Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Carrie Diaries

The Carrie Diaries chronicles the senior year of high school of one Carrie Bradshaw (best well known from Bushnell's Sex and the City: the book, tv show, and movies), and her quest to find out who she is and where she's going. This is 1980 something, and Carrie's pretty sure she wants to be a writer, but is very sure she doesn't know precisely how to get there. Along the way, Carrie experiences her best friends and their dramas, a father doing his best to raise his three daughters, and a serious relationship with Sebastian Kydd, hot boy in school. In other words, it's not all that different from what many seniors have always experienced. And that's the beauty of the story and its ultimate kinship with the characters created for television: it's something we can all identify with.
This novel is thoroughly young adult in tone, and as such, works very well. There's nothing in it that's not in any number of popular young adult books today, and it is fairly realistic for the times. Told from Carrie's point of view, we are actively engaged in her life and the lives of her friends; there are definite allusions to the Carrie she will become in just a few short years. My biggest distraction was how the story slid around through the 80s (songs played not from the same year, clothing from different seasons worn side by side) but maybe the author did it purposely so that those of us who were seniors in the 80s would recognize something of ourselves in the details.
No, this is not the Carrie backstory we know from the television series, and as a devotee of said series, that is disappointing. But once you put that aside, you are sure to find a story that flows smoothly and speaks to all of us who experienced the highs and lows of senior year. There's enough of the Carrie we think we own in this tale to satisfy anyone, and it's plain ole good fun in the process. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Rosie Strikes a Chord

Set amid the theatre scene of war-time NYC, The War Against Miss Winter introduces us to the irrepressible Rosie Winter, an aspiring actress looking for her big break but forced to work as a file clerk in a detective agency to make ends meet. As 1942 ushers in 1943, Rosie finds herself about to be thrown out of her working actresses only boarding house and her boyfriend shipping out for the war. Things take another turn for the worse when she discovers her boss's corpse, leading her to try to find out who murdered him and made it look like a suicide.
Rosie's a busy girl, but she is also tenacious, sarcastic, headstrong, and determined, so she begins following clues to find out what might have gotten her boss killed. Along the way, she meets some unsavory characters and uncovers traces of a missing play at the root of the act. With her best friend Jayne, Rosie goes full tilt toward solving the dangerous mystery while suffering through humiliating rehearsals as an understudy in a not very good play.
While I wasn't particularly surprised at the mystery, I will say that the setting and the characters are truly the heart of this novel. Rosie is just wonderful with her subtle manuevers and her fierce loyalty, and the people she encounters in both her professional and personal lives are just as interesting. I could feel the war coloring everything as it must have done, and I could easily picture the burgeoning theatre community of the times. This novel is so much fun and the beginning of an intriguing series. I can't wait to get to the next one!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

You'll Be Sor-ree!

I'll admit right off the bat that I'm biased--I just love these sorts of books. I love it when World War 2 vets share their experiences in a time I can only imagine; I love reading the "inside" stories of deprivation, hardships, camaraderie, and pranks that the Greatest Generation lived through. That said, it wasn't hard for me to fall in love with Sid Phillips' remembrances, originally published for his family; Sid does an outstanding job of bringing a young Marine in the Pacific to life for those of us who can only imagine how brutal the times were.
This is a short book but it's filled with fascinating tales. Sid, only seventeen at enlistment time, trains as a Marine and is assigned to, among other places, Guadalcanal (in a time when very few even knew where/what that was). He never sugarcoats the experiences, and I grew to love all the men he wrote about while marveling at just how young they were. Sid's remarkable memory helped me to feel as though I were sleeping in a hammock in the jungle, riding a transport ship, and hitchhiking through the south to spend a three day furlough with my family. This is amazing stuff.
There are only a couple of things that bothered me about this book. As a casual reader on World War II, I had a hard time following some of the technical jargon when it came to units and weapons (and I am positive it's crystal clear to those who understand both). Sometimes Sid overexplains things such as the word "scuttlebutt" but neglects to remind the reader what an 03 rifle is. I also didn't care for the excerpt of With the Old Breed that Sid included, only because I felt like it was a promotion of his best friend's work (and I doubt that was the true intention of its inclusion). Despite those small issues, this is a strong book that will propel you into the jungle, foxholes, and mess halls of the Pacific theatre. Extraordinary and actually merits a strong 4.5 stars.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sister Wife

