Monthly Archives: December 2009

Top five book picks of 2009

I have read 42 books this year. This is a far cry from what I usually am able to read in a year, which is around 70 books or more. I blame being very ill at the beginning of the year and beginning a new part-time job a couple of months ago. And a touch of laziness. OK, and an obsession with “Doctor Who.”

The following are my top five picks of 2009. They’re listed in chronological order in which they were read, rather than by preference, because asking to choose favorites between books is like asking a parent to choose a favorite amongst their children.

1. “Dead and Gone” by Charlaine Harris

What it’s about — “Except for Sookie Stackhouse, folks in Bon Temps, Louisiana, know little about vamps-and nothing about weres. Until now. The weres and shifters have finally decided to reveal their existence to the ordinary world. At first all goes well. Then the mutilated body of a were-panther is found near the bar where Sookie works-and she feels compelled to discover who, human or otherwise, did it. But there’s a far greater danger threatening Bon Temps. A race of unhuman beings-older, more powerful, and more secretive than vampires or werewolves-is preparing for war. And Sookie finds herself an all-too human pawn in their battle.”

Why I liked it — This was the ninth installment in the Sookie Stackhouse novels, and it just keeps better and better. I find many of the series I read start to get a bit old after a while (I’m looking at you, Anita Blake), but every time a new Sookie book comes out, I devour it. I can usually read it within a day. They’re not perfect books by any means, and this one isn’t my favorite of the series, but it’s a series I look forward to very much. And despite some continuity errors in this latest installment, I was very happy with the relationship progression between Sookie and my favorite vampire.

2. “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” by Alison Weir

What it’s about — “The tempestuous, bloody, and splendid reign of Henry VIII of England (1509-1547) is one of the most fascinating in all history, not least for his marriage to six extraordinary women. In this accessible work of brilliant scholarship, Alison Weir draws on early biographies, letters, memoirs, account books, and diplomatic reports to bring these women to life. Catherine of Aragon emerges as a staunch though misguided woman of principle; Anne Boleyn, an ambitious adventuress with a penchant for vengeance; Jane Seymour, a strong-minded matriarch in the making; Anne of Cleves, a good-natured and innocent woman naively unaware of the court intrigues that determined her fate; Catherine Howard, an empty-headed wanton; and Catherine Parr, a warm-blooded bluestocking who survived King Henry to marry a fourth time.”

Why I liked it — I cannot remember the last time I read a non-fiction book. But I became addiction to Showtime’s “The Tudors” to the point where I wanted to know more about what really happened between ol’ Henry and his six wives (because I know “The Tudors” takes way too many liberties with the actual history), and there’s only so much to read on Wikipedia. Not that I trust the Wiki as a reliable source. So I bought this book written by someone who has spent her life studying English history. It was massive! I thought I’d never be able to get through it. But once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. I discovered a fascination with Tudor history I didn’t know I had. I also discovered that Anne of Cleves was probably the luckiest of all his wives, and certainly my favorite.

3. “The Monstrumologist” by Rick Yancey

What it’s about — “‘These are the secrets I have kept. This is the trust I never betrayed. But he is dead now and has been for more than forty years, the one who gave me his trust, the one for whom I kept these secrets. The one who saved me…and the one who cursed me.’ So begins the journal of Will Henry, orphaned assistant to Dr. Pellinore War throp, a man with a most unusual specialty: monstrumology, the study of monsters. In his time with the doctor, Will has met many a mysterious late-night visitor, and seen things he never imagined were real. But when a grave robber comes calling in the middle of the night with a gruesome find, he brings with him their most deadly case yet.”

Why I liked it — I used to be such a horror fan when I was younger, but hadn’t read a good make-sure-there-are-no-monsters-under-your-bed book in a very long time. “The Monstrumologist” is technically a young adult book, but technically, so is the “Harry Potter” series. This is the first in a series and I can’t wait to read the next one. I had forgotten what it was like to get scared while reading a book. It’s deliciously creepy and gory and it’ll keep you up at night. Everyone needs a good monster story every once in a while.

