Monday, October 31, 2011

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

We're coming off of a whirlwind weekend, one that involved a six hour drive back to Philly on Friday night; my mother-in-law's annual Halloween party for her grandkids on Saturday (the reason for the trip); a laughter-filled, relaxing, oh-my-God-I-didn't-realize-how-much-I-freakin'-needed-this "grown-up" (i.e., we all had babysitters!) dinner on Saturday night with our very good friends ... and some interesting weather thrown in there in the form of a freakish October snowstorm. That's highly unusual for Philadelphia, and at times, this looked downright blizzard-like.  Definitely frightful, in the spirit of Halloween.

So, here we are for "It's Monday! What Are You Reading?"  which is hosted by my friend Sheila from Book Journey and where we talk about what we're reading this week.  I usually cover this in my weekly Sunday Salon posts, but since I didn't get to that this weekend, I'm here (and happily so) instead.

Well.  What I'm not reading this week is the book I started reading last week ... The Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards. I loved The Memory Keepers Daughter, couldn't finish The Secrets of a Fire King (her short story collection) and now The Lake of Dreams falls into that latter category as well.  I'm only on page 27 and already I can tell that I don't care about these characters.  I've also had one too many "what the hell?" moments for it being this early in the novel. I thought this was just me, but after perusing several reviews on Goodreads, I don't think I'm in the minority. (Sometimes spoilers can be a good thing.) So ... back to the library it goes.

Now that we're turning the calendar page to November, I'm becoming more focused on books that qualify for those challenges I still have some holes in for this year. (I know I say that I only do these challenges for fun, but when I see that I have only a book or two left in order to complete said challenge, then it is definitely game on.)

I was having considerable difficulty finding a book that satisfies the "jewel or gem" category for the"What's In a Name" challenge, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.  Then I realized I still had the short story collection Gold Boy, Emerald Girl by Yiyun Li from NetGalley, so I will be reading that this week on my Kindle.

I'm also finishing up my current audiobook, Anne Frank Remembered; The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family by Miep Gies.  Everyone knows the story of Anne Frank, but this memoir by the woman who protected them gives a different perspective.

On the blog front this week, I'm planning to have a wrap up post for the R.I.P. Challenge and an introductory post for NaNoWriMo.  (Yeah.  I've succumbed to the insanity.  AGAIN.  Why I do this to myself, I have no clue.)

Happy reading week, everyone ... and a Happy Halloween to all who are celebrating (and happy NaNoWriMo-ing if you're embarking on this as the clock strikes midnight tonight.)

copyright 2011, Melissa, 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.

Don't Cross This Black Cat

"You think you're having a bad day?  
You try being a black cat on Halloween and then come talk to me." 

This would be our cat, Mrs. Douglas.  She's normally a very happy, spunky, playful, affectionate kind of gal.  Really, she is.  We love her to the ends of the earth and back. 

But the other night, Betty went over to take a photo of her (she takes a lot of photos of the cat; wonder where she gets this from?) and Mrs. Douglas's expression was priceless. 

(Gotta love the rolled eyes.) 

Happy Halloween, everyone! 

copyright 2011, Melissa, 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, October 27, 2011

A Title By Any Other Name (or, You Really Can Judge a Book By the Cover)

The other night, my good friend G. posted this on Facebook, with an accompanying explanation.

"I picked up this book at the library - I tend to like mindless cozy murder mysteries - the name on the spine is "Button-Holed."  But, as you can see, the library put their label in a bad position on the front." 

(Thank you, G. - and the Omaha Public Library - for the blog post that wrote itself.)

copyright 2011, Melissa, 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, October 24, 2011

Book Review: You Are My Only (and an appreciation of the author, Beth Kephart)

You Are My Only
by Beth Kephart 
Laura Geringer Books, Egmont USA 
252 pages 
Advance copy received on my Kindle courtesy of NetGalley 

It's kind of bizarre when you feel you're the absolute last person to read a particular book ...and the book hasn't even been officially published yet.

Chalk this phenomenon up to being a book blogger, many of whom (yours truly included) get our kicks out of peeking at books before they hit the streets (or the e-readers). And in this particular case, you can also attribute this "everyone's read it but me" feeling to the wide appeal and popularity of beloved (and immensely talented) author Beth Kephart.

Beth Kephart (left) and me in May 2010, two Philly girls in
New York City, at the Book Blogger Convention 
A brief sidebar and disclaimer: Beth has been someone (thanks to our shared Philadelphia connection) who has been on my literary radar for nearly a decade, beginning with her first book, A Slant of Sun. That's a book that has become incredibly special to me, for many reasons.  Quietly sitting on my bookshelf, it serves as a beacon of light, of hope. And over the past few years, that role has been transformed to Beth herself (through her books, her blog, her photographs, the snippets of conversation we've had online and in person), as she has become that ray of light, someone whom I have been so fortunate to get to know and to call a friend, someone who has inspired me as a writer, as a mother, as a person in the world.

With all this in mind, I celebrate my friend Beth today as her 13th book, You Are My Only, officially makes its way into this bright world. It is a world that is ready to receive it, judging from the acclaim You Are My Only has already garnered from bloggers and reviewers alike. Advance praise has been enough to push this novel into a second printing, even before publication day.

That's a true accomplishment, a hallmark of a brilliant writer, and - make no mistake - You Are My Only is a novel deserving of all the praise it has received.

You Are My Only is the story of Emmy Rane, a devoted young mother who does what every mother has innocently done: leaves her baby unattended for the briefest of moments. On a still, bright day, outside in the yard while tucked snug in the branches of a tree swing, four month old Baby goes missing.  The only trace of her is one single yellow sock.

You can see this unfold because we have all experienced this - a simple act that results in the shifting and forever changing of lives - and you can see this in the opening pages of You Are My Only because Beth Kephart takes you right there.  You're with Emmy in her moments of desperate terror (anyone who has ever had a child wander off, gone missing even for mere moments, knows this piercing anguish). You're right there when Emmy's emotionally and physically abusive husband is in her face, accusing her of being a bad mother by causing Baby's disappearance through her carelessness.

From there, You Are My Only alternates between two timeframes and two points of view: Emmy Rane's, as she endures the days and months after Baby's disappearance, and Sophie Marks' (formerly Baby) who is now 14 and living an always-on-the-run-from-the-No-Good life with Cheryl, the only mother she has ever known.  Cheryl is protective, a waitress, a possessor of secrets and of knowledge about obscure topics (Archimedean solids, truncated icosahedrons - yeah, I had to look that up too; it's a type of triangle, which is also an apropos symbol for this story) that she is determined to pass along to Sophie by way of homeschooling.

Yet there are other lessons that Sophie and Emmy learn throughout the course of this novel, which gets a infusion through the literary use of color (a Kephart distinction). Yellow is featured predominantly, through the dropped yellow sock left behind from Baby's kidnapping. There's a goldfinch, a yellow flip flop, references to Rapunzel's golden hair, the bright rays of the sun itself.

It is no coincidence that Emmy's last name is Rane; with the novel's rain-streaked cover art and the appearance of yellow and sun throughout the pages of a story of a mother's nightmare, Kephart shows her reader that there are always beacons of light who are with us in the darkest moments and corners of our lives. When we are physically and emotionally broken, a characteristic shared by many of the characters in this novel.

