 hr, 464 pages equivalent
Characters: "Skeeter" Phelan, Minnie, Aibileen, Hilly Holbrook
Subject: racial discrimination, social mores, civil rights movement
Setting: Jackson Mississippi
Genre: fiction
Source: public library audio download
Challenge: Support your public library; Audio books

A good book can be defined as one that is easy to read with a great ending.  A great book is one that is so engrossing, with characters so real that the reader is left with an empty feeling when the book ends.  I just didn't want it to be over. I want more.  I want these people to tell me what happens next.

Often I run like crazy in the opposite direction when I see a book getting rave reviews from everybody.  I put off reading this one, in spite of everyone telling me I HAD TO READ this. This time, everybody was right. I have now joined the ranks of all those who are convinced this is one of the best books written in the past year. 

Set in the Mississippi of the mid 1960's as the civil rights movement was happening, the book tells the story of black women who served as "the help" in white households in Jackson MS.  A recent college graduate, white girl Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan wants to be a journalist, but the only job she can find is writing the housekeeping advice column in the local paper.  Raised in a household with "help", she has no idea how to answer the questions, and turns to one of her friend's maids, Aibileen, to get the answers.  In the meantime, she serves as the newsletter editor for the local Junior League, where her membership brings her into contact with the prevalent and open racial and class prejudice of the era.

Her relationship with Aibileen, coupled with her rising frustration with the stereotyped role her parents and friends expect of her, leads her to seek an outlet in writing.  She is encouraged by a New York editor, who suggests that she write stories of the maids and their families and submit it as a book. In a world where black women working in white houses are forced to use separate bathrooms (many of them outside), where they are taught from early girlhood to never question or talk back to whites, where they never sit with whites, keep their dishes separately, work long hours at less than minimum wage with no Social Security or other benefits, and count them selves lucky to get a $10 bonus or hand-me-down dress at Christmas, and where a white woman's word against them (whether true or not) can land them in jail, getting these maids to share their stories with her is the hardest part of Skeeter's endeavor.

The story is told by Aibileen, by her friend Minnie, and by Skeeter.  Each has her own secrets, her own hopes, her own fears.  They all live and work in the same circle of people, and know many of each other's secrets.  Skeeter must deal with an "on again, off again" relationship with the State Senator's son, a mother who is very ill but very intent on her daughter's following all the prescribed social norms, a best friend who turns out to be a truly bigoted tyrant, and a deadline for her book that looks to be impossible.

Aibileen must encourage all the other maids, keep her own secrets and several from other maids, and still meet with Skeeter to help her record and capture the stories.  Minnie, the third point of view, is a wonderfully vibrant character with a true 'smart-ass' sense of humor, a tendency to mouth off and get herself fired, and, who, for most of the book, works for a white woman Celia who is despised as "poh white trash" by all the other Junior Leaguers.  Minnie is torn between staying out of Celia's business and mentoring her in proper white woman behavior.  The relationship that develops between these two is so well-written that you find yourself rooting for both of them.

The tension builds as Skeeter writes the stories, changing the names and the town, and assures them that it will be published anonymously, while the maids worry what will happen if their white families ever realize who they really are, and what is being said about them publicly.

The book is incredibly well written, and the audio reading is rich with dialect and accents.  It has truly believable characters, a range of issues related to the overall racial and class dynamic, and a plot that builds one step at a time holding the reader's attention from the beginning.  It flows so well that it is impossible to put it down.  One of my few five star reads this year.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Weekend Cooking

I'm late getting on this train, but with as much food posting/tasting/talking as I do, I'm hopping onboard.  Beth Fish Reads sponsors this weekly meme where we foodies can chat about cookbooks, cooking gadgets, recipes, or anything else gustatory. Be sure to stop over there to find other terrific weekend cooking posts.

This weekend marks 'official' the beginning of 'summah' here in Maine. While it's still chilly compared to temps down south, our skies are that gorgeous clear blue, and the air is fresh and invigorating.  We returned from our recent trip south to visit family and found ourselves longing for (what else?) lobstah!   In fact, I hadn't even finished my question "Lobster Ok for dinner?"  when hubbie was smiling and shouting "YES" across the room. So after running errands, picking up the mail, and mowing the lawn, we headed for our nearby seafood shack (only 3 minutes away!), picked out two big bubbas, watched them go into the steamer, and came home to add some fresh cole slaw, and a big bowl of melted butter to enjoy the most delicious seafood ever hatched in the sea.

Imagine our surprise when we realized we both were suffering from "eyes bigger than tummy" disease!  Aw shucks, that leftover lobster now becomes lunch today.  The lobster roll is perhaps the most famous dish sold in Maine and I often buy an extra lobster just so we do have enough left for sandwiches next day.   There are as many varieties and recipes for this simple sandwich as there are mommas who serve lunch.  As with the crab cakes I enjoyed so much last week, for me less is more.

