Thursday, December 29, 2011

Book 104: Secret Diary of a Call Girl

Secret Diary of a Call Girl by Belle du Jour or Anonymous (like in my edition) is a great little read. It’s something that is incredibly naughty yet so fascinating. It’s a witty look at what it’s like to be a call girl in London.

I’ve been waiting to read this book for a while basically since the TV show first debuted.  If you haven’t realized it, most of Showtime and HBO’s programming comes from books and this book was the starting of the show.  Secret Diary of a Call Girl (the TV show) caught my attention due to the title (titillating) and the casting. Billie Piper was my favorite assistant from Doctor Who and I wanted to see if she could really act and Belle was as far as you could get from Rose Tyler.  But after watching a couple of episodes I knew I had to read the book that inspired it all.

Waiting did not disappoint. In fact it probably made it better. If I would have read it back then, I may not even know what I would have gotten myself into. The book was rather detailed. I’m shy and know next to nothing about sex so this book was insightful. Filled in the gaps even cable TV couldn’t fill in.

I loved the structure the book. It started off each chapter with a list of things (alphabetically) about London sex work. Then each day could be any sort of thing which could be an anecdote, a day in the life,  a list of things like Love: A Spotter’s Guide and even just the ins and outs of being a call girl.   One of the things I really never expected was how much of the show would lift things straight from the book and in about the same order.

It was such a delightful book although there were several points where I went ‘you can do that?’ or ‘oh that sounds like fun’ and ‘maybe this wasn’t the best book to bring as my lunch reading material’.  But I’m glad that I read it. I immediately wishlisted the other books by Belle du Jour and debating which books will be making it to my library eventually. Nothing can speak higher volumes then enjoying the book so much that you want more books by the same author.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Letters 99, 100 and above

When Christmas is combinde with awesome friends and family, it means I get to write one of the best things to reach the letter goal of the year (thank you cards). I actually love sending these out but I've been taught from an early age that it's good etiquette to always write a thank you card for any little gift.  First, they let your gift giver know that you are grateful for something and two, it lets the person know you actually got the little gift. 

Right now I've done four cards of each pattern and still have a few more to write.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Book 103: Blood Bound

  Blood Bound by: Patricia Briggs was enjoyable despite the slow start but it turned into a real page turner by the end of the book. It was a fun read that was did exactly what I wanted: be an easy read that indulged the werewolf lover in me.

          Blood Bound is the second book in the Mercy/Mercedes Thompson series.  To sum up the series it’s about Mercy who is a walker (can transform into a coyote at will) raised by werewolves and the difficulties that she runs into. It’s fun since she’s kinda a pack member after Adam (the alpha werewolf/next door neighbor) but also a complete outsider. It’s a nice blend of being in the know but not knowing too much.

          This book had a lot of set up in it but it needed that set up. Can’t just throw in a sorcerer (a person of magical proclivities who makes a bond with a demon-which is a new take for me on that term) vampire into the genre without any explanation of why on earth that was bad for the whole Tri-cities area. Not just the vampires or the werewolves of the town.

          Then once the book got going, it was so good. Very action packed. Loved it. Plus I love how there was a bit of a false ending to the book. Then the actual ending creates that yearning to see what happens next in the series.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Letters that don't count

 My Christmas Cards (at least a couple of the designs, forgot to take a photo of the other two designs).
The main card

The other cards:

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Book 102: Serpent's Storm

                Serpent’s Storm by Amber Benson was a huge disappointment.  I wanted a great light story with strong characters, action and a good dose of fun. Unfortunately the book was a wee bit schizophrenic.
                I will have to say it’s interesting that Amber Benson is known for her role of Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There have been more and more crossovers of actresses/actors that I like working with the fiction genres that I like. I’ve been tempted to read some of them more but I have always kind of wondered if it’s worth my time.
                Quite frankly I hated the book.  This book was basically schizophrenic. Callie Reaper-Jones went from tough chick to lover to unsure girl in a matter of a page. She was just all over the map. So it made it hard to read since it was just always jolting back and forth.
                Then there is a problem on parts of the concept. I struggle to accept when writers decide to merge gods and immorality with heaven and the God. There has to be a good explanation as to why God made the universe but there is a Hindu gods around and why there is Death Inc. Now this book was the third book in a series so maybe it was better explained earlier, but in this book it wasn’t.  Plus I also had issue that Kali spoke more like a ghetto black girl then an Indian goddess. So that kept taking me out of the book whenever Callie was called “White Girl”

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Book 101: The Romanovs The Final Chapter

The Romanovs: the Final Chapter by Robert K Massie was not what I was expecting but thoroughly enjoyed. I relished reading about all the forensics that has gone into testing the Romanovs’ bones and the attempts to identify who is who in the mass grave site. Plus the book talks about the imposters and family members that survived the Communist take-over.

Robert K. Massie is an excellent writer. He has Pulitzer Prize and has several well known books. I will have to say he merges an investigative style, forensic science and easy to read style.