In You Are My Only, these rays of light come to Sophie in the form of her neighbors - sensitive, caring Joey and his delightful Willa Cather-loving, Toll-House cookie-baking, compassionate aunts. (The world would be a much better place - and I mean that in the most emphatic way - if everyone, particularly certain politicians, had an Aunt Cloris and Aunt Helen in their lives.  Those of you who have read the novel know what I mean.) For Emmy, these beacons of hope come in the form of Arlen, a watcher of trains and greeter of the day.

"'The first train is the express train,' Arlen declares.  'I like its speed.' 

The train screams and pitches. It thunders - such an awful trembling that I do not know how the houses on the banks along the tracks don't shatter up and crumble. My ankle swells in the raging roar. The jacket kicks up in a riffle from my knees until I press it flat with my hands. 

'Watch it now,' he says, and he lifts his arm from my shoulder and rises up onto his haunches and balances here beside me in a way I wouldn't have thought he could. He's got something he knows about the miracle of the day's first train, and beside him I bear witness. 

'Watch the ridgeline,' he tells me, his voice drowning in the bellows of the train shooting past. When I look up to where he's pointing, I see a streak of tangerine touched down upon the silver-bodied train. Right there, like a horizon line, just as he has promised. 

'Daybreak!' he hollers, and now he stands and pumps his fist to the sky, and the long strands of his graying hair get pulled about in the air suck. Finally the wind roars down, and the night has become a veil of shadows. The night isn't night after all; it is first dawn." 

The way in which this story unfolds for its reader is beautifully written, with Kephart's signature lyrical prose infusing each page.  But when one examines You Are My Only alongside of Kephart's other young adult novels (House of Dance, Nothing But Ghosts, The Heart is Not a Size), all of which I loved for various reasons, there's a quality about this one that makes it stronger than its peers.

Perhaps that is because You Are My Only is a story that reflects the times in which we live.  While there have always been hearts-held-captive baby-gone-missing stories in our nation's history (think Lindbergh, think Elizabeth Smart, think Jaycee Dugard) having this fictional one appear now brings a powerful message in these dark days of personal despair and economic uncertainty for so many.  With You Are My Only, Kephart is saying that we have the strength within us to endure the darkness and break through into the light. It is a message that she personally knows well, and it shows - beautifully, triumphantly - in this novel.

Highly recommended.

P.S. This is Beth Kephart's 13th book, and I own almost all of them.  When I have several books by the same author, I usually shelve them in chronological order.  However, with this, I'm breaking my own rule.  This one will be taking up residence next to A Slant of Sun.

What Other Bloggers Thought:

Jennifer from 5 Minutes for Books
Caribou's Mom
Kay's Bookshelf
Linus's Blanket
There's a Book

copyright 2011, Melissa, 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, October 23, 2011

The Sunday Salon: Another Read-a-Thon For the Books

"I can't believe the Read-a-Thon is already over," Betty said to me, greeting me as I stumbled to the breakfast table.

For something that lasts 24 years (whoa, there's a wishful, not-caffeinated-enough typo!) it really amazes me how fast time can go when one is Read-a-Thoning.  (Not to mention how fast these WEEKS go.  Is it just me, or does it seem that I was just writing last week's Sunday Salon a few minutes ago?)

Anyway, both my reading week and the Read-a-Thon gone by were good ones.  Let us start with the week just past, which was another one filled with lotsa travel (i.e., time in the car) for me.  That translates into two audiobooks started and completed.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson was my first audiobook of the week, and I enjoyed this much more than I expected to. I'll admit, I'm not much of a young adult/dystopian fiction fan, which puts me in somewhat of a minority grouping sometimes in this book blogging world, but this novel proved to me that there are always exceptions.

Seventeen year old Jenna Fox has survived a terrible accident that claimed the lives of her two best friends.  While in a coma for more than a year, her parents turned to what some seem as desperate measures in order to save her life. As Jenna pieces her memories back together while simultaneously discovering the truth about who she is now, this becomes a story about identity, about perfection, and the lengths a parent will go to in order to save their child.

After spending time with Jenna Fox, I turned my audiobook attention to The Maytrees by Annie Dillard, which was my first introduction to Dillard's work. (She has always seemed to be one of those authors who I've felt I should read.) I own this one, and I'm very glad that I do, because I'm now highlighting passages throughout this novel. I rarely do this, but I was compelled to do with The Maytrees because of the "spare, elegant" words that Dillard gives her reader, almost as a gift.

"Falling in love, like having a baby, rubs against the current of our lives: separation, loss, and death. That is the joy of them." (pg. 2)

The themes of love, separation and loss that were so much a part of The Maytrees segued perfectly into my first Read-a-Thon book, Beth Kephart's You Are My Only.  Beth's writing is so unique, so very different with her evocations of mood and imagery and color, and with the four novels of hers that I've read, she has not disappointed me as a reader. I think every new novel is her best, but I believe You Are My Only seems to be the strongest of her works I've read yet.  Publication date is this Tuesday, October 25 and I was fortunate to have received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.

By the time I was finished with You Are My Only, I was emotionally spent - but didn't want my participation in the Read-a-Thon to come to an end.  So I chose to end it with the 23 poems in the chapbook that is Jennifer Hill-Kaucher's collection, Questioning Walls Open.  I'm terrible at reviewing poetry (something I need to improve on) but I know what I like.  And I liked many of these poems (especially "For Joan," about a discovering the contents of an undeveloped roll of film and "Letter," about the longing for one).

Before I return you to your Sunday, some final Read-a-Thon stats:

Total Number of Pages Read: 284

Total Hours Read: 6.25 hours

Books Started and Finished: 
You Are My Only, by Beth Kephart 
Questioning Walls Open, by Jennifer Hill Kaucher 

copyright 2011, Melissa, 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, October 22, 2011

Read-a-Thon Update: Hour 15

I can't decide whether I am truly tired ... or whether I am just emotionally spent(in a good way) from finishing my first Read-a-Thon book. (Yes, look at me.  I finished a book!)

It's probably a bit of both, so I'm going to go with the latter and push on a little bit longer with Questioning Walls Open, a poetry collection by Jennifer Hill Kaucher.  Then, I'll probably be calling it a day. (Or night.)

Total Hours Read Thus Far:  5.5 (it feels like much more, though)

Books Started and Finished: You Are My Only, by Beth Kephart

Total Number of Pages Read: 252

Snacks Consumed Since Last Update: Tastykake Lemon Pie.

Beverages Consumed: Water

Oh, and if anyone is inclined to leave comments, my apologies in advance for having to turn the word verification back on.  I turn it off for Read-a-Thon days, and this time was no exception, but after the 3rd instance of spam in an hour, I'd had enough.  (What, do all the spammers have Read-a-Thon day marked on their calendar as a national holiday to bombard us all?)  Anyway, I'm sorry.  I just don't want to wake up tomorrow to all kinds of nonsense crap.

copyright 2011, Melissa, 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.