You need nothing more than a tiny bit of chopped celery, your favorite mayo, some good lobster meat and a good roll.  Forget all the fancy-smancy additions and permutations you see in various articles, TV shows and cookbooks.  This is the real deal.  We use those wonderful New England style hot dog rolls which I'd never seen until I got to Maine.  Our mid-atlantic rolls open from the side.  New Englanders open from the top. Whichever bun you use, the result is mouth-watering, tummy filling, and soul satisfying.
These are so beloved that even McDonald's has them on the menu in Maine.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Abandoned Book: Emma

Author: Jane Austen 
Format:Hard cover and audio
Characters: Emma and a host of chattering females
Subject: Marriage; female friendship
Genre: Fiction
Source: My own shelves, public library
Challenge: Read from my shelves

Well this one is going back onto the shelves, and back to the library. One of my book clubs picked this one to fill the 'classics' genre for this month's book. (Our discussion is scheduled for next wednesday). I tried and tried and tried to read this.  I tried three different editions (with three different fonts), and the audio, and the Netflix PBS version.  And the bottom line is that I am not interested in whether Emma finds a husband, I cannot stand the superfluous words babbling, bubbling, and burping from lengthy paragraph to lengthy paragraph. I didn't like the premise, I didn't like the characters, and the plot line drove me nutso.

I realize for some it is considered a "classic" -  great literature.  I had a very classic traditional education, and have a master's degree in library science, but this type of writing--not just this book itself---does exactly ZERO for me.  My life is too short, there are too many good books to read, and I'll just have to save Ms. Austen for that TBR pile in the next life.

Can you tell I was a math major?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Monthly books Clubs - slow going

We just returned from a trip south to visit family.  It was a much busier trip than I suspected, so I'm really behind on my reading.  I have three book club discussions coming up in the next week, and I'm just not going to make it.  The mystery book club meets tomorrow night, and we were supposed to read something  by Kaitlyn Dunnit.  I had checked out Stone Cold Dead from our library, but never got the cover even opened.   So I'm going to pass on that one (since I'm pooped anyway from the 10 hour drive).

I'd been trying to listen to EMMA for another group (they don't meet until next Wednesday) but that is one book that is going NOWHERE in audio, so I took grand-daughter, the nine year old who is reading the third volume of Stephanie Myer's Twilight series, to Barnes and Noble (I wanted to check out the NOOK) and while she was putting several good ones in her basket, I discovered a good copy of Emma on the bargain table for $4.60.  But it appears that this volume did not make it home with me.  I'll have my daughter-in-law send it up, but I'll have to get a library copy if I have any hope of getting through it by next week.

I'm also about half-way through  A Separate Country, and that was finally picked up about page 80.  I was almost ready to give up, but since I was the one who suggested this read, I felt I had to stick to it.  Glad I did.  I should be able to finish it by the Monday deadline.

So......I'm going to get two of these done, and get back on track with my languishing ARCs for June and July.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mini Review: Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

Now that we're back home, I can settle down and catch up on reading. I really didn't get much done while we were on the road. I did finish this, although it took me a while. I kept going back to listen to parts again, thinking I had missed something, but I think it's just the way the book was written.

Author: Rhoda Janzen
Narrator: Hilary Huber
Format: audio 8:15, 272 page equivalent
Subject: life as a non-practicing Mennonite
Genre: memoir
Source: public library audio download
Challenge: Support Your Local Library; audio books

It's uproariously funny in parts,--almost bawdy, and not at all what I was expecting. I can't figure out what the point was. It's just a rambling series of autobiographical reflections about the life of a 43 yr old college professor whose atheist husband of 15 years leaves her for a guy named Bob he met on  She certainly has a rather sarcastic, smart-A viewpoint, and I enjoyed that.

She tells us about a car accident, her going home to recuperate with her parents, which leads to vignettes about growing up 'in the community', her mother's champion flatulence, the advise she gets from everyone about coping with her suddenly single state, but nothing seems to tie together. Worth reading, but don't expect the definitive treatise on anything.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday Salon

This week I'm spending Sunday with my granddaughter. We haven't yet made great plans -chillin' with a good book is high on everyone's list. It's been a busy week for us visiting everyone, and we'll all up for some veg time.

We may make one more trip to the big bookstore near my son's home. In Maine we have to drive over an hour to get to a big bricks and mortar book store, although we have several delightful Indies closer by - Second Read Books in Rockland being my favorite.

