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Preview: practicing stillness

practicing stillness

Updated: 2018-03-05T12:09:24.303-08:00


A Thousand Spendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini


I think everyone has or is reading this book. It is wonderful. I have read that many think it is better than Hosseini's first book, The Kite Runner. Personally, I liked The Kite Runner better, but it was close.

This one is about women in Afghanistan. There are plenty of places to go for a plot summery, so if you are interested in that, check it out on Amazon.

What I want to emphsis about this book is the history the author so wonderfully wove into the story. I felt absolutly stupid as I read that I didn't know more of the history of this country than I did. We went to war there, and our army is still there "peacekeeping." You would think I would have a better handle on the history of a place where my nephew was stationed in the army. But I did not. I am glad to have read this book for that reason alone.

And I knew about the really apalling treatment of some women in this part of the world, but this novel really brings it home. At one point in the story a husband makes his wife chew stones because he thinks his rice is undercooked. She breaks her teeth. I shudder. Things like this make parts of the book really hard to read. But there is a lesson here and I wish ....I don't know what I wish. Maybe that more people would read the book? It is a hard thing not to be able to change things but knowledge is power they say. There is my rant for the day.

Read this book.

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson


I love love love this book. It is exceedingly beautiful. The language is so gorgeous I wanted to just sink into it and never come out.

The story is told by Trond Sander a 67 year old man, recently moved to a remote cabin in the soon to be winterland of Norway, and his recollections of a summer with his father in another remote cabin where things happen to change his life forever. Much of that story is based on WWII and its aftermath. The current story is tied to the past in unexpected ways and the whole tapestry is a portrait of a life defined by an event.

This is not a sweeping saga, it is very controlled. And therein lies its pleasure. I was surprised by things that happened in this story, but it all felt inevitable. I liked Trond very much even though he was still a man who was "becoming." I think this book should be read without knowing much about it because it has moments that will indeed take your breath away.

It is a translation from the Norwegian and the translator is also a poet. I think that shows in the beauty of her construction.

Get this book!! Read it and tell others to read it. It deserves a wide audience.

Three Books


I have been a bad blogger. I have read three books and not written a word about them. I can not even claim to be too busy, maybe just lazy. Ah well, what's a woman to do?

First, The Book Borrower by Alice Mattison. I read this for my book group. It was pretty much panned by all of us. It is the story of two women in New York who become friends and it follows that friendship over decades. The title comes from a book loaned from one to the other on their first meeting. There is a novel within a novel in this book and the interior novel is called Trolley Girls. The reason this book was mostly disliked by my group was that we all found the characters pretty unlikable. Not enough to be villains you love to hate, but enough that it was hard to relate to any of them. Not recommended.

The second book is also a book club selection which we will be discussing next month. I ripped through this book in a day. How to be Lost by Amanda Eyre Ward. This is the story of two sisters who are dealing a decade after it happened with the disappearance of their little sister. The family was dysfunctional to begin with and the loss of the youngest sister spiraled them further into destructive behaviors. When the mother thinks she has found a photo of the missing sister, all grown up, one of the girls goes west to find her. The plot is sort of unreal, but still these are people that I cared about and it was a good read.

Finally, Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. When you live in Wisconsin and Illinois, you are to some degree bound to know about Frank Lloyd Wright and his work and life. This is the story (fictionalized) of what was perhaps his greatest love affair with the married Mamah Borthwick Cheney. It was the scandal of the day and reporters followed the couple to Europe and harassed their families back in Illinois. The story focuses on Mamah who was a feminist and translator of Swedish feminist Ellen Key's books and essays. The famous Taliesin built in Spring Green, Wisconsin was where Frank and Mamah lived until a major tragedy struck.

I really liked this book. It puts a very personal face on the legend that is Frank Lloyd Wright and there was much here that I didn't know. A very worthwhile read.

