Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Top 10 According to Me

Here are my top ten picks of the books I read in 2010, and a brief explanation of why they made the list: 

Under the Dome by Stephen King - This is a monster of a book (1072 pages), with a gargantuan cast and multiple sub-plots weaved together to create a massive story. It's about small town politics, secrets, drugs, greed, families, power...It's a mini-series in a novel! 

The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard -  Mrs. Pickard captures the essence of a small Kansas town where major crimes are rare, and the impact on those who, by no choice of their own, are caught in the middle of the biggest thing that ever happened there.

Gunn's Golden Rules by Tim Gunn - Mr. Gunn champions old-fashioned etiquette and classic good taste without giving up personal rights or space.  (Review pending)

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen - A beautifully written fairy-tale for adults, complete with a handsome prince, a friendly giant and a moral -people can change, the past can be healed, and we're all really not so different, after all.

Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins - Roman Gladiators meet Reality TV.  Everyone's heard of this trilogy and it lives up to the hype.  (Review pending)

House Rules by Jodi Picoult -  An inside look at life with Autism. This is the kind of book I usually avoid: overflowing with emotion and real-life drama. Add the continual hopping between five different narrators, and I was guaranteed not to like this book. Wrong!  Loved it and learned from it.  What more can you ask of a book? 

Is It Just Me, or Is It Nuts Out There? by Whoopi Goldberg - Echoes my own thoughts.  Similar to Gunn's Golden Rules, but with a tougher twist. (Review pending)

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell - One woman finding an outlet for her creativity, skills she didn't know she had, and a connection with the past.  Inspiring.

The Leisure Seeker by Michael Zadorian - The story of an elderly couple looking for one last adventure before the succumb to Alzheimer's and cancer.  There is subtle humor found mostly in the experiences that all couples and/or parents share. I believe that everyone will get something slightly different from this story, depending on age and perspective. The lessons to be learned, however, are universal.

Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane - New author to me.  Thrillers without blood-and-guts.  What a find!

Favorite line of the year:  From The Leisure Seeker -  "I'm sorry that we worried the children, but I've spent most of my adult life worrying about them, so I'm gonna call it even." 

Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 Wrap-up - or not!

I currently have forty-two blogs listed in my Google Reader, and every one of them is wrapping up the year and making plans for their 2011 reading.   Planning my reading is a new concept for me.  I have always been the proverbial "voracious reader", but I just ... read... whatever was handy.  When we lived in library-challenged areas, "handy" included re-reading from my own bookshelf, trading with friends, frequenting used-book shops and the rare trip to a mall and Walden Books (If I had the proper font - that would be glittery, or perhaps neon.  We have lived in some desolate places where it was 90 miles or more to a chain book store.)

In our more library-blessed years, I frequented the mystery shelves and new release sections looking for familiar names, but rarely branched out.  Then came May 2005 **insert fireworks, angels singing and other displays of awe!**  I went to work at the library and everything changed.  I discovered genres and authors I knew nothing about.  I became a whatever-word-means-more-than-voracious reader!

But then I became a blogger and discovered that people PLAN their reading.  They make lists - lists of what they have read, want to read, hope to read, books they are waiting for, books they no longer want, books they thought about reading, but didn't -  they categrogize, they rank, they enter challenges and contests, they participate in reading marathons. That they ever find time to actually open a book amazed me.  I was in awe!  I wanted to be like them.  I wanted to be organized and outlined and scheduled!  So I joined some challenges for 2010,  I bought a special organizer to keep track of my lists and I was set.  I was going to be an Intentional Reader.  Until one morning I looked at the reader in the mirror and realized "Oh yeah!  That's me.  i've never been organized in my life."  My planner contains two entries and I didn't complete a single challenge except the one Dave and I created.  I slunk back to reality and resigned myself to just being the scatter-brained me that loves books. 