4. “The Third Secret” by Steve Berry

What it’s about — “Fatima, Portugal, 1917: The Virgin Mary appears to three peasant children, sharing with them three secrets, two of which are soon revealed to the world. The third secret is sealed away in the Vatican, read only by popes, and not disclosed until the year 2000. Vatican City, present day: Papal secretary Father Colin Michener is concerned for the Pope. Night after restless night, Pope Clement XV enters the Vatican’s Riserva, the special archive open only to popes, where the Church’s most clandestine and controversial documents are stored. Though unsure of the details, Michener knows that the Pope’s distress stems from the revelations of Fatima. When Pope Clement sends Michener to the Romanian highlands, then to a Bosnian holy site, in search of a priest—possibly one of the last people on Earth who knows Mary’s true message—a perilous set of events unfolds. Michener finds himself embroiled in murder, suspicion, suicide, deceit, and his forbidden passion for a beloved woman. In a desperate search for answers, he travels to Pope Clement’s birthplace in Germany, where he learns that the third secret of Fatima may dictate the very fate of the Church—a fate now lying in Michener’s own hands.”

Why I liked it — I do love a “Catholic conspiracy” novel. Steve Berry gets a lot of comparison to Dan Brown, and while I have to agree that Brown’s stories are more riveting, personally, I think Berry is the better writer. I could hardly put this book down. It made me late for work a couple of times! The ending disturbed me a little bit, but it was still, overall, a very good book. This is a stand-alone, which is a pity because I did not want it to end.

5. “The Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold

What it’s about — “‘My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.’ So begins the story of Susie Salmon, who is adjusting to her new home in heaven, a place that is not at all what she expected, even as she is watching life on eath continue without her — her friends trading rumors about her disappearance, her killer trying to cover his tracks, her grief-stricken family unraveling.”

Why I liked it — This book was different from all the others I have read this year. Even though it does have a bit of a supernatural twist to it (Susie watching her family from heaven), it didn’t have the feel of the usual fantasy novel. I first learned about this book when I saw a preview for the movie. I was curious about the story, so I went in search of the book on Amazon to see what it was about. I impulsively bought it and again, couldn’t put it down. It was sad and hopeful all at the same time. I honestly don’t want to see the movie now, because I cannot comprehend how they could turn this lovely book into a film.

***

2009 was a good year for book reading, even if I didn’t get to read as many as I usually do and despite the fact that I also read “Twilight.” I’m looking forward to what 2010 has to offer.

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“New Moon” in Twenty-five, er, -six Tweets

New Moon Ch. 1-Bella emos over being 18. Paper cut sends vamps into blood frenzy (though being thrown into a mirror in last book didn’t).

Ch. 2-Boring backstory. Bella blames herself for being so scrumdiddlyumptious. Eddy is moody (but perfect). What could possibly happen next?

Ch. 3-Eddy dumps Bella. Too bad the book doesn’t end here. Bella curls up in the mud for HOURS. Oh, honestly, honey. Grow a spine.

Interlude: October, November, December, January. Arguably SMeyer’s best writing to date.

Ch. 4-Bella is still emo. Big shock. Goes to see movie with Jess, but ignores her. Takes 7 pgs to walk across street just to hear E’s voice.

Ch. 5-B is still emo. Shocking. Gets a motorcyle with a plan to be reckless. Takes it to Jacob to fix. J’s mutant growth pattern continues.

Ch. 6-B slightly less emo. Begins slutting it up to Jake. B upset that her friends are ignoring her. Gee, wonder why. Bears roam the woods.

Ch.7-B still empty. Duh. Bikes are done. J worries Sam might be a cult leader. Or a pedo. Bella consoles but thinks cliff diving = way cool.

Ch.8-B finds that attempted suicide = Eddykin’s delicious voice. Jake give B his shirt when she falls off her bike. Shirt never seen again.

Ch.9-Bella, Jake and Mike go to the movies. Awkward. Mike gets sick. Bella gets sick. Jake gets sick and sprouts hair in odd places.