I've Heard the Vultures Singing by Lucia Perillo


Lucia Perillo is a poet. That is how I came to know her and I love her work. When this new title came out, I was expecting poetry. I was surprised to get a book of essays. And delighted.

Perillo has MS as do I. This book explores what it is like to deal with a debilitating disease and the losses caused by that disease, especially when that person was so independent. Perillo used to work as a naturalist and spend huge amounts of time alone, outdoors, doing very physical things. Now she is in a wheelchair. Not that this book is a whine, more of an explanation with some bitching thrown in for good measure.

I kept reading parts aloud to my husband prefaced with, "wow, she really gets this right, this is exactly how I feel."

And maybe that is why I liked this book so well. She gets it right. But that is according to me. Our experiences are similar. Someone else with MS might feel completely different. A disease like MS with so many permutations is hard to pin down. And personality plays such a big role in how a person deals with the day to day crap of it all.

All that aside though, Perillo, is amusing and charming and a little sad and a total pleasure to read. Get this book!

The Dark River by John Twelve Hawks


I began this trilogy when the first book, The Traveler, came out in 2005. I feel slightly hooked into the series and plan on finishing it. That said, I would not push this book on anyone. The characters are rather flat and the writing just isn't that good. I can forgive a lot in my junk reading, but this one makes me cringe at times when I run across a less than lyrical passage--okay, way less than lyrical.

So why am I going to finish the trilogy--so many books so little time and all that? I guess because I like the idea of it. I know there are other books out there about big brother watching and the taking away of our freedoms and privacy and people living off the grid, but this one came to me at just the right time after 911 when these started becoming major concerns of mine.

I was still working in a public library at the time and one of the big tenets of public librarianship is the right that our patrons have to privacy. Things happened after 911 that lead me to believe that that privacy was being chipped at from the highest levels of government. I did not then or now think that was right, and John Twelve Hawks got in my brain with his ideas in this area.

You know, these books are fast reads and if the topic intrigues you, go for it, you won't be alone since the book made bestseller lists all over, otherwise, I advise saving your reading time for something with a bit more meat to it.

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert


I got this book from the library and started to read it and was not excited, then I read a blog-review and was convinced that it wasn't for me. But alas, my some of my bookgroup members had already read it, so it was too late to change. I got it back from the library and read it.

This is the story of Rachel Kalama who contracts leprosy at the age of seven and is removed from her family and sent to the island of Moloka'i. It is about her growing up on the island and dealing with her own disease and leprosy in all of the people she lives with. This is a tragic story. Hawaiians had no immunity to Hansen's disease and it hit them hard. The only way to keep the disease from spreading was isolation. But it was a mean process stealing children from parents and parents from families. This book covers the years 1891 to 1970.

I have to say that I really enjoyed the history part of this book. I knew nothing of this Hawaiian leper colony until I read this book. But I didn't think it was particularly well written. I think because the writing felt too contemporary, especially in the beginning when it starts in the late 1800's. I guess ultimately it was too lightweight for the topic.

Last year I read a book called The Pearl Diver by Jeff Talarigo about a Japanese pearl diver who contract Hansen's disease and is sent to an island in Japan. It was so much better, that if I was going to recommend a novel on this subject, this would be the one.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


It took me ages to finish this book. In fact it is overdue at the library even as I write. I think I read four other books while in the process of reading this one. And it is such a good book that my excuse may seem lame, but here is it. This book was so sad and heartbreaking that I just had to take breaks from it. The plot was good, and it is incredibly well written and I have already advised a number of reader friends of mine to get it, but it still hurt my heart so much, that I couldn't read it straight through.

The big picture of this story is the war between the Nigerians and the Biafrans in the early 1960's. Adichie doesn't hold anything back. The starvation and rapes and genocide is all in here and it will break your heart. But it is the smaller stories that will really stay with you when you are finished with this book.

There is 13 year old Ugwu who becomes a houseboy for a university professor. He is a wonderful, smart young man who aims to please and who loves his job. His fate is the one that I think I followed most closely because I really liked him as a character.

