Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Top Ten Tuesdays: Favorite Heroines

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme from The Broke & the Bookish. You can join in by clicking on the link. This week Kimberly has us thinking about our Top Ten Heroines.

I had a harder time than I thought I would coming up with this list. I'm either not reading enough books with memorable heroines...or my memory's getting faulty now that I've hit middle age. Whatever the case, here's what I've got:

1. Nancy Drew: the "girl detective" who has led me on to every mystery story I've ever read. Nancy was the MacGyver of her times. She was always able to find a way out of every scrape she got into. Whether it was using her tap-dancing lessons to tap out morse code to send messages or her handy flying skills, she always had what was needed right at hand. The first really strong female character I ever encountered in books.

2. Phryne Fisher (from Kerry Greenwood's marvelous series): A grown-up's Nancy Drew. She, too, flies planes, drives a marvelous car, and takes down the bad guys with style and class. She is smart, independent, fights for the underdog, and is everything a strong character should be.

3. Baroness "Jack" Troutbeck (from a series by Ruth Dudley Edwards): "Jack" is the no-nonsense, irrepressible and irreverant sleuthing partner to civil servant, Robert Amiss. Between the two of them, they manage to skewer all sorts of establishment positions from the ivory towers of education to the House of Lords.

4. Miss Marple (Agatha Christie): I have always been amazed at how Jane Marple can take the every day doings of village life and apply it to murderous intentions. How a suspect that reminds her of "Billy the baker's boy" leads her to the final solution is incredible.

5. Anne Elliot (Persuasion by Jane Austen): Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel. The only quibble I have with Anne is that she should have just married Wentworth in the first place. But that's my 20th C view point butting in. Given her era and her circumstances, I think Anne does very well.

6. Betsy (the Betsy & Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace): I absolutely loved Betsy in Betsy & Tacy Go Downton. I must have read that story hundreds of times when growing up. Betsy is a budding writer and the ecstasies that she goes into when she's able to go downtown and get books from the library struck me as very familiar.

7. Renee Michel (The Elegance of the Hedgehog): I loved watching Renee come into her own throughout this story. And watching her friendships develop with Paloma Josse and Kakura Ozu. A beautiful story.

8. Kate Fansler (series by Amanda Cross): My favorite detective professor. Kate is wise and witty; wry and insightful. I've collected more of Kate's sayings as quotes than I have from any other literary character.

9. Mary Russell (series by Laurie R King): Any woman who can keep up with Holmes is terrific in my book. I enjoy the play between the two characters and that King makes this relationship believable.

10. Hildegarde Withers (series by Stuart Palmer): Another of my favorite educators-turned-detective. These stories are more comic than those by Amanda Cross. But I really like how Miss Withers stays right in there with Inspector Piper--being both a friend and sometimes a "thorn" in his side (or so he thinks) until the mystery is solved.

Table Talk Tuesday

Table Talk Tuesday is brand new bookish meme hosted by Cheryl at CMash Loves to Read. Click on the link for the full scoop (and to add yourself to her Mr. Linky to participate). But here are the basics:

The meme is meant to help book bloggers get to know one another. Imagine we're all sitting down for coffee (or, hopefully, tea is acceptable too!) and chatting. She wants us to list three tidbits about ourselves or three questions we'd like others to answer. Link up via her blog and start visiting and having a big ol' coffee/tea party!

First off...I'll answer the tidbit questions she's posted:

1. How do you take your coffee? I'm afraid I don't. My mother-in-law has tried converting me, but I just don't care for it. You can froth it up and make it fancy. You can add flavorings and milk and sugar and whatever else you can think of to toss in there. It's just not happening for me. I'll take a mint tea with a bit of honey, please. Thank you.

2. Are you artistic, can you paint/draw? I can, but I don't think I have a natural talent. I have to use pencil and there is a lot of erasing involved before I can get things looking the way I want. Can't just sit down and toss off a sketch and have it look fabulous.

3. Hoarders: I don't watch TV at all. Everything I watch is pre-recorded. But co-workers have talked about that show and I find it so sad that people can get into such an obsessive state over things. I know I'm bad about my books--but if it came down to it and someone said having all those piles teetering about the room and collecting dust was unsafe and unhealthy and they'd take my son away if I didn't get rid of them. I'd be able to do it......I think. :-)

And my tidbits (I'm going to go with things you may not know about me):

1. When I don't have my nose in a book, I'm banging balls around the softball field. I play for our English Department's co-ed softball team.

2. I have a son who is "this close" to being an Eagle Scout (we're waiting on his Board of Review). Cross your fingers for him!

3. I've been collecting beavers (stuffed, porcelain figures, etc) since I was a junior in high school. At that time I took a class on Latin Derivatives and one of the assignments was to see what our names meant and where they came from. Beverly = beaver meadow (or dweller in the beaver meadow).

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly event hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Here's how it works:

*Grab your current read
*Open to a random page
*Share two or three "teaser" sentences from somewhere on that page. Be careful not to include spoiliers! You don't want to ruin the book for others.
*Remember to show the title and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teasers!

Here's mine from Robert F. Kennedy: A Memoir by Jack Newfield:

What his romanticism did was provide an emotional ballast for his pragmaticism, to give it a humanist thrust. It was what made him different from more detached and conservative friends, like Robert McNamara, Byron White, or Theodore Sorensen. Kennedy identified with people, not data, or institutions, or theories. Poverty was a specific black face to him, not a manila folder full of statistics.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Candle #19: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

From Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings :

"The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerence. It is seldom accepted as an inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors and deserves respect if not enthusiastic acceptance."