Read-a-Thon Update - Hours 7-10

You guys!  Oh, I have got to tell you ... I am reading the very best Read-a-Thon book.

According to my Kindle, I am 41% through You Are My Only by Beth Kephart and I am engrossed in every word.  So very good and so suspenseful. I think I have an idea of what happens, but I cannot put this down. It's possible that You Are My Only will be my only book I read during this Read-a-Thon, but that will be more than fine with me if it is.

I want to get back to this, so no dilly-dallying here.  But, here are some Read-a-Thon updates (Betty has dropped out for now, but will be back in a little bit).

Total Number of Hours Read So Far:  3 hours

Currently Reading: You Are My Only, by Beth Kephart.

Initial Thoughts:  1) Loving this one!  and 2) I don't know how Beth does this, time and time again.

Duration of Nap Taken: 1 hour

Beverages Consumed:  Mostly water.  Also made myself a mug of Hot Apple Cider from the Keurig, which was wonderful.  You must try this.  I am now addicted.

Snacks/Meals Consumed:  Best to keep things as simple as possible on Read-a-Thon Day, and that's exactly what I did.  I tossed a version of Clean-Out-the-Pantry Minestrone Soup into the crockpot (I used frozen veggies here as there were no fresh ones left in the fridge) and served that with some Mrs. T.'s Pierogies.

How I'm Feeling:  Like I got a second wind.  My nap and Excedrin Migraine played nicely together and my headache is gone.  Now if my kids could calm the hell down (they are being a bit rambunctious, so I have to keep getting up and hollering at them), my Read-a-Thon productivity would increase.

I'm also not visiting as many blogs as I would like.  My apologies for that.  I'll try and do better - or, at least, catch up tomorrow.

copyright 2011, Melissa, 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.

Read-a-Thon Update (Hours 1-6): A Guest Read-a-Thon Post from Betty

For this hour of the Read-a-Thon, I give you a guest post from my 9 year old daughter Betty, who is participating with me.  (This is, by far, one of my favorite things about this event.  She's been doing this with me for the last several Read-a-Thons.)

I've been participating in the Read-a-Thon with  my mom and so far, I have read 1 book for it. I have no idea how many books I plan to read, but I can tell you, it'll be a whole lot! I bet you 5 cents (just kidding! I would never do that!) you can guess what kinds of books I'm reading.  OK, If you can't guess, I'll tell you. Animal books. Fiction and nonfiction. All kinds of animal books. I've read so many animal books, I'm even starting to read the grown-up animal books. even though I'm only 9. So uh, that's all!

Number of Hours Read: 
I'm not really tracking Betty's hours (because that's too much thinking between mine and hers), but she was reading when I woke up and she read alongside me for the past hour.  I'm thinking it's about 2.5 hours thus far.  1 hour for me.

Number of Books Read: 
Betty finished Terrier in the Tinsel, by Ben M. Baglio (part of the Animal Ark series).  None finished for me.

Currently Reading:
Betty's taking a TV break and having an apple for a snack.

I'm reading You Are My Only by Beth Kephart.  Am at 12% on my Kindle.  Loving this one so far, and I can absolutely see myself finishing this today.

Migraine Status:
Not too bad.  Being managed by Excedrin Migraine.  Tea and a nap might be in my future.

copyright 2011, Melissa, 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.

Point of Impact, Revisited

It's always a good day when a terrorist departs this Earth for the fiery pits of hell, and such was the case this week when Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi met his final end.

(Some who feel that folks were a little too harsh and brutal in making sure Gaddafi met his next of kin - the Devil himself, I am convinced - may wish to stop reading this post right now.  In fact, go ahead and hit delete, because you'll find no sympathy for the devil here. Because, while being momentarily taken aback at the brutality of the battle in which he was killed, I'm more than fine with this and this post makes no apologies for such.)

I didn't know of Gaddafi's death until I turned on the all-news radio channel in the car, waiting for a traffic report, and heard an interview with the parent of a 21 year old woman who died on the Pam Am flight that exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland.

In my hotel room several hours later, I flipped the cable news channels and caught footage of the bloody battle that marks Gaddafi's end.  (Ironically, I was nursing a nosebleed - brought on from the the high mountaintop elevations and the cranked up hotel room heat to beat the autumn winds and rain- that made me look like I'd been involved in the same bloody battle as Gaddafi.)

My first thought - for like, a nanosecond - was something along the lines of, whoa, that's a little brutal.  And then I stopped myself, remembering exactly who we were talking about here.

And then I remembered Rachel.  And Stacie. And Tom, Bridget, and Sean Concannon.

And this post, which first appeared here on August 29, 2009, the week that Abdel Basset el Megrahi was released from jail because he was considered to be "terminally ill."  Now, more than two years later, some days I am convinced Megrahi is in better health than I am.

Point of Impact (originally published on this here blog on August 29, 2009, with permission of the author. Who happens to be My Husband.) 

Stacie Franklin is 41 years old with a husband and two children. She has lived in her hometown of San Diego for most of her life. Today, she is shopping with her 16-year old daughter in preparation for the upcoming Junior Prom - much to Stacie's horror, mind you.

Rachel Asrelsky, also 41, is busily working in her offices at Columbia University, where she has been a tenured professor since 1995. As she prepares for the annual start-of-term faculty workshops that she dreads like a migraine, she laughs to herself as she remembers what her 4-year old daughter said to her as she was walking out of the door of the day care center this morning: "Don't forget Mommy: Today is Joe Jonas' birthday and I want to make him a card!"

Tom and Bridget Concannon - 71 and 74 respectively - are visiting their 37-year old son, Sean in Hoboken, NJ. The Concannons are Irish - although their son was born when Tom was working in England. Not a few times has Sean made it a point - normally loud enough for his father to hear and thus drive him nuts yet again - that while 'Mum and Dad are Irish; I'm British.' This joking aside, the Concannons remain relatively close, even though Sean moved to the States in 1995. Today, Tom and Bridget are relishing precious time with Sean's three children - their only grandchildren - as a summer sun sets over the New York City skyline behind them.

What I just wrote is fantasy. It is fiction. It never happened. It never happened because of Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi. Although Megrahi never met Stacie Franklin, Rachel Asrelsky, Tom Concannon, Bridget Concannon or Sean Concannon, he saw fit to end their lives on December 21, 1988 by blowing the airplane in which they were flying out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland. Among the 270 killed that day were 20-year old flight attendant Stacie Franklin, 21-year old student Rachel Asrelsky, as well as 51-year old Tom Concannon, his 53-year old wife Bridget and their 16-year old son Sean.

Without getting into the reams and reams of documents that detail the Lockerbie terrorist attack perpetrated by Meghrahi - a Libyan intelligence agent - and his network, suffice it to say that the deaths of his victims were horrific. When the bomb planted by Meghrahi's agents - inside a Sony Walkman - detonated, it separated the cockpit from the rest of the plane. In the immediate aftermath of that separation, tornado-force winds tore through the fuselage, tearing clothes off passengers and turning insecurely-fixed items like food and drink trolleys into lethal objects. Because of the sudden change in air pressure, the gases inside the passengers' bodies expanded to four times their normal volume, causing their lungs to swell and then collapse. People and objects not fixed down were been blown out of the aircraft into the minus-50 degree outside air, their 31,000-foot fall lasting about two minutes. That's right, two minutes. Not seconds. Minutes. Free falling in the air. Until the point of impact.

