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Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Floss!

My life just continues to normalize!! Yea! Here's the *drumroll please....return of Friday Floss! Just for the the fun of it and in honor of this week's inauguration, this weeks simple 5 question quiz is about inaugurations. (I really stunk up the joint too, I only got 2 correct. My history teachers would smack my knuckles with a ruler....)

Good Luck!!

Inauguration Day Quiz

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Family Bones by Kimberly Raiser

The Family Bones by Kimberly Raiser is a debut novel by an imaginative young author. The story follows a family that has just inherited property in a tiny little town in Pennsylvania. The Weavers can't wait to check out their new place, and are hoping for a quiet, simple small town life for themselves and their young kids. The property comes complete with the requisite weird/friendly caretaker and his oddly creepy son, along with lots of mysterious tunnels, hidden rooms and things that go bump in the night. Throughout the course of the book, we discover that all isn't what it seems even within the Weaver family. There are secrets there as well........

When I first started The Family Bones, I thought I was reading a spooky horror type novel. It quickly morphed into a straight mystery, with a touch of "mysterious shadowy group" thrown in. Then it changed once more into a SciFi thriller. I guess it could be called a Horror/SciFi/Conspiracy Murder mystery. And that is really sort of the biggest problem for this reader. Ms. Raiser is an inventive storyteller, and has simply packed a lot into this slim novel. I would have really enjoyed getting to know much more about the background story of many of the characters. Interesting, peculiar and eccentric folks fill this book, and much is mentioned in passing. I hope that the author is planning on fleshing out these people further. It would make the book much longer, but be so much more satisfying to this reader.

The Family Bones has a lot of potential, the author does a superb job of setting the tone. Her descriptions of time and place are spot on, and she paints us a very good picture of the locations contained within her pages. I think if the character development is brought along, Kimberly Raiser has an interesting and productive future ahead of her.

My rating:

Go see Gran Torino this weekend!

I kept planning on mentioning this, but just never quite got around to it. Now that the weekend is upon us, go see Clint Eastwood's newest, Gran Torino. I thought it was just a really great movie.

The day we saw it, the theater was quite full, and yet nobody moved for about 30 seconds after the closing credits started to roll. And I noticed that as everyone filed out, it was as quiet as a group leaving church. For some reason, nobody spoke until out in the lobby. The ending wasn't shocking or anything like that, it was a very good ending. I was really surprised by the audience reaction. I don't know what it meant, but I really liked the film. Well worth your time!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I'm such a nerd......

.....that when I checked the Astronomy Picture of the Day on NASA's website, I had to post it here...oh brother.....

From Blogger Pictures

Astronomy Picture of the Day

What's happening over that town? Close inspection shows these strange columns of light occur over bright lights, and so likely involve falling ice crystals reflecting back these lights. The reason why these pillars fan out at the top, however, is currently unknown. The above image and several similar images were taken with a standard digital camera in Sigulda, Latvia last month. The air was noted to be quite cold and indeed filled with small ice crystals, just the type known to create several awe-inspiring but well known sky phenomena such as light pillars, sun pillars, sun dogs, and moon halos. The cold and snowy winter occurring this year in parts of Earth's northern hemisphere is giving sky enthusiasts new and typically unexpected opportunities to see several of these unusual optical atmospheric phenomena for themselves.

(Pretty cool, huh? Okay, gonna go paint now...)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Testimony by Anita Shreve

Testimony by Anita Shreve portrays the events on the campus of an exclusive private prep school. A video is made of 3 young basketball players and a sexually precocious 14 year old girl. The sex scandal explodes, and this story is told through the voices of those involved. Participants, family members, townsfolk and faculty are all heard in this brilliant study of a scandal.