I do want to go to B&N and investigate the nook however, so we will probably go this afternoon and check it out. I've been very well behaved this trip, only bought three books so far- they have a decent selection of current best sellers at the Post Exchange, and lord knows the DC area has more than its share of military facilities.

I'll fill you in on any treasures I find later. In the meantime, get outside and enjoy the beautiful spring weather. HOT old mr. Summer will be here before you know it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Real Crab

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry
As we've traveled around the world, several versions of the crab cake have made their way to my plate.  However, since I was raised on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, I don't consider any crustacean to be REAL CRAB except the the Chesapeake Blue Crab - served either steamed with Old Bay seasoning, or as pictured in a REAL CRAB CAKE.  This beauty - the best I have ever had, came from Pappas' restaurant in Baltimore, (within walking distance of my girlhood home).  They know to let the crab stand out on its own, and use just enough mayo to hold those chunks together, and just enough spice to remind your taste buds they exist. Mom and I went there for dinner for a belated  birthday and Mother's day was a memorable meal and the above is actually what was left from my crab cake platter (think of a baseball and you'll have the approximate size of this beauty!)

If you've never had Chesapeake crab, you must get some when you're near the Bay.  Accept no substitutes.  They are as good as any Maine lobster and can't compare with Alaskan or Gulf crabs - don't even try!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Make your own bookmobile

Whoo Hoo!! Did I have a good time yesterday!  I played bookmobile with my sister Cheli.  For weeks we've been comparing our personal library catalogs on, and compiling lists of books we wanted to borrow or exchange.  And yesterday, we were finally able get our hands on all those goodies.  I was going to do this as a Monday Mailbox, but since they didn't come in the mail, and I can't wait until Monday to tell you about them, here's what I managed to snag from sis:

As you can see, quite an assortment - from cozies, to fiction, to beginnings of series, to Civil War History and the audio of The Swan Thieves.  I felt like I did when I discovered the bookmobile at the corner of our street when I was 8 years old.  I'm not sure I'm going to get them all finished before I come south to pick up the grand baby in August, but it's nice to know she won't charge me an exorbitant fine if I'm late.  Thanks Cheli - you're the best.  I hope you enjoy your treasure trove too.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Review: the map of true places

Author: Brunonia Barry
Format: galley proof -406 pages
Characters: Zee, Finch, Melville, Hawk
Subject: Dealing with mental illness & Parkinson's disease
Setting: Salem Massachusetts
Genre: literary fiction
Source: Early Review program
Challenge: ARC Completed

This could have been a really depressing book.  After all the subjects are suicide, bi-polar disorder, Parkinson's disease, betrayal, and depression.  Instead of leaving the reader reaching for the Prozac bottle however, the story ends leaving the reader uplifted.

It is a great story about a story (is it true or is it a fairy tale?), and about a young woman's search for herself, her mother, and her future.  Zee Finch is a pyschologist whose patient Lilly (a young woman close to her age) jumps off a bridge when she should have been at her appointment with Zee.  Since Lilly reminds Zee of her own mother (the original story-teller) whose bi-polar disease caused her to commit suicide when Zee was 13, our heroine is doubly bummed.  Is she mixing up the two women in her own mind?  In addition, her fiance is pressuring her to make plans for their scheduled wedding and Zee seems unable to make any decisions.  She's not even sure she wants to get married.

She instead chooses to go home to see her father, whom everyone calls "Finch," a noted Hawthorne scholar who lives directly across the street from Hawthorne's house in Salem.  Finch suffers from Parkinson's disease, and it becomes immediately evident to Zee that his condition has dramatically worsened since she last saw him.  Her patients back in Boston are shifted to others in the practice while she deals with the mountain of issues associated with caring for an aging and ill parent who daily becomes more demented.  The rest of the story that follows is touching and to tell it here would ruin an excellent read.  The short chapters, the crisp prose, the outstanding dialogue,  the building suspense surrounding several characters, all lend themselves to keeping the reader awake long past bedtime to find out how it ends.

I almost wish this book didn't have an epilogue.  Although the story's ending is quite well-done, the epilogue seems to have been written to answer all the questions a non-dreamy reader might have about "what happened after that?"  Instead of leaving us with a delightful suspicion and willing to use our own imagination to write several different scenarios of what might have been, the author seems intent upon tying up every last string so everything can be shoved neatly into one secure package.  Still in all, it is a book worth savoring. 

If you're looking for a good vacation fiction read with some romance, some suspense, and a well written story, you won't go wrong with this one.

Thanks to the Early Review program for letting me have this one to review.