Some passengers remained attached to the fuselage by their seat belts, crashing in Lockerbie strapped to their seats. Although the passengers would have lost consciousness through lack of oxygen, forensic examiners believe some of them regained consciousness as they fell toward oxygen-rich lower altitudes. Forensic pathologist Dr. William G. Eckert, director of the Milton Helpern International Center of Forensic Sciences at Wichita State University, who examined the autopsy evidence, told Scottish police he believed the flight crew, some of the flight attendants - including Stacie Franklin - and 147 other passengers survived the bomb blast and depressurization of the aircraft, and were alive on impact. Repeat: alive on the point of impact.

Eckert came to this conclusion because none of these passengers showed signs of injury from the explosion itself, or from the decompression and disintegration of the aircraft. Eckert told Scottish police that distinctive marks on 55-year old American Captain James MacQuarrie's thumb suggested he had been hanging onto the yoke of the plane as it descended, and was alive when the plane crashed. The captain, first officer, flight engineer, a flight attendant - Stacie Franklin - and a number of first-class passengers were found still strapped to their seats inside the nose section when it crashed in a field by a farm in the village of Tundergarth.

Franklin, incredibly, was alive when found by the farmer's wife. She died before her rescuer could summon help.

Remember all of this as you read how the only man ever convicted of the attack left Scotland this week - on a Libyan jet - flying safely through the same skies he bombed his victims out of 21 years ago and arrived in Tripoli to a hero's welcome. A hero's welcome.

That man, Megrahi, was not even arrested until 1999. That is, he lived in freedom for 11 years after ending those 270 lives. Once caught, it took two more years to convict Megrahi. Unfortunately, it was the British who caught him. Had it been the Americans, he would have been eligible for the death penalty. Because the British have been pussified into believing that somehow capital punishment is 'cruel and unusual', the most they could give Megrahi was a life sentence, which was handed down in 2001 by a Scottish court.

How did 'life' translate into 10 years in prison? Well, in announcing Megrahi's release, Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill intoned that "when such an appalling crime is committed, it is appropriate that a severe sentence be imposed." Yes, you read that right: this asshole Scottish politician seemed to be saying that the 10-year sentence was enough. Another way of looking at it, of course, is to say that MacAskill [or, as I like to call him Mac Ass Kill] was saying that a severe sentence of life should be imposed, but not necessarily carried out.

As pissed as I am about the 12 days in prison Vince Fumo will serve for each of his felony convictions, the mind reels when you realize that Megrahi served a little less than 14 days for each of the victims he killed. About two weeks. And you thought your life was worth more, I'll bet.

Megrahi's release is being justified on compassionate grounds: he is thankfully terminally ill with an aggressive form of prostate cancer - which one hopes is incredibly painful. In some patients, surgeons have to castrate patients with advanced prostate cancer in a drastic effort to stop the spread of the disease. I'm going to prefer to believe that this is what's happened to Megrahi. And that they performed the procedure with a plastic spoon and no anesthesia. Megrahi is said to have as little as three months to live. The Earth's fiery core awaits him.

While that is wonderful, this 'compassion' being afforded a man who - to this day - has refused to admit his guilt is abhorrent. Mac Ass added further insult to injury with a cryptic remark that Megrahi faces "a sentence imposed by a higher power." Apparently, then, the existence of God has been confirmed by the British courts. Since I'm not really convinced of that, however, I must point out that a life sentence should mean that a man ends his days in prison - in this case, a foreign prison [in Scotland for the Libyan Megrahi]. He should not end his days in the bosom of his family and country to a hero's welcome.

The real injustice - and one President Obama must vigorously protest in person to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown the next time they have tea - is that Scotland's decision to release this motherfucker is a result of a recent prisoner transfer agreement between Libya and the U.K. The agreement calls for Britain to release prisoners in return for Libya granting lucrative arms and energy contracts to British companies. The U.S. had no say in the matter, despite the fact that the vast majority of victims of the disaster were American. Put another way, Megrahi's release was a tacit quid pro quo for lucrative energy and arms deals for U.K. firms.

This cold-blooded killer's release is a reminder of what happens when terrorism is treated as a problem for the criminal justice system. Scottish pol Mac Ass had the balls to sit there and congratulate Scotland (and himself) on the superior virtue his decision supposedly evinces. Of course, terrorists will surely draw a different lesson about the will of the West to confront and punish them. And the compassion that is still owed those made bereft by the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 has now been tainted by a second Lockerbie outrage.

No matter how vigorously the British justice system protests that this is not so, the fact is that the entire judicial system of Her Majesty is now irrevocably tainted by this corrupt bargain.

And, every time a British company lands a deal in Libya from here on out, the families of the 270 victims will be reminded that their loved ones paid for it with their lives nearly 21 years ago over Scotland.  

While still alive. Until the point of impact.

copyright 2011, Melissa, 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.

We Now Join Our Regularly Scheduled Read-a-Thon, Already in Progress

After yet another workweek (the second one in a row) that saw another 1,000 miles added to my car's odometer, I am more than ready (mentally) for Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon.

What is this Read-a-Thon craziness that I speak of, you ask?  Why, it's only one of the most fun weekends of the year - and it happens twice, in April and in October. You can find out more by going here (and you can participate even if you're not a book blogger), but basically, it's an online 24 hour read-a-thon that was started several years ago by a book blogger named, appropriately enough, Dewey.  The idea was for book bloggers to devote 24 hours to reading, get caught up on our books, blog about what we were reading, and create a community of folks who love to read. The event has grown significantly, with prizes and people serving as "cheerleaders," and mini-challenges, and people reading for charity (i.e., pledging to make a donation for number of pages or books read, etc.)

Anyway, I'm participating ...sorta.  I'm a bit fried from my recent work schedule, feeling a little overwhelmed with all that there is to do.  I woke up with a headache that threatens to turn into a migraine, so that's going to be a Read-a-Thon issue if I can't get this under control. This weekend is also the ZooBoo, a Halloween event at our local zoo, and Betty is very gung-ho on going.  Plus, I am woefully behind on reviews and writing such, so there may be a bit o' blogging happening.  I may actually wind up being more of an unofficial cheerleader this time around, which is OK.

Part of the Read-a-Thon fun is making piles and lists of books we hope to read during the event, and even though my participation will be limited, that didn't stop me from doing so.  Here's my little (but ambitious, and nowhere near going to happen) stack of books.

You Are My Only, by Beth Kephart  ~ This comes out on October 25, so even though there has been lots of early buzz and great reviews on this one - so much so that it is in its second printing even before its official publication date!  I have this one on my Kindle.  Obviously.

The CHICK-tionary: From A-Line to Z-Snap, the Words Every Woman Should Know, by Anna Lefler ~ This just arrived in the mail this week and is a review book for TLC Book Tours, so I am eager to read this. I love Anna, who I would not know if it wasn't for Beth Kephart's blog.