That quote sums up the entire experience of reading Maya Angelou's honest, heart-breaking, and wonderfully written story of growing up black in the 30s and 40s. That she can make her story so real to someone who grew up white, middle-class and with a stable family life, is an amazing feat. She uses lyric language as well as witty satire to bring home to the reader exactly what her life was like. She deftly portrays the courage, dignity and endurance needed to survive a childhood filled with suffering, prejudice, and inequality.

After being shipped back and forth between parents she never really knew and a grandmother who served as mother for most of her growing up years; after many experiences that drove home to Maya the differences between her life and that of "whitefolks"; after several emotionally and sexually disturbing incidents--it is amazing what this woman has become. Honored poet and author, playwright, award-recipient and holder of many honorary degrees--Maya Angelou and all the strong women like her truly do deserve our respect.

I am glad that my Birth Year Reading Challenge brought this book into my list of books read. Its raw emotion and sensitivity made it a difficult read, but I wouldn't have missed it for the world. Four and a half stars out of five.

The Really Old Classics Challenge

Now that the end is in sight for my Birth Year Reading Challenge (four more to go!), I just wouldn't feel right if I had less than three challenges going at a time. The Really Old Classics Challenge has caught my eye. It gives me the perfect excuse to read Dante's Divine Comedy which has been on my TBR list forever (and I just got a terrific edition translated by Dorothy L Sayers). The challenge runs from September 1 to December 31, and the only requirement is to read one book originally written before 1600 AD (or CE if you prefer). They do, however, have a "Classicist" category which calls for four books if you want to stretch yourself. I wouldn't mind being able to impress my friends & neighbors with that title, but I don't know that I'll make it. We'll see. At the moment, I'm in for Dante.

Finished (click title for review):

The Divine Comedy 1: Hell (Read 9/19/10)
The Divine Comedy II: Purgatory (Read 9/26/10)
The Divine Comedy II: Paradise (Read 10/13/10)
Gilgamesh translated by Herbert Mason (Read 10/25/10)

For Extra Credit:
The Conference of the Birds by Jean-Claude Carriere and Peter Brooks and based on the original poem by Fard Uddi Attar (Read 10/19/10)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Top Five Sundays: Favorite Childhood TV Series

Larissa at Larissa's Bookish Life invites us this Sunday to list our top five childhood TV series. What shows had you glued to the TV when you were growing up?

1. The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries. I lived for these. Not only had I devoured all the books, but I had the most intense crush on Shaun Cassidy. And there he was...every week.
2. Scooby Doo Mysteries. I loved those "meddling kids" and all the crazy adventures they got into.
3. Remington Steele. Suave, sophisticated. Funny. Great interactions between the main characters. And Pierce Brosnan...I've been swooning over him ever since.
4. Happy Days. What's not to like about the Fonz?
5. WKRP in Cincinnati. I will never forget Les Nesman's report on the tornadoes. Using a Cold War era "what to do if the Russians invade" and replacing "Russians" with the word "tornadoes." And Johnny's visit to the hospital. "Follow the red line until you get to the green line. If it crosses the blue line you have to go back to the yellow...." or some such nonsense.


Top Ten Picks: Literary Places

This week Jillian at Random Ramblings is asking us to name our top ten favorite settings in literature. Places that intrigue us, move us with their beauty, take us to the edges of our imagination with their creepiness. Places we want to go or places we hope we never have to go. Here's mine (From mysteries, of course):

1. A flat in Picadilly, London circa 1920s-1940s. Home of Lord Peter Wimsey. I want to hear him play the piano. I want to immerse myself in his library. I want to listen to him talk piffle and then turn around and be brilliant in solving a case. I want Bunter to bring me tea.

2. 221B Baker Street, London circa late 1800s/early 1900s. The most famous flat in London. I'd even put up with pipe smoke if I could see the Master at work.

3. Oxford, England. Home of Oxford University. But more importantly the home of many detectives such as Inspector Morse and Oxford don, Gervase Fen. The setting for many a British academic mystery....and the place where Harriet Vane finally comes to her senses and accepts Peter Wimsey's proposal of marriage.

4. The "Haunted Bookshop." (from the book of the same title) I want to meet the owner. He talks about books the way I feel about books. I'd like to take up residence in the shop and just browse to my heart's content. I'd like to be given the book I need and not the one I want (as the proprietor would put it).

5. New York City circa 1940s-1950s. I want the New York of Pam & Jerry North (stars of a series by Frances & Richard Lockridge). I want to go to the Charles for dinner. I want to visit Jerry's publishing business (and maybe convince him to publish that little mystery I've got in the works).6. River Heights. Home of Nancy Drew. I want to live in a town where everybody knows and helps everybody and the bad guys ALWAYS lose.

7. The moors around Dartmoor. Home of the Hound of the Baskervilles. A spooky site that I'd want to visit just to say I have--and to admire it's terrible beauty. But only if I've got a good guide so I don't go under the mire.

8. Cape Cod--home of Phoebe Atwood Taylor's Asey Mayo. I've always wanted to visit the East Coast. And it'd be good to see Asey's stomping grounds.

9. The library in
The Name of the Rose. Who wouldn't want to see all those books lost to time?


But I'd have to find a way to stop the fire. I couldn't bear to see them go up in flame.

10. Scotland Yard. Of course, what would this list be for a British mystery lover without the shrine of British detection? But only if I can venture in when Ngaio Marsh's Inspectory Alleyn is on duty or Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley or any of Agatha Christie's various inspectors or....

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Candle #18: Portnoy's Complaint

Now done with Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth--another conquest for my Birth Year Reading Challenge. Just to start off...The best part of the book? The "Afterword to the Twenty-fifth-Anniversary Edition" by the author. Seriously. What I enjoyed most was learning that Roth has used a piece of paper emblazoned with 19 typewritten sentences that he found in a local diner back in 1956 to come up with the opening line for his first 19 novels. Being a budding author myself, I'm going to be on the look-out everywhere I go for a similar little bonanza--particularly if it's going to produce best-sellers.