I've not read any of Anita Shreve's past work, and I think that I've really been missing out on a great author. Testimony is similar to cases we've read about in the news; the Duke Lacrosse scandal comes to mind. But in this case, we're privy to the thoughts and actions of participants and observers. This gives us perspectives that we may never have considered in the past. The line between guilt and innocence become a bit blurred and our shifting perspective challenges our ideas of right and wrong. Occasionally, near the beginning of the novel, it is a bit difficult to keep the large cast of characters straight and there were times when I would have to go back a few chapters to refresh my memory. By the time the book ends though, we feel that we know these people as well as anyone can.

Testimony is disturbing, on one occasion, heart breaking and thought provoking.

My rating:

Friday, January 9, 2009

Santa Responds by Santa Claus

Every once in a while, a little book comes along that you just can't resist. Santa Responds is just such a book. For decades, this jolly old Elf has been receiving letters from children throughout the world. Nice children, naughty children, snotty children and greedy children. This year, something happened to the nice old Claus, something just snapped inside. This year, Santa is going to write back, and wow....is he pissed!

This book is filled with "letters" to Santa and Santa's hysterical replies. If Santa's responses don't make you laugh out loud, then you are a Grinch, or maybe an anti-Grinch. Some of Santa's responses include:

Dear Paige,
When did you turn into such a little bitch?
Your friend,

This was the response to a two and half page demand letter sent by a particularly rotten little girl. Succinct and straightforward, Santa cuts through the conventions of society and really "tells it like it is". Which makes this reader respond..."Go Santa!!"

Another blogger pointed out to me, (Thanks BermudaOnion) that this is a hard book to take all at once, the humor can wear thin. I didn't even think of it, but it was a "bathroom book" around here, sitting on the counter for three weeks. I think it must have taken me 2-3 weeks to read, and its just about perfect for that type of reading! Wow....that may just be Too Much Information.....

Funny book....but keep it out of the hands of your youthful believers. It's waaaay to hard to explain this type of humor to them!!

My rating:

Oh boy....here comes the wind.....

Oh joy, the Santa Ana's are back. Wind gusts up to 70 miles per hour with single digit humidity all weekend long.....let the burning begin....you'd think there can't be anything left to burn here in southern California, but I'd be surprised if we didn't have fires again this weekend.

I hate Santa Ana's. I know why they're called "Devil Winds". It'll make you nuts after a day or two of the constant blowing and gusting.

Oh well, I shouldn't complain. My lot in life isn't nearly as dire as the poor folks washing away in the the current floods. I just stay up nights sniffing the air for the smell of smoke, I'm not watching my life wash downstream.

Bye bye 2008! Top Books of 2008 List

Okay, I know. I'm just a tad bit slower than I should be in finishing off the old and embracing the new. But, hey! At least I'm officially caught up on my 2008 reviews. I've got a few more from 2009 to do to get completely caught up, but I'm feelin' mighty perky now that I'm done with 2008.

I looked through my library over at LibraryThing, (the world's best site for cataloging my books) and now I'm sad. 2008 didn't produce a single 5 star book for me. By way of explanation, a five star book has only one criteria in my rating system. It is a book that I know I'll read at least once more. Simple? Yep, it is! Four stars means I liked it.....a lot, four and a half mean its so close to being a five that the only difference is that I probably won't read it twice. Three stars mean its average, and that's not a bad thing. Two stars mean its sort of like the D that kids get in school, not the worst, but sure in the heck could be better. One star means the author had an idea, just no clue where to go with it. And less than one star, usually means a DNF or Did Not Finish because it was just toooooo boring!! No DNF's this year! In fact, overall 2008 was a pretty good year, bookwise. I wish I'd read a 5 star, but a couple came pretty close.

My two top books were Guernica and The Geography of Love. I liked them both so much that I gave them to my mom for Christmas. (Not just because I'm cheap either, but because I really loved them!) I loved them, but won't read either of them again....sorry...no 5 star on these! I also really liked First Daughter and Say Goodbye, I rated them at four and a half, but they were closer to the four than the five for me.

