Wednesday, November 11, 2015

May We Never Forget: Veterans Day

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

All Hallows Poem: Witch Ghost

Witch Ghost

Tonight I come out from under my cold,
mossy gravestone to haunt you.

I am a real Halloween ghost
disguised as a pointed-hatted,
black-catted witch
with snarling mark,
painted dead black,
blood red and rotten green,
so when your doorbell rings
on this creepy night of Halloween,
I dare you, ope the door,
look me in the eye and let me in.

-John Lyons
courtesy Poetry Archive

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Summer Reading, Had Me a Blast!

The summer whipped by so quickly, I was positive I hadn't read a single book. How in the world can anyone get into the pages or bits in the blink of an eye?

Well, I did manage to get one or 30 under my belt. Here is the definitive list of books I read between the weekends of Memorial Day weekend and the autumnal equinox.  

The list is heavily populated with thick, heavy books of fiction and non-, but it also is peppered with a couple of re-reads and shorter reads (juvenile fiction and short stories).  The way I figure, it all evens out.

  1. The Borrower
  2. The Dalai Lama's Cat
  3. Prisoner of the Devil
  4. Everything I Never Told You
  5. Kindred
  6. The Four Agreements
  7. A Dirty Job
  8. 52 small changes: one year to a happier, healthier you
  9. Interred With Their Bones
  10. The Cats in Krasinski Square
  11. Daily Rituals
  12. Earth (DK)
  13. Stepmonster
  14. the life-changing magic of tidying up
  15. The Husband’s Secret
  16. I Am Half-Sick of Shadows
  17. Puff the Magic Dragon
  18. Story of the Nile
  19. Arcadia
  20. The Light Between Oceans
  21. The Real Thing: Lessons on Love and Life from a Wedding Reporter
  22. Orphan Train
  23. She Walks in Beauty: A Woman’s Journey Through Poems
  24. The Martian
  25. Start Late, Finish Rich
  26. Picturing Grace
  27. The Death of Me
  28. Divergent
  29. As You Wish
  30. The Three Monarchs
  31. Moriarty
  32. Station Eleven
  33. Good Omens
  34. What If
Favorites — My favorite reads of this list include Station Eleven (read on a Kindle, ironically), the life-changing magic of tidying up and The MartianI liked Divergent, but if the writer told me again how short the protagonist was, I was going to go find her and discuss the issue with great vigor. 

I discovered Octavia Butler through Kindred, and if you haven't read any of her books, this is a wonderful introduction. Kindred hearkens to The Handmaid's Tale with a common narrator (as opposed to an omnipotent one), which is a great option for any book, but particularly science fiction. I already have another of her books on reserve at the library.

Least — Among my least favorites are The Husband's Secret (too light and fluffy for its subject matter) and The Four Agreements (glossing across the top of the subject with no substance).

As always, my summer reading will benefit my community: I will donate $5 per book read to Main Street Child Development Center and I will buy three new books for the Fairfax County Public Library from its Amazon Wish List. (Update: I donated H is for Hawk, The Witches and The Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up.)

So, my fellow readers, how did you do this summer? I've heard from Karen, but I am sure there are a few more of you out there who'd like to compete for a free book of your choice! 

Wait, what?

You — yes, YOU — can win a book if you read the most books this summer.

Please send your reading list by October 30 so we can compare lists and you can get your new book all that much sooner. (Of course you will win. You read a lot, didn't you?)  Remember, the time frame is May 22 (the Friday before Memorial Day) through September 27 (the Sunday following the autumnal equinox). E-mail your lists to me, or post it in the comments below. Good luck, and I can't wait to see what you read!

(Also, start you brain power on what you'd like to designate for the 2016 Polar Book Club. It will be here before you know it!)

Saturday, September 19, 2015

A Quiet Story With So Much To Say: Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng is a quiet story, told in wisps, like smoke that too late reveals the raging inferno behind the closed door.

No one is quieter than Hannah, a member of the Lee family, each member of which is filled with unspoken words, unfulfilled dreams and unrequited longing.  Hannah may be the first witness revealed to readers, but this masterfully written story doesn't hinge on a single witness. Instead, Ng weaves effortlessly between each of the Lees, who, in turn and all at once, reveal nothing and everything, too often with a brief glance or deafening silence.

One morning, 16-year-old Lydia doesn't come down to breakfast. The only clue to Lydia's whereabouts lies with Hannah, who (like everything else) keeps it to herself. It takes a few days, but the Lees get their answer — and it changes their lives forever.

The story is told in fluid time: past mixes with present, smoothly transitioning between them, and allusions to the future are few and far between but still delicious nuggets that suggest that life goes on.

The intimacy readers have with the Lees is immediate, with a longing of its own. Readers long to know Lydia's whereabouts, they long to comfort those grieving — and they long to shake those who need to be awoken from their frightful slumber.