But, I digress. Back to the review. This is the story of Alexander Portnoy and the outpourings of his therapy sessions with Dr. Spielvogel. Portnoy goes on and on (and on and on and...) about growing up Jewish and what the pressures of his home life have done to him. Squashed in between his ramblings about his sex life (both solitary and in company), we are given little vignettes about life with father and Mother and sister. Mother, of course, being the dominant figure in Portnoy's life.

This book earned two stars out of my five star system. There were moments (brief, fleeting) of down-right brilliant hilarity. There were moments (even briefer and more fleeting) of thoughtful insight. These are the redeeming qualities that push Portnoy's Complaint from one star to two. Over-all, this is a self-centered, whiny, piece of sexual OCD with a central character who is hung up on himself, his penis and where he's putting it, and his Jewishness (not necessarily in that order). If the humor were more liberally sprinkled throughout and/or the main character actually showed some growth over the almost 300 pages, then I would have given it a higher rating. As it is, despite Portnoy's sporadic psychological comments about himself (which seem to be right on target), he never takes these musings to heart and applies them. The reader is left feeling that Portnoy will never get beyond the furtive fumbling in the bathroom or the frantic wranglings in the bedroom.

Friday, August 27, 2010

56 Hops

It's Friday so it's time for The Hop and The Friday 56.

Over at the Book Blogger Hop, a bookish meme designed to get book bloggers out on the 'net checking out other blogs and hosted by Crazy For Books, Jennifer is asking us: Do you use a rating system for your reviews and if so, what is it and why?

Well...my system is pretty simple 1-5 stars--based on the system from Visual Bookshelf where I first started rating books. One star means the book was just plain, stinking awful. If I finished it, I'm not sure why and there's a good chance that I didn't. If I bought it, it's leaving the house. If it was borrowed, it's going back where it came from asap. Two stars means it wasn't horrible, but it could have been better. There are a few redeeming qualities--maybe I like the characters or the plot but it doesn't all come together. Three stars: this was a decent outing. Enjoyable read, no real complaints--but nothing really knocked my socks off. Four stars: over-all pretty outstanding. Lots to like from characters to plot to style to setting.... A book I'd probably re-read (if there weren't so many on my TBR list already) and would recommend to others. Five stars: A must have, must read, must recommend book. Absolutely knocked my socks off on all counts. Even though I really don't have time to re-read books, I will re-read this one (probably more than once). I may bore my friends to death talking about how great this book is and will recommend it to everyone whether it's their kind of book or not. A book to obsess over.

And now on to the Friday 56 (a bookish meme hosted by Storytime with Tonya)....

*Grab the book nearest you. Right now.
*Turn to page 56.
*Find the fifth sentence.
*Post that sentence (plus one or two others if you like) along with these instructions on your blog or (fi you do not have your own blog) in the comments section below.
*Post a link along with your post back to this blog and Storytime with Tonya.
*Don't dig for your favorite book, the coolest, the most intellectual. Use the CLOSEST.

Here's mine from my current read, Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth:

"We kept matzohs in our lockers. Not really, of course, but if we wanted to we could, and we weren't ashamed to say that we actually did!"

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Death Is A Lonely Business

Finished up Death Is a Lonely Business--Ray Bradbury's 1985 non-SF novel. Set in 1949, this novel evokes the atmosphere of the time as well as giving a tribute to hard-boiled detective novels. But, I tell you, if Hammett and Chandler had written like Bradbury I would be a hard-boiled fan instead of hooked on British Golden Age. Well, maybe. He uses their style, but twists it to display his own particular Bradburian flair. His descriptions echo the hard-boiled era but the exaggerations sound so much more believable flowing from his pen..."No sooner had I hit the back seat than the limousine swerved in one boa-constrictor glide away from the curb." and "I waited a full minute for something to happen. When it did not, I slid out of the back of the limousine, like a shoplifter, guilty for no reason and wondering whether to escape."

I love Bradbury. I love his way with words, and turns of phrases, and characters, and setting, and mood. The man can write. In this one, he had me from the fourth paragraph when our narrator/protagonist meets up with Death's friend on an old red trolley. Death is visiting the citizens of Venice, California and the protagonist finds himself in game of hide and seek that seems to be leaving all his friends and acquaintances at the mercy of the stalking shadow. He aligns himself with detective Elmo Crumley, who isn't quite sure if his young friend is quite sane. Whispery breathing on stairways? Dripping visitors beneath his window who leave behind seaweed? Shadows that follow but disappear like the morning mist?

The plot line is a bit shaky...disappearing in the mist at times like the shadowy character of Death's friend, but his descriptions are solid and the clues are there if the reader is quick enough to spot them. His characters are real and you feel the unnamed hero's frustration and fear as he tries to figure out who is next on Death's list and unmask the killer before he claims all his victims. Four stars out of five on Visual Bookshelf.

Book Beginnings on Friday

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Becky at Page Turners. Anyone can participate, just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure you include the title and author so others know what you're reading. If you like, share with everyone why you do or do not like this sentence.

Here's mine from Death Is a Lonely Business by Ray Bradbury:

"Venice, California, in the old days had much to recommend it to people who liked to be sad."

I'm not sure exactly whether I like the first sentence. It does bring the reader in and make you start asking questions. The question right away for me was "Is the narrator sad? Did s/he come here to be sad? Is this story about the sadness of death?"

I do like so many of Bradbury's sentences, though. I particularly like this one from page two: "I became aware of him finally because of him swaying, swaying, standing there behind me for a long time, as if undecided because there were forty empty seats and late at night is hard with so much emptiness to decide which one to take."

