Friday, December 31, 2010

Best Books I Read in 2010: Fiction

Choosing just one book as the best book I've read in 2010 is an impossible task, so I'm breaking my Best Of lists into categories.  Here then, listed in alphabetical order by author last name, are my Best Fiction Books I Read in 2010 (not necessarily those published in 2010).  I give you my picks for the best novels first, followed by my choices for the best short story collections.

The Day the Falls Stood Still, by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Bad Marie, by Marcy Dermansky

Shadow Tag, by Louise Erdrich

Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris

The Queen of Palmyra, by Minrose Gwin

American Music, by Jane Mendelsohn

Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout

Half Broke Horses, by Jeannette Walls

Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf

And in the Short Story category:

Mrs. Somebody Somebody, by Tracy Winn

I'm loving reading everyone's Best Of lists!  Hope you all have a happy, healthy, and safe New Year!

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Best Books I Read in 2010: Non-Fiction

Of the 79 books I read this year, 30 of them were nonfiction.  Pictured above are the best of the bunch, with Curtains coming in right under the wire.  (I just finished it about a half hour ago, making it the last book read in 2010. Hence, no review yet.)

Keep in mind, these are books I read in 2010, not necessarily only those published in 2010.  They're in alphabetical order by author last name, and the links take you to my reviews.

NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training, by Tom Jokinen

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel H. Pink

Anne Frank:  The Book, the Life, the Afterlife, by Francine Prose

Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women, by Harriet Reisen

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot

Have you read any of these?  Are any of them on your "want to read" list for 2011? 

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

2010: My Year in Books

Sign at the Book Blogger
Convention in May 2010
This was, in so many ways, an extraordinary reading year.

In 2010, it wasn't so much about the quantity, but the sheer quality of the books I read. Never before have I come away from so many books feeling so fulfilled. Never before have I come away from a book, time and time again,  even more in love with the written word than I was before turning to the first page.

Here's a look at 2010 by the numbers:

Total Number of Books Read:  79
(last year's total was 56)

Of the books I read, 31 were published in 2010.  (More than I expected!)

The oldest published book I read was from 1925 (Mrs. Dalloway)

I read 51 female authors and 30 male authors. (Yes, I know that adds up to more than 78.  In the case of NurtureShock as well as Made for Goodness, there were two authors.)

Of all of these authors, 46 were new to me.  There were only two authors who I read more than one book by this year.  That honor goes to Virginia Woolf (Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse) and the new-to-me poet Edward Hirsch (The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems and Lay Down the Darkness).

I read 19,864 pages ... and those unreachable 136 pages to make 20,000 is driving me a little nuts tonight. 

I listened to 6 audiobooks for more than 39 hours.  (I don't know how many hours the CD of The Kite Runner was.)

33 of my books were fiction. 
29 were nonfiction.
5 were young adult.
6 were collections of poetry.
8 were memoirs.
8 were short story collections.

Of the 79 books I read, I wrote 70 reviews.  (Not all have been posted yet.)

We made a lot of trips to the library.  This year, 69 of the books I read were borrowed. 

Only 10 of the books I read came from my own shelves.  (That's rather pathetic, but it gets worse ....)
5 of those were purchased this year (one from the amazing Housing Works Bookstore in New York, one from a church-sponsored yard sale, and three from Barnes and Noble). 
3 were acquired or purchased before 2010. 
2 showed up as review copies (and I did, in fact, actually review them). 

10 books were abandoned to the land of DNF (did not finish). 

I joined 11 reading challenges.

I completed 6 challenges (links take you to my wrap-up post for that particular challenge)
All Things Alcott: 1/1
Audio Book Challenge: 6/6
Essay Reading Challenge (10/10 essays)
Memorable Memoir Reading Challenge (4/4)
Support Your Local Library (75/75)
Women Unbound (8/8)

I didn't do as well at these 5 challenges:
The Beth Kephart Reading Challenge: 0/5 memoirs
Colorful Reading: 1/9
Debutante Ball: 0/1
Shelf Discovery: 0/6
YA Reading Challenge: 5/12

Still, this didn't stop me from signing up for 14 reading challenges in 2011! 

I attended two author events this year.  In May, my friend Niksmom invited me to a presentation by Jonathan Mooney, author of The Short Bus (he was amazing!).  And in November, I spent a wonderful evening among friends new and old at Beth Kephart's talk at the Radnor Library in Wayne, PA. 

As for next year, I usually don't make reading-related goals (except for the challenges, which I look at as fun).  I came to the conclusion a few months ago that I'm not an ARC blogger.  I can't remember the last time I requested a review book, and there are enough deadlines in my life already that I don't need more.  Of the two books I did receive for review, one I really liked and the other was definitely not to my liking and kind of raunchy ... so much so that I almost sent my review to my friend Florinda before hitting publish to make sure I wasn't being too snarky.  I don't think I was, but the whole experience made me realize that I am not a send-me-books-for-review blogger. As a result, I think I've enjoyed my books much more this year than ever before. 

By the time I'm finished with 2011 (all things considered and God willing), I'd like to have read more than 10 of my own books.  That's just pathetic.  It's better than my 2009 total of 9 of my own books read, but really, there's a lot of room for improvement here. 

I'm also planning to enjoy my new Kindle this year and in doing so, rediscover the classics and some of my favorite children's books like the fairy tales and The Secret Garden. 

And with that ...

"We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Years Day." - Edith Lovejoy Pierce

Have a happy, healthy and safe New Year everyone!  Happy Reading to all in 2011!

