Sunday, September 8, 2013

After Life........

Here is the promised follow up to my original post about this book. I finished it last week and I still don't know what I think of it.  It continues to get rave reviews but overall it left me somewhat disenchanted.  I greatly admire Atkinson's writing and the concept of the story but it was just so hard to listen to parts of the story over and over again.  At times it was a case of "enough already!"  The stories within the stories were often based on occurrences that you were already entirely familiar with.  There was just a small twist to the section that brought about a different ending. It got more than a bit tedious toward the end.

The author does attempt to tie things together in the final chapter.  She hints at a reason for there being a "life after life" but there's no real resolution.  Can you say "reincarnation?" Can you really rely on that final chapter?  Can you pick your own ending? 

In reading over my reaction to the book, I feel like I tried as hard as I could to love this book, like so many others. I just couldn't.  Am I glad I finished it?  You bet.  Will I read another Atkinson novel?  You bet. Will it be on a lot of "best of 2013" lists?  You bet.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Double DUH!

Okay, it's been a long time since I've written a good old fashioned rant here.  Just within the last couple of days, I've come across some really stupid corporate moves.  Here goes.........

I left my job with the State of Maine at the end of June.  I was eligible for COBRA benefits, which I thought I was going to need.  Much to my delight I was covered by my new library's policy after just a week.  Thank goodness.  Why?  Because I just received a letter from the State, dated August 22nd, about picking up COBRA.  Well, that's a little late, ain't it?  Hello.........almost two months have gone by.  Oh, and the best part???!!!???  I had to respond by JULY 15th to prevent my benefits from being dropped.  (I will be honest and say that if I had really needed the coverage, I would have been on the phone bugging them about it long before the 22nd of August.) No wonder bureaucracies and bureaucrats get such a bad rep. DUH.

Ineptitude is not limited to state agencies.  We got a call a couple of weeks ago from Downeast Energy, who has been our oil/propane company for several years.  They wanted to know if we had gotten our quote for this year's contract.  I called them back on the 22nd (was there something in the water that day???? See above.) and they said they would send something along.  They never said when and they never gave any sense of urgency to the request.  I picked up the mail on the 24th and there wasn't anything from them.  I didn't pick up the mail again until the 29th and there is a letter with our quote telling us that the offer was only good for TWO days.  Um, it took longer than that for the letter to get to us and I had no need to pick up the mail between then and Thursday.  I called the company and they told me that they would probably honor the price (the CSA said that prices are changing every day....) if I mailed them a check right away, which I did.  If an offer is only good for TWO days, don't ya think ya should tell people when you're on the phone with them?!?!  DUH!

The End Is Near.....

What would you do if you knew that the world might end in the next week as an asteroid capable of destroying the earth was heading your way?  For three teens connected to an island off the Massachusetts coast they are less concerned about the end of the world than they are about figuring out their place in the world.  Zan is dealing with the death of her boyfriend.  Caden is dealing with his relationship with his parents, especially his absentee father.  Sienna is dealing with her mental health issues and family situation.  Boyfriend, family, and sanity just about covers all the issues that teens face all the time - at least the teens that I've talked with and read about.  (All that's missing is school.)

This is a YA debut novel by Alexandra Coutts that should have a somewhat broad appeal.  The characters are interesting as is their relationship to one another.  Toward the end there is a connection that brings the three stories together - more than just the asteroid.

I normally don't make time to read YA, but there was something in the premise of this book that drew me in.  It was a good break from all the adult fiction that I've been concentrating on.  I liked the girls' stories but found Caden's too shallow.  I didn't like certain ways in which his father tried to reach out to him to make up for lost time (one approach in particular left me saying, "Really??????), but I guess when you're down to one week, you really try to cover all the bases (Ouch - bad baseball and sexuality reference). The asteroid should have been an important additional character but it wasn't and the book could have been written without it for the most part.  Overall, a good break and I'm sure that many of the teens who read this will enjoy it.

I  think this author has potential and I would definitely give her another go-around.

This is based on an advanced reader's copy that I received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) through NetGalley.  Thank you both.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

If you don't get it right the first time......

