Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday Salon: I Dream of Lists

Blurb.  Blurb, blurb, blurb.  (Translation:  Me, beneath a mountain of lists, trying to wish you a happy Sunday.)

So.  Here we are, back in Florida.  It seems that the nasty hot weather we had in Indiana just noticed we left the state, and it followed us back down here because it loves us.  After three weeks of being gone, my yard is a sea of weeds, so I'm wondering how many pounds of sweat I'm going to lose when I'm trying to fight them next week? 

We were sad to leave Indiana.  On Monday, it was only 93 degrees outside, so the kids and I decided to hop on up to Indiana Beach, a wonderful little amusement park that I've been visiting since I was a kid.  That was our last hurrah, and we came back to save my husband from starvation on Wednesday.

Then came the lists.  You'd think we were all 85 year olds, with all the meds we take and had to have refilled and/or required calls to doctors for a refill extension.  Making and confirming appointments.  Tuition payments.  School supplies.  Uniform needs.  School shoes.  Catching up with friends.  Domestic duties.  Groceries and meal planning.  Football supplies.  School meetings (before school even starts - the horror!).  I am drowning in lists.

My 13 year old had her first eye appointment, as she had been complaining about not being able to see things in the distance.  We received the inevitable news, then went shopping for glasses.  I knew of this running around was coming, but it doesn't make it any more enjoyable.  Blah.

My reading, as a result, came to a grinding halt.  At least reading the written word slammed face first into a brick wall.  I finished John Hart's "Iron House" in Indiana, then as promised, started "Nemesis" by Jo Nesbo.  I'm only at 20%, so how about that non-productivity?  Audio has been slightly better, after all I can make lists with my ear-buds in.  I finished Tina Fey's "Bossypants", having nearly peed my pants several times from laughing so hard.  Now I am luxuriously floating in a sea of bliss while listening to "The Time Traveler's Wife".  I've been putting this audio off for so long, and I'm wondering why.  It is just wonderful in every possible way.  Yeah, the naked man and the 8 year old girl was a little weird, but I'm past that and thinking this could be one of the world's most incredible love story. 

My blog hopping and commenting has been pretty pathetic this week too.  I'm trying, I really am, but please bear with me for just a couple of weeks.  Stay with me!  Clear skies are on the horizon. 

I am very happy to announce that yesterday, we attended the 4pm mass, went for a belated and scrumptious birthday dinner with our good friends, and have a blank slate for our Sunday.  Reading?  Review writing?  Some pool action?  It is all good.  What do you have going on today?   


Friday, July 29, 2011

End of the World in Breslau - Marek Krajewski

A couple of years ago, my husband turned me on to a crime series, written by a Polish author, that takes place before and during WWII in his hometown of Breslau (Wroclaw after German occupation).  I got my hands on the one and only installment translated to English called "Death in Breslau" via library loan. It was a very dark little gem featuring a tormented protagonist (the best kind).  I became frustrated at the fact that the series was not being translated in order (Jo Nesbo-style) and that they were taking their sweet old time translating as well. 

While I was visiting Poland this summer, I found a large Borders-type book store called "Empik" in the city square and found that they had two more Krajewski titles in English...and they were 20% off!  My mother-in-law bought them for me for my birthday, and I could not have been happier.  I read this one on the way back home.  My kids were HORRIFIED that there was a naked woman on the cover and demanded I cover it up.  (Note:  These books are available on Amazon.  I was just happy to save on shipping.)

Synopsis:  On his deathbed, protagonist and tortured soul Eberhard Mock asks for an old friend to visit him, so that he may confess his burdens and die in peace.  A recounting of his sins takes us on a trip back through time to when Mock was a young but already accomplished detective in 1927 Breslau.  "I told you about my first wife, Sophie, remember?  This is going to be about her..."

Mock has been assigned a particularly set of grisly murders, all replicating specific crimes that occurred hundreds of years sealed alive behind a brick wall, another quartered, another hung upside-down and stabbed.  All clues seem to point to a sect predicting the end of the world.  But this is only the backdrop for Mock's more insidious troubles...his wife and his marriage.  Troubles that lead him into an underworld of perversion and vices that very well may be his undoing. 

My thoughts:  Eberhard Mock is one messed up anti-hero.  I can't even decide if I like him or not.  He has a temper, he is abusive, he is an alcoholic, he is suicidal, he has no morals.  But he is clever and is driven to solve his cases.  It is no surprise that he can't stay married and am glad he has not been able to have a child, despite the fact that he wants offspring in the worst way.  He is one big living, breathing raw wound that is painful to be near, even on the written page.  I shake my head in amazement at Krajewski...he is pushing his readers to the very edge of tolerance, but gives them just enough to keep coming back. Gutsy. 

The pacing is tight and packaged in a little bundle of less than 300 pages.  There were a number of times when I had no earthly clue what was going on - the storyline was complicated and sometimes confusing.  I don't know if that was attributable to the translation or the plot itself.  But I kept forging ahead and it worked itself out eventually.

I can't conclude this review without mentioning the very glaringly bizarre book cover.  The Polish version of these books are muted black and white photos of historical Breslau.  But the English covers are these surreal illustrations by artist Andrzej Klimowski (see his website here), who is internationally recognized for designing not only book covers but film posters and original works of art.

4 out of 5 stars           

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Doomsday Book - Connie Willis

Oh, the ranting and raving about this book!  I've heard it almost since I started blogging.  Many said it was on their top ten list EVER.  Many said they cried.  Many said they keep reading it over and over.  I mean, this was like mass hysteria!  A couple things held me back, if I were going to be honest.  First, the cover looks like it is circa 1975 (sorry it does!).  Second, it is like a million pages long.  Alright, maybe only 600 pages.  But I was assured that I just needed to trust and read.  I downloaded it on the Kindle, and decided that I might actually have the time while in Poland.

I read it in three and a half days.  It was that good.  So what can I say here that won't spoil it for the uninitiated but still communicate its brilliance?

Synopsis:  The year is 2048, and at Oxford University, it is commonplace that historians time travel back to years of their expertise to get first-hand knowledge.  Decades are graded by level of danger, and obviously only the highly experienced are allowed to journey to times of war and plague.  It is a fascinating world, not so different from our own, where an entire field of study provides for students to learn about ancient languages, behaviors and style of dress, complemented with the supporting technology to make travel to the fifteenth century akin to a trip to another country.       