Booking Through Thursday

This week's Booking Through Thursday question is quite timely for me:

If you're not enjoying a book, will you stop mid-way? Or do you push through to the end. What makes you decide to stop?

I used to be quite diligent about finishing a book I started. Particularly if I had gone to the trouble to buy the thing. As I've gotten older, I realize that there is less and less time in front of me for reading all the books I want to read (Shoot, I think my TBR list is long enough right now that I need to live to be about 150....and that's if I don't add any more. Which I will.). I just ditched Mary Queen of Scots. I was being stubborn and trying to soldier on through that one simply because it was on my Birth Year Reading Challenge list. But I finally decided that I could not read one more word. Not one. I'll just have to find another book published in 1969 to take its place.

What made me decide to stop? It was drop-dead boring. Not well-written. Repetitive. It was history and footnoted/research-noted and the notes were absolutely no help at all. Need I go on? I think I mentioned on another meme that if the book is too much work (back-breaking, ditch-digging, mindless, why-am-I-doing-this work) then it needs to go. Difficult is fine as long as it's rewarding. Books with no reward (aesthetically, plot-wise, good characters, teaching, etc) are hard to finish.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Candle #17: Damnation Alley

I'm all set for another candle on my Birth Year Reading Challenge cake. Having finally given up on Mary Queen of Scots (Boo...no candle for that one--although I did give it the ol' college try. Click on the title to see my review of the experience.), I switched over to Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny. I hadn't read anything by Zelazny since, oh, maybe 1981. I remember loving the short stories in The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth, but really couldn't tell you why I never went on to read anything else by him. I have The Last Defender of Camelot but it just sits in my TBR pile.

Absolutely enjoyed Alley--despite the raw, post-apocalyptic background and the anti-hero that was really hard to like. Is it better that a good man decline to do something for the right reasons or for a bad man to do something good for all the wrong reasons? Half-way through the story I was rooting for Hell Tanner to complete his mission even though I really didn't want him to earn his pardon. Tanner is not your usual hero. A convicted killer, cold-hearted rapist, and drug smuggler, Tanner is given the chance to have all his sins against the state forgiven if he will make the seemingly impossible cross-country journey from California to Boston to deliver much needed medication to a war-ravaged population suffering from plague. Tanner must cross through the radioactive desert, fight off giant bats and snakes, and ride out violent, unpredictable storms that can dump debris at any time in order to finish his journey.

Even though the subject matter is violent and distopic, Zelazny writes with a power and poetry that is rare in such hard-nosed science fiction. His descriptions of the journey leave no doubt about the harsh realities Tanner faces, but draws you into the story and makes you a part of that reality. Four stars out of five on Visual Bookshelf.

WWW Wednesdays: Whatcha Reading?

WWW Wednesdays is a bookish meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions:

*What are you currently reading?
*What did you recently finish reading?
*What do you think you'll read next?

Here's mine:

Current Read: At a bit of loose ends. Just finished my latest at lunch.

Just Finished: At lunch I finished Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny (review coming soon); and just previous to that I declared myself done with Mary Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser without actually completing the book.

Up next: Probably Death Is a Lonely Business by Ray Bradbury. This has been sitting on my TBR list way too long and will soon have to go back to the library unread if I don't get moving.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Throwing in Towel on Mary

Okay, I am officially crying "Uncle!" Two hundred and fifty pages in (not even half-way through) and I can take no more of Antonia Fraser's Mary Queen of Scots. I really wanted to finish this...having a love for the British Isles and their history. But I just cannot read one more word. Historical writing has come a long way in the last 41 years and there are a lot of writers out there who can take subject matter that is much less exciting than the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, and keep the reader waiting on the edge of their seat to see what comes next.

Not Fraser. She's excellent as a mystery writer. And I'm going to have to go find one of her mysteries to read to remind myself how excellent.

Her history of Scotland's beleaguered queen leaves much to be desired. A varied vocabulary would be nice for starters. There was an abundance of repeated phrases--so much so that I kept double-checking the page number to be sure that I hadn't read the particular chapter before. I also found the repeated references to Mary dissolving into tears when meeting with various lords and noblemen to be very grating. On the one hand, Fraser seems to be trying to portray Mary as a much more level-headed and politically-minded young queen than Elizabeth of England...but then she ruins the scene with all the waterworks. And maybe it's the difference of 40 years, but I find the footnote & reference note system to be terribly unhelpful. I am used to footnotes, end notes & reference notes that actually clarify the points noted. When Fraser makes a note in reference to some of these weeping episodes, for instance, she merely directs the reader to the source in question. I would have to go find the work and look up the reference to find out what exactly history has to say about the particular episode. Why was Mary weeping? What bearing, if any, did it have on the conference's outcome? And this happens for every note made. The reader has rare access to the source material (there are few quoted passages) to judge for herself.

I might not have minded all that so much, if the writing were brisk and accessible and made me actually care about the story of the Queen of Scots. From the Amazon synopsis and what I know of history, this could have been a very good historical story, indeed. Just because it is history and factual, doesn't mean it can't be engaging. Good history is. I'm sorry to have to say, this isn't. Rating equals Did Not Finish.

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. This week Julia wants us to reveal the "Top Ten Books I Can't Believe I've Never Read."

I'm kind of afraid to do this...I mean, if I put my list on here, someone from the university may demand that I return my English degree. How could I possibly have earned a BA in English without having read:

1. Bleak House by Charles Dickens
2. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
3. Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
4. Emma by Jane Austen (I've read Pride & Prejudice and Persuasion, but given how much I like Austen, I'm surprised I haven't read more.)
5. Middlemarch by George Eliot
6. The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
8. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
9. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift (I've read parts, but never the entire thing.)
10. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

When I consider how many of these are Victorian and I consider myself a Victorianist, I am doubly ashamed.