One thing I left out of my review for Amazon is the fact that I adore the cover art for this book--it speaks volumes without saying a word. Love it! Now on to the actual review of a book I couldn't put down.
Shelley Hrdlitschka's Sister Wife is actually one story told from three points of view, and what a riveting read it is! Fifteen year old Celeste, raised in the fundamental polygamist society of Unity, knows her time to be married to a man chosen by the group's Prophet is rapidly approaching. It's how she's been raised and all she's ever known, and her only way to achieve the highest celestial glory in heaven. So what's the problem? Her heart skips a beat whenever she sees Jon, another teen, though she knows she'll be forbidden to be with him. Added to that is her pregnant mother's scary health condition and the removal of a friend from the community by the Prophet, and Celeste finds herself questioning the teachings of her way of life.
Moving deftly between the points of view of Celeste, Taviana (a runaway adopted into Unity and subsequently forced to leave), and Nanette, Celeste's younger sister, Sister Wife showcases the angst and frustration of feeling an outcast in what should be a safe haven. Celeste is sure that she doesn't want to become a plural wife to a much older man, but her headstrong disobedience can only result in that happening all the sooner. Nanette cannot understand Celeste's reluctance to accept the lifestyle; Taviana finds herself needing to start over in a safe house after she is dismissed. All three young women face crises of faith, perseverence, and conscience as they determine what's really important in life.
I was riveted from the first pages of Sister Wife, and I loved how the author moved among the personalities, weaving a tale that was heart wrenching. This book doesn't make it easy to know what is right and wrong because as the young women come to understand, those concepts can vary from person to person. If the ending did seem a bit rushed, I can forgive it because I was totally engrossed by the emotions invoked and the ideas created in this fascinating tale. Highly recommended to readers of all ages.

Friday, June 18, 2010

All the Queen's Players

Add ImageNot gonna waste a lot of time recounting everything about the plot of All The Queen's Players, because quite honestly, there's just too much. Rosamund Walsingham, cousin to Sir Francis Walsingham, Master Secretary to Queen Elizabeth I, goes to court in order to learn secrets for her cousin and ends up disgracing herself, only to be sent to the prisoner Mary Queen of Scots to spy. With this much going on in the novel, you would think the action would be fast and furious. It's not.
Actually, All The Queen's Players has a decent plot overall, with tons of intrigue and romance set against the Elizabethan era. Parts of it were quite exciting and it was easy to believe events transpired (mostly) as written. But I just never warmed up to the heroine Rosamund, who seemed to throw away her chances way too easily and was a tad too modern in her views, especially in her tolerance for her brother's homosexuality. In a world where a queen was executed for her beliefs, Rosamund's "realization" that she wasn't particularly religious felt hollow, and it certainly didn't take her very long to awaken to her exuberant sexuality. The side plot with the chevalier and countess was totally unnecessary (besides adding salaciousness) and the ending was rushed, almost as though the author wasn't sure how to end her story after all the backstabbing and wrangling for position.
Rant time: Are publishers even employing editors anymore? Several times I was yanked out of the reading by passages such as: "The subject distresses you." "It is a distressing subject." (page 330) (quote)Rosamund straightened, tucking a loose strand of russet hair whipped loose (unquote), page 356 The repetition of wording in consecutive sentences was not only redundant, it was irritating. Other pet peeves of mine were the use of comma spliced sentences and the rapid changes in points of view, often even within the same paragraph. These issues made it hard for me to enjoy the author's superior vocabulary otherwise, and should easily have been caught by an editor.
All the Queen's Players has a good deal to recommend it, and Feather has been an author I've enjoyed in the past. I just feel that a lack of true focus on what was to be accomplished would have greatly helped this book along. Was it a romance? A tale of intrigue? A straight historical? You will have to read it to decide. Rounding up from 2.5 stars because I liked was just too easy to poke holes.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Insatiable by Meg Cabot

If you think you are sick of vampires, so is Meena Harper. A writer for the soap opera Insatiable, she is disgusted when her bosses decide that she must include a vampire in her storyline because of their recent popularity. Still, she's prepared to do just that when her next door neighbors set her up with a distant Romanian cousin, Lucien Antonescu...who, as it turns out, is a vampire himself. Oh, and not just any old vampire; he's the prince of darkness, the head honcho, the ruler of all vampires. All of which Meena doesn't discover until after she falls for him. Will life get any weirder?
Well, yes, it will. In Meg Cabot's Insatiable, Meena goes from normal every day life to the middle of a vampire war in the space of a couple of days. Meena becomes a pawn between Lucien and his devious brother Dimitri, and her world takes an even worse turn when Alaric Wulf, a member of Palatine, an organization that fights vampires, shows up and also wants to use her to get to Lucien. Meena's not sure where her loyalties actually lie; she's still incredibly attracted to Lucien but realizes that he's probably not the best choice for her while Alaric, annoying but determined, also starts to seem appealing. Meanwhile, Meena's struggling with her own psychic powers: she knows when people will die, and it's this knowledge that makes her determined to protect both Alaric and her brother Jon.
Whew. Lotsa stuff there. The first part of Insatiable dragged somewhat for me; I wanted Meena's relationship with Lucien to progress faster and for Meena to stand up to her witchy boss, Shoshonna. Then when the whole vampire bit exploded, it was almost too much; I thought this was Cabot's idea of a parody yet it was at times too coincidental and over the top. Still, Cabot is terrific at engaging the reader with her witty writing, and once I got into the rhythm of the tale, it really moved along quickly. Despite the unevenness of the storyline, Cabot managed to pull me in. I do wish there was more focus on what sort of tale this actually is: parody or good old fashioned light romance. Rounded up from 3.5 stars because of Cabot's fun factor.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Real Eulogy for My Friend Carol

My friend Carol died on Saturday. She discovered she had lung cancer in the fall of 07, right after school started. I remember very well talking to her in the hallway after school while she was in the midst of diagnosis, and her saying, "Tammy, I'm so scared." She'd never smoked or even lived with a smoker. When the news came, it wasn't good--at her present rate of disease, the doctors gave her a month. With chemo and radiation, it might be longer. She got two and a half years.

