Friday, August 31, 2007

Mademoiselle Victorine ~ by Debra Finerman

Title, author, date of book, and genre?
Mademoiselle Victorine, by Debra Finerman, 2007, historical fiction

What made you want to read this book?
A few years ago I read Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier and Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland, both fictional accounts of the life of Vermeeer, before traveling to New York City with a friend and touring the Vermeer exhibit there. Since then I have enjoyed reading novels about painters, such as Vreeland's The Passion of Artemisia about Artemisia Gentileschi and Luncheon of the Boating Party about Auguste Renoir. And now this one, about Edouard Manet.

Opening lines:
On a humid August afternoon, wedged between her two aunts in the third-class coach of a locomotive, trickles of sweat dripped down Victorine's ribs. Thirteen years old, her first train trip.
Summarize the book without giving away the ending.
Victorine was being abandoned by these two older women. One of them said,
"We've fed you and looked after you all these years, haven't we? Since the day you were born. You're on your own now, so you'd better find yourself a way to survive, because we ain't taking you back."
This was when Victorine decided,
I'll find my place in this world ... I'll do whatever necessary and I'll never look back.
What did you think of the main character?
I could see already that Victorine was a strong-willed girl. After a few years on the streets, she joined the Paris Opera ballet, expecting to become the mistress of a wealthy man. The artist Degas introduced her to Edouard Manet, who eventually painted her (see the cover photo above) and shocked Paris. She continued to move up through society by attracting men of higher status. How high would she rise? Would she survive by her wits?

Were location and time period important to the story?
This was the time when Impressionist painters were coming into their own, though many saw them as disrupting the classical art world. So I'd say, yes, being in Paris during the time shown in the book was very important: 1858 to 1871.

What did you like most about the book?
For me, it was learning about Manet's art. He didn't like chiaroscuro, the bold contrast between light and dark, and Victorine had picked up on that, though Manet's student Julia is just learning about it:
"Julia, I want to show you something," Edouard called out as he extracted a sheaf of papers from a desk drawer. "First lesson of the day: how to look. Here's a photograph by Nadar. What do you see?"

"I'm not sure what you mean," she replied.

Victorine smiled; she knew the answer. It was the absence of chiaroscuro.

"Is there chiaroscuro, any subtle shading?" he asked.

Victorine knew that Edouard eschewed the academic tradition of chiaroscuro, which had dominated oil painting since the Renaissance. He had told her it was artificially created by a single light source from a high, north-facing window, and that northern light was cool and unchanging, carving deep shadows on the body. When Edouard posed Victorine, he utilized natural light from a wall of windows in his studio that fell full face on her, the exact technique used in photography.

"Next, look at these Japanese woodcut prints." He displayed some illustrations of Mount Fuji. "What do you see?" he asked.

"Flatness. Bold, simple design," Julia answered by rote. Victorine saw that she was gazing at Edouard's lips, not at the prints in his hand.

"Very good. And this is similar to..."

She was silent.

"Similar to photography," he said. "Julia, don't rely on your optical eye. Trust your artist's eye. Remember what I told you. Bad art is bad because it's anonymous. An artist shouldn't be like anyone he has ever seen or even anyone who has ever existed."

Julia searched his eyes and said nothing.

"All right, then," he said. "That's enough theory" (pp. 93-94).
Later, three friends are talking about Manet. Andre tells Victorine and Baudelaire (yes, THE Baudelaire), "It had all the elements of [Manet's] signature style: the flat lighting, the handling of black paint, the unconventional use of pictorial space" (p. 139). So now, should I find a Manet exhibit to visit, I'll look carefully at the lighting!

What did you like least?
Victorine's constant dalliances as she moved from wealthy man to wealthier man. This may be a selling point for those who enjoy romance novels, however.

What about the ending?
The "astonishing secret from Victorine’s past" mentioned on the back cover was so unlikely, but by then it didn't really seem to matter. I did keep wondering how much of the book was historical and how much (including this "secret") was fiction. At the end of the book is an Author's Note about the characters, some of whom were composites.

What do you think will be your lasting impression of this book?
Manet's art and the hypocrisy of Paris about the use of a nude model. I will be recommending this book to discussion groups for a couple of very good reasons: there is so much to discuss, and the paperback has a Reader's Group Guide. I wish I had read the questions before reading the book, so I could have taken notes toward answering the questions as I read. There really are no spoilers among the questions.

How would you rate the book?
Rated: 8/10, very good.

Genesis Revisited ~ by Zecharia Sitchin, 1990

What a surprise yesterday to check on Colleen's Loose Leaf Notes, as I do every day, and see that the first item in her Thursday Thirteen was this:
Will Planet X collide with earth and tip it on its axis? After watching 60 Minutes last week and seeing the rate that the Antarctic icebergs are melting, I’m more worried about the reality of that than a bump from a possible planet knocking us out of existence.
In the wee hours of yesterday morning I finished reading Zecharia Sitchin's 1990 book Genesis Revisited: Is Modern Science Catching Up with Ancient Knowledge, about Nibiru. However, the book's take on Nibiru was different from what's in the YouTube clip. And I thought, "Okay, after 17 years Sitchin may also have a different view." But how interesting that Colleen posted this video on the day I'm pondering the very same thought.

I'm very interested in global warming, but I also wonder about Planet X (Roman numeral X = 10). Sitchin thinks the return of Nibiru to our inner solar system will be like "the gods" revisiting our planet after the long trip around the sun ... OUR sun ... because he thinks it is the 10th planet in our solar system. He was counting, of course, Pluto which is no longer officially a planet. What do I make of that? I don't know, but I'm thinking about it. And I'll probably read more about it. Before this, I also read and reviewed Worlds in Collision by Immanuel Velikovsky, which has a similar theme.

I can't help wondering how the Second Edition has changed, especially since this blurb from the publisher doesn't indicate any change that I can see:
Was Adam the first test-tube baby? Did nuclear fission destroy Sodom and Gomorrah? How were the ancients able to accurately describe details about our solar system that are only now being revealed by deep space probes? The awesome answers are all here, in this important companion volume to The Earth Chronicles series. Having presented evidence of an additional planet as well as voluminous information about the other planets in our solar system, Zecharia Sitchin now shows how the discoveries of modern astrophysics, astronomy, and genetics exactly parallel what has already been revealed in ancient texts regarding the "mysteries" of alchemy and the creation of life. Genesis Revisited is a mind-boggling revelation sure to overturn current theories about the origins of humankind and the solar system.
Oh, yeah, this book was fascinating to read. Rated: 9/10, excellent book.