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly event hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Here's how it works:

*Grab your current read
*Open to a random page
*Share two (2 or 3) "teaser" sentences from somewhere on that page. Be careful not to include spoilers! You don't want to ruin the book for others.
*Remember to show the title and author, too, so that others can add the book to their TBR list if they like your teasers!

Here's mine from Mary Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser (non-fiction):

This translates literally as "Beware lest the bird fly out of its cage, or without its mate like the turtle-dove live alone to lament the absence however short it may be." The only possible implication is that the writer is the bird who may fly out of her cage, if badly treated, or else go into a decline out of melancholy."

Monday, August 23, 2010

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading, a bookish meme hosted by One Person's Journey Through a World of Books (and brought to my attention by A Simple Love of Reading), is where we gather to share what we have read this past week and what we plan to read this week. It is a great way to network with other bloggers, see some wonderful blogs, and put new titles on your reading list. So hop on over to Journey and join in...and leave a comment here so I can check out what you're reading. Here's mine:

Books Read Last Week: The Big Bounce (Elmore Leonard); Dress Her in Indigo (John D. MacDonald); Dune Messiah (Frank Herbert)

The Book I'm Reading Now: Mary Queen of Scots (Antonia Fraser)
The tragic life of Mary, Queen of Scots has long fascinated students of history and dreamy young girls alike. In this scholarly, comprehensive, and moving biography, Antonia Fraser skillfully guides the reader through the genealogical labyrinths and convoluted intrigues of the Scottish, English and French courts. Born in 1542, six days before the death of her father, Mary Stuart is crowned Queen of Scotland in her infancy and begins her life as the pawn of the powerful who surrounded her. Raised in Catholic France and married at fifteen to France's young dauphin in alliance against the Protestant English, Mary becomes Queen of France at sixteen and a widow at eighteen. Returning to Scotland, Mary - culturally a Frenchwoman - faces the challenges of ruling an unpredictable, fractious, still militantly Protestant society. Her determination to remain a Catholic furthered distances her from her subjects and antagonizes her cousin and nemesis, Queen Elizabeth of England, who is intensely aware of Mary's legitimate place in the English succession. Eventually Elizabeth imprisons Mary and later orders her execution. In lucid prose, Antonia Fraser examines and interprets the complex drama of one of history's most compelling figures, her transformation, significance, and paradoxical victory. (synopsis from Amazon.com)

I'm only about 1/8 of the way through this, and I must say that so far it is boring me silly. I'm reading it for my Birth Year Challenge and the biggest questions in my mind is "Why did Antonia Fraser have to publish this in 1969?" and "What made me put it on my challenge TBR list?" Actually, I can answer that last one...I've always been fascinated by the history of the British Isles and I'd heard about this book long ago and far away. When it popped up on a list of books for my birth year, I thought it would be a good addition to my quest. The front of the books says: "A book that will leave few readers unmoved." The movement I'm most tempted to make at the moment is to throw the book out the window. And that is NOT typical book-handling behavior for me. I'm hoping that once we get the background history taken care of and get more into the life of Mary Queen of Scots, that I'll change my mind.

Books that spark my interest this week: Death Is a Lonely Business (Ray Bradbury); The Man Who Was Thursday (G. K. Chesterton); The Interpretation of Murder (Jed Rubenfeld); This Mortal Mountain (Roger Zelazny). All of which are waiting impatiently in the wings while I try to make my way through the Mary book. I may have to take a break from non-fiction and give in to the siren call of one of these....

Saturday, August 21, 2010

My Life in Books

Found this over at Kittling Books (who got it from Pop Culture Nerd) and thought it was pretty interesting. Using only titles of books you've read so far in 2010, complete the following sentences. (Who could resist? Certainly not me). If you join in, leave a comment so I can check out your answers.

1. In high school I was (a) Puzzle for Fools.
2. People might be surprised I'm Some Things Fierce & Fatal.
3. I will never be What Men Say.
4. My fantasy job is Oxford & Cambridge.
5. At the end of a long day I need Three Silent Things.
6. I hate it when Suddenly While Gardening....
7. Wish I had The Sunken Treasure.
8. My family reunions are Travels With My Aunt.
9. At a party you'd find me with (a) Hive of Suspects.
10. I've never been to The Window at the White Cat.
11. A happy day includes Literary Murder.
12. Motto I live by Die Laughing.
13. On my bucket list London After Midnight.
14. In my next life, I want to be The Piano Bird.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Friday 56

If it's Friday then it's not only time for the Hop, but it is also time for the Friday 56 (a bookish meme brought to me by A Simply Love of Reading).

Here are the Rules:

*Grab the book nearest you. Right now.
*Turn to page 56.
*Find the fifth sentence.
*Post that sentence (plus one or two others if you like) along with these instructions on your blog or (if you do not have a blog) in the the comment section of this blog.
*Post a link on your post back to this blog.
*Don't dig for your favorite book, the coolest, the most intellectual. Use the CLOSEST.

Here's mine from Mary Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser:

The Guises were accused of being foreigners by their enemies--Lorrainers rather than true Frenchmen. The Guises riposted by claiming that the royal blood of Charlemagne flowed in their veins, which they said, entitled them to the highest place at the French court.

Blog Hoppin' Friday

It's Friday and time for the Hop. The Book Bloggers hop is sponsored by Crazy for Books and is intended to get you out there on the interwebs and checkin' out new blogs. To participate, just click on the link and jump right in!

This week's question from the Hop: How many blogs do you follow?