Ch.10-J doesn’t call. OMG! B hikes and finds meadow and evil vamp who wants to eat her. B doesn’t seem to mind. Big bad wolf saves the day.

Ch.11-J still hasn’t called. OMG! Only logical reason=he’s joined a cult. J cuts his hair off, tells B to beat it. B emos herself to sleep.

CH.12-J is all, “Psych!” Drops bolder-sized hints on being wolfy. B doesn’t get it until she dreams it. OMG! Werewolf! OMG! They’re killers!

Ch.13-Ok, so, not killers. Unless you’re a vamp. B realizes evil female vamp looking for some payback. J takes B to meet the Shirtless Cult.

Ch.14-Shirtless Cult not happy to see Bella. J fursplodes on one of them. Now wearing less clothing. B meets Emily, Sam’s fiancee/chew toy.

Ch.15-B misses E’s voice. Decides to go cliff jumping without J. Jumping is easy. Swimming, not so much. Eddy’s voice is all, “Told you so.”

Ch.16-J saves B. Dammit. New Moon=Romeo+Juliet, only without all the dying. Dammit. J smells vamp. Bella knows vamp’s car. Could it be Eddy?

CH.17-Is not Eddy, is Alice checking up to see if B had drowned. Charlie makes funeral arrangements for Harry. Jake all pissed over Alice.

Ch.18-Jake tells Eddy Charlie is at ‘the funeral.’ Eddy heads to Italy to commit death by Volturi. Bella leaves with Alice to the rescue!

Ch.19-On the plane, Alice “sees” that of all the ways to piss off Volturi, Eddy has chosen “death by sparkling.” I can’t make this crap up.

Ch.20-Bella skips through Italian fountain to stop E from sparkling in palazzo. B no longer feels like Swiss cheese! B&E taken to Volturi.

Ch.21-Aro can’t read B’s mind either (she doesn’t have one!) B must be made vamp or eaten. Alice foresees vamp. American tourists are tasty.

Ch.22-B glad to have Eddy back (and her toothbrush). Fly back to Forks. Charlie pissed. Bella faints. Again. Eddy carries B to her room.

Ch.23-B can’t live without E. E can’t live without B. B wants to be sparkly, but E says Volturi won’t check til she’s 30. You know, old. :\

Ch.24-Cullens vote on B becoming vamp. Majority rules, but B has to marry E first. Screw college. Gives Charlie ultimatum about Eddy. Wimp.

Ep.-Jake tries to talk sense into Bella. Bella tells Jake she’s just not that into him. Jake warns Eddy against biting. THE END (only, not)

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An improbable anniversary

Mom, Dad and Ben

The 278th left for Camp Shelby last week with plans for deployment to Iraq in February. I don’t have any family or know anyone who has been or will be deployed to war on foreign soil, but I can’t help wonder what it must have been like for my dad, who was sent to Vietnam in 1967. I can’t really imagine the things he saw there, even after listening to his stories. But I also can’t help to be in some part grateful that he did serve – because if he hadn’t been sent halfway around the world to fight, he would never have met my mother and my brother and I would not have been born.

But the story of how my parents met doesn’t begin with an American soldier in Vietnam. It begins, as my mother tells it, with two drunken English sailors in a bar.

My mother is from Sydney, Australia. In 1969, she was training to be a nurse with dreams of traveling the world. During the war, Sydney was a popular destination for soldiers on R&R, and my mother’s parents had joined a program that offered hospitality and home cooking to soldiers on leave. So when the father of a friend of my mother’s gave his daughter’s address to two English sailors in a local pub one night, it set in motion a chain of events that would cause my mother to leave her family and country behind to marry my father.

The two English sailors eventually ended up in Hong Kong where their ship was docked next to an American ship on its way to Vietnam. They passed mom’s friend’s address to the American sailors, who eventually wrote and asked if she had some friends who would like to become pen pals. My mother volunteered and began corresponding with a young sailor named Eric.