Travels with Tutu

As you may have noticed, I haven't been blogging too much this past week.  We are on our semi-annual trip south to visit with relatives in the DC/Baltimore area.   We are having great fun and helping Mom with things it is getting harder for her to do.  She could do them, but why should she when she has able-bodied kids and inlaws to help.  So the roses are planted (she only has 61 in amongst the too many to count irises!), the computer is connecting to the internet again (it does help to turn on the modem), the window fans will get installed later this week, and Mom is now the proud holder of her very own Public Library Card!!!  She hadn't been to the library in almost 10 years, and was quite impressed with the assortment of services available.  She is not a big reader, but did pull several "this looks interesting" items off the shelf.

I spent yesterday afternoon at the Hampton National Historic Site just north of Baltimore.
  As a teenaged "senior" Girl Scout, I spent many a saturday working there as a docent about 50 years ago.  The park service has done an extensive restoration since I was last there, and I was blown away again by the beauty of this house.  Admission is free, so if you're ever in the Baltimore area, it is worth checking out.  It's just off the beltway so you can easily make it a stop on you way to or from DC.  And they have a sweet gift shop with some interesting books!

Today, I am off to my sister Cheli's for a huge book exchange.  It will be great to see her.  Stayed tuned for the list of goodies.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Favorites from the Past - Genesis

a Living Conversation
by Bill Moyers

A few weeks ago, when I was doing my post about Joseph Campbell's Power of Myth, I noticed this one on the other end of the shelf.  This was a treasure when I bought it, and after spending an hour thumbing through it last week, it is definitely going back onto the Read it again shelf.
As elegantly readable as the TV series from which these conversations were taken, this volume features the transcripts from 10 different talks with a total of 38 participants about the story of and stories in the book of Genesis.  No matter what religion, there is something to ponder for everyone.  I read this several years ago, and thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the exceptionally intelligent and non-biased discussions that Bill Moyers so effortlessly moderated.  
For those of you who didn't see the original PBS series on TV, or who have forgotten it, this book is the companion to the series.  It presents, in print format the actual panel chats that appeared.  The ten different talks include, among others, The First Murder, Temptation, and God Wrestling, and feature such notable participants as Karen Armstrong, John Barth, Norman Cohen, Mary Gordon, Samuel D. Proctor, and Eugene Rivers....a broad group of thinkers from a vast array of traditions, coming together, respectfully adding their perspectives to a delightful conversation.  A feast for the brain, the eye (some gorgeous illustrations), and the soul.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Review: The Food of a Younger Land

"A Portrait of American Food -before the national highway system, before chain restaurants, and before frozen food, when the nation's food was seasonal, regional, and traditional -- from the lost WPA Files.

Author: Mark Kurlansky
Format: hardback 388 pages
Subject: food, recipes, social customs
Genre: non-fiction, collation
Source: public library
Challenge:Support Your Local Library

 During the Great Depression, President Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration (WPA) created the Federal Writer's Program (FWP)  to provide work for unemployed authors.  There were a number of projects that evolved, including a series of guidebooks for the different states.  Late in the 30's, the "America Eats" project began.  There were actually a series of projects in different sections of the country, which were intended to be combined in one huge report.  WWII intervened, and the reports from individual writers were never collated or published.

Enter Mark Kurlansky, researcher extraordinaire.  He has taken the long abandoned manuscripts, culled out the best and put them together in this delightful look at how our parents and grandparents ate.

The book is divided into the original five geographic sections envisioned by the FWP.  Each section features representative essays, stories, recipes, anecdotes, reports of festivals and church suppers, along with photographs and drawings.  I started this book as an audio, which while well done, did not lend itself to savoring all the information, so I borrowed a print edition from the local library.  It is such a fun read, that it is now on my wishlist to purchase so that I can add it to my food collection. It is part history, part social memoir, and part cookbook.  All of it  interesting and enticing.  Some of my favorites include

From the Northeast:
  • the North Whitefield Maine Game Supper, 
  • the almost infinite discussion of the variations of clam chowder,
  • the glorious reminiscences of the New York Automat (complete with 5 page glossary of slang and jargon for short order cooks in New York); 
  • the "Italian Feed" in Vermont;

From the South:
  • recipes for possum, squirrel, rabbit, rattlesnake and chitterlings;
  • a good recipe for crab imperial (an outstanding and scrumptious chesapeake bay dish well remembered from MY youth--it was THE dish for banquets, weddings, and any big celebration--no girl left home in Maryland without knowing how to make it). 
  • The introduction to Mississippi food written by Eudora Welty is one of her earliest works and representative of the kind of work the FWP engendered.