According to Blogger I follow 68 blogs (and the number is continually growing). Most are reading/book blogs and I follow some more religiously than others. Of the non-reading blogs, the best are Sleep Talkin' Man (absolutely hysterical), daily paxil (although, you really should keep it updated a little better, Richard) and Content in a Cottage (who has some book-related posts once in while--I lust after some of the bookshelves she's posted).

How many do you follow?

If you stop by on the Hop, leave a comment so I can return the favor!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Book Beginnings on Friday

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Becky at Page Turners. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read and make sure you include the title and author so others know what you're reading. If you like, share the reason you do or do not like the sentence. Go to the link (clickable at the beginning of this post) and add yourself to the list.

Here's mine from Mary Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser:

"The winter of 1541 was marked by tempestuous weather throughout the British Isles: in the north, on the borders of Scotland and England, there were heavy snow-falls in December and frost so savage that by January the ships were frozen into the harbour at Newcastle."

I both do and do not like this sentence. Quite frankly, I think there must have been a more relevant way to start this biography of Mary, Queen of Scots. But I love the imagery of the "ships frozen into the the harbor" (with my American spelling)....

Candle #16: Dune Messiah

 Moving into the home stretch of my Birth Year Reading Challenge. Just finished a re-read of Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert. Like most SF fans in the '80s, I quickly made my way through all the original books in the Dune series at that time. I remember liking most of them, but none quite lived up to the power and thrill of the very first book.

I originally gave this book three stars and I'll go ahead and give it three again--with the understanding that some of the points are given for nostalgia. I found myself dragging through this one. So, Paul is aware (practically on page one) that there will be betrayals and plots and intrigues. And his "sight" allows him to see most of the pattern to those things. And yet it takes almost 300 pages to get there? I also got a bit weary of his inner struggles...the silent conversations about staying on the path forseen. He's the Muad'Dib...surely he could choose to venture off the path if he wanted to. And if he doesn't want to, then shut up and get on with it already.

Some of the book is brilliant--the language and descriptions are apt. There's just too much of them. The sub-plot involving the revival of Duncan Idaho and wondering if/when he will remember who he truly is was probably the most interesting part for me this time around. I thought it a good portrayal of the struggle (and intersting to re-read it in light of the "rebirth" of Spock in the Star Trek universe). The ending is very good...very moving; it would have been refreshing if the entire book had been as good.

It was nice that this re-read was more consistent than my previous experience (The French Lieutenant's Woman). I'm glad to know that while my reasons for assigning three stars may not be quite the same...at least the rating remains constant.

Best quote: There are problems in this universe for which there are no answers. (page 268)

Booking Through Thursday: Meme of Reading Questions

This week Booking Through Thursday brings us a Meme of Reading Questions.

1. Favorite childhood book? Any of the Nancy Drew series. But seriously...do you really expect book lovers to be able to pick ONE?

2. What are you reading right now? Just finishing up Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert.

3. What books do you have on request at the libary? The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld; I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou; Mary, Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser; This Mortal Mountain (With Damnation Alley for my Birth Year Challenge) by Roger Zelazny; and Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth

4. Bad book habit? Are there bad book habits? Far as I can see, all my book habits are good. But then I may be biased.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library? The Big Bounce by Elmore Leonard (finished, just needs to go back); Dress Her in Indigo by John D MacDonald (finished, just needs to go back); The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton; Death Is a Lonely Business by Ray Bradbury; and Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert (current read)

6. Do you have an e-reader? NO. I am an old-fashioned, crotchety, curmudgeon on this subject. There is nothing like holding a real book in your hands.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once? I can do either. Just depends. If I have more than one going at a time, it's usually fiction and non-fiction/poetry.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog? Kind of....the most change has been because of the reading challenges I've joined--particularly the Birth Year Challenge. I've read books I probably wouldn't have gotten to yet just because they were published in 1969.

9. Least favorite book you've read this year (so far)? The Big Bounce by Elmore Leonard (click on title for my review that will give you a taste of why).

10. Favorite book you've read this year? Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene or The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone? A few times a year. Probably more than that this year with some of my reading challenges....

12. What is your reading comfort zone? Golden Age British Mysteries. And classic British literature.

13. Can you read on the bus? Certainly. I can read just about anywhere. "I can read on the bus. I can read with no fuss. I can read in a boat. I can read on a goat. I can read here or there. I can read anywhere." (apologies to Dr. Seuss)

14. Favorite place to read? Curled up on the couch or snuggled under the covers in bed.

15. What is your policy on book lending? Way too lenient. I've had to replace several books that I've eagerly loaned.....

16. Do you ever dog-ear books? No! There's always some sort of piece of paper that can be used. I hate to see books dog-eared.

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books? Rarely. And most of the writing was done when I was taking coursework in college.

18. Not even with text books? See #17.

19. What is your favorite language to read in? English (it's the only one I can really manage...I mangle French)

20. What makes you love a book? An author that makes me so involved with the story or the people that I forget where I am and when. Writing that makes me care what happens in this story and makes me disappointed when the story comes to an end. I think it is the author's job to leave us wanting more.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book? Any of the above. Also books that teach me something.

22. Favorite genre? Golden Age British Mysteries (and, really, mysteries in general)

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did)? Essays, fictional history.

24. Favorite biography? Kate Remembered (Katherine Hepburn) by A. Scott Berg

25. Have you ever read a self-help book? I'm sure I have. But it apparently wasn't as helpful as it should have been, because I can't come up with any titles and I'm not going to search my list of books read to find one.

26. Favorite cookbook? The one that has the recipe I want at the moment. I don't really have a favorite....

27. Most inspriational book you've read this year (fiction or non-ficiton)? for one more day by Mitch Albom (What would you do if you had one more day with someone who was gone?)