I also wonder what would happen if all humans disappear. The post below, from The New York Times, has one man's speculation about what would happen to the earth without us. I think I'll go now and order The World without Us by Alan Weisman.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Why do you read?

do you

I found a thoughtful post by Verbivore, who used her entire About Me section to tell us why she reads. I love it! She starts with a simple sentence, "I read." Makes me think of the Latin "Cogito, ergo sum" which means "I think, therefore I am." Could it be that Verbivore is saying, "I read, therefore I am"? What a thought! Now tell us, please, why do YOU read? (I'll post my reasons in the comments tomorrow.) Go read her post, then come answer the question:

do you

Monday, August 27, 2007


Dana, at Think Pink, has come up with the perfect reading challenge. She said, "The just4thehelluvit challenge is for those of us who just can't seem to read something simply because we want to. Therefore, this challenge has just one rule: nothing you read for it can cross over to ANY other challenge. You are reading these books JUST4THEHELLUVIT!"

Just last week I uttered those famous last words: "No more challenges!" Therefore, just4thehelluvit, I agreed to do this. Another challenge. But of course! The list of books for this challenge comes AFTER you have read a book. That's the rule. Dana said, "Go on and read one for fun! Do it for me! Do it for the hell of it! But please, PLEASE for the love of all that is holy, do not make a list. One afternoon when a book sounds good, just tickles your fancy for no good reason, go ahead and READ IT WITHOUT GUILT! And consider yourself officially a reading rebel!"

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Google meme

This is how the Google meme works:

(1) Go to
(2) Click on Google images
(3) Type in your name and search
(4) Repost the picture of the oddest, craziest, strangest, coolest, oldest, etc. person that shares your name. Post multiples if you find a few you like.

FIRST Bonnie Jacobs
Bonnie F. Jacobs is Assistant Professor and Chairman of the Environmental Science Program at Southern Methodist University. She attended the University of Arizona where she received both her MS and PhD from the Department of Geosciences. Her research interests include paleobotanical study of East African and North American Cenozoic deposits, with a focus on paleovegetation and paleoclimate reconstruction. Current field areas include Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, and New Mexico.

SECOND Bonnie Jacobs
Rod and Bonnie Jacobs are the owners of NorthWest Limousine Service in Wenatchee, Washington.

THIRD Bonnie Jacobs
Bonnie Jacobs holds a board while John Basche cuts it and Ray Strenski looks on Saturday at the Resurrection Parish Habitat for Humanity Faith Build in northeast Green Bay, Michigan. Bonnie Jacobs said she got involved because she thought it would be nice to help the parish and the community. "It's fun," she said. "It's kind of a challenge with all this mud. My husband was here yesterday and he had a great time. I couldn't be here then, but today I came along."

FOURTH Bonnie Jacobs

Click on her photo to enlarge it and read about her.

FIFTH Bonnie Jacobs
This Bonnie Jacobs wears a lot of hats:

(1) Deputy Regional Director, Southwest Region of the Young Democrats of America
(2) President, Clark County Young Professional Democrats
(3) Member-at-Large, Nevada State Democratic Party Executive Board
(4) Member-at-Large, Young Democrats of America’s Budget Committee
(5) professional paralegal by trade at a very well respected law firm
And she says, "First and foremost, I live in Fabulous Las Vegas! I have also lived in Orlando, Daytona Beach and Phoenix. I love to travel and visit Washington, D.C. as often as possible. I have also recently been to Philadelphia and San Francisco. America is such a beautiful country, and there are so many places to visit!"
AND this Bonnie Jacobs has a website using "our" name: You'll have to click there to see her photo, which I could NOT copy. Her newer blog is called "Bonnie's Blog" located here:

SIXTH Bonnie Jacobs
This is what I found out about Bonnie Setliffe Jacobs:
First: Bonnie Setliffe Jacobs is the Pastor of Signal Mountain UMC since 1992.
Second: I found out that I'm retired. Guess which one is correct? Somebody forgot to change "pastor of Signal Mountain United Methodist Church" when I retired after ten years there. Should I tell you all about me? Why not?

Master's degree in theology, M.Div. (Master of Divinity), Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, 1987.
Bachelor's degree with a double major (in philosophy/religion and in English), B.A., University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, 1975.
Intern Chaplain, Piedmont Hospital, Atlanta, Georgia, 1985-1986.
Signal Mountain United Methodist Church, Chattanooga District, 1992-2002.
Economy United Methodist Church, Morristown District, 1991-1992.
Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church, Morristown District, 1991-1992.
Forrest Avenue United Methodist Church, Chattanooga District, 1987-1991.
Assistant Pastor:
Bonanza UCC Church, Jonesboro, Georgia, 1985-1986.
Other jobs I've had:
Adjunct, teaching Religions of the World at Chattanooga State.
Owner of Book Buddies, a used book store.
Training consultant in my own company, Wordsmith, Chattanooga.
Management trainer, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Knoxville.
Editor of two in-house publications, TVA, Chattanooga.
Planner for Hamilton County CETA program, Chattanooga.
Assistant librarian, Baylor School, Chattanooga.
Freelance writer, published locally, nationally, and internationally.
Book reviewer for Chattanooga News Free Press.
Stay-at-home-mom of three children.
Clerk, ordering merchandise for Sears, Roebuck.
File clerk, National Teachers Agency, Chattanooga.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

AAADD ~ know the symptoms

My friend Carole send me this email:

Thank goodness there's a name for this disorder. Somehow I feel better, even though I have it!! Recently I was diagnosed with A.A.A.D.D. - Age Activated Attention Deficit Disorder. This is how it manifests:

I decide to water my garden.
As I turn on the hose in the driveway, I look over at my car and decide it needs washing.
As I start toward the garage, I notice mail on the porch table that I brought up from the mail box earlier.
I decide to go through the mail before I wash the car.
I lay my car keys on the table, put the junk mail in the garbage can under the table, and notice that the can is full.
So I decide to put the bills back on the table and take out the garbage first.
But then I think, since I'm going to be near the mailbox when I take out the garbage anyway, I may as well pay the bills first.
I take my check book off the table and see that there is only one check left.
My extra checks are in my desk in the study, so I go inside the house to my desk where I find the can of Coke I'd been drinking.
I'm going to look for my checks, but first I need to push the Coke aside so that I don't accidentally knock it over.
The Coke is getting warm, and I decide to put it in the refrigerator to keep it cold.
As I head toward the kitchen with the Coke, a vase of flowers on the counter catches my eye -- they need water.
I put the Coke on the counter and discover my reading glasses that I've been searching for all morning.
I decide I better put them back on my desk, but first I'm going to water the flowers.
I set the glasses back down on the counter, fill a container with water and suddenly spot the TV remote.
Someone left it on the kitchen table.
I realize that tonight when we go to watch TV, I'll be looking for the remote, but I won't remember that it's on the kitchen table, so I decide to put it back in the den where it belongs, but first I'll water the flowers.
I pour some water in the flowers, but quite a bit of it spills on the floor.
So I set the remote back on the table, get some towels and wipe up the spill.
Then I head down the hall trying to remember what I was planning to do.