From the Middle West:
  • recipes and stories about food favored by various Indian tribes such as buffalo tongue as a delicacy favored by the Sioux (who incidentally never used salt until they were introduced to it by white men in the early 1900's); 
  • the Lutefisk favored by the Scandanavians who settled in the Great Lakes region; 
  • recipes from the cooks serving the vast lumberjack camps in Michigan---

"At night they came into camp stamping with cold and grim with hunger.  In the cookhouse the long tables were loaded with food; smoking platters of fresh mush, bowls of mashed potatoes, piles of pancakes and pitchers of corn syrup, kettles of rich brown beans, pans of prunes, dried peaches, rice puddings, rows of apple pies." pg. 269.

From the Far west

"The life of these people is not entirely one monotonous round of fried beans, baked beans, boiled beans, and just beans,varied only by an occasional jack rabbit or two...";
  • there were numerous recipes and essays about salmon, smelts, clams,  Montana Beaver Tail, and Washington Wildcat parties.  
  • This fascinating section also included a list of Colorado superstitions (pg. 296) of which my favorite is #12: " You will receive mail from the direction in which your pie is pointing, when it is set down at your place at the table." 
  • The recipe for Depression Cake is almost identical to one I inherited from my gram (via my mom) which is known in our family as "YUM YUM Cake"--I still make it every Christmas. 
  • And the essay by Claire Warner Churchill entitled "An Oregon Protest Against Mashed Potatoes" had me rolling on the floor.

The Southwest section was the shortest--for some reason the WPA lumped only Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Southern California into this section.  Most of the recipes were heavily influenced by the Spanish American presence  so prevalent in that area. 
  • Don Dolan contributed an essay entitled " A  Los Angeles Sandwich called a Taco."  
  • There were also several essays and discussions of the food (and customs) of the Choctaw and Hopi Indian tribes, and
  • A story about Oklahoma prairie oysters (aka the results of 'cattle neutering'.)

The book concludes with lists of cookbooks available during the era, and a current bibliography for more up-to-date resources.  This is a tour de force.  Kurlansky has done a yeoman job of taking a ton of material and getting it down to a manageable and enjoyable volume.  A great read for anyone interested in social history and food.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Review: On Hallowed Ground

Author: Robert Poole
Format: Hardcover =339 pgs including 68 pages appendices and notes
Subject:history of Arlington National Cemetery
Genre: non-ficton
Source: public library
Challenge:Support your public library

As a veteran of the US Navy, married to another Navy veteran (and retiree), I went out of my way to track this book down. Both of us are at a point in our lives where the subject of funerals comes up often, and we have attended dozens of funerals at Arlington to honor friends and shipmates. One of our biggest questions has always been "where do we want to be buried?" My children both live within 10 miles of Arlington, and until we moved to Maine 6 years ago, I literally drove past rows and rows of graves on my way to work in Arlington every morning for 16 years. While I don't qualify for burial on my own (I didn't do enough time to retire), my husband does, so I rate burial there as his spouse. But we both had sort of taken it off the short list because it seemed so big and impersonal. In fact, my husband used to work in the Navy Annex building up the hill from the Pentagon and overlooking the cemetery, and then later at the Pentagon, and says he's not sure he wants to spend eternity in site of his old offices. It is a beautiful, quiet, well-maintained park like space to stroll through, but stay there forever? Hmmmm...

After reading Robert Poole's excellent story of the history, the sentiments, the politics, and the rich heritage of this glorious site, it's at least back in consideration.

In telling the story of the cemetery, Poole takes us on a short but surprisingly robust tour of the valor and service of Americans from every military conflict between the Civil War up to the present sad goings-on in Afghanistan and Iraq. We learn where the land came from, how it was originally used, and then the subsequent acts of Congress and presidential proclamations making it what it is today - THE National military cemetery. In addition, we learn about the U.S. Army's outstanding efforts over the years, and continuing today, to identify and repatriate the bodies of Americans who died on foreign soil.

Poole weaves numerous stories together: the family story of Robert E. Lee and his descendants who were the original owners of the property and their struggles after the Civil War to reclaim their family home; the story of the "father of Arlington National Cemetery" Brig Gen Montgomery C. Meigs; the story of the Lee's previous slaves -freedmen who stayed on the property long after the Civil War was over and the town they built; the individual stories showing the diversity of the many servicemen buried there; the building of the Memorial Bridge to signal a joining of the Union (Washington DC) with the defeated Confederacy (northern Virginia) leading directly into the cemetery (I think my brain always assumed it had just been there!); how the original Unknown Soldiers were chosen and the rigorous training and discipline of the Old Guard - the Army's elite unit who stand sentry duty 24/7 at the Tomb of the Unknowns; the story of the building of the Pentagon just before World War II; the story of the burial of the soldier who died in a nuclear reactor accident and whose body was so radioactive it had to be sealed in a lead coffin and buried in a concrete vault; and the conflict over the "unknown" from Vietnam who was subsequently disinterred, identified through DNA matching and re-buried near his home.