I discovered some wonderful new authors, they will be such fun to watch and read. Its always interesting to see how an author changes and grows throughout their career. I remember the first Jodie Picoult book I read was My Sister's Keeper. (A five star in my opinion) I was so enamored with the book, I started reading all her work in chronological order. I started with Songs of the Humpback Whale and have been proceeding through her bibliography. Her first book was okay, maybe a 3, and she's just gone up from there. I think a lot of the new authors who had debut novels out this year have amazing futures ahead of them.

I completed 57 books this year, which is an all time low for me. I just have no clue how other bloggers can read 100-200 books a year. The most I ever managed to read was 85, back in 2002. Maybe I had read more prior to '02, but that was the first year I kept track. I can look at past lists and know if I took time out that year for my other hobby quilting. Apparently in 2002 I didn't sew a stitch! With the low number this year, you'd think I was quilting up a storm, but nope. I haven't worked on a quilt in over a year, and I really need to get myself in gear. I have one half quilted and an ongoing applique that I'm designing myself that has about 5 of the 12 blocks completed. And a stack of books....and I really need to reformat the upstairs computer, oh crap, taxes need to be started. Gotta get Bodie's room painted. Gotta get the wallpaper stripped in the living room and get it painted........yikes......what the heck am I doing blogging??

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Congratulations Josh Bazell!!

From http://www.empireonline.com/

Leonardo DiCaprio is set to produce and possibly star in a film based on hot-off-the-presses novel Beat The Reaper, by Josh Bazell. The story combines medicine, hitmen and the Witness Protection Program, which has shades of Catch Me If You Can if you ask us.

The story focuses on a Manhattan ER doctor, whose life becomes complicated* when a mobster recognises him from his former life as a hitman. This doctor, y'see, retrained to a slightly different line of work after giving up the killing and joining the Witness Protection Program.

Since author Bazell was an ER doctor himself, the medical stuff should be pretty solid (there's no information on whether he was also ever a hitman, but we like to think he was), but this is very, very early days. There's no word yet on a screenwriter or director, but this could be an interesting addition to DiCaprio's slate.

Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell

Peter Brown, former mob hitman, now an emergency room doctor thanks to the Witness Protection Program is having a bad day. Mugged on his way to work, charts and patients stacked up, and now a patient recognizes him as a former hitman and threatens to disclose his identity and location to the mob. And its not even lunch time yet.

Beat the Reaper is filled with such interesting characters that the reader has to occasionally stop and wonder exactly how the author put himself through school. After all, aren't authors supposed to write what they know? And if Bazell actually knows these people, well, I'm just sayin', one wonders!

Beat the Reaper is Josh Bazell's debut novel. Bazell is a medical resident who has both a MD from Columbia and BA in writing from Brown. He also has a wicked sense of humor. As you read this novel, you want to believe its all fiction, that the questionable treatments, cheap hookups, illicit drug use, and even the disregard for basic hygiene within the hospital setting can't really be true. But Bazell has the uncanny ability to make us go..."ewwww" while in our gut, we sort of understand that he's probably writing about what he's actually seen. It kind of makes you want to head to your local witchdoctor instead of the local ER!

I'm not usually bothered by graphic descriptions, but I'll admit that the end was almost too much for me. Graphic, yep. Gory, double yep. But that wasn't really my problem with it. My problem was that I just didn't buy it as a viable option to the character. The situation was well described, the reasons for the protagonists decision explained thoroughly, and yet, I just couldn't believe it could actually happen. But it was most certainly an unexpected solution to the problem, you've got to give the author that! He is darn clever and creative! But still...uh....ewwwww.........

Beat the Reaper is funny and graphic, witty and gory. Probably not a book for reader who dislikes graphic bloody description,but I liked it nonetheless, and look forward to Bazell's second book.