When I read the book title, I really thought it would be more about the deaths and capture of the Romanov family. But I was mistaken but not in a bad way. It really discussed the death and what happened from there. Which has an interesting history all to itself.

I learned a lot in this book. One of the things I found to be the most interesting was the idea of the missing Romanov daughter. I never knew that the Russians believe that it was Marie who wasn’t buried with the family while most of Europe and America believe it was Anastasia.   I also learned about the how the imposters and how there was such a struggle to test/rate the credibility of each person. Plus while it was harder to believe, it was neat to read about the person who claimed to be the tsarevich (who was also not found in the mass grave).

The biggest downside to this book was the fact part of it is out of date.  The book was written in 1995 before the second Romanov burial plot was found (in 2007).  By finding the second set of remains that included Alexei and the missing daughter. Now there will always be some debate about if the missing daughter was Anastasia or Marie, but it does prove that the entire family did die at the hands of the Soviet Revolution.

I really liked the book. It was interesting and that blend of forensics and biography.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Book 100: A Darcy Christmas

A Darcy Christmas was supposed to be the fun book in my collection of books. I was looking forward to having a romantic book involving my second favorite holiday. Unfortunately for me, the stories from Amanda Grange, Sharon Lathan, and Carolyn Eberhart left me wondering if I am even a Darcy fan at all and what the fuss is about.

I will admit my holiday spirit is a bit lacking this year.  And this book didn’t help things, especially the story “Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Carol.” We all know a Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Heck we have all seen how the majority of the TV shows will use the Christmas Carol as the framework.  So starting off A Darcy Christmas with the most stereotypical form of a Christmas Carol was the akin of starting off a concert on off key and out of sync.  Please for the love of god, use a little bit of creativity and show some diversity in the tale. I literally ended up the story going “yuck”.

Then I read “Christmas Present,” I hoped for better but didn’t really think it would happen. It was still a typical read just like the story before. A birth of a baby and tying the love together even stronger then ever.  It added nothing to the lexicon or used any imagination.

Then the last bit of the book was probably the best book. “A Darcy Christmas” actually used some imagination. It was still pretty typical read and in most bits of the story, you knew how it was going to end.  Each chapter showed a different Christmas.

My biggest problem with A Darcy Christmas was the absolute lack of creativity in the whole book. I read fiction in order to get away from the world and to see something new. I don’t like it when I read a book and I know how it will go moments into a story.  In a way the book highlights my reason I’m struggling to get into the Christmas spirit: it’s too much of the same old thing and lack of effort.

Then the next problem in this book was the lack of continuity. There were several elements of where the stories completely overlap: characters, ideas and etc. But they don’t agree on stuff.  Lizzy and Darcy have children but they never named the same. Nor are the character traits carrying over fully. Those of the little things that could  have unified the book.  Plus in many ways, I never even was able to connect to the prior age: since little details made me rethink if they were around when Jane Austen was writing.

In the end, A Darcy Christmas was a disappointing read and poor tribute to Jane Austin and to one of her most beloved characters.  I wanted some imagination. I wanted to see something new in a Christmas story to feel the tug of a magical tale with a familiar character. But I didn’t get that. So when Miriam returns Wolfsbane and Mistletoe I might reread that to get into the holiday mood.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Book 99: Sarah's Key

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay was a nice diversion book that really picked up steam the more you read it. It is an interesting blend of history and the present. It shows how difficult it can be for the French to come to grips with their past from the Holocaust.

This book was an interesting book since it highlights the Vel’ d’Hiv’ Roundup that occurred on July 16, 1942 which ultimately sent thousands of French Jews to their deaths which were mainly women and children. The difficult aspect for the French is that this event wasn’t done by the Nazis, instead it was done by the French police on French transportation systems in the middle of Paris. It’s been hushed up and forgotten since in many cases the truth is just so painful to bar. To be honest before this book, I knew next to nothing about this roundup and how it singled out French children.

What I love about Sarah’s Key is that it had a great dialogue about digging up the painful events of the past and actually acknowledging them. There are times when it brings together a family and other times it will actually divide the family. Not everyone sees the value of digging up the past.

The book has two main characters and thus two points of view set in two different points of time. First there is Sarah who was a young Jewish girl who was part of the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup who wants to stop at nothing to save her brother who was locked up in their secret cupboard. Then there is Julia Jarmond from today’s time. She is assigned to write an article about the roundup for the 60th university of the event. While she is learning about the event, she’s dealing with family issues and her own curiosity makes her dig into her own in-laws’ past. There were times I loved the shifts in perspective. Both were done crisply and well. But often the chapters were so short that I didn’t want the perspective to change. Then about mid-book, it’ becomes Julia’s story. Everything from the past is starting to come to light and wasn’t much place for continuing Sarah’s story.   

I like how the book took the time to say: “This is not a historical work and has no intention of being one. It is my tribute to the children of the Vel d’Hiv’. The children who never came back. And the ones who survived to tell.”This allows some of the liberties that seem a wee bit unbelievable in the lexicon of Holocaust events to make sense. It allows the reader to enjoy the fact that there are a lot of facts and research in the book but it doesn’t have to be taken so seriously that the suspension of disbelief isn’t destroyed.