A Doll's House, by Henrik Ibsen ~ Just purchased last week at the library's book sale, and it is definitely the perfect Read-a-Thon length.  And, it will satisfy a reading challenge.

The Comfort of Strangers, by Ian McEwan 

H, by Elizabeth Shepard 

Shining On: 11 Star Authors' Illuminating Stories

Something Inside of Me: How to Hang On to Heaven When You're Going Through Hell, by Chitoka Webb ~ I met Chitoka at this year's Book Bloggers Convention and she was absolutely delightful.

Poetry is often a good choice for the Read-a-Thon, and to that end, I have four collections in my stack, all purchased last week at Paper Kite Books in Kingston, PA.

Echolalia, by Dan Waber ~ Dan is the owner, along with his wife Jennifer, of Paper Kite Books.  This one had me at the title.

Questioning Walls Open, by Jennifer Hill Kaucher ~ Dan's wife

Book of Days, by Jennifer Hill Kaucher  (I love the Enya song of the same name, so I had to get this collection.)

Mother Love, by Elizabeth Cohen ~ a new poet to me and one that I think I will like, based on the poems I glanced at in the store before buying this collection.

Overly ambitious, yes.  But abundantly fun.  Happy Read-a-Thon Day!

copyright 2011, Melissa, 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, October 21, 2011

Book Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
by Ransom Riggs
Quirk Books
348 pages

"When I was a kid, Grandpa Portman's fantastic stories meant it was possible to live a magical life. Even after I stopped believing in them, there was still something magical about my grandfather. To have endured all the horrors he did, to have seen the worst of humanity and have your life made unrecognizable by it, to come out of all that the honorable and good and brave person I knew him to be - that was magical."  (pg. 88) 

If I had to choose one book I've read this year that I consider to be one of the most brilliant, well-written, and original books EVER, then Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is it. There is so much to say about this one that I hardly know where to begin.

Sixteen-year old Jacob Portman and his grandfather Abe have a special relationship. They're connected in a way that transcends familial bonds, and in a way that mystifies (and maddens) Jacob's emotionally-distant parents. Their closeness allows Jacob to become curious about his grandfather's past, about the "peculiar" children he grew up with (and the reasons for their peculiarity) and why they still so much a part of Abe's life today.

Abe's past is one spent in a children's home (that would be Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children), located off the coast of Wales.  Jacob and his orinithologist father travel to this remote island for two purposes: bird-watching and research for the father and for Jacob, to discover the origins of the stories his grandfather held close to his heart while cryptically sharing details with Jacob.  What begins as Abe's story continues as Jacob's, and as he discovers truths he never imagined, author Ransom Riggs takes his reader right there to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.

"Peculiars" are people who have extraordinary physical and mental abilities.  These children levitate. Fly. See monsters. Have bees living inside of them. They're among us and separate at the same time, living on the island of Cairnholm off the coast of Wales.  Visiting them, as Jacob does, becomes a magical mystery tour of the most fantastical kind, one filled with "ymbrynes" and "wights" and "hollowgasts" - people who are coming to take Jacob away as well as those who want him to stay with the children at the Home forever.  Doing so means that Jacob becomes part of their "loop," a single day-in-the-life of all the residents (September 3, 1940) that repeats, continually, until the end of time. It is a day that is part of Jacob's grandfather's own story and as such, woven into Jacob's.

I don't want to say too much more about this, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention the photographs.

Among the many qualities that make this story extraordinary is the inclusion of 50 photographs of children doing the exact things (levitating, appearing in duplicate via reflections when there is only one person) that the children at Miss Peregrine's do.  At right is an example of one from the book. Discovering that these are real photographs (all unaltered, except for one or two) that were found and curated by author Ransom Riggs (and other photo collectors) and woven into the narrative only adds to the spookiness surrounding this novel.

Some have criticized Riggs for his inclusion of the photographs, but they do more than add an element of truth and authenticity to this novel. As wonderful as Riggs's writing is in this book (his first novel, and an absolute triumph at that!), it is the photographs that enhance the feeling that one gets while reading this.  They're absolutely essential.

They levitate his words.

I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking something along the lines like: damn, Melissa ... this sounds way off the beaten path of things you typically read.  And you'd be right in thinking that because Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is, in fact, very different than my usual literary fare.  But something about this one (maybe all the rave reviews from bloggers) intrigued me enough to add this to my want-to-read list and I am oh-so-glad they did.

(And I'm not usually a sequel person, but I already can't wait to read more about these peculiar children.  Ransom Riggs's next installment of this story is due out in Spring 2013.)

Mark my words: this is perhaps one of the best possible books you can read now, in these days leading up to Halloween and as the weather turns colder and the days grow dark.  This is the perfect book to read by a fire, or cuddled up in a blanket on the couch with a glass of tea or cider.  You get the idea.

Now. Go get the book.*

* As much as I love my e-reader, DON'T get this one in the e-version.  You want to experience this one in print, because of the photographs.  Trust me.

What Other Bloggers Thought:

Capricious Reader

Fyrefly's Book Blog

Jenn's Bookshelves

Stainless Steel Droppings  (Carl is once again hosting the immensely popular and fun R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril reading challenge on his blog, and it is for this challenge that I decided to read Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. 

Urban Bachelorette

(There are about a million other reviews of this out there on the blogs ... did I miss yours?)

copyright 2011, Melissa, 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, October 18, 2011


Pittsburgh Zoo and PPQ Aquarium
Taken by me, 10/8/2011
"The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the National Institute of Health, defines Asperger Syndrome as a developmental disorder characterized by .... socially and emotionally inappropriate behavior and the inability to interact successfully with peers ... problems with non-verbal communication, including the restricted use of gestures .... " (from the Autism Speaks website)

5:38 a.m. on a Sunday morning.

Boo has already finished watching at least one online episode of "I'm in the Band" (maybe more), and his breakfast had been placed in front of him at the kitchen table. A breakfast buffet, he had requested, and a breakfast buffet was what I'd made.

Cranberry juice.  An omelet. Three waffles, with butter and sprinkled with chocolate chips.

Same as it ever was.

I stood at the sink, my back to my boy as he ate.  I lifted my coffee cup, the steam rising up, knowing this was only the first of several cups to come.  A wake-up time prior to 5 a.m., accompanied by full-on animated chatter about the boy's meticulously planned out schedule of television shows (online and otherwise) and "world premieres" of said shows, was (is) always a harbinger for a rough ride ahead.

Got all the ingredients for a rough ride of an autism day here, I'd facebooked yesterday.  Boy's been up since 5 a.m. and is finishing up his second consecutive hour of non-stop scripting (translation: he's reciting, verbatim from beginning to end, entire episodes of The Muppet Show).  Let Hour #3 commence now ....

I drank several long sips of my coffee, savoring the brief interlude of quiet, mentally bracing myself for the day to come.  A re-run, it seemed, of yesterday.

And then I felt it.

Little hands around my waist.  A head against the small of my back.  The gentlest of squeezes.  Great, I thought. My rattling around in the dishwasher for a spoon must have woken Betty up.

I turned, expecting to see her.

I was wrong.