I am having a total love/hate relationship with Kate Atkinson's Life After Life. The story focuses on Ursula Todd, born in England on a stormy winter's night in 1910.  She dies at birth.....or does she?  Well, she does and she doesn't.  Ursula is born again, but then she drowns as a young child...or does she?  Well, she does and she doesn't.  Ursula is saved, but then she's raped in a back stairwell by her brother's American friend.  She has an illegal abortion, develops and infection and dies....or does she?  Then there's the abusive husband who tracks her down and bludgeons her to death....or does he? Can you see the pattern here?  Along comes WWII and Ursula dies in London in the Blitz and she dies in Berlin...or does she? Atkinson keeps brining back Ursula, not from the brink of death, but never really letting her die - she is always in different circumstances.  The characters that share the story with Ursula never change, it's just Ursula who lives out what seems to be cat-like nine lives.

Ursula is always a member of the same family - Hugh, Sylvie, Pamela, Teddy, Jimmy and Maurice - her father, mother, and siblings respectively.  They never change.  Hugh is always the staid banker and Sylvie the rather shallow and dramatic mother.  Teddy and Jimmy are the sweet brothers and Pammy is the stalwart sister and confidante.  Maurice represents the dark side of the family with his meanness in childhood and self-importance in adulthood.  Then there's the aunt, Izzy, who as Sylvie's antithesis, provides a safehaven for Ursula at various times in her various lives.

Atkinson is a phenomenal writer, known for her popular Jackson Brodie mystery series.  The stories that she presents in this novel are compelling in and of themselves.  Her characters are well-developed, including Ursula whose life changes constantly.  What is driving me crazy, as I listen to this (Fenella Woolgar is an excellent reader), is the repetition of parts of the story.  Much of the story takes place during WWII.  Ursula always seems to have the same job, but her lovers change and her location changes, all with striking effects upon the story.  Right now, Ursula is part of a search and rescue team attending to a bombed out home where in another part of the book Ursula lived and "died."

Sometimes I feel like I'm reading one of those children's books where you choose your own ending. Other times I feel like these are scenes from the cutting room floor that are retrieved to retell the story until the director gets it right.  What I always feel is that this is a unique reading experience because while there are aspects of the story that drive me crazy, I love the way Atkinson ties everything together with a twist.  You have to keep reading (or in my case, listening) to see what happens.  What will be the ultimate fate for Ursula?  How will her presence in a particular place at a particular time affect the outcome?  How long can this go on and still remain a compelling story?  Well, I'll be happy to let you know as soon as I do.  In the meantime go out and get the book for yourself and enjoy the ride with me.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Pressure Is Mounting

Well, we're coming up on two months since my last post.  Ugh!  What this really means is that the pace of my reading has slowed down tremendously.  Why, oh why?  Can you say Bejeweled, Papa Pear Saga, and Facebook?  Not entirely to blame, but close.  You would think that I'd be more diligent in my reading since I belong to what I consider a pretty great book club - the Maine Readers' Choice Award.  While we're waiting for Mainers to read our 2013 finalists and vote in September, I have the opportunity to read some great books for next year's award.  Time to get my act together.

I've already recommended a few books for "The List."  Elizabeth Strout's "The Burgess Boys" is the story of a young Maine man whose hate crime causes ripples throughout his family.  Herman Koch's "The Dinner" is another story of a family affected by a heinous criminal act. Even though I'm just about 2/3 of the way through it, Colm McCann's "Transatlantic" deserves a recommendation.  This novel centers around Ireland and spans more than 100 years - from a visit by freed slave Frederick Douglass to the efforts of Maine Senator George Mitchell to negotiate peace in Northern Ireland.  And, it looks like Claire Messud's "The Woman Upstairs" is on it way to a recommendation.  A lonely middle-aged teacher becomes overly attached to a family living in her building.  This looks like it's heading for a disasterous ending - stay tuned.

In the meantime, it's back to reading (after one more game of Papa Pear Saga).  What you can do is check out the Maine Readers' Choice Award at

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

An interesting turn of the phrase.....

Now that the finalists have been chosen for the 2013 Maine Readers' Choice Award, it's time to start accumulating a list of worthy entrants for the next round.  I'm paying close attention to what books are generating significant buzz in print and online.  It's a challenge but I'm loving it.  One that I've suggested to our committee is The Dinner by Dutch author Herman Koch, a disturbing novel about a hideous crime, sibling rivalry, and family secrets.