At the end of the day:
the car isn't washed,
the bills aren't paid,
there is a warm can of Coke sitting on the counter,
the flowers don't have enough water,
there is still only one check in my check book,
I can't find the remote,
I can't find my glasses,
and I don't remember what I did with the car keys.

Then, when I try to figure out why nothing got done today, I'm really baffled because I know I was busy all damn day, and I'm really tired.

I realize this is a serious problem, and I'll try to get some help for it, but first I'll check my e-mail.
Do me a favor.
Forward this message to everyone you know, because I don't remember who I've sent it to.
Don't laugh -- if this isn't you yet, your day is coming!!

(Yes, yes, I know that you've already received this in your email a couple of times, but when have we ever talked about it? Now's the time, so tell me if this has NEVER happened to you. Of course it has!)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Happenstance ~ the case of the axe murderer

In commenting on my previous post about meeting Susan in person, Dewey said, "It seems like some people are always worried that internet friends they meet will turn out to be axe murderers!"

That DOES seem to be what many people think. Nine years ago in August when I met Donna, we had already been friends for a couple of years online. Donna arrived in Chattanooga and stayed overnight at my house, and we left the next day to drive north to meet three friends we had never seen: Nancy in Virginia, Meg outside DC, and Maggie in Maryland. All of us were strangers to each other, but they took us into their homes ... TWO strangers!

Now my point ... Donna and I spent a good part of our travel time making up a story about an axe murderer, putting every single one of our online book buddies into the story. Donna, an English teacher turned librarian, became BookLady, a character who read the trashiest romance novels. My character was Rev. Geneva, who appeared to be a goody-two-shoes.

We were being followed by a man one of us was involved with, a man who was very afraid of strangers met online. When the man saw us pull off the road and get out of the car with one of us holding ... gasp! ... an axe, he pulled up behind our car, sprang into action, shoved the two apart, and wrestled the axe away from the would-be murderer. The other woman fell and hit her head on a rock. She wound up in a coma, in the hospital and totally unaware for most of the novel.

This was the background story, which covered the trial for attempted murder. The novel itself was told through documents, like emails and IMs and newspaper articles about the case.

The name of our book was to be Happenstance. Our book buddies, who knew they would be frantically emailing back and forth in the book, encouraged us to write it and get it published. We didn't, of course, and Donna and I never did decide which one of us (I mean, which of our characters) was to be the bad guy. I still have our notes, somewhere.

Now tell me the truth, how many of you would buy our book? What if we lower the price? LOLOL.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

First face-to-face meeting with an old friend

Under the bridge ... and under the sun ... and into the Mudpie!

Okay, let me explain that first line. Yesterday I met Susan of Patchwork Reflections. Once hesitant about meeting a stranger from the Internet, she did it with aplomb, SHE being the cool one and I the one nattering away nervously, all because I was (inadvertantly) late. I finally get to meet her and I'm late!!?? Sheesh! (Muttering to myself: She comes early and I'm late!)

Ever the consummate blogger, Susan did arrive early, with camera, and photographed the bridge she wrote about this morning. Since she, having been there way too long, had probably read all 40,000 or so titles on the bookshelves, we left 'A Novel Idea' bookstore where we met and made our (circuitous) way down the stairs from Frazier Avenue to the area of the Carousel in Coolidge Park. It was hot under the sun, as we slipped under the bridge toward the little shops looking for something cool to drink. Two small places were closed or closing, even though it was only late afternoon, so we moseyed in the back door of the Mudpie, a trendy little cafe on the corner of Frazier and the Market Street Bridge. (At 103F moseying was as fast as we felt like walking.) This bridge is the one which recently reopened after repairs, not the walking bridge Susan photographed.

Into the Mudpie and into the cool air conditioning ... and on with the conversation. Let me tell you, Susan is far too young to be a grandmother! She was wearing a blogger tee-shirt that said something to the effect that ... and this is NOT a quote ... "Everything you say and do is fodder for my blog." I wore my Oprah's Book Club tee, so there we were, two bloggers sitting in the wide-windowed corner of the Mudpie Coffeehouse and Restaurant ... see our corner in the photo? We talked about everything and nothing, the best sort of thing to blog about!

Next time ... yes, of course there will be a next time! ... next time we may drive up the W Road and look around the Signal Mountain area, including Signal Point where she's been before. See the hairpin turn? Now THAT will be something to blog about!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Pulitzer Project

I know better, really I do. Yet I am (sort of) signing up for 3M's The Pulitzer Project, for which she has made a new and separate blog. However, and this is a big HOWEVER, I am modifying it for myself. Instead of agreeing to read all 81 of the books that have won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, I will read only those that interest me. Of course, by the time I am done with this challenge, two things will probably have happened:
(1) the number of winners will have risen over the years from 81 to who knows how many; and
(2) I may have changed my mind and decided to read every one, after all.
That said, let me share 3M's official rules:
Welcome to the Pulitzer Project. The goal of the participants of this site is to read all 81 books that have won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. There is no time limit.
Notice that some years had no winners. I have underlined those I have read, though most were read so long ago that I need to re-read them so I can write book reviews. And now, here are the 81 books so far:

2007 - The Road (McCarthy)
2006 - March (Brooks)
2005 - Gilead (Robinson)
2004 - The Known World (Jones)
2003 - Middlesex (Eugenides)
2002 - Empire Falls (Russo)
2001 - The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Chabon)
2000 - Interpreter of Maladies (Lahiri)
1999 - The Hours (Cunningham)
1998 - American Pastoral (Roth)
1997 - Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer (Millhauser)
1996 - Independence Day (Ford)
1995 - The Stone Diaries (Shields)
1994 - The Shipping News (Proulx)
1993 - A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain (Butler)
1992 - A Thousand Acres (Smiley)
1991 - Rabbit at Rest (Updike)
1990 - The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (Hijuelos)
1989 - Breathing Lessons (Tyler)
1988 - Beloved (Morrison)
1987 - A Summons to Memphis (Taylor)
1986 - Lonesome Dove (McMurtry)
1985 - Foreign Affairs (Lurie)
1984 - Ironweed (Kennedy)
1983 - The Color Purple (Walker)
1982 - Rabbit is Rich (Updike)
1981 - A Confederacy of Dunces (Toole)
1980 - The Executioner’s Song (Mailer)
1979 - The Stories of John Cheever (Cheever)
1978 - Elbow Room (McPherson)
1977 - None
1976 - Humboldt’s Gift (Bellow)
1975 - The Killer Angels (Shaara)
1974 - None
1973 - The Optimist’s Daughter (Welty)
1972 - Angle of Repose (Stegner)
1971 - None
1970 - Collected Stories by Jean Stafford (Stafford)
1969 - House Made of Dawn (Momaday)
1968 - The Confessions of Nat Turner (Styron)
1967 - The Fixer (Malamud)
1966 - Collected Stories by Katherine Anne Porter (Porter)
1965 - The Keepers of the House (Grau)
1964 - None
1963 - The Reivers (Faulkner)
1962 - The Edge of Sadness (Edwin O’Connor)
1961 - To Kill a Mockingbird (Lee)
1960 - Advise and Consent (Drury)
1959 - The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters (Taylor)
1958 - A Death in the Family (Agee)
1957 - None
1956 - Andersonville (Kantor)
1955 - A Fable (Faulkner)
1954 - None
1953 - The Old Man and the Sea (Hemingway)
1952 - The Caine Mutiny (Wouk)
1951 - The Town (Richter)
1950 - The Way West (Guthrie)
1949 - Guard of Honor (Cozzens)
1948 - Tales of the South Pacific (Michener)
1947 - All the King’s Men (Warren)
1946 - None
1945 - Bell for Adano (Hersey)
1944 - Journey in the Dark (Flavin)
1943 - Dragon’s Teeth I (Sinclair)
1942 - In This Our Life (Glasgow)
1941 - None
1940 - The Grapes of Wrath (Steinbeck)
1939 - The Yearling (Rawlings)
1938 - The Late George Apley (Marquand)
1937 - Gone with the Wind (Mitchell)
1936 - Honey in the Horn (Davis)
1935 - Now in November (Johnson)
1934 - Lamb in His Bosom (Miller)
1933 - The Store (Stribling)
1932 - The Good Earth (Buck)
1931 - Years of Grace (Barnes)
1930 - Laughing Boy (Lafarge)
1929 - Scarlet Sister Mary (Peterkin)
1928 - The Bridge of San Luis Rey (Wilder)
1927 - Early Autumn (Bromfield)
1926 - Arrowsmith (Lewis)
1925 - So Big (Ferber)
1924 - The Able McLauglins (Wilson)
1923 - One of Ours (Cather)
1922 - Alice Adams (Tarkington)
1921 - The Age of Innocence (Wharton)
1920 - None
1919 - The Magnificent Ambersons (Tarkington)
1918 - His Family (Poole)

What American accent do you have?


You're not Northern, Southern, or Western, you're just plain American. Your national identity is more important than your local identity, because you don't really have a local identity. You might be from the region which is defined by this kind of accent, but you could easily not be. Or maybe you just moved around a lot growing up.

Personality Test Results

Click Here to Take This Quiz
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Hmmm, no, I have lived all my life in the South. Except for three years in Atlanta, I've lived in Tennessee my whole life. However, I have studied languages and once made a conscious effort to enunciate clearly and carefully so I didn't sound so "Southern" until I decided a decade or so ago that ... hey! ... I am Southern! Maybe it was too late for the South to claim my accent? Hmmm, but my non-Southern friends comment on my drawl. Maybe I simply speak my neutral accent very ... s l o w l y ?

Stephanie, I need your feedback here!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Blackwater Lightship ~ by Colm Tóibín

Title, author, date of book, and genre?
The Blackwater Lightship ~ by Colm Tóibín, 1999, fiction

What made you want to read this book?
Strange as it sounds, I wanted to read anything by the man who wrote in the book-lined cave pictured on my writing blog. Before running across a photo of a perfect writer's room, I had never heard of Colm Tóibín.

Summarize the book without giving away the ending.
It is Ireland in the early 1990s. Helen, her mother Lily, and her grandmother Dora come together to tend to Helen's brother, Declan, who is dying of AIDS. On the surface, The Blackwater Lightship is the story of a man dying of AIDS who makes the decision to reveal his homosexuality and his disease to his family and to seek their help.

What did you think of the characters? Did you think problems were believable?
The story is told from the point of view of Helen, sister of the dying Declan. In the opening pages Helen appears to be happily married with two small sons, going through her life's calm routines: tending to her children's nightmares, throwing a dinner party with her husband, taking care of her duties as a schoolteacher and administrator. Then Declan's friend Paul arrives, bringing together a family torn apart by years of resentment and mistrust. Helen bitterly hates both her mother and her grandmother, so much so that she chose not to invite them to her wedding or inform them of the births of her children. The theme of homosexuality, along with the ravages of AIDS, serves as a metaphor for the anger and mistrust that had been destroying the family for years. Helen, her mother, and her mother in turn are cold, distant women, but we begin to see why each is suspicious of the others.

What did you like about the book?
This novel works on two levels: Declan's coming to terms with his fatal illness; and the illumination in brief flashes (like the lighthouse of its title) of Helen and Declan's tortured family ties.

What do you think will be your lasting impression of this book?
The cold, bleak shore of the sea where Declan chooses to spend his last days, there in his grandmother's home ... and the coldness of the family toward each other.

How would you rate this book?
Rated: 8/10, very good book

Monday, August 13, 2007

Armchair Traveler ~ reading challenge ~ COMPLETED

Oops! Instead of six months, I finished this challenge in six weeks!

The Armchair Traveler runs from July 1 through December 31, giving us six months to read six books that fall under the "armchair traveling" theme, fiction or nonfiction as long as the location is an actual place you could visit. Books may be cross-posted to other challenges, but we cannot count any books read prior to July 1st. And one more thing ... because our host likes to have a little wiggle room, she said we can opt to switch out books throughout the challenge. I substituted two books.

1. Adios Hemingway ~ by Leonardo Padura Fuentes ~ Cuba
2. Beneath a Marble Sky ~ by John Shors ~ India
3. Language of Threads ~ by Gail Tsukiyama ~ Hong Kong
4. Latitudes of Melt ~ by Joan Clark ~ Newfoundland
5. Place Last Seen ~ by Charlotte Freeman ~ Sierra Nevadas
6. Shadows on the Rocks ~ by Willa Cather ~ Quebec

I still have three alternates:
7. Brazzaville Beach ~ by William Boyd ~ Republic of the Congo
8. Secret River ~ by Kate Grenville ~ Australia
9. With Their Backs to the World: Portraits of Serbia ~ by Asne Seierstad ~ Serbia

Originally my list included Her Fork in the Road: Women Celebrate Food and Travel edited by Lisa Bach and Italian Neighbors: or A Lapsed Anglo-Saxon in Verona by Tim Parks. However, I couldn't really get into either and returned them to the friend who suggested them. I replaced them with the two books about Cuba and Hong Kong, and I will probably continue adding to my list of "armchair travel" books through the end of this year. Watch the sidebar.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Adios Hemingway ~ by Leonardo Padura Fuentes

Title, author, date of book, and genre?
Adios Hemingway, by Leonardo Padura Fuentes, 2005, mystery

What made you want to read this book? Did it live up to your expectations?
I was looking for a book that took me to Cuba; this one did but, other than its connection to a literary personage, it isn't my kind of book. I did, however, see something of Cuba, which was what I wanted. Surely, though, there's more to Cuba than this.