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

"The Literary Equivalent of Fantasy Football" (Or, More Challenges I've Lost My Mind Over and Signed Up For)

Will somebody puh-leese stop me before I join another reading challenge for 2011?  This is getting a little out of control here. 

In addition to hosting the Memorable Memoir Challenge (shameless plug alert! go here for more info!) and the other 5 that I already told you about (2nds, 50 States, GLBT, Reading Madly, and What's in a Name), I've gone and signed myself up for ... 8 more.

That's a total of 14 challenges. 

Fourteen! That's absolutely ridiculous. 

But it is oh so much fun, right?

(As The Husband said to me the other night, as I was going on about this: "These challenges sound like the literary equivalent of Fantasy Football."  And you know what?  He's so right.  Never again will I make fun of him playing Fantasy Football or Baseball or whatever else.  You get your fun where you can, and in my world, my fun comes from reading challenges. So there.)

Here are my latest challenges.  I think I'm done with all of my choices and strategizing now.  Maybe. 

As soon as I opened up my Kindle on Christmas morning, I knew I was joining the 2011 E-Book Challenge.  How could I not?! There are four levels:

-- Curious – Read 3 e-books.
-- Fascinated – Read 6 e-books.
-- Addicted – Read 12 e-books.
-- Obsessed – Read 20 e-books.

I'm going for the Fascinated level (6 e-books) with this one, but hopefully will read more (especially since I've downloaded about 150 free classics since Christmas Day.)

I participated in the Essay Reading Challenge last year and am thrilled it is back again for 2011.  This one goes from January 1, 2011 to November 30, 2011 and has three levels.  You can choose to read 10, 20, or 20 essays.  I'm going for the 10 essays level again, which is what I did this year.  (I read Gravity Pulls You In: Perspectives on Raising Children on the Autism Spectrum, edited by Kyra Anderson and Vicki Forman)

Serena is hosting the Fearless Poetry Reading Challenge and really, I can't imagine anyone better to host this one, which is even easier than my Memorable Memoir Challenge.  One book of poetry is all that's required. One!  For me, 2010 was the year that I rediscovered poetry.  This challenge almost feels like cheating to me because I would have read one book of poetry anyway in 2011. 

Margot at Joyfully Retired is hosting the 2011 Foodies Reading Challenge on its own dedicated blog. She writes:

One thing we all have in common is the need to eat food. Some of us also have a strong need/desire to read about food. I’m one of them, are you? Such people are known as Foodies – people who love to talk, read, watch food tv, or anything else with a food theme.

If that description fits you, I invite you to join me in the Foodie’s Reading Challenge for 2011. Together we’ll explore the world of good food writing. That may take the form of a cookbook or a biography or even a novel centered around food.

Readers can choose from five levels of participation:

Nibbler: 1 to 3 books
Bon Vivant: 4 to 6 books
Epicurean: 7 to 9 books
Gourmet: 10 to 12
Glutton: More than 12

I have several such books out from the library right now, so I am going to be ambitious with this one and go for the Glutton (more than 12) level, especially since cookbooks count.  Plus, it will help me generate posts for Weekend Cooking.

Jackie from Literary Escapism is once again hosting the New Author Challenge. She writes:

The idea behind this is to find new authors that you’ve never tried before. They can be in your genre of choice or be brave and try something new. You never know what you’re going to like until you try it.

Guidelines:  Since this is an author challenge, there is no restriction on choosing your novels. They can definitely be from other challenges. However, the authors must be new to you and, preferably from novels. Anthologies are a great way to try someone new, but only a third of your new authors can be from anthologies.You can pick to do either 15, 25 or 50 new authors. It all depends on how fast you read and how adventurous you want to be.

I'm going for the 15 New Authors level.

My friend Zee from Notes from the North is hosting the Nordic Challenge. Any book by any author born in a Nordic country (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and/or Sweden) or a book set in a Nordic country are allowed for this challenge.  Books can be from any genre. Since I have I Curse the River of Time currently out from the library, I thought I'd might as well join this one because the levels are definitely doable. 

Huginn and Muninn: Read 2 books
Freya: Read 3-5 books
Tor: Read 6-10 books
Odin: Read 11-20 books
Valhalla: Read 20+ books

I'm going for Huginn and Muninn, 2 books. 

And last but certainly not least ....

Read a book(s)--non-fiction or fiction of any genre, adult or young adult--written by an author from the South and set mostly in the South.

The states considered to be the South for this challenge are South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Texas and Florida--as long as you find a book by a Florida author and/or set in Florida that feels Southern.


Level 1--C'mon in the house! Read 1 book.
Level 2--Pull up a seat and stay a while! Read 2 books
Level 3--Have a glass of sweet iced tea, honey. Read 3 books
Level 4--Y'all come back now, y'hear! Read 4 books

This is one of the challenges I'm most excited about as I love, love, love Southern literature.  LOVE. IT.  Hence, I'm going for Level 4 with this one. 

Have you joined or are you planning to join any of these challenges?

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Challenges Finished: Audio Book Challenge (and Best Audiobooks Listened to in 2010)

With only three more days left in 2010, I know I'm not going to get any more audiobooks in by the end of the year.  Hence, this post serves three purposes: 1) my wrap-up for the Audio Book Challenge that I participated in (originally hosted at The Royal Reviews, and now at Teresa's Reading Corner; 2) to share with you my picks for best audios listened to in 2011 and 3) to tell you that I'll be joining the Audio Book Challenge again in 2011.