There were sections that were particularly personal to both of us. My husband actually sang with the Naval Academy Catholic Choir at Kennedy's funeral. Although I watched it on TV, it was fascinating to read of all the decisions that had to be made, and the hasty but well-handled arrangements needed to produce this ceremony.

I had to drive home on September 11th, 2001 passing the smoking Pentagon, threading my way carefully through thousands of dazed survivors wandering along the George Washington Parkway, all the time seeing nothing in my rear view mirror but a huge smoke cloud. Only later did we learn of the deaths of people we knew. Driving by Arlington after that became even more poignant, and to this day, neither of us (or anyone who lived there during that time) can see the site without seeing the smoke cloud in our minds. The excellent map in the front of the book provides a superb visual aid to explain how intertwined the cemetery graves are with the view from and around the Pentagon.

In all of these stories, woven into a cohesive whole, Poole's extensive and exhaustive research shines. He could easily have written over 1000 pages, but he chose to make this a more respectable (and readable!) size. His writing is so well-edited that it is extremely easy to read throughout. There are footnotes and bibliographic references for those who wish to delve deeper, but they never get in the way of his story. The reader is immediately aware of the reverence and respect he brought to this work, and those of us who are prospective inhabitants are deeply grateful for his expertise.

Although we got this from the public library (and had to wait several months on the reserve list!) this is one we are going to get for our personal libraries. As a librarian, it is one I recommend every public library consider for acquisition. It's a 5 star!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sunday Salon -

This Sunday, Mother's Day, promises to be a rather disjointed one for me.  I'll be spending the day with my darling spouse of 42+ years, but not with either my children, grandchild, or my own mother--all of whom are out of town.  We do plan a 'belated' Mom's day trip later this month, so we'll catch up on all the hugs at that time. 

Hubs and I plan to spend the morning at Church--we have the bishop coming for First Communion and Confirmation and since we're in the choir, we'll be busy singing our hearts out.  Then we'll be helping with the reception afterwards.  Once we get home, we plan to prop our feet up, and have a simple meal of pasta and salad, along with a nice glass of wine. Later, we'll have a dish of homemade icecream from our favorite stand down the road.  Hopefully, the Red Sox will put on a better performance that they've been producing lately.

I'm sure we'll delve into a few books, and I may do a little stitching (I'm still doing canvass prep for the heron).  I'm actually hoping to spend a little time rearranging my TBR shelf to sort out the books I am determined to get to in May and June, and I also need to sort out all the books my sister Cheli (of Cheli's Shelves) wants me to bring down to Maryland to trade later this month.

To all of you who are mothers, god-mothers, step-mothers, grand-mothers, aunties, daughters, nieces, and   nurturers of others, I wish you a restful, love-filled, Happy Mother's Day, and send a huge virtual hug.

And Remember to Call Your Mama today!!!

Friday, May 7, 2010



I've been really behind on posting giveaways from all my great blogging buddies.  Check out all the great freebies over on the sidebar. There's bound to be one for you!  You need not have a blog of your own to enter.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Review: Gods in Alabama

Author: Joshilyn Jackson
Narrator:  Catherine Tabor
Format: audio  - 8 hrs; 320 pgs equivalent
Subject: small town southern life,
Setting: Chicago, small town Alabama
Genre: mystery and narrative fiction
Source: public library
Challenge: Audio Books, Support Your Local Library

A real surprise.  I can't remember who recommended this, but I'm glad I picked it up. As an audio book, this was quite enjoyable.  I did not realize that there is quite a mystery built into the story.  It's not a detective or police procedural, rather the mystery lies in unearthing the secret past life of the main character Arleen Fleet (Leenie) who left Alabama upon graduation from high school having promised God: 1. Never to lie again. 2 Never to fornicate again, and 3. Never to return to Alabama.

When an old school mate tracks her down in Chicago, Arleen realizes she must return to Alabama to face her demons.  She takes her boyfriend Burr with her and together they backtrack through the minds and reminiscences of Arleen, her Aunt Florence, and her Cousin Charlene to reconstruct what caused Leenie to leave in the first place.

There are howlingly funny scenes, poignant scenes of teenage angst, and well-written dialogue to keep the story flowing well.  The narrator, Kathryn Tabor does an excellent job with the accent and dialect of the region.  This is the third "southern" fiction I've read recently (the others being "Miss Julia" and "Cold Sassy Tree") It was also the best of the three.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Review: Sixteen Pleasures

Author: Robert Hellenga
Format: trade paperback, 384 pgs
Subject: restoration of rare books; romance in Italy
Setting: Florence Italy 1966
Source: borrowed from a friend

I'm not sure yet how I feel about this book. I read it for a book discussion group that will meet later this week, and I'm curious to see how this group related to this fictional account of a young American book conservator who goes off to Florence in 1966 to help restore books damaged in the great flood. The parts having to do with the city and the techniques of restoration I found fascinating. But the parts about the romance....