Summarize the book without giving away the ending.
Adios Hemingway has two protagonists: ex-cop Mario Conde and Ernest Hemingway. When a body slain about 40 years ago is found buried on the grounds of Hemingway's Cuban estate, Conde is called in to investigate. As Conde uncovers Hemingway's last years in Cuba, Conde (now a frustrated writer) is also musing about his own life and Hemingway's writing. Since both men drink a lot, the whole book takes place in a sort of heat-and-rum haze.

Did you think the characters and their problems were believable?
The problem was to solve a murder case. The dead man is apparently an FBI agent, deduced because there was an FBI badge found in the grave with him. Except for Conde, no one in the book seems particularly concerned about solving the murder, since it is, after all, more than four decades old.

Share a quote from the book.
Hemingway thinks:
To kill while running the risk of dying is one of the apprenticeships indispensable for a man, he thought, and he was sorry that this expression, precisely as he had just formulated it, was not included in any of his stories of hunting, death and war. (p. 166)
Share a favorite scene from the book.
I didn't find one.

What about the ending?
Convenient, to be expected.

What do you think will be your lasting impression of this book?
Probably ... "the manly stench of grease and gunpowder" (p. 165), wine, whisky, gin, balls, piss, and semen ... and maybe, Ava Gardner's knickers.

How would you rate the book?
Rated: 5/10, average.

Point Last Seen ~ by Hannah Nyala

Title, author, date of book, and genre?
Point Last Seen: A Woman Tracker's Story ~ by Hannah Nyala, 1997, memoir

What made you want to read this book? Did it live up to your expectations?
Having recently read and reviewed Place Last Seen, a novel by Charlotte McGuinn Freeman, I was immediately intrigued when I saw this in a used book store yesterday. (Notice that both are about PLS.) This one is not fiction, but nonfiction, a woman writing about her own life as a tracker. Was it as good as I expected? No, mostly because it is not as well constructed as Freeman's novel. Publishers Weekly said:
This is a book that would have benefited from a professional coauthor, but even so it expresses clearly enough the resourcefulness with which Nyala has rebuilt her life, a resourcefulness that may inspire hope in others, especially women who feel trapped in desperate situations.
What do you think motivated the author to share her life story?
Nyala was married to a viciously violent man (abuse is too tame a word), and I agree with PW that her story may inspire hope in other women who feel trapped.

Do you think the author is trying to elicit a certain response from the reader, such as sympathy?
Sure, she had recently escaped from her husband, who had abducted their children, and she realized she was still being "tracked" ... though I would say her husband stalked her and (when she had one or both of them) the children. So she began to teach herself all she could about tracking in the Mojave Desert, eventually joining a National Park Service search and rescue team. This book reinforced what I learned from Wendy, who chose the novel Place Last Seen for our Something About Me reading challenge, that we need to begin seeing what is right there in front of us:
Trapped by our concepts and languages and the utter predictability of our five senses, we often forget to wonder what we're missing as we hurry along toward goals we may not even have chosen. (p. 2)

No aspect of one existence goes untouched by any other, but we seldom realize just how tightly connected we are to everything else that exists alongside us. (p. 150)
What is the best part of this book?
I love to learn, and it was exciting to see Nyala gain the ability to see a "footprint in soft grass outside a bedroom window." For her it was a matter of survival. I was impressed that her tracking skills were helpful when she studied for her degree in anthropology ... because she was trained to observe carefully. She learned even from Ju/Wasi and !Kung Bushmen trackers, taking her two children along on that trip to Africa.

What was the most disturbing part of the book?
I was so frustrated with the legal system in this country:
Her daughter Ruthie asked, "Why do they let Daddy hurt us, Mom?" (p. 117)

And her second husband finally grasped the horror of the situation when Kevin, the abuser, appeared in court "to insist on a day's unsupervised visitation despite Jon and Ruthie's tearful pleas to the judge not to let their father take them -- when he heard that the judge had said he believed the children and me [Nyala] when we told him that Kevin had abused us, but that he also believed children needed to know their biological fathers, so he was ordering a day of unsupervised visitation (with strict orders not to leave the county and with pick-up and delivery of the children at the local sheriff's office)" (pp. 152-153).
So Kevin once again abducted the children and, too late, the judge also finally got the picture. Library Journal said:
This book belongs in nature collections because of its captivating descriptions of trackers and tracking, but it also belongs in social science and woman's collections because of Nyala's triumphs over such profound abuse. Highly recommended.
How would you rate this memoir?
Rated: 8/10, very good, for the hope it could inspire in abused women.

By the way, the author has a sense of humor. She was feeling overwhelmed by the noise and clamor of a city after the peacefulness of the desert and said, "Then, thankfully, I was rescued by a bookstore" (p. 79).

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Speak ~ by Laurie Halse Anderson

Title, author, date of book, and genre?
Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson, 1999, young adult (YA) fiction

What made you want to read this book?
It's been chosen Chattanooga's A Tale for One City book for 2008, which the whole town is invited to read and discuss during the year. And I'm on the committee to arrange book discussions, reason enough to read it early. The book is also an award winner:
1999 National Book Award Finalist
School Library Journal Best Books of the Year
Booklist Editors' Choice
Summarize the book without giving away the ending.
Melinda is a friendless outcast at Merryweather High. She busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, and now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether.

From whose point of view is the story told?
Melinda, the main character. She's the one I related to the most, and I felt depressed and discouraged right along with her.

Share a quote from the book.
Nobody, it seemed, would listen to her ... or really hear her cry for help. Here are some examples of how she saw her life:
About her parents: I bet they'd be divorced by now if I hadn't been born. I'm sure I was a huge disappointment. I'm not pretty or smart or athletic. I'm just like them -- an ordinary drone dressed in secrets and lies. I can't believe we have to keep playacting until I graduate. It's a shame we can't just admit that we have failed family living, sell the house, split up the money, and get on with our lives. (p. 70)

About herself: Maybe I'll be an artist if I grow up. (p. 78)

Mr. Freeman, her art teacher: "When people don't express themselves, they die one piece at a time. You'd be shocked at how many adults are really dead inside -- walking through their days with no idea who they are, just waiting for a heart attack or cancer or a Mack truck to come along and finish the job. It's the saddest thing I know." (p. 122)

About her family: I got my "I don't want to know about it" gene from my dad and my "I'll think about it tomorrow" gene from my mom. (p. 148)

About high school: Sometimes I think high school is just one long hazing activity: if you are tough enough to survive this, they'll let you become an adult. I hope it's worth it. (p. 191)
Rated: 8/10, a very good book.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Language of Threads ~ by Gail Tsukiyama

1. Title, author, date of book, and genre?
The Language of Threads by Gail Tsukiyama, 1999, historical fiction

2. What made you want to read this book? Did it live up to your expectations?
I'm traveling in books, and this one takes me to Hong Kong; also, I have read other books by Gail Tsukiyama and especially liked The Samurai's Garden, which I'm about to re-read.

