Saturday, July 26, 2008

That's What I Was Trying To Say

In the Sunday New York Times Book Review, I ran across this review of Larry McMurtry's latest book Books: A Memoir. I reviewed this book a couple weeks ago after having won an arc from Stephanie at So Many Books. I was really excited about it because I love this sort of thing -- a book about books and the people who love them. What could be better, right? Well, I was less than enthusiastic about the book and disappointed that I couldn't recommend it. I always hate doing negative reviews, and I really don't do very many. The main reason for this is that I don't usually finish a book if I don't like it after about the first 50 pages or so. With a to-be-read mountain the size of Mt. Everest, I can't afford to waste my precious reading time on books I don't enjoy. Plus, I always feel less than qualified to critique a book. But, I don't pretend to be a literary critic. I just give my honest opinion about the books I read.

When I read this review by James Campbell, a literary critic in the New York Times, I felt completely vindicated. Hey, maybe I do know what I'm talking about after all. It seems we both had the same problems with the book. Of course, he was a little more eloquent in his review. But, that's O.K. Below are a couple of quotes from the review that pretty much sum up my feelings.

“Books: A Memoir” reads like notes waiting to be assembled into a book. Many of its 109 chapters run to under a page, and McMurtry has a fondness for single-sentence paragraphs, a technique that carries a built-in resistance to amplitude.

“Books: A Memoir” has an engagingly conversational style in places, but after a time it comes to seem like mumbling: “As I may have mentioned in an earlier book, ‘Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen,’ the only books I can remember buying at Joe Petty’s bookshop, on my first pass at least, were by the Frenchman Romain Rolland. Why him? Didn’t he win the Nobel Prize? If so, why?” Does he mean: if he did win it, why? Or: if he didn’t win it, why? Hard to say (he did win it).

There is a good book in “Books,” struggling to get past all the “I’m not sures” and “I don’t knows” and the truisms (“choice is a mystery”) that McMurtry’s editors should have saved him from.

Has anyone else read this one? I'd love to know what you think.

By the way, the image is of McMurtry's bookstore in Archer City, Texas, which was used by Campbell in his review.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

This was the July selection for The Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge. I've always been curious about this book because it can be found without fail on the books most often banned or challenged list each and every year. Because I hate censorship in all of its forms, I try to read as many of these books as possible. So, I was glad to see it on this list. Censorship is a touchy subject for many people. You either feel really strongly one way or the other about the issue. Sometimes the complaints about books are just down right silly. However, there is usually some well-intentioned person or group behind most challenges. They are just misguided in their attempts. The problem with censorship is it takes away the individual's right to choose for him or herself what to read and/or view. In the case of young children, this can be a tricky thing. In my opinion, there are some things that very young children shouldn't be exposed to. However, it is not my job or anyone else's job to decide what that is for ALL children. Instead, parents or caregivers should judge what is or is not appropriate for their children. We all tend to be egocentric and assume that everyone else shares our same values, morals, and religious beliefs. But, that is simply not the case. What one parent finds highly offensive, another parent may not find offensive at all. Censorship is just a slippery slope plain and simple. The funny thing is that these attempts at banning material usually serve to heighten interest in the book or video. I really believe that this is the case with The Chocolate War. It remains in print and popular simply because of the controversy surrounding it -- not because it is great writing.

To be very honest, I expected more from this book. It is not very well-written. I know Cormier was going for a gritty tale similar to The Outsiders. But, for me it just didn't work as well. The language and story line seemed forced. As to what people may object to in the book, there is some violence and many references to masturbation. It almost seems like the author was going for shock value by purposely including these scenes instead of concentrating on writing a good story and developing well-rounded characters.

The basic story is that of Jerry Renault and his experiences at a Catholic high school. Let's face it, high school can be a pretty bad place for many kids. Jerry is bullied, beaten up and shunned because he refuses to go along with the crowd. You're always going to find this, but there was just too much of it here to be believable. Even the teachers were sadistic in this school. There were few other adults in the book and no women to speak of.