Margot, the heroine discovers a volume of illustrated love poems showing what are generally regarded as pornographic sketches of the 16 pleasures referred to in the poetry. The book is bound within a prayerbook and is on the shelves of the convent where she is boarding. The Abbess asks her to restore it and then see if she can sell it without the bishop knowing since his Eminence would then take away the book and either destroy it, or sell it and keep the money.

Margot meets an urbane romantic Italian (natch!) although to me he is the typical bodice ripping Italian stud.. they embark on a romance while restoring the book, and trying out the 16 pleasures themselves. The blurb calls this an erotic book about an erotic book. Using my limited Italian, I'll wave my hand side to side up and down, and say mezzo, mezzo Not all that erotic, and I'm really not sure I care for the ending. It was worth reading for the memories of Florence and the info about how the books were saved.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Truth in Advertising.

I always feel foolish when I make a mistake that I could have prevented. In this case, I referred to the book Langata Rules in my previous post as "self-published." I was wrong.

I received an email from Ken Miller the author who pointed out that it was not self-published, but is being published by a small independent press: Mountainland Publishing Inc. All I had to do was look up the publisher to see that. I really want to be sure that my posts reflect accurately the state of publishing today, and that we give small indies as much press as their books deserve. I should be able to get to this one sometime this month, so stay tuned.

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, I got two directly from authors, and three I ordered myself from Amazon.  The ones I ordered, West with the Night, and Brunetti's Cookbook, I've already read and reviewed.  I wanted a personal copy of the Beryl Markham bio, so I could mark up the wonderful quotes (Ok---I know, writing in  books is blasphemy, but at least I can put some little fluorescent stickies in.)  The third book, Nights of the Pufflings, by Bruce McMillan, is the story of the puffins who have nests near the glacier, Eyjafjallaj√∂kull in Iceland  that is now home to the currently erupting volcano.  I got it to take to my granddaughter when we go visiting next month.

So here's what authors sent:

 War on the Margins

Libby Cone asked that I hold the review on this one until it comes out in the US in August.  I'll honor her request, but I'm going to read it in the meantime.  The novel is based on the Nazi occupation of the Guernsey Islands during World War II.  After reading the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society last year, I can't wait to read a different account of that same piece of history.
The back cover says:

France has fallen to the Nazis.  Britain is under siege.  As BBC bulletins grow bleak, residents of Jersey abandon their homes....
When the Germans take over, Marlene Zimmer, a shy clerk at the Aliens Office, must register her friends and neighbours as Jews while concealing her own heritage, until eventually she is forced to flee.  Layers of extraordinary history unfold as we chart Marlene's transformation from unassuming office worker to active Resistance member....

Ms. Cone graciously indicated that book bloggers really got this one going in the UK, so perhaps that will happen here. I'll keep you posted.

Langata Rules: Pirates at Lat 10

Another from an author, this time a self-published piece fiction. I had requested this one last year (don't remember where I saw it), but did not receive it until this week.  I am being very careful about accepting self-pubs, because all too often they turn out to be not to my liking, and not very well done.  I do feel however, that I can't pre-judge a book just because it is self-published. The only thing worse than not finding a mainstream publisher for your book is self-publishing and then getting bad ( or no) press.  The synopsis for this from the publisher (Mountainland Publishing Inc.) says:
African pirates take control of the The Odessa, a British merchant ship with seemingly innocent cargo, starting a desperate race among pirates, warlords, rebel insurgents, government agents, shadowy oil interest and enigmatic business magnates.

"Ken Miller has crafted a smart, timely thriller about contemporary piracy that is both suspenseful and illuminating.  Old-fashioned buccaneering and rebellion are mixed with modern weaponry and espionage in the international tale about the perils of lawlessness." Mark Lingquist, author of The King of Methlehem.

It certainly sounds like an exciting book and hubby has already grabbed it from my pile.   I hope it lives up to its blurb.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sunday Salon - The Big Blue Heron

So here's my newest Sunday multi-tasking piece - I have the yarn assembled and the cloth marked out, but haven't yet started. We have several of these birds that come to visit in our quarry pond at the head of our lot, and seeing them rise up out of the reeds and fly over is a sight I never get tired of.  I have this piece, and a matching white egret to do as a headboard for our room.  I especially love the dragonfly over in the lower left of the work.....we have tons of these gorgeous creatures buzzing the pond in summer, and I can't get enough of them. I just have to keep doing a bit at a time, and maybe on my tenth blogaversary in 2019 I'll have it finished. In the meantime, I'll have to be content with the real birdies.