The professor's love is the beautiful Olanna who has a twin sister Kainene. They come from a good family and are passionate about the cause of Biafra and about the men in their lives. They are quite different from each other, and how they come together is a big part of this story.

And Kainene's love interest is Richard. An English ex-pat who came to Africa to write and ended up being caught up, by choice, in the war and the war effort. In a moment of drunken foolishness he has sex with Kainene's sister and that changes everything.

This is such a sweeping novel I feel that it is hard to do it justice without giving too much away. If you know the history of Africa, you know how the war ended, but it is the small dramas of these characters that make this a stunning novel, perhaps the best that I have read this year.

Dirty Martini by J. A. Konrath


Just a couple of weeks ago I read Konrath's last entry in his Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels mystery series and I didn't like it. It was needlessly violent and just didn't seem to fit into the spirit of the series. With this new book, he is back in form.

This book is funny, it has tension, and a well done bad guy who is planning on doing great harm to the city of Chicago. High points of the book are Jack getting a marriage proposal, her partner, Herb, transfers out of homicide for a less dangerous job, her father may not really be dead after all, and oh yeah, there is a bad guy poisoning food all over the city.

I like Jack Daniels and I am impressed that a man writes these books. He seems to have an understanding of how women think. In fact, if I didn't know for sure that Konrath was a man, I would never guess it from reading the books. One other thing I like about these books is that Konrath writes chapters from the point of view of the "bad guy." He writes crazy psycho-killer very well.

This book is a worthy addition the the series. There are only four books so far and I have liked three of the four quite well. And like many of the series mysteries I read, these go fast. A day or two and your done.

The Ever-Running Man by Marcia Muller


Another series that I am pretty much hooked on. I have been reading the Sharon McCone mysteries for years and am always happy when a new one comes out. I think the thing I like about Marcia Muller's books is that they are smart. Some series are much more fluffy than these, and some, like the Kay Scarpetta books by Patricia Cornwell, have gotten kind of dark and off track for my taste, but I can alway count of Muller.

In this one, private investigator, Sharon McCone, is hired by her husband's firm to find out who is bombing the company workplaces. She has to do deep background checks on the three men who hold the company, her husband included. She finds out some stuff about her husband that puts a major strain on their relationship. And people are getting killed or going missing. All the elements of a good addition to the series.

In some ways this felt like a transitional novel. It was good, but I am looking forward to the next one because so many things changed in this one that will lead to new directions in the future books.

I always find Muller satisfying to read. If you like series mysteries I think Marcia Muller is one of the best authors in the field.

Lean Mean Thirteen by Janet Evanovich


I have been slowly working my way through Half of a Yellow Sun for the last couple of weeks. It is just taking me a long time to finish. No excuses since it is really quite good. When I picked up the new Stephanie Plum novel at the library I thought that would be incentive to finish Yellow Sun so that I could dive into Lean Mean Thirteen. Then I cheated and picked up LMT yesterday and ripped through it overnight.

I do love the Stephanie Plum novels. They are like so much gooey chocolate with caramel. They make me laugh, I really like the characters, they read fast, they are a bit sexy, and even when they are not the best of the series, so what, they only take a day to read.

This one was pretty good. Maybe not the best of the series, but since I really don't read them for a great literary experience, I don't care. I am always glad to catch up with Grandma Mazer and in this one she makes a trip to Victoria's Secret to buy a push-up bra to impress her new boyfriend. That paints a picture. And then there is the skip trace Stephanie goes after who is a taxidermist. Only thing, he stuffs road kill and rigs them to blow up. Not big death blow up, just messy hair and stuffing all over blow up. It tickled my funny bone.

I just love this series. I'm glad I cheated and jumped it ahead in my TBR pile. So there! If you are a fan, pick it up, if you haven't read any of the series yet, get thee to a library and start with number one, in which, if I remember correctly, Grandma Mazer shoots the Thanksgiving turkey off the table. Fun stuff.