So far I approve the books on the target Reading Club (Moloka’I was also on the list). Plus I like how the one aisle cap was right if I liked one, I would like the other book. If it wasn’t for the fact that this book was on sale and there was the option if I get two books from the Book Club, I could get a $5.00 gift card, I wouldn’t’ have been able to read such a good book.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Book 98: Plum Pudding Murder

Plum Pudding Murder by Joanne Fluke was a different book for me. I've never read a book that was really part mystery novel and part cookbook before. It was a fun book that was full of light reading.

I will admit I've been waiting for the right time to read this book. Had to wait for Thanksgiving to really pass before reading a Christmas themed murder myster. Just like I'm holding onto a short story collection related to A Darcy Christmas for mid-December (or my roadtip to Philly). Reading Christmas stuff too early ruins the theme and you can get jaded quick. I actually read a few chapters back in September or so but I just couldn't get into a Christmas story just then, so I waited for the holiday season to arrive.

This is the 13th book in the Hannah Swenson series. It was easy to just jump into the series but in many ways I woudln't have thought it was that far into series. It seemed like it was a book 4 or so. Many of the characters were developed but not so developed that they coudln't grow more.

Basically this book is about Hannah who is a cookie shop owner that happens to stumble upon murder victims and her own curiousity creates a desire to find out who was the murder. But it's also about the interpersonal relationships she has especially since she's almost romantically involved with two guys but won't pick either. The murder itself doesn't happen until half way through the book. So it really starts to set up the triggers in the plot.

The story was rather straight forward. There were few real plot twists or red herrings in the novel. Okay there were was the whole thing where Hannah and Norman were trying to figure out what Carrie (Norman's mom and Hannah's mom's best friend) was up to.  But that took you way from the real plot of the Crazy Elf plotline all together fror the most part.  I would have liked this to be a bit more like a Murder She Wrote episode or more like Agatha Christie book where you are given enough to solve the murder on your own but it wasn't spoon fed.

The real gems in this book is that it's has gotten the cooking bug in me and I will be trying out two cookie recipes for my friend. There were some exciting and unusual recipes in there. I'm not a big recipe person. Even when I'm in my most foodie mindset (which doesn't always happen since there are days I do skip meals), I don't scour cookbooks for new recipes and I can't remember the last time I truly baked anything. Every so often I will cut up a cookie roll curtesy of my mom or I will ice gingerbread men at Christmas but that's about it for baking. Just not my thing.  So it's rather amazing that this weekend, I will be making two cookie recipes from this book (White Chocolate Pumpkin Dreams and Orange Julius Cookies). So hopefully these will be as tasty as they sounded in the book and be fabulous when I share with my friends and co-workers.

Plum Pudding Murder got me talking about the book. I will admit the recipes that featured the end of most chapters were probably more exciting then the mystery part of the book. But the mystery was still good. I would recommend this to my friends as something fun and different.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Book 97: The Day the Falls Stood Still

The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan was a book that I just finished up thanks to a loan from my friend. It was a book I was warned was only okay to poor in quality from both the friend who loaned it to me and by my friend who helps to co-write the blog a Novel Idea. I will have to say I agree completely. The book was underwhelming even though it had a neat setting and premise.

The Day the Falls Stood Still is a historical fiction book that takes place in the early 1900s in Niagara Falls. It’s suppose to be both a location based book and character driven just like Moloka’i. The book is loosely based on the life of William Red Hill through the character of Thomas Cole. The book is actually through his wife’s point of view and explains how she went from privilege upbringing to a lower class where she has to work just as much as Thomas Cole does.  The book also interweaves some mock newspaper clippings that are almost entirely based on the real life accounts.  It also brings up some great points about how the electric plants along the river could affect the general wildlife in the area.

If I didn’t read Moloka’i right before hand, I think my biggest complaint was the fact the book was really predictable. Ever major event, you knew it would happen. You want an author to lead you by the hand, but not to the point where there is no surprise in the novel.

But I did read Moloka’I right before hand. Since these books mirrored each other in some major way, the flaws were really highlighted in my mind. They were both historical fiction books that have an alluring setting, similar timelines and are character driven.  The Day The Falls Stood Still never came to life the all-encompassing setting like the leper colony did.  Part of that was due to the fact there were lacking details of daily life that felt real and genuine. I also never fully connected with Bess so it makes it tough to want to continue reading the book when it’s character driven. There was something about her that made it that I didn’t like which is odd since normally I am drawn to strong women characters who aren’t afraid of working for a living and supporting her family like Bess did.

I’m glad that my friend loaned me this book. At times it’s was an interesting book. I learned a lot about Niagara Falls.  But in the end, I didn’t care for the book. I can see why this was part of her summer of bad book endings and I wish I read this book at a different time this year so some of the flaws didn’t seem so glaring.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Book 96: Moloka'i

Moloka’i was an amazing book by Alan Brennert about leprosy in Hawai’i at the turn of the century.  It was amazing. It’s rare that I could be entranced by a world I know little about so I’m learned as I went and at the same time I loved the characters and plot.