When professor Dunworthy discovers that his prized pupil, Kivrin, was allowed to travel back to the middle ages unescorted, without the usual tests and precautions, he becomes concerned for her welfare.  Then a deadly epidemic is unleashed in the modern world, and Dunworthy not only worries if this will prevent Kivrin's return, but fears something went very wrong with her trip in general.   

The story is told by both Dunworthy, in the modern world, where all hell is breaking loose, and by Kivrin, who has found herself in a small village, surrounded by poor townsfolk, disease and humanity.  Separated by 700 years, teacher and student both experience the same greed, cowardice, acts of kindness, and the resilience of the human spirit.

My thoughts:  Well, everything they said was true.  This is a one-of-a-kind read that will never lose its appeal (even after 2048!).  The plot was gripping and tight, to the point where I never wanted to put the Kindle down.  My heart was racing, I cried, I smiled.

Speaking of smiling, that was one thing that really surprised me about this book.  Amidst death and destruction, this book was FUNNY!  Yes there was an epidemic going on in the current day, but there was also a stranded band of American bell ringers, an obnoxious over-protective mother of a womanizing student, and a precocious nephew of a professor that was into everything (reminded me alot of my son).  They were an absolute delight.  Even the characters in the 1300' s were precious...a boisterous five year-old girl, a devoted priest, a plucky teenaged girl betrothed to a middle-aged sloth.  I'm not sure if I have ever loved a set of characters this much.

For those that may be turned off by the sci-fi edge to this novel, I would encourage you to abandon your pre-conceptions in this instance. This is not a geeky, techy Star Trek thing (not that there is anything wrong with that, lest I offend you!).  This story has universal appeal, with something for everyone. 

This is one of those cases where I am glad I have the book on my Kindle.  I shall be reading it again!

5 out of 5 stars            


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Not So Wordless Wednesday: Norway #3

One portion of our journey through the fjords was on the Flam Railway, which opened in 1909 and is one of the steepest railway lines in the world.  The ride included twists and turns and tunnels, and inspired awe for all the men who built it over a hundred years ago in the worst of conditions.     

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Copper Sun - Sharon Draper (Audio)

After reading the review for "Copper Sun" on audio over at Heather's blog Book Addiction, I immediately ordered it from my library.  I've been wanting to become more culturally diverse with my reading selections, so this recommendation fell into my hands at the perfect time.  The author's name also seemed very familiar to me, and then I realized that Ms. Draper was a panelist at the UCF Book Festival that I recently attended.  Her middle-grade "Sassy" series is also a HUGE hit at my kids' school.  This was the perfect example of a book throwing itself in my path and demanding attention!

Synopsis:  Amari is a fifteen-year old living in a remote village in Africa.  She is nearly a woman now, and is betrothed to a young man who makes her heart flutter.  When a group of white men enter their village, they are welcomed with warmth and celebration.  In return, they kill the children and elders, capture the young and the healthy (including Amari), whip them and chain them together and march them through the jungle to places unknown.  Amari's life will never be the same.

Amari is forced to endure horrors...being raped and beaten, held captive in a cramped and foul ship for months, branded, and eventually sold to a wealthy plantation owner as a "gift" for his spoiled 16 year-old son.  But there are blessings too.  Amari and a white indentured servant girl Polly, purchased at the same time, are both embraced by a community of slaves working at the plantation.  Through countless abuses and humiliations, an unbreakable bond is forged between the girls, and together they decide they must take a risk for the sake of freedom.

My thoughts:  Back when I was in middle school, I read "Roots" and it sticks in my mind to this day.  Reading about the horrors endured by Africans, ripped from their families and homes and forced into slavery, traumatized me.  Amari has a similar, albeit a comparatively condensed, story here.  Draper's novel is written with a young adult audience in mind, so descriptions are not as graphic, but equally as sobering.  The author does not shy away from the realities of a slave's life though; she delivers justice to their suffering.

Although saddened, I was equally as charmed by the characters in the story.  They all came alive for me - there was an entire cast of colorful personalities, some of them precious and others despicable.  I was touched by the individuals who loathed slavery and took chances to make a difference in Amari's life.  I particularly enjoyed the development of the relationship between the girls - both servants but of different races, and realizing that color doesn't make one person superior to the other.

Living in Florida, I was excited at the mention of Fort Mose (located just a couple miles north of St. Augustine), which was the first free black settlement in the US.  As part of my kids' 4th grade social studies classes, they learned about Fort Mose and have even visited it.  It is such an important landmark and one often overshadowed by all of the amazing history just down the road.

A word about the audio production:  This audio was narrated by Myra Lucretia Taylor, who did a wonderful job.  She has a velvety-smooth voice that was very easy to listen to, and was also masterful at a number of accents present in the story.  Her reading was slow and deliberate, and that took some time to get used to, but ultimately I appreciated that this allowed me to really focus on the beauty of the words.

4.5 out of 5 stars   

Monday, July 25, 2011

Monday Movie Meme - Summertime

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about the heat. Cause we're all dying here.  But this week, the Bumbles are taking a kinder, gentler approach to things.  We're just going to think about summer...sun, sand, camps, and romance.  Molly, being a Bumble with very good taste, chose two of the best summer movies, Jaws and Stand By Me.  But I thought of a few more good ones...

1.  Friday the 13th - totally swear, first thing that came to my mind.  I attended 4H camp every summer of my youth, complete with a lake and cabins and woods.  Once this puppy came out in the theaters, my camp experiences were never quite the same!  Every time a friend of mine would whisper to me "ch-ch-ch-ch-ch hah-hah-hah-hah-hah" I'd freak out and run like my hair was on fire.

2.  Dirty Dancing - every girl watched this and wondered where the Johnny Castle's were when SHE was in summer family camp.  To me this was the perfect summer-romance-coming-of-age movie.  If a clumsy ugly duckling could dance like that and nab the hunky dance instructor, then any of us could.

3.  The Parent Trap - while the rest of these other movies on my list have come up at some previous time, I'm pretty sure I've never talked about The Parent Trap.  This is a deep dark secret from my childhood...I loved this movie.  Not the pre-pubescent Lindsay Lohan version (although that one really isn't bad) but the 1961 Hayley Mills version.  I think I watched it a dozen or two times over the years on the Sunday night Wonderful World of Disney on TV.  Another fun summer camp film.