My First Published Poem


I mentioned a while back that a poem I wrote was being published on Wicked Alice. Well here it is. It is really fun seeing my work in a zine. And I have a second one coming out this fall in another zine. Seems like poetry may well be my forte. Or I got lucky, who knows, but go read the poem. It is called Drive-up Motels.

Wicked Alice

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury


I would have sworn that I read this book years ago in High School, but it seems I only saw the movie. I have a very distinct memory of the end of the movie where the characters are walking around memorizing books. Quite the strong image for it to stick with me all these years.

So, I decided to read the book and I loved it and was horrified by it all at the same time. It is fifty years old and it is scary how much of Bradbury's vision has come true to some degree or other. We all know the story, the world has come to the point where ideas are deemed bad and harmful and books, as the carriers of ideas must be burned. One of the firemen, who burn the books, has a change of heart and must go on the run for his crime of keeping books that should have been burned. That's it in a nutshell, but there are the characters in the book that make it so much more than the simple description.

Guy Montag is the fireman turned book defender who we follow through the whole story. He wants to get back to a world that is more than entertainment and soundbites.

Clarisse McClellan is a young girl who is the catalyst to Montag's new way of thinking. I found her to be an odd character because she dies and I believe that she lived in the movie. And I never really got why she died.

Mildred Montag is Guy's wife and she spends all her time in a room with a television on three walls programed to put her into the storyline. This whole television thing is very scary.

Captain Beatty is the fire chief and the one who suspects Montag and ultimately goes after him. His philosophy as he sits next to Montag's sickbed is worth reading alone.

Farber is a retired English teacher who Montag turns to for help and understanding. He has a bit part, but is very important to the story.

I think they still teach this book in schools, at least I hope they do. It is a vision of the future that is awfully close to the truth of the world we live in. I while back I read The Higher Power of Lucky which won the 2007 Newbury Award and got a lot of flack for the use of the word scrotum. Libraries were not adding the book to their collection because of a word. Chilling!

If you haven't read this book you should, it is short and quick. If you have read it, it is worth a revisit I think.

Not about books


About six years ago I planted a peach tree and two apricot trees in our yard. This is quite the leap if faith since I live in Wisconsin. But hope springs eternal.

The peach tree flowered and got a bunch of fruit on it in the third year but after they grew to the size of nickels, the peaches all fell off. The second year the same thing happened so I took samples to the university extension office and found out I have a virus that isn't curable. In the meantime one of the apricots broke off in the wind. I needed two apricots for pollination.

Fast forward to 2007. The tree that had broken off had grown back from the root stock. We had a hard frost late, but the trees both blossomed. I started watching and one day I saw, way high up in one tree a little round thing. I kept an eye on it. Once I even used my binoculars.

Today when I looked up, the little round thing was gone. I was horrified. Darn blackbirds was my first thought. But, I scootered over and there on the ground was a little gold quarter sized apricot.

I picked it up and it was soft, but looked good, nice and lightly fuzzy. I took it to show my husband. I felt like a proud parent.

I broke it open with my fingers to make sure there were no worms or bugs in it. It was perfect. I put a piece in my mouth and was astounded by the flavor of the best apricot I had ever eaten. Yum!

Maybe next year I'll get two. I guess I won't be taking orders anytime soon, but still. Yeah!!

Rusty Nail by J. A. Konrath


I almost hate to say that this book did nothing for me. Konrath wrote two other books about Jacqueline (Jack) Daniels that I really enjoyed. They are smart, funny, sassy books with an amusing cast of characters and fun little mysteries set in Chicago and the surrounding burbs. Jack is a police lieutenant with the Chicago Police department. Her partner is Herb, who is typical, eats too much, weighs too much, but is there to help take down the bad guys. Her ex-partner is a kind of a creepy slob who gets in the way and ends up being helpful a lot of the time. Her love life stinks. Her mother plays a part in the books and in this one, is in a comma. You get the picture, pretty standard mystery fare here, but generally amusing.