Moloka’i has a sad past. It was the home of the leper colony of Hawai’i. First off, I didn’t realize that there was a leper colony in the states (or at least a territory of the states for part of the history) let alone it went on until 1969. Well technically there are still people living in Kalaupapa with the disease but it’s not forced inhabitation like it was before. But that was the tip of the iceberg of things I was learning about in this book. I learned that Robert Louis Stevenson and Jack London would visit and write about their impressions.

The book focuses on the early 1900s and focused on Rachel’s saga of living with the disease. She went from small child separated from her family at about age. Since she was a young girl alone, she was sent to Bishop Home to be raised by nuns (since her Uncle Pono was deemed to be unfit/unmoral to raise his favorite niece).  She then grew up around a world where friends and family died, making new family on the island and watching her hope being taken away by a positive scrape.  It was moving to see her ability to grow up and thrive on the island while being around death and disease.

One of the things I loved about this book was how it blended fiction with nonfiction. I’m so glad that there is a bibliography at the end of the book. I now want to read more books about the island. I even want to visit the national park and see the real life places in this book. Even the characters were based on real people that wrote letters from the island or made it to the diaries from Jack London. There is an incredible blend of events.

I can’t wait to share this book with a few people. The tricky part is who to loan it to first. But I have a couple days to decide that one. It’s rare to have books you are entranced by the storyline and characters while learning about history. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Product 46: Low Country Luxe Beau Candle

Schiller’s got in Low Country Luxe Candles for the holidays. The aromas were so to die for that I had to treat myself to one of these candles if only to change up my sense of hygge. I settled on treating myself to Beau and I am in love.

Low Country Luxe create great candles that really embody the traditions of the South. Many of the candles are wrapped in a linen fabric that keeps your candle safe from the air when you aren’t using it. Plus the names of the scents take on that creole flavor.

While I love all the scents, Beau was the most intriquing to me. It has a combination of tobacco flower, bergamot, lemon and juniper berries. I literally never smelt anything quite like it. It is both soft and delicate while at the same time woody and exotic. I’ve been teasing some of friends who smoke that their bad habits helped to entice me to this candle but in all honesty, I probably would have been drawn to the candle due to its juniper berries and lemon flavors that work in conjunction with a woody scent. It’s not too sweet, woody or any one note flavor.

The candle itself burns wonderfully and the scent lingers for hours even after blowing out the candle. I love how the candle aroma lingers in the air. It’s not overwhelming to the nose but gives the impression of a lived in home that is comforting. This is the perfect candle for creating hygge (ie the Danish word for the comforting live-in feeling that is inviting). 

While Schiller’s has so many beautiful new gifting ideas, this is definitely one of my favorite new items in stock. It’s sophisticated, different and wonderful yet inviting and simple. 

Book 95: Jack of Kinrowan

 Jack of Kinrowan by Charles de Lint was the fun and final book on loan from my friend who let me dip into the realms of fantasy from her personal collection.  This book actually contains two different novellas involving Jacky, Kate and Finn who try to make their way through Faerie which just happen to be right in the middle of Ottawa but only seen by special people who can enter into Middle Earth.

I love how this book combines everything I enjoy about urban fantasy. It takes the creatures from classic fairytales and folklore and then combines it in an urban environment in a way that makes sense. It’s surprising that it took me so long to stumble upon this classic book in the genre. But admittedly if it wasn’t for Miriam, it may be much longer since the cover of the book doesn’t have an image of that classic strong urban woman and is so similar all of fantasy books that I fell out of love with.

I will have to say for me, Jack the Giant Killer was the stronger of the two novellas in the book. It was so full of life, adventure and characters that you could relate too and wanted to see through the story. I was hooked by how Jacky entered the Middle Kingdom of Faerie and was relating to things by the names in Ottawa while learning the new names of things. She turns to her best friend and the two of them try to make their way through an adventure to do the right thing and help save the Laird’s princess that was kidnapped.

Drink Down the Moon was weaker for me. In this adventure there was the lost of one of my favorite characters from the first story Eilian (but there were some mention of him but it was mostly off handed comments). Plus I just didn’t fully connect to the new characters who were inserted in this story. Things just felt less natural and a little too convenient to move along the plot.

While the second novella was weaker, I still highly enjoyed the two stories. I would recommend this book for those who enjoy the urban fantasy genre. I love the Celtic and English flair the story takes on. The tales were easy to read. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Book 94: Meditations and Other Metaphysical Writings

     My latest book was Meditations and Other Metaphysics Writings by Rene Descartes. It’s one of those foundation works that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. I’m glad that I actually read it and give it the proper time meant for it. 