My plan for 2011 is to not have a plan.  I'm not joining challenges or making lists or restricting myself to a certain type of book - although I'm still a tad envious of those of you who do.  The one concession I have made to list-making is reviewing what I've read in 2010 and selecting what I liked best.  In so doing, I discovered I read a lot of "fluff" this year, but I'm excusing myself because it's been a stressful year and my brain needed alot of comfort reading.  I was able to glean ten books that had some substance - at least to me - and I'll be sharing those tomorrow because this post is already a Tolstoy novel.  So pencil me in to your schedule tomorrow and come back for the final Just One More Thing... of 2010 and have a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

There Goes Santa Claus by Nancy Mehl

Ivy Towers heard the "prancing and pawing of each little hoof" on her rooftop, just before Santa fell to his death.   Now she needs to discover Santa's true identity and why he was on her roof.

I took this book home from the library over Christmas weekend for several reasons.  One, it was one of the few remaining Christmas-themed books we purchased this year that I haven't read.  Two, the cover is adorable.  And three, with the kids home and all that entails, I didn't want to attempt any deep reading.  All very superficial reasons to pick up what I thought would be a standard cozy mystery.  But it was far above the standard.

The draw of a cozy is the community, but authors often sacrifice plot and movement to create that relaxed, hometown feel.  Nancy Mehl manages to keep the small town ambiance and quirky characters, without losing momentum.  My second praise of Mrs. Mehl's work is that she trusts her readers enough to put the clues out there - well disguised - and let the reader solve along with the heroine - or not.  There were no aimless re-caps of information and possible solutions that are so common in this type of book.  Mere pages before the bad guy was revealed, I began to have my own suspicions.  What a satisfying ending, to discover that I had been able to piece part of the solution together, but not too soon.

This is a Heartsong Presents Mystery, which means the characters express their Christian viewpoint.  That is never an issue to me, but in this story set at Christmas, it adds a second storyline of forgiveness and second chances.  There are three previous entries in the Ivy Towers series, none of which I've read, but it didn't make a bit of difference to my enjoyment of this book.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Blue Christmas

Christmas is over!  The music, the movies, the lights, the eggnog, the cookies, the shopping, the wrapping - all finished.  Of course that also means the planning, scheduling and traveling are over - hip, hip, hooray!  But, as usual, it leaves me feeling a bit let down.   I love Christmas - and a special "humbug" to those of you who try to limit my celebration to two weeks in December. December is a wonderland of twinkling lights, Santa, jingle bells, candy canes, Nativity scenes, and wishes for Peace on Earth.  I'm a Christmas Baptist - I can't just sprinkle on a little Christmas cheer, I have to be fully immersed.  (Actually, I'm a rest-of-the-year Baptist, too, but you get my point.)  So, there I am, dredging myself in every drop of Christmas cheer I can find, and then - BOOM - it's over.  Before me stretches eleven months of cold, barren non-Christmas wilderness. 

Now, I know I can stretch the holiday out through New Year's Day - quiet carols on the office computer, the last couple of Christmas movies on the DVR, the bottom inch of the Yankee Red Apple Wreath candle - and then the Grand Finale, New Year's Day brunch and "The Rose Parade".  (Attending the Rose Parade is on my Bucket List.)  But then it's January 2nd - 333 days to December 1 - and no more reprieves.

Don't get me wrong, we had a wonderful Christmas.  We got to spend time with both sides of our family, plus a fantastic Christmas Eve at home with just us and the kids...

Side Note: Adult children who can shop on their own is one of the rewards for not killing your teenagers.   I am  sentimental about gifts.  I would much rather receive a $10 thoughtful gift, than a gift that is elaborate but impersonal or - horrors - that I had to instruct them to buy.  Although having the four of us together, laughing and playing games for the evening was truly all the gift I needed, it was a special treat to receive presents from my kids that, even though purchased on a college student budget, had obviously required some consideration.

...It was everything I could have asked for, but I'm still di-spirited.  (Get it?  "Dispirited" - dejected, disheartened, gloomy; and "di-spirited" - having one's Christmas spirit removed.  Ok, it was funnier in my head.)  So I will soldier on through the desolate, Christmas-less months, sustained only by Darius Rucker singing Winter Wonderland on my MP3, the handful of Santas who remain on display in our house year-round, and late-night DVR viewings of It's a Wonderful Life, complete with commercials because, yes, I'm even a sucker for Christmas-themed ads.

We hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, whatever size and form your celebration took.  And we pray that the beauty of God's Greatest Gift, his Son, touched you.   Wishing you all a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

In the Dark Streets Shineth by David McCullough

Christmas Eve, 1941:  Days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt met at the White House and delivered a powerful message that still resonates today. (adapted from book cover)

Mr. McCullough blends two themes into one brief, but poignant, moment in history.  The main story is the historic meeting of two world leaders to address a reeling, frightened country.  In that address, Mr. Churchill spoke of the war "creeping  nearer to our hearts and homes...[yet] we have tonight the peace of the spirit in each cottage home" and suggested that "for one night only, each home throughout the English-speaking world should be a brightly-lighted island of happiness and peace." 

The second, and perhaps more prevalant, theme of the book is the music that provided a backdrop for that moment.  On that Christmas morning, President Roosevelt and the Prime Minister attended church, where they sang "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem" - a hymn unfamiliar to Mr. Churchill.  The lyrics include these lines:

Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting light. 
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
Though written more than 70 years earlier, this classic Christmas carol echoed Churchill's hope for the Everlasting Light amidst the darkness of war.  Two years later, another song bound to become a Christmas classic, was recorded by Bing Crosby:  "I'll Be Home For Christmas"

The book contains some background on both of these songs, as well as the complete text of both P.M. Churchill's and President Roosevelt's speeches.  Also included is a DVD of David McCullough's 2009 presentation of this story at the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra's annual Christmas concert.  While the spoken words are verbatim from the text, the incredible music brings them to life.

This is a very short book - thirty-three pages of scant text - but it also includes some nostalgic WWII-era pictures and, of course, the DVD, which makes it more worthy of the $19.99 retail price.   It's a great message of peace and hope for your holiday, and a brief history lesson.

Friday, December 17, 2010

What's the dif?

Today I'm airing one of my pet peeves.  It's really a small part of a huge peeve, but I'm assuming your interest in my aggrevation is minimal, so I'll narrow the focus.  The overall peeve is the dumbing down of America; narrow that to the sub-peeve of improper spelling, punctuation, capitalization  and grammar becoming acceptable (even in school!).  Personally, I think this trend can be traced to e-mail and texting where speed outranks proper form, but that's neither here nor there.  Today we're concentrating on just the verbs "bring" and "take".  That's the one that drives me bonkers.  I correct my kids, I correct random kids in the library, I telegraph ESP corrections at adults, and I scream openly at the TV.  Worst of all, due to the common misusage and to Spell Check's replacement of human editing, this grammatical glitch has found it's way into *gasp* books!   

To clarify: the words bring and take are not necessarily interchangeable.  Yes, there are certain exceptions to the rule depending on whether the speaker is assuming the point of view of another, but I'm talking only about basic usage.  I looked at several references to get a definitive rule for deciding which word to use, and they all agreed with this basic rule of thumb from the American Heritage Dictionary:

"Bring" indicates movement towards something (bring to) and "take" indicates movement away from something (take away).

If I am at home, giving my child a reminder before she leaves for school, I would say "Don't forget to bring your history book home." (move it toward this place).  If I were her teacher, standing in the school building, I would say "Don't forget to take your history book home." (move it away from this place).

I know my grammar and spelling are not always correct, but that particular burr gets under my saddle.  Thanks for listening.  What grammar or speech quirks rub you the wrong way? Next week I'll be covering sentences ending in prepositions and the removal of handwriting skills from school curriculums.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Read Together Challenge Wrap-up

This blog began in October 2009 when Dave and I, after twenty-seven years of marriage and thousands of books read individually, discovered the joy of reading together.  We were on a road trip with a broken cd player (so no audio books), wildly different tastes in radio stations, and one copy of a bestseller we both wanted to read.  So we began taking turns reading aloud while the other one drove - and we loved it!  We carried the habit into the house with the luggage and have been reading together ever since.  This blog is our way of sharing what we're reading and encouraging you to do the same.  In January 2010, we issued this challenge

Find someone special and read together. Take turns reading aloud, read to someone with a visual impairment, read a school-assigned book with your teen, volunteer to read to nursing home residents. If you aren't comfortable reading aloud, pass the book between you, with each of you individually reading a chapter or chosen number of pages at a time. However it works for you - the idea is to be involved in the story simultaneously. And then discuss what you're reading. Throw out your crazy theories for whodunit...debate the hero's next your reactions...giggle!

