Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Promised Land by Robert B. Parker

When I came to work at the library in 2005, I had never read a Robert B. Parker novel. (I know, amazing that they hired me, isn't it?)  But the constant exposure to the latest bestsellers has broadened my reading selections considerably.  I have read everything he has written - in all four series - since 2005.  With the recent news of Mr. Parker's death, I mourned the loss of such a talent, and especially of my favorite gumshoe, Spenser.   

By the luck of the draw, I needed to pick a book from the library's Mystery Section, Shelf 30 in order to complete the Take-A-Chance Challenge.  Be still my heart! - an entire shelf of Robert Parker novels.  I opted to look for the oldest one and learn how Spenser began.  That turned out to be Promised Land, published in 1976 and No. 5 in the series.  What a hoot!  On page one I discovered this gem: "He had on a pale green leisure suit and a yellow shirt with long pointed collar, open at the neck and spilling onto the lapels of the suit,"  and I knew this story was going to be a "blast from the past".  1976 was the year of our first date - the prom, to which Dave wore a powder blue leisure suit and a shirt with a long pointed collar.  Sorry folks.  I searched for a picture of us to show you what fashion icons we were, but no luck.  However, for those of you too young to remember 1970's apparel, his suit (not to mention his hair) looked something like this:
Between giggles at the dated clothing styles and slang, I learned a lot about Spenser.  Sometimes when an author writes a series around a character, it feels like nothing more than a convenience for the author - no need to create new characters, background or surroundings - and there is no growth.  However, Spenser and his crew have evolved.   It's not necessarily a real-time aging - Spenser and Susan were approximately age forty in 1976 (based on references to "middle age" and that Spenser and Hawk had boxed together twenty years earlier) and they appear to have aged no more than 10-15 years in the thirty-four years since then - but it is a discernable development of their relationships, experience and maturity.

Mr. Parker's writing has become more sparse over the years - and he wasn't overly-wordy to begin with - which is one of the things I love about his books.  He manages to convey feelings, attitudes and situations with a minimum of extraneous details, yet even jumping into the series somewhere around book #33 as I did, I never felt cheated or lost.  As I sit here trying to explain this amazing ability, I realize that if I could grasp it I would be the one with 45 bestselling books, so you'll have to discover it and dissect it on your own.

This book marked the end of my reading for the Take-A-Chance Challenge here at the library (with 5 weeks to spare!) but it won't be the end of my journey with Spenser.  My plan is start at the beginning and make my way through the entire series.  I'll keep you posted.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Home Town Entertainment

Small-town movie theaters are rapidly going the way of the drive-in.  The cost of renting current movies, hiring staff and paying the overhead is difficult to offset with crowds that usually average less than 50.  So we consider ourselves fortunate that our little town is the home of the historic Northrup Theater.  It is a beautiful example of 1940's Art Deco design and still sports the original paintwork.  Since this theater pre-dates the multiplex, there is one film showing each week - one showing each evening on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only. 

Back in our dating days, small town theaters often waited months, if not years, to get the latest movies, but the management here does a fantastic job of bringing new-release films to rural Kansas.  They usually select films that will appeal to the broadest audience - mostly family-oriented, romantic comedy or "teen" movies.  We rarely get an R-rated show, and it's not unusual for the crowd to range from toddlers to seniors.  The cost of admission is only $6 for adults and an additional $10 gets us a large bucket of popcorn, two large pops and 2 bags of Peanut M&Ms - our favorite showtime snacks since the vintage concession counter quit stocking Milk Duds.  We try to attend every movie that appeals to us at all, just to support this rare piece of Americana.

Last night's movie was "Tooth Fairy" starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Ashley Judd.  The Tooth Fairy, also known as Derek Thompson, is a hard-charging hockey player whose nickname comes from his habit of separating opposing players from their bicuspids. When Derek discourages a youngster's dreams, he's sentenced to one week's hard labor as a real tooth fairy, complete with the requisite tutu, wings and magic wand. (description from Yahoo!Movies).