I know this book has been popular for years, and I really have to believe that it's because of all the hype, not because it's a good book. Maybe I would have felt differently if I had read this as a teen, but I don't think so. I just wasn't captured by the characters or the storyline. There are plenty of good YA novels out there, but I don't think this one belongs in the same category with A Separate Peace or Lord of the Flies. The quality shouldn't suffer because the book is written for teens. C. S. Lewis wrote a great piece entitled "On Three Ways of Writing for Children," which discusses this very subject. It was his opinion, and I agree wholeheartedly, that authors should not set out to write a story for any particular audience or age group. Instead, the author should have something to say and then use the most appropriate form available to express it. So, if that happens to be a children's story, the author writes a children's story. If not, he writes something else. But, in either case, the quality should be the same. If you've never read this essay, you should read it, especially if you're an aspiring writer.

I'm glad I finally read this one, but I don't see myself ever reading it again. It's not because I was offended by the violence or all the references to masturbation. It simply isn't a very good book.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Southern Reading Challenge -- Complete!

I just posted my review of Light in August, which completes the Southern Reading Challenge for me. I had a hard time choosing the books that I wanted to read for this one, but I'm really happy with the choices I made. I read:

Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

Light in August by William Faulkner

I enjoyed them all, but honestly, Garden Spells isn't really in the same category with the others. Don't get me wrong, it's a good book. However, the setting is pretty much the only thing that qualifies it as true Southern literature. The angst is missing. There are no grotesque characters and no mules. Religion doesn't really play a role. Again, I enjoyed the book, but I really should have chosen something more authentically Southern for this challenge. I love Truman Capote, but I have to say that I think I liked Light in August the best. This is surprising for me. I almost didn't read it, but I thought I should give Faulkner another chance. I'm so glad I did. Thanks for a great reading challenge, Maggie.

Light in August

This is my third and final book for Maggie's Southern Reading Challenge. Before this, the only other book I've read by Faulkner was As I Lay Dying. That was probably 15 years ago. At the time, I remember not really liking it all that much. It just seemed weird to me. So, I was a little hesitant about reading another Faulkner, but I'm so glad I did. There's so much that I want to say, but I just don't know how to put it into words. The book has so many layers. It deals with some big themes such as religion and racism (which is pretty much a requirement for Southern lit.). But it also deals with isolation, identity, relationships and group mentality.

There are three basic stories that are interconnected, although somewhat loosely. The story of Lena Grove opens and closes the book. She's young, single, and pregnant. She sets out on foot to find the father of her baby who has deserted her. You'd think she'd be depressed or pessimistic about life in her situation, but she's not. She seems to take everything in life as it comes. She's happy in whatever situation she finds herself. But, she's pretty much the only major character in the book that has found any kind of peace at all.

Though there is plenty of misery to go around, for me, the story of Joe Christmas is the saddest. He grows up and lives his entire life without any knowledge of his true identity. The reader finds out as the book progresses that he was taken to an orphanage by his grandfather, who had allowed his only daughter to die in childbirth as punishment for sleeping with someone of a different race. Joe gets his unusual name because he's left at the orphanage on Christmas Eve. He is eventually adopted by a couple, but life doesn't get any better for him. His adopted father beats him on a regular basis. Joe has a problem with relationships with women due to an incident at the orphanage when he was younger. He passes for white for most of his life, but he is ambiguous about his race. He never feels as if he fits in anywhere in the segregated South -- not in white society or black society.

The life of Rev. Gail Hightower is the third story in the book. Gail was born to an older couple and like most everyone else has a less than pleasant childhood. He grows up obsessed by the exploits of his grandfather during the Civil War. He eventually loses his wife and his church because of this strange obsession. He is shunned by the people of Jefferson, and he retreats from life. He looks forward to death as a release from the misery of this life. It's through an encounter with Lena Grove that Hightower decides that maybe he can rejoin life.

That is a very basic synopsis, and I don't want to say much more because I don't want to give too much away. I highly recommend this book especially, if like me, you're one who has tried Faulkner before with less than stellar results. It is not a quick read. It's not the kind of book that you can read while trying to do something else. In fact, I often found myself rereading sentences several times. The writing is complex but absolutely amazing. Though there are three main stories, he weaves them together in such a way that it works beautifully. I love the imagery that Faulkner evokes. He's the type of writer that has that knack of using the exact word necessary to paint a picture for the reader. In fact, he makes up words when nothing else will do -- and it works. I will definitely be reading more Faulkner.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Best Laid Plans...