My rating:

The Little Giant of Aberdeen Country by Tiffany Baker

From Amazon

In an upstate New York backwater, Truly, massive from birth, has a bleak existence with her depressed father and her china-doll–like sister, Serena Jane. Truly grows at an astonishing rate—her girth the result of a pituitary gland problem—and after her father dies when Truly is 12, Truly is sloughed off to the Dyersons, a hapless farming family. Her outsize kindness surfaces as she befriends the Dyersons' outcast daughter, Amelia, and later leaves her beloved Dyerson farm to take care of Serena Jane's husband and son after Serena Jane leaves them. Haunting the margins of Truly's story is that of Tabitha Dyerson, a rumored witch whose secrets afford a breathtaking role reversal for Truly. It's got all the earmarks of a hit—infectious and lovable narrator, a dash of magic, an impressive sweep and a heartrending but not treacly family drama. It'll be a shame if this doesn't race up the bestseller lists. (Jan.)

Like most people, I really enjoyed The Little Giant of Aberdeen County. Its quite easy to empathize with Truly Plaice, we all feel out of place, alone and awkward. I'm having trouble writing much about this book. The plot, the cast of characters and the setting are so richly layered and so complex, I just can't seem to describe it adequately. Which is why I cheated and posted Amazon's description!I will admit that I liked the book more in the beginning. Truly seemed a happier person, more forgiving of herself and others. Nearer the end, her anger at her circumstances changed the flavor of the book a bit, but it rang true nonetheless. But I sort of missed the more mellow Truly.

I really look forward to more books by Tiffany Baker. She has a real gift for good storytelling.

My rating:

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Archangel Project by C.S. Graham

The Archangel Project by the writing team of Steven Harris and Candice Proctor, writing under the pseudonym of C.S. Graham is an interesting concept that ultimately fell flat for this reader.

The novel's protagonist is young woman, discharged from the army where she served in Iraq, on a psych discharge. October Guinness has the ability to "remote view" whereby she can focus on a geographical location and "see" what is occurring there. She participates in a university study and through her remote viewing manages to see things she should not. Enter the shadowy corporate and government figures determined to stop "Tobie", get rid of anyone who might know what she knows, and take over the government.

I liked the basic premise of the book. The idea of shadowy figures and conspiracy complete with a dash of the paranormal always make for a great read. One of the problems I had was the way the large cast of characters was introduced. Maybe I just wasn't paying enough attention, but it seemed in the beginning that there just wasn't enough specific information about each one to make them memorable. When they would return in a later chapter, I would oft times recollect the name, but not for the life of me remember who they were in the big scheme of things. So I would have to stop and leaf back through the book until I had that, "Oh....I remember who that was" moment. It took me a while to settle in and figure out the "who's who" in the cast of characters

I also disliked the occasional almost snarky snide comments the authors put in the book. Many of the bad guys were thinly veiled versions of politicians and corporations in power today. Occasionally it felt as though the authors had a great idea of a suspense novel, but what they really wanted to write was an anti-administration, anti-military industrial complex and anti-war screed. I was probably overly attuned to these things since the election year just ended and I've been so tired of being fed a constant diet of this in the news. I would suspect it didn't bother anyone else, I've just been on a strict "strict turn off the tv and radio" diet because I'm just sick of hearing about negative stuff I have absolutely no control over, so I'm probably the exception.

So, would I recommend the book? Ehh....probably not. Yet I do see a lot of potential in this writing team. Would I read a second novel by them? Yep, I would. I think they have a lot of ability, and some interesting ideas. I would just like to see them tighten up the writing a bit.

My rating:

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Your Heart Belongs to Me by Dean Koontz

Dean Koontz's Your Heart Belongs to Me is yet another great story told by one of the best fiction writers out there. I don't even have to mark my calendar, Koontz releases two a year, one near my birthday in May and one near Christmas, and he never disappoints. (And the kids always know what to get me as a gift! I don't know what the heck they'll do if he decides to retire.)

Your Heart Belongs to Me is similar in tone to The Good Guy, The Husband, the Christopher Snow books and so many more. What these books all have in common is heart. The protagonists are almost always witty, decent, good to the core folks, the kind of people you'd want to get to know and spend some time with. Koontz's ability to write people to life is what makes all his novels so compelling. We root for the hero/heroine because we just like them so much that we can't stand to see them not succeed.