So, what am I bitching about when in comes to this book? Well, the mystery is lame. As soon as the "bad guy" was introduced I knew it. Not that I need a giant mystery when I read these quickie genre novels, but come on, keep me in the dark for like, five seconds. And second, this book was a little violent. I feel kind of funny saying that, because I read violent serial killer novels all the time, but I guess I wasn't expecting what I got here. I don't remember the other two books in the series being this graphic. I might be wrong about that, but I have to say, with this book, I was a bit turned off, at one point, a lot turned off. Plus, there were some lose ends that I didn't think were wrapped up as well as they should have been. One dead guy that I really didn't quite follow as to why he died. Maybe that was just me, though, my attention may have been wandering.

So, I will give Konrath another try if he comes out with a new book in the series, but just one more try. There are too many other choices out there to waste my time on something that makes me shrug and say, eh.

Rocket Boys by Homer H. Hickam. Jr.


I am not sure how I missed this book when it came out in 1998. I was working in a public library at the time and I remember it being popular when it was published, then the movie based on the book, October Sky, came out and the book became popular all over again. I saw the movie and really liked it, but I still didn't read the book.

That has been remedied. My book group is reading this book for June and I am so glad. What a lovely memoir.

The time is 1957, the place is Coalwood, West Virginia, and the inciting incident is the race for space. Russia had launched Sputnik and suddenly the world was a new and bigger place. Hickman and a group of his buddies, nerds we might call them, started building and launching rockets. Family drama ensued. Mom wants her kids to be all they can be, to escape the coal mining life that she and her husband live. Dad sees in Homer a possible successor in his job as foreman at the coal mines. Homer dreams of space and working with the big guys in rocket engineering.

As harsh as the times and place are, this is a kind story. I suppose there is a Leave it to Beaver quality to it. Bad things and roadblocks to dreams do happen, but still I think Hickman would say that he lived the good life where neighbors knew each other and cared about each other, and cheered on a bunch of teens who where blasting off rockets in the mine slag heaps.

You know that people who read memoirs sometimes recommend them by saying they read like novels and I suppose this is true of Rocket Boys, but more than that. It is a story about a real person who has a goal and works hard to attain it. I am very glad that I finally got to read this book. Highly recommended. And if you have teenage boys who need a summer read, I think this book would be a perfect choice.

Invisible Prey by John Sandford


This is Sandford's newest addition to his Prey series starring detective Lucas Davenport.

I love this series. I would even go so far as to say that they are my favorite in the serial killer/police procedural books. There is some unevenness in the books in the series but for the most part they do not disappoint.

Invisible Prey, like most of the books in the series is set mainly in Minneapolis with forays in fast cars to small Wisconsin towns. This one focuses on the antique trade and is not nearly as violent as some of the others. Oh, there are dead bodies piling up, but I never really felt that Lucas himself was in any danger. That was unusual because as far as memory serves, usually he is in some danger.

Lucas Davenport is the sexist of the series detectives I read. That sounds kind of funny to me, but the way he is described and the randy times he has with his wife are certainly titillating and I think written with women in mind.

This is another series where I feel part of the family. Davenport has gone from a skirt chaser early in the series to a married man with a family. His wife has a career as a plastic surgeon and is a strong character--kudos to Sandford for writing a real woman character.

This was not my favorite book in the series. There is very little "who done it" because we know almost from the first chapter who the bad guys are, so the fun is in following the detectives and they figure out the how and why of it. I like other books in the series better, I think because there is more peril and more mystery.

As in other books of this genre, this is a fast read and fun. I would recommend that if you are reading the series, get it, if you have never read any of the series, start from the beginning. It is more fun that way I think.