First, the challenge.  There were four levels to this challenge:

Curious – Listen to 3 Audio Books.
Fascinated – Listen to 6 Audio Books.
Addicted – Listen to 12 Audio Books.
Obsessed – Listen to 20 Audio Books.

My goal was the Fascinated level.  I thought there might have been a possibility I could make it to Addicted because at the beginning of this year I was commuting for nearly four hours (total) a day. As regular readers know, I got a new job in May and now my commuting time is nearly nil since I work at home.   So, I'm happy that I made it to the Fascinated level with this one.  

For this challenge, I only counted audiobooks that I listened to in their entirety.  By that I mean, sometimes I will listen to the first several chapters of a book if it happens to be a week where I'm driving a lot and then I will pick up the story in the print edition (because it might be several days before I'm back in the car for a significant amount of time).

Here's what I read (links take you to my reviews):

5. We've Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication, by Judith Warner
(I have this review written, just not posted yet.)

If you are planning to explore the world of audiobooks in 2011 and wish to sample any of these, I would highly recommend The Kite Runner, Lift, We've Got Issues, and Half the Sky.  I would also recommend the audio versions of South of Broad by Pat Conroy and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. (These two fell into the category of books I both listened to as well as read.)

I didn't care much for Stones into Schools nor The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which is a candidate for my least-enjoyed book of 2010. 

I definitely plan to continue listening to audiobooks in 2011 and am joining the 2011 Audiobook Challenge being hosted by Teresa's Reading Corner.  (Bewitched Bookworms is also hosting a similar challenge, the Whisper Stories in My Ear 2011 Audiobook Challenge.  I just happened to hear of Teresa's first.)  My goal is to reach the Curious level, which is 3 audiobooks. 

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Book Review: Girls on the Edge: The Four Factors Driving the New Crisis for Girls, by Leonard Sax

Girls on the Edge: The Four Factors Driving the New Crisis for Girls: Sexual Identity, The Cyberbubble, Obsessions, Environmental Toxins
by Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D.
Basic Books (a member of the Perseus Book Group)
258 pages 

There were parts of this book that had me feeling like I was on the edge of a parental cliff, ready to topple over.  I mean, this parenting gig ... there's just so much to think about and to consider, you know? 

As my mother is fond of saying, "I'm so glad you're almost 42."  Meaning that she is glad that she isn't raising me in this day and age, in the era of cyberbullying (because I definitely would have been a cyberbullied kid, no doubt about it) or with the prevalence of chemicals in our sippy cups and juice boxes, and a host of other issues to worry about that weren't on our radar in the 1970s and 1980s. 

But, as Leonard Sax says in Girls on the Edge, this is the world in which we live and the world in which we are raising our daughters.  (The same risks are also there for our sons, of course; it's just that they are different in several significant ways for our girls.)

Sax identifies sexual identity, the cyberbubble, obsessions, and environmental toxins as four factors that are causing more girls than ever before to become depressed and to turn toward self-destructive behaviors.  He presents each issue in detail, with supporting case stories from his psychology practice as well as visits to schools throughout the United States and all over the world.  While these issues are familiar ones, the insights Sax provides were surprising to me and are ones that make this a must-read for anyone raising a girl or working with girls in any capacity. 

The most striking issue to me was the chapter on environmental toxins and how the prevalence of such chemicals, such as bisphenol A (BPA) may be responsible for causing early onset of puberty in some girls.  I've read about this, but never had this issue explained in such a way as Dr. Sax does in Girls on the Edge. 

"BPA is used to make just about every kind of hard plastic, such as a typical baby's bottle. It's also the main ingredient in the resin that lines the inside of the can in most canned foods, such as soup, ravioli, tuna, and vegetables.  It's produced in staggering quantities: more than six billion pounds are manufactured every year. Many studies suggest that humans are exposed to BPA in doses that can mimic the action of female hormones. 

[An] expert panel convened by the NIH agreed that BPA acts like a female hormone in the human body at the kind of exposures that normal people encounter in everyday life, such as eating half a small can of tuna fish, or eating half a small can of pasta.  They agreed that BPA acts like a female hormone in the human body in concentrations of one part per trillion. They concluded that at least 90 percent of people in developed countries have BPA in their tissues at concentration s at or above the threshold that BPA acts like a female hormone .... The expert panel concluded that there is a 'great cause for concern' that exposure to BPA is contributing to 'the early onset of puberty in girls.'" (pg. 107)

That's some downright frightening shit. We don't eat much canned foods (with the exception of canned beans, which will likely now change).  But this hit me in even more of a significant way when Sax went on to write that, in 2009, Minnesota was the first state to implement a similar ban as Canada's, which states that all baby products (such as plastic bottles and sippy cups) made with BPA are banned.  

My kids drink from their plastic cups (without the lids) at every meal. 

The unlidded sippy cups have been somewhat nostalgic, I think, for them (and frankly, for us too). But I had no clue that they were akin to a cup of poison. 

(This is about the time when I stepped onto the edge of the parental cliff while reading Girls on the Edge.)

The sippy cups are now in the recycling bin, where they should have been long ago.  I'm kicking myself for this and feeling incredible parental guilt, but all we can do is move forward and become education.  You can bet that, just like William Daniels talking to Dustin Hoffman's character in "The Graduate," plastics will be my new word for 2011. 

Sax understand that much of this is news to parents, and he doesn't present these issues and findings in an accusatory way.  Instead, he gives specific strategies for dealing with each of these factors, which were helpful ones.  (I was expecting generic platitudes like, "monitor your daughter's Internet and social media use."  Indeed, that's part of it ... but Sax suggests one way to do this is for your daughter to hand over her cell phone every night at 10 p.m. to be charged in the parents' bedroom.  That way, you know if there are texts coming through at all hours of the night and your daughter knows that you have to capability to monitor such goings-on.) 