     Over the years, I’ve read portions of Mediations in my study of philosophy. I’ve always enjoyed his viewpoint presented in Mediations-mainly I think therefore I am. But for some reason I was hesitant on reading the actual source material.  I wanted to continue with my learning for a bit until reading Mediations for myself that way I had a foundation to think about things. After reading the introduction, I find that was what Rene Descartes wanted in a way. He wrote his philosophical works in Latin instead of the more accessible French so it would be for learned readers only.

     Mediations and other Metaphysical Writings was actually a joy to read. It wasn’t written in a way where his ideas were too hard to understand. It was easy to see how the idea that if I’m thinking, I must exist in that moment. But the idea that I was drawn towards more was the duality of mind-body. It’s something that is a little hard to understand but it makes sense for me but there are things that exist in only the minds, things that exist in the body and there are times when they work together. 

     One of the things I never expected to find in this work was how willing he was to defend and explain his ideas to his objectors or to really have dialogue with people about his ideas. It was nice to see how he was willing to revise his works or just rework them.  The manifesto at the end where he takes on a misguided reader and try to steer him to his way of thinking.

     The only thing that I didn’t fully get was how these mediations proved God. Everything was so purposeful and interesting yet he would negate some of his ideas or put special difference when it came to God. I just thought that was the weak by him. But at the same time, I do agree with many of his assumptions.

     I am so glad I read Mediations when I did. Hopefully next week I can continue some of quick reading so I can devote solid amount of time to philosophy.  Rene Descartes continues to thrill me. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Letters 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98

Letter 91-96: Halloween love to a few friends

Letter 97: A special Halloween card that was also sending some birthday wishes

Letter 98: One last Halloween card for my friend

Can't tell that I love Halloween and I love to share that fun with a few of my friends. It's one of the most fun holidays of the year.

Book 93: The Help

The Help is probably one of the trendier books that Ive read this year. Although I did read it in that lull period where the movie isnt in the theaters but not yet on DVD. Its a very provocative book that discusses racial ideas and even social divides between the help and society ladies of Jackson, Mississippi during the mid-sixties.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett was her debut book. And it couldnt have been better, except with a few less liberties with history.   The movie helped to raise the profile of the book. This book was sold out a few local stores while I was trying to locate it for my mom because of the popularity to the book. But the book has also brought out a lawsuit by her brothers maid, divided her family and people in Jackson, Mississippi were less then happy by this book.

The Help takes the point of view of saintly Aibileen and outspoken Minny as the black help who clean and even raise the kids of Skeeter, Hilly and Elizabeth. Skeeter was trying to figure out her path and stumbled upon an idea to write a book about what its like to be the help for white society.  This idea isnt without any danger in volatile Mississippi. But contrary to the movie trailers would like you to believe, this book is much more about the writing of the book and actually what it is like to be the help. The books release and effects on the town really only happen in the last hundred pages or so.

This book was good. Now everyone was warning me it was a little slow in the beginning. I never found that. I found myself instead being enveloped in the atmosphere. You could feel the south in many ways. By having the more ethinic slang/dialect, it just helped to set the tone. It really helped to make the story.  The pacing was pretty solid. Everything was developed and placed although I did find myself at times going : I wonder what’s happening to Celia or Skeeter or Aibileen only to see that the next chapter or maybe two at the most before the perspective switched and went to the people I were wondering about.

This book did a better job of shifting perspectives compared to some books that I’ve read lately that had multiple perspectives. It helped that the three girls had three well defined personalities that could just shine through and they were distinct personalities. So I liked knowing just by the attitude, spoken words and etc who was the speaking.

The book was deeply layered.  I loved that.  It wasn’t just a quick easy read that talked about race. It was deeper then that. It was about learning about yourself and doing something unexpected, it was about learning how lines in society can feel both concrete and yet nonexistent all at the same time, and it’s about the civil rights history. 

I really liked The Help. It was a great book that was easy. It was my way to relax as I tried to get my allergies under control after dusting too much at work. It was a rich book that had so much to it. I would highly recommend this book and I’m glad to pass the book off to my sister.  

Monday, November 7, 2011

Book 92: Wouldn't Take Nothing For My Journey Now

Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now by Maya Angelou was a good book to help me feel more comfortable with my totals and with myself. It’s a quick short read filled with lots of good things to think about to improve your outlook about life and in some cases about diversity and race.

I’ve been both holding onto the Maya Angelou book and wanting to read it. It came from a mixture of knowing that it was likely to be an easy, quick read and I enjoy her. So I wanted to save it for a week for where I spent more time reading a book then I probably should have.  This week seemed as good as any (while I enjoyed  Spindle’s End, it’s just not comfortable to start a book on a Friday night).

I will have to say I misjudged Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now. I glanced at the book and just assumed that it was another poetry book by Maya Angelou since besides her autobiography I Know Why The Cage Bird Sings, she’s known for her poetry.  I wasn’t disappointed to see it was short essays filled talking about morality, manners, and even diversity.

Most the essays, I loved. It was good to see her talking about things I care about. There are many circumstances that she discussed that I thought were timeless and can help everyone just to remember the simple truths.

