Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow

As I rewrite this lost post I am taking a different tone to the description since I don't think my last review gave the few of you who got to read the whole thing a real sense of the playfulness of this piece of literature.

Telling the story of Jennet Stearne is a scientific treatise written in Latin, Sir Isaac Newton's "Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica." As the story opens Jennet is studying science and philosophy with her beloved aunt. Her father is a noted witchfinder. Tragedy strikes when her aunt is accused of witchcraft and her father's zeal for his profession leads him to have her burned at the stake. Jennet spends the rest of her life trying to scientifically prove that demons do not exist in the rational world. Her destiny, it seems, is to end the witch trials forever. During her life she immigrates to America and interacts with a wide variety of famous personages including having a romance with no less than Ben Franklin although she always lets go of the people in her life in order to continue her quest.

The best thing about this book is that all of the events are conveyed with a slightly fantastical air to them that gives this book a slightly surreal edge.

This is one of those books that would (in the normal course of things) cause me to go out and find biographies on Newton and Franklin as well as some of the works cited during the course of the book to see where fact leaves off and supposition begins. With my current reading constraints I can't do that so I will have to rely on my memory and say that, without doing some fact checking this book seems to be quite historically accurate and even the fantastical elements have elements of truth. The author also is quite clever and plays with words in humorous and inventive ways. I really enjoyed this book and recommend it for the more adventurous among you. (Being well-read doesn't hurt either.)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

More Music

The book I am reading now is over 500 pages long and the author is really clever. It's taking me a while. So, here is what I am listening to.

Jack and Diane by John Mellencamp
Shoulda by Hinder
Happens All The Time by Cold
Diary Of Jane by Breaking Benjamin
Murder by Powerman 5000
The First Cut Is The Deepest by Sheryl Crow
Feelin Too Damn Good by NickelbackT
he Queen And I by Gym Class Heroes
When I'm Gone (Sadie) by No Address
Are You Gonna Be My Girl by Jet
You by Candlebox

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

10 Places to See Before I Die

My friend Kaite says that my ramblings about my hair or my backsplash are her favorite posts. Since I haven't finished reading my latest book I need to ramble about something again tonight but am at a bit of a loss. Usually I do a music list but I am going steal from my friend Dan but instead of 10 things I want to do (cause that makes me tired right now), I am going to list 10 places I want to visit before I die.

1) Egyptian pyramids - This should be no surprise since I believe I have already shared my secret desire to be Indiana Jones (or at least his sidekick). The only problem that I can see with my "after retirement" career is that the last time I was in possession of a whip it was confiscated.

2) Great Barrier Reef - Hopefully I will get there before we do it in! (see Weathermakers post)

3) England (Bath and the British Museum) - Because bunches of Regency romances are set in Bath and the British Museum feeds my archaeology obsession. Now that I am getting into gardening I wouldn't mind going to the Chelsea Garden Show. Oh, let's just say pretty much everything in England and leave it at that.

4) Dracula's castle (Transylvania) - I love vampire movies, TV shows, books, etc... I don't think we need to analyze this to deeply.

5) Loch Ness (Scotland) - Hopefully I will see Nessie.

6) Minsk - Cause I like how the word Minsk sounds.

7) Vancouver (Canada) - Supposedly a great place to see the whales.

8) Oktoberfest (Germany) - Do I have to explain?

9) Tibet - Maybe I will find myself, or maybe not.

10) Casablanca - because it's Casablanca.

and of course, India, Japan, China......

Monday, August 28, 2006

Grab On To Me Tightly As If I Knew The Way by Bryan Charles

I had to think about this book for a while before I wrote about it. Set in 1992 Vincent attempts to make sense of the world by partying, playing in a band and lusting after his band mate's damaged girlfriend. At various points during the book I wondered about mental illness issues (at the very least, depression) and fully expected something along those lines to be revealed by the end of the book. It wasn't. Apparently this is a look at a typical teenager during the grunge years but the book felt too over the top emotionally to be believable.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida and the Politics of Paradise by Michael Grunwald

I now know a whole lot about the history of Florida and the utter mess we have made of the Everglades. This book chronicles the push for land reclamation at the turn of the century that started the decline of the Everglades. It also highlights the various colorful personalities on both sides of this environmental war. Of equal interest is the political war that has been waged that has made forward movement almost impossible and resulted in wasting billions of dollars. Although most of the book cannot report much good news, in the past few years there has been a bipartisan effort made that has caused some progress to have been made in saving a small part of this unique swamp.