4.  Say Anything - Lloyd is love.  Deep down inside, I was very judgemental and never really thought Diane Court was worthy.  She was a little too soft and wimpy in my book.  But what a way to spend one's summer, huh?

OK, I'm ready for your ideas.  (James, I know you've got some great classics in your brain - let me have them.) 


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sunday Salon: A Bounty of Friends (and a plea for a rabbit)

A bright and hot (if you are living in the 80% of the US that is under the "heat dome") Sunday morning to you all.  Whatever the hell you want to call it, you have to call it miserable.  Our plans for this week in Indiana, particularly our two-day trip to an amusement park, were totally altered because you basically cannot be outside.  I did take the kids to the local county fair.  It wasn't pretty on my end of the deal, but they had a good time riding the rides, and lamenting their unfulfilled lives without this thing called 4H.  In the country, where I grew up, you were able to do projects and raise animals, then show them at the fair, and my kids desperately wish they could participate.  They loved walking through the animal barns, and particularly were sidetracked when we got to the rabbits.  My kids now think they need one, an Angora if they had their druthers (so they could make cash off harvesting the fur), and have launched a full-scale offensive.  They've done research, made decisions over names, and a rescue shelter has been located within a 2 hour drive of Orlando.  I can't stand it.  I'll let their father argue with them.   

But other than that which could drive me to drink, we stayed indoors.  The exciting event for me was that on Friday I packed up my Garmin, a few clothes and some wine, and headed to Indianapolis.  To be kid-free for a couple of days made me want to go screaming through the streets like my hair was on fire.  My first stop was meeting blogger Melissa from The Avid Reader's Musings.  We met up at a local dive that served Mexican, and I got to know the face behind a blog I've been following for some time.  As we all know, there is almost always an instant connection with people we know virtually, but it went beyond that in this case.  Melissa was born and raised in Indiana like me, she has a friend who taught at my high school, is a world traveler, is addicted to audio, and EVEN WENT TO THE SAME COLLEGE as I did!  It was so much fun, and we agreed to meet up next time I'm in the Hoosier state.       


Next I headed downtown, and checked into a hotel in the city center, to spend the weekend with my high school friends with whom I became reacquainted on Facebook.  (Remember the cruise a couple years ago?)  Unfortunately the Colorado friend wasn't able to come, but the three of us, coming from northern Indiana and Tennessee, made up for her in a weekend full of eating and drinking and laughing.  

On the reading front, I finished Gayle Forman's "Where She Went", which was addictively, compulsively readable.  Then I started "Iron House" by John Hart.  (Yes I know I was going to read a Nesbo next, but this book came in the mail and my husband brought it up to me when he visited last weekend.  I got distracted.)  I am enjoying this gritty crime thriller - he is definitely above the fray.  But compared to the books I've been reading, it is going a little slower.  I should have it wrapped up sometime this week.  THEN I'll read Nesbo. 

On audio, I finished "Faith" by Jennifer Haigh, and it was incredible.  Well- narrated, and one that really messes with your mind and gives you lots to think about.  I've got so many emotions swirling around in my head, I don't know where to begin.  Now I'm listening to Tina Fey's "Bossypants".  What can you say about Tina Fey, except that she is whip-smart and funny as hell.  I've been laughing out loud since I started it.

I will be coming home next Wednesday, back to the start of football, getting school supplies and new uniforms (ugh), and cooking every meal.  The fun is almost over!  But once school starts, life will become more settled, and that is a good thing.  
Hope you all have a relaxing, air-conditioned Sunday!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Winners of the Audiobook "Fallen" by Karin Slaughter

A long time ago (well, July 5th to be exact) I posted a review of Karin Slaughter's "Fallen", and offered five copies of the audiobook for giveaway.  I've been on vacation, so I'm a little slow on the uptake, but here are the winners, selected by

Jackie @ Farm Lane Books

Kathy @ Bermudaonion

Heather @ Raging Bibliomania

Natalie @ Book, Line and Sinker

Stacybuckeye @ Stacy's Books

With the exception of Heather (who I will see at book club next week!), please send me an e-mail with your mailing address, and I will get these out next week when I arrive back at the homestead.  Congratulations!

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Fates Will Find Their Way - Hannah Pittard

From the age of 18 until about 40, I tried to forget I ever went to high school.  The angst, the acne, the boyfriends, the catty jealous girls.  It was all so embarrassing.  But as I get older, I have a different perspective, one that is wiser, more understanding and good humored.  When I get together with my high school friends, particularly three of my girlfriends, we share memories as if we were a single unit.  Our reunions are one big group-think. Between us we have a big pile of memories, and we constantly add to it.  There is an unspoken understanding that "we" were there, "we" experienced it, and "we" don't judge.    

Why is this relevant to "The Fates Will Find Their Way"?  Because it is this type of solidarity that I found in this book, much to my surprise.  It was not what I was expecting.  I was expecting a story about a missing girl, but found so much more.

Synopsis: 16 year-old Nora Lindell disappeared from the face of the earth one Halloween night.  In her wake, she leaves a group of tight-knit classmates, family members and parents that were forever altered.  Narrated by the boys in her class in a collective first-person prose ("we" versus "me"), we learn about each of the personalities in the mix.  The hot Russian mom.  The girl who was everyone's sweetheart, who was raped.  Nora's little sister who tried to fill her big sister's shoes.  The strange boy with a bad family life who always had a supply of pot.  The constant presence of "mom-logic".  All from the perspective of a singular living, breathing mass of testosterone. 

So the story isn't really about Nora's disappearance so much as it is about the process of growing up under the dark cloud of knowing someone who may or may not have died.  Nora becomes a symbol of hope for the kids left behind.  They fantasize what may have happened to her, spinning a tale so believable, they begin to think it must be so.  One classmate thinks he sees her at the airport in Phoenix.  Another thinks he sees her on TV amidst the Mumbai bombings.  Her legend lives in their hearts. 

"Certain outcomes are unavoidable, invariable, absolutely unaffectable, and yet completely unpredictable.  Certain outcomes are that way.  But maybe not Nora's.  Maybe she was the only one who escaped; who had the chance to become something not completely inevitable.  Maybe."

