Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Challenge for 2010

First, do you pronounce it "two thousand ten" or "twenty ten"? Post in comments... this is something that makes me tilt the cup more and say, "O-10!"

2009 was the year where I read whatever I wanted. 2010 is the year where I read whatever others want me to read.

Send me your recommendations, favorites, or new books. I promise to stick to only this list for 2010, and I am aiming for 100 books. This will be quite a feat because I also have to finish my novel or my hair will be dark red forever.

I have kept a list of "you should read"s for a year, but I will continue to add to the list. In contrast to the past, I am including an email address again: I miss the crazy comments that anonymous people like to make. Don't worry... I'll share.


Mushy stuff ahead: move on to CeleBitchy or Book Slut if it would provide disturbing images.

Thank you for your support. After watching "Julie and Julia," my dear husband turned to me and said, "Why can't your blog be about something else?" I could (and will) have a year dedicated to reading 365 books (2012), but a movie about it would be horribly boring.

However, I have met some amazing, uber-cool people through this blog. I have talked to radio d.j.s in Greece and Italy and been quizzed about my "true alcoholism" by potential employers. This blog used to receive twelve hits per week, and I knew six of them were my own. Now, I receive 4,000-8,000 per week. Y'all are too quiet! Speak up!

Anyway, I am grateful that you choose to waste your time here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Best of 2009 - Books for Breakfast-style

These are the books that received my highest ratings (listed here in order, with best ratings at the top). I left out any glowing reference to Diana Gabaldon, and if you are a reader of this blog, you know why. Otherwise, search her name.

It is always humbling to rate someone else's work, whether it is a grade or a proposal or a book. Why should anyone listen to me?

Perhaps because I have read books since I was five years old. Perhaps because I am also a writer, so I understand the nuances of characterization and imagery. Or, perhaps it is simply because I have read more than 600 books in my lifetime, so I have an idea of what appeals to other readers.

So, sit down with a cup of cocoa and peppermint schnaaps, and make your reading list for next year:

THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE ~ David Wroblewski (4.75) - I hate when Oprah is correct.

THE SKY ALWAYS HEARS ME AND THE HILLS DON'T MIND ~ Kirstin Cronn-Mills (4.75) - a powerful new voice in YA writing.

WOLF HALL ~ Hilary Mantel (4.75) - I laughed, I snickered, I loved the bitchy dialogue.

BEND WITH THE KNEES AND OTHER LOVE ADVICE FROM MY FATHER ~ Benjamin Drevlow (4.5) - short stories with long reverberations.

THE GARGOYLE ~ Andrew Davidson (4.5) - still hits me as I think of it, and not many books can resonate for months or years.

OUTLIERS: THE STORY OF SUCCESS ~ Malcolm Gladwell (4.5) - I still think about the messages in this book.

THE HELP ~ Kathryn Stockett (4.3) - recent read, but it is still weighing on my mind.

WELL DESERVED ~ Michael Loyd Gray (4.3) - unexpected beauty in writing about darkness.

DROOD ~ Dan Simmons (4.25) - it's Dan Simmons? And Charles Dickens! Need I write more?

IN THE WAKE OF THE BOATMAN ~ Jonathon Scott Fuqua (4.25) - prose that made me realize I will never be a "literary" writer.

THE CHILDREN'S BOOK ~ A.S. Byatt (4.25) - epic storytelling without the fairy tale ending.

THE LIGHTNING THIEF ~ Rick Riordan (4.25) - "say it's sick writing."

THE WEIGHT OF HEAVEN ~ Thrity Umrigar (4.25) - the weight of reality; if this does not make you grateful, I do not know what will.

THE DEAD FISH MUSEUM ~ Charles D'Ambrosio (4.0) - the new king of one line intros and conclusions, and I am ill with jealousy.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO ~ Stieg Larsson (4.0) - twisty-turny mystery for a quick read.

JOSEF JAEGAR ~ Jere' M. Fishback (4.0) - thank you to publishers who are finally letting these types of YA stories out into the world.

THE MEMOIRS OF CLEOPATRA ~ Margaret George (4.0) - a luxurious read, especially in a freezing environment.

SOMEDAY THIS PAIN WILL BE USEFUL TO YOU ~ Peter Cameron (4.0) - a copy will go to teens I want to encourage.


What will the goal be for 2010? You shall find out within the week. I promise.

65. THE HELP - Kathryn Stockett

For the love of Thor, get this book. Read it in your book groups. Discuss it. Ruminate. Journal about it. I finished it days ago and could not write this review because I keep thinking about it.

Set in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, all of the maids ("colored" or "nigra") wait on white women during their bridge games, parent the family's children, scrub the house, cook the meals, and say, "Yes Ma'am" and count the silver. She will use a separate bathroom, and she cannot eat with the family. If one is fired for backtalk or thievery, the head of Jackson society, Miss Hilly, will ensure that woman will never be employed in that town again.