I’m not always a fan of using the race card. There were a few essays where Maya Angelou was great at saying we need to revel in diversity and realize that races are different but good.  As the essays when on, there were a few moments when it became a little too much about race where it becomes more of a line in the sand without true understanding.  I’m not sure if it’s because in the end I don’t see race but I do see social/cultural differences thanks to years of travel and moving or if it’s just a generational thing since Maya Angelou was raised when race was a much larger issue then it is today. In some ways, the gay/lesbian/transgender debate is replacing the race debate from previous decades.

 But overall, this book gave me some things to think about and it was fun to read. So I would recommend this book. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Book 91: Spindle's End

I got to take a fun foray into twists upon fairy tales with the book Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley. It was a fun book which reminded me why I used to love the subsection of the genre. It was both extremely familiar and creative all at the same time. If you read a twist on one of your favorite fairy tales, it has to be done right.

Needless to say, I hate a couple books that used Snow White as a basis but the book failed. It was actually after reading a twist on Snow White that I hated so much, I stopped reading books based on fairy tales for a good long time and it’s one of the reasons I haven’t jumped at reading the third book in the Wicked series (but that’s also in part due to how I loved Wicked but disliked the second book). After some dabbling in the twisting of fairy tales in the early 2000s, I never explored my other favorite fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty (I did read a couple related to Snow White which is the traditional favorite). I’m so glad that the friend that loaned me Moon Called and Neverwhere also had this book in the collection she set aside for me. It was just a fun book.

I thought that Spindle’s End did a great job of merging the traditional elements of Sleeping Beauty, the romantic features that comes emanate from the ballet and yet it created something new. I love how McKinley set the story first. It was an inviting atmosphere and it really took you away from the world and you could just enjoy reading. It allowed for magic and fairies to exist.

 The ending made me so satisfied. I won’t spoil it for people. But given the characters of Rosie and Peony, this was the ending that made the most sense. It was great. It allowed for the traditional happily ever after but not the way you would have thought going into the book.

 The only downside to the book was it took me longer to read then I would have liked. It wasn’t a quick read. Highly enjoyable. My work schedule has gotten heavier as the holiday season starts to kick into high gear and I am working on my NaNoWriMo project as well. So my limited free time is now getting chipped away by yet another activity.

 Spindle’s End was fun book. So incredibly grateful for the loan and a chance to read it. It was a great slip into an old favorite genre that I felt like I had to give up on after a few misses. I’m glad.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Book 90: Open

Andre Agassi’s Open is one of the frankest and most honest memoirs related to sports. But in the end, I think it was almost too open because the phrase “you should never meet your heroes since you might not like who they really are” comes to mind.

I grew up admiring Agassi. I literally started to take tennis lessons for a while due to Andre Agassi and his wife, Steffi Graf (well Stephanie but at the time it was still Steffi and she’s always Steffi to me). So when his book made the sport news shows, I knew I really wanted to read it. I didn’t get to read it right away but I finally got a chance to read it. I wanted to learn more about an athlete that I truly admired.

Because of PTI and Around the Horn, some of the most shocking elements of the book weren’t a huge surprise. But it was still amazing to realize how early he started to use a hairpiece while playing. I loved how he played with long hair-it reminded me of the rock stars and Klingons I admired- so it was crazy to think that the majority of the time I liked his hair, it was fake.

I was also a little bit shocked how often he would say he hated tennis especially since he was the player who kept coming back, playing stronger than ever and never quitting. It seemed that he was still trying to prove that he truly hated tennis. In some ways I think it’s like my relationship with the water, love/hate. I hate swimming and I’ve quit a few times, yet there is a something that keeps pulling me back to the sport. If there was only hate for the sport, I wouldn’t keep coming back and finding some joy/solace in the water. And I think truthfully that Agassi feels the same way. I don’t doubt that he hates tennis especially when he was hurting, losing and just dealing with life. But Open also shows he’s does get a certain amount of joy from the sport.

It was fascinating to see how much he fancied his second wife throughout his whole life. It’s funny that Brooke Shields used a photo of Graf to help motivate her to lose weight for their wedding. But because he fancied her so much, you can see the love he has for her. It’s a far better and more stable relationship that he had with Brooke. The book really showed why they got divorced.

There something about the book that I didn’t fully connect with. I think so much of it was getting to see too much of a person I’ve admired over the years. This isn’t a memoire where the bad things/ideas/thoughts/actions are glossed over or in some cases almost non-existence. It’s frank. It’s truthful. I respect that. But because of the honesty, I saw things about Agassi that I didn’t always like-his attitude at times and the drug use. So there is a child in me that wants to hold him the same esteem I had him in. Although after reading it, I see how much he loves his school and foundation and how that’s been very rewarding although a bit ironic. When he talks about the school or his family, that’s where I see that Andre I’ve admired.

Oh and I love Gil. The way Andre talks about his strength coach/body guard, I just think of Alexei (my favorite ballet instructor of all time). The way Gil works is strong solid conditioning and training. I wish there are more strength coaches that work like Gil. Plus Gil just seems like an amazing person.