However, another book that has caught my attention because it seems to be everywhere is Claire Messud's The Woman Upstairs.  While I'm not that far into the book, I have to pause to comment on a particular phrase the author uses.  The author describes a maple tree "ruffled against the spotless 9/11 sky..." I'm not exactly sure why, but reading this caused me to pause and think.  Was it because it's so hard to forget just how clear and blue the sky was that horrible day?  Was it because using "9/11" seemed to trivialize that horror?  Or, was it because "9/11" is such a part of our national psyche that we instantly identify with any reference to that day?  I would say that my reaction to it was a combination of all three.  No matter what, it does what a good book should do - catch your attention and make you pause and think.

As I said, I haven't made much progress in reading this book, but I'm beginning to understand the attention being showered upon it.  I'm seriously thinking that this will make the list of recommended reads for our committee.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

And the finalists are................

Yes!  We've finally chosen our finalists for the inaugural Maine Readers' Choice Award.  We'll be asking Maine readers to choose among A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers come September.  The winner will be announced at the Bangor Book Festival, which is the first weekend in October.

I am very happy that these are our finalists.  With my own vote I had Cash's and Powers' books one and two, respectively.   Flynn's book was number four on my list.  I had Richard Ford's Canada in third place. They are all excellent reads.  I highly recommend them for book groups.  They will generate a lot of discussion, especially Gone Girl.

I am thrilled and honored to be a part of this effort.  It has me rededicating myself as a serious reader.  I've read books that I would never have picked up - period.  The Yellow Birds or Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain would not have been on my radar.  I'm just not into stories that are war-based.  While I put Fountain's book in last place, I appreciated the challenge of reading it. My thanks to all the authors who gave us such excellent reads in 2012.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Race to the Finish......

As I race to finish the last of the books for the Maine Readers' Choice Award I'm beginning to feel like my furry avatar to the left...well, at least my eyes are looking like his.  I've completed six of the ten books and have pretty much enjoyed all of them.  I have my favorites and my not-so-favorite.  With only one of them in the "I-really-don't-care-for-this-book" category, it's going to be hard to order them.  The first three are pretty well set and those are the votes that matter.  I may be switching the order a bit, but these were the outstanding books to me.  Congratulations to all the semi-finalists.  Looking foward to announcing the winner at the end of next week.  Stay tuned..............................................

Sunday, March 31, 2013

2013 Maine Readers' Choice Award

Yeah!  Finally we're on the Net!  Thanks to my brother-in-law, Bill Oleszczuk ( for designing our logo and to Holly Valero ( for getting our website up and running.  Thanks also to Valerie Osborne, Maine State Library Consultant, Northeastern District, for spearheading this effort and being the inaugural chair. This has all been very exciting and I hope that you'll share that excitement with us as we work toward our final list.  Our finalists will be posted in early May.  You'll then have the summer to read the books and vote for your favorite in September.  We have tentative plans to present the award at the Bangor Book Festival in October.

In the meantime, you can see our shortlist of books at  I've made great progress.  I've completed three of the books (Canada, Harold Fry's Unlikely Pilgrimage, and Gone Girl.)  I am just about finished with Beautiful Ruins.  I'm well into The Lifeboat and Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk.  I've started Yellow Birds.  To say that I'm enjoying this is an understatement.  How do I like the books?  Well, it's hard to say.  Each book, so far, has something to recommend it being on our shortlist. But, overall, nothing has really jumped out at me.  I'll begin posting reviews shortly. 

Why don't you read along with me?

 birds - Copygonegirl - CopyCANADA By: Richard Ford.Blly
lightbetweenpenumbra - Copythe-lifeboat - CopyBeautiful_ruins

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Ya gotta love this......

Everyone who knows me knows that I love hockey. I'm always arguing that it is a great sport that requires the most athletic players of all. Yeah, there are times when the fighting can get to be a bit much. I wish the refs would step in sooner than they usually do. However, when it's all said and done, there's a nice
camaraderie in the sport.