There is also a bittersweet reflection back on the frivolities of youth, and the responsibilities of adulthood.  And the fear for our children, knowing what we know:

"And it's at times like these when we cannot help but shudder at the things adults are capable of.  Why didn't we know better then?  And what things are happening already that our own children don't know better about now?  We cannot help looking at those wiggly, giggling girls splashing about in the pool just in front of us, their skin tanning, bordering on burning, and wonder what's taking place in their lives - in their strange and alien brains-that they're already keeping from us.  What, right now, is taking place that we should be stopping but that we can't even see?"
There was poignancy about growing old:
"We thought about how little had happened in our lives, but how quickly the little that had happened had actually gone by.  It was hard not to be angry with our bodies, with our aging.  It was hard to believe that we'd actually gotten this far and not figured out a way to stop it, to pause life, to enjoy it.  Hadn't our own fathers been counting on just that-on our ability to outlast what they couldn't?"
My thoughts:  I thought this story - the unique way it revealed the tale of a lost girl and a group of classmates growing up - was brilliant.  These are not new plot lines by any stretch of the imagination.  We've seen them hundreds of times.  But any time a story can be told in a new way, my brain buzzes with happiness. 

I immediately GOT this book.  The ornery hormonal behavior of teenage boys (and girls), the unified hopes and dreams of a close group of friends, the process of growing older with these youthful and immature memories still rattling around in your head.  We've all been there.  Never have it seen so beautifully and cleverly expressed. 

I thought that the complicated fantasies of Nora's life were precious.  Trapped in lives that were inevitable, they refused to allow Nora to live a predictable life.  She was carefree and mysterious, and everything they weren't.  They left you wanting to believe this was her life story, versus the alternative.  You understood why they tried to see her in a sea of anonymous faces at the airport or on TV. 

The cherry on top of it all is that this is a lightning-fast read...only 256 pages of easy-flowing, conversational and clever prose.  It seems reviewers are hot and cold on this one, but in my camp, it will be one of the favorites of the year.

5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Devil's Star - Jo Nesbo

OK, so round #2 with Mr. Nesbo.  Please note that there is one book between "The Redbreast" (see my review posted two days ago) and "The Devil's Star" entitled "Nemesis".  I shall claim that the translators are my nemesis and are fully to blame for my lack of order here.  "Nemesis" now has been downloaded on my Kindle and will be read shortly!

As much as I enjoyed "The Redbreast", I've come to the conclusion that like fine wine, Mr. Nesbo gets better over time.  I might even dare to say that I enjoyed this book more than a magnum of 2004 Special Select Caymus Cabernet.  Here's why:

Synopsis:  Things have disintegrated since the last I saw Harry Hole.  Still haunted by the death of a esteemed colleague, Harry is obsessed with gathering evidence against a cop who he is sure is dirty and is sure had something to do with the colleague's murder.  His drinking has escalated, and he has alienated his beautiful girlfriend Rakel.  But see, Hole is like a dog with a bone.  He's not letting go that easily, even if it means losing everything he holds dear, possibly even his job.

Because the entire Oslo police force is on holiday, Harry picks up an assignment involving a woman with an amputated finger and a red diamond, in the shape of a star, inserted under her eyelid.  Soon more bodies pile up, all marked in some way with the mysterious red diamond, and it becomes a serial murderer investigation.  Red herrings multiply by the page, but Nesbo keeps his mystery smart, fast-paced, and terrifyingly dark. 

My thoughts:  I don't want to sound pompous, but I've read hundreds of crime thrillers and consider myself to be a decent judge of them.  I've become hardened to the point where you have to really have to do something special if I'm going to love a crime thriller.  And I loved this.

Something special #1:  Harry Hole is a deeply tortured soul.  That may sound passe, because many crime series protagonists are damaged.  But this goes beyond the normal parameters.  This is agonizing dreams every night, drinking until near death, not showing up for work, and turning from everything and everyone you love...for the sake of a very single-focused goal.  It is dark and mucky and without air where this guy resides. 

Something special #2:  Harry's integrity is in question.  I thought I understood his nature, but when circumstances push him into unethical directions, I received a little jolt of fear.  Oh please Harry, don't sell out.  You may be nearly a non-functioning alcoholic, but you had a good heart with good intentions.  Stay true!  This side plot really messed with my head.

Something special #3:  This story possibly has the most terrifying location (and discovery) of a hidden body.  I've never read anything quite like it.  Please don't misunderstand...Nesbo isn't playing the "who can write the bloodiest novel" game.  This is just pure, unadulterated creativity used to force an image in my mind that will never leave me until I die.

Although I have a couple of books in the queue, "Nemesis" is waiting on the Kindle, and "The Snowman" (which comes after "The Devil's Star) has been ordered on audio.  All I have to do now is hang on and enjoy the ride.

5 out of 5 stars          

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Not So Wordless Wednesday: Norway #2

A small village in the fjords of Norway.  I can't recall the name off-hand, as we saw many of them.  Often, these villages will only have 20 to 50 inhabitants, a church at the center of town, and are only accessible by boat.  No roads in or out!  I immediately began fantasizing about the remoteness, and how many books I could read in a year's time.  But there Internet?  How would I go book shopping?  Would I be able to buy wine from the boat guy?  Maybe it isn't such a good idea.  But they sure were quaint and beautiful...   

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Redbreast - Jo Nesbo

In the virtual neighborhoods I hang out in, it is nearly impossible to have not heard of Jo Nesbo.  He has been compared to the "next Stieg Larsson", which I guess is meant to grab you by the lapels and make you take notice, but I'm not sure it is fair.  Yes, he is Norwegian.  Yes, he writes crime fiction. But I think the guy can stand on his own, no offense to the late great Larsson.

On a whim, I purchased two Nesbo books at a Borders closeout sale..."The Redbreast" and "The Devil's Star".  What I found out after the fact was that Nesbo has 8 books published, all in a series that involves one Harry Hole, Inspector for the Oslo Crime Unit.  "The Redbreast" is number 3, "The Devil's Star" is number 5.  The rest of the books are either not available in the US or are not easily accessible.  I'm just telling all of you this so you will be forewarned that reading them in order may not be possible until they are all translated.  But nothing can be done to save me now.  I'm reading my two books, order be damned.