Open is a book I would recommend to those who enjoy tennis and sports. It’s a book that lives up to its title. You can really feel like you’ve met Agassi by reading it.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Book 89: Straying From the Path

Straying from the Path was a huge win. It’s a special edition book released in conjunction with Capclave by WSFA Press that was signed by Carrie Vaughn. It is amazing collection of non-werewolf stories that were just a thrill to read.

I’ve said this before, but I adore Carrie Vaughn. She’s writes great witty fiction that is infused with lots of great history and characters without getting dull or too overdone. It’s easy, fun to read fiction. So when I saw on her blog about this limited edition book, my interest was piqued. I was ecstatic to see that book was affordable on top of being a special edition with only 500 in print, signed, and hardback. It was on cloud nine. The only doubt at first was if I could purchase it since I wasn’t able to go to Capclave but I was able to purchase it. So I’m now proud owner of book 84 of the lot.

The stories are quite marvelous and varied in nature but all have the earmarks of Carrie Vaughn. I love how these stories each had a very different feel to them yet they were so enjoyable. There are stories about flying, fairies in space, fairytales and time travel.

My favorite story was “The Happiest Place.” It’s cool mix of a fairy tale with the classic be careful of what you wish for theme and the magical setting (although in this one it’s Disneyworld). I love how the blending of having a princess actress who gains a crown that allows her to grant wishes but then she starts to lose herself in the process. Then the layering of being the magical princess and making the happiness of sick little girls for the day but realizing how it’s just an act, just gave the story the depth to it. Like many great fairy tales, it does not have a happy ending.

Another fun story was “Swing Time”. It was fun seeing the love/hate relationship play out as they dance through time and space. When I read that Madeline had her Achilles severed, I was so sad cause I knew her adventure would have to end. But fortunately that wasn’t the end of it. One of the things I found awesome was how Vaughn was able to say how you couldn’t change events in history but no one seemed to notice if riches were lost. It had a touch of Doctor Who to it where there were just some things you couldn’t change (especially those related to your own history) and events that you could change.

One of the stories I enjoyed but misunderstood in a way was “Silence Before Starlight”. In the notes, Carrie said how it was actually a fairy as the creature calling to Barrie in the leannane sidhe sense. Well I didn’t see alien like most people but I just saw the classic siren story set in space.

I will have to say several of her stories in this collection made me think about and want to read more about military history and theory. It’s a shame you don’t always hear about the WASPs and almost never about Joseph Kittinger. But I’m glad that I read “This is the Highest Step in the World” because I learned about Kittenger and then subsequently went to find the photo to the right. Yes, he literally jumped/parachuted from space.  Then the story “Peace in Our Time” just made you think about what would happen if everyone relied on drones to fight wars.

I also loved “Real City.” It was perfect story that was so reminiscent of Singing in the Rain and yet so realistic with just a hint of futuristic. It was done at the perfect time since in a decade or so, this story would be dated. It was just a great diversion and relaxing read.

The only story I didn’t care for was “In time”. I get what she was trying to do. Show a little facet of Emily Dickenson’s life and talk about her dog. But it just didn’t hit my sweet spot for a good story, instead it was so-so. It doesn’t help that I’m not a Emily Dickenson fan.

I loved “Straying From the Path”. I was so good. It made me think, I got to learn about things while being carried away to far away lands.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Book 88: The Grays

The Grays by Whitley Strieber was an interesting story. This book is unlike many books that I’ve read lately. I enjoyed it but at the same time I felt that it was trying too hard especially towards the end.

So in all the years that I read science fiction, I’ve read relatively few stories about alien cover-ups and invasion. Normally the general population (or at least the parts that are focused on) knows about the aliens or there is one alien. The Grays is different since the majority of the population doesn’t know about the aliens that are on Earth. So it was cool to see the different perspectives of those who know nothing about the Grays, those that like the aliens and those that fear them.

The Grays is a complicated book. Set basically in our timeline (which after next year it will be slightly obsolete with the doomsday predictions) although it ties together the idea of the Roswell crash and alien abductions. You get several main characters: basically you have the child who will save the world but knows nothing until midway through the book (Conner), the military who know (Mike and Lauren), and the professors who suspect. Basically the book revolves around the idea that the Grays are on Earth and they are so old they are dying so they help to create a super genius name Conner (through the clever use of abductions and sheer luck). There are those who distrust the Grays since they believe they will turn the Human race into slaves while others believe their plans are less evil and could help save humanity. Conner has no idea about the Grays until one Triad who decide to speed along their plan by setting a fire. That fire creates a stir in the community (who are all professors to a local college).

As I said, this book was good but in the end, it had too many threads going on to make a neat bow. Instead it became a messy knot. So the ending was less than fully satisfying. It becomes like leftover gourmet cuisine.

I’m glad that my friend loaned me this book (Yes this year especially lately, I’ve had a few friends who really are helping me with this blog by not only sharing their recommendations but their books). It was a fun read and something different in a genre that I enjoy. I just wish the ending was a little tighter. But I loved the complexity to the book.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Book 87: The Long Program: Skating Toward Life's Victories

Peggy Fleming’s “The Long Program: Skating Towrd Life’s Victories” was an alright book. If it wasn’t for her spirit and personality, I think this book would have fallen flat.