They wrote to each other for several months. From listening to my mother’s stories, I gather this Eric was a bit sweet on her. But he made a mistake one day when he heard a soldier from Tennessee whose Army unit was stationed on board his ship mention he was heading to Sydney on his leave. He gave the soldier my mother’s name and address along with some money and asked him to send her some flowers on his behalf when he got there.
Instead, the dashing young soldier arrived in Sydney, obtained my mother’s phone number and asked her to dinner – using the money the sailor had given him for flowers.

It was June 1968, and my mother had just finished her nurse’s training and obtained a position at a hospital in Toronto, Canada. She and a couple of friends were leaving in a week to sail across the Pacific and tour America before beginning their new jobs in Canada. Meeting an American soldier on a blind date was one last hurrah.

They hit it off and mom enjoyed his company so much, she invited him to her bon voyage party at her parents’ house the next day. Dad got to meet her whole family at the party and gave Mom his address so they could write when he returned to the war.

Dad left to return to Vietnam the same day my mother left Australia. She wrote to him several times over the next few months, but didn’t hear back from him for a long time, as the mail was often slow and unreliable.

In spring of 1969, Mom got an opportunity to drive across Canada to Vancouver with some friends. She had to quit her job to do so, but she wanted to travel and see new parts of the world. When she got to Vancouver, she got a surprise visit – from Eric, her first pen pal. They had never met in person before, though Mom had met his family when they came to meet their son’s pen pal when her ship docked in Los Angeles the summer before. Eric asked her if she wanted to drive with him to LA from Vancouver, and Mom agreed, always up for an adventure.

But before they left, her roommates in Toronto had forwarded her mail to Vancouver – including a letter from my dad. He was back in America, stationed in San Antonio, and wanted to know if she would be interested in meeting again. Mom was already headed to LA. She figured she could stop in San Antonio on her way back to Toronto.

And thus began their courtship. Through letters, phone calls and the occasional visit, they built a relationship. One night, in late October of 1969, Dad called her again and asked if she could come see him – but this time he wanted her to stay. My father proposed to my mother over the phone. She had to call him back to ask if he was serious. He was, and she accepted.

She flew to San Antonio in November, but because she wasn’t an American citizen, the Army wouldn’t let them get married. But he had only five weeks left until he was due to be discharged, so they waited. On Dec. 13, 1969, they were married here in Crossville in his brother’s living room.

My mother once counted the number of days they were actually together before they got married. They saw each other for only 30 days. Nearly their entire courtship was done via letters and phone calls.

My brother likes to tell people that our parents met when our mother was being held captive by Charlie in the jungles of Vietnam and our dad bravely fought his way through the enemy camp and rescued her, fell in love at first sight, and lived happily ever after. And while that scenario sounds like something out of a 1980s Chuck Norris movie, their meeting was no less amazing in and of itself. If America hadn’t gone to war with Vietnam, if Dad’s first letter to Mom hadn’t arrived before she left Vancouver, if my mother’s friend’s father had never met those two English sailors in a bar – my parents would never have met, let alone recently celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.

My dad is my hero and my mother is my best friend. I love them both, and cannot begin to express how grateful I am for everything they’ve ever done for me and my brother.

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad. May you have 40 more wonderful years together.

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A conversation with my mother

Mom: “Is there anything special you’d like for Christmas?”

Me: “A Tardis to put on my desk at work.”

Mom: “What’s a Tardis?”

Me: “You know. The Doctor’s space ship? From Doctor Who?”

Mom: “So you want a model of a ship?”

Me: “Yeah. It looks like a police box.”

Mom: “It’s not a ship?”

Me: “It’s a ship. But it looks like a police box.”

Mom: “What’s a police box?”

Me: “It’s like a phone booth.”

Mom: “So it’s a phone booth.”

Me: “Sort of. You know those red, English phone booths like those people down the street have in their front yard? Like that. But blue.” (They really do have one.)

Mom: “So you want a blue phone booth. That’s really a space ship. For your desk.”

Me: “That’s right.”

Mom: “…”

Me: “…”

Mom: “So, in other words, you’d like money for Christmas.”

Me: “That’ll work, too.”

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Finding refuge in “Dollhouse”

Even though it was announced a few weeks ago that “Dollhouse” was being canceled, I am still eagerly looking forward to the remain episodes, which begin tonight.