In addition to the findings on the environmental toxins, I was also struck by the chapter that discussed sports and how a girl's body is different than that of a boy's.  (I mean, obviously I knew that ... but the differences go way beyond the obvious.)  We are not a sports family, and Betty doesn't show much inclination towards participating in team sports or activities like cheerleading (which is completely fine with me), but if she does, I'll be revisiting this section in Girls on the Edge because of the food for thought that Sax presents.

A few final thoughts that resonated with me:   

"In matters of the spirit, as in education, and in athletics, simply lifting the strategies that have been used for boys and applying them to girls, in gender-blind fashion, doesn't work reliably or well for many girls.  We have to recognize that girls need girl-specific interventions .... If girls are not healthy spiritually, they may find themselves not so much living as performing .... [t]he technology of social networking sites, instant messaging, and texting makes it easy for girls to think they are living their own lives when in fact they are really putting on a show for their peers." (pg. 209)

Living authentically and with a sense of spirit is a recurring theme in Girls on the Edge. 

"Parenting is an art, not a science. Sometimes you have to push your daughter into unfamiliar territory when she would rather be sheltered at home.  Sometimes you have to shelter her at home when she would rather spend spring break with the cool kids getting drunk at the beach. And the right decision this year may be not-quite-right next year.

When she is young, you may need to challenge her, gently pushing her out of her comfort zone so that she can explore her world. That may be the only way that she can discover her strengths and her weaknesses.  Help her to develop that sense of agency, of being able to create, to imagine, to take the initiative.

The onset of puberty is likely to change her.  Don't back away even when she tells you to get lost.  Speak to her the words of the poet:

Dig into yourself...
Go into yourself and find out how deep is the place from which your life springs;
at its source you will find the answer to your question." (pg. 211-212)  

If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Out-With-a-Bang Read-a-thon!

Now this is my kind of New Year's party.  Instead of New Year's Rockin' Eve (as much as I like Dick Clark), a New Year's Readin' Eve is much more my style.

Casey from The Bookish Type and Heather from Book-Savvy have the right idea for how to spend December 29-31.  They're hosting the Out With a Bang Readathon, and I am planning to participate. 

I have to work on December 29 and 30, so I'm not sure how much reading I will get done, but my main goal is to reach 80 books read for the year.  (I'm currently starting my 77th, and I have a small pile of short books ready for the read-a-thon.) 

All the details can be found on Casey and Heather's blogs, so head over there to join in the fun!


copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Book Review: Questions About Angels, Poems by Billy Collins

Questions About Angels
Poems by Billy Collins
University of Pittsburgh Press, 1999
originally published by William Morrow and Co., 1991
91 pages

No matter how many poetry books I read (and there's been a record amount of them for me this year), I still can't quite figure out how to review poetry. My approach can be summed up by "I like what I like when I like it." 

Real intellectual of me, I know. 

But suffice it to say that Billy Collins is indeed a poet I like.  Very, very much.  If you're just beginning to explore the world of poetry, need a reintroduction, or are in love with the form, then Billy Collins is (in my opinion) one of our best.  And of his three volumes of poetry I've now read, Questions About Angels is one of my favorites.  (See my review of Nine Horses and  my review of Ballistics here.) 

This is Billy Collins's fourth book of poetry (and one which was selected by my other favorite poet, Edward Hirsch, for the National Poetry Series).  It is divided into four numbered and unnamed sections.  Among my favorites are the poems having to do with birth and death, as symbolized by reading ("First Reader" and "Reading Myself to Sleep"), aging ("Forgetfulness"), and death and the afterlife ("Questions About Angels," "The Afterlife," "The Dead"). 

Being a bit of a morbid soul who has actually planned out such things, I wouldn't mind "Reading Myself to Sleep" being read at my funeral ... and being a practical soul, I include it here for the benefit of those who might (but hopefully won't anytime soon) have occasion to plan such an event. 

Reading Myself to Sleep

The house is all in darkness except for this corner bedroom
where the lighthouse of a table lamp is guiding
my eyes through the narrow channels of print,

and the only movement in the night is the slight
swirl of curtains, the easy lift and fall of my breathing,
and the flap of pages as they turn in the wind of my hand.

Is there a more gentle way to go into the night
than to follow an endless rope of sentences
and then to slip drowsily under the surface of a page

into the first tentative flicker of a dream,
passing out of the bright precincts of attention
like cigarette smoke passing through a window screen?

All late readers know this sinking feeling of falling
into the liquid drop of sleep and then rising again
to the call of a voice that you are holding in your hands,

as if pulled from the sea back into a boat
where a discussion is raging on subject or other,
on Patagonia or Thoroughbreds or the nature of war.

Is there a better method of departure by night
than this quiet bon voyage with an open book,
the sole companion who has come to see you off,

to wave you into the dark waters beyond language?
I can hear the rush and sweep of fallen leaves outside
where the world lies unconscious, and I can feel myself

dissolving, drifting into a story that will never be written,
letting the book slip to the floor where I will find it
in the morning when I surface, wet and streaked with

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Sunday Salon: A White (day after) Christmas

Snow is outside blowing 'round, coming down as if through a sieve.  By 9 a.m., I was one of many at the supermarket who were loading up on groceries as if the end of the world was near.  (And judging from the forecasts, it just might be. Memories of last year's winter Snowpocalypse - which I swear, seems like it just melted - are evidentally still extremely fresh, as evidenced by the postponing of tonight's Eagles-Vikings game.  Philadelphia is apparently under a snow emergency and expecting 20" of snow.)