"That was the BEST BREAKFAST BUFFET EVER!"  Boo enthused, giving me another hug.  I blinked in the gray-morning glow of the kitchen, astonished, but he had already let go and was back at the table, lifting each waffle in demonstration.

"See? How the butter and the chocolate chips are are blended together? THAT. IS. AWESOME."

"I'm really glad you like it, buddy," I said, knowing that those would be the only morsels of the waffles he would actually eat.

"This is the best breakfast buffet ever!" he repeated.

"Thank you, baby," I said, kissing the top of his head.

He's not an overly affectionate kid, my Boo.  Impromptu hugs from him are extremely rare, practically non-existant.  I can think of only one time in the past 10 years when he said "I love you" to me. So, this ... this was something else.

I went back to the sink, turned and watched him continuing to eat while I sipped the rest of my coffee.

Sustenance for the day ahead.

copyright 2011, Melissa, 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, October 16, 2011

The Sunday Salon: A Great Week for Books!

What a great week this has been for books, here in my little personal corner of the world. I refer not so much in terms of books completed (just one - the audiobook of The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, which I really enjoyed) but in terms of books acquired.

Aside from my occasional Kindle e-book purchase, typically $2.99 or less, book buying has become a bit of a luxury around here - and some days, even that $2.99 splurge feels like I'm buying a yacht. Still, that didn't stop me from wandering into Paper Kite Press and Books of Kingston, PA this week while I was in the Scranton area for work. (C'mon ... the store's motto is "Unusual Books for Unusual People and Other Literary Oddments, Amusements, and Geegaws."  YOU try resisting that.)

I spent I-don't-even-know-how-long chatting with owner Dan Waber (that's him there, partially hidden behind the counter, hard at work). We talked about books, Paper Kite's publishing ventures, the store's history and "pay what it is worth to you" philosophy, blogging, 'zines, his writing, his wife's writing (she would be one Jennifer Hill-Kaucher), the arts ... and probably a bunch of other stuff.  I perused 'zines and literary journals and chapbooks, relived yesterday once more with countless of my childhood favorites all together on one tall bookshelf, read some of the best poetry ever, photographed the ephemera of the shop, and (you know resistance is futile when one's mental immune system is down) treated myself to several books.

Mother Love, by Elizabeth Cohen
Questioning Walls Open, by Jennifer Hill-Kaucher 
Book of Days, by Jennifer Hill-Kaucher
Echolalia, by Dan Waber 
September 11, 2011 - American Writers Respond, edited by William Heyen
Writers and Company: In Conversation with Eleanor Wachtel

My Own Two Feet: A Memoir, by Beverly Cleary  (I didn't realize this was the second volume of Beverly Cleary's memoirs, so now I'm going to have to be on the hunt for the first one.) 

Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, by Stephen Greenblatt
The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets, by Ted Kooser 
Writing From Life: A Guide for Writing True Stories, by Heather Robertson

I'll have a much-longer and more detailed post up this week about the awesomeness that is Paper Kite Books and Press (and Dawn from She Is So Fond of Books has so kindly agreed to feature said post in Wednesday's Spotlight on Bookstores), but suffice it to say that my visit to Paper Kite made my spirits soar ... even before I spotted the Free Encouragement quote boxes sprinkled throughout.

As if that wasn't enough to fill one's soul, yesterday was our library's semi-annual book sale.  Autism-speaking, it was a rough beginning to the day ... so Betty and I went to the library so she could study for a math test and to escape what was three continuous hours of Boo's monologue. (He was reciting entire back-to-back episodes of The Muppet Show verbatim, shows that first premiered in the 70s, nearly three decades before he was born. And while this sounds utterly charming, I assure you that three hours of this most definitely is NOT.

So we retail-therapied ourselves with these treasures from the library sale (Betty bought five books, not pictured).

Nonfiction Books
Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year, by Anne Lamott
The Dance of Anger, by Harriet Lerner
Dance Me Outside, by W.P. Kinsella
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald: November 10, 1975, by Frederick Stonehouse
Encounters with Chinese Writers, by Annie Dillard
A Mind at a Time" America's Top Learning Expert Shows How Every Child Can Succeed, by Mel Levine
Driven to Distraction, by Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey 
Traveling with Pomegrantes: A Mother-Daughter Story, by Sue Monk Kidd and Anne Kidd Taylor
On Writing, by Stephen King 

Fiction Books

The Doctor's House, Ann Beattie
If On a Winter's Night a Traveler, by Italo Calvino

The Passage, by Justin Cronin (This is one that I am very iffy about ... but I caved because the price was certainly more than right and because Justin was, at one time, a writing teacher of mine.)

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard

A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick (I think I own this, but it is buried in storage, so I am not sure.)

The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne (I realized afterwards that I have this on my Kindle.) 

A Doll's House, by Henrik Ibsen
Here at the End of the World We Learn to Dance, by Lloyd Jones
The Virgin and the Gipsy, by D.H. Lawrence 
Skeleton Hill, by Peter Lovesey
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers

Ransom, by Jay McInerney (I think this might be the only McInerney that I haven't read. Love, love, love him!) 

Starting Out in the Evening, by Brian Morton
Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett
Accordian Crimes, by E. Annie Proulx
The Edge of Impropriety, by Pam Rosenthal
Nine Stories, by J.D. Salinger 
Luncheon of the Boating Party, by Susan Vreeland
Madame de Treymes and Three Novellas, by Edith Wharton
Summer, by Edith Wharton 

As for this upcoming week, I'm planning on listening to The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson and there will likely be time for a second audiobook, too.  I have several out from the library now (The Time Travellers Wife, Three Junes, The Maytrees, and Anne Frank Remembered). In print, I am thisclose to finally finishing up Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables (this is going on two weeks now ... ridiculous) and have two books due back to the library on Friday, without any more renewals.  (Those would be the short story collection, All Aunt Hagar's Children by Edward P. Jones and Ad Women: How They Impact What We Need, Want, and Buy by Juliann Sivulka.)  

Speaking of the library, we're heading there now for our second visit of the weekend.  Betty wants a quieter environment for studying for her math test, but if I know my girl, she won't be able to resist taking another look at the book sale .....  

copyright 2011, Melissa, 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.

Never Too Late

And as proof positive that there are more decently good people in Topeka, Kansas than not, I bring you this heartwarming story from the heartland (Topeka in particular):

copyright 2011, Melissa, 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, October 12, 2011

Topeka, Kansas Celebrates Domestic Violence Awareness Month by Changing Name to The Republic of Gilead

I've been on the road lately. A lot. So much so that I'm starting to feel like Johnny "I've Been Everywhere, Man" Cash.

All this driving gives one lots of time to think of blog posts - and I have 'em (taps head), but precious little time to write 'em.

But I could not let what happened on Tuesday night in Topeka, Kansas go by without giving you, as this blog's motto states, my two cents on sale.

This here video from MSNBC explains why I'm all fired up.

You see ... Topeka, Kansas is hurtin' for cash. (Yeah. Join the damn club.) I get that. So, what do the brain trusts of that fine city do?

They decide to "decriminalize domestic violence cases."

Read that again.