This movie was just plain fun!  No cuss words, no sexual content, less blood than the average hockey game, and a good moral.  Dwayne Johnson is a great comedic actor and makes use of his natural ability for hilarious facial expressions and that winning smile.  The child actors were not at all annoying or precocious, and Ashely Judd is just.....well...the talented and gorgeous Ashley Judd.  'Nough said.  And to top it off, Billy Crystal makes a laugh-out-loud appearance.  It's worth the price of admission just for that.  Take the kids, take the grandkids or do as we did and make it a "date night" and see it with no kids and no apologies.

And if you happen to be traveling along Highway 50 in southwest Kansas, stop in Syracuse and check out the beautiful theater.  We'll treat you to a movie and a bucket of popcorn.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Olympics vs. Books

You may have noticed that our posts have been a bit sparse lately.  We were away on a 4-day college trip - first for Family Weekend with son at FHSU, then to KSU with daughter to scope out dorms and bars for next fall.  There were some classrooms, too, but we skipped most of them.  Life, and college, has priorities!  I left home with an optomistic stack of books and returned with same - all untouched. 

Now that we're home, I curl up on the couch each evening with a book and hubby and spend a couple hours watching the Olympics with a book in my hand.  I just love the Olympics - rooting for the underdog, tearing up when they play the National Anthem, wondering who's idea it was to combine cross-country skiing and shooting into one sport.  I also question who invented Olympic Swiffering (also known as Curling).  I picture a group of bored Scandanavian housewives comparing their floor-polishing skills by sliding week-old biscuits around the kitchen until one clever woman said, "Hey, let's get this classified as an Olympic sport." 

But the best part of all is figure skating!  It has music, beauty, drama, excitement, guys in leotards decorated with sequined snakes.  Can a sport get any better?  Actually, Dave argues that it's technically NOT a sport.  His definition of a sport involves going fastest, highest, or farthest - measurable criteria rather than judges' opinions - but he indulges me and keeps his wisecracks to a minimum. 

So, until the closing ceremony on Feb. 28th, my reading time will be curtailed and my posts will be limited to wandering, pointless monologues like this one. 

In the interim....U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A!!!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Coffee, Tea or Murder? by Jessica Fletcher & Donald Bain

Like a well-worn robe, a favorite chair, an old friend - this book is comforting, familiar, fun.  For anyone who has seen the television series (and I've seen every episode a dozen times) this is entertaining, no-brainer reading.   Jessica Fletcher, Doc Hazlett, Sheriff Mort - all the hometown faces of Cabot Cove show up to solve another mystery. 

I have heard non-fans of the show complain "it's the same thing every week", but that's what draws a reader/viewer into any good series -returning to a family of characters.  This story was true to the tv show and, therefore easy to envision as I read.  Narrator Cynthia Darlow's authentic New England dialect and Scottish brogue (for Scotland Yard Inspector George Sutherland) made the audio version even more enjoyable.  I recommend the Murder She Wrote books to fans of the show who are eager for a new Jessica mystery and to cozy mystery fans in general. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

23 Things Kansas: Week 5 - RSS Feeds

Domino effect:  a chain reaction that occurs when a small change causes a similar change nearby, which then causes another change, and so on in linear sequence.

It began with Book Blogger Appreciation Week last September.  As a non-blogger, I volunteered to serve on a panel judging one of the blogging awards.  The research necessary for that assignment exposed me to a list of wonderful book blogs, which lead to an extensive "favorites" list on Internet Explorer in an attempt to keep up with them all.  Reading all the wonderful book reviews and posts triggered a desire to have our own blog.  Amazingly, a few people actually read what we wrote and left responses so, because it's only polite, I added their sites to my list of favs to keep up with.  It soon became evident that this was an impossible dream.  There just aren't enough hours in the day to visit each blog individually and check for new content.  Which brings us to the point....finally.  I needed to investigate RSS feeds.