Well, speaking of camaraderie, here's a video that will showcase the best of sportsmanship. I believe this is from a "special" hockey program in Kitchener. The little guy is getting a helping hand in scoring a goal. The video will just leave you cheering and maybe wiping a tear or two from your eyes. The music's not too shabby either and was composed and performed for this hockey program. Enjoy!!!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

March Madness

I absolutely love this time of year!  The endless games, the upsets, the close calls, and, yes, even the disappointments as long as my teams get to the Big Dance to begin with.  However, this year I have a gripe with the women's seedings. 
I don't think teams should be seeded in regions that give them an incredible home court advantage unless it's equal for everyone. No. 1 women's seeds: UConn (Storrs, CT) playing in Storrs, CT; Stanford (Stanford, CA) in Stanford, CA; and Baylor (Waco, TX) in College Station, TX. Notre Dame (Notre Dame/South Bend, IN) in Notre Dame? Nope, Iowa City, IA. 300 miles and 5 hours away. Oh, but wait a minute! It's ND and with its legions of fans, ND never has an away game.  Put that in your pipe and smoke it, NCAA Selection Committee.  Who cares that you've violated your own rules.

Sorry that the ND MBB team didn't make it out of the first round.  They were truly outplayed by Iowa State.  Congratulations to Tom Knight of Dixfield, ME, on a great Senior season.  Great to see a Maine connection at ND.  Best to you, Tom Knight .

Good luck to the ND WBB team.  Go Irish!  Beat Skyhawks.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Head "Straight" to Your Local LYS

Another break in reading for the book award. It's always a treat to have some knitting eye candy if you don't have much time for anything else except browsing through patterns, magazines, or books.  Well, this week I've hit the jackpot because I have another excellent book to recommend.  This is one that you'll be looking at and making things from for a long time to come.

Knit Your Socks on Straight: A New and Inventive Technique with Just Two Needles by Alice Curtis (Storey Publishing, June 2013) presents the knitter with an updated and simple method for knitting socks on two straight needles instead of the cumbersome and challenging double pointed needles.  Curtis is a yarn shop owner and teacher.  In response to her students' quest to make socks more easily, Curtis goes back to the old-style straight needle patterns only to find them too complicated or with seams in a place that make wearing the sock uncomfortable.  In mastering the technique, Curtis also ended up with about 15 patterns to showcase the method.  All of the patterns are well-written, stylish, and looking like a lot of fun to make.  With sock names like "Cirque du Sole" and "Slainte," I just won't be able to resist putting down other projects to start these.

Curtis starts off the book with the usual knitting fundamentals such as casting on and swatching, which are illustrated.  She takes the usual one step beyond to give a really good mini-course in sock construction and the different styles of toes, something that I had not paid attention to prior to this.  Then there's the "secret" to using the straight needle technique.  While I didn't get to try it, the instructions are clear enough to read and understand without out knitting an entire piece.  For me that always deserves special mention.  If I can figure out a pattern without knitting it, chances are I'll be successful. The same kudos go for the patterns themselves.  They are quite understandable and easy on the eyes. The book rounds itself out with hints interspersed throughout, excellent lists of materials needed and gauges in boxes, and a quip or two at the start of every pattern description to entice you.

A unique technique and a great presentation make this a book that you should go straight to your local shop to pick up.  It's due out in early June so you can have some perfectly sized and fun projects to take with you anywhere you go this summer.  Enjoy!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Will one skein be enough?

Taking a break from my book award reading, I spent a good deal of time tonight looking and working my way through an absolutely delightful knitting book that will be available in September, just in time for holiday gift knitting.  Put it at the top of your "to-buy" list. 

Lace One-Skein Wonders: 101 Projects Celebrating the Possibilities of Lace by Judith Durant (Storey Publishing, Sept. 2013) offers a fabulous number of enticing lacy knitting projects for all levels of knitters using just one skein of yarn. The simple projects will appeal to advanced knitters and the advanced projects will entice beginners to challenge themselves to hone their lace and overall knitting skills. You'll want to cover your head, hands, feet, shoulders, and home with these knitted treasurers.  The projects are trendy yet timeless.

The book presents each project with a jazzy little introduction.  The basic information for each pattern is contained in an easy-to-read colored box.  The patterns are well-written and the accompanying charts are complete.  Since many items involve carefully structured decreases, the charts and written instructions go together very well.  Helpful hints are interspersed along the way.  The stitch glossary at the end of the book covers well a number of different techniques used. 