I’ve been a loyal viewer from the beginning, though at first I wasn’t sure I was going to like, as the series did have a bit of a slow start. But towards the middle of the season, it really started picking up. And then I bought the DVDs and watched the DVD-only episode “Epitaph One” and it really blew my mind.

It is a scary, scary future to think about… personality replacement being used as a weapon. But despite the apocalyptic future depicted in “Epitaph One,” I can’t help being fascinated by the concept of the Dollhouse. I’m about to lose some feminism points, I think, when I say that the idea of being a doll is somewhat… appealing to me.

I read a lot. I watch way too much TV for my own good. And I do these things as a form of escapism. “Dollhouse” plays fast and loose with the ideas of morality and ethics, but in a way that makes you think about them. And still, I find part of myself wishing I could be one of them. To escape my life, which I find hard to deal with at times, and to be something more exciting… even if I can’t remember any of it at the end of the day.

And I realize that makes me sound a bit crazy, because if you’ve seen the show, you’d know it’s not just about the exploitation of a body, but of the mind and soul.

And now, to make myself sound incredibly more emo (I’m totally blaming my recent foray into the insanity that is Twilight), I sometimes feel like an active awaiting assignment. I go through the motions of my day. Get up. Go to work. Come home. Watch TV. Go to bed. It’s like I’m waiting for my life to happen. What I wouldn’t give to be someone else, if only for a little while.

Of course, I could never be a doll, because I’m not smokin’ hot like Eliza Dushku, but I can understand why some of the characters chose to put themselves in that situation. Even if it is only fictional.

As I sit here at work, watching the clock tick ever more slowly towards quittin’ time, I eagerly await my two hours of escapism tonight, courtesy of the “Dollhouse.”

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It’s war out there

The battle lines have apparently been drawn.

I live in a “restricted community.” I know this because it says so on the sign leading into our subdivision. Classy, no?

My parents bought the very first lot when the area started to be developed. Our was the first house to begin construction. Because dad likes to build as much of his houses as possible to save money, it wasn’t the first house completed. Three other families had moved in before we did, but they have long since moved away. Meaning our family has lived there the longest.

Our house isn’t fancy, and it kind of stands out now that the neighborhood has gone all posh (or at least it does to me). Somehow, the houses being built around us started getting bigger and bigger and we had doctors, lawyers and rich (mostly Yankee) retirees move in. And that’s when it all went to hell.

A group of homeowners got together a few years ago and decided to form a property owners association (POA). Which basically boiled down to a bunch of people driving around, looking for anything they felt was against the neighborhood covenants to cause trouble.

Recently, it’s all come to a head. Earlier in the year, the busybodies decided our nice sign needed replacing. I will agree that there was a little crumblage on on corner, but nothing that couldn’t be easily and cheaply fixed. But no, they wanted a brand spankin’ new sign. And everyone who lived in the neighborhood had to pay for it.

We (and some other households) refused.

Since then we’ve gotten several threatening letters regarding legal action if we do not cough up the money. Whatever. There is nothing in the covenants about a POA, and we are not members, so we don’t have to pay.

A couple of weeks ago, someone sent in an announcement to run in the paper that said something along the lines of “Due to the disbandment of the [neighborhood] POA, please send your yearly dues and any money owed for the new sign to [local charitable organization].”

I thought it was weird, but I’m not a member, so I don’t know anything that goes on in those meetings.

Cue angry phone call this week from the president of the POA demanding to know who put it in the paper that it was disbanded when it HAS NOT.

Oh dear.

They called four times and then showed up in person this morning demanding a retraction, demanding to know why we don’t fact check everything that comes in (if we had to do that, we’d never get a paper out), blah, blah, etc.

My parents think the whole thing is hilarious. It is, in a way, but it’s also giving me a headache because I’m kind of caught in the middle now.

I’ve never wanted to be one of those “Yankee, go home” people, but in this case, I think I might have to make an exception.