If, like me, you forgot about most of the challenges you entered, or even if you've never heard of this challenge before, there is still time.  The Bumbles, so far our only entry, shared The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold and wrote their individual reviews, thus they are currently leading the race for the prize.  If you want to challenge them for the top spot (and the book of your choice - $25 or less - from just leave a comment and let us know what books you've read together this year and with whom.  Each book = one entry.  The winners will be chosen in a random drawing.  No book club selections please, since reading together is a given in those groups.  Our goal is to get you to read "outside the box", encourage a non-reader, widen your reading-horizon by sharing a new genre.

Dave and I met our goal of twelve books, finishing #12 during our trip to Topeka last weekend, and we have one more in progess that may be finished by the end of the year since we have more Christmas traveling to do.  Here's our list:

Deeper Than the Dead by Tami Hoag
The 13th Hour by Richard Doetsch
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Golf in the Year 2000 by J. McCullough
The Spellman's Strike Again by Lisa Lutz
Blockade Billy by Stephen King
Postcard Killers by James Patterson
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Mockingjay by Suanne Collins
Wicked Appetite by Janet Evanovich
Witch and Wizard by James Patterson
In progress:  The Gift by James Patterson

For 2011 we are not sponsoring an official contest with entries and prizes and all, but we still encourage you to give the gift of books and a love of reading. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

Amanda McCready was four years old when she vanished from a Boston neighborhood twelve years ago. Desperate pleas for help from the child's aunt led investigators Kenzie and Gennaro to take on the case. The pair risked everything to find the young girl—only to orchestrate her return to a neglectful mother and a broken home.

Now Amanda is sixteen—and gone again. A stellar student, brilliant but aloof, she seemed destined to escape her upbringing. Yet Amanda's aunt is once more knocking on Patrick Kenzie's door, fearing the worst for the little girl who has blossomed into a striking, clever young woman—a woman who hasn't been seen in weeks.

In November I wrote a post about my love for reading thrillers but my disgust at the blood-and-guts they usually contain.  Several readers recommended their favorite non-gory page turners, including Mrs. Bumble's suggestion that I try Dennis Lehane.  Lehane's latest arrived at the library just days later, so I called Librarian Dibs* and took it home. 

 And she was right!  The plot centers around a moral dilemma - to do what is right or what is lawful - and the guilt and regrets that accompany the decision.  Originally, McKenzie chose the law (in 1998's Gone, Baby, Gone) but this time around he has twelve years of recriminations, and a child of his own, to sway his perspective.   As a P.I., he has danced around danger like a prizefighter, always able to duck away at the last moment and avoid the punch, but the weight of age and responsibility slows his step.  The choice this time around is not a textbook scenario of compassion versus legality, but a question of moral right versus his family's safety.

I have not read Gone, Baby, Gone, or any of the other previous McKenzie/Gennaro mysteries, but I was able to pick up the backstory easily enough.  However, I would recommend reading them in order just for a better contrast between the attitudes during various stages of life, which I thought was the most intrigueing part of the story. 

This book is not totally violence free, but it was kept to a minimum, related sparingly and, most importantly, was necessary to the plot.  Thanks again, Mrs. Bumbles, for a great recommendation.

