Booking Through Thursday: Giving Up


On Thursday, August 26th, Booking through Thursday asked:

If you’re not enjoying a book, will you stop mid-way? Or do you push through to the end? What makes you decide to stop?

I try very hard always to finish books. There are some that have slow beginnings, but then surprise me pleasantly once I’m partway in, for example, and some that end up having one scene that is just so good, even if the rest of the book is bad, that scene will redeem the entire work.

Once in a while, however, there’s a book that doesn’t work for me. In fact, I’ve just decided tonight to stop reading Fay Weldon’s The Spa. Known as The Spa Decameron outside the United States (because apparently publishers think we Americans don’t get literary references), this is a modern dress pastiche of Boccaccio’s The Decameron set at a froufrou health spa over Christmas. The outside world is dealing with the Sumatran Flu (think Swine Flu), and this group of women have gathered at the Castle Spa to refresh, relax, and reinvigorate themselves.

The description sounds like something I’d love, which is why I picked it up (though of course the dust cover doesn’t mention Boccaccio), but the reality of this book is that, in spite of the lovely notion of a bunch of women telling their stories while sipping champagne and soaking in a jacuzzi, each trying to one-up the other, it’s overwhelmingly boring. I mean, these chicks put the idle in “idle rich,” and they are selfish and self-obsessed to the point that it becomes unendurable to read about them.

And so, as much as I hate to, I am closing the book on The Spa roughly 70% of the way through, else I decide to gouge my eyes out with rusty spoons.

Look, I don’t need a happy ending, but it would be nice if I could identify with – or at least like at least one of the characters I’m reading with.

Review: A Summer Affair, by Elin Hilderbrand

A Summer Affair

A Summer Affair
by Elin Hilderbrand

This novel is both the seventh novel the author wrote, and the seventh of her novels that I read, but that happened purely by coincidence. I hadn’t read any of the others in order of publication date.

Unlike many of the other protagonists in Hilderbrand’s work, Claire Danner Crispin, art-glass blower, wife, and mother, is a full-time resident of Nantucket, where she and her husband have a relatively happy life, though she harbors a secret – she feels responsible for a car accident that her friend Daphne was in several months before.

When Claire is invited to co-chair a charity gala and create a new art piece for the auction attached thereto, she’s surprised, because the the person in charge of the charity, Lockhart, is Daphne’s husband, and Claire had assumed he held her responsible as well.

As the title implies, Claire and Lockhart begin an affair, which heats up as problems plague the gala planning, and Claire’s rockstar ex-boyfriend arrives to stay at her house (he’s the big draw for the gala, as well as the entertainment).

There’s also a B-plot between Claire’s best friend, a caterer, and her gambling husband.

In the end, A Summer Affair, is a typical Hilderbrand novel with great beach-town settings, well-written women, and men who lack depth, though they’ve improved somewhat in this novel. Both Claire’s husband and the rockstar boyfriend seem like decent men.

Goes well with lemonade and quiche

Carolina Dreams: It’s All Anne Rivers Siddons’ Fault

Anne Rivers Siddons is responsible for one of my ultimate fantasies: a Carolina beach vacation.

I’ve been a fan of the author Anne Rivers Siddons ever since my mother and I started scouring the new fiction shelf at the San Jose Public Library for her work. Sure, she writes male characters that are only slightly more real than the men in Elin Hilderbrand’s Nantucket novels, but her women are strong, and three-dimensional. More importantly, the HOUSES they live in are amazing. When I think of Anne Rivers Siddons, I think first of the beach, then of women characters, and then of architecture.

Outer Banks

One of the first Siddon’s novels I remember reading was Outer Banks. It was about true love and lost love, coming of age, finding one’s path, and of the changing relationships between friends, lovers, and families, and of course it had a wonderful house where much of the drama took place.

Granted, Siddon’s houses are nothing like the Carolina Designs homes that people can rent for their very own Carolina vacations. Hers tend to be draughty old summer cottages with sand stuck between the floor boards, and weathered paint. Charming to read about, but not where I’d want to stay.

So, where do I see myself on my fantasy visit to Carolina? Well this house is my ideal. It sleeps ten, so Fuzzy and I could invite the entire family, but everyone would still have their own space. It has cable, wifi and a wet bar (because we all know vacations are all about booze and the internet), and xbox, so my vampire-skin husband would have something to do while I’m basking on the sand or splashing in the surf. It has a lot of bathrooms – really important – and it also has a full kitchen. And did I mention the pool and tennis courts.