Synopsis:  Struggling on-again, off-again alcoholic, Harry Hole has been reassigned from the Crime Unit to the Norwegian Security Service.  Although his superiors would prefer him to lay low and shuffle papers after a horrible shooting accident, this is against Harry's nature.  He stumbles across a case that piques his interest:  the illegal purchase of one of the world's most powerful and rare sharp-shooting rifle.  Hole suspects an assassination is being planned.

Harry is plunged into a world of Neo-Nazis, arms smuggling, corrupt politicians, and deadly secrets between a small group of Norwegian men who fought for the Nazis on the Eastern front in WWII.  A string of murders past and present, initially seeming unrelated, all intersect in a complicated and breathtaking tale of betrayal, revenge and passion.  Harry's dogged determination to unravel the threads, though, could come with repercussions.  Not only is his life at stake, but also his new-found sobriety and a new relationship.

My thoughts:  Consider me blown away.  If you pick up Nesbo expecting anything close to normal crime fiction, you will be blown away too.  Just as my other colleagues have done with other Nesbo novels, I would highly recommend this one as well, but with disclaimers.

The narrative of the story goes back and forth in time, between the 1940's and the present day.  At first, there is no connection whatsoever between the two plot threads, but of course we know they will eventually converge somehow.  The problem comes in keeping it all straight in your mind.

I found the book started out slow and highly confusing.  Gah!  All these Norwegian names!  I couldn't keep them straight.  I had to flip back and forth compulsively.  There were multiple plots, many of the names of characters were the same or very similar (Gudbrand, Gudeson, really?), aliases, double-crossing, multiple agendas, and talk of betrayal from every bad guy in a long list of them.  I became extremely frustrated and confunded, and eventually just gave up and hoped it would sort itself out in the end.  Well, good news, it did.

Once this baby got ramped up and I stopped trying to outsmart and out think it, it was a runaway train.  One night, I was up until 3am in the morning trying to finish it.

This is crime fiction at its smartest.  And Nesbo assumes his readers are up to the dumbing down here.  The character development (which would have been even better had I been able to read the first two installments, thankyouverymuch translators and publishers and whoever decided to introduce these out of order!) was rich and complex.  There is no way I can now turn my back on Harry.  I must know more.  I liked him alot, even though he is severely damaged.  But really, aren't all the good ones?  He is determined and kind-hearted, and that is what counts.

The pacing started out slow, but by about halfway it picked up, and at the end you feel like you will be plunged headfirst into a brick wall at 90 mph.  So for that last hundred pages, brew some coffee.  You won't be sleeping until it is finished.

4.5 out of 5 stars     


Monday, July 18, 2011

Monday Movie Meme - Favorite Movie 2011 Year to Date

A couple of months ago, I was throwing out suggestions for Monday Movie Meme topics to the Bumbles, and one of my ideas was to talk about our favorite movie to date.  This is an easy one.  One that doesn't require too much thinking, one that probably will not have too many duplicates among the participants, and one that will provide some great additions to our Netflix Queue.

But I had an ulterior motive.  At the time of my suggestion, I had just watched a movie that I had loved, and I wanted to talk about it.  One that had been completely off my radar.  Was it even in the theaters?  Who knows.  In hindsight, this movie had all the characteristics of a Nawrot favorite, so how it escaped my attention until now I'll never know.  


The Way Back (2010) -  In 1941, a Polish man was wrongly accused of being a spy against the Soviets, and was sentenced to a Siberian gulag.  Certain he will die in such conditions, he and five other men (and a 17 year-old girl they pick up along the way) escape with their eye on freedom...India.  Which was 4,000 miles away.  Three of the men actually survive the journey, 11 months later, having braved the Siberian winter, the Himalayas, the Gobi Desert, starvation, and mosquitoes.

Incredibly, this movie is based on a true story, documented in the book "The Long Walk" by Slavomir Rawicz.  There has been some controversy over the validity of the story, and only recently has there been some proof the tale does not belong to Rawicz but Witold Glinski, who came forward in 2009.  Whatever.  I don't want to hear the fussing.

For this being such an underrated movie, the director and cast are outstanding.  With director Peter Weir at the helm (Master and Commander, The Truman Show, The Dead Poet Society, Witness) the film is in good hands.  Add Ed Harris, Colin Farrell (I know he is a jerk IRL but he is one amazing actor), Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, Hanna, The Lovely Bones), and Jim Sturgess (soon to star in the upcoming One Day), it just doesn't get any better.

You too can watch this incredible film with a click on your Netflix Account.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunday Salon: Sweating, Sloth and Snape

 Happy Sunday folks! Our first week in Indiana was a combination of action and laziness, which is fine by me.  At the beginning of the week, we spent a couple of days at Turkey Run State Park, a beautiful and small park with rugged hiking trails that wind their way along creeks (pronounced "cricks" here) and under large rock formations.  I grew up camping and hiking here, and I'm always nostalgic when I come back.  But then there was the HEAT.  I never knew I could be so totally disgusted with myself.  But I guess somehow I have to work off all that butter I put on my sweet corn.  We also did some horseback riding.  We came back home exhausted.

After that, it was all sloth...watching movies, reading, sleeping.  Aaaaahhhhh.  My daughter has decided she wants to ride horses somewhere beyond a trail, so we found her a place to take a few lessons before we go back home.  We also drug ourselves off our duffs and went to see Harry Potter on Friday.  So bittersweet to see it all end.  And the part when Snape's memories are revealed in the pensieve?  Just freaking RIPPED my heart out truly.  *sigh*  Snape is love.

Yesterday my husband flew up to spend a few days with us.  We had to take him on an obligatory shopping spree for Purdue merchandise, and he had to test-drive my dad's Corvette.  Those were his goals upon visiting.  We started the dialogue of MAYBE spending Thanksgiving at our favorite beach in the panhandle.  We are having a yearning.

So what of my reading frenzy?  I finished Wendy Wax's "Ten Beach Road", which as I said last week, is what one needs on a summer vacation.  Then I read "What Alice Forgot" by Liane Moriarty for the August Skype book club.  Did you know that this was an Amy Einhorn book?  I loved the story down to the tips of my toes.  I obsessively read...I couldn't stop.  No reason for the fervor to stop, so I picked up Gayle Forman's "If I Stay", read it in a day and now am finishing up the sequel "Where She Went".  Methinks I'm going to need a Nesbo fix after that.