I chose Google Reader because I already had a Google account and it was simple to set up.  Now I go to one site and find out what's new on all my favorite book blogs.  The only problem I've encountered as that it's too simple - so I end up adding every fun site I find and it has gotten a bit out of control.  I was away from my computer for a three-day weekend and this morning there were over 250 new items in my reader.  Fortunately, I don't actually have to read every one of them.  It's a few simple clicks to pare it down to the one's I really want to catch up on and delete the rest.  My next project is to sort through my subscriptions and discontinue those I don't read regularly so that I keep the numbers at a more managable level. 

If you aren't familiar with RSS, I suggest you check out the instructional material at and give it a try.  Here are a few of my favorite book blogs that you might want to add to your own RSS feed.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The 13th Hour by Richard Doetsch

Good and bad, north and south, up and down, light and dark, bitter and sweet - whatever words conjur pictures of polar opposites, those are the words to describe this book.  The story is absolute genius - time travel, multiple realities, a murder mystery, intricate details.  Certainly one of the most original plots we've ever read.  But...and didn't you know there was gonna be a "but" is one of the worst jobs of writing and/or editing!

Nick Quinn's wife, Julia, is murdered by an unknown assailant in their home at 9:30 p.m.  Nick is arrested for the crime and evidence begins to pile up against him, even though we know that he isn't guilty.  Then Nick meets a stranger who gives him a gift - a watch that will allow him to travel back through time to prove his innocence and, hopefully, to save Julia. 

Where this becomes truly original is in the time travel.  No DeLorean's going eighty-eight miles per hour, no flux capacitor fluxing - just a watch that, as long as it remains in Nick's possession, carries him backwards two hours every time that it strikes the hour - at 10:00 he jumps back to 8:00 p.m. and relives the hour from 8-9, then at 9:00 he jumps back to 7 and relives the hour from 7-8.  Each jump gives him new information and a new chance to change the future.  But, as Nick discovers, each change causes a domino effect, the outcome of which can't always be predicted.

Now for the bad news. There are pacing issues. The excitement builds, we're flipping pages as fast as we can read, suddenly the protagonist reflect on his feelings for his wife, to recall events from the last chapter (which, by the way, we read!), to reiterate his anger at the killer.  A body is on the floor in a puddle of blood, the killer is dashing down the driveway to his waiting car - let's not stop now to rehash our hero's regrets over arguing with his wife or ponder how he will live without her - let's catch the guy! 

Mr. Doetsch also has a tendency to restate the obvious.  Run-on sentences containing multiple phrases with the same meaning and endless soliloquies covering events we already know cause the story to drag and the reader to become frustrated. However, they also made for some comical ad-libs and melo-dramatic over-acting on our part.  Oh, the pain!  The torture!!  The hand-to-brow swooning!!!  Woe, is us!

Despite the need for deeper editing, The 13th Hour is fun and intriguing.  It is the perfect "read together" choice because there are so many possibilities to discuss.  And speaking of reading together - this was our second entry in the Read Together Challenge we are hosting.  We rate this book 5 out of 5 for story, but only 2.5 for writing.  We recommend that you read it with someone who will share in the theatrics.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Vanish by Tess Gerritsen

A nameless, beautiful woman appears to be just another corpse in the morgue. An apparent suicide, she lies on a gurney, awaiting the dissecting scalpel of medical examiner Maura Isles. But when Maura unzips the body bag and looks down at the body, she gets the fright of her life. The corpse opens its eyes. Very much alive, the woman is rushed to the hospital, where with shockingly cool precision, she murders a security guard and seizes hostages . . . one of them a pregnant patient, Jane Rizzoli.

The story alternates between the past (a group of Soviet girls brought to the U.S. and forced into prostitution) and the present (a hostage situation in a hospital).  The two plots eventually mesh together with lots of turns and surprises.  My standard for a thriller rates three areas: pace, predictability and gore.  Vanish rates well in all three categories.  The action moves fast, keeps you guessing and, although there is considerable bloodshed and violence, it isn't graphic.