Miss Skeeter, daughter of a cotton grower and his former-debutante wife, has bigger plans than the diamond on the finger and kids in the nursery. She wants to be a writer. Through her determination, she gets to talk to a New York agent. When told to come up with something no one talks about, Skeeter realizes that the relationship between the maids and their employers is a sharp subject. The problem is that no one wants to talk for fear of what Miss Hilly, one of Skeeter's best friends, will do if she finds out.

Minny and Aibileen are wonderful characters as the first maids to speak of their experiences to Skeeter. However, even with Skeeter's kindness during this racially-wrought period (Kennedy forcing the governor to allow a black student into "Ole Miss," the rise before Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech), I wonder of the irony of her motives. She is using black women to get ahead. I wonder at the author's motives - a white woman writing in black vernacular.

The book made me think and analyze and create opinions. What could be more delicious?

4.3 out of 5.0 So-Co Teas.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

64. THE YEAR OF THE FLOOD - Margaret Atwood

About a third of the way into this book, I thought, "Have I read this?" and flipped it over. "Praise for Oryx and Crake" the back copy exclaimed. I almost stopped reading.

I read Oryx and Crake before I began this blog, but if I had to rate it, I would have given it a 2.25 out of 5.0 Stupidity DNAs.

Atwood, whom I have adored in the past, makes me believe we may be having relationship problems now.

At the end of Oryx/Crake (spoilers), Jimmy the Snowman is left in a tree, the DNA-manipulated perfect species of blue-penis-waving men and big busted women singing happily along the ocean.

The Flood tells how Jimmy got there, though through the eyes of God's Gardeners, a nature-cult that would make PETA look like a Burger King. Living off of organic food grown in their roof gardens, they listen to Adam One and sing a lot of hymns. Personally, the hymns were annoying additions, but a couple held humorous references (like Saint Dian Fossey - who died while studying the silver-backed gorillas). Adam One tells the Gardeners of the Waterless Flood that will cleanse the earth.

However, it is Toby and Ren who are the leaders in this book. Toby had once eaten meat and worked at "A Noo Yoo" spa, while Ren was a stripper/sex servant at a local security-approved brothel. At once point, Toby is Ren's teacher, but it is the very weak connections to Crake and Jimmy that link this book to Atwood's "prequel."

Does the waterless flood occur? Yes, you know this if you read the first book. By the way Atwood ended this novel, we are not finished with her fiendish obsession with the future yet. Expect a sequel in a few years, and people will buy it because it is Margaret Atwood. Not this girl. Some of my favorite authors have fallen in love with their characters to the point where the plot or narrative becomes unbelievable and annoying. While Atwood wants to show the world a unique perspective on where we may exist with DNA testing, gene splicing, and government rule (in this case, being privatized), I wonder if she considers the waste of trees being used to distribute her messages.

1.75 out of 5.0 Gorilla Farts.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

"Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it flips over, pinning you underneath. At night, the ice weasels come."

~ Matt Groening

Our ice weasel comes in the form of a ginger-haired, flexible, death-proof squirrel. Of course, the Effin' Ranch has many of these creatures. They create gangs: gray squirrels versus red. There are secret handshakes and everything.

However, one of these death squirrels discovered a way to squeeze into the attic through the corner eave of the roof. He left the gang calling card: a black walnut and pile of poo.

We are not pacifists. The boys (including the largest, oldest one) play Halo. I have been known to scream, "Beat him down!" during one son's football game. Mice caught in the basement get hooted out the door and into the garbage bin. And I will admit that I laughed out loud, frightening our dogs, when I saw Mr. Squirrel try to get in with a pawful of acorns, then fall two stories to the snow below... and run away from our German Shepherd mix, Savvy, who had been waiting with her jaws open.

So, the largest (for another six months), oldest male pounded a slab of wood into the corner, either blocking out our errant ice weasel or sealing it for an Egyptian-style death.

Not to be deterred by a simple wood block, this blasted squirrel is testing the remainder of the roof. His means? A black walnut. He means business. As I try to answer student email or grade papers, I hear the tap-tap-tap of his gang knock, and I freeze. He'll wait, like a perverted stalker, and - tap-tap-tap - knock somewhere on the opposite side of the house. I spin around, surrounded by these knocks and taps and warnings that if I step outside, I will be shanked with a black walnut.

Gray squirrels - good for a replacement if possum is not available. Red squirrels - just let 'em go.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

"Dance like it hurts,/ Love like you need money,/ Work when people are watching." - Scott Adams

Well said.

My annual yearly review is always around my birthday. For you naughty readers (who are not reminded infernally by Facebook), it is in the beginning of November. I think about what I achieved that birth year, as well as what I would like to set as goals in the future.

For once, I rocked my year. I made my goals. In fact, I surpassed them.