*Library Dibs = my self-assigned right to all library materials before they are available for public use.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Musical Vehicles

We have invented a new game, Musical Vehicles.  It's annoying, expensive and a real Christmas-spirit-killer, but we just keep on playing.  The rules are simple: four family members, four vehicles, each person moves around the board of life until their car quits moving, then the other three players must move to the square occupied by the stranded player to tow, push and/or repair said vehicle, then play resumes.   If the "repair" option is required, the two players designated as responsible adults (also called parents) lose a turn and make a visit to the banker before they can proceed.  If they no longer own enough hotels, motels or heirlooms to pawn and appease the banker, they proceed directly to the poor house without passing go and without collecting $200 - but their car will probably break down on the way.

Our round of this not-so-amusing sport actually began before the kids left for college in August and has gone something like this:
  • Daughter's car burns up a coil, replace coil and housing, all is well. 
  • Daughter's car leaves her stranded along I-70  - tow, repair ANOTHER burned out coil. Assume first replacement was faulty.
  • During above repair, discover bad bearing in front end. Daughter temporarily trades bearing-less car for Dad's Mustang.
  • Parents hock computer, small kitchen appliances and lawn mower and Dad replaces bearings. All is temporarily well.
  • Daughter has "fender bender" in Dad's Mustang.
  • Daughter fears death.
  • Exchange repaired car and slightly-dented Mustang, all is well (except the ongoing argument with insurance - but that's a whole other game).
  • Daughter's car burns up ANOTHER coil (we're detecting a pattern) and once again leaves her stranded along I-70.  Tow to mechanic in Hays (where Son lives). 
  • Daughter borrows Mom's car and returns to college, parents share slightly-dented Mustang.
  • Son is winning - he now has two vehicles at his house while parents are sharing one.
  • Mechanic discovers issue which is causing scorched coils (hopefully) and repairs Daughter's car.  Parents hock the tv, the golf cart and one of the grandsons to pay for repairs - all is well.
  • Mom tires of hearing "All is Well" and hits town crier with a wooden mallet. 
  • All players gather on the "Thanksgiving in Hays" square, eat themselves silly, then return to their game-paths with one car per player.  
  • Thanksgiving break ends, Mom and Daughter roll dice for choice of cars.  Daughter wins and selects Mom's car because she (understandably) refuses to drive down I-70 in her car ever, ever, ever again!
  • As daughter prepares to leave, Dad discovers bad tire on Mom's car, so Daughter once again returns to school in Dad's Mustang while parents hock Dad's power tools and the other grandson to replace tires.
  • All players plan to converge on "Christmas in Topeka" square for family time and to swap still-slightly-dented Mustang (damn insurance companies!) and Mom's newly-tired car.
  • Slightly-dented Mustang has a very flat tire in the dorm parking lot - after 5:00 on Friday. 
  • Enter brother who changes tire and gets himself and Daughter the 50 miles to Topeka on the spare.
  • Next day, Dad draws a "Chance" card and randomly selects a tire shop in Topeka.  BINGO!  One of Santa's elves works there and repairs and mounts the tire for FREE. 
  • Once again we have four players, each with one vehicle - just not necessarily the vehicle of their choice.
Hopefully, this game will end soon. The Mustang is scheduled for repairs and will be returned to it's former beauty.  Daughter's car will eventually prove itself to be reliable and will return to college life.  Mom's car (for which Mom has a ridiculous sentimental attachment) will then escape from teen driver and return to it's safe, warm, coddled life in Mom's garage.  Ironically, Son, who is driving a fifteen-year-old pickup which is nearing the 200,000 mile mark, is the leader in this game.  And for the moment - all is well.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Christmas Tradtition

Remember a while back I said I wish that I had the creativity, money and style to have a tree that looked like this?  Well, I've changed my mind.  Not about having creativity, money and style - still need those - but about giving up the unique creation that is our Christmas tree.

When our children were born, I began a collection of ornaments for each of them.  We added one ornament per year for each of them, with the idea that when they had their own homes they would have a start on their own Christmas decorations.  We tried to find an ornament that represented a part of their life that year.  Now, after twenty Christmases, we have a tree filled with an eclectic assortment of keepsakes that would never make it onto the pages of Better Homes and Christmas Trees.