28. Favorite reading snack? Grapes or sunflower seeds.

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience? Ummm. Considering my reading tastes (Golden Age British Mysteries)...can't really say that this happens. I'm not much for current lit (I do pick one up occasionally on friend recommendation), so hype doesn't really figure into the equation.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book? I don't really pay attention.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews? I have absolutely no problem with it. If I'm willing to praise a book to the skies when it's good, then I'm willing to tell the world how badly one stinks when it does.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you choose? French

33. Most intimidating book you've ever read? Ulysses by James Joyce. No matter how long I let it simmer...I still don't get it.

34. Most intimidating book you're too nervous to begin? Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (It sits on my shelf and taunts me as it has done for years.)

35. Favorite Poet? Just one? Can't do it. Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Rainer Maria Rilke

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at a time? Anywhere from 5-10.

37. How often have you returned book to library unread? More than I used to. I used to diligently finish every book but I am more and more willing to stop a book I'm just hating...thinking that there are "too many books and too little time" and "why waste it on something I hate?"

38. Favorite fictional character? Oh geez. Again, just one? Lord Peter Wimsey. Anne Elliot from Persuasion. Sherlock Holmes. Phryne Fisher from Kerry Greenwood's awesome mystery series. There's more, there's always more.

39. Favorite fictional villain? I just don't know. I don't really collect villains.

40. Books I'm most likely to bring on vacation? Whatever I've got going at the time (probably mysteries)...I don't have specific "vacation" ("beach") reads.

41. The longest I've gone without reading? One week. Just this summer when I went on a high adventure trip with my son & his scout trip.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish. Break It Down by Lydia Davis. This author has been recommended to me several times. I just could not finish this book of short stories. Click on the title to see my review (and disappointment).

43. What distracts you easily when you're reading? Not much...if I'm into the book.

44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel? The Hound of the Baskervilles (Jeremy Brett version)...if I have to choose one. If you're interested in my top ten, click

45. Most disappointing film adaptation? any of the Sherlock Holmes with Basil Rathbone where Holmes is NOT in period (and is instead fighting the Nazis). Rathbone was good as Holmes, but I'm a stickler for period when it comes to Holmes. And Watson as major ditz didn't thrill me.

46. The most money I've spent in the bookstore at one time? As one of my t-shirts says: "I'm an English major. You do the math." I'd say around $80--at a used bookstore. More bang for my buck.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it? Depends...if it's a new book (as in one someone has just told me about or I've just come across), then I'll skim it. If it's a book that's been on my list for a long time, then I'll probably just dive right in.

48. What would cause you stop reading a book half-way through? Feeling no connection to the characters, not caring in the least what happens next. When it feels too much like work (like ditch-digging, back-breaking, no-goal-in-sight work). A book can be difficult, but if the work is pleasurable that's not the same as mindless, why-am-I-doing-this work.

49. Do you like to keep your books organized? Of course. By genre and then by author within genre. Except for my TBR stacks...they're just there. The fact that they're not organized spurs me to read them faster so I can get them organized.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you've read them? Give them away? What is this thing you speak of? The only books that I purchase that leave my possession are the ones I hate.

51. Are there any books that you've been avoiding? Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne. It's been on my TBR list forever...I just don't seem to be able to get around to it.

52. Name a book that made you angry. Hmmm. Gotta think about this one.

53. A book that you didn't expect to like but did? Dress Her in Indigo by John D MacDonald. I'm not an American private eye fan. But he hooked me on Travis McGee in this story. (Click on title for review)

54. A book that you expected to like but didn't? The Knowledge of Water by Sarah Smith. Billed as "lushly erotic"--it was one of my time periods (pre-World War II). It was supposed to be suspenseful and mysterious. It failed on both counts--and was neither lush nor erotic.

55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading
? Georgett Heyer's historical romances.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

WWW Wednesdays: Whatcha Readin'?

WWW Wednesdays is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.

To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions:

*What are you currently reading?
*What did you recently finish reading?
*What do you think you'll read next?

Current Read: Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert. This is a re-read for my Birth Year Reading Challenge. It's been many moons since I read the original Dune series books and it's interesting to see what I think about some of these now.

Just Finished:
Dress Her in Indigo by John D MacDonald. Click on the title for my review.

Up Next? Not sure. Something from my Birth Year Challenge. Probably Mary, Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser.

Top Ten Picks: Favorite Book Quotes

This week Random Bookish Ramblings has us thinking about our top ten favorite quotes from books, authors, and writers. She says this is easy because she is used to writing down random quotes and lines that she winds up loving. It's the opposite for me...same reason. There are SO many quotes that I've collected over the years. How on earth am I supposed to pick just ten? But, here we go....top ten favorites for today...for right now...in no particular order.

1. [about professors in general & Professor Gumbold in particular] "There's some here who seem gaga but aren't, there's some who don't seem gaga but are. He's gaga and it show." The Case of the Missing Bronte by Robert Barnard

2. "The circular wall of the Reading Room wrapped the scholars in a protective layer of books....The dome looked down on the scholars, and the scholars looked down on their books; and the scholars loved their books, stroking the pages with soft pale fingers. The pages responded to the finger's touch, and yielded their knowledge gladly to the scholars, who collected it in little boxes of file-cards. When the scholars raised their eyes from their desks they saw nothing to distract them, nothing out of harmony with their books....And the scholars dropped their eyese to their books again, fortified and consoled." The British Museum Is Falling Down by David Lodge

3. "There is no substitute for books in the life of a child." Recipe for a Magic Childhood by Mary Ellen Chase

4. "Jane is likely to be back in an hour with more books than she can carry. Let her loose where there are second-hand books and she's like a fox in a henhouse." Queen of the Flowers by Kerry Greenwood

5. "The Lopez Law of Life: Never be without a book. The day you forget to bring a book is the day you will get stuck in an elevator (trafic jam, etc.) for two hours and 45 minutes." by Manfred Lopez

6. "That's why I call this place the Haunted Bookshop. Haunted by the ghosts of books I haven't read. Poor uneasy spirits, they walk and walk around me. There's only one way to lay the ghost of a book, and that's to read it." The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley

7. "The trouble with bookshops is that they are as bad as pubs. You start with one and then you drift to another, and before you know where you are you are on a gigantic book-binge." Bodies in a Bookshop by R. T. Campbell (one of my all-time favorites!)