Of course the most important provision one needs to have during a blizzard is plenty of reading material.  I won't need to worry about this ever again ... because The Husband's surprise Christmas gift to me was a Kindle!

I am so excited about this and I've been happily downloading a bunch of free books. (Classics galore!)  I don't expect the Kindle to do away with all my traditional books nor my weekly visits to the library with Betty, but I gotta tell ya ... I am in love. While the kids were listening to their new iPods and playing with their new DS's, I read the first chapter of a library book (The Lake Shore Limited by Sue Miller) that's due back on Tuesday.   I love this feature and I plan to use it often to hopefully get through my TBR pile more quickly. 

(For the record, I'm enough on the fence with The Lake Shore Limited to send it back to the library unfinished.  I couldn't quite get into The Senator's Wife and I seem to be having a similar reaction to this.)

Anyway, here are some other books that I got for Christmas:

The box at the top is a gift certificate to Barnes and Noble ... squeee! 

When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present, by Gail Collins 
I've been so excited about this, and have actually checked it out of the library a few times (and returned unread) because I want to first read Gail Collins's American Women: Four Hundred Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines.  (I bought that one back in January with a gift certificate from last Christmas.)  And I wanted to own it because, well, I thought American Women would look lonely on the shelf without this counterpart next to it. 

Zenobia, The Curious Book of Business: A Tale of Triumph Over Yes-Men, Cynics, Hedgers, and Other Corporate Killjoys by Matthew Emmens and Beth Kephart 
As regular blog readers know, I love Beth Kephart's work and consider her to be a friend.  I've been wanting to read Zenobia for awhile now. 

Questions About Angels, by Billy Collins
This shows how attentive my mother is to my blog.  I mentioned in a post from October 31 that this is a poetry collection that I'd like to own, and voila!  Now I do.  I love Billy Collins and this is one of my favorites of his. 

And two new cookbooks for my collection!

New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant, by The Moosewood Collective

Southern Living Ultimate Christmas Cookbook

There was also a small book journal, too. 

Finally, this week I finished The Gift by Cecelia Ahern, which was just okay (read my review here) and also What I Didn't See and Other Stories by Karen Joy Fowler, a new-to-me author.  What impressed me about the 12 stories in What I Didn't See is how different each story was from its counterparts. Eclectic is the word that kept coming to mind as I read this.  On Thursday, I wrote about "Booth's Ghost" (which is still one of my favorites, now that I'm finished the book) and "The Pelican Bar" is an award-winning story that deserves accolades.

How about you?  Is it snowing where you are?  And if you celebrated Christmas, what books or bookish things did you get as gifts?

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

And What to My Wondering Eyes Did Appear ...

... but a surprise gift from The Husband, met with much cheer!

Yes, I am finally the proud owner of a Kindle! 

When it comes to presents, I am not an easy person to surprise.  I know this, and after 21 Christmas Days together, The Husband definitely knows this.  He wanted to surprise me with something special this year, while I just assumed we weren't exchanging gifts, as per usual.  (We bought the kids iPod nanos, taking a bigger chunk than usual out of our gift-giving budget.) 

So while I was presented with my first ever Kindle, he had to make do this morning with two Hershey Special Dark chocolate bars in his stocking. 

We've been on the go all day, traveling 1.5 hours up to the in-laws for breakfast and exchanging gifts (more bookish stuff, including the long-coveted Zenobia by Beth Kephart!) and then over to my mother's for more gifts (and more books).  I managed to find time to download 47 free books and 4 sample chapters, one of which I've already read most of. 

I'll have more of a Christmas recap (especially of the books!) soon but until then, I hope all of you had a wonderful Christmas and a great day!

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Friday, December 24, 2010

And To All, a Good Night

Merry Christmas to all ... and to all, a good night.

(Photo courtesy of my mom, who took this during a recent visit to Byer's Choice in Chalfont, PA)

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Book Review: The Gift, by Cecelia Ahern

The Gift
by Cecelia Ahern
Harper Collins
302 pages

What do you get when you combine George Bailey, Ebenezer Scrooge, and Don Draper?

You get Lou Suffern. 

Lou's the main character in this Christmas-novel-with-a-timeless-message by Irish author Cecelia Ahern, whose books I tend to enjoy.  (See my review of There's No Place Like Here.) I'm usually not a Christmas book reader, but I was in the mood for such a novel this past week. When I saw this on display at the library, I grabbed it because Ahern's novels tend to be light reads (guilty pleasures, a little piece of literary chocolate at midnight) and I hadn't realized she'd written a Christmas story.

If you've never read Cecelia Ahern, her stories are almost in a genre all to themselves; they're light reads, but with an element of the modern day and the fairy tale. Picture BlackBerries next to a magic wand. If you like Sarah Addison Allen, chances are you'll like Cecelia Ahern.

From Publishers Weekly:  Lou Suffern is a busy man, and his family’s growing weary of constantly taking the backseat to his career. On a whim, he offers Gabe, a homeless man he meets outside his office, a low-level job, and the uncharacteristically kind gesture plays out in a very unexpected way when Lou learns that Gabe has the power to be in two places at once. As the holidays draw nearer, Gabe tries to make Lou realize the importance of his family, but slow-to-change Lou might not come around to Gabe’s way of thinking until it’s too late.

