Wednesday, April 28, 2010

BookLook Review "Among the Mad"

“Among the Mad”
I am a fickle friend to Maisie Dobbs. The main character of the series by Jacqueline Winspear deserves better. I love her and leave her and do not read her books in order. To the lovely lady at the library who insisted I must read the other four books before listening to the audio recording- I apologize. I have read the first book, which is my only requirement before stepping out of line and listening to “Among the Mad”. I have read others in the series and should have continued in sequence but I love the soft British accent of reader Orlagh Cassidy and couldn’t resist the CD’s. I started listening in the car on the way home from the library. I publicly confess my weakness but can’t give up this unforgivable behavior.

“Among the Mad” is a bit darker than other Maisie tales. As the title implies, the story is filled with troubled souls. On Christmas Eve 1931 Maisie is injured by a suicidal bomber who appeared to be an injured veteran begging on the street. She is then called upon by Inspector Stratton and Special Branch Chief McFarland to help find an insane letter writer who threatens to unleash a chemical terror unless his demands are met. What are his lunatic demands? He wants the neglected veterans of WWI to have improved pensions. He wants them to receive the physical and mental care they need. After serving their country so nobly they don’t deserve to be left to beg on the streets as people turn away from them.

Maisie’s assistant Billy is also struggling with his wife’s breakdown following the death of their little daughter. Maisie’s best friend confesses her melancholy has returned and with it her drinking problem. Both consulting psychiatric doctors Maisie turns to in the terrorist investigation suffer their own forms of disturbed behavior after their war service. Maisie continues to prefer a solitary life while mourning the death of her own beloved soldier. The post traumatic stress for all the war survivors combined in this story can be a bit overwhelming at times, as I’m sure it was in London during the 1930’s post-war Depression.

The Great War left many walking wounded. Shell shock was a newly diagnosed condition which covered every physiological problem presented by war veterans. Outwardly they didn’t appear injured, but on the inside there was terrible psychological damage. Victims were told to “chin up” and “carry on” for they were “made of sterner stuff”. Winspear used her experience with her grandfather’s shell shock condition to create her characters for the book. Although things brighten up at the end, it is a haunting story of the plight of veterans in all wars.

Although I struggle with reading any series, I understand the author’s need to keep producing books featuring their popular character. Many readers will spend lots of money on their true love. I also know writers don’t want to repeat too much information from previous books as a favor to their loyal followers. As a disloyal follower I don’t expect to be kept up to date and find I am able to skip around a bit and still enjoy the series.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Our Newest Grandson Born Today

Our new grandson Dominic (Nico) Jonathan Balzotti was born this morning, April 26th at 4:53 am. He weighed 7lbs. 13oz. which is the same as his big brother and 20 1/2 inches long but this little guy wasn't due to arrive until May 5th so he was a happy April surprise.

Gabe the Babe is a big brother now!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Things that made me smile (or laugh) this week

I had two good daily entries for my Moment of Happiness one-line-a-day journal I keep on the computer. I spend a lot of time writing long newspaper articles and book reviews so I had to find a simplified journal solution. Something every day that makes me smile or even laugh.Some weeks are full of funny!
These fake eggs were attacked by our Magpie who spotted them on the porch and destroyed them!

I heard the water running in the bathroom sink while babysitting Gabe the Babe.A two year old and running water are never good so I ran in there to see him trying to remove lipstick with a towel and water. He tilted his head and said,"I sorry grandma I wash it off." So cute, so contrite, but looks a little like the Joker.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

BookLook Review "Sand Sharks"

I don't like every book I read...
“Sand Sharks”
I was looking for a recorded book that wouldn’t make me blush if someone heard me listening to it. Well, “Sand Sharks” didn’t have any descriptive shower scenes, or graphic blood and gore but it was embarrassing none-the-less. If I could have put a plain brown paper wrapper around the reader’s irritating voice I would have. Driving to Salt Lake City every week, I like to listen to an audio book in the car. I can’t listen very long to NPR without my blood pressure rising and local chat causes me to talk back to the people on the radio who can’t even hear me. Books pleasantly pass the commute time and help me arrive in a good mood despite the eternal construction delays on I15 - usually.

“Sand Sharks” written by Margaret Maron (Maron, not moron) is a novel somewhere in the middle of a mystery series featuring Judge Deborah Knott. She’s an idiot. I don’t like her. And she has my name! I don’t care about her personal life lurking in the background and I really don’t care about her southern friends. Words wasted on the descriptions of everything she eats and drinks are also irritating. What made the story worse was the chirpy narrator’s voice dragging me through the ridiculous plot.

Beware the enticing description on the back of the cover. “Margaret Maron (moron) never fails to deliver electrifying tales and well-wrought characters.” I guess there’s always a first time Margaret. The story is littered with meaningless clues and concludes with a surprise killer you could never guess since the author didn’t seem sure herself who was going to be the murderer. I liked the idea of the setting being in a North Carolina beach town but found myself annoyed by the obvious name-dropping of stores and restaurants. I wonder how much advertising cash they paid out to be mentioned.

Skip this 8 disc disaster and find something better in the library audio book collection. I really appreciate our library keeping it well stocked with new selections since they are expensive to buy and rarely worth listening to again. I wanted to be fair (and optimistically hoped the book would get better) so I endured to the end. It didn’t improve. I’m sure other people will check out this narration when they read “will leave readers awash in well-laid clues” but I can’t recommend it. It may even qualify as verbal abuse.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

BookLook Review "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day"

I love this movie; I mean this book, by Winifred Watson.

