Monday, March 27, 2017

Just a Couple Questions

Currently, I'm sifting through books and scripts, trying to decide what to read next, and with Heart-A-Rama getting closer I confess there has been little significant reading going on, so I decided to borrow from Shelf Awareness, the daily missive I receive from one of my trade organization.  

Once a week (or so) the editors post a list of questions to a featured writer.  Their answers are often surprising, always insightful, and add to the books on my "want to read" list.  While I don't fancy my answers having an impact, this exercise will serve as a sort of mental jog; maybe you'll try it, too.

So....let's get going...............................

On your nightstand right now.....
Well, I don't read in bed, but I do have a book pile on a chest near a window.  That's where my favorite reading chair is - a cushy chair perfect for long afternoons with the sun warming my back or the rain splashing on the pane.  (No more snow, please).  Among others on that pile I have a Patricia Cornwell mystery, and a book about decluttering my life.  

Favorite book as a child....
Once I figured out how to read and moved past Flicka, Ricka and Dicka, and the Snipp, Snapp and Snurr series, I turned to books with strong or strange girls characters - Trixie Beldon and Donna Parker.  I gave Nancy Drew a whirl when a friend gave me the second book in the series as a birthday gift.  I think it was one of her discards, but that's OK.  Nancy was brave.

Top five authors.....
Steinbeck, A.A. Milne, Hawthorne (short stories only), Jennifer Chevalier...and an evolving  list of contemporary authors, usually whomever I am currently reading.

Books I've faked reading.....
Oedipus, twice.  Once in high school and once in college.  Wouldn't you know that when I began teaching it showed up on the curriculum guide for a class I was teaching in Theatre history.  What a rich play filled with archetypes.  My students loved to play the connect it to Oedipus game.  No matter what play we read,they were able to find connections to Oed - some solid, some silly.

Book bought for the cover
Right.  I've been burned so many times doing this I can't begin to list them all.

Book that changed my life....
Can't think of one but I do have a sort of funny story about this concept.  Way back in the 90's, I was at a meeting, and after business was done and informal chatter began, someone  enthusiastically told us about a book that had done just as the question posed - he claimed it changed his life.  He carried on for a long time, never revealing too much about the content, but speaking with passion.  The next day I went out and bought the book, as did several other people.  I read it.  I read it again.  And again.  Nothing.  Dull.  Boring. Where, I wondered, was all the magic?   And when I next ran into the individual, I asked him what impacted him so much.  He laughed an obnoxiously huge  belly laugh and said that it was honestly the worst book he had ever read;  he then confessed that he was trying out some marketing skills he had learned recently in a business class. Yup.  He's now one of two millionaires who sometimes let me rub shoulders with them.

Five favorite books from the past year....
Well, the year is still pretty new so I might cheat and include a couple from last year....

At the Edge of the Orchard
Little Women
Father Bruce
Scents and Sensibility
...and I know I will enjoy Born a Crime by Trevor Noah which is my book group selection for May.

Have some fun with this.  Other questions include books you hid from your parents, books you're an advocate for, book you'd like to read again for the first time......

Posts might be random for a while....Heart-A-Rama season has begun!

Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Stranger in the Woods

Just like many of the residents who lived and summered around North Lake, Maine, I kept asking myself if this story is real or is it one of the really fine hoaxes similar to the story of drug addiction fed to us several years ago by James Frey in A Million Little Pieces .

Come on, who can survive in the woods for nearly 30 years, undetected, living off necessities stolen from nearby homes and cottages, illness free, and speaking only once in all that time to hikers on a secluded road?  I knew that if I were to make it to the end of this book I would have to suspend disbelief, and accept the bizarre as reality.

Watch for him. His name is Christopher Knight and it isn't a huge leap to say that soon his story will be everywhere - 20/20, 60 Minutes...Rolling Stone....and certainly a movie akin to Into the Wild. Dr. Phil, I am sure, will do his best to arrange a prison interview. Spoiler alert, Knight is caught (early in the book), psychoanalyzed up the wazoo and imprisoned.