It's a somewhat predictable premise, and while there are some unexpected moments in The Gift, this one didn't seem as magical to me as Cecelia Ahern's other novels.  I didn't fully connect with Lou nor have much sympathy for him, and there were several elements of the plot that didn't quite seem to fit.  There's a secondary storyline happening at the same time (a policeman is telling Lou's story to a juvenile delinquent in an attempt to get him to see the error of his ways). I kept thinking there was some way they were all connected ... but other than a shared epiphany of "we all have the same amount of time on this Earth and none of us ever know when that time will end," there really isn't a connection between these characters, which makes for a bit of a disjointed story. 

As I said, I went into this one looking for a bit of a lighter read than usual and that's what The Gift is.  Sometimes that's OK.  Although this one wasn't quite for me, I still think Cecelia Ahern has a literary gift.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Fiction and Truth (Or, When the News and the Book You're Reading Coincide)

Has this ever happened to you?  You're reading something - a novel, a short story collection, nonfiction - and while you're reading, you see a news story directly related to what you're reading?

I love that - and that is exactly what happened to me this morning. 

Yesterday I started reading Karen Joy Fowler's new book, What I Didn't See and Other Stories. One of the twelve short stories is a historical fiction piece called "Booth's Ghost," which I read yesterday. It's about Edwin Booth's fame as an actor (as well as his father's), how the family was ostracized and (except for Edwin) charged with conspiracy after their brother John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, and how Edwin would (on occasion) see his father's ghost.

"When the ghost appeared, Edwin was not surprised.  He'd been born with a caul, which meant protection, but also the ability to see spirits. Almost a year earlier, his beloved young wife had died of tuberculosis. She'd been in Boston, he in New York. He was Hamlet then, too, a week's worth of performances and often drunk when onstage.  'Fatigued,' one of the critics said, but others were not so kind.

The night she died, he'd felt her kiss him.  'I am half frozen,' she'd said.  He'd stopped drinking and begun to spend his money on seances instead.

Initially he'd gotten good value; his wife sent many messages of love and encouragement. Her words were general, though, impersonal, and lately he'd been having doubts.  He'd begun to host seances himself, with no professional medium in attendance. A friend described one such evening. He was seized, this friend said, by a powerful electricity and his hands began to shake faster and harder than mortal man could move. He was give pen and paper, which he soon covered in ink.  But when he came back to his senses, he'd written no words, only scrawl.  It had all been Edwin, he decided then, doing what Edwin did best.  Night after night on the stage, Edwin made people believe." (pg 12-13)

"Booth's Ghost" is one of the best of Karen Joy Fowler's What I Didn't See.  It was also on my mind when I read the news today (oh boy) that several of Edwin Booth's descendants, all living in the Philadelphia area, have agreed to have Edwin's body exhumed. 

The reason for such would be to finally lay to rest the mystery of whether John Wilkes Booth is indeed buried in an unmarked grave in Baltimore or if he escaped.

From today's edition of The Philadelphia Inquirer ("Booth descendants agree to brother's body ID tests"):

"History says [John Wilkes] Booth was cornered 12 days later [after Lincoln's assassination] by detectives and Union soldiers in a tobacco barn at the Garrett farm in Port Royal, Va. Shortly after 2 a.m. on a cool and cloudy Wednesday, he was mortally wounded in the neck.

Or was he?

Efforts by descendants to open the Baltimore grave believed to be John Wilkes Booth's were thwarted in 1995 by a judge who concluded its location could not be conclusively determined. The remains were supposed to be in the family plot, but reports placed it at an undisclosed location.

The family had hoped to use the skull and photographic techniques, along with other identifying scars, to make an identification.

Their best option now is to compare DNA from Edwin Booth, buried in Cambridge, Mass., with a specimen from the man shot at the barn, who experts agree is buried in Baltimore. Three cervical vertebrae from that body are in the collection of the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington."

"Before dawn on April 26, John Wilkes Booth was discovered in a barn in the Maryland swamps. A torch was thrown inside. The straw caught immediately, illuminating the scene as clearly as if he were onstage. 'I saw him standing upright,' one Colonel Conger said later, 'leaning on a crutch. He looked so like his brother Edwin I believed for a moment the whole pursuit to have been a mistake.'" ("Booth's Ghost," from What I Didn't See, pg. 30)

Stay tuned for the next act.

If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Book Review: The Blind Contessa's New Machine, by Carey Wallace

The Blind Contessa's New Machine
by Carey Wallace
Pamela Dorman Books, Viking
207 pages

When I was five, Santa Claus brought me my most coveted item on my list. 

A typewriter.

I'm not talking a Fisher-Price pretend variety.  I'm talking an honest-to-goodness, real, manual, orange and white with a carrying case deluxe model from Sears.

It was all I wanted, and I can see it under the tree as if it was yesterday. (In reality, it was December 1974.) Having a typewriter changed my world. As I explained to Santa while sitting on his lap at Wanamakers, a typewriter would allow me to write my stories faster - and more of them.  How could the world be denied such a talent? Hence, a typewriter - the real deal - was a must.

* * * *
I thought about my first typewriter a lot while reading The Blind Contessa's New Machine.  This enchanting debut novel by Carey Wallace is based on the true story of Pellegrino Turri (referred to in the novel simply as Turri) an Italian "eccentric" who invented the first working typewriter in 1808 for his blind friend, Contessa Carolina Fantoni.  As children, Turri and Carolina were playmates, spending hours on the lake in a small house that Carolina's father gives her as a gift.

(Dang!  I was clearly born at the wrong time and into the wrong family. Here I am going on about one of the best gifts I ever got - a typewriter! - and this chick's parents give her a lakefront property.)