Finally, as a side note, part of the mystery in this book is about antique quilts with curses sewn into the quilting stitches. That was rather interesting and made me want to do some research to see if this was based on any true stories. Quilters might find this book interesting for that reason.

the house of blue light by David Kirby


I must gush about this book. What wonderful poetry!! If you don't read poetry, or think it is beyond you, or that you won't like it, I'm here to tell you that David Kirby is a marvel. One of the poems in this book had me laughing so hard, pop came out my nose. That can't often be said about poetry.

I think, first of all, that David Kirby doesn't believe in periods. If he had to give up any punctuation mark--no question about it, the period would be gone. And that is the marvel of these poems--they just run on in a kind of riff on whatever topic David chooses to expound on and you can't help being sucked in and go gladly along for the ride.

I want to give you a taste of one of his poems. They are all quite long, but here are two stanzas that tickled my fancy. And a note on this text, I don't know how to make it work, but every other line should be tab indented. Enjoy!!

Catholic Teenager from Hell Goes to Italy

Jock DuBois found out in our senior year
that one out of every seven Americans was Catholic,
so he figured if each of us would rise up
on a secret signal and kill seven non-Catholics,
we could take over the whole country in,
like, three or four minutes, a hypothesis
that cost us several jobs,
since Jock couldn't stop talking about his plan,
and even devoutly Catholic bosses
had no desire to see their employees
doff their brightly-colored paper caps
or throw down their mops and brooms
and start killing customers who had come in
for a burger, shake, and biggie fry,
not to have their throats cut by pimply fanatics.

That didn't stop Jock from talking,
even though I said the plan might work in America,
but what about the rest of the world,
including our immediate neighbors?
It just didn't seem like something
the Canadians would take lying down.
I wasn't sure I wanted Catholics
to run the world anyway, even though
JFK had just been elected president,
and some people were saying he was already
getting secret orders from the Vatican,
and others were passing out what they called
"Kennedy quarters," the ones
where Washington is wearing a papal skullcap
they'd painted on with red nail polish.

Obsession by Jonathan Kellerman


I confess to reading a lot of serial killer novels. I believe I have read all of the Jonathan Kellerman books featuring child psychologist Alex Delaware and his sidekick, LAPD detective Milo Sturgis. I like Delaware's girlfriend, Robin, and the fact that they have a french bulldog who livens up all of the scenes set in Delaware's home. He also raises koi fish. After reading twenty-one of these novels, I feel as if I am part of the family.

In Obsession the crime is a deathbed confession by a respected nurse, that she killed someone close by. Her daughter, to whom she made the confession, goes to Delaware for help. Both mother and daughter have OCD and had consulted with Delaware in the past.

With the help of Sturgis, the digging begins. There are many unsavory characters and a couple of new murders as well as sex, drugs, and rock and roll. I began to get some of the characters mixed up due the the sheer number of bad guys and good guys and one really bad guy who goes by more than one name. But in the end, I guess that didn't matter. I just kept plowing though and all became clear in the end.

I don't think this was the best of Kellerman. Without giving anything away, I was a bit disappointed in the ending. On the other hand, I read these novels kind of compulsively and I just like keeping up with the "family." This worked for me on that level. I think that if you have never read a Kellerman book before, this would not be the place to start. Go to the library and get some of his early stuff for a real introduction. If you are a fan though, this is a good read and worth your time.

The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton


In which a thirty-something American librarian with a social conscience goes to Africa to deliver books to the outlying settlements by camel.

Okay, I make it sound as dumb as I thought it was going to be. But I was wrong. This is no great literature, but it is a nice read and all but the main character, Fi, short for Fiona, come pretty much alive. I feel myself waffling as I write this. I think maybe I would have liked more focus on the tribes people and how they lived day to day. And yet, the characters are not one dimensional. There is a boy who was horribly scarred when he was a baby who holds the entire books-by-camel program in his hands and the school teacher who loves his wife, but she is doing the unthinkable, by having a relationship with Scar Boy's father. And there is the wise older grandmother who has seen it all an passes out good advice. There I went and did it again and made it sound sappier than it is.