Little did I know that between the lines would be a philosophical subtext with mini-courses on everyone from Socrates to Thomas Merton.  Of particular interest was the chapter detailing the sociological characteristics of a hermits.  They have been categorized into three groups.  "Protesters" are hermits whose primary reason for leaving is to escape what the world has become.  "Pilgrims", the largest sector of those defined as hermits, leave the world believing there is a connection between seclusion and spiritual actualization.  Most of us probably know a "pursuer".  They leave society in search of artistic freedom, scientific endeavors, or simply to find themselves.  

For me, the most interesting sections are those in which Finkel references worldly figures who throughout history have withdrawn, and despite their alonensss have made far reaching impacts.  During extensive interviews, Knight intimated that these people are not pure hermits.  If they were, the would not have written and shared manifestos.  You decide. At the very least ,or best depending on your vantage point, the ideas asserted in this book made me more comfortable with my discomfort with crowds. I'm not so abnormal after all!  

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Guest Review - Warren the 13th

Quicksand!  Secret Codes! 
 Witches!  Angry Trees!
...and other sinister material!

All of that and more jump from the pages of this sequel to that crazy, silly and challenging Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye.

My friend,and voracious reader, 10 year old Kaitlynn wrote this review of the first book in the series:

Warren the 13th is a good book because it is fun to read because there are hidden puzzles, like reading backwards.  It also is a good book because it teaches you to trust your friends.  This book is illustrated in red and black.  I love this book because it is fantasy.  This book is for kids of all ages and they will love it, too.

Can you top that?  A 10 year old who loves to read and write!  Kudos to Kaitlynn, to her parents, and to her teachers.

Thanks for the review, Kaitlynn.  If you want it, the early copy of the book pictured above is yours.  Stop by and pick it up when you can.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Tristram Shandy

Before you rise up in total awe of my literary dedication, let me be honest and say that I have not read all seven volumes of Tristram Shandy's digression filled account.  In fact, the standing joke about this piece is that Shandy, who narrates on his own behalf, cannot explain anything in simple terms, creating a confounding and at times irrational chronology.

So, why bring up TS at all?  Well, for some crazy reason, I have always remembered this date which marks the happy occasion of his conception.  Actually, my History of the Novel class in college fixated on the juicier details of Stern's work.  Tristam traces the genesis of his troubles to the moment of his conception "in the night betwixt the first Sunday and the first Monday in the month of March".  He can place the date precisely because of the regularity of his father's habits, which included the winding of the large house clock on the first Sunday of every month.I n the midst of doing the deed, his mother asks his father isfhe had wound the clock, creating a disturbance in what was taking place and upsetting Tristram's internal balance.  

Tristram's nose is damaged upon his birth, and, according to his father, without a large nose, the boy would be doomed to a lackluster life with little influence upon those around him.  Then there was the toddler incident.  Somehow, the chamber pot had gone missing and Tristram, using an open window as a loo, suffers an unplanned circumcision when the window sash falls on him.

Happy conception day Tristram Shandy. 

If you want to read more from this part of the poor guys' life, skip right to volume three....I can't vouch for anything in the volumes before or after that point.

Another memory...there is a movie about this book with the major premise being that it is an impossible book to turn into a movie.

Thanks for stopping.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Hamilton Affair

This will be one of those "I'm not far enough to say anything significant" posts; in addition, Blogger is up to its yearly trickery and is allotting me a limited amount of space today.

If you're one of the many taken with Broadway's hit "Hamilton" and want to know more about this controversial American Revolution figure but aren't up to the 800+ pages Chernow book, this historical fiction novel might be just right.  Realistically, it is more romance than political drama, but the way the story travels though time allows us to witness Hamilton's personal evolution from pitied illegitimate son living in the Caribbean to a leader respected by Washington and despised by Jefferson.  