I really enjoyed Your Heart Belongs to Me. It's not my all time favorite Koontz, that would be a tie between Life Expectancy and One Door Away from Heaven. Oh wait, there's also The Face, Dark Rivers of the Heart, From the Corner of His Eye, Fear Nothing, The Taking, Odd Thomas, and so on and so on..... (I won't give him too much credit for Life is Good, I'm pretty sure that was all Trixie!I think Dean just supplied the kibble, treats and walks. And perhaps advice about that dastardly semi-colon. The rest was all Trixie.)I guess I really can't pick a favorite after all, I'll just have to say, Dean Koontz never disappoints me and I always look forward to his next novel.

From Amazon

From the #1 New York Times bestselling master of suspense comes a riveting thriller that probes the deepest terrors of the human psyche—and the ineffable mystery of what truly makes us who we are. Here a brilliant young man finds himself fighting for his very existence in a battle that starts with the most frightening words of all…

At thirty-four, Internet entrepreneur Ryan Perry seemed to have the world in his pocket—until the first troubling symptoms appeared out of nowhere. Within days, he’s diagnosed with incurable cardiomyopathy and finds himself on the waiting list for a heart transplant; it’s his only hope, and it’s dwindling fast. Ryan is about to lose it all…his health, his girlfriend Samantha, and his life.

One year later, Ryan has never felt better. Business is good and he hopes to renew his relationship with Samantha. Then the unmarked gifts begin to appear—a box of Valentine candy hearts, a heart pendant. Most disturbing of all, a graphic heart surgery video and the chilling message: Your heart belongs to me.

In a heartbeat, the medical miracle that gave Ryan a second chance at life is about to become a curse worse than death. For Ryan is being stalked by a mysterious woman who feels entitled to everything he has. She’s the spitting image of the twenty-six-year-old donor of the heart beating steadily in Ryan’s own chest.

And she’s come to take it back.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (A Guest Blog)

My parents were visiting during Christmas and my mom saw a copy of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford on my coffee table. She picked it up to leaf through it and became almost instantly enamored with the book. She was so engrossed that I asked her to take the novel home, finish it and write up a guest blog review. (Not really all that noble of me....I'm waaaay behind due to the construction work we'd been doing)

*drumroll.......Presenting for the first time ever in the arena of the world wide web.......IMikk, The Optimistic Bookfools mom. with her Very First Review......applause applause..... (Thanks mom....now mail it back so I can read it too.....*grin.....)

My daughter gave me your book to read over our Christmas holiday with her. I loved it! I grew up in Northern Minnesota during the war years. We were aware of the Japanese Relocation program but it did not directly affect us as we were isolated from them. We saw the German children suffer the same consequences as Henry and Keiko did. At times it was very harsh and I felt very sorry for them. Both my German friends, and Henry and Keiko. Some of the German children by comparison were very large and husky so the bullies were not able to intimidate them by size. One of those German classmates was not very smart and had he not been tall and husky he would have had more than the silent treatment accorded him. I remember him because he taught me to ride a bike for the first time when I was in the fifth grade. A seventh grade English teacher who was German tried to teach us the German language during our lunch hours if we wanted to remain inside. When our parents became aware of it she was no longer there. Still their suffering did not compare to the Japanese relocation. I could not fathom a United States of America allowing thugs to walk into the Japanese homes on the eve of their relocation and take whatever they wanted out of their homes. I felt the Japanese triumphed over their captors in building their camps and making things work again. I would like to have seen Henry's Chinese parents explored more deeply. Sheldon knew and felt the things Henry was feeling. He was able to tolerate a lot of things through his music that Henry could not from his background understand. This book points out the many forms of discrimination that exist in all societies. I will read any other book you write as this one struck a very bitter, sweet memory within me which had nothing to do with the hotel.