Monthly Archives: May 2008

Book Binge


May 5 – May 31, 2008

This one seemed like a no-brainer to me. Mary at It’s Not All Mary Poppins is hosting her annual Book Binge whereby readers simply track the books they read this month and then post about them. The goal is to read as much as you can. The rules are flexible. I’ll be listing my books from May on this post with links to my reviews.

I read 8 books in May. Below are the books I read, their ratings, and links to my reviews.

1. Independent People, by Halldor Laxness

Number of Pages: 482
Started: April 26, 2008
Finished: May 5, 2008
Read my review.

2. The Zookeeper’s Wife, by Diane Ackerman

Number of Pages: 323
Started: May 6, 2008
Finished: May 12, 2008
Read my review.

3. The Bright Side Of Disaster, by Katherine Center

Number of Pages: 245
Started: May 13, 2008
Finished: May 14, 2008
Read my review.

4. Laughing Without An Accent, by Firoozeh Dumas

Number of Pages: 223
Started: May 15, 2008
Finished: May 17, 2008
Read my review.

5. Nineteen Minutes, by Jodi Picoult

Number of Pages: 455
Started: May 17, 2008
Finished: May 21, 2008
Read my review.

6. Other Voices Other Rooms, by Truman Capote

Number of Pages: 231
Started: May 22, 2008
Finished: May 25, 2008
Read my review.

7. Songs For The Missing, by Stewart O’Nan

Number of Pages: 287
Started: May 25, 2008
Finished: May 27, 2008
Read my review.

8. Before You Know Kindness, by Chris Bohjalian

Number of Pages: 422
Started: May 28, 2008
Finished: May 31, 2008
Read my review.

Themed Challenge – My Picks and Progress

January 1 – June 30, 2008

May 31, 2008 – CHALLENGE WRAP UP:

I completed this challenge tonight – I ended up reading two from my primary list and two from my alternate list. My favorite read of the challenge was a toss up between Nineteen Minutes and Lost and Found. The best part of this challenge is it got me to read books from my TBR pile which have been languishing there for awhile. I am planning to host this challenge again next year!


Since I’m hosting this challenge, I thought I’d better post my books. If you want to participate, go here to sign up.

My theme is: Books Set in New England

I’ve chosen four (4) books with four different New England settings: New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts. And I have three alternates or extras.

1. The World Below, by Sue Miller (COMPLETED April 26, 2008; rated 3.5/5; read my review)
2. Nineteen Minutes, by Jodi Picoult (COMPLETED May 21, 2008; rated 4.5/5; read my review)
3. Halfway House, by Katherine Noel
4. In The Fall, by Jeffrey Lent


1. Before You Know Kindness, by Chris Bohjalian (COMPLETED May 31, 2008; rated 4/5; read my review)
2. Lost and Found, by Jacqueline Sheehan (COMPLETED April 21, 2008; rated 4.5/5; read my review)
3. Blaze, by Richard Bachman

Before You Know Kindness – Book Review

All households had their mysteries, their particular forms of dysfunction. -From Before You Know Kindness, page 177-

The Seton and McCullough families are close…and every year they meet in New Hampshire at matriarch Nan Seton’s summer home to spend Memorial Day weekend together. Nan is in her seventies but “vigorous,” and her constant activity (whether it be swimming, golfing or mowing the lawn) drives these family reunions. But when thirteen year old Charlotte finds her Uncle John’s deer hunting rifle and discharges it into the garden on the last day of July, everything changes.

In the opening paragraphs of Chris Bohjalian’s novel Before You Know Kindness,  the reader learns that Charlotte’s father, Spencer McCullough – a fanatical vegan animal rights activist – is on the receiving end of his daughter’s shot into the dark. Seriously injured with a crippling arm injury, he is forced to re-examine his life and priorities…and the repercussions of that night will reverberate throughout the family.

Bohjalian is one of my favorite writers because he is skilled at creating gripping story lines and delving deep into his characters’ psyches. In Before You Know Kindness, Bohjalian examines the cracks which lie beneath the surface of a family, and how those cracks can become deep fissures on the heels of one tragic event. Thematically, the novel explores the political argument of gun control and animal rights…and on a more personal level, deals with the ideas of secrets, narcissism, and family relationships.

