Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

Our heartfelt thanks to those who have committed their lives to protecting our country and our freedom.

Our deepest gratitude for those who have sacrificed their lives in that pursuit.

Wishing you all a safe and happy
 holiday weekend.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

T&T Bookclub

Necessity is the mother of invention, or so they say - whoever "they" are - so when my sister and I needed a way to stay close in spite of the 250 mile distance between our houses, we invented the T&T bookclub (named after ourselves, of course).  Over the past 12-15 years (can't remember the exact start date - can't ask Sis, she's even older than I am) it has changed forms several times, but the basic idea is that we take turns selecting a book to read and creating a related activity - anything from a simple verbal review of the book, to trying out a recipe, to taking a field trip. 

Sis's selection for June is "Death by Darjeeling", first in the Tea Shop Mystery series by Laura Childs.  From the beautiful picture on the cover to the cut line "Just the right blend of cozy fun and clever plotting", this book looks to be just my cup of tea.  In fact, I purchased the entire series for the library with the intention of reading them myself, but haven't gotten to them yet, so I'm excited to get started.

Our activity to accompany our reading is to take our mom, other sister and as many granddaughters as we can round up for lunch at The Huckleberry Tea House in Concordia, KS (near where Mom and sisters live - I'm the oddball that moved away, but you probably would have guessed that). 

Once again, I'm advocating reading together.  Sharing a book is a great way to maintain or expand a friendship, and a book club for two or three can take on any form that fits your schedule and preferences.  Find a friend and share a story!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Librarian Life

I read several blogs written by fellow librarians who document the bizarre and comical antics of library patrons.  I'm not talking about the average citizen who comes in to check out a bestseller or the students using the computers for homework, although they can be pretty entertaining at times.  I'm talking about the transients, the unstable, the (dare I say it?) crazies who equate the words "public library" with "free answer to all life's problems".  Even in a little bitty town in the far corner of Kansas, an amazing parade of humanity comes through those doors. 

Laughing at others' encounters with patrons made me decide to share about one of my favorites:  The man who wanted to UN-file his income tax.  During March and April the public access computers are continually busy with folks filing taxes and we face a deluge of questions - most of which we can't answer for legal reasons as we're not trained tax preparers.  But, my favorite is the young man who had completed and submitted his tax return, waited approximately two days and then returned to the library to ask for assistance in UN-filing.  Seems his girlfriend had filed her return using a different on-line filing site and had received her refund within a couple days.  Since his had not arrived yet, he had determined that the best course of action was to UN-file on the site he used and RE-file on the site his girl had chosen, thus ensuring him a speedier refund.

No amount of explaining would convince him that a.) you can not UN-file or b.) all returns go to the same IRS and they will process your refund as they receive it.  He finally left in a snit, convinced that we were hiding the secret for instant tax refunds, and hasn't been back since. 

If you are a librarian or just want to get an inside glimpse of the job, you might want to look at these blogs, among others:

A Librarian's Guide to Ettiquette
Comma, You Idiot
Tales From Library Land

Blue-Eyed Devil by Robert B. Parker

Blue-Eyed Devil continues the saga of gun-slinging saddle pals Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch as they trade wisecracks and hot lead with back-shooting owlhoots and murderous Apaches in the town of Appaloosa. Cole and Hitch used to be the law in town, but now Appaloosa has a corrupt, ambitious, and deadly police chief named Amos Callico backed up by 12 rifle-toting cops of dubious background, and though Callico sees Cole and Hitch as impediments to his plans for extortion and high political office, his threats don't worry the boys much. Meanwhile, Cole kills the son of a prominent rancher in a fair fight, renegade Apaches plan an attack on the town, and a mysterious dandy arrives in town with a sinister agenda. Fortunately, Cole and Hitch are smart and resourceful, and there's trickery, gunplay, and throat-cutting until only a few folks are left standing. (Publishers Weekly)

Blue-Eyed Devil is the fourth installment of the Cole and Hitch western series.  If you haven't read the first three, this one can be a bit hard to follow as there are lots of references to previous events, so I recommend reading them in order. 