The patterns range in size from very small not-your-run-of-the-mill headbands to beautiful shawls that provide style for either accessorizing or chasing off a chilly breeze.  It's amazing that some of these projects can be knit from one skein, but the yardages listed for the suggested yarns seem adequate. 

This is a knitting book that will keep its value for a long time to come.  It's the best of the "One Skein Wonders" series so far.  If you are planning on knitting holiday gifts, you'll want to also make time for making several for yourself. Grab your needles, a bunch of skeins (one skein will not be enough!), a good audiobook, and enjoy.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Booking it.....

I've had the same 75 pages left to go in one of our award books all week.  It's such a good book that I hate to see it end.  I've knocked off about 30 pages today.  Right now I'm very close to tears. I've got to finish!

I've also started a galley of a book that's gaining a lot of momentum.  It's "The Dinner" by Herman Koch, translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett.  This is a very suspenseful novel that revolves around a single dinner shared by brothers and their wives at a very chic restaurant.  Each couple has a 15-year old son, both of whom have committed some horrible crime.  I'm about a quarter of the way through it and I've already recommended it for our "best of" list for next year.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Maine Readers' Choice Award - 2012

We're off and running.  We've narrowed our initial list of 44 "best of 2012" books down to 10.  They now have to be read by May.  I haven't read any of them (just what exactly did I read last year, anyway???!!!), so this is a tall order for me, the world's slowest reader.  The titles are being kept under wrap until we have a website up and running.  I've started 3 of the books.  One I'm just about 3/4 of the way through.  Excellent.  The other two hold great promise, so it will be a difficult decision.  We have a fine committee put together so there should be some spirited debate as we work our way through the list and a fine list of 5 at the end for Maine readers to vote on.  Stay tuned ...

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Best book of 2012.....

Last year when the Pulitzer Committee failed to name a fiction winner, a library consultant colleague, Valerie, took the bull by horns and formed a committee to read the finalists and determine a winner.  As you may expect and can see from a previous post, we had a great time with it.  My choice ("The Pale King") came in last.  (I couldn't get through the winner, "Swamplandia.")  It was fun and I loved the pressure to read more.

Well, now we're taking the project one step further.  Valerie has formed another committee to select the best book of 2012.  This time it won't be just the committee making the determination, but a cross-section of librarians, booksellers, reviewers, and literacy advocates.  We're still in the formation stages, but we're making great progress.  We have a name, "The Maine Readers' Choice Award."  And, we have a plan.  Right now we're narrowing a list of 44 "best of" books down to 10.  The committee will read the 10 semi-finalists.  A list of 5 finalists will then be determined by the committee.  The list will be given to libraries and booksellers to promote to all Maine readers.  They'll have the summer to read the books and select a winner which will be announced in September.  What will Maine readers say?

I am certainly up for the challenge.  I had read only one from the list of 44, as 2012 wasn't my best reading year.  The semi-finalists will all be new reads for me.  I'm a slow reader, but I will get through them.  I'm anxious to work with the committee members to hear what they say makes a great book.  The judging criteria simply says that the book must be fiction, well-written, and tell a compelling story. 

What makes a book great?  For me it's how all the elements of the story are woven together.  The characters have to have some substance.  They don't have to be likable people but they have to have a good story to tell.  The writing needs to flow well, not just clever or flowery language, but words strung together to convey emotion and sense of place. 

I look back at some recent reads and think about how well they stood up to my personal standards.  "Casual Vacancy" by J.K. Rowling didn't have a single likable character.  It was filled with sad, broken people - they dealt with OCD, passive/aggressive behavior, spousal/child abuse, addiction, and much more.  However, the way that Rowling tied their stories was outstanding.  "Margaret from Maine" by Joseph Monninger didn't do quite as good a job.  The story is beautifully written.  Monniger certainly writes beautiful sentences that created beautiful scenes that set the stage for the story.  However, the characters weren't quite up to snuff.  They never really dealt with the angst that their story presented to them.  I will definitely read more by the author because he writes so well - you just won't see that book on my "best of 2013" list.

So, off I go into my next reading adventure.  I probably won't be able to discuss the books themselves as we make our way to our five finalists, but there will be a lot to say about the process.  Stay tuned....