I have an aunt whose husband’s family owns a “cottage” in the Hamptons. Like the old homes in Siddon’s novels it’s huge and cold, with beds that include one referred to as the double taco, because it folds you into itself so completely – and not in a good way.

My vacation fantasy does not involve being suffocated by an ancient bed.

My vacation fantasy draws elements from another of Siddons’ novels, Low Country, which was all about the relationship between Anglo and Gullah communities in South Carolina. As much as I’d love an ‘in’ into the Gullah world, what really drew me about that novel was the food. The characters in that story were tied to their food, to their Sunday dinners, to sharing meals together, and as someone who grew up in a family of amateur and professional chefs, food is a language I speak well.

I long to have my family assembled for a barbecue within sight – or at least scent – of the ocean, with those coastal breezes making everything taste better. I want to sit on a deck at dusk nursing a beer and nibbling on the perfect burger, and not caring that there’s sand in my hair and that my nose is a little sunburnt.

I want to have wonderful days by the sea with people I love, and then, like Ms. Siddons, I want to curl up and write about it, turning it into a novel, a series of short stories, a memoir.

I want to be in Carolina..and it’s all Anne Rivers Siddons’ fault!

Low Country

Books on Film: Eat, Pray, Love

A few years ago, when I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat, Pray, Love I remember thinking that EAT and PRAY were pretty interesting, once I got past the author’s self entitlement, but LOVE didn’t do much for me.

Last night, my husband and I went to see the movie, despite the fact that critical reception has been mixed. I like much of Julia Roberts’ work, and since my mother was visiting, it was important to pick a film she would enjoy also.

I ended up loving this movie. It’s not perfect, of course, but it gives you the feel of Gilbert’s globe trotting from the glass and steel buildings of New York to the restaurants of Italy, the steamy ashram in India, and the lush coast of Bali, while managing to be gently humorous as well. Roberts is well cast as the lead, and her voiceovers tie everything together, while the supporting cast is all completely credible.

While movies based on books are never true to the book, in this case, the departures made a tighter, more enjoyable story. Some have said the movie lacks depth – I didn’t think the book was all that deep in the first place, so this isn’t an issue for me.

If you’ve somehow managed to miss the trailer, here it is. If you haven’t read the book – I’d recommend it, but I think the movie was better.

Coming Soon! (What’s on my TBR stack?)

If you’ve read my main blog, you know that I’m turning 40 on Tuesday, and I had a lovely party last night. It didn’t include any atv riding, but there was yummy food, good cake, excellent company, and copious amounts of Mike’s Peach Margarita.

As is usual for me, books were in evidence…specifically four new additions to my TO BE READ stack.

They are:

  • A Guide to Quality, Taste & Style, by Tim Gunn with Kate Moloney
  • The One Hundred: a Guide to the Pieces Every Stylish Woman Must Own, by Nina Garcia
  • The Little Black Book of Style, by Nina Garcia
  • Kiss My Tiara: How to Rule the World as a SmartMouth Goddess, by Susan Jane Gilman
  • The Wedding Gift, by Kathleen McKenna

The first three have been on my WANT list for a while, and are part of a project some friends and I are working on, the ‘Tiara’ book was on my wishlist of birthday inspirations, and the last is a new book by a woman who contacted me via this blog. She seems like a great person, the premise of her book seems right up my alley, and I’m looking forward both to reading it, and to getting to know her better – but all of these books made me grin, or laugh, or inspired me…

Isn’t reading just GRAND?

Retro-reading: Warped Factors by Walter Koenig

Warped Factors

Warped Factors
by Walter Koenig

There are some celebrity autobiographies that make you kind of want to bitch-slap the authors. There are some celebrity autobiographies that make you think you should be curled up in a library with a crackling fire, smoking endless tatuaje cigars. Then there are the celebrity autobiographies that perfectly balance the behind-the-scenes, name-dropping dish we all claim to hate, but secretly crave, with the relatively candid story of a person’s life that makes them seem like a real person.

Walter Koenig’s autobiography is one of the latter kind.

I first read it several years ago when it came out, but when I was up in the Word Lounge a few weeks ago, looking for something entirely different, it caught my attention, possibly because I’d just re-read a Star Trek novel featuring the character he played. I sat down on my old blue couch to read just a few pages, and found myself, hours later, reading the last of it via booklight in bed, while my husband snored blissfully beside me.