Well, what can I say? Things didn't quite work out the way I planned for my weekend. It started with a sinus headache that lasted from Friday afternoon until Sunday evening. Yeah, it got better just in time to go back to work on Monday morning. However, feeling like crap still wouldn't have kept me from reading. But, a few other things kind of got in the way. Friday evening I went to dinner with some friends and got home kind of late. Since my head was hurting, I just took some ibuprofen and went to bed. Saturday morning, I got up and had to help my son get the rest of his stuff ready for the trip. Yes, he's 18 and should have had everything together, but he didn't. We had to go to the store and pick up some travel size toiletries and a few things. They were supposed to be leaving at noon. We had about an hour until time for them to leave, so instead of going back home we walked downtown.

On the third Saturday in July every year, we have Farmer's Day. I know it probably sounds like I live in Hicksville, USA, but it's actually a really nice little street festival (except for the fact that it is ALWAYS the hottest day of the year). There are street vendors selling their wares -- beautiful handmade crafts, jewelry, food, etc. There is also a big emphasis on fresh local produce - thus the name. They also have a lot of things for kids -- jumping tents, trains, and all sorts of games. There is also an exhibition of old cars and tractors, and the politicians are out in force giving out freebies in exchange for your vote. Any way, after spending an hour down there in all that heat, I was wiped out when I got the boys off. I went home and laid down for a bit and did read a little, but not on the porch. I was staying in the house with the ac, thank you very much.

Well, I still had plenty of weekend to read at that point. husband got up (he's working nights) early, and we went to look at motorcycles. I need to explain something here. My husband is the greatest man on the planet. He has always put himself last and made sure that me and the boys always had what we needed. So, imagine my surprise when out of the blue a couple months ago he started talking about wanting a motorcycle. He has never had any desire for one before, and he's always hated spending money (especially on himself). So, I was more than a little shocked. However, he deserves to have something for himself. So, he's been looking and looking and talking and talking. Finally, he was ready to put some money down on a motorcycle Saturday. So, I spent the rest of the day Saturday in a dealership. He should get to pick it up some time later in the week. The only bad thing is that he wants me to ride it with him. I'm a little bit of a chicken when it comes to things like this. I usually like to play things safely. But, I picked out a helmet, and I guess I'll have to ride it with him some. I just asked him to remember how supportive I'm being when the time comes for me to have my own midlife crisis.

That brings us to Sunday. I forgot that I was signed up to keep the nursery on Sunday morning. So, I went to church and took care of some of the cutest babies and toddlers. Have I mentioned how much I miss having little ones around? After church, I went to lunch with my parents and got home around 2:00. At this point, my head felt as if it were ready to explode. So, I took four more ibuprofen and went to bed. I got up around 4:30 just in time to answer the phone. It was my parents asking if I wanted to go to the nursing home with them to see my grandma. Sure -- how could I say no? So, we go visit my grandmother and then go eat supper. This leaves me getting home around 7:30 Sunday evening. By this point, I was feeling better. So I finally read Light in August until about 10:30. I didn't finish it, but hopefully I'll finish it today. We'll see how it goes. I've already taken a couple ibuprofen this morning to ward off any sign of a headache.

I guess this should teach me that you can't plan the perfect reading weekend. It just has to happen. So, I'll look forward to a nice surprise some time in the future when all of the stars align just so, and I end up with a weekend to myself with the perfect weather and a stack of books. Oh yeah, I said I would let you know what I decided to read next. I guess I'll read The Chocolate War next so I can stay on track with the Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge.

Friday, July 18, 2008

This has been a long week, but I'm looking forward to a relaxing weekend at home. I have no plans (yah!) and hubby is working and the boys are leaving for a mission trip. So, you know what that means. I'm going to plant myself on the front porch with a stack of books. Yes, I know what you're thinking. Couldn't you find something more productive to do? Like cleaning? Washing the car? Blah, blah, blah. Well, yes, I could do those things, and I may do a few productive things, but the vast majority of my time will be spent with my nose in a book.

I'll finish Light in August, which I'm really liking, by the way. This surprised me a little since I didn't really like As I Lay Dying. However, to be fair I did read that a very long time ago. I may need to give it another shot. Then, I must decide what to read next. There are several things on the bedside table, and there are quite a few things on the way to my house as we speak. I need to read The Chocolate War for The Year of Reading Dangerously. I also have Sea Glass to be read before the next book club meeting, but that isn't until the second Tuesday of August. Maybe I should read something from my list for the Canadian Book Challenge. Or, I could wait and read one of the new books if they're waiting for me when I get home this afternoon.