The alternating opening chapters focus on the young lives of Hamilton and his future wife, Elizabeth Schuyler.  Their backgrounds couldn't be more different, yet when the ambitious Alexander and headstrong Elizabeth first meet meet, there is no doubt where the relationship is headed.  Well, no doubt for me, but that remains to be seen.  To be honest, I know next to nothing about Alexander Hamilton so I'm just guessing that they will fall hopelessly in love - and very quickly.  I hear there were mistresses (hence the title!) and scads of children, but that's just street gossip and hasn't yet been verified by anything I have read.  

So, that's it.  I'm both at the end of what I have read thus far, and at the end of the Blogger page...can't move the sheet down any more.  Time to check in with the Blogger Help desk to solve this.

Thanks for stopping by.

Hey Steve, Craig Johnson is going to be in Green Bay on August 11th.  

Monday, February 20, 2017

Little Golden Books

Little Golden Books occupy a special book shelf in many people's hearts.  Here are some fun LGB facts for you:

1942 - LGB launched at 25 cents each, democratizing reading for young Americans.  At that time, children's books were a luxury for many, selling from $2-$3 each.

Twelve books were in the first LGB line-up and most of those titles were in their 7th printing by 1945.

1947 - supermarkets started selling LGBs.

Doctor Dan the Bandage Man, 1945, released with Johnson & Johnson Band-Aids clued to the title page.

183 million LGBs sole by their 10th anniversary in 1952.

Mid-50's - lots of Goldens released based on Saturday Morning TV shows including my faves Howdy Doody and Davey Crockett.  All Golden titles were sold around the world except for the Soviet Union where they were considered too capitalistic.

The Poky Little Puppy - one billion copies in print by November of 1986...and still selling like crazy! many more milestones have been reached and celebrated.  In May of 2017, Margaret Wise Brown's Manners, is being released - a never before published title by the author of Goodnight Moon.

Yes, Goldens still exist.  And yes, they are as colorful and joyful as ever.  If your your childhood book collection is packed away for safe keeping, 2017 would be good year to page through some memories.

Thanks for stopping.

Oh, check out our EVENTS page.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


Stay away.  Leave me alone.  Do not disturb.  I'm spending the week with Spencer Quinn.  You remember Spence, right?  He writes the Chet and Bernie books - the washed up police officer with the smack talking, ankle biting doggy detective sidekick?  Chet, the aforementioned sidekick narrated all the novels....OK, now you remember.  

You might also recall that my number one novel reading rule is that if there is a dog on the cover I don't read it.  Those books never end well.  I still get teary when someone mentions A Dog's Purpose, and don't get me started on Old Yeller.   No dogs ever die in Quinn's books.  In fact, Chet matures and evolves as the series grows.  He makes new friends, human and not; he develops new skills such as fishing, and he even finds love behind a circus wagon.

This week I discovered that I am two books behind in the series and that sets me up for a fine weekend of reading.  In Paw and Order, my favorite sleuthing duo travel to Washington D.C. where they find themselves embroiled in some international drama.  Pre-dusty orange Prez.  They're back in the desert for Scents and Sensibility.  The book jacket tells me they will get into a "prickly" situation at a music festival.  Sounds like good fun.

My greatest discovery of the week is that Spencer Quinn is busting his business out to middle readers.  New dog.  New protagonists.  Bowser and Birdie.  "Two humans stood outside my cage, a white-haired woman and a gum chewing kid.  gum chewing is one of the best sounds out there, and the smell's not bad, either."  How can you resist a talking dog falling in love at first sight with a spunky kid?  This book delivered as much fun as the adult series, but with less violence and no colorful cussing.  

I struggle a lot with what I want to read, what I should read to keep up with trends, and what others expect me to be reading.  That last one is the worst.  I have also been struggling with the make-up of book group #2 - totally cerebral women who have lived in lands other than Manitowoc.  Lands like Germany, Sweden, and Japan. They know stuff.  I was feeling alone and awful amid those great brains until another member said to me in a totally jovial manner," You know, Bev, I don't want to brag but I think I'm the dumbest one in the group."  Thank you.  I no longer feel so alone!

Happy Valentine's Day...or as we say in these parts...Valentimes Day.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Check back tomorrow for my thoughts on a fun new Tween series.  