As a physical therapist, I was pulled into the psychological tension of the novel which develops as a result of a physically devastating accident – how does a person deal with a life-altering disability which has the power to either strengthen or destroy relationships? All of us have the choice to be angry or forgiving in the face of tragedy – what is it that makes us chose one over the other?

Bohjalian’s prose is honest, searing and compelling. Before You Know Kindness is ultimately a story of redemption and the power of forgiveness.


48 Hour Reading Challenge

June 6 – 8, 2008

Mother Reader at The Heart of a Mother, The Soul of a Reader is hosting the third annual 48- hour book challenge. For those of you unfamiliar with this challenge, participants commit to 48 hours of reading, reviewing and blogging – a marathon of sorts! The rules are simple:

  • Read and blog for any 48-hour period within the Friday-to-Monday-morning window. Start no sooner than 7:00 a.m. on Friday the sixth and end no later than 7:00 a.m. Monday.
  • The books should be about fifth-grade level and up. Adult books are fine, especially if any adult book bloggers want to play.
  • For promotion/solidarity purposes, let your readers know when you are starting the challenge with a specific entry on that day. Write your final summary on Monday, and for one day, we’ll all be on the same page, so to speak.
  • Your final summary needs to clearly include the number of books read, the approximate hours you spent reading/reviewing, and any other comments you want to make on the experience.
I’ve decided to participate this year as a warm up to Dewey’s 24 Hour Reading Challenge coming up at the end of the month. I’ll be starting the 48 hour Reading Challenge on Friday afternoon – probably around 4:00pm PCT, but will create an introductory post (or add onto this one) to give the exact time when I start.

Remembering Nattie…

thinkingnat.jpg The world of book blogging is not as big as one might think. I have met so many wonderful people through the blogs and especially through participation in reading challenges. And that is how I met Nattie…a single mom with a passion for books and a beautiful smile. I didn’t know her for long, but she touched my heart. Sadly, Nattie left this world far too early on June 7, 2007 at the age of 33. As a tribute to Nattie and as a way to keep her memory alive through the love of books, Heather has established The Nattie Challenge blog where she hosts reading challenges dedicated to Nattie.

This month a new challenge has been posted. The Thinking of Nat Challenge encourages readers to read a book which reminds them of Nattie; and to give away a book in her name.

I am going to read one (or both) of the following books for this challenge:

  1. The Amateur Marriage, by Anne Tyler (which was a Nattie pick for the Something About Me Challenge)
  2. The Bright Side of Disaster, by Katherine Center (a book focused on motherhood) – COMPLETED May 14, 2008; rated 4.5/5; read my review.


I had thought about reading both books for this challenge, but given that in the last 2 weeks ARCs have been arriving on my doorstep much faster than I can read them, I’m going to wrap up this challenge having read The Bright Side of Disaster…and having given away TWO books. This was a wonderful challenge because it was in memory of Nattie. I am always blown away by the generosity and caring of the book world. Catherine Center stepped up and donated a signed edition of her book; many comments got posted about Nattie…and I kept thinking how pleased Nattie would have been to see the beauty of the human spirit in her name.

Weekly Geeks #5 – Storytelling

This week’s theme was suggested by Renay. She says, “I thought it would be cool to ask people to talk about other forms of story-telling.” This week’s theme is once again one you could approach several ways. You might want to tell about the forms of storytelling (aside from books) you love.


The art of stitching dates back many, many years to Egyptian times – embroidered cloth was preserved well in a desert environment. The earliest needlework can be traced back to about the 6th Century AD. Beginning in the 18th century, young girls and women began making samplers.

The Metropolitan Museum’s website writes this about the art of sampler making:

As part of her preparation for the responsibility of sewing clothes and linens for her future family, most girls completed at least two samplers. The first, which might be undertaken when a girl was as young as five or six, was called a marking sampler (1993.100; 1984.331.6; L.2001.53.4). Marking samplers served a dual purpose: they taught a child basic embroidery techniques and the alphabet and numbers. The letters and numbers learned while embroidering a marking sampler were especially useful, since it was important that any homemaker keep track of her linens, some of her most valuable household goods. This was accomplished by marking them, usually in a cross stitch, with her initials and a number.

The site goes on to note that samplers reflected not only the values of the stitcher, but also may have been all that survived to represent these young women’s lives. Signed and dated, a sampler tells its own unique story.