With a Barnes and Noble gift card saved from my birthday:

Consequences by Penelope Lively
The Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy
The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows

From Amazon because I had to pick up some books for my reading challenges:

Crow Lake by Mary Lawson
Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow
Life of Pi by by Yann Martel
The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence

It's almost always difficult for me to choose my next book because I want to read them all or I wouldn't have bought them. But, I'll make a decision some how. Hopefully, I'll have a review for Light in August on Monday, and I'll let you know what I decided on. Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

2nd Canadian Book Challenge, Eh?

I know I shouldn't join any more challenges, but I couldn't resist this one. John at BookMineSet is hosting the 2nd Canadian Book Challenge, which looks like a lot of fun. I haven't read that much Canadian literature so I think I need to remedy that. John has several different ways to complete the challenge, but I'm going for the freestyle challenge simply because I think it will be easier for me to accomplish. I haven't had the greatest track record with challenges, but I'm getting better.

I actually finished the Once Upon a Time II Challenge (yippee!), and I'm making pretty good progress on the others that I'm participating in. I'm reading my last selection for Maggie's Southern Reading Challenge (Light in August), and I'm on course with the Year of Reading Dangerously. I've read every one of them so far and plan to continue. This month's selection is The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier. I've currently read three of the nine books that I have planned for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge and two of the remaining ones overlap with other challenges. So, I think I'm in pretty good shape so far. O.K., Sharon if you're reading this, I know you're asking about the Soup's On Challenge that I signed up for. I really wanted to do it, and I continue to think about it. But I just haven't been able to find any books that I'm that interested in. Sorry, but at least I feel better now that I've confessed.

The challenge consists of reading 13 books (because there are 13 provinces in Canada) by or about Canadians between July 1, 2008, and July 1, 2009, and writing about them. My list is not set, but these are the books that I'm thinking about at this point. I'm definitely open to suggestions if you have a favorite Canadian author.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (I read this one before I officially signed up for the challenge, but it was in the time frame -- so I'm counting it)
The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Crow Lake by Mary Lawson
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence
The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
Unless by Carol Shields
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood
Possibly something by Alice Munro or Charles de Lint

Friday, July 11, 2008

Books: A Memoir by Larry McMurtry

I received this arc from Stephanie at So Many Books. It sounded like it would be right up my alley. So, I was more than a little disappointed when I discovered that this book is not what I expected at all. First of all, it's not a memoir. It's not even really a book per se. If anything, I'd describe this as a random collection of thoughts from McMurtry. There is absolutely no organization to the book whatsoever. Each 'chapter' (which is often only a couple of paragraphs) dryly details some recollection from McMurtry regarding his life as a writer and bookman. The snippets go back and forth in time and I was never quite sure at what point in his life I was reading about. Normally, I don't mind a non-linear structure, but this was not done well at all. It was jarring and confusing. I also never got any feeling as to McMurtry's emotions or passions regarding books, and I didn't really learn anything much about his life. It read as a long list of his dealings with particular second hand bookshops and bookmen. To be fair, this was an arc that I read. But, I don't think publishers usually make major changes, but rather just correct typographical errors, etc. But, I would be anxious to see the published book just to compare it to the arc. I don't usually finish books that I don't like, but in this case, it read so quickly that it was over before I knew it. I love books about books but this one just didn't deliver. In fact, I'm really surprised that this book made it to publication. After finishing the book, I went back and read what Stephanie had to say about it just to see if I had missed something. If you're interested in what Stephanie had to say about this book, check it out here. If you've read this book, please let me know what you thought. I don't like doing negative reviews, so I will end on a positive note -- the book did make me want to go book scouting. Who knows, maybe I'll find a rare treasure at the local Goodwill.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

I've had a copy of this book around forever and finally picked it up to read because it's the next selection for the Cornflower Book Group. At under 200 pages, it's really more of a novella, which I finished quite quickly. I enjoyed the book, but it's not what I expected. Since, I'm not exactly sure what I expected, that's not really fair to say.