This was an easy-reading, fast-paced story that I enjoyed, but can't say I loved.  If you've read any of my previous reviews of Robert Parker books, you know I'm a huge fan of his style, but I'm afraid it just doesn't work for me this time.  The biggest problem was that the minimalist dialog and descriptions that I usually love left this story feeling superficial.  There wasn't any insight or emotion to make me feel a connection to any of the characters or get too concerned about what happened to them.  Unlike the Spenser series that started with more in-depth character development and progressed to the current bare-bones style, Cole and Hitch jump directly into the action without giving the reader any exposure to their motives.

For fans of pure action-oriented westerns, this series will be a success.  For me it was a pleasant diversion, but nothing to write home about.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Movie Review: Date Night and Back-Up Plan

Romantic comedies make for the perfect date night movie - especially one called "Date Night".  Tina Fey and Steve Carrell are a middle-aged couple - Phil and Claire Foster - stuck in the rut of family life, work and kids. They're weekly date night has become one more part of the routine, so Phil decides to jazz things up by taking his wife to an upscale Manhattan restaurant.  Unable to get a table and unwilling to give up, they identify themselves as the Triplehorns - a couple who have failed to show for their reservation.  The mistaken identity leads to a laundry list of dangers, close calls and slapstick humor.  There were plenty of car chases and shoot-em-ups for Dave, enough romance and clever dialog for me, and plenty of laugh-out-loud moments for us both.

Our second date night film was "Backup Plan", starring Jennifer Lopez and Alex O'Loughlin.  Zoe (Lopez) has given up on finding "the guy" and decides to have a child on her own.  On the same day she visits the doctor to set her plan in motion, she also meets Stan - who just might turn out to be Mr. Right.  Thus the comedy of errors begins:  from attempting to hide the morning sickness, fatigue and cravings of early pregnancy while dating, through witnessing a member of her single-moms support group give birth in a kiddie pool, to the mood swings and ungainliness of the third trimester...  This movie also satisfied both of our tastes in films (although maybe a little too "chick-flick" for Dave at times) but the best part was sharing the memories of our childrens' arrivals that this movie stirred up.

We recommend both of these flicks for date night viewing and we also strongly recommend having at least a bi-weekly date night.  Even if your children are teens like ours or completely on their own, having an occasional night to return to your dating days and focus only on each other is worth the effort and cost.   There's no need to act your age, act like kids again!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Intentionally Illiterate

I ran across the following deep thoughts penned by Ronnica of The Ignorant Historian and they got me to thinking:

I’m a reader.  In part because I was raised a reader (thanks, Mom!). In part because I love learning. And in part because I enjoy spending the time alone.  I feel very blessed with knowing how to read. Whole worlds are open to me, only because I can make sense of the symbols on a page. I’ve learned and been challenged in what I believe because I can read.  So you know what really bugs me?  When people choose not to read.

I don’t mean those that can’t read, whether from lack of opportunities to learn, lack of material to read, or learning disabilities. And I don’t mean those who are in a time of life where they can’t read what they want, like young mothers or students (though anyone can find a few minutes to read here and thereit took me 6 months to read Gone with the Wind in college, but I did it).
I mean those who were taught how to read, but haven’t taken advantage of it.
We hear so much about the illiteracy rates in America and around the world - illiteracy based on poverty, conflict or disabilities - but no one talks about those who choose to ignore the gift once it is given them. To us, intentional illiteracy is a crime that ranks up there with book burning, desecrating the flag, parking lots with no spaces for mothers of small children...

This has been an ongoing discussion in our household because we somehow raised a non-reader.  With two parents who read daily, I'm not sure how this happened, but it did.  We have an incredibly bright, creative and animated daughter (and we're not a bit biased), but she won't read a book under threat of law, teachers or disconnection of her cell phone.