3. Summarize the book without giving away the ending.
From the publisher:
Readers of Women of the Silk never forgot the moving, powerful story of Pei, brought to work in the silk house as a girl, grown into a quiet but determined young woman whose life is subject to cruel twists of fate, including the loss of her closest friend, Lin. Now we finally learn what happened to Pei, as she leaves the silk house for Hong Kong in the 1930s, arriving with a young orphan, Ji Shen, in her care. Her first job, in the home of a wealthy family, ends in disgrace, but soon Pei and Ji Shen find a new life in the home of Mrs. Finch, a British ex-patriate who welcomes them as the daughters she never had. Their idyllic life is interrupted, however, by war, and the Japanese occupation. Pei is once again forced to make her own way, struggling to survive and to keep her extended family alive as well.
I used the publisher's blurb because it mentions a previous book about the main character, Pei, which I have not read. Nevertheless, I had no trouble understanding where Pei was in her life as she arrived in Hong Kong without her mentor as she also tried to mentor a younger woman herself. When they arrived, Hong Kong was part of the British empire. It fell to the Japanese in 1941, but historical notes say the occupation lasted only "three years and eight months." To Pei and her new family it seemed like an eternity.

4. What did you think of the main character?
I like books about strong women who figure out what they must do to survive, and Pei is strong and determined, even as she worries that she won't know how to manage.

5. From whose point of view is the story told?
Usually from Pei's viewpoint, but also from the POV of the orphaned Ji Shen, the British expatriate Mrs. Finch, and Song Lee, who helped the "silk sisters" who escaped the mainland and came to Hong Kong. Occasionally a section is seen through the eyes of Pei's sister Li, and in one section the POV is Ho Yung's. Ho Yung is the brother of Pei's mentor and friend, Lin, and his face always reminds Pei of Lin, lost to her before this book began.

6. Which character could you relate to best, and why?
Maybe it's because of our ages that I identify with Mrs. Caroline Finch, in Hong Kong because of her husband's job, but now widowed. Mrs. Finch chose to stay even when other British expatriates were leaving ahead of the arrival of the Japanese army. Pei and Ji Shen became her loving family.

7. Were there any other especially interesting characters?
I like Ho Yung, the brother of Pei's friend, who went out of his way to help Pei and Ji Shen. He was a truly good man with both connections and money, who was also the right age, so I watched and waited for the romantic interest. And then there was Quan, a thin teenage rickshaw puller who met Pei and Ji Shen at the dock; he was smitten with Ji Shen. (Smitten? Sheesh, I must be getting old!)

8. Did you think the characters and their problems were believable?
Oh, yes! How to survive on your own in a new and strange city, how to survive back-stabbing co-workers, how to survive the Japanese invasion and occupation, how to make the black market work well enough to have food and necessities for your family. Very believable.

9. Was location important to the story? Was the time period important to the story?
Yes, on both counts. World War Two, when the Japanese were taking over the Pacific ... and specifically, Hong Kong.

10. What do you think will be your lasting impression of this book?
I'll remember the friendships among women, those "silk sisters" who helped others from the trade as they arrived in Hong Kong, the way they all banded together to find housing and work for the new arrivals. Pei was not the only strong one in this book.

Rated: 8/10, a very good book.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Scientists need poets

Okay, this post is not about a book, but an article. Chet Raymo uses the poet Ted Hughes to show that "scientists need poets to teach us how to see." As I read this article, I could see more in a poem by Ted Hughes because the scientist read it through scientific eyes. Let me share one paragraph of the article, then the link so you can read it yourself:
At poem's end, a lifeless young swift is cupped in the poet's hand, in "balsa death." What a phrase! By it we are made to feel the surprising unheaviness of the bird in the hand, the hollowed-out bones and wire-thin struts beneath the skin of feathers, a tiny machine perfected by 100 million years of evolution to skim on air, as light as balsa.
The article Science and Metaphor can be read here.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

One Thousand White Women ~ by Jim Fergus

1. Title, author, date of book, and genre?
One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd, by Jim Fergus, 1998, historical fiction

2. Summarize the book without giving away the ending.
Jim Fergus got the idea for this novel from an actual historical event; at a peace conference at Fort Laramie, a prominent Northern Cheyenne chief requested of the U.S. Army authorities the gift of 1,000 white women as brides for his young warriors. Because theirs is a matrilineal society in which all children born belong to their mother's tribe, this seemed to the Cheyennes to be the perfect means of assimilation into the white man's world, a world they already recognized held no place for them. Needless to say, this request was not well received by the white authorities, and nothing came of it. In the novel the women come west.

One Thousand White Women is the story of May Dodd's journey west in 1874. Committed to an insane asylum by her blueblood family for an affair with a man beneath her station, May finds that her only hope of freedom is to participate in a secret government program whereby women from the "civilized" world become the brides of Cheyenne warriors. She soon falls in love with John Bourke, a gallant young army captain, even though she has promised to marry the great chief Little Wolf.

3. What did you think of the main character?
May Dodd is a rebel, shown earlier by her living with a man who was unacceptable to her family and having two children by him. Not only is May a rebel, she is also a strong-willed person who does what it takes to have a life. She sounds like a woman of the 21st century, doesn't she? May must somehow survive in the harsh world of the Cheyenne, living on the Plains during the heat of summer and the blizzards of winter. She misses her two children and hopes to have a child with Little Wolf, her new husband.

4. Which character could you relate to best, and why?
Different ones at different times. May's friend Martha worked at the insane asylum and helped her forge papers, which her family would NEVER have signed, so she could escape the asylum and go west with the BFI program (Brides for Indians). Then Martha signed up to go with her! Probably May was the one I related best to, simply because she was the one whose motivations were most evident in her own journals. Writing out my life is another thing I can relate to, though I don't write my way straight through journals as May did.

5. Were there any other especially interesting characters?
All of the women in May's group were fleshed out very well by the author, and each in her own way was interesting. I like the artist among them, Helen, who laughed about being "discovered" by savages; she became someone prized among the warriors, who wanted her to paint birds on their chests before they rode into battle. The most notable of the brides, in my opinion, was Phemie who had been a slave and did NOT intend to be a slave ever again. She was fierce enough to become part of the group of hunters, even though she was a woman. Even more astounding, to the Cheyennes as well as the soldiers and their wives at the fort, Phemie rode her horse wearing nothing but a loin-cloth, as the men did. Let people think what they liked.

6. Did you think the characters and their problems were believable?
When May marries Little Wolf, she moves into a crowded tipi with his two other wives, their children, and an old crone who enforces the rules. Can you imagine sex in a tipi with your husband's first two wives ... and children ... present? And that was not the hard part; can you imagine the only opportunity to bathe being the icy river? Or "going" behind a bush? The women were the ones who were to pack up when the tribe moved, and it was a nomadic community. It was interesting to watch the women gradually discard high-heeled shoes in the wilderness and get over their squeamishness about all sorts of things.

7. From whose point of view is the story told?
May, who keeps the journal we read. Reading about life among the Cheyenne is spellbinding, especially when the women show up the braves at arm-wrestling, foot-racing, bow-shooting, and gambling.