I love sports memoirs especially ones related to figure skating. I’m a figure skater and a ballet dancer at heart, despite all my interests in other sports. So I’ve always been particularly drawn to reading about the champions over the years. Plus I love the fact that in many skating memoirs, there have been so many ideas for me to chew on for both the sport and the out of sport aspect.

One of the things I liked about this book was the fact that that Peggy was very introspective. She really got into it where she realized how her mindset has changed over time and how her mother’s views impacted her own. I liked that aspect.

But the book was fairly cluttered in its timeline. Stories would meld together quite frequently. At times, it worked since they would help place other stories but often the jolts in the timeline were just distracting.

Plus I hated how this book actually failed to give me much insight into figure skating itself. She would touch upon skating topics but didn’t go in depth. She kept trying to use how skating helped her off the ice to navigate life-which is a good message but at the same time, I wanted more about the sport.

Overall, the Long Program was decent. I wasn’t in love with the book since it didn’t give me as many gems and didn’t have a strong continuity. But really enjoyed seeing her insight on her own personality and how she infused that into the book.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Book 86: Neverwhere

Neverwhere was an interesting book by Neil Gaiman. It was absurd, intelligent and fun. It was the perfect book to escape from the mundane world of working over 60s hours a week.

This book is another book I’m reading that’s a loaner from a friend who also enjoys fantasy, sci-fi and bad movies. I will have to say unlike the last loaned book, I saw much more of my friend in it then I saw myself. This matches her personality where Moon Called more matched mine. But I liked that since I can see why she liked it so much.

One of the first things I saw was the Tube map. There were a few extra stops but just seeing the circle line and the layout, I went that looks like the Tube. Then I actually read the labels on the map and saw it was indeed the London subway system and it showed the old stops that are no longer in existent. I had to laugh. I’ve only been to London a handful of times. Apparently those times definitely left it’s mark on me. Then again London is one of my favorite cities in the world and I ingrain places I enjoy into my brain.

Neverwhere was an excellent bit of urban Alice in Wonderland. A man’s unwillingly fell down a hole into London’s underworld by helping the Lady Door. This world is filled with intrigue, strangeness and danger. Richard and Door team up. He is looking for his way out of London Below while the Lady Door is trying to figure out who killed her family and who is trying to kill her. So it becomes a thrilling adventure. Angels, assassins, the velvets who were a succubus/vampire like creature, rat-speakers and the Old Bailey all create an interesting world. I will have to say that due to reading this book with all it’s plot twists and interesting wording, I found a friend who came over solely to use my bathroom late at night made complete sense.

I was almost ready to get really really upset at Neil Gaiman when it seemed to end the way it did. The ending was just so unsatisfying at first until the very last couple of pages. Then he fixed everything and was actually able to create a stronger ending by doing it the way he did. It worked much better since it allowed for the end of the quest but at the same time gave the readers what they want and tied in the prologue better.

The characters I’m a little meh on. They were both virbrant and had so many different layers to them yet they could be two dimensional all at the same time.

All in all, it was an absurd adventure that was well written and a fun read. It had so many plot turns and you could never be bored while reading the book. I’m really glad that Neverwhere was loaned to me.

Product 45: Cutler Shampoo

Cutler shampoo was a bit of a bust in my book. It’s an alright shampoo. I just didn’t like how it would really only work on mostly clean hair and the fact it smelled like a styling gel.

Shampoo is about the cleaning power. On most hair types, I think this Cutler Daily Shampoo would be great but on my oily hair, it’s a different story. I know my hair is tough on most shampoos and I’m lucky that I never have to worry about using a conditioner most days. But I’m still tempted to try new products. So when Schiller’s marked down the Cutler products a little while ago (the sales rack is now being used to display some great gifting ideas for kids and pets), I gave into the temptation to get the pretty packaged shampoo even though I was skeptical it would work well on my hair.

It did an adequate job. If my hair was in a really oily mode, the Cutler shampoo just didn’t cut it. It didn’t strip my hair. Now for color treated hair, this would be awesome. If my hair was mostly clean but I didn’t trust that the clean look would hold up for a twelve hour day, this is when the Cutler shampoo worked best. It made it look healthy and kept it clean all day.

Scent is surprisingly important with shampoo. I was finding myself hesitant to pick up the Cutler bottle since I knew it smelt like styling gel. It’s not that I don’t like the way styling gel smells, but I simply don’t feel clean using something that smells like a product that adds a layer of stuff to my hair. So there were mornings where I never felt clean or refreshed since it the smell was making me feel like I kinda skipped a step and I was already starting to style my hair.

Definitely felt underwhelmed by the Cutler shampoo. It’s not that I hate it like I do with my Framesi shampoo but it’s not a favorite like my Paul Mitchel Clarifying. It’s one of those it’s not bad but not great products.