 What is it that makes some people love reading and others not?  Is there a genetic connection?  Our household certainly wouldn't uphold that theory.  Is it nurture rather than nature?  We exposed both of our kids to books and reading from birth and they both loved to be read to in their toddler years.  We took them to libraries and bought books from every school flier and book sale.  What makes our Little Missy choose to be illiterate?

Ronnica closed her post with this thought:  If you’re numbered among the intentionally illiterate, what would get you to read?  Would Dear Daughter read if she were cut off from Facebook, texting, tv and instant messaging?  My mother has none of those things except tv and watches very little of it, yet she never picks up a book. 

 I consider the ability to read as one of the greatest gifts I have received and the loss of that gift to age or illness as one of my greatest fears.  Books are my friends, my escape, my consolation and my joy.  How can someone choose not to have that?  If you were expecting astute answers to all these questions, sorry to disappoint.  But I would love to hear your thoughts.

 Thanks to Ronnica for stirring up my thought process and for her permission to share her insights here.

Baseball and Books

Yesterday was the final game of our daughter's high school softball career, so even though the team is 0-and-however-many on the season (we could use some work on the fundamentals...and a pitcher) we drove the seventy-five miles one way to watch our little darling stand in right field for two innings and bat once. (There's a "mercy" rule that allows the game to be called after three innings if the score is too one-sided.  Mercifully, it came into play!)  Basically, we had three hours in the car to watch a one hour game, but it allowed us plenty of reading time and Stephen King's new novella, Blockade Billy, seemed like the appropriate book.
Even the most diehard baseball fans don't know the true story of William "Blockade Billy" Blakely. He may have been the greatest player the game has ever seen, but today no one remembers his name. He was the first -- and only -- player to have his existence completely removed from the record books. Even his team is long forgotten, barely a footnote in the game's history.  Every effort was made to erase any evidence that William Blakely played professional baseball, and with good reason. Blockade Billy had a secret darker than any pill or injection that might cause a scandal in sports today. His secret was much, much worse. (synopsis from book jacket)
On Barnes and Noble's website, Mr. King is quoted as saying, "I love old-school baseball,and I also love the way people who've spent a lifetime in the game talk about the game. I tried to combine those things in a story of suspense." And he did so very successfully.  This is the baseball of Field of Dreams:

"Man, I did love this game. I'd have played for food money. It was the game... The sounds, the smells. Did you ever hold a ball or a glove to your face?...It was the crowd, rising to their feet when the ball was hit deep. Shoot, I'd play for nothing!" (Shoeless Joe Jackson)
And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces...It reminds us of all that once was good and could be again. (Terrance Mann)
That's what I wish for. Chance to squint at a sky so blue that it hurts your eyes just to look at it. To feel the tingling in your arm as you connect with the ball. To run the bases - stretch a double into a triple, and flop face-first into third, wrap your arms around the bag. (Doc Graham)

The book is only about eighty pages long (excluding illustrations) and the first sixty or so are classic baseball.  The expected Stephen King twist doesn't appear until the end, but you don't care.  In those few pages, we were transported to the world of baseball in 1957.  The writing is so good that even a marginal baseball fan like me - I love the game, but don't know a lot of the details - was absorbed in the story.  The story is told from the perspective of third-base coach "Granny" Grantham - now living in a nursing home and recounting the tale of Blockade Billy to Stephen King - so it definitely captured the authentic lingo of the game and the time.  Some of the idioms were confusing to me, but Dave jumped in with definitions when needed. 

The twist, when it finally arrives, is not totally surprising - there were a couple clues along the way if you were paying close attention - but it's just "King-ish" enough to make for a satisfying curveball.  This is another example of Mr. King's extreme talent for writing.  We both gave this story an A+. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wondrous Words Wednesday

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading.  This meme is sponsored by Kathy at Bermuda Onion.