8. Was location important to the story?
I usually had no idea where "we" were because the story moved across the Plains. The women were taken to Fort Robinson to be exchanged for the 1,000 horses (did I mention that?), so I looked up the place. As you can see by this historical marker, it was in Nebraska.

9. Was the time period important to the story?
Yes, because this could have happened only in a narrow window of time, as the white soldiers and settlers were shoving the native tribes from their land by force.

10. Was the story told chronologically? Was there foreshadowing?
Yes, chronologically with May telling the story as it happened. Of course, there were "flashbacks," which were simply May comparing her life then and now. We all do that, telling the story of how we got to this point in our lives.

11. Did you think the story was funny, sad, touching, disturbing, moving?
Disturbing has to be at the top of the list, disturbing that Europeans invaded the "new world" and displaced people who were already here, disturbing that we never kept our treaties, disturbing atrocities we inflicted on a whole race of people. Yes, of course they fought back. I cannot but say that "we" spoke with forked tongue.

12. Share a quote from the book.
I'll share three, two of which "answer" the other, in a round-about way. First, some background. On the way to be exchanged for horses, the brides spent some time at a fort, where May had a brief fling with Captain John Bourke. (I was surprised to find out in the bibliography that there really WAS such a person, who wrote a book: On the Border with Crook, by John G. Bourke, 1891.)
"They are Stone Age people, May," said the Captain, "pagans who have never evolved beyond their original place in the animal kingdom, have never been uplifted by the beauty and nobility of civilization. They have no religion beyhond superstitution, no art beyond stick figures scratched on rock, no music besides that made by beating a drum. They do not read or write. ... Listen to me, May: they do not think as we do. They do not live as we do" (p. 80).

May: "Frankly, from the way I have been treated by the so-called 'civilized' people in my life, I rather look forward to residency among the savages" (p. 46).

May thinks that "possibly the reason the aboriginals have made scant contributions to world literature and art, is that they are simply too busy living -- moving, hunting, working -- without the luxury of time to record the process, or even, as Gertie suggested, to ponder it" (p. 186). (Gertie was another of the brides.)
13. What about the ending?
The ending was inevitable, when I thought about it. Not what I would call a happy ending, and yet there was something right about it.

14. What do you think will be your lasting impression of this book?
How difficult life was on the Plains, yet how right for the Cheyenne people. How difficult at first for the brides, yet how they learned to fit right in and enjoyed their new life.

15. Which readers are most likely to enjoy this book, and why?
Those who like strong protagonists (main characters), and those who want to know more about life in a fairly recent period of history. The older I get, the closer it seems the "past" becomes. From 1874 to my birth in 1940 is 66 years; we are now 67 years beyond 1940, meaning that someone from that time was probably still alive when I was born. The year of my birth will be as "ancient" to my grandchildren as 1874 seems to me. That's amazing, when I look at the differences between life in 1874 and life now. My mother's mother was born about that time, in 1880, and my daughter's daughter was born in 2000 ... that's a span of 120 years between my grandmother and my granddaughter, and I have known them both. Wow!

16. How would you rate the book?
Rated: 9.5/10, couldn't put it down.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Imagination station

Books (and art) can take us anywhere!

One of 37 pictures at Seamless picture series.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Quebec City

Booklogged also saw Quebec City. This picture of how steep the area is helps me picture what Willa Cather wrote about. You can enlarge the photo by clicking on it.

See my review of Shadows on the Rock posted Wednesday. Here's what Booklogged said about Quebec:
We arrived in Quebec City at around 3:30 PM. This afforded us time to a take a bus tour of the city. ... Perched strategically high above the St. Lawrence, Quebec is the only walled city remaining in North America. The Citadel, well designed to defend the city, and the walls surrounding the city are well maintained. All of the buildings within the walls are old and full of history and character. The streets inside are narrow and winding and seem very European. ... Beneath the walls on the St. Lawrence side is the old lower city. It has been largely reconstructed around a few old buildings that are nearly 400 years old. ... The streets are open only to pedestrians.
Ha! She also wrote of the province of Quebec: "This end of Quebec is entirely French speaking. We found few who could even get by in a little bit of English." Yep, I'd have a hard time there!

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Icebergs off Newfoundland

While I was reading Latitudes of Melt by Joan Clark, Booklogged and her husband Candleman were actually IN Newfoundland, Canada, taking photos of icebergs! This one was floating offshore at a village near Gander. [CORRECTION: Booklogged says it was off the northern tip of Newfoundland. See her comment on this post.]

Click on the photo to enlarge it. I'm reading the journal of their travels and have gone from Utah to Newfoundland with them so far. This is so much fun, traveling in books and discovering another book blogger is seeing IN PERSON what I'm seeing in my book! Read what they wrote and photographed that day by clicking this:

And here's what I think of Latitudes of Melt, the novel by Joan Clark that I was reading while they were there:

It is 1912 when some fishermen, separated from their ship and rowing back to shore, discover a baby girl adrift on an ice floe in the North Atlantic. One of the men takes her home with him, naming her Aurora because of her dawn rescue at sea. This strange, pale little girl becomes part of the his family. Aurora is a plucky and independent person, which I guess she would have to be, growing up on the austere Newfoundland coast. As a young woman she marries Tom the lighthouse keeper, and they have two children: Nancy and Stanley.

Nancy is not like her mother and grows up wanting to be everything Aurora isn't. Stanley, on the other hand, has his mother's passion for exploration; he becomes "Stan the ice man" because he learns all about ice and is an expert on icebergs and the way they scour the ocean floor as they move. Imagine icebergs drifting down the Labrador Current and grounding in the coves and bays outside your windows. These people live on the coast of Newfoundland, which lies smack-dab in the middle of the "latitudes of melt" (p. 166).

Nancy's daughter, Sheila, is the one who is most curious about why her grandmother Aurora was on the ice in 1912 ... shortly after the sinking of the Titanic. So Sheila sets out to unravel Aurora's mysterious past. Does she? Sure, but that's no spoiler; all through the book, we are given hints, once we even get a name from someone trying to learn about a baby. That person, however, was deliberately misled ... don't you wonder why?

My lasting impression of this book will be the beauty and danger of icebergs; I'll also remember Joan Clark's beautiful writing. Here's how she wrote about an injured and sedated character:
I am on the sea. Am I following Stanley? How strange that I should be floating on the water, when as far back as I can remember I've been afraid of the sea. I'm not afraid now, perhaps because I'm imagining myself as a little boat toddling down the bay. I'm no bigger than a skiff, but I'm perfectly seaworthy and know how to mould myself to the water as the swells lift me up and down. I take my time, drifting into coves and tickles, inlets and bights, on my leisurely journey through the latitudes of melt, idling past capes and points and beaches in no hurry to reach the place of trespass, the bay of souls.
I've thought about this book and this place for a couple weeks now, during and after my reading. This is one of the best books I've read recently. Here's my earlier review that got no comments and, apparently, no one's interest: You really should read the book. Rated: 9/10, an excellent book!