This is a hefty book that dragged a bit at times but overall was an interesting and entertaining read.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Water for Elephants: A Novel by Sara Gruen

This was a fun book to read. Set in the Depression, Jacob, who has just lost his parents, hops a train and finds that it is owned by the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Although he has not finished veterinary school the circus hires him as their vet and he soon finds himself in the company of quirky characters, evil circus owners, beautiful performers, brutish husbands and the clever and lovable elephant. Anytime you add an animal to the mix she soon overshadows the other characters and that was certainly true in this case. By the end of the book, the elephant becomes the most engaging character in the book and keeps you turning pages to see how it all turns out.

I really liked this book but found it somewhat predictable and didn't think that it was complex enough to merit a Notable rating.


I got home last night and went out to try to decide how to remove the dead rabbit from my backyard. It's gone! I think my next door neighbor's gentleman friend brought his dog over yesterday and she retrieved the rabbit from my yard to take back to her yard. Now I don't have to touch yucky stuff which makes for a much happier weekend.

So unless someone reading this went over to my house and removed it for me, thank you Bailey.

Friday, August 25, 2006

A Death In Belmont by Sebastian Junger

All you true crime fans will like this book about the Boston Strangler. Junger, who wrote The Perfect Storm, grew up hearing about (DeSalvo) The Strangler because he had done work on their house and had been in their home alone with Junger's mother. During this period was when Bessie Goldberg was killed. The murder was blamed on Roy Smith, an African American day worker who had been assigned to help Bessie with some heavy cleaning projects. Since the killing had been done in typical Strangler fashion police initially thought that they had caught the Strangler.

DeSalvo never confessed to the Goldberg murder but Smith died insisting that he was innocent. Junger investigates all of the possible options but in the end no physical evidence exists that can prove or disprove either theory. Junger is an accomplished writer who has a gift for writing readable nonfiction. If you are at all interested in true crime this is a clear step above the usual offerings.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Owning a Home

Becoming a homeowner is an interesting experience and I am still not sure I have embraced it as a way of life. Tonight I didn't have to work the part time job so I got home while it was still light out. I decided I needed to do a walk around the house to see if any more plants had succumbed to the heat (thank goodness no more have baked in the sun). Anyway, I notice that I have now acquired a dead rabbit in the back yard.

I don't want the rabbit to rot back there cause that's yucky but on the other hand I don't want to have to be the one to remove it. Of course, I will have to be the one to make it go away unless I can look pathetic enough to get someone else to volunteer to come over and remove it for me. I'm not holding my breath though, on second thought maybe I should.

I wonder what one does to dispose of non-alive animals. I am pretty sure that putting it in the plastic garbage can to cook for four days until trash pick-up day is a bad idea.

Any volunteers?

The Last Friend: A Novel by Tahar Ben Jelloun

This novel is divided into three sections. The first tells the story of the academic, Ali, who is heartbroken at suddenly having his best friend cut him out of his life. Part two, (physician) Mamed's explanation of his actions and motivations, leaves the reader with more questions than answers. The last section is told by a mutual friend who is looking on. Set in Morocco the novel covers the country's struggles to reinvent itself after winning independence from France in the late 60's.

This is an interesting book that explores a lifelong friendship and the ways that such a friendship can change a person and a life.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Night, Fish and Charlie Parker by Phan Nhien Hao

I believe I have said before that poetry is not my strong suit. The book Night, Fish and Charlie Parker is a work by Vietnamese surrealist author Phan Nhien Hao. Because this poet is in exile his work deals with the effects of the war and the immigrant life. He is currently living in Los Angeles.

This volume feels a little uneven to me. There are some really interesting pieces in the book but also some that are a bit weak. Because this is not my specialty I have asked a couple of poetry professors to take a look and give me their feedback as well.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Behold The Many by Lois-Ann Yamanaka

Behold the Many is set in Hawaii and is the story of Leah, the child of a Portuguese father and Japanese mother. When she and two younger sisters get tuberculosis they are sent to a Catholic orphanage to recover but are, for all intents and purposes, abandoned. After the two sisters die, Leah is visited by her sister's ghosts, all of the other children who died at the orphanage and most horrifyingly her incredibly abusive father who continues to molest his ghost children. These ghosts continue to haunt her into adulthood and when she starts to miscarry she slowly loses touch with the love in her life.