Pooh on me, but I am going to keep them private. Still, I felt like giving myself an award (I did) and a lot of recognition (still doing it - obviously). Several pats on the back (and on the arse - why not? it's not sexual harassment if it is yourself and you work at home) later, and I still needed to figure out my next birth year goals.

Shared goal number one: internet-free Sundays. Ahem, by reading the date and timestamp of this entry, you will see how that goal is working out for me.

Shared goal number two: finish the damn book. Seriously, or my hair will remain dark auburn eggplant fire, and I already miss my "natural" dark blond.

Shared goal number three: learn more about Buddhism. I've studied other religions (see past blogs about the Torah and Qur'an experiences), but I am drawn to the ideas of Buddhism. I love saying "namaste" in yoga class (some smartass is going to tell me that is Sanskrit). I like the idea of free-flowing energy. Lotus blossoms smell nice. And saying, "Ohm!" very loudly frightens away raccoons, possums, and errant wild kids.

But I have so many questions, like do I have to become a vegan? Why do some people see Jesus or saints during meditation, while I use the entire time telling myself, "Shut up. Stop it. Quit it. Don't make me pull over and force you to not think."

Can I still have PMS? Do I need to bless the Japanese ladybug beetles that squirt nastiness on me before I squish them? Can I still use sarcasm? How often? What about alcohol? Oh, Buddha, what about alcohol?

I am reading The Heart of the Buddha's Teachings, and I love how Hanh uses poetry to express parts of Buddhism. It is inspiring without being cultish... so far.


The best reads of 2009 will be posted in a couple weeks, as well as the official Books for Breakfast reading goal for 2010. I think you will have fun with it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

63. MEDICUS - Ruth Downie

Based in second century Deva (a town in Britannia, or England), this first book in a series by new author, Ruth Downie, is a fun, quickie read for lovers of early British history (like me) and mysteries (like most of readers).

The new "medicus" for the Roman fort in Deva named Gaius Ruso has lost his father, his wife, and a lot of money in trying to repay debts on his family farm. Now, he is mystified by the loss of two women who were - ahem - "employees" at the local brothel. Although no one in the town seems to care about the dead women, or the questions by Ruso, he continues to examine the case, collecting a slave (accidentally) and a new commanding officer in the process.

Ruso could be a Roman Dr. House without the drug addiction. He is a bit irritable, yet his sarcasm and dry wit create an interesting character. The scenes with the dialogue between Ruso and his friend/competitor/fellow medicus, Valens, have been noted by other reviewers as reminiscent of Trapper John in M.A.S.H. I simply found them charming.

Personally, I will like this book much more than others because it contains information about the dwindling Briton tribes of the time, such as the Brigantes. After writing about these mythical times in ancient Britain, it is reassuring to see familiar names and symbols.

However, many will approve of the mystery, though it is rather predictable. The characters definitely carry the book on their shoulders, and I look forward to reading her future work.

3.0 out of 5.0 Roman Riots.

62. THE MEMOIRS OF CLEOPATRA - Margaret George

After reading Margaret George's novel about Mary, Queen of Scots, I knew that I wanted to try another one of her historical books. The Memoirs of Cleopatra did not disappoint.

Julius Caesar and Marc Antony are two of ancient Rome's greatest figures, and both became the lovers (and husbands - with a question mark?) of Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt and the Nile. Most of my prior information about her involved Marc Antony (Shakespeare, the film with Liz Taylor), as well as her infamous death. However, this book is so meticulously researched that every lush, decadent detail about both the queen and her realm pulls the reader into the story.

From her childhood - the rebellion of her sisters to hold the throne over her father - through the many battles against Rome, I thought this was a historical fiction dreamland. The romantic elements involving her loves, Caesar and Antony, brought a warmth to an otherwise formidable figure on the page.

Topping 900 pages, it is a challenge for the most devoted reader. If you like historical novels, though, and especially enjoy learning new information (such cities! what characters and leaders!), you will be engulfed by this book for many wintry nights.

4.0 out of 5.0 Caesars.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

61. THE MONSTER OF FLORENCE - Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi

When Mario Spezi, a young journalist in Florence, took a Sunday shift at the newspaper's crime desk, he had no idea that it would lead to a 40-plus year entanglement with Italy's most notorious serial killer.

When Douglas Preston, a mystery writer, decided to pursue the story with Spezi's help, he had no idea that he and Spezi would soon be the center of the investigation.

This is not a book of fiction, but the analysis of the serial killer Spezi labeled, "The Monster of Florence," the botched investigations following the murders, and the crazy allegations that caused dishonor upon many families and shamed one man enough to kill himself.

While the killer has never been caught, Spezi and Preston give a full account of the modern theories. However, the book's publicity seems to imply that they know who is the killer. I was disappointed to find no allegations in my U.S. copy (probably due to libel laws). Overall, it is an interesting enough read for real-crime lovers. For my personal tastes, I found the study of Italy in these pages much more fascinating.

2.75 out of 5.0 Italian Surfers.