UPDATE: I found this news story, showing that Aurora's story in the novel Latitudes of Melt was possible.

Canadians Identify Child Aboard Titanic
By Associated Press, Tuesday, July 31, 2007

HALIFAX - For years, Titanic buffs knew him simply as the Unknown Child. Buried in a small plot in a Halifax cemetery, the baby was a poignant symbol of the children who perished on the vessel when it sank in 1912. ... DNA tests showed the boy is Sidney Leslie Goodwin, whose family perished aboard the ship on their way to Niagara Falls, N.Y.

Researchers had used samples of the child's DNA they had exhumed in 2001, including three teeth and a small piece of bone. ... the team went ... to the Goodwins and found a surviving maternal relative who submitted DNA evidence. Tests showed a match. It's believed that Goodwin, his parents and five siblings boarded the massive steamliner in Southampton, England, as third-class passengers. The father, an electrician, was headed to New York to work at a power plant.

Friday, August 3, 2007

The Higher Power of Lucky ~ by Susan Patron

I frequently read YA and children's books, but I haven't reviewed any here. It changes with this one, which I discovered when I read 3M's review of this 134-page book for children 9 to 12. From the dustjacket:
Lucky, age ten, can't wait another day. The meanness gland in her heart and the crevices full of questions in her brain make running away from Hard Pan, California (population 43), the rock-bottom only choice she has.

It's all Brigitte's fault -- for wanting to go back to France. Guardians are supposed to stay put and look after girls in their care! Instead Lucky is sure that she'll be abandoned to some orphanage in Los Angeles where her beloved dog, HMS Beagle, won't be allowed. She'll have to lose her friends Miles, who lives on cookies, and Lincoln, future U.S. president (maybe) and member of the International Guild of Knot Tyers. Just as bad, she'll have to give up eavesdropping on twelve-step anonymous programs where the interesting talk is all about Higher Powers. Lucky needs her own -- and quick.

But she hadn't planned on a dust storm, Or needing to lug the world's heaviest survival-kit backpack into the desert.
How can anyone resist such a story? I didn't have any books like this to read in 1950 when I was ten! It's a great book for children, but I also recommend The Higher Power of Lucky to moms and grandmothers, too, so we can remember what it's like to be ten years old. That's old enough to know all kinds of things, but not quite mature enough to understand them. And why is Lucky wearing a flowing red dress on the book's cover and carrying an urn?

Her friend Lincoln is a nerd and a word-person, as I have been since at least the age of two. Let me give you an example: Lincoln was so annoyed by a sign that said SLOW CHILDREN AT PLAY, that he had to "fix" it. He didn't want people to think that the children around there, including Lucky and himself, were SLOW, so........
Lincoln did something brilliant. Next to SLOW, he drew two neat perfect-size dots, one like a period and the other a little above it. Lucky knew it was a colon and it made the sign mean, "You must drive slow. There are children at play" (p. 24).
For readers who are as brilliant and "presidential" as Lincoln, the author adds a page at the end of the book showing which books are mentioned in Lucky's story, how to reach the website for the International Guild of Knot Tyers, and the little prayer Lucky hears at the twelve-step meetings:
God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
Courage to change the things we can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Now THIS is a real booklover's kind of book! No wonder it won the John Newbery Medal. Rated: 9/10, an excellent book.

Tricia's Response to the Lucky Debate

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Shadows on the Rock ~ by Willa Cather

1. Title, author, and date of book?
Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather, 1931

2. Genre: historical fiction

3. What made you want to read it? Did it live up to your expectations?
The setting is Quebec, Canada, and I am reading books that allow me to be an armchair traveler. This book shows quite well the French origins of the town and area, but I needed translations of the frequent French exchanges, which the author did not provide.

4. Summarize the book without giving away the ending.
Shadows on the Rock was written after Willa Cather discovered Quebec City during an unplanned stay in 1928 and reflects her fascination with finding a little piece of France in eastern Canada. Set in the late seventeenth century, the novel centers on the activities of the widowed apothecary Euclide Auclair and his young daughter, Cecile. To Auclair's house and shop come trappers, missionaries, craftsmen, the indigent — in other words, those seeking cures, a taste of France, or liberation from the corruptions caused there by the excesses of the French court. Set against these fictional characters are historical personages such as Bishop Laval and Count Frontenac.

5. Did you think the characters and their problems were believable?
The characters were very believable, but it seemed to me that their problems were all minor. I couldn't decide whether Auclair or his daughter Cecile was the main character, but I eventually hoped Cecile would be able to stay in Canada, as she wanted to.

6. Was the time period important to the story?
This historical novel tells the story of early Kebec, set on a rock alongside the river. Supply ships from France were unable to make the voyage during the winter months, so the settlers had to plan carefully to have adequate provisions in order to survive during the winter.

7. Share a quote from the book.
He would die here, in this room, and his spirit would go before God to be judged. He believed this, because he had been taught it in childhood, and because he knew there was something in himself and in other men that this world did not explain.
I won't say who thinks this because it could possibly be a spoiler for someone.

8. What do you think will be your lasting impression of this book?
I'm sure I'll remember the ROCK. I've never been to Quebec, and this book has made me curious about the arrangement of the city above the river.

9. Which readers are most likely to enjoy this book, and why?
Those who like historical fiction and/or want to visit a beautiful city via a book written by a master. It won't appeal to anyone who is looking for action with bloody mayhem.

10. How would you rate this book?
Rated: 7.5/10, a good book.


UPDATE: See also my post about "Quebec City."

Cats are all over this blog!

Miaow, no treats, but I found a mouse. Not very lively, though.

Oh, no, there are cats all over this page, all looking for treats ... 18 ... 19 ... 20 ... probably more! And I've already given out all the treats to cats who got here earlier. Dewey, Neco, Colleen, Susan, Margreet, anybody! May I borrow some cat treats, please? Oh, now they are playing with my computer! Help, someone!

They are even on the FLOOR of this blog! Shoo! Go home!

...25 ... 26 ... was that a dog? ... 27 ... 28 ...
Here, kitty-kitty-kitty-kitty.
Please, people, take your cats HOME. Kitty-kitty-kitty-kitty-kitty!
No, don't use your claws! Be a nice little kitty ... ouch! Bad kitty!

WARNING: If you are allergic to cats, please wear a face mask while reading my blog this week.

No-no-no, cat, not there! Grrrrrrrr, where are the paper towels?

Woof ... I mean, MEOW ... we like treats too!

Oh, good grief! Someone just told me a couple of kittens went to the wrong blog and are worried about the ocean in my Words from a Wordsmith post. Are cats showing up on anyone else's blogs?

Hello, little kittens, it took you long enough to find the right blog!