There is a brown bear from the year Mitch went to Yellowstone with the Boy Scouts, a ballerina from Amanda's dancing period, Scooby-Do playing baseball (little league), a mouse with a pen and bottle of ink (Amanda's first year of school), a violin (they both played), Santa on a motorcyle (Mitch's first motorcycle), a giant pink disco ball (no one knows why, Amanda just HAD to have it!), and a police car that represents Amanda's senior year (she had some speeding issues).  

Mixed among the annual ornaments are: 
  • souveniers from vacations
  • hand-crafted ornaments made by friends (knitted, crocheted, sewn, and cross-stitched)
  • a beautiful gold ornament my grandparents received for their 50th anniversary
  • four (left from a set of six) white ornaments with doves and "Peace" on them (purchased at Wal-Mart in 1982 to decorate our first tree)
  • a Mark Martin (Nascar) ornament because he's Dave's favorite driver and he used to be sponsored by Viagra.  (Purchased for him by children with a warped sense of humor.)
  • paper candy-canes, handprints and ornaments decorated with school pictures - all created by our little artists.
The collections end with an ornament representing their college. Last year we added a pewter FHSU Tiger and this year we will add the final ornament - something representing KSU - and the countdown begins to my beautifully decorated, themed, color-coordinated, professional-quality tree.  Or so I thought.  But then we decorated the tree this year and began playing "remember when" as we hung each ornament, and I realized that I'm actually going to miss seeing those pieces of their childhoods.  That crazy, offbeat tree is our life - for better or worse, that's us.

I still haven't given up on the idea of a designer tree.  But even after the kids have their own homes and their ornament collections have moved on, there will be a small tree somewhere in my house that holds the childhood memories they leave behind.  And it will warm my heart to know that somewhere out there, there are two NEW homes with wacky Christmas trees.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Virtual Advent Tour: We Wish You a Charlie Brown Christmas

Celebrate the joy of the holidays with the classic animated special, "A Charlie Brown Christmas," tonight at 7:00 p.m. Central Time on CBS.  Charlie Brown and his search for the meaning of Christmas are pop-culture icons.  But do you know the story behind the story? 

In April of 1965, an ad exec contacted tv producer Lee Mendelson.  Coca-Cola wanted to sponsor a Christmas special. Did they have anything in the works?  Mendelson's emphatic answer was "Absolutely".  His next phone call was to Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip, to inform him that he had four days to write a Peanuts Christmas special.  After Coke approved the idea, Schultz, Mendelson and animator Bill Melendez scrambled to produce the special in only six months. 

When the final product was delivered, CBS Programming Exec. Fred Silverman was less than thrilled.  A jazz soundtrack, voices done by non-professional children rather than actors, and scripture voiced by a cartoon combined to make an atypical children's special.  However, since the tv schedule had already been published, CBS had no choice but to air it anyway and hope for the best.

What ensued took everyone by surprise.  A Charlie Brown Christmas was the second most watched show that week, with an unblievable 49% market share.  (If you're wondering, Bonanza was the #1 show.)  The show went on to win both an Emmy for Outstanding Children's Programing and a Peabody Award for Distinguished Achievement in Television.  Charlie Brown and the gang have helped America celebrate Christmas every year since.

Watching a Charlie Brown Christmas is one of my favorite parts of the season.  I have it on DVD and in book form - both regular and pop-up versions.  I often identify with Charlie as he struggles with the commercialization and ponders the true meaning of Christmas.  Not that I'm against the more commercial aspects of the celebration. If you've visited here before, you probably know that I'm a Christmas nut.  I love the music, the decorations, the lights, the tv specials and Santa Claus.  But the Peanuts characters remind me to stop amidst all the rush and glitter to consider "what Christmas is all about."   The answer can be found in Luke 2:8-14.  Listen to Linus recite those amazing words and have a truly Merry Christmas.

Bonus trivia:  In the opening scene of the program, we see the characters skating and playing Crack the Whip.  Charlie Brown and Linus are at the end of the line and are sent sliding across the ice.  Charlie Brown slides into a tree and snow falls on his head, but we never see where Linus lands.  Do you know why?