I have long been fascinated with this art. I started stitching as a young girl, and have continued to enjoy it as I’ve grown into a middle-aged woman. I especially love making patterns which represent who I am. Several years ago I completed a New England sampler – special to me because I grew up in New Hampshire and still hold New England close to my heart. Here is the finished piece:

I love browsing antique shops for antique samplers – and as I gaze at the imperfect stitches and trace the name of the stitcher, I wonder about her life – who was this young woman? Where did she live? What was her life like? Often the stitched piece gives me hints…a wintry New England scene, or the star of Texas.

In writing up my post for this week’s Weekly Geeks, I browsed Amazon and found some great books about antique samplers and needlework:

  • Sampler View of Colonial Life, by Mary Cobb “describes the samplers stitched by girls in colonial America and explains what these samplers tell about the lives of their makers.”

I hope this post will inspire readers to look at this beautiful, yet simple art as a way of telling a story. I’ll leave you with a link to a wonderful site where you can browse antique samplers on line and read about their history and the stories of the women who made them: Antique Samplers.

Songs For The Missing – Book Review

July, 2005. It was the summer of her Chevette, of J.P. and letting her hair grow. The last summer, the best summer, the summer they’d dreamed of since eighth grade, the high and pride of being seniors lingering , an extension of their best year. She and Nina and Elise, the Three Amigos. In the fall they were gone, off to college, where she hoped, a long and steady effort, she might become someone else, a private, independent person, someone not from Kingsville at all. -From Songs for the Missing, page 1-

In the summer of her 18th year, Kim Larsen disappears without a trace – leaving behind friends and family who are bewildered and hurting. This is not an unusual story. It is a story we see every day in America – the young women filled with potential disappearing into the darkness of uncertainty. Many are never found. Many are found murdered or raped. It is an old story. Stewart O’Nan, with his refined and elegant prose, takes this story and makes it unforgettable.

Songs for the Missing is about those left behind. It is about relationships and expectations and faith and the very human need to know why and where. The characters in this beautifully written novel include Kim’s mother Fran, her sister Lindsey (only 15 when Kim goes missing), her father Ed, and friends – J.P., Elise and Nina. Each character deals with Kim’s disappearance differently, and as the months rolls into years they each come to terms with it in their own unique way. My heart felt broken by Ed – the father who searches relentlessly for the daughter he could not keep safe and who wishes for her to come to him in his dreams.

One reason he didn’t take the pill was that he longed for a dream of Kim. He didn’t expect her to tell him what had happened, he just wanted to see her again, to be in her presence as if she were alive and none of this had happened. Every night he went to bed hoping she’d come to him. Every morning he was disappointed. -From Songs for the Missing-

This novel touched my heart, especially because of my own involvement with Search and Rescue. O’Nan got it perfectly when he describes the searches, the role of law enforcement and the nearly unbearable hope of the lost one’s family which permeates every search. As the novel unfolds, I found myself immersed in the emotions of the characters, hoping they would find Kim and come to a resolution.

O’Nan has written a tender, sensitive and all too real novel about what happens when a loved one disappears. Highly recommended.

Other readers who have reviewed this book:

Free Radicals, by Alice Munro – Review

She hadn’t had time to wonder about his being late. He’d died bent over the sidewalk sign that stood in front of the hardware store offering a discount on lawnmowers. -From Free Radicals-

When Nita’s 81 year old husband Rich drops dead outside the hardware story, Nita grieves and wonders how she could have outlived him given her terminal diagnosis of cancer. Then an intruder arrives – and Nita’s view of life and death changes.

Alice Munro has crafted a short story about grief and moving forward after the death of a loved one. She also explores the creativeness of the human mind, especially when confronted with our own demise. Carefully constructed (although at times feeling a bit contrived), Free Radicals leaves some questions unanswered. I read this story on line at the New Yorker for 21st Fiction Yahoo Group. Not everyone in the group came away from it with the same interpretation of events. This is one thing I enjoy about a well-written short story – the loose ends, the questions that perhaps have several different answers. Free Radicals is a story which appears simple on its face, but has many levels of meaning below the surface.