This was my first Gerritsen book and, In usual fashion, I jumped into the middle of the series.  In this instance, it may have helped to start at the beginning and have more background on Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles.  Jane, especially, came across very superficially, so I think the previous four novels would have been a big help.  I would rate this one a 4 out of 5 and I plan to catch up on this series.

Gerritsen was my random author for the Take a Chance Challenge at my library.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell

Julie Powell is 30 years old, living in a tiny apartment in Queens and working at a soul-sucking secretarial job that's going nowhere. She needs something to break the monotony of her life, and she invents a deranged assignment. She will take her mother's worn, dog-eared copy of Julia Child's 1961 classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and she will cook all 524 recipes -- in the span of one year.

I hate to admit it, but I picked up the audio version of this book mostly because everything else I wanted to listen to was checked out and I needed an audio in my car.  I had heard bits and pieces about the story, listened to a friend rave over the movie, and the cover is so pretty that I decided to give it a shot.  And I'm so glad I did.

Although I've never worked temp-jobs or lived in New York, I felt a sort of kinship with Julie and her desire for "something" that she couldn't quite name.  My personal opinion is that we are all made in God's image, therefore - since God is the Creator - we all have an innate desire to be creative.  That's what I think Julie was looking for - her creative outlet.  She found it in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  I love that her copy of the book had been her mother's and she had memories of it open on the counter as her mother cooked.

It's possible that my rapport with Julie was partially because of her occasionally inept cooking skills.  I love, love, love to cook and bake, and have been known to conduct my own cooking show when alone in my tiny kitchen.  However, truth be told, my family has eaten a number of things that didn't turn out exactly as expected, so I cried and cheered along with Julie's kitchen tragedies and triumphs. 

Julie's creativity also took her into the, at that time, new world of blogging. Through her interaction with her "bleeders" (blog readers) as she calls them, I felt another tie to Julie - both as a blogger who couldn't believe anyone would take the time to read what she wrote and as one of her fans who wanted to join the chant of "don't give up".  You can still read the Julie/Julia Project here.

I still haven't watched the movie - mostly because, now that I enjoyed the book so much, I'm afraid the movie will be a let down - but I did get my own copy of Julia Child's cookbook and have attempted a bit of French cooking.  No way am I trying aspic or anything involving bone marrow, but Julie has given me the courage to experiment a bit [family cringes].

My most recent creation was pate a choux with creme patisserie - which, coincidentally, is nearly identical to what my mother has been making for years and calls cream puffs with vanilla pudding.  No wonder I'm so drawn to this book - it's a family thing.

This book was my non-fiction selection for the Take a Chance challenge at my library.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


It's time for a vacation!  So we're headed to Washington, D.C. for a few days, then to Parents' Weekend with college son and finally to take daughter on a college visit (different college, naturally) so we won't be keeping up with the book blog world for awhile.  We'll catch you up on our adventures, and what we read along the way, when we return - sometime after Feb. 18th. 

UPDATE:  The weatherman didn't agree with our travel plans.  Snow in excess of two feet shut down everything in D.C so that leg of our trip has been postponed.  So, back to work for the week and try again when things thaw.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

23 Things Kansas - Week Four - Photo Sharing

Originally uploaded by mrschupa
Photosharing is something every grandma should learn. I know 23 Things Kansas is supposed to be geared for library use, but pictures of grandsons are so much nicer than pictures of books. But what could be better than a picture of a grandson AND a book? This photo is our oldest daughter and her oldest son sharing a favorite Christmas book.

I chose to explore flikr on my first adventure in photosharing. I already had a Yahoo account so it was super simple to set up. Once I had my account open, it walked me through the steps of uploading pictures I already had on my computer. Flikr has good organizational helps that make it easy to group pictures into albums or "tag" them for easy reference later. 