Audio has been less frenetic.  That is the way on family vacations I think.  My audio time has been isolated to my walks, so it has been a slower pace.  I did finish "Clara & Mr. Tiffany" by Susan Vreeland, and I'll warn you that there will be some gushing with this one.  Now I am several discs into "Faith" by Jennifer Haigh, a book that people have been raving about. 

So how is it going for everyone today?  Anything exciting going on, or good books that you are reading?   


Friday, July 15, 2011

The Mango Season - Amulya Malladi

I'll admit I don't have huge experience with Asian literature, particularly Indian literature.  I have read and loved both of Jhumpa Lahiri's novels "Unaccustomed Earth" and "Interpreter of Maladies" (both five star), and most recently fell head over heels in love with "Cutting For Stone" (reviewed tomorrow) which had traces of the Indian culture.  So I guess in this area I am 3 for 3, so I was more than excited when our Skype book club chose "Mango Season" as our next selection.

Synopsis:  Priya, a successful young woman, is returning to her family in India for the first time after having lived in the US for seven years.  Her goal in the reunion is to inform her parents that she is engaged to an American man.  Her parents' goal in the reunion is to arrange a proper Indian marriage for their wayward daughter.

Priya approaches her visit with ice cold fear.  In the world of her very traditional parents and grandparents, one must marry within their religion and caste, preferably in their early twenties.  Anything else is cause for disownment.  While Priya recognizes that her family can be fiercely prejudice, she also loves them dearly and is terrified she will be forced to choose between them and the man she loves.

She arrives in the heart of mango season, when her extended family gets together to make mango pickle en mass, while they fight, gossip, and plan their children's lives.  It is in this environment that we learn about the Indian culture and views towards marriage, women, proper courtship behavior, the importance of carrying on the family name, and the resistance to change.

My thoughts:  This book was a very quick read, and was written in a very conversational prose, first person from Priya's point of view.  I was drawn in from the very beginning and finished it in about a day with ease.

For a number of years, I worked for a boss who was a Sikh, and I know fully well how he felt about caste and marriage and women, and he had exposed all of us to his food and culture.  Even with that experience under my belt, I still learned a great deal about the Indian culture.  Some of it was fascinating, some of it was shocking, but if I can walk away from a book knowing more than when I started, I consider it in some form a success.

This novel revolved a great deal around food.  The book includes recipes as well as very colorful descriptions about flavors and aroma and textures.  It acknowledges the distinct connection between memory and food and emotions.

But I was also repelled by the behaviors of Priya's family.  They were mean-spirited towards a woman who had married into the family and was not their caste.  They bullied another woman to continue having children until a son was born.  They picked on one woman who was less than beautiful, past acceptable age, and had not yet found a match.  There was histrionics, bickering, badgering, and frankly some of it made my stomach and head hurt.  I realize every family has its issues, but I was saddened to think that women are still treated this way.  I had a hard time liking these people.  I was proud that Priya stood up for herself and the other brow-beaten women in the family, and I do realize they sorta all came around in the end, but I couldn't forgive them for their mental abuses.

I also had to shake my head at what I would consider to be a cheap trick in the form of a twist near the end of the book.  I actually laughed out loud, but not a happy laugh.  I thought it was contrived and cheesy.  I don't mind that this "twist" wasn't resolved at the end of the fact my mood was better off for it.  I couldn't take more family fit-throwing.

So where did that leave me?  Right smack on the fence. There is much to admire and appreciate in the story, if you don't mind the drama.

3 out of 5 stars   


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cutting For Stone - Abraham Verghese

This book is one of those that passed me right by when it released.  I read all of the wonderful, glowing reviews, but the scope of the book never solidified in my mind.  Something about orphaned twins, something about doctors, something about Africa.  I never quite "got" what all the fuss was about, and that, combined with it's length (560 pages in hardcover), plus the fact I couldn't get it on audio, just got it pushed further down my list.  Until the Heathrow Literary Society selected it as our June read.

So probably 80% of the reading world already knows this.  The joke was on me.  This amazing journey into Ethiopia's history, into twin-ness, into the human side of medicine, will most definitely be among my "best of" lists at the end of the year.

Synopsis:  The lives of Sister Marie Joseph Praise, a devout missionary nun, and Thomas Stone, a quirky but enigmatic young doctor, intersect at Missing Hospital in a poor town in Ethiopia.  Their destinies intertwined, they form a deep bond through the rigors of surgery as doctor and assistant.  To everyone's surprise, one day Sister Praise goes into labor, and dies giving birth to conjoined twins, Marion and Shiva.  Stone panics and disappears, leaving the boys effectively orphaned.  Their stories are told in first person by Marion.

Two Indian doctors at Missing decide to marry and raise the boys as their own.  Spanning decades, we witness Ethiopia's tumultuous history, the havoc it wreaks on the boys' lives, the medical challenges in a poor, third-world country, the notion of being predestined for a life in medicine, and the loving and sometimes violent community in which the boys are raised.

"A childhood in Missing imparted lessons about resilience, about fortitude, and about the fragility of life.  I knew better than most children how little separated the world of health from that of disease, living flesh from the icy touch of the dead, the solid ground from treacherous bog."

When adolescent emotions cause a division between the twins, it is only when Marion becomes a surgeon himself and moves to New York that the strength of the boys' bonds are truly tested. 

"Only the telling can heal the rift that separates my brother and me.  Yes, I have infinite faith in the craft of surgery, but no surgeon can heal the kind of wound that divides two brothers.  Where silk and steel fail, story must succeed."

My thoughts
: With grace and restrained passion, Verghese has created an epic story that very quickly swept me off my feet.  Because of the first-person narrative from Marion, it immediately felt personal and intimate.  Marion was a young man with heart and compassion, who admitted to his own inadequacies and fears, and it was impossible for me not to love him and everyone whom he loved in turn.  The characterization, through Marion's eyes, was brilliant. 