In the meantime, there are books to read, magazines to flip through, and the outdoors to enjoy---spring has come so early this year, I'm pinching myself to be sure it's real.  I think if I put a chair out on the deck to read the Sixteen Pleasures (due for book club by Wednesday), I'll feel virtuous, but probably spend all my time watching the seagulls dive for clams, the squirrels dig for nuts.  If I'm really lucky, I may see our newest family of wild turkeys, or the bald eagle.  Enjoy your spring time Sunday.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Review: Falling Angels

Author: Tracy Chevalier
Format:   7 audio discs; 416 pgs equivalent
Narrator: Anne Toomey
Characters: The Coleman Family, The Waterhouse Family, Jenny Whitby, Simon Field
Subject: women's roles 
Setting: Edwardian England
Genre: fiction
Source: public library
Challenge: Support Your local library; Audio books

This novel (a New York Times Bestseller in 2001) is a sweeping period piece of the stratified society of London in the early 1900's, just as Queen Victoria dies, and the Edwardian age is ushered in.  Set against a backdrop of the Women's Suffrage movement, it is essentially the story of two young girls (in today's parlance they'd be BFFs) who live next door to each other. The story is eloquently told from the voices of nine different characters, with additional ample views of three others.  Ordinarily, that would be about 8 points of view too many, but Chevalier makes it work in a glorious way. We watch as time goes by for:

Maud Coleman - the only child of Kitty and Richard, serious, intelligent, and subconsciously understanding that many of the rules of Victorian England are essentially meaningless and best left behind. She longs for a friend and finds one in

Lavinia (Vinnie) Waterhouse - the devil may care (but only if carefully acted out within the rules of proper society) oldest child of Gertrude and Albert. Lavinia even writes a 'book' about the proper way for a lady to get through formal mourning. That section alone is a treasure. She also longs for a friend (while trying desperately to shed herself of her hanging on younger--but much wiser--sister Ivy May.) Maud and Lavinia meet in the cemetery where they discover their family graves are next to each other. Together Maud and Vinnie spend many an afternoon scampering through the graveyard where they make the acquaintance of

Simon Field - the young gravedigger who, with his father, spends his life watching the comings and going of all levels of society and gains the wisdom to see that in the end, everybody ends up under the ground. Simon gives us (and the girls) a grounding in reality, and is able to go where the 'proper ladies' can't. He sees much, hears much, knows much, and manages to keep most of it to himself, until secrets need to be shared.

Kitty Coleman - the restless and disenchanted wife of Richard, mother of Maud. She was traumatized by childbirth, and further shocked to the core of her being when, during a New Year's house party, her husband engages in, and insists that she does also, what is today known as 'wife swapping'. Her withdrawal from him (and from life in general) is brutal and substantial. Only later will she recover and join the Women's Suffrage movement, risking all to play out her desire for personal freedom.

Richard Coleman - a proper English gentleman of the era. He knows nothing about anything going on in his household (that is a woman's domain) and cares only for cricket, star-gazing at the local observatory, and doing exactly what he is told to do by his mother...

Edith Coleman - a grand dame of staggering (and perhaps swaggering?) mien....she causes her son, her daughter-in-law, and her granddaughter to kow-tow to whatever she says is 'proper' and refuses to hear of any other way of doing things. Even the Coleman's cook threatens to quit whenever Edith appears on the doorstep. Her most egregious act comes when she decides (over the objections of Kitty and Maud and Mrs. Baker the cook) to dismiss

Jenny Whitby - the maid. Jenny's story gives us the other side of the coin. Young girl with no education, no dowry, no prospects, living in poverty who comes to the big city to go 'into service' in exchange for room, board, and a few coins to send home to her starving family. No SPOILERS, but her story is central.

Gertrude and Arthur Waterhouse - the gentle couple who live next door to the Colemans. Their financial circumstances are not as good as (nor would Edith Coleman allow that their blood lines are either) their neighbors. Gertrude tries to follow society's dictates, tries to keep a rein on Vinnie - but can't help spoiling her--and secretly detests the Colemans and what they stand for. Arthur is simply grateful to be able to play cricket with Richard on Sunday afternoon, and happy that his wife and daughters have suitable family companions in the ladies next door.

When all these stories are spun together in the setting of the cemetery with the Suffrage Movement providing drama and excitement, and the Cemetery "Guvner" John Jackson providing a humanizing and humane persona, it is a riveting and poignant story. What happens to these women and how their actions influence and impact one another is in many ways the universal story of sisterhood, in other ways the never-ending story of sin and a chance for redemption. Whether redemption occurs is left to the reader to discover.