This was an incredibly painful book to read and will stay with me for a long time. The characters in this novel are so tortured that it is easy to believe that they are cursed even into the afterlife.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Public Transportation

I am working away today, glance at my clock, and realize I missed the commuter bus that will get me to my car so that I can head over to my part time job. I ended up catching the city bus to work and having a friend pick me up after work and take me to my car. Thank goodness for friends who will drive across town at 11:00 p.m. to pick me up and take me to my car.

Backsplash: The Finished Product

I took the first picture after I had pulled out the range hood and spackled so it actually looked better than this in my daily life:) The second is the finished product. All I have left to do is seal it.

I wanted to get an over-the-range microwave but the salespeople keep telling me I need at least 15" between the bottom of the microwave and the top of the range. I may try to get an under counter microwave so that I can free up a little more counterspace.

See why I am so impressed with myself:)

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Weekends are supposed to be relaxing. I have painted, tiled and replaced rotten boards until I ache all over. I am so tired that I need to go back to work to rest up.

I am not feeling very princess-like today.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Falling Through The Earth by Danielle Trussoni

This is a memoir about the author's relationship with her father, a Vietnam vet, who she adored. This is her attempt to come to terms with the impact that the war had on her father, her family and herself. This is a heartbreaking look at a disfunctional family, in fact at one point the sister complains that they are a "Jerry Springer episode".

The father was told to forget about the war and get on with his life so instead of dealing with the damage it caused he shut down and isolated himself from those he loved. In the process, he ended up losing the wife that he loved, alienating his children, destroying his health and dragging out his pain and grief for years.

Danielle spends years trying to understand his behavior and it's impact on her , eventually traveling to Vietnam to try to piece together the events that her father experienced. At times this was an extremely moving memoir and I got teary eyed at the end. I did have a few problems with this however. There were a few events that were never fully explained. For example, a stalker appears in Vietnam but the mystery is never explained or solved.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Now Is The Hour: A Novel by Tom Spanbauer

I am not sure why but this is my third coming out novel in a row. It must be a year for literary novels about the trials and traumas of being gay in contemporary America. The coming out story is quite muted in this novel and instead this novel is positioned more as a coming of age novel. For much of the book the main character has a girlfriend and both are quite puzzled by the lack of sexual experimentation.

More striking is the fact that all three of the novel I have read lately have featured disfunctional families, although Grief was much more muted than this latest story. The father is a bigoted, angry man whose harshness is exacerbated by the fact that his wife is consumed by Catholic guilt. This was an interesting novel but is not on my best of the year list.

Tomorrow I will try to post a picture of my lovely new backsplash. I am so impressed with myself right now.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


I didn't get anything read today. Instead, I spent the day repainting my spare bedroom because I am getting a new mattress (the old one is going in the guest room)! Someone told me once that getting a new mattress was like starting over. No one else has ever slept on the mattress and the possiblities are endless (at least until your first houseguest). If nothing else I will be so happy to have a good night's sleep again. No more back or neck pain. :)

Next I am installing a backsplash in the kitchen.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Grief: A Novel by Andrew Holleran

This is a book that, not surprisingly, explores the different ways people deal with grief. The main character comes to Washington D.C. to recover from the death of his invalid mother. While in D.C. he connects with a number of his gay friends and they talk about the AIDS epidemic that took so many of their friends. The main character realizes that his guilt at surviving the epidemic and the fact that he never came out to his mother are keeping him locked in the grieving cycle even as others move on into new lives. Paralleling this is his reading of a book of letters of Mary Lincoln, who let grief at the loss of her husband destroy her.

This was an interesting, spare book that provides an unusual portrait of the world of gay men in Washington D.C. however the grief of the protagonist never became real for me. Maybe this is because grief is such a personal experience or because no one can ever see another's grief in its fullness but this book did not have the emotional weight that the title suggested that it would have.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

This graphic novel explores one girl's journey toward discovering her homosexuality and her family's hidden secrets. She comes to terms with her father's obsession with restoring their historic home, his apparent suicide and his homosexuality (or bisexuality?).