It is because of the wonderful movie that I bought the book. Although they are of course slightly different, the 2008 movie does make a valiant attempt to keep true to a book written in 1938. And thanks to the movie, Persephone Classics of the UK has a popular re-release here in America. The inclusion of the small original illustrations bring the characters from more than seventy years ago to life for the readers and make the slightly higher purchase price well worth it.

The virtuous Miss Pettigrew (picture Frances McDormand here) is a frumpy 40 year old out-of-work governess in 1930’s London. Her life has been devoid of affection, friendship and fun. She has never been in love and certainly never been kissed in all her sheltered years spent first as the child of a stern cleric and more recently behind the doors of the nurseries of unkind employers. I am thinking in a British accent right now so you may want to read it that way – it will all make a great deal more sense.

But one day…the employment agency mistakenly sends her as a maid, not a governess to the beautiful actress Miss Delysia La Fosse (picture Amy Adams here). A frantic series of humorous misunderstandings turns Miss Pettigrew into an instant friend to a crowd of “swinging” singles. Delysia and her friend the cosmetologist are at their wits end trying to balance their numerous lovers. Miss Pettigrew advises and revises as she offers her help in managing each crisis. She is brilliant! Why hadn’t they thought of that? She must come along for the evening and help them save their relationships! The girls dress Miss Pettigrew up like Cinderella and whisk her off to have a ball at a cocktail party, a dinner party and an evening at a nightclub.

As hour by hour Miss Pettigrew sheds her dowdy former self, she gains confidence that she may have a place and a purpose in this new and exciting society. Her Cinderella story only lasts one day for us, but we are left with the hope that she has found her prince and true love at last. It’s a classic old tale told in an unusual setting, which always makes a great book and a great movie.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

We all love the park in the Springtime!

A few of our monkeys are climbing on the bars.

Even though the picture is of Gabe with eyes closed, he was laughing all the way down the slide.

Gabe is a big fan of the slide that goes round and round.

Even with a cast, little Roman keeps mommy busy on the slide

Thursday, April 8, 2010

BookLook Review "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet"

“Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet”

Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover – and its title. The shimmering cover photo design has two children walking under very different umbrellas. The young girl is carrying a beautiful Japanese parasol and the boy, wearing pants that are a little too short, is hidden under a plain American style green umbrella. The title printed across the top, “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet”, called to me from the library shelf and I’m glad I listened.

Author Jamie Ford has written an impressive award winning novel. He is the great-grandson of Nevada mining pioneer Min Chung who came from China and adopted the Western name “Ford”. It’s a bit confusing to think of Ford as a Chinese American author, but his perspective helps the characters come alive for the reader. The writing is not particularly brilliant but it is so nice to find a book of historical fiction that doesn’t jar the reader with gory violent details, or coarse language that you can overlook his inexperience. It has rapidly become a best seller despite being a debut novel for Ford.

The cast of characters is unique for the 1940’s back story. Henry Lee is a 12 year old Chinese boy who befriends a young Japanese American girl Keiko at their otherwise all-white school. His other friend is an adult African American Jazz musician named Sheldon. This unlikely trio provides a unique view of the infamous round up of Japanese Americans in Seattle and their relocation to internment camps during World War II.

The story of the present day begins in 1986 as Henry watches the once beautiful Panama Hotel begin its path to renovation with a press announcement. The Panama Hotel stood as a gateway between Chinatown and Japantown in Seattle during the war years. It was boarded up and survived demolition until a buyer decided to return it to its former glory. In the basement she discovered hundreds of boxes and crates hidden by Japanese families as they were suddenly forced to leave everything behind. Henry hopes to find the belongings of his childhood friend Keiko.

The title “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” does predict the story inside. The story has a few surprises but is mostly dependable as it takes the reader between two time periods and two cultures. Life is bitter and sweet. Decisions are made which bring heartbreak and joy. Commitments are kept and broken and love and forgiveness are possible along the journey.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Easter...the Sequel

Haydon had his sixth birthday at the Easter Egg Hunt.His mom made a yummy homemade cake that he chose. Yellow cake with chocolate frosting and extra cupcakes.Sadly grandma had no little birthday candles!

Miss Ava lost her first tooth at the Easter party. Now she'll always know the date. Her mom told her she would have a visit from the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy that night.

Baby RoRo with his new little cast he has to wear for 3 weeks - cracked his fibula. He had lots of help getting eggs from Uncle Jonathan who carried him around.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter Egg Hunt

The Easter Egg Hunt Lineup, youngest (Gabe and Sophie age 2) to oldest. Roman is the youngest at 19 months but had to be carried due to his new cast on his right lower leg.

Jon explaining to children how Capitalism and The Free Market System work as he gives clues to find his golden egg - with $10 cash. Sam, the eldest cousin and therefore the most experienced participant found the egg. Dawson later suggested that $10 in one egg was not a good idea and next year there should be 10 golden eggs with $1 each to increase the chances and allow for more winners. Ah, the lessons of life.

The mighty hunters of eggs, you can see Roman's little green cast.

Gabe hunting for eggs in the "toddler zone" with Sophie behind him. She saw a pink egg ahead and was muttering "I better get it, I better get it."