This is my first time participating in Kathy's efforts to expand our vocabularies.  I ran across such an interesting word this week, that I had to join in.

Pusillanimity - [pyoo-suh-luh-nim-i-tee]  – noun
the state or condition of being pusillanimous; timidity; cowardliness.

Thoughts on Graduation

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You're on your own.  And you know what you know. You are the guy who'll decide where to go.” - Dr. Seuss

Our daughter will be graduating from high school in a couple days and helping her navigate the myriad choices for her future has put me into a contemplative spirit.

The majority of speeches you hear at graduations fall into two categories:  1. Mourning the loss of childhood and the passing of the "best time of your life".  These speeches are usually given by the graduates themselves, because anyone who has been out of high school for more than thirty minutes knows this is not the case.  If the years from 14-18 were truly the highlight of life, depression would be rampant among adults.

2.  The "you can do anything" speech.  Visualize your goals; if you can dream it, you can do it; reach for the stars; don't let anyone stand in your way....  Again, most adults know this philosophy is also a load of c**p.  Goals and dreams are great, but they are not always achievable by sheer force of will.  Sometimes the ways of the world, the wants/needs of others or any of a hundred other circumstances beyond our control get in the way.  These speeches fill kids with the idea that they are worthless if their goals are not to be a CEO, drive luxury cars and vacation in exotic locales.  In a commencement speech at Kenyon College, Bill Watterson, creator of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, said it much better than I ever could:
Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it's to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential-as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.  You'll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you're doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you'll hear about them. - Bill Watterson

While we encouraged our kids to go to college, to prepare themselves for the job market, and to get away from home and experience a new part of the world, our greatest prayer for them has always been that they would be godly people and find joy in whatever they do.  Now we just pray that the speeches from home outweigh the speeches from the world. 

Congratulations to our Brown-Eyed Girl and to all others who are starting a new part of life's journey in the next few weeks.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Wrecked by Carol Higgins Clark

Private Investigator Regan Reilly and her husband, Jack, are about to celebrate their first wedding anniversary.  They decide to spend four days at his parents' beautiful beachfront home on Cape Cod.   Regan and Jack are just in time to experience a major storm.  Skip, the family's caretaker, discoveres Adele Hopkins, the woman renting the house next door, in a heap at the bottom of her staircase to the beach.  Regan and Jack run back down with him, but huge waves are crashing on the shore.  Hopkins is gone, presumably swept out to sea.  Regan and Jack begin an investigation to help their friends track down Hopkins's family.  Regan and Jack's search for clues to this mysterious woman's identity makes for an anniversary weekend they'll never forget! (from publisher's synopsis)

If nothing else, this book is aptly titled - it is a Wreck!  A stormy weekend on the Cape Cod shore, a cast of off-beat residents, a quirky group of strangers visiting town, multiple sub-plots - Ms. Clark started out with all the makings for a top-rate cozy mystery and she spun an entertaining tale for two-hundred pages.  Unfortunately, that's where the ship ran aground and the whole thing sank.

The major premise of the book is the search for the family of Adele Hopkins, the woman who is assumed to have been swept out to sea.  The belongings she left in her rental house raise questions about her background and her motives for living a reclusive life.  The search leads Regan and Jack to a local gift shop.  The sub-plot involving the owners of the store and their on-line "Pillow Talk" site adds another layer of intrigue.  Skip, the caretaker, adds his own twists to the plot.  Off to a great start!

But the last fifty pages were a huge disappointment.  (*Possible Spoiler Alert* - as if the ending itself wasn't spoiler enough.) There's someone hiding in the house, but when the culprit was revealed, rather than shock or even "I knew it!", my reaction was "Who?"  We never do find out exactly why she was there. Why is the ex-boyfriend in the closet (literally)?  Why was Adele living as a hermit?  To whom was she planning to send all the apology cards and pillows?  Who returned the pillow slashed to shreds?  What happened in Floyd's past to make him so loony?  Why was the milk the caretaker left in the fridge already sour?  What was the secret item hiding under Adele's pillow?  Is there a connection between the various storylines or are they just there as filler?  Some of these questions are answered haphazardly and some are never answered at all. 