Knowing that Verghese was an accomplished physician himself, I went into the experience worrying that the prose might be too technical or too rigid.  Instead, it was beautiful and refined, at times even breath-taking.  (I know that sounds a little over-dramatic but it was.)  Verghese used his medical knowledge to lend an air of authenticity to the dialogue, but never did it alienate me or make me feel lost or stupid.  I really have never had an interest in cutting people open and repairing an intestine or transplanting a liver, but in this story I lived the miracle of saving lives, of attending the sick by listening and caring, and made a tiny part of me wish I could try.

Without being too mushy (no Disney endings here), this book had one of the biggest hearts you could find in modern fiction.  A heart full of compassion, forgiveness, commitment, human spirit and love for mankind.

Reactions from the Heathrow Literary Society: Unanimously my book club loved this book with all of their being.  One member called it a "masterpiece".  Another, an accomplished reader, called it a book that would be in his top ten of all time.  This type of reaction rarely happens (only once with "The Book Thief") and is a testament to the universality of this beautiful novel.

5 out of 5 stars   


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Not So Wordless Wednesday: Norway #1

The fjords of Norway have always been on our bucket list.  This summer, we were finally able to mark them off our list.  We booked a tour called "Norway in a nutshell", which was a day of traveling via bus, train and boat to view some of the most breath-taking scenery in the world.  Considering the insanely high prices in Norway, this tour was an incredible value for what we received. 

I will bring the highlights of Norway to you over the next few months.  Not only are you going to get fjords, but food and the town of Bergen itself.

I've also decided I'm tired of being Wordless.  I know you were thinking you needed more Sandy Chit Chat. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Anansi Boys - Neil Gaiman (Audio)

Well over a year ago, I read Carrie's review of Anansi Boys, in which she rates the audio 5 out of 5 stars.  I quickly ordered it from the library, loaded it on the iPod...and there is sat until now.  I am so quickly inspired then uninspired, I remind myself of a fidgety four year old child.

But I have a time-tested theory.  The longer a book or audio sits and ages in my presence, the better it is.  This is the way karma works.  I was more than pleasantly surprised at what had been waiting for me in this little gem.

Synopsis:  Fat Charlie Nancy (who hasn't been fat since he was a child) is living peacefully in London, working as a bookkeeper for a lecherous toad, and engaged to the lovely Rosie.  In planning his wedding, he begrudgingly tries to track down his no-good, drifter father who abandoned his family years ago, and finds that he has just died.  He flies to Florida to attend the funeral, and is informed by three old women who were his father's friends (whom he refers to as "the post-menopausal mafia") that his father was in fact the trickster spider God, Anansi.  He also learns that he has a brother who he never knew.  Per the advice of the aged mafia, he summons his brother by telling a small spider.  Seeking brotherly reconciliation, Charlie's brother, Spider, shows up on his doorstep.  All all hell breaks loose.

It seems that Spider has some of his father's Godly blood.  He befuddles Charlie's friends and co-workers, pretends to be Charlie, makes off with the fiance, and stirs up trouble with the boss.  Charlie really just wants him to go away, and enters into a pact with another animal God to make it happen.  Except that it was more like making a deal with the devil.

My thoughts:  Everyone knows that Gaiman doesn't follow the rules when he is creating his stories and his worlds.  This story is no different.  It is full of belly-laugh humor, has a touch of magical realism and myth, a few fables, and a touching story of family.  I will admit, it did get a little goofy towards the end, and I found myself rolling my eyes.  You must cast aside all practicality if you are going to enjoy this one, but if you have read Gaiman, you already know this.

No offense to Gaiman, though, but the story was almost secondary for me.  The real attraction, and the reason why you all need to LISTEN to this book, is to experience the narration.  It was nothing short of brilliant.  Which leads me to...

A few words about the audio production:  Lenny Henry.  Do you know this guy?  Well.  After experiencing his awesomeness, I had to do a little research.  Lenny has been a stand-up comedian since 1975, has had television gigs, been in movies, blogs, and has even authored children's books.  In his narration of Anansi Boys, he flaunts all of his mad skillz, with British, Caribbean and even smooth-talking LA street accents.  He even sings (quite well).  In the world of narrators that do respectable jobs but are generally unmemorable, this fellow is a shining star.  It is what every audio should be.  Mr. Henry, please do a few more of these if you could.   

Story:  3.5 out of 5 stars
Narration:  5 out of 5 stars

Monday, July 11, 2011

Monday Movie Meme - We're Havin' a Heat Wave

Today's topic for the Monday Movie Meme from the Bumbles is all about something we are suffering from on a nationwide scale...HEAT.  Us schmoes in Florida have to live with this nastiness 9 months out of the year, but it seems it followed us north to Indiana.  (FYI, we are on our way to hike in a state park today, so I shall be doing my share of glowing soon.)

But what about heat in the movies?  I was able to conjure up three examples in my mind, but I'm sure there are more.  Here are my picks this week:

1.  Body Heat - Maybe it is just the implication from the title, but I do remember this being a HOT movie and I remember sweaty bodies.  And bad things happening during a Florida heat wave (it makes us do strange things people).

2.  A Time to Kill - Who doesn't love a little Matthew McConaughey, right?  But as I walked out of the theater after this one, the only thing I could focus on was that in over half the shots, people looked like they had been greased up with baby oil.  Seriously, watch it and tell me if I'm not right.

3.  Apocalypse Now - It has to be really hot in the jungles of Vietnam, so it is no surprise that any of these movies make your clothes stick to your skin just watching.  But it was a very memorable moment when I took a look at Marlon Brando, a terrifying sight of sweaty, crazy baldness, and cry "This is not the man I had hanging on my walls in college!  It can't be!".  The horror.

Which movies simulate your 2011 heat wave?      


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sunday Salon: Back on the farm

 Good morning from the farm in Indiana!  The Nawrots are yet again on the move.  This time 3/4 of us are visiting Grandma and Grandpa for 3 weeks, and are gearing up for fishing, hiking, theme parks, freshly-picked sweet corn, blueberry picking,  seeing the last Harry Potter movie, getting together with high school friends, getting together with a blogger (yipee!), and long walks on country roads.  Over the next few weeks, I shall share all of it with you.  All in good time.