In the original version, Linus slides into a Coca-Cola sign - an extra bit of advertising for the sponsors.  Since Coke is no longer the exclusive sponsor, that scene was cut.  And now you know....the rest of the story.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Piggly Wiggly Christmas by Robert Dalby

When the new First Lady of Second Creek, Gaylie Girl Dunbar, approaches her new husband, Mayor Hale Dunbar, with a civic project involving Christmas caroling around the historic town square, all the local church choirs quickly sign up for the big event.

But when an electrical fire devastates the square's beautiful old buildings a week before Christmas, everything is thrown into chaos. It falls to the town's indefatigable army of matrons-the Nitwitts-to find a way to revive the holiday spirit and raise money to rebuild. It will take a miracle... But it's Christmas in Second Creek, where everyday miracles are a way of life.

I read several reviews of this book which described it as charming, quirky, humerous, and heartwarming - all apt descriptions.  "Charming" describes the town and it's picturesque square. This is one of those stories that draws you in for a leisurely stay, and leaves you sad that you have to return to reality at the end.

The "quirky" part comes for the characters. I seriously want to be a Nitwitt, even though I'm not quite old enough to qualify.  These women are a red-hat group on crack, or at least too much sweet tea.  I especially love their names - Gaylie Girl, Witsie, Novie, Denver Lee - and they make me want to join them for a drink, some chit-chat and dancing.

"Heartwarming" defines the Nitwitts' lovely Christmas celebration on the square, and their determination when tragedy strikes.  This is the forth entry in the Piggly Wiggly series.  I highly recommend them all - but if you haven't read the others and you want to jump in here for the holiday elements, go ahead.  I'm betting you'll want to return to Second Creek.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg

The latest from Fannie Flagg is heralded as "a comic mystery romp through the streets of Birmingham, Alabama, past, present, and future".  I'm not so sure.

The mystery portion is intriguing - a puzzle from the past that can be pieced together leisurely - and I didn't solve it on my own.  It's the "comic" tag that confuses me.  I'm not revealing any secrets to tell you that the main character, Maggie Fortenberry, is planning her suicide.  You can discover that much from the jacket blurb or the reviews.  It seemed a strange subject for a humerous story, but I'm always game for an off-the-wall tale.

The problem for me was with Maggie herself.  Her anal need to orchestrate every detail of her life, her death and beyond was annoying to me on one level because I am soooo not that person.  But beyond that, she just didn't ring true as a suicidal personality.  Her list of reasons to die were superficial, at best, and her reasons to keep postponing her death were equally trivial.  Maggie was so overly sweet that I needed to brush my teeth after reading.  I definitely didn't get the feeling of "strong southern woman" as advertised.

In spite of my disconnection from Maggie, the mystery and the supporting cast made the book worth reading.  I wouldn't spend my money to own a copy, but it's worth picking up at the library.  I give it a 3 out of 5.

Is It Still Thanksgiving?

I left work on the 23rd with a lovely Thanksgiving post in my head, inspired by The Bumbles post about being thankful for the little things in life.  Brilliant ideas were flowing freely.  But then I got home.  And reality took over.  And there were pies to bake, and bags to pack and..... Well, and it never got done.  And now the creative flow more closely resembles the Arkansas River in Southwest Kansas - slow, sludgy, nearly non-existent - so that post is tabled for later when I remember what I was going to say.

In the mean time, hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  We tried something new this year.  Our son, Mitch, was on call for his job so couldn't leave Hays.  Two of his fraternity brothers were also stuck at school because of job schedules, so we hauled Tom Turkey and his backup dishes to Hays and had dinner at the fraternity house.  The guys set the tables with whatever they could find so we had one Halloween tablecloth and one 4th of July tablecloth, and we ate on paper plates, but it was great fun.  After some football and napping, we played games until well into the night.  I am the Champion of Animal House Trivia, by the way.

Whether your day of thanks was the traditional family feast or a Big Mac and fries, we hope you had a blessed day and much to be thankful for.