The book is set in Edinburgh beginning in the years before WWII and continues back and forth in time until 1939. Miss Jean Brodie is an eccentric school mistress at the traditional Marcia Blaine School for Girls. She doesn't associate with the other teachers in the junior school, and she is regarded with suspicion by most everyone at the school, including the head mistress. Miss Brodie ignores the structured curriculum taught by the other teachers and prefers to teach her girls about life, art, and culture mainly through stories about herself. Her ideas on everything from education to religion and sex clash with the majority of the people she comes into contact with.

The story is told in flashbacks and recounts the years of one particular set of her girls known as the Brodie set. Miss Brodie likes to have control over her girls and be involved with their lives inside and outside of school. In fact, it's almost as if she plays God in the girls' lives -- pronouncing who will succeed and who will fail. The girls are loyal to Miss Brodie and support her when she faces attack from the headmistress. However, one of the girls ends up 'betraying' Miss Brodie. At least that's the way Miss Brodie sees it at the time.

The book is humorous at times, and I'm anxious to see how everyone else feels about this book when the discussion takes place on July 12. If you're interested, come on over and join in the discussion.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

My book club met last night to discuss Water for Elephants. There were probably 12 or 14 people there, and everyone liked the book. Of course, this is a rare occurrence and doesn't make for the best discussions. It's always better when at least somebody hated the book. However, we had a good time, and everyone discussed what they liked best about the book.

Jacob Jankowski recounts his early years traveling with a circus during the Depression as he lives out his last days in a nursing home. Jacob is now 90 or 93 -- he can't really remember. His days consist mostly of waiting. He waits for his meals, which he hates. He dreams of having real food again instead of the bland mush he's served on a daily basis. He waits for his family to visit, which they do every Sunday. It seems as if that's all he has left. But his mind is sharp, and the memories of his days with the circus come flooding back when a big top goes up within sight of the nursing home. The rest of the story is told in flashbacks. Sometimes this technique can be distracting or confusing, but that's not the case with this book. In fact, the shifts in perspective help to deepen the character.

When we first meet Jacob as a young man, he's preparing for graduation from the vet school at Cornell and planning to join his father's veterinary practice. Just as life seems to be falling into place for Jacob, tragedy strikes. His parents are both killed in a car wreck. Things only get worse when he discovers that his father has heavily mortgaged the family home and business to pay for his education. Due to the terrible economy, his father has gotten behind on the payments because people haven't been able to pay him for his veterinary services. Sadly, Jacob realizes he has nothing -- no family, no job, and no home. Jacob attempts to return to school to finish his final exams but simply can't do it. In his despair and confusion, he literally jumps a train one night and ends up staying with the circus.

The descriptions of circus life are fascinating. It was a hard life, especially during the years of the Great Depression. There was often no money to pay the workers, but they had little recourse because there were no jobs to be had anywhere else. There was also a caste system within the circus with the performers at the top and the workers at the bottom. They kept themselves separate when they ate and when they traveled. The workers were crammed into railroad cars while the performers had state rooms and all the amenities. There was also no shortage of cruelty. If someone got too old or too sick to perform his job, he was simply thrown off the train. If he was lucky, the train was stopped when he was 'redlighted'. If not, he was tossed while the train was at full speed.

The book is very well-written, and it's clear that Gruen did her research. I only had a couple small qualms with the book, but they really didn't take away from my enjoyment at all. After finishing the book, I had to go back and reread the prologue to figure out if I had missed something because of the way the climax takes place. I really can't say much else without giving it away. But, if you read it, you'll know what I'm talking about. The ending is also a little unrealistic. However, even with that, I highly recommend this book.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Six Months Worth of Reading

I've noticed several people around the book blogging community posting their reading stats for the first half of 2008. So, I thought I would play along and post mine. I'm pretty happy with my numbers for the first half of the year. I'm no where near close to some of you -- I swear I don't know how you find time to do anything else! But, with a full-time job, house, hubby, two kids (even though they're practically grown) and other obsessive hobbies, such as knitting, this is all I can do without giving up sleep. I keep up with what I read through LibraryThing, which works well for me.