Note to mystery authors:  When the big reveal moment arrives, we readers like to be in on it.  There is nothing more frustrating to a who-done-it fan than to invest hours in solving a puzzle, only to have it all end with a two-minute wrap-up that includes revelations like "It's a good thing Dan found that plaque that had fallen under the bed, that answered all our questions." or "It turns out Skip was taking care of more than one house and he accidently mixed up the milk cartons."  We want to be there when the clues are found; we want to be rewarded for our sleuthing efforts by participating in the culmination.

I have read a couple others in this series and don't recall being disgruntled at the endings, but this installment foundered.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

I have been on a "re-reading old favorites" kick lately, so when a patron asked about the Earth's Children series a few weeks ago, it sparked a memory of how much I liked these stories. I read the first three installments back in the '80's when they first came out and loved them.  I know number four is on my bookshelf, but I can't remember now why I have never gotten around to reading it or number five - but then, half the time I can't remember what I named my children.  When all five books recently became available in audio form from Kansas Audiobooks, Music and More - the fantastic free site for downloading audiobooks, ebooks and videos, sponsored by the Kansas State Library - I decided to start from the beginning and work my way through all five this time.  It was just as good as I remembered.
Here is the saga of a people who call themselves the Clan of the Cave Bear; how they lived; the animals they hunted; the great totems they revered. But mostly it is the story of Ayla, the girl they found and raised, who was not like them. To the Clan, her fair looks make her different--ugly. And she has odd ways: she laughs, she cries, she has the ability to speak. But even more, she struggles to be true to herself and, with her advanced intelligence, is curious about the world around her.
Clan of the Cave Bear begins with Ayla's separation from her family during an earthquake and her rescue by the Clan. The rest is the story of her continual struggle to fit into a society that lives, communicates and even thinks differently from what she has known and from her instincts.

On the surface, a book about "cavemen" doesn't trip my trigger, but the extensive research and/or imagination that went into creating this world make it one of those books that immerse you.  I have commented before that I love stories involving Native American lore and this is along the same lines.  The details of the Clan's daily existence - how they hunted, found shelter, cooked, made clothing - fascinate me.  Those same details could easily become like reading a textbook, but Ms. Auel's writing weaves them into the plot without slowing the action.  The Clan's language is mostly gestures and hand movements, mixed with a few guttural sounds, which could be difficult both to write and to read. Again, Ms. Auel's skill as a writer manages to convey the emotions and thoughts behind the gestures while never letting you forget that this is not a verbal conversation.

I am anxiously awaiting volume two - The Valley of the Horses - through the audiobooks site. I am currently third on the waiting list so may have to revert to the printed version for this one. 

Monday, May 3, 2010

Clash of the "Clash of the Titans"

Dave has been anticipating the remake of Clash of the Titans for months.   He was a big fan of the 1981 version and figured taking a good basic story and updating it with modern technology would make for a hit movie.  Unfortunately, he was wrong - at least in this instance.  Rather than enhancing the myth of Perseus, which was told so well in the first version, this film is a two hour commercial for "look what our special effects department can do!"  The story is nearly obliterated by the continual barrage of creepy characters, bizarre sounds, strange landscapes, camera shots that move so fast you can't follow the action, and slime - they really like slime. 

Are you getting the idea that I didn't care for this show?  Dave even fell asleep at one point (or maybe two) because the dialog was either A.) drown out by background special effects noise or B.) filtered through some special effects gizmo that made the English language nearly unrecognizable.  If we hadn't seen the original, there is no way we could have followed the story.  I'm not sure what, other than the $20 we had just spent, kept us from walking out in the middle.  The only positive thing I can say about this experience least we didn't drive to the city and pay double the price to see this mess in 3-D.