Ng does something that is, like the story, very subtle: she uses very little dialogue. Most of the characters express themselves through thought or memory, silenced by their own fears and apprehensions. The Lees don't talk to each other. They don't talk to other people. Do they have their own voices? Do they know how to use them?

Their lives are as small as their voices, their dreams as fragile as their silence. Can they dare to dream, to reach beyond what's been allotted to them by their small town, by its small minds?

The novel is set in the mid-20th century, which I'd like to think is a different time. I'd like to think we're more enlightened, more inclusive, less shocked by and less insulated from different cultures. I doubt current events would buoy my hopes. By seeing how things were, we can better see if how things are is how they really should be.

Part of my enjoyment is that I came to the story with little more than the dust jacket description, and the discovery of — well, everything — was rewarding. There is so much I want to say, but I don't want to reveal too much of its magic. It's an amazing read, and I recommend it highly.

Have you read it? What do you think? Let me know!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Autumn is Nigh! Read Fast for Your Summer Reading Program!

We're getting down to the wire here at the Summer Reading Club headquarters: the end is near! Well, the end of summer reading is approaching. (For this club, it's the Sunday of or after the autumnal equinox. This year, that's September 27, the first day of Fall for the Book!)

How are you doing with your reading? Have you deviated from your list, attracted by shiny new (or new to you) books? Or are you focused on what you want to read, book reviews be damned?

I'm cheating on my original book list. (As usual.)

I like the idea of a guideline, but I also like to deviate from my pre-approved script of reading when I read about a "great new book" from Book Riot, stumble across a great book in the library or one of my reading cohorts lets me know what's on their nightstand or Audible list.

Since Memorial Day, I've consumed about 3o books, and I have bookmarks in a few others.

Here are the books currently on my nightstand:
  1. The Monk
  2. Prisoner of the Devil
  3. The Dalai Lama's Cat
  4. Alexander Hamilton
  5. Everything I Never Told You
  6. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
  7. Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Life 
  8. The Book of the Unknown: Tales of the Thirty-Six
A couple of those books have deadlines  — I plan to meet one of the authors, for example, and I'm seeing a musical based on another of the books. The rest will be read when I pick them up, which is a nice way to approach a book.
How has your reading progressed? Are you keeping to your list, or are you veering off when something else good comes along? Let me know!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Recommending a Book That's Out of This World

As I write this review, I'm trying to temper my enthusiasm. I need to surrender and just start with a command:

Read The Martian. Go buy it now and start reading it. When you have to take a break from time to time, and you may, pop back here and read this review.

Okay, now that we have that out of the way, here's my review: I loved this book. I would rank it as one of the best books I've read this year.

The buzz was pretty high from readers and reviewers, and I heard there was a movie in the works starring Matt Damon. When Amazon advertised the book for a ridiculously low price, I downloaded it to encourage myself to read it. There it lingered.

My friend Melanie and her son listened to it on a recent road trip, and her description intrigued me:
Remember that scene in Apollo 13 when the engineers needed to build a filter out of items than astronauts could find on the space ship? That's what this book is like, only even better.
My dad was one of those engineers who helped the Apollo 13 crew, and I always admired his ability to problem-solve and learn how to do and build anything. I knew I had to read the book.

I am so glad I did. I learned how to use my Kindle highlights just so I could re-read the good parts and highlight them for future enjoyment. There were plenty: not only was Mark Watney's personal records entertaining and honest, but his sense of humor was relatable and geeky. As much as I liked Mark, I admired him for his response to JPL on Sol 98 (2), when he was instructed to "watch his language."

The story was enjoyable but intense: Mark lived in a hostile environment where anything could happen to him. He could be injured or die, and I wasn't sure if I could trust Weir to write a story with a "happy ending," whatever that might be (and as the story progressed, that was harder to define). Also, the book was very technical and detailed, which was exhausting to read. Every once in a while, I had to set the book down for the day. (Those of you who are reading this review during such a break: Am I right?) Have faith in the author: he loves his characters as much as you do, and he remains true to them throughout the book.

Weir created many different characters who acted and sounded very different from each other. He also changed narration style from time to time, which was very jarring the first time it happened. However, the changes made perfect sense and strengthened the story.

Often, if I enjoy a book enough, I am loathe to see the movie — but for Matt Damon and The Martian, I'm willing to overcome that reservation. Personally, I recommend readers finish the book before watching the movie, in case any of the magic of Mark's intelligence is glossed over for a Hollywood tale. (Anyone who does the reverse, let us know how you liked that order.)

One last thought: I hope this book made you think about Mother Earth, about how we need to protect her because we can't live without her. 

Is anyone else in the Mark Watney Fan Club with me, besides Weir? Let me know!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Independence Day: Too Late to Apologize

In honor of the brave men and women who helped the United States of America become a reality, I offer a fresh look at the acts of sedition required for success — expressed in song.

Thanks to Soomo for such a revolutionary take on music and history. (Check out the video on women's suffrage: it will make you gaga.)