Basically, "decriminalizing domestic violence cases" is a nice way of saying that this crime (and mark my words, no matter what anyone says, IT IS A CRIME) doesn't exist. Poof.  Gone. Vanished. Abusers, start your engines. Topeka is rolling out the red carpet (stained with the blood of every person who has been physically and emotionally beaten or killed because of domestic violence) just for you, sweetcakes.

I mean, you really have to wonder what the fuck is going on in Topeka. Because, the people there?  Are just downright NUTS. (Some of you know that I know this for an absolute fact.) Topeka's the home of Those Freakin' Wackos From that Crazy-Ass So-Called Church That Shall Remain Nameless as to Not Give Them Any More Publicity.  You know the ones I'm talking about.  The ones who will probably be showing up at my funeral because of this very post. (Bring it, baby.)

Topeka's the city that once changed its name to Google, Kansas. (That wasn't that long ago.  How much did that publicity stunt cost the town, and how much did they get back in return?)

And now, they're the city that thinks domestic violence should be perfectly legal.  Because, even though the decision to cut the prosecution of these cases was made as a result of finger-pointing and machinations of who should be responsible for paying what and when and how, the reality that can't be denied is that this measure passed 7-3.

Those 7 people scare the freakin' bejeezus out of me because ... well, because TOPEKA scares the bejeezus out of me.

(Apparently, District Attorney Chadwick Taylor has manned up and had a change of heart. His office is going to make do with a little less cash, and start prosecuting domestic violence cases again.)

Whatever.  The point is, the damage has been done. Every single person who has been a victim of domestic violence - in Topeka, in Kansas, in the entire country - has been re-victimized again because of this stance. Because we who know the domestic violence field know the statistics.  We know how many cases go unreported.  We know that it is so many factors - the fear and the stigma and the shame - that make people afraid to report this, afraid to leave, afraid to talk about it.

The irony is that this decision happened in October, which is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which - in another irony - was noted by our own Vice President Joe Biden.  His Facebook status today was this:

Preventing domestic violence has been a cause close to the Vice President’s heart throughout his career. Domestic Violence Awareness Month this October is an opportunity to bring attention to violence against women and families, highlight the progress we’ve made, and evaluate the work that still needs to be done.

It appeared in my News Feed right after another link to the Topeka story (which, I strongly believe, Biden should comment on, but I'm not getting the big bucks to be his PR advisor).

The point is, Domestic Violence Awareness Month becomes just bullshit PR-spun crap when years of work, of education, of advocacy and awareness can be a pen-stroke away from oblivion.  For that's exactly what happened in Topeka on Tuesday, when millions of victims were trampled upon with this decision.  The work of countless of domestic violence activists was acknowledged Tuesday night in Topeka by the equivalent of a middle finger, a spit in the eye, a declaration by the powers-that-be who might as well have said "your life is worth shit and is something to scrimp on because YOU DON'T FREAKIN' MATTER TO US."

What does that say about us as a society?

I think it says that in Topeka taking two figurative steps backwards, it feels like we've also taken one literal step forward ... toward the future, one that looks a helluva lot like the Republic of Gilead as described in Margaret Atwood's novel, The Handmaid's Tale. 

Because that was the first thing I thought of when I heard of this situation.  Maybe that's because Margaret Atwood's novel is so fresh in my mind from recently re-reading it, but I think that things like this decision in Topeka confirm that Atwood's fictional Republic of Gilead is not far off in the future.

In America's heartland of Topeka, Kansas, it's already here.

"The newspaper stories were like dreams to us, bad dreams dreampt by others. How awful, we would say, and they were, but they were awful without being believable. They were too melodramatic, they had a dimension that was not the dimension of our lives. We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white pages at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories." 

"The Handmaid's Tale", by Margaret Atwood 

copyright 2011, Melissa, 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, October 9, 2011

The Sunday Salon:

It's a gorgeous Indian Summer weekend here in Pittsburgh. Truly, the weather here yesterday was beyond spectacular, and today promises to deliver more of the same.  Betty and I spent Saturday exploring the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, which means today becomes one of grocery shopping, dinners-made-in-advance, football - and of course, reading and blogging and catching up on the past week's worth (and then some) of your blogs.

On the reading front, I'm still struggling through The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne. (Doesn't that cover just scream "classic literature"?)  This one, which I'm reading for the group read being hosted in conjunction with the R.I.P. challenge, is much more slow-going for me than I expected.  I can't tell whether it is the book or the combination read/listen approach that I'm taking with this.

You see, I started off with the print version.  Then, I saw the audio at the library and realized it could be the perfect accompaniment audiobook-wise to my work travels this week.  I started listening on Tuesday morning somewhere around page 20 and by Friday, I had made it to the equivalent of page 145 in the print edition.

Roslyn Alexander's narration of this one is excellent.  I think this may be the first audio that I've listened to with Roslyn as the narrator, but I'll certainly be looking for her with other audiobooks.

That being said, I'm not sure that this one lends itself well to audio. During the past week, there have been many times when I've had to replay whole sections (entire chapters, almost) to insure that I was "getting" what was going on and who's who.  This isn't a mindless listen (or read); it's definitely one that demands some concentration. I'm usually listening to my audiobooks while listening to ONSTAR giving me directions to wherever I'm going that day. Usually I can do this pretty well, but not so much in my listening of The House of the Seven Gables ... which is why I'm hoping to finish this (the print version) today.

For the upcoming week, I think I have at least two audiobooks in my future, given the amount of travel that is on the schedule.  I'm looking at The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd as well as The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson.

The Secret Life of Bees is one that I have had on my TBR shelf for ... well, quite some time. I honestly can't remember where and when I bought this one, but that doesn't matter.  What does matter is that this is a TBR book that will be getting read!  (Since I have a lot of time in the car these days to devote to audiobooks, I'm trying to focus my listening on selections from the library that match up with books I already own.)

I'm also hoping to get to The Adoration of Jenna Fox, which I don't own but which definitely looks appealing.  From the description, it seems like it might fit into the categories for an R.I.P. Challenge read, no?  Or is it a stretch?

I'll defer to your wise judgment ... what do you think?


copyright 2011, Melissa, 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, October 5, 2011

Near Altoona, PA.  Taken by me, September 2011. 

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma -- which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most importantly, have courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” — Steve Jobs

copyright 2011, Melissa, 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, October 3, 2011

Book Review (Audio): Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen

by Jonathan Franzen 
Narrated by David LeDoux
24 hours, 17 minutes
Published by Macmillan Audio, 2010

God almighty, this is one big rambling ol' book.  I mean that in every sense of the word.  From the number of pages (562!) to the years that the novel spans, to the numerous topics and themes explored between the covers (not to mention in the bedcovers of the various characters), this one has a LOT going on.

So much is going on with this book that I'm somewhat tempted to take the easy way out on this review and tell you to mosey on over to my friend Sandy's blog, You've GOTTA Read This! and check out her excellent review.  I agree with absolutely every single word Sandy wrote about this one.

Like me, Sandy also listened to this on audio (all 19 discs of it). That's 24 hours and 17 minutes. And like me, neither one of us is likely to be telling folks that Freedom is one they've absolutely gotta read.  Or listen to, for  that matter.