So we went to the funeral today...saw lots and lots of old friends I used to work with, people I should see more often and under better circumstances. Why do we wait for funerals to get together? Jeff and the girls came along, as they'd known Carol well, too--she taught both girls and we socialized.

I hate funerals. I really do. Like Jeff said, just cremate me and then throw a big party. As funerals go, though, this one was what I think of as exceptionally off the mark. If it gave comfort to Carol's husband and sons, I'm glad. I got no comfort, however, and felt it was just too generic. So now, in my love and friendship, I will offer Carol stories that better exemplify her as a person.

Carol was beautiful, both inside and out. She modeled some in her early years, and while her outward beauty was always apparent, her inner beauty was even stronger. Still, Carol was, admittedly, a clotheshorse and very, very particular about her looks. I had never met someone who actually sewed different buttons on her jackets to match her other accessories. Never one for sports, she once chose a sports jersey to wear for jersey day at school based solely on the colors on it (turns out it was for the Vikings--we had to tell her where they were from). She had a different lanyard for every outfit because color coordination was the main thing about her. In fact, our friend Patty got a phone call from Carol's husband right before the visitation began, all in a tizzy because the funeral home had put lipstick and nail polish on Carol and it clashed. He *knew* Carol wouldn't have had that--so they pooled resources and fixed it.

One of Hannah's favorite stories about Carol was a lesson Carol expanded upon in math class. Carol related everything to shopping, and obviously it made an impression. Hannah recounted to me last night how Carol had told the girls in class how to sneak new clothes into your house, stuff them in your closet, and later, when they are remarked upon, you say, "This thing? It's been in my closet a long time!"

Carol was a notorious driver. I used to tell her she drove like Jeff, or just a man in general--she'd take the wheel and take control. I swear she'd come barrelling into the parking lot on two wheels, in her enormous white Cadillac, or she'd be changing her nail polish while driving, or just honking at people who she felt should move out of the way. She made fun of my little car, but her big car suited her big personality.

More than anything, however, Carol was so caring and giving. She ran a sewing group at school that made items for homeless and hospitals. She continued to run the group even after her diagnosis and as recently as a few months ago. She never once hesitated to give of herself or her resources. Once I called her in a panic to pick up Hannah from school for me when I could reach no one else, and she didn't even blink--she went out of her way, and I believe even fed her before dropping her off at the babysitter's for me. She made bags for the girls with their names on them simply because she wanted to. She would give you everything she had and then some, and then pooh pooh anyone who tried to give back. She fiercely loved her husband and sons. When her eldest stepson began his family, she was adamant that her husband was the grandparent, not she. That attitude lasted about a minute after the baby's birth--she was "Grandmother" from then on out.

I am so proud of the time I had Carol in my life, and I will miss her dearly. I am glad I am a woman of faith because I believe I will see her again; I just hope she picks out a gorgeous robe for me that will flatter my figure and make me appear taller. If I know Carol, she's on it already.


Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Final Touch; The Rayne Tour

The final book in the Rayne Tour trilogy, Final Touch begins with Shaley on her parents' wedding day, anticipating the three of them finally becoming a family. It's been about a year since the last book took place, and it's mentioned that during this time, both Shaley and her parents have accepted God and become Christians. But that's not the focus in this book; instead, the momentous day turns scary as Shaley finds herself kidnapped, beaten, and whisked away to parts unknown but her former stalker. Though he calls himself Joshua now and claims to be a prophet of God, Shaley's fear multiplies when she realizes that his intention is to isolate her and make her his "wife".

Final Touch moves around among viewpoints, including those of Shaley (whose voice is very clear and believable), her mother Rayne, her friend Brittany, and one of the SWAT team members sent in to rescue Shaley. As the kidnapping lengthens into days, it is easy to see Shaley's fear, but her determination not to become a victim is satisfying. There are some coincidences, but life is often like that. More disturbing is the work Shaley puts into making her situation known that is left hanging because nothing comes of it. Maybe life is also like that, but on hindsight, it seems like quite a bit of filler. And ultimately, that's what the entire book seemed to me...filler.

It's not that there isn't a lot of excitement and there were sections when I was eagerly turning the page to find out what would happen next. It's just that the addition of the extra viewpoints didn't really move the story along well, and I felt at times that the author was looking for ways to extend an already short story. There really wasn't a need for this book at all since Shaley's parents' story had already come to a close, though I will say it was generally well written. I just came away with the feeling that this was an addition that was a last minute decision. I'm certainly not saying this is a bad book, but probably an unnecessary one.Perhaps I would have received the book better if the timeline of Shaley's life had moved forward a bit more and it seemed less like this was just an effort to extend the series beyond the first two books. I did appreciate, however, that the author chose not to hit the reader over the head with overt examples of Christianity and instead took a highly believable, soft approach that fit with the storyline. I liked it, just didn't love it.