Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 31

Liked Girl with a Pearl Earring? Then you'll love I Am Madame X! Gioia Diliberto's novel is the historically accurate but fictionalized account of the life of Virginie Gautreau, the subject of John Singer Sargent's famous portrait. The book is really lovely, and super quick, and I think I've established that I like historical fiction, so this is a no-brainer. Loved it! I also like books that have a Louisiana element to them (what can I say? VC Andrews did me right), and this one is set in Louisiana and Paris. Again, loved it! And it talks about fashion... loved it!

I Am Madame X - A-

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 30

About once every two months, the Cannonball Read leader throws up a 5K challenge - five books in two weeks, and they all have to fit certain parameters. For the first 5K, all the books had to be over 400 pages (thankfully, I missed that one). For the next 5K, we readers had to select one book from each of the following genres: fiction, non-fiction, biography, sci-fi or fantasy, and romance. And I plowed through the first four, no sweat.

But then came the romance. I've only read two other romance novels. One had something to do with Ireland, and the other was called VIKING! There was definite longing and moistness and throbbing manhood in each of these fine tales - you might say they were trashy romance novels. So I decided to go with a solid novel-y romance novel, by one of the great romance writers of our time, Iris Johansen. You can tell that she's a big deal because her name is the biggest think on the book cover - no heaving bosoms thrown back in ecstasy for Miss Iris! She's written a gazillion books! She's a New York Time #1 bestseller! I thought this might be a safe bet.

Too safe, it turns out. I didn't see my first nipple until about sixty pages in, and the first sex scene between the protagonists takes place on page 204! Outrageous! I was thinking that the sex would have started much earlier. Well, to be fair, the longing started earlier, but it took over 200 pages to get the the actual sex. And there was a lot of book that was not about sex. Lots of battles, and wounds, and fires and stuff, and some silk and magic, too. And I don't think I need to read another romance for a while.

Lion's Bride - C

Ear Plugs

As far as I can tell, there are two kinds of ear plugs: Here's the one I like. Ear plugs have helped me out a number of times: on planes, at concerts, sleeping next to a snorer. Ear plugs, you are so unfashionable, and I love you so much. Keep up the good work.

Here's the kind I hate. My biggest problem with gauged earrings is the "down the road" factor. Do people that get their earlobes stretched think about life after 40? Forget the tattoos - given enough money and a high pain threshold, those can be removed. But can you do reconstructive surgery on your earlobes to shrink those holes?

Kids these days.

earplugs - A-; plug ears - D-

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 29

OK, this book was whack. I had to read a sci-fi story for a competition-within-the-competition, and this one was short, and on hand, so it seemed a good choice. And it was fine, really. But WHACK. It had a bunch of pot-smoking, and all kinds of love-making, and then there were ghosts (but not really), and dead guys (but not really), and noses smelling at 100 times the power of wolf's due to a diabolical experiment (really). And a leopard.

I like most of Spider Robinson's stuff a whole lot more than I liked this. Stick to hard-drinking aliens, Spider, and less of the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it business.

Telempath - C

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 28

Absolutely American: Four Years at West Point by David Lipsky wasn't my first choice for a non-fiction book - my favorite non-fiction subdivisions are memoir or historical crime. But my friend Teenie said it was awesome, and she's generally right about that sort of thing. And wouldn't you know it? This was no exception. Lipsky, a writer for Rolling Stone, was given unprecedented access to West Point, and stayed for four years, which allowed him to follow a whole class from plebes to firsties (that's me, using the lingo). Absolutely American is less a book about the military and more a book about personality - the reader comes to know the cadets and what makes them tick. Along the way, sure, there's military stuff, and some of the instances of infraction and punishment are extreme, but what's more compelling is why these kids went to West Point in the first place, and what's keeping them there. I really, really liked this book.

Absolutely American - A-

Monday, April 20, 2009


There's a restaurant in the town where I live that a lot of people love. It's located very close to my place of employment, and many fancy dinners have been held there before events in my building. I've only been there twice: once for cocktails and apps, once for lunch - today.
And I'm here to tell you: this place is overrated. Everything is WAY too fancy. I didn't want a braised duck sandwich or a pizza with peas, so I ordered the plainest thing on the menu - a grilled three-cheese sandwich with tomatoes, and a side salad.
OK, my sandwich was awful. Way too much flavor in the cheese. No, I wasn't expecting Velveeta, but they used what I like to call "garnish cheeses," or "salad cheeses." I LOVE gorgonzola on a salad, but as a main component on a sandwich? Too much. And the tomatoes were drenched in balsamic vinegar - so much wang that my I'm sure my face puckered. Then there's the salad, also awful, but to the extreme opposite. It was a pile of greens. Listen up, restauranteurs: if you're serving a pile of greens, call it "a pile of greens." Lettuce on its own is NOT a salad. At a minimum, dressing is required; throw in some shredded carrot, a banana, a walnut - or some gorgonzola - and now you're talking.

Next time I'm invited along, I'm going to have to make an excuse to not go.

bad apps, bad cocktails, bad lunch - D- (points for free)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 27

Jose Saramago won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998, and I totally understand why. Blindness was like no book I've ever read before - except for, maybe, The Road, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006. None of the characters had names. The punctuation was scant, and sentences ran to half-a-page or longer. Sometimes, that made my eyes hurt. Maybe that was the point.
Blindness is the story of a population suddenly gone blind. People are interred in an abandoned asylum, left to fend for themselves with minimal government intervention, and it's pretty horrifying what happens to these people. Both the good guys and the bad guys suffer awful things, and it can be hard to root for the good guys at times. But then, just when you think it can't get any worse - it doesn't. It's over. The ending was kind of a letdown.
Fancy writer people say the Blindness is an allegory on spiritual blindness. Well, duh.