After her parents abandoned their expatriate lifestyle to come back and run the family business, a funeral home (or fun home as it was not so affectionately referred to) Alison becomes intimately aware of the reality of death. Her father's obsession with the house, his mood swings and his forced daily contact with death is the basis for her childhood memories. In a house where each family member lived an isolated life she grows up to discover that she also has a secret. When she comes out, she is overshadowed by her father's many affairs with the young men who passed through her family's life.

In the end, she comes to terms with her sexuality and more importantly, her relationship with her father and can look at him with the start of affection and understanding. This is an exceptional graphic novel that explores complex subjects and relationships with humor and depth.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Underwater To Get Out Of The Rain: A Love Affair With The Sea by Trevor Norton

This is a lighthearted look at the life of a marine biologist who fell in love with the sea at fourteen and never looked back. I have very little idea of the author's family life or personal triumphs or disappointments and I couldn't write a resume for him but I feel like I got to know the core person, his humor, his most interesting work moments and his professional "high" points.

This is one of those autobiographies with a style that I like very much. Interesting stories that if done well are interconnected to give a complete picture of a time period, a person or a profession.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68 by Taylor Branch

This is part three in a three volume biography about Martin Luther King, Jr. I wish I had time to go back and read the first two volumes before reading this but even without reading them this solid work will stand on it's own in chronicaling the last few years of King's life and how these events shaped the civil rights movement. Particularly engrossing were the descriptions of the marches and the author did a good job of capturing the mood and tension of the moment. I especially liked picking out details about many of the early civil rights leaders still around and active in today's political landscape.

Friday, August 11, 2006

I'm a princess...

I haven't had anyone buy into this yet but I took the test and I am definitely a princess. (I get a sparkly tiara.)

Which Princess Are You?

1) Are you…
A) Fashion-forward?
B) Practical?
C) Feisty?

2) Do you love…
A) Jewels?
B) Having everything in order?
C) Adventures?

3) When you’re away from home, do you…
A) Miss your family?
B) Miss your pet?
C) Relish your freedom?

4) Are you…
A) Sensitive?
B) Business-minded?
C) Independent?

5) When your lady-in-waiting tries to dress you,
do you…
A) Thank her kindly?
B) Order her around?
C) Tell her you would rather dress yourself?

6) Do you believe in ghosts?
A) Yes. Anything is possible.
B) No. What you can’t see doesn’t exist.
C) It doesn’t matter either way, since ghosts aren’t scary.

If the tiara fits…wear it!
If you chose mostly A’s, you are Princess Alicia.
Put on your jeweled tiara!
If you chose mostly B’s, you are Princess Gundersnap.
Don your iron tiara!
If you chose mostly C’s, you are Princess Kristen.
Show off your tiara of gold-dipped antlers!


Thursday, August 10, 2006

Everyman's Rules For Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany

Set in Australia, this spare novel follows the progress of the "Better Farming Train" that travels around the country teaching men and women the agricultural and domestic arts during at the start of the Great Depression. The narrator, Jean, is drawn to a scientific, scholarly agrostologist who can identify soil by taste. Together they embark on an experiment in farming that is almost as difficult to navigate as marriage is for these two unusual characters. In turn hopeful and heartbreaking, this is a lovely spare novel that reflects the somber, yet hopeful, mood of a young woman starting her adult life with the man she has chosen during a great depression.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Oracle: The Lost Secrets And Hidden Message Of Ancient Delphi by William J. Broad

I adore anything to do with archaeology. I have always been particularly enthralled by Egypt and have read most of the early accounts by Howard Carter, E.A. Wallis Budge, W. M. Flinders Petrie and my personal favorite, Amelia Edwards but Greece works for me as well.