I'll just come out and say it: in my opinion, this book is overly hyped.  There's no question that Jonathan Franzen is a decent enough writer. That he is (although, OK, I've read better).  In Freedom, it's almost like he's attempting to give his reader a modern-day Great American Novel, a book about "how we live now," but in my opinion, it falls short.  That's because (again, my opinion) there's just way too much dysfunction within the too many mostly miserable and unlikable characters within these pages. Some of the backstory seems excessive, especially the narratives about Walter's parents that appears towards the end and Patty's relationship with her family, also toward the end of the book.  And there is a plot twist near the end that seems almost glossed over - you could almost miss it if you're listening to the audio and mistakenly happen to fast-forward ahead - when in fact it is something that is significant to Walter.

The structure was a bit odd, too.  The first portion of the novel (from pages 29 through 187) is an autobiography written by one of the novel's main characters, Patty Berglund.  It's a manuscript written at her therapist's suggestion, and serves as a device for Franzen to show his reader why Patty the formative events in her high school and college years that made Patty into the wife, mother, and woman she is.  It also introduces the other characters - Patty's do-gooder husband, Walter; their rock star friend Richard; Patty and Walter's children, Joey and Jessica.

I didn't really mind the inclusion of this "autobiography," except it seemed a bit of a convenient literary crutch for Franzen, in some ways. All too often, during the narrative of the autobiography, Patty refers to herself as "the autobiographer," which is incredibly annoying.  She also doesn't mention her sister's name, which gets a bit irksome.  Maybe it's me, but those two things kind of bothered me (just as Richard is sometimes referred to as Richard and as Katz - his last name - in other places).

There's too much that Franzen is trying to accomplish within the theme of freedom, which he skillfully weaves throughout every part of the novel - although much moreso and a bit heavy-handed in the last third of the book.

You're probably wondering why I even kept listening to this, and at times I wondered that myself.  I can identify three reasons.  First, I wanted to experience a Jonathan Franzen book. People either seem to love the guy or not, and I wanted to find out which camp I was in.  (Somewhere in the middle, I've decided. We'll see if that is true when/if I read The Corrections, which I probably will.)  Jonathan Franzen is also scheduled to come to the area for a lecture next month, and I wanted to read one of his books beforehand in case I found myself with a new author crush. (Because God forbid I wind up skipping the lecture, then reading the book, and finding out that I loved it.  Then I'd have to kick myself for missing the lecture and a chance to see an author I love.)

(As it stands right now, I'm very much OK with missing the lecture.)

Secondly, despite all of my issues with Freedom, there's something about Franzen's writing and his ability to draw one into his characters' lives that resulted in my wanting to find out what eventually would happen, in the end, to Patty and Walter.  Maybe it's the fact that Patty and Walter's story really IS, in some ways, a reflection of how calcified many marriages become over time.

"... there was no way around the fact that when you dug up coal you also unearthed nasty chemicals like arsenic and cadmium that had been safely buried for millions of years. You could try dumping the poison back down into abandoned underground mines,  but it had a way of seeping into the water table and ending up in drinking water. It really was a lot like the deep shit that got stirred up when a married couple fought : once certain things had been said, how could they ever be forgotten again?" (pg. 333)

(I was listening to this while driving all over Fracking Country.)

And the third reason I stuck with Freedom was because of the audio. I could have seen this as one of my DNF books if I was reading the print version, but audio is absolutely the way to go here.  David LeDoux narration is excellent.  He did a great job with the various voices and inflections - although, it should be said that some of the descriptions of various ... acts are rather graphic.  There's one particular scene involving a bathroom and a missing wedding ring that is so nauseating and vile that I fast-forwarded through that section.

So, I don't really know about this one.  I ranked it a 3 ("I liked it") over on Goodreads because there were some parts I liked. Just not as many of them as I would have preferred.  

What Other Bloggers Thought:

5 Minutes for Books also listened to this and concurs that this is the way to go for this one.
Caribou's Mom
Life with Books
The Blue Bookcase
The Reading Ape has a brilliant literary review, comparing the premise of this to other books of its nature
Regular Rumination
She is Too Fond of Books didn't finish this one, saying "it’s very smooth and floaty; interesting for a bit, but tiresome after a while; a little warped, as if viewed through the wrong end of a scope." (That is a perfect description of this, Dawn!)

(There are a gazillion reviews of this one ... did I miss yours?)

copyright 2011, Melissa, 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, October 2, 2011

The Sunday Salon: Same Time, Last Year

It often strikes me as amusing that, for as much as we love our words, we bloggers often tend to get caught up in our numbers.

Keeping statistics (sometimes elaborate and complicated ones) chronicling our reading is very much the norm for many book bloggers - yours truly included. The Husband refers to my doing so as "the book blogger version of Fantasy Football."

As much I try not to be concerned about things like the number of books I'm on track to read in a year or how many books I've read to meet certain challenge requirements, sometimes it's too irresistible not to do so.

Last night I finished my 50th book of the year (Marcelo in the Real World, by Francisco X. Stork).  For some reason, 50 books always seems to serve as some sort of personal threshold for me. Perhaps it comes from a time (early-parenthood) when I couldn't even fathom that there would come a day when I would be able to once again read 50 books a year.  Maybe it is tangible proof that I really do read at least one book a week - not too shoddy of an accomplishment.  Whatever it is, something gets triggered when I hit that 50 book mark.

With the calendar page turned to October, it seemed to me that this milestone came especially late in the year. Earlier this spring and summer, when we were getting the house ready for sale, my reading slowed down considerably. But it has picked up pace lately, especially in regard to my consumption of audiobooks. I decided to do what any good book blogger would do. When I went back into the vault and saw my Sunday Salon post for October 3, 2010, I discovered that I reached the 50th book milestone this same time last year.

Given that I read 79 books last year, that's encouraging.  Still, I have my doubts that I have 29 more books in me for the remainder of 2011 ... but we shall see, won't we?  

Related to all this craziness, September saw me finishing these 5 books (one of which was an audiobook).   Links take you to my reviews:

Marriage Confidential: The Post-Romantic Age of Workhorse Wives, Royal Children, Undersexed Spouses, and Rebel Couples Who Are Rewriting the Rules, by Pamela Haag

It's hard to count this one as a book I finished this month, because eagle-eyed readers may recognize this as a book I was reading just prior to our move in August.  I had to return it to the library unfinished, but I was able to get it from my new library and finish the last 100 or so pages. 

Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand 

Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen (audiobook) 

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs 

For today, I think I will be starting off the week by catching up on as many of your blogs as possible. This weekend, we're all-sports, all-the-time in this house, with football on TV today and of course, the same for baseball.  I need to catch up on some work from this week, perhaps make a soup in the crockpot (it is a rainy and cold day here, so I'm thinking along the lines of some kind of potato soup or perhaps split pea) and a dinner or two for later in the week.  Hopefully I'll also have a chance to start in on what seems to be the perfect rainy day book, Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables. (I'm participating in the group read being hosted by Frances and Audrey that is part of this year's R.I.P. Challenge.) I also have this on audio, so I'll be listening to this in the car during my work travels this week.   

Hope your literary travels take you to exciting places this week!

copyright 2011, Melissa, 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.