It is about 300 quick pages and the setting is lovely and I think the idea behind the book is good, too. Essentially that books and education can change lives, even those of the people in the African bush. I would say this book has a good heart. And as a retired librarian I had to read it.

Book quiz


This little book quiz has been going around, I picked it up from Babelbabe.

A book that made you cry: The Fox and the Hound, Where the Red Fern Grows--you know, dog stories.

A book that scared you: The Jungle

A book that made you laugh: The Janet Evanovich Series about Stephanie Plum

A book that disgusted you: American Psycho--Bret Easton Ellis

A book you loved in elementary school: Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books by Betty MacDonald

A book you loved in junior high: My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George.

A book you loved in high school: I found a copy of The Harrod Experiment and I was amazed, plus, even though my parents never stopped me from reading anything, this was a book I felt the need to hide.

A book you hated in high school: The Scarlet Letter.

A book you loved in college: Lady Chatterley's Lover--I felt so grown up reading this book

A book that challenged your identity: Illusions by Richard Bach. It changed the way I view the world.

A series that you love: The A B C books by Sue Grafton

Comfort books: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I just love this book.

Your favorite horror book: Misery by Stephen King

Your favorite science fiction book: Strange in a Strange Land--Heinlein. I think I like it so well because it was one of the first SF books I ever read.

Your favorite fantasy book: The Hobbit and more recently, the Philip Pullman series, His Dark Materials

Your favorite mystery book: Marcia Muller Series

Your favorite graphic novel: Never read one. Maybe I should

Your favorite biography: Tender at the Bone--Reichl--I like food bios and and read a lot of them, this one sticks out in my mind.

Your favorite “coming-of-age” book: I think The Life of Pi fits here, and I love that book

Your favorite classic: Lady Chatterley's Lover

Your favorite romance book: The Wolf and the Dove--Woodiwiss--I never read many romances, but I did read all the Woodiwiss books years ago and I loved them then.

Favorite kids’ book: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day--I have had days like that.

Favorite cookbook: Joy of Cooking--I love cookbooks, I own dozens, but if I want to be absolutely sure something is going to turn out, it's Joy.

Your favorite book not on this list: The Shipping News--Annie Proulx, Bastard Out of Carolina, The Book Thief

The Painted Kiss by Elizabeth Hickey


I was always fascinated by Gustav Klimt's painting, The Kiss. The clothing in that painting awed me. When I read about this book, a fictionalized history of Klimt's life and the life of Emilie Floge, I knew I had to get it.

It took me quite a long time to get through this book. It doesn't have much plot. If I had to write one line about what it is about, I would say it is the story of an unrequited love between Emilie Floge and Klimt. But that is probably a gross simplification. Klimt was a bohemian who had many lovers in his lifetime but always he came back to Emilie as the one person who seemed to hold his life together. Still, the love was more platonic than passionate. She was always there when he raged over the Vienna art world, or broke off affairs with other women. In this book he is kind of a clueless man who isn't really taking advantage of anyone, but as a reader I just wanted to reach out and shake him and say, Look what you have. Of course with these fictionalized art history novels, who knows what the true nature of the relationships really were.

Floge became quite a hot clothing designer in her day and many of the clothes painted by Klimt seem inspired by her designs. She is the main point of view character in this story and it is mostly a reminiscence she is telling from the summer home where she and her niece escape to when they are threaten by the Nazis in WWII.

This book pleased me. I like the little chapters inserted about particular paintings that I looked up on the net and it was fun to follow the history of the book while seeing the actual works. I think that the lack of drama in the story may turn some readers off, but I also think that Hickey really captured the life of the art world in Vienna in the late 19 and early 20th centuries.

Breakfast Served Any Time All Day by Donald Hall


I have always hated reading textbooks. Even in grad school I would avoid them all all costs. I could usually squeeze by the reading by being a good listener and note taker in class. So, I pick up this book by Donald Hall on writing poetry. It is not your usual how-to book, it is a book of essays on poetry. It was a real slog for me. Very text bookish. Some of it went fairly well, but when I came up against the drier parts, I wanted to throw it out the window.