The Oracle: The Lost Secrets And Hidden Message Of Ancient Delphi by William J. Broad is the history of the Oracle of Delphi. For centuries it has been widely believed that there was no physical explanation for the hallucinations that the Oracle had during religious ceremonies. The quest of a geologist, De Boer, and an archaeologist, Hale, changed all that when they discovered the existence of a hallucinogenic chasm which effectively disproved all previous theories regarding the Oracles mystic qualities. What makes this book so compelling are the larger-than-life personalities who are willing to face adversity and spend a lifetime in pursuit of answers. Broad's narrative is lively and engaging and has just enough of the Indiana Jones in it to satisfy the armchair archaeologist's among us.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Theft by Peter Carey

Told in alternating voices, Theft is, not surprisingly, a book about art theft. Butcher Boone is a flamboyant formerly "hot" artist who is in dire straits due to unpleasantness with his ex-wife and the law. He is also in charge of his volatile brother who has some type of disability or mental illness. When he meets the lovely Marlene he slowly becomes involved in an scheme that is equal parts forgery, scam and heist. The thriller portion of this book has a noir'ish feel but the most interesting part of the novel is the interplay between the two brothers.

This is a challenging novel that the author pulls off successfully although I have read other works with alternating voices that were more compelling to me this year.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Dead Fish Museum: Stories by Charles D'Ambrosio

This is not the collection of stories to read after a bad week. Technically stunning but this collection is also one that is very dark and disturbing in tone. Filled with seedy or sad characters who always have an angle or a plan or sometimes just flounder around hoping life will get better each story gets progressively darker. It is no surprise that life doesn't get better for these people. If you like a clear resolution or forward movement in your stories this will not be a satisfying collection but for those who like ambiguity and dark characters this may be the book for you.

As for me, this collection left me surprisingly unmoved apart from a vague sense of depression.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Spike And Abby: Part 2

I think Abby is warming toward him.

The Whole World Over by Julia Glass

This is another novel that illustrates how little occurrences can have a huge impact on people and their relationships. As the lives of the central characters weave in and out, intersect in odd and unexpected ways these chance encounters move the character in new directions. Greenie, a baker, ends up becoming the personal chef of the governor of New Mexico after a recommendation from her friend Walter. Her husband Alan stays behind to try to figure out what he wants from the relationship and his life. He meets Saga (my personal favorite in the book) and Sago meets Fenno who knows Walter and we are back to Greenie again.

The book explores the stresses on relationships, absence, infidelity, temptation, loss and yearning. Again, it is hard not to compare this novel to her first which was so tightly plotted and beautifully constructed that it was hard to believe that it was a first novel but I do feel like this novel could have been a bit more pulled together.

I took my new kitten to visit a friend with a cat-friendly dog. He didn't know what to think about the dog but he absolutely hated the car ride and protested very, very loudly. It is going to be a long car ride when I visit my parents 5 hours away!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Ruining a perfectly good story

An update on the post about men being weird. I got an email from my friend and it turns out that she got the date wrong. Her husband and I are not going off to two concerts in one weekend on his birthday weekend. His birthday is on a different day altogether.

Now she has lost the "you better remember my birthday or else" threat. I am so disappointed in her.


Well, I was right, yesterday's protagonist gave up a piece of his soul and he lost his deep connection with his wife in order to hold onto his dream

I usually keep a list of books I want to read on No one ever buys me anything from my wishlist but just in case... Anyway, I looked at my current list and realized that I had several hundred books on it. At my present rate, in another year and a half (after I finished this project) I will have several thousand on my list. After a few moment of trauma I went in and deleted the whole list.

On the upside, now I can start a new list.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Secret River by Kate Grenville

The book I am in the middle of reading and should finish tonight is set in Australia during the time when the convicts were being transported to settle the country. The book is a nicely done historical novel that vividly depicts the brutality inherent to the settling of Australia and the cruelty of the time but what the book really speaks to me about is the loss of things that can never be regained no matter what the struggles to overcome or change. Throughout the book, the protagonist struggles with the fact that his convict status has made it impossible for him to return to the country that his wife yearns for. Slowly he comes to realize that he could make a life for his family in this strange new land but his wife can't come to terms with the loss of her dream to return home. Eventually though, all dreams are fulfilled or die and I assume that by the end of the book, her dreams to return home will die or the dream will kill her.

Another theme is that nothing is free. The protagonist will have to pay for his dream in ways he doesn't anticipate. When he was a thief there was the understanding that eventually he would pay for what he took, perhaps with his life. In the same way he will pay for having his dream. This author's award winning novel is a comedy so someday, when I get to end of my giant pile of books, I want to read it as well. I have a feeling that this is one of those novels that will stick with me a long time and I am trying to decide if I should nominate it. Any thoughts?