8. "...there is no rule in the detective's handbook that says I can't enjoy myself while I am waiting. And if there is, it's silly and I don't propose to take any notice of it." Murder in the Dark by Kerry Greenwood (I love Phryne Fisher!)

9. [Harriet Vane] "All my life I have been wandering in the dark--but now I have found your heart--and am satisfied." [Lord Peter] "And what do all the great words come to in the end, but that?--I love you--I am at rest with you--I have come home." Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy L Sayers

10. "What is love?...it penetrates the soul more than any other thing. Nothing exists that so fills and binds the heart as love does." The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Candle #15: Dress Her in Indigo

This is the way private eye books should be written. If I were prone to this sort of thing John D MacDonald would have sold me for good with Dress Her in Indigo (another of my Birth Year Challenge Books). I'm not saying that I'm hooked on Travis McGee and will be rushing out to find all the other books, but MacDonald can write. Imagery? You got it. Philosophical commentary? You got it. Social commentary on the world of the late 1960s? You got it. Interesting detective, side-kick, and peripheral characters? You got those too. I may never make it to Mexico, but after reading this book set in Mexico--I may not have to. I feel like I was there with the sun on my face and the brilliant colors of the sky and the dry dusty roads leading out to the ruins and....I may have only just started my life in 1969, but I feel like I lived through the end of the 60s. MacDonald has that special writer's magic that can so evoke a place and time that you forget where you are and when. That doesn't come along every day.

This is SO not my kind of book. But if you're going to do gritty private eye, this is the way to do it and I found it extremely difficult to put down when I had to (like to sleep and to work and all those other unimportant things that get in the way of the life of a reader). This is one book that I probably would never have picked up were it not for the reading challenge. I'm glad I got the chance to try MacDonald out. MacDonald is known for this color-in-the-title series. Color me intrigued. And give MacDonald's book three stars out of five.

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish mem hosted by Miz B of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

*Grab your current read.
*Open to a random page.
* Share two (2) "teaser" sentences from somewhere on that page.
*Be careful not to include spoilers! (Make sure what you share doesn't give too much away! you don't want to ruin the book for others.)
*Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teaser!

My Teaser from Dress Her in Indigo by John D MacDonald:

"No woman ever knows a man, or ever really trusts him until they have made love. Then, of course, she often discovers she has trusted some absolute scoundrel."

Monday, August 16, 2010

Top Ten Picks: Favorite Books to Movies

Top Ten Picks is a bookish meme hosted by Random Ramblings (and which I found through Lady Scribble's Book Lounge) where we pick our top ten favorite things about books according to the topics she picks. This week's topic: Our favorite books into movies!

Not sure I can come up with ten....but here goes, in no particular order:

1. Around the World in 80 Days (Brosnan version)

Although I have a fondness for David Niven and his version of the Jules Verne classic, I have a passion for Pierce Brosnan. I love him as the proper English gentleman who has to keep his word on the bet. I also like the transformation he goes through as Princess Aouda influences his thinking.

2. The Great Train Robbery

The play between the Sean Connery & Donald Sutherland characters is great. This is an instance where I like the movie better than the book. And it's one of the few heist movies that I really like. Probably because it's set in the Victorian era.

3. War of the Worlds

This is one of my favorites by Wells. And I don't care how many times they remake it, you can't beat the 1953 version.

4. Hound of the Baskervilles (Jeremy Brett)

Much as I love the Basil Rathbone version which is actually true to period--unlike most of the Holmes movies with Rathbone, Jeremy Brett lived and breathed the essence of Holmes. He read the original stories and was a stickler for making sure the writers stayed true to the canon. Absolutely the best Holmes ever!

5. The Thin Man

I have to agree with Lady Scribbles on this one...the movie is absolutely better than the book. Myrna Loy and William Powell play Nick & Nora to perfection. And I love the screwball comedy. The series of movies gets a little out of control towards the end, but they're all fun.

6. Gone with the Wind

Love Vivien Leigh as Scarlett and Clark Gable as Rhett. She's feisty and determined. I just wish she'd figure out sooner who she really loves. Ashley is such a waste of her time....

7. Murder on the Orient Express

David Suchet is the better Poroit. But I love the 1973 version with its star-studded cast. I thought this version captured the over-all feel of the Christie classic.

8. Rebecca (1940)

Alfred Hitchcock certainly knew what he was doing with suspense. The casting is perfect. Dame Judith Anderson is wonderful as the woman you love to hate, Mrs. Danvers. I love the old classics.

9. Gettysburg (Killer Angels by Michael Shaara)

I'm not usually a war movie buff. There are just a few that I've seen that I actually like. I love this movie and have watched it over and over again. It would be worth it just for the visuals and the music. But I like the way it follows characters from both sides of the war. I enjoyed learning more about Joshua Chamberlain (one of my favorite personalities from the Civil War) and General John Buford. Two officers who made a difference by holding their ground when it counted.

10. The Maltese Falcon

I love it when a movie takes a genre I don't usually like (like private eye/hard-boiled) and turns it into something I like to watch. Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade--can't be beat!

I made it to ten!