Blindness - B

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 26

I won't be giving anything away if I write the back cover description of My Lobotomy by Howard Dully and Charles Fleming, since the title pretty much says it all:

My name is Howard Dully. In 1960, when I was twelve years old, I was given a lobotomy. My stepmother arranged it. My father agreed to it. Dr. Walter Freeman, the man who invented the "ice pick" lobotomy, performed it. My family paid the hospital $200. And I never understood why. I wasn't a violent kid. I had never hurt anyone. I wasn't failing out of school. Was there something I had done that was so horrible I deserved a lobotomy? I asked myself that question for more than forty years. Then, when I turned fifty-four, I went looking for the answer.

And there you have it. Dully was twelve years old when he got a transorbital lobotomy - which means that Dr. Freeman stuck some sharp pointy objects through Dully's eye sockets, squigged 'em around a little, and called it good. And he's spent the rest of his life dealing with the effects. This book was horrifying. Not graphic - not really. There were a few descriptions I could have done without, and a real effed-up picture. No, it was horrifying because there really wasn't any reason for Dully to have a lobotomy. My guess is, he was bright but bored, sensitive, and probably had ADHD. His stepmother found it hard to control him, and so she found a way for him to be out of the house: the lobotomy. 'Cause after that, he pretty much never lived in her house again - he was in asylums, halfway houses, or jail. The reader is left to wonder if the stepmother wanted him out so bad that she was willing to see him die, which happened with a lot of lobotomy patients. And then poor Howard never really got off the ground in life. Things were rough for him - asylums, jail time, bad relationships, and an overall inability to take care of himself.

As Howard got older and life got a little easier (with a wife and kids and a steady job he liked), he started to wonder more about the lobotomy, and why it happened; one thing led to another, and he was contacted by the fine folks at NPR for the Sound Portraits series. He was able to look at records from before his lobotomy, including notes on all the conversations his stepmother had with Dr. Freeman. And he finally spoke with his father about his role in the whole thing. This section was probably the most devastating in the entire book. His father accepted no blame, and I just wanted to reach through the pages and strangle him.

So: the writing was up and down. There were some passages that were really well written and compelling. But then there were some parts that were, well, choppy (no lobotomy pun intended). They just didn't jive with the rest of the book. But it was a quick read, and I had a hard time putting it down. Good for a short trip, or a solid day off.

My Lobotomy - B

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 25

Let me start by saying that if you want to read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and have the major plot points unrevealed, don't read the book jacket. The hubs made the mistake of reading the inside of the book jacket, where it pretty much spells out a significant event that otherwise he wouldn't have seen coming. He was very disappointed. So no book jacket - and no big description from me.
I will tell you this: this is one of the saddest books I've read in a long time. David Wroblewski has written a heartbreaking tale of a boy, his family, their dogs, and their tragedies. And I hope I'm not giving too much away to tell you that the segments written from the dogs' points-of-view are gut-wrenchingly beautiful. I don't know if I can ever look at my dog the same way again, knowing what might be going on in his little fuzzy head. I was sad when it ended, on so many levels - the book was over, and these poor people's lives were just shattered.


The Story of Edgar Sawtelle - A-

Saturday, April 11, 2009

All Grown Up

From this:

To this:

Happy Birthday, buddy.

Wash - A+

Friday, April 10, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 24

It's becoming a burden, this challenge. I haven't really enjoyed the last two or three books I've read, including this one, A Cook's Tour by Anthony Bourdain. Perhaps it's because I loved Kitchen Confidential so hard, or because reading this book was sort of like reading eight episodes of No Reservations (although he set out a disclaimer that he was followed around by a camera crew for Food Network while writing the book). More likely, it's because I'm reading to get through it, not to savor anything. I love to read. It's probably my most favorite thing to do. But there should be some fallow time, you know? A time when I'm not currently reading anything might allow me to more fully enjoy the things I do read. But I don't have that luxury. Onwards and upwards.

Also, and this is important: I'm now officially part of the nationwide Cannonball Read network. I'm holding my own against some combatants who entered the race long before I did, and pretty soon I'll be listed as class Honky Tonk Badonkadonk (after that: Rusty Trombone, First Chair). But here's the deal: we're about to have a 5K. Five books in two weeks (April 15-29), and I have to pick one from each of the following five genres: fiction, non-fiction, biography, sci-fi or fantasy, and romance. I have fiction and sci-fi all wrapped up, but I need some solid suggestions on the other three catergories. Remember, over 200 pages - leave your suggestions in the comments!

Back to Bourdain - I'm sorry I couldn't give this one a fair chance. You came at a bad time, buddy, and I'm also a little over your gonzo-ness.

A Cook's Tour - C

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 23

I purchased So You Want To Be a Wizard at my neighborhood used book store, straight out of the Young Adult section, 'cause hey, I like wizards. And I was looking for an easy read. But I didn't love it. I needed more time for Nita, the protagonist, to not be a wizard. And I definitely needed more time for her to be bad at being a wizard. It was like, OK, I'm a wizard now, and I'm not making many mistakes. I also needed the main characters to not be a boy, a girl, a ball of light and a Lotus Esprit. Elves and centaurs I can handle, but a dog-like Lotus Esprit? Far-fetched, even for a book about wizards.

This was written in 1983, so I can't blame Diane Duane for writing a super-lame version of Harry Potter.

So You Want To Be a Wizard - C