As autobiographies go, this one, Warped Factors is free of major scandal. Instead, it’s a wry, sometimes self-deprecating glimpse into the life of a man who has a far larger body of work than most of us probably realize, and while there are some moments of bitterness in regard to his career, they’re not without provocation.

Reviewing an autobiography feels sort of like judging an actual person, which is silly, because it’s still just a glimpse. A peek.

But as glimpses and peeks go, especially if you’re any kind of classic Star Trek fan, Warped Factors is pretty good reading.

The Sunday Salon: Rhymes with Purple

The Sunday

Maybe it’s that I’m nine days away from turning forty, or maybe it’s just that the news has too many stories about damage from the oil spill, incredibly hot weather (and no rain), Outer Banks foreclosures, and the like, but lately I’ve been rediscovering poetry, and specifically poetry meant for children. Not Dr. Seuss, because I’m incredibly anti-Seuss, but Robert Louis Stevenson, Shel Silverstein, A. A. Milne (because he didn’t ONLY write about a certain “bear of very little brain”), and even Ogden Nash.

Well, Ogden Nash might be a bit of a stretch, because I’m not really certain his stuff is meant for children, but most of it – most not all – is child friendly, though it might spark a lifelong love affair with really bad puns.

I talked about Robert Louis Stevenson a couple of days ago, referencing his poem “My Shadow,” (which, by the way, is ALSO one of the inspiration poems for this month’s project over at, so if you’re looking for a prompt, go visit – please? ) but my favorite kid-friendly poem isn’t one of Stevenson’s and it’s not even Milne’s “Coddleston Pie.” It’s Nash’s epic offering “The Tale of Custard the Dragon,” and it begins like this:

Belinda lived in a little white house,
With a little black kitten and a little gray mouse,
And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon,
And a realio, trulio, little pet dragon.

Now the name of the little black kitten was Ink,
And the little gray mouse, she called her Blink,
And the little yellow dog was sharp as Mustard,
But the dragon was a coward, and she called him Custard.

See? Delightful. (The poem has a happy ending, of course. Well, mostly.)

Then there’s Shel Silverstein. If you grew up in the 1970’s, as I did, you probably know Silverstein’s book, Where the Sidewalk Ends which includes silly, disturbing poems like “Hungry Mungry” and “Sick,” which latter is excerpted below:

“I cannot go to school today,”
Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
“I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash and purple bumps.
My mouth is wet, my throat is dry,
I’m going blind in my right eye.
My tonsils are as big as rocks,
I’ve counted sixteen chicken pox
And there’s one more-that’s seventeen,
And don’t you think my face looks green?”

And of course, I love Lewis Carroll’s verse almost as much as I love his stories, but one of my favorite childhood poems is actually a musical. It’s called Really Rosie and it’s based on the Nutshell Library books by Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are with music by Carole King. Seriously! Carole King! It includes one of the best alphabet songs ever, “Alligators All Around,” which goes like this:

A – alligators all around
B – bursting balloons
C – catching colds
D – doing dishes
E – entertaining elephants
F – forever fooling
G – getting giggles
H – having headaches
I – imitating Indians
J – juggling jellybeans
K – keeping kangaroos
L – looking like lions
M – making macaroni
N – never napping
O – ordering oatmeal
P – pushing people
Q – quite quarrelsome
R – riding reindeer
S – shockingly spoiled
T – throwing tantrums
U – usually upside down
V – very vain
W – wearing wigs
X – x-ing x’s
Y – yackety-yacking
Z – zippity zound
A – alligators ALL around!

The entire musical was made into an animated special in 1975. Here’s a clip:

Despite the fact that I don’t have children, and the dogs refuse to learn to read, I do have an extensive collection of children’s books, mainly left over from my own childhood. This week, I might have to re-read some of the poetry in that collection.

Five for Friday: iLibrary

I haven’t done a “five for friday” post in a while, but I’m between books at the moment and was in the mood, especially as I’m still kind of thinking I want a Kindle for my birthday. As you know, if you read this blog regularly, I’m not entirely opposed to ebooks, and even own a few. In fact, since the Kindle app works on my phone and my PC, I consider having a few ebooks the booklover’s equivalent of an iphone or ipad warranty, in that owning a few guarantees that as long as I have my phone or computer, I ALWAYS have something to read.