Of course, Turri falls in love with Carolina.  While she feels affectionate towards him, she is infatuated with the debonair and smooth-talkin' Pietro.  Stud muffin Pietro proposes to Carolina and the two are betrothed. Turri marries another, has a child and everyone is on their way to living happily ever after.

Except for a slight problem.

On her wedding day, Carolina realizes she is going blind.  Telling Pietro doesn't do any good - he laughs, refusing to believe her. Neither do her parents, perhaps not wanting to risk the embarrassment of a ruined wedding. The only person who does is - you guessed it - her steadfast and true friend Turri.

Now, I don't have any experience with going blind (nor do I wish to) and neither does author Carey Wallace. That makes her descriptions of Carolina's onset of blindness even more vivid.  This part of the book seemed a little slow going for me, but I think that's intentional.  As the reader, you know Carolina goes blind; watching it unfold in slow motion is a nice literary way of mirroring the agony and futility that she must feel.

Adding to the despair is Pietro, who is a bit of the controlling type to begin with and takes full advantage of this unfortunate situation. Using Carolina's blindness as a means to deceive and isolate her, practically keeping her prisoner with a untrustworthy lying servant (the appropriately named Liza), he essentially keeps her in a world of darkness that has nothing to do with being blind. It is her loyal friend Turri, who by inventing a "writing machine" for Carolina, gives her a means of escape and freedom in more ways than one. 

The Blind Contessa's New Machine reads like a fairy tale.  It has an enchanting quality about it, making it a quick read. (I read it during the 24 Hour Read-a-Thon, making it an ideal book for this event.) I also liked it because Turri clearly has Asperger's Syndrome.

"His face often remained blank as everyone around him burst into laughter. Most unnerving, he often seemed to hang on a girl's every word only to reveal under questioning, just moments later, that he hadn't heard a thing. And though he couldn't seem to hold the thread of conversation in polite society, when a girl. by pure coincidence, stumbled on a subject that was of interest to him, she was lost for the evening. He was capable of ruining an entire dance, talking for hours about salt mines, constellations, metallurgy, lizards, with the innocent confidence of a child convinced that everyone else found the world as strange and fascinating as he did." (pg. 16) 

"Sometimes he had rearranged this or that: he might lay several pens in a neat row on her desk, all their sharp nibs pointing west ...." (pg. 21)

The actual invention of the typewriter isn't really the focus of the story. Rather, it's a story about friendship, about love, about deception, and the price we pay when all three collide. 

 What Other Bloggers Thought:

Fizzy Thoughts
Take Me Away

And Beth Fish Reads, who has taught me all I know about imprints in the publishing world and introduced me to some incredible reads as a result, highlights some other Pamela Dorman books (including The Blind Contessa's New Machine) in this post.

Did I miss your review?  Let me know in the comments!

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Now This Is What I Call a Reality Show

In case you missed it and fell asleep (like me), this time-lapse video of the Winter Solstice Lunar Eclipse is definitely a reality show of the best kind.

Christmas Splash! (Guest Post from Betty, a.k.a. OrcaGirl)

In case you missed the big announcement last week, my girl Betty (also known as OrcaGirl) now has her own blog, Orcas and Stuff.  She writes about "what she is working on" in regards to saving the orcas, as well as other ... well, stuff.  We have an arrangement where she guests posts here (even when she is taking shots at the number of books piled up on her mother's night table).

As you all know Christmas has come and I am head over heals excited. My cat right now or she might do this later is or will be jumping up on the branches of our fake christmas tree and it is going to drive us NUTS. Sometimes she even chews the branches.OMG she's only 2 years old. A cat that age is still getting used to the fact that she has a family that loves her and cares for her. Anyway I did not mean that last sentence in a mean way. But who does'nt love christmas for pete's sake?????? I am just too cute.

So BLOG NEWS. Nothing new going on now. Just lots of talk that my orca Princess Angeline is in my all time favorite movie Free Willy. She is the first killer whale to jump out of the water in the movie. It gets me every time. Check out my blog if you want to and even write some comments if you want to. I want to say thanks to all the people who are reading my blog.

You might be wondering what books I'm reading. Well I can tell you one thing: you can never have too many books to read. If you are wondering where I got that from I got it from looking at my mom's nightdesk and let me tell you, That thing is PILED HIGH with books that you can hardly see the nightdesk. It's like your favorite ice cream dish except there's no flavors, no coldness and it doesn't melt. I guess I am finished now.

Merry Christmas Bloggers and everyone on the planet!! Oh yeah my mom just reminded me I hav not answered the question abot the books I'm reading. I'm actually reading a lot of good books.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Book Review: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel H. Pink

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
by Daniel H. Pink
Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group
242 pages

You need to read Drive if you fit into any of these categories:

1. You supervise or manage people. (If you're a parent, that includes your kids. If you're a teacher, that includes your students.)

2. You want to supervise or manage people.

3. You've ever been supervised or managed.

Did I miss anyone?  Good, because Drive is a book that almost everyone can benefit from reading.  And Daniel Pink just so happens to have written an enjoyable nonfiction read. 

After reading Drive, there's no need for traditional management books.  The theories we learned in Management 101 on how to motivate people are obsolete, outdated, and oh-so-nineteenth and twentieth century. As the book jacket says, "most of us believe that the best way to motivate ourselves and others is with external rewards like money - the carrot-and-stick approach."   I have a job that needs to be done.  You need money.  I pay you.  If you don't do the job the way I expect and to my exact specifications, there are repercussions.  Hence, you become a cog in the wheel. You do as you're told without any creativity or innovation.  Your attitude becomes one of resentment.  Your motivation and morale is shot to hell. 