The Kiss, by Anton Chekhov – Review

The most ill at east of them all was Ryabovitch – a little officer in spectacles, with sloping shoulders, and whiskers like a lynx’s. While some of his comrades assumed a serious expression, while others wore forced smiles, his face, his lynx-like whiskers, and spectacles seemed to say: I am the shyest, most modest, and most undistinguished officer in the whole brigade!” -From The Kiss-

I read this masterful short story of Chekov’s for The Russian Lit Yahoo group, and found it accessible and enjoyable.

Ryabovitch and his officers are billeted in a small town and find themselves invited to tea at a General’s home. They go reluctantly, feeling perhaps they have been invited out of obligation and nothing more.

In a house in which two sisters and their children, brothers, and neighbours were gathered together, probably on account of some family festivities, or event, how could the presence of nineteen unknown officers possibly be welcome? -From The Kiss-

But once at the gathering, they begin to enjoy themselves – talking to the ladies, drinking and dancing. All, that is, but Ryabovitch – a shy, naive man who feels uncomfortable in the presence of women. When he leaves the main room and wanders into a darkened library, however, Ryabovitch is astonished when a woman rushes up to him and kisses him on the cheek. Obviously having mistaken him for a secret paramour, the woman leaves without a word – and Ryabovitch is left to wonder who she is as the darkness of the room has prevented him from recognizing her identity.

Chekhov takes this singular event and weaves a story of obsession, expectation and disappointment. Although written in the early part of the twentieth century, The Kiss feels like a modern story of intrigue and romance. Chekhov’s skill at creating character and dialogue resonates with the reader.

I read this story as part of a collection from The Essential Tales of Chekhov, edited by Richard Ford – and plan to read the rest of Chekhov’s short works before the year is out. I can highly recommend The Kiss to readers – it is a simple story, but one that delights.

Other Voices, Other Rooms – Book Review

But the walls of Joel’s room were too thick for Amy’s voice to penetrate. Now for a long time he’d been unable to find the far-away room; always it had been difficult, but never so hard as in the last year. -From Other Voices Other Rooms, page 83-

Truman Capote’s first novel is gothic and mysterious. Thirteen year old Joel Knox (I couldn’t help making the connection between Joel’s last name and the saying: ‘The school of hard knocks.’) is sent to live with a father he has never met, deep in the south and among bizarre people. Joel travels alone, arriving in the town of Noon City where he is eventually retrieved by an elderly black man named Jesus Fever. Together they travel the gloomy, dark night road behind the stubborn mule John Brown, until they reach Skully’s Landing – the home of Joel’s father.

The first half of the novel introduces most of the main characters – from Idabel (the strange little girl who dresses like a boy) to Amy (Joel’s stepmother who likes to kill birds) to cousin Randolph (the effeminate relative with a dark history) to the likable Zoo (the black servant with an angry red scar slashed across her throat). Joel does not meet his father immediately, and when he does it is a shocking discovery. This part of the story engaged me with its gothic images, ghostly sightings and vivid dialogue. Capote’s description of Skully’s Landing was sharp and creepy:

A dormer window of frost glass illuminated the long top-floor hall with the kind of pearly light that drenches a room when rain is falling. The wallpaper had once, you could tell, been blood red, but now was faded to a mural of crimson blisters and maplike stains. -From Other Voices Other Rooms, page 50-

But as the book passes the midway point, it begins to waver and become nearly impossible to comprehend. The characters warp into strange and frightening people. Cousin Randolph spends a lot of time telling Joel stories that seem to have layers and layers of meaning. A lesbian midget shows signs of being a pedophile. A long night, involving a cottonmouth snake and a carnival ride, ends with an unexplained illness. And I began to wonder whether Capote was dropping acid while he wrote. The imagery is circular, dreamlike and unconnected to the story line.

I like gothic novels with creepy story lines and suspense. Other Voices Other Rooms had the potential, with Capote’s gift of stringing words together, to be a breathtaking work…but it fell short for me. It was too convoluted and confusing. Reviews and analysis I have read about the novel suggest it is a story about coming of age – but, it is a rough ride…and seemed to be more of a look through the pages of an abnormal psychology text.

I had a hard time rating this one. Capote’s prose is sometimes beautiful – he is an exacting writer – yet the plot was too weird for my liking. I don’t know many (if any) readers to whom I could recommend this one.