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“Twilight” in 25 Tweets

After summarizing the first five chapters of Twilight on Twitter, I was asked to continue. I decided to take it as a challenge in order to help me get through the book: summarize each of Twilight‘s 25 chapters in one tweet (140 characters or less). It… really wasn’t as hard as I thought it’d be.

Chapter one: Bella, honey, quit whining and get over yourself.

Chapter two: Edward disappears. Bella mopes, so nothing new there. Also, Forks sucks.

Chapter three: Bella is clumsy. Yes, we get that already! Can I join Team Tyler’s Van? Also, Forks sucks.

Chapter four: Bella’s been in town 2-3? weeks, and that Cullen kid is already telling her what to do. Does not bode well. Also, Forks sucks.

Chapter five: Bella is clumsy AND faints at the sight of blood. Oh yeah, this relationship will last. Also, Forks sucks, but not as bad.

Ch. 6 — Jacob anticlimactically outs the Cullens as being vampires and has a thing for older women. Also, Bella is apparently a whore.

Ch. 7 — Bella has wet dream about Edward & reminds us she’s read every classical book ever. Also, her computer seems to have a virus.

Ch. 8 — Cliched near-rape/rescue. Bella thinks it perfectly normal Edward stalking her (and reading minds). Eddy dazzles. Also, Coke plug!

Ch. 9-Eddy gives rundown on being a faux vamp. PETA wouldn’t approve. Bella has to change panties after Eddy breathes on her. Also, twu luv.

Ch. 10-Eddy grills Bella on her likes/dislikes. For 22 pgs. Kill me now. Eddy is now Bella’s sugar daddy. Also, bear hunting not in season.

Ch. 11-Eddy and Bell turned on by Bio film. Spend afternoon in his car doing eye porn. Jacob shows up for dinner. Also, ‘inescapable jeans.’

Ch. 12-Bell serves menfolk dinner. Cold-meds herself into sleep. Eddy takes clumsiest gal in Forks hiking. Also, sunshine: butter or Parkay?

Ch.13-Eddy *sparkles* and compares Bella to heroin. Nice. Didn’t even get to 2nd base. Bella is horny. More eye porn. Also, adjective abuse.

Ch.14-B doesn’t find it creepy that E’s been in her room every night. Asks about vampsex. Too harmful for humans. Also, still no foreplay.

Ch.15-Ed takes Bella to meet the fam; backstory on the Cullens. Most interesting chapter yet, but comes too late. Also, lame foreshadowing.

Ch.16-Carlisle’s story. Held my attention for all of 8 pgs. E&B cuddle in E’s room. Alice dances. Everywhere. Also, baseball. Still no plot.

Ch.17-Meet the parents continues. Vampire baseball ain’t yo mama’s baseball. Alice dances some more. Also, Bella’s hair hides her B.O.

Ch.18-After 380 pages, PLOT! Vamp trio arrive and surprise! (not) one of them wants Bella. To eat. If only. Also, I’m now Team James.

Ch.19-Bella totally wails on her dad as a cover to run & hide. (And he TAKES IT! WTF?) Lovers part. Also, Bella is now carried everywhere.

Ch.20-Bella describes in detail stuff she can’t remember. Yeah, this chapter lost me. Hiding out with Cullens w/o Eddy. Also, 75 pgs to go!

Ch.21-James lays out his evil plot: Simon Says-ing B to death. Lures her away. B leaves ‘Dear John’ letter for Eddy. Also, still Team James.

Ch.22-James v. Bella, round 1 FIGHT! James breaks villain rule #1: talking too much. Bella bleeds. Also, Alice’s story way more interesting.

Ch.23-Plot OVER! Lasted 70 pages. Didn’t even get fight scene due to B passing out. Eddy sucks out vamp poison. 😦 Also, Bella’s lips MIA.

Ch.24-B’s cover story for injuries? “I’m clumsy.” Wants to go back to Forks which I guess doesn’t suck anymore. Also, Renee is a cougar.

Ep.-Eddy takes B to prom. B pissed because she wants to be a vampire, not a prom date. Also, Jacob has a growth mutation. THE END (if only.)

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