So, what’s in my iLibrary? In this edition of Five for Friday, I’ll share a few titles:

  1. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Amy Bender. Actually, I only have the free sample of this so far; if I like it, I might get the rest while I’m at the hair salon tomorrow, or I might wait and get it in hardcover. (Don’t you just love the title?
  2. Tarzan of the Apes, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It came free with an eReader app, and honestly, I’ve meant to read it for years, and never have.
  3. The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper. My aunt’s book has an interview with the surviving members of these Native Americans, and it made me realize I hadn’t read this since grade school, so I downloaded it, in case the mood ever struck.
  4. Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen, by Julie Powell. I first read this in hardcover just after it originally came out, LONG before the movie was made, and a few months ago, knowing I was about to spend a long time queued for a hot new movie, I downloaded it to read at the theater. It’s one of my “comfort books.”
  5. The New Oxford American Dictionary. Because dictionaries are cool.

What’s in YOUR iLibrary?

Booking Through Thursday: First Time


On Thursday, August 5th, Booking through Thursday asked:

What is the first book you remember reading? What about the first that made you really love reading?

As usual I’m a day late in answering the BTT prompt. Ah, well, I don’t do it to share my link, I do it because I like the questions. In this respect, internet memes are sort of like patio furniture – nice to have there waiting when you need it, but not something you can’t function without.

Books, on the other hand, are essential to life – or at least, they are to my life.

I don’t remember learning to read. I don’t remember struggling with words. I’m not even entirely certain what my very first book was. I’m not sure if it’s the first book I ever read, but certainly one of the earliest books in my memory is A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. Some of the poems are silly, some are still wonderful but all are indelibly engraved on my heart, if not entirely in my memory.

I remember reciting some of those poems with my grandmother, “I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me, and what can be the use of him is more than I can see…” She always smelled of summer: roses and violets and Oil of Olay, and her voice never devolved into baby talk, but she did accent words from time to time.

The book that really made me love the written word though, is more difficult to identify. Was it A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, or should the honors go to Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day? What about Little Women, which was the book that ended my nightly reading hour with my mother, in favor of reading to myself?

I come from a family of voracious readers. Sometimes we exchange books, or book recommendations; sometimes our tastes diverge, but no matter what, most of us, given a quiet hour and a mug of tea or coffee, can be found reading.

A Child's Garden of Verses

Retro-reading: Star Trek: Traitor Winds, by L. A. Graf

Star Trek: Traitor Winds

Star Trek: Traitor Winds
by L. A. Graf

A few weeks ago, I was desperate for some escapist comfort reading. You might think that reading half of everything Elin Hilderbrand had ever written would count as comfort reading, but it doesn’t. Hilderbrand’s Nantucket novels are beach reading. I wanted something light, familiar, and completely unrelated to my real life. I wanted comfort reading. As I often do – and have no problem admitting – I immersed myself in a Star Trek novel. Since I was also feeling nostalgic, I re-read a classic Star Trek novel, from when they were still being numbered: Traitor Winds by L. A. Graf

This is TOS Trek, not Trek 2009, and it takes place between the TV series and the first movie. Newly promoted Admiral Kirk is stuck behind a desk in San Francisco, Sulu is testing stealth shuttles in New Mexico, McCoy is practicing country medicine (when he has to) in Georgia, and Uhura is leading a communications seminar, teaching at Starfleet Academy, and Scotty is overseeing the refit of the Enterprise. And Chekov? Well, he was turned down for command school because he was too young, and chose to enter security school in Annapolis, instead.

During one of their regular get-togethers for dinner, McCoy suggests that Chekov contact a friend of his who is doing a study of disruptor damage in order to develop treatment. Despite taking flak for it from a more senior student at the Security School, Chekov gets the gig, and winds up involved in a murder investigation, and running for his life, hiding, at one point, among the wild ponies on Assateague Island (apparently Graf grew up reading the Misty books, too).

It’s a novel that takes place in winter, mostly in really cold places, and more than once I wished I was reading it while curled in front of the fire in a cozy chalet filled with log furniture, instead of while curled up in a deck chair by the pool (I know, I should complain, right?), but it was nice revisiting characters I grew up with, in a familiar setting with a twist, and I enjoyed re-reading it immensely.