We had Heart-a-Rama auditions yesterday and I have to get organized to relieve the anxiety of all our auditionees.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Big Little Lies

When one of my book groups selected this as our March book, I wasn't too thrilled.  "Crap" I thought to myself.  I hoped I had just thought it, but I fear the words may have escaped my lips.  Women's fiction. Fiction for the new adult.  Lightweight.  Quickly and poorly written.  Predictable.  A who-cares kind of plot with couldn't care less characters.  Yup, that's exactly what I thought, and more.  

But now that I'm a whoopin' thirty-six pages in, my opinions have changed a little.  After re-reading Missoula (you can read an early post about that book to the right), followed by Radium Girls, this light-hearted books comes as a pleasant escape.  Bridging the gap between the books just mentioned and The Hamilton Affair and Born a Crime, the next two on deck for my off-site group, I am happy to say I am enjoying this  pop fiction novel.  

The quirky characters, a group of aggressive and competitive moms of pre-schoolers, have grabbed my attention. Their mama bear instincts are trumped only  by their silly, junior high pettiness.  One of them will be dead soon - accident or murder yet to be determined.  So far, each is expendable.  My one hope is that the breezy telling prevails and that the winds of change don't suddenly spin this in a darker direction.  Murder can by funny, right?  Besides, for me, no one surpasses Lorna Landvick when it comes to pitting funny against fear.  Still, I think this will be a fun read - 

My once criticism is Moriarty's style is too choppy.  Really, most adults are capable of reading sentences longer than five to seven words.  We can even read compound-complex sentences without having to double back to discern the primary focus of the statement.  Subject-verb-prep phrase.  Perhaps it's because she's Australian.  I am sure that all will be forgiven as the pages continue to turn.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Radium Girls, The Inquisitor's Tale, and the pesky blue/gold dress

Marie and Pierre Curie discovered radium in 1898 captivating scientists with is supernatural-like nature.  This stuff glowed and before long it was glowing on drug store shelves as an elixir promising happiness and health.

In the manufacturing world, this not yet defined as deadly substance was used to paint numerals on watch and clock faces making them glow in the dark.  Factories paid employees - mainly women - generously to paint the tiny numerals. When employers determined that too much of the radium power disolved when painters dipped brushes into pans of water, the women were told to wet the brushes in their mouths instead.  Employers assured the women the practice was safe.  In fact, the women believed so strongly in the safety of radium, that many painted their faces with it  before leaving work for a night on the town.  We know so much more now!

Kate Moore's interest in these women began upon discovering Melanie Marnich's play about a group on women in Ottawa living with the side effects of working with radium.  According to Moore, The Shining Women showcases "real women standing up for their rights with strength, dignity, courage..."

Before picking up The Radium Girls, I had made a small dent in this fun little young adult novel - young adult being my genre of choice for 2017...we'll see how that goes.  This book riffs on The Canterbury Tales which is just fine with me.  On a dark night in 1242, travelers at an inn begin to tell stories of three children, Jeanne, a peasant girl who sees the future, William, a young monk with supernatural strength, and Jacob, a Jewish boy who can heal wounds.  Oh, and there's a greyhound resurrected from the dead.

Silly giggle-worthy characters names dot the story, especially the Marcs.  There's Marc, then there's Son-of-Marc, and Father-of-Marc and numerous other combination.  Can't forget Peter the Priest who is married Ygraine "even though he's not supposed to have a wife, on account of him being a priest".  Silliness abounds and I can't wait to get back at it.

Totally unrelated story..remember the magic dress everyone was talking about a while back?  The one that was either blue or gold?  Well, I thought the entire thing was sort of goofy until my dog returned from the groomer last week with gold ribbons on her ears.  My neighbor, who always love to see GB after a haircut remarked on how nice the lavender ribbons looked against her deep, black.  I see gold.  She sees lavender.  I have tried to make the lavender appear, but nope...those ribbons are gold.  Maybe next week I'll post a picture to see what color you think the ribbons are.

Thanks for stopping by.