But, I didn't. Instead I kept at it in little snippets and I am really very glad I did. Hall makes a good case for sound in poetry. He says that we, as a culture, have lost a lot of poetry pleasure because we no longer have to read aloud and we no longer get the mouth feel of poems, or any other literature for that matter.

I have to agree with him on many of his points. I am a silent, fast, reader who never lip reads. Doesn't matter much when I'm reading some quick little novel, but when I am reading and writing poetry, it matters a lot. You have to hear the words and feel them in you mouth to get the full effect of the reading.

Hall also talks in depth about a number of poets whom he admires. One entire chapter is spent on Robert Frost and how after Frost's death, an editor got hold of his work and changed a lot of punctuation. Seems a small thing, but Hall makes a heck of a case against these kinds of posthumous changes. I was drawn to a couple of the authors discussed and intend to pick up their books from the library.

I am glad I stuck with this book. I would not recommend it to people without an interest in poetry, but if you are interested, it was ultimately fascinating.

Pay Off


I have said before, I believe that if you want to write good, you have to read a lot. When I began writing short stories I immersed myself in short stories, both classic and contemporary and I also read many, many books on the art of writing fiction. Now that I have changed my writing focus to poetry I am doing the same thing. In some ways, poetry is harder. Oh, it is shorter, but there is so much to ferret out of some poems that many readings are required to "get it."

For me I got a little pay off for all of the work I have been doing with poetry. Yesterday I got an e-mail from the editor of an on-line zine asking to publish one of the poems I submitted. I was/am ecstatic. Wicked Alice is the name of the zine and it is really top notch. My poem will be in the July/summer issue and I will be sure to hawk it here, that the so inclined can read it.

The Blizzard Voices by Ted Kooser


April is National Poetry Month. I read poems all the time because I write poems. I believe you can't write what you don't read. I tried to read even more poems this month. Ted Kooser is a favorite poet of mine because I believe in his philosophy that a good poem is one that you can understand.

I had The Blizzard Voices sitting here for almost a month before I finally read it today. I put it off because I knew it was going to be sad. I was right. The Blizzard of 1888, also known as The Schoolchildren's Blizzard, took many lives. I had read about it before, but Kooser puts words in the mouths of the survivors and it is tear making. People lost arms and legs, animals died, children stayed in the schoolhouses because they couldn't see three feet in front of their faces to find their way home across the wide open prairie. There were the brave and the foolish. A very sad time that proves what we all know, nature has no concern for us, and we shouldn't expect it.

This book of poetry is understandable and lovely. It reads in about a half hour but will stay with you for ages.

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron


Ever since the controversy over the use of the word scrotum in this book, I have wanted to read it. And you know what, scrotum is in there, but there is so much more to the book that the word is really irrelevant to the story, or so I thought until I got to the end, where it comes back in the wrap-up. Still, I was not offended in the least, and if I had kids, I would not hesitate to read this to them.

This is the story of Lucky, who is anything but lucky. Her mother died, her father doesn't want her, and her guardian seems bent on getting back to France, leaving Lucky all alone again. What to do? Like any ten year old, the idea of running away makes perfect sense.

The Higher Power of the title comes from Lucky's penchant for listening in on _____ Anonymous meetings. She wants to find her higher power to help her come through her problems--namely that no one seems to want her.

Lucky has a best friend named Lincoln who is preoccupied with tying knots. In one of my favorite scenes in the book, the two of them go out on the highway where there is a sign: Slow Children at Play. He adds a colon to make it mean what it is supposed to mean.

There is not a single person in this book who is perfect. I think that is its charm. That and the setting in a tiny desert town in California where the people are given license to be a little eccentric, all 43 of them.

Kids will relate to Lucky I think and she is a plucky little girl well worth emulating.