Books Read January 1, to June 30, 2008
Listed in no particular order:

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke
Love Over Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
Pushing up Daisies by Rosemary Harris
The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
The Essential C. S. Lewis edited by Lyle W. Dorsett
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
They Came Like Swallows by William Maxwell
The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
The Magician's Nephew by C. S. Lewis
The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley
Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood
Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote
Perelandra by C. S. Lewis
The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
Dream Angus: The Celtic God of Dreams by Alexander McCall Smith
Speaking of Love by Angela Young
Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
The Penelopiad : The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus by Margaret Atwood
The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald
The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a Life through the Pages of a Lost Journal by Lily Koppel
Wilderness Tips by Margaret Atwood
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Just for Fun:

Total: 35
Fiction: 31
Non-fiction: 3
Poetry: 1
Classics: 4
YA: 7
Challenge Books: 11
For Book Clubs: 5
Short Stories: 2
Books in Series: 7
New to me Authors: 24
Number of Pages: 10,509

Lisa's Top 5 for the first half of 2008 (in no particular order):

The Book Thief
The Book of Lost Things
Great Expectations
Speaking of Love
We Have Always Lived in the Castle

I've already read 4 for July, which puts me in good shape to reach my goal of 52 books (an average of one per week) for the year.

Dyer Consequnces by Maggie Sefton

I hope everyone had a nice weekend. We got some sorely needed rain here in my area. I finished two books over the long weekend -- Water for Elephants, which is for a book club discussion tomorrow night and Dyer Consequences by Maggie Sefton. I want to wait until after our discussion to do a review of Water for Elephants. So look for that later in the week.

Dyer Consequences is the fifth book in the Knitting Series by Sefton. It's one of those cozy mystery series that centers around a hobby (gardening, scrapbooking, knitting, etc.) or a job (bookstore owner, florist, librarian, etc.). None of these series are considered high brow literature; however, some of them are well-written and entertaining, which is the case with Maggie Sefton's series. I've read the previous four books in the series and have enjoyed all of them. This latest installment was the perfect thing to read after my two previous books -- Lolita and Water for Elephants, which both deal with more serious subjects.

This one is purely for fun. Kelly Flynn is the protagonist, who has moved back to the Colorado mountains and taken up residence beside the Lambspun Knitting Shop. As is the case with these types of series, she ends up finding herself in the middle of a mystery. Someone is trying to scare her away from buying a ranch up in the canyon. The threats begin with vandalism to her property and soon escalate to more serious crimes. In addition, there's been some vandalism at the knitting shop next door. Soon a body turns up and Kelly sets out to find out if the these are random acts of violence or if they're related and really do have something to do with her.

I enjoy the characters in this series, as well as the descriptions of the beautiful Colorado landscape. But as much as anything else, I enjoy reading about the knitting -- the yarns, the patterns, the projects, etc. The book includes a pattern at the back, as well as a recipe. This is another things that is pretty typical with this type of cozy mystery. This latest mystery was pretty easy to solve, but it was still enjoyable. If you like this type of book and possibly need a change of pace after some heavier reading, this just may be something you'd like.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


I read this book for The Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge while on vacation last week. This was my first book by Nabokov or any Russian author for that matter. I was really excited to read it because I know how often this book has been banned and/or challenged over the years. I loathe censorship in any form and celebrate the freedom to read. So, I couldn't wait to see what all the fuss was about. The book is well-written but deals with an extremely disturbing subject matter.

The story involves a man who is a self-proclaimed pedophile (though he doesn't use the word). The story is told from his point of view, and the reader gets to see how he attempts to fight his demons. He knows what he's feeling and doing is wrong, but he doesn't seem to be able to stop himself. He ends up marrying a widow just so he can be near her young daughter -- I think she's 11 or 12 when he first comes on the scene. This is the Lolita of the title (her actual name is Dolores Haze). The young girl is rebellious and curious, and Humbert quickly takes advantage of the situation. After a freak accident that kills her mother, he assumes responsibility for her. Afraid that someone else will step in to take guardianship, he flees with Lolita and spends the next couple years traveling back and forth across the country. He has sex with her on a regular basis. He keeps her quiet through bribes of clothes and threats of being sent to a reformatory school. It's hard to imagine why she doesn't run away before she does, but she's a child who has just lost her mother and doesn't know where to turn for help.

The book left me with questions. I want to know more about Dolly (Lolita). We only get to hear from her through Humbert. I want to know what she's really thinking and feeling. I also want to know more about Humbert as a child growing up. What makes a person this way? Is there some kind of chemical imbalance in his brain? Was he sexually abused as a child? Nabokov writes in a very matter-of-fact way. Humbert is who he is, and he doesn't try to make excuses for him. This is a well-written book, but it's probably not for everyone.