But before we arrived in the Hoosier State on Thursday, I was a busy bee.  We attended a big party at our friends' house for the 4th, complete with awesome food (I made the Blue Cheese Potato Salad - thanks Jill!), fireworks and a water slide.  This party happens every year, and is a summer highlight.  On Tuesday, the Heathrow Literary Society met to discuss "Cutting For Stone".  Unanimously this was one of the best books we've read as a group, and some claimed it to now be on their top ten lists.  After getting home from that outing, and after reeling and nearly vomiting over the verdict of the Casey Anthony trial (after all we've been seeing her shitty face on TV for 3 straight years in Orlando), I was interviewed by Nicole for her podcast That's How I Blog. I had so much fun, but then again I LOVE to talk.  It's a weakness.  Top all that off with a hair appointment, doctor appointment, laundry and packing, and I was ready to fly once again.

If you follow me on Facebook, you will know that Airtran efficiently LOST my bag on a direct flight between Orlando and Indianapolis, however the hell that happens.  That would be the bag with underwear, makeup and all my clothes.  It ended up in some small town in PA.  But despite the airline's predictions that it would show up well over 24 hours later, they got it to my parents' house at 3:40am.  God bless them.

Sunrise outside my bedroom at my chez Smith

Anyway, so how's the reading?  The flight up was only two hours (I had two kids sleeping on me, and two unattended children in front of me that were having an odorous farting contest, I kid you not), and we do stay busy around here.  But I was able to finish "The Poisoner's Handbook" by Deborah Blum, and am well into "Ten Beach Road" by Wendy Wax.  While Wendy's book is pretty predictable, I'm really enjoying it.  This is what you need to be reading in the summer...female bonding, renovating a mansion on the beach, handsome men about.   

On audio, I'm still listening to "Clara and Mr. Tiffany" for Heathrow Literary Society next month and I am ENCHANTED.  What a wonderful book, and it is narrated by Kimberly Farr, who is a delightful narrator.  But get this (as I  bounce up and down anxiously)!  At Barnes & Noble today, I found a huge book of all of the Tiffany stained glass and lamps for $7 on the bargain table!  Included are all the original pieces designed by Clara, described in great detail in the book.  This novel has officially come to life for me!  I about had a cat.  I should have this audio wrapped up in the next day or so, but I will be sad to see it end.  I'm hoping to start "Faith" by Jennifer Haigh next.

Next week will be busy.  We are leaving for the Turkey Run State Park tomorrow for an overnight stay, horseback riding and hiking.  My husband is coming up for a long weekend.  There are numerous state fairs and festivals going on.  And we shall be gorging on sweet corn and fish caught out of the neighbor's pond.  We may try attending a midnight viewing of the last Harry Potter movie.  Good times!

Hope you all are having a great weekend.  Are you doing anything (or reading anything) exciting? 


Friday, July 8, 2011

My Day of Fame: My Interview with Nicole at That's How I Blog

A very exciting day for me friends!  Nicole from Linus's Blanket is interviewing me for her podcast "That's How I Blog".  I've been listening to her interviews for at least a year and a half and wondered if I would ever get the chance, and voila, here it is!  Please click through on this link if you are interested in hearing me yammer on about my blogging habits (or lack thereof), my beloved audios, and a few of my favorite books.   

Worth Dying For - Lee Child (Audio)

There is something incredibly comforting about starting a book and knowing there will be absolutely no learning curve.  You know the characters, you know their personalities, you know exactly where they are in their lives.  It's like hanging out with an old high school friend, knowing time never seems to pass between visits.  This is the beauty of a series, of which a few have snagged my heart years ago.

The Jack Reacher series is one that I will always follow, without fail.  I may lose some credibility by saying this, but it doesn't really matter at this point what Lee Child writes, I'm always going to be sitting here waiting like a slobbering dog, begging for the next scrap of Reacherness. I've read every one of them, which is now 15 installments, and I'm invested.

I don't want to repeat myself, because I've reviewed a number of books from this series since I started blogging.  I always say the same thing (prepare for the standard Reacher profile), and that is that Reacher is a big, bad hottie who is virtually indestructible.  He can take on thirty members of a biker gang and leave them all bleeding and broken.  He champions women and children.  He's not afraid to knock someone off if they are bad people.  He has the occasion sweaty tryst, but won't commit because he is a wanderer by nature.  I foolishly fantasize that if trouble came my way, he would have my back. 

OK, now that I've gotten myself all revved up, here is a look at what Reacher is up to these days.

Synopsis:  Obviously, he has survived what seemed to be sure death in the last book "61 Hours".  Child had me scared for a few minutes there.  Reacher is on his way to Virginia to meet Miss Sexy Voice in person when he stumbles onto what seems to be a case of domestic abuse in a rural area of Nebraska.  As you might expect, this isn't even the tip of the iceberg.  Reacher finds a community filled with fear of one family of men, the Duncans, a mysterious but lucrative business, and the case of one missing little girl twenty years ago.  That is pretty much all Reacher needs to know to get involved.

Before Reacher leaves this town of tormented folks less than two days later, all hell breaks loose.  A whole covey of evil guys, all the way up the distribution food chain comes into town to rid themselves of "the big stranger" who is causing all this trouble, and get back to the business of raking in the cash.  Trouble is, nobody really knows who is on which side.  Reacher helps them figure it all out.

My thoughts:  I never tire of Child's brand of ass-kicking and fast-paced action.  I can ease right into step with the plot, and I'm amused and titillated by Jack Reacher's raw manly brute force and cunning.  As I was listening to this episode though, it occurred to me that most of these books all feel the same.  There are always innocent victims, there are evil profiteers, there is fighting and bodies and blood, and often there is a military thread within the plot (although not this time).  The series needs an overhaul. 

I would love for Child to surprise me.  Maybe Jack could get married.  Hell, Lucas Davenport did!  That didn't stop HIM from finding trouble and being studly.  Maybe he could come into some money, find a long lost family member.  Something.

I always try to recognize the aspects of each book that make it unique.  In "Worth Dying For", it was the mysterious money-making venture that all the antagonists felt was worth dying for.  It was particularly heinous, and it chilled my blood.  If I forget everything else about this book, it won't be that part of it.

A word about the audio production:  As always, this series installment was narrated by Dick Hill, who by now IS the voice of Reacher.  He has a hard edge to his voice, and clips off his words when things get hairy.  He does a respectable job with accents, and when the action goes into hyper speed, his voice gets loud and fast.  It makes for an exciting audio experience.  I would be terribly disappointed if they ever used another narrator.

3 out of 5 stars