This is old-school thinking, a mindset that was fine and worked well back in the manufacturing and industrialized economies of the day.  But our jobs (the ones that are left, anyway) are ones that have evolved into ones that demand more higher-level skills and thinking, more interaction with people and more on-the-spot judgment calls. 

Managers fail to see that the traditional management theories aren't working because they don't know any better.  Managers believe (and many still do) that this is the way to keep people in line, to get them to work harder, to earn their loyalty.  As an example, how many of you have a boss who practices "management by walking around"?  That sounds all fine and well and good, all progressive and in touch with one's employees and their issues, but what does this really accomplish?  Nothing - except making you feel like you're on a leash, that you can't possibly leave work at 4:45 p.m. instead of 5:00 in order to catch your kid's school play because the boss might choose that exact moment to stop by.

Tell me how that motivates people to do their best work again? 

Pink says there's a better way.  "The secret to high performance and satisfaction - at work, at school, and at home - is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world." (from the book jacket).  We need autonomy (over our task, our time, our technique, and our team), mastery, and purpose.

I happen to believe this is true - and truthfully? That this isn't really all that surprising of a concept.  I look at my job and The Husband's; we are at complete opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of job satisfaction.  The difference is that I have a work arrangement that allows me to work very independently (from home), to create a brand new program, and with an incredibly flexible schedule and supportive team. The Husband? Well, let's just say his situation is quite different indeed. Take a guess which one of us is happier and more motivated. It's not rocket science to figure this stuff out. 

In Drive, Daniel Pink gives real-life examples of companies and CEOs who have figured this stuff out.  He shows us corporations that not only allow their employees to telecommute or work truly flexible schedules, but who embrace concepts like FedEx Days and 20% Time. These are initiatives, endorsed by top leadership, where employees are given the freedom to spend 20% of their time on a project of their choice.  He argues - and proves - that some of the most innovative products (and ones that often have a very positive effect on the corporate bottom line) are ones that were developed not because a boss said "I want you to produce this widget, in this certain size, in this color, etc. etc.) but instead because someone had the time and the freedom to create, to tinker, to explore possibilities. 

Pink drills down even further. He gives very practical examples of how these practices can be implemented in any organization - specific to the business world, the classroom, and the household.  He provides reading lists and websites.  He even provides a Twitter-ready summary of the book ("Carrots and sticks are so last century. Drive says for 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery, and  purpose.")

This will go onto my list as among my best nonfiction books I've read this year. 

What Other Bloggers Thought:

readerbuzz includes Drive among her 2010 reviews post

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

'Twas The Sunday Salon Before Christmas ....

Quite the busier-than-usual weekend for us, as we've officially entered the land of Christmas insanity.  We went to a family Christmas party on Saturday evening, and despite the long drive (a total of four hours) it was really nice to see everyone. 

After going to sleep earlier than usual last night,  I was awake at 4 a.m., headed to the mall at 10 a.m. to finish up some Christmas shopping, then grocery shopping, and then a Christmas party with Betty's Girl Scout troop. 

In the midst of all this Christmas hoopla this weekend, I managed to finish the last 35 pages of The Gift by Cecelia Ahern.  I don't tend to read seasonal books (i.e., Christmas books at Christmas, books set in a beach town when I'm on vacation, etc.) but I wanted to give The Gift a try when I saw this one on display at the library. I really like Cecelia Ahern's novels, which are almost in a genre all to themselves; they're light reads, but with an element of the modern day and the fairy tale. (If you like Sarah Addison Allen, chances are you'll like Cecelia Ahern.)

The Gift, however, wasn't my favorite of the three Cecilia Ahern books I've read (see my reviews of If You Could See Me Now and There's No Place Like Here).   Ahern's books usually deliver something more than just a light read.,  While this one definitely has a timeless message, the delivery fell a little flat with me.  I didn't connect with Lou, the main character (a combination of George Bailey, Ebenezer Scrooge, and Don Draper) and there was a secondary storyline that I kept waiting to develop more than it did.  At some parts in the novel, I felt Ahern was trying a little too hard to get the message across to her reader.   

I had some similar issues with The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds, which I finished earlier this week.  This was nominated for the Man Booker Prize (in 2009, I think) and I came to this one intrigued. (A story about poets and insane asylums that's based on true events? Sign me up!)

Sure enough, Adam Foulds grabbed my attention from the beginning, as he introduced Dr. Matthew Allen (the head of the asylum), his family, and the various other patients at High Beach. Among those patients are John Clare, the nature poet, and Septimus Tennyson, brother of the still-little-unknown-at-the-time of the story poet Alfred Tennyson. (Alfred "takes a house" nearby, in order to be close to his brother during his stay at High Beach.)

For a fairly short novel, there are a lot of characters in this, making the plot a little convoluted and confusing in parts.  And with such a large cast, it was hard to feel a connection with any of them.  

So, a somewhat eh ... week of reading, but one that was good because The Gift wound up being my 75th book of the year.  Not since I was a kid have I read 75 books in a year.  I was somewhere around 50 books mid-summer, and I remember thinking that 75 could be achievable but I didn't think it would actually happen.  Now I'm re-considering what I want to read for these last eleven days of 2010.  It was going to be Great Expectations by Charles Dickens but I think I might opt for shorter reads, given the craziness that this week and weekend will bring ... which could bring me to 80!

Hope your Sunday was a good one!

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.