Flikr also has a cool "blog" feature.  I selected this picture and clicked on "blog this" and after a brief set up to connect my flikr account and my blog account, I was able to blog this entry directly from the flikr site.  I love it when technologies work together.

Although I'm sure there are lots of library applications for this technology - summer reading, children's programs, promoting adult programs - it's a treasure for grandmas whose grandkids live seven hours away. Our daughter can upload photos straight from her camera and keep us up to date with everything they are doing. Good lesson!

23 Things Kansas - Week Three - Online Meetings

Week three of my 23 Things Kansas training featured On-Line Meetings.  What a great invention for folks like us who live far from what passes as civilization.  Travel to Dodge City for a System-wide meeting requires nearly four hours of road time - four hours of non-productive, paid time per employee - plus mileage reimbursement for the driver.  And that's just to go to Dodge.  Training in Wichita, Topeka or other parts east requires overnight lodging and meals, so "webinars" are an abundant savings in both dollars and time for small libraries. 

I have done library training on Verso, Overdrive, and other topics using both Wimba and Opel.  The technology is great - allowing each participant to not only hear the instructor and view the presentation, but also to interact with the leader and each other by voice or text.  Archiving also allows for more flixibility in timing as participants who can't join in live can still view/hear the demonstration at a more convenient time.

Webinars aren't just for libraries.  Dave is able to attend a baseball/softball umpires rule meeting from home, rather than traveling to Dodge or Hays.  This is definitely a trend for the future that connects rural areas with the world.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Book Fail x 2

Dave is firmly in the if-you-start-it-you-must-finish-it camp of book readers.  He never skims, he never skips ahead and he never quits.  I, on the other hand, adhere to the philosophy that there are far more books out there waiting to be read then there are days in this life, so I'm not wasting those precious days reading a bad book.  All of which leads up to these two that I just had to give up on:

I have read several installments of the Arcane Society books, written by Jayne Ann Krentz and Amanda Quick (two pseudonyms for the same author).  Jayne writes the contemporary novels and her counterpart, Amanda, writes the historic episodes of the Society.  Although I'm not a huge fan of the psychic genre, I always enjoyed these because they had a good mystery, a good romance and the psychic element was not overwhelming.  But not this time. 

I made it the half-way point of Fired Up and the plot was practically non-existent - the mysterious, long-lost lamp that would save the hero from turning into a psychic monster took about 15 minutes to locate.  What little character development and story existed was squeezed between lengthy, tiresome descriptions of the psychic lights and colors and magic powers and what-have-you.  Even the romance scenes were perfunctory. I figured if I was half-way through a book and couldn't figure out at least a glimpse of the point and really didn't care, I was wasting my time.

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard was the second book to receive a failing mark.  The cover art is yummy, the synopsis sounded delicious...
Lunch in Paris is a memoir about a young American woman caught up in two passionate love affairs—one with her new beau, Gwendal, the other with French cuisine. Packing her bags for a new life in the world's most romantic city, Elizabeth is plunged into a world of bustling open-air markets, hipster bistros, and size 2 femmes fatales. She learns to gut her first fish (with a little help from Jane Austen), soothe pangs of homesickness (with the rise of a chocolate soufflĂ©) and develops a crush on her local butcher (who bears a striking resemblance to Matt Dillon). Elizabeth finds that the deeper she immerses herself in the world of French cuisine, the more Paris itself begins to translate. French culture, she discovers, is not unlike a well-ripened cheese-there may be a crusty exterior, until you cut through to the melting, piquant heart.
...and after reading Julie & Julia (review coming soon) and successfully completing four recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, my mouth was watering for more French recipes and culture, but I soon lost my taste for it. (Ok, enough with the food metaphors, already.)   Ms. Bard's antidotes were precocious and pompous.  Her arrogant attitude that life would be meaningless if she had to live it in the U.S. (or even in London) was annoying.  Rather than getting a vicarious taste of life in France, I just felt offended.   I didn't even make it to the half-way point on this one before I bid Ms. Bard a not-so-fond farewell and good riddance.