Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Once A Runner by John L. Parker, Jr.

Once a Runner

If you love running, Once A Runner might be for you.  There isn't much of a plot.  The writing is good, but not great, except when the writing is about the running, then it is pretty good.  Reading this book reminded me of what I have felt and thought about when running and training, especially the times when I've trained for a marathon.  Not that my training routine has ever been anything like what the runners do here in their quest to become champions. As a runner this book resonated with me.  However, I'm not sure if non-runners will necessarily be interested in this book.  At a minimum this book requires an interest in the minutiae of running, in tempo runs, strides and the rest.  If I wasn't already a runner myself, this would have been a lot less interesting.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Class by Cecily von Ziegesar


Cecily von Ziegesar is the author and creator of the Gossip Girl series which is good, trashy fun, and is usually shelved in the young adult section of at the local bookstore.   Class (also published as Cum Laude) is von Ziegesar’s attempt at an adult novel.  I expected something akin to Gossip Girl but more adult.  I was disappointed.  The characters were flat.  There was no growth over the course of the book.  The plot was...well, there wasn’t really much of a plot.  It was ridiculous and unbelievable.  Of course Gossip Girl is also on the ridiculous side, and yet its version of the upper east side is believable, at least for the brief time it takes to read there series.  Not a word of Class was believable.  So if you're in need of something fun and quick to read in between more hearty fare, the Gossip Girl series might be worth a look, but skip this.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairlyand in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

I picked up this book based purely on the title.  I mean, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making - what a fabulous title!  I'm happy to say that the story is equally as fabulous.  This is not a princess waiting for her prince kind of story.  Far from it.  Here is a girl on an adventure, trying new new things, making new friends, saving herself and others. 

This reminded me of the A Series of Unfortunate Events, another series I would heartily recommend.  Like the  Unfortunate Series books, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland was written up, and not down, to kids.  It is smart and funny.  At times it is melancholy, sad and there is even a hint of violence in the real world.  In other words, although about an adventure in fairy it deals with real feelings.

I quite enjoyed this book, but would think carefully about which little girls I would give this to.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Faithful Place by Tana French

Faithful Place (Dublin Murder Squad Series #3)

Faithful Place is the latest in Tana French's series of mysteries from the Dublin Murder Squad.  The story begins with Frank Mackey, a member of the undercover squad.  Twenty-two years ago he walked away from his family - mom, dad, and his five siblings - Shay, Carmel (Melly), Kevin and Jackie.  He was suppose to run away with his girl Rosie and the two of them were going to escape Faithful Place - a place where those lucky enough to have a job had a dead-end job and where many more were on the dole, a place where no one's life seemed to get any better or change.  He and Rosie were going to move to England and live happily ever after.  But on the night when they were to make their escape Rosie never showed.  It appeared that she had decided to go to England alone.  Frank figured it was because of his family; that Rosie finally realized how utterly insane the Mackey family was and wanted nothing to do with him or them.  Frank leaves anyway, without Rosie. He goes on with his life, becoming a cop, getting married, having a kid, getting divorced, all without a single phone call, postcard or visit to his family.  He thinks they are all horrible and blames them all for his losing Rosie, except for Jackie.  He talks to his baby sister on occasion on the theory that she was too young to be at fault for anything that happened.  But as to the rest of the Mackey family, he is content with never setting eyes on them again.  An 18-year-old thinking and feeling this way is understandable, at 40+ Frank came of to me as self-deluded and selfish. 

What finally brings Francis back to Faithful Place is Rosie's suitcase found among the ruins of one of the houses in Faithful Place. For twenty-two years everyone assumed that Rosie was enjoying her new life in England or wherever, that she had been the one to escape the poverty and the drama of families and neighbors fighting and screaming up and down the street that characterized Faithful Place.  When her suitcase is found and with the tickets to England still inside everyone begins to question their assumptions.  Did she go England?  Where is she now?  Maybe she never left Faithful Place, and if she didn't, what happened to her?

Faithful Place is one-half mystery and one-half domestic family melodrama.  The mystery was good, but not entirely mysterious.  I had a pretty good guess as to the identity of the murderer about half  way through and was certain after another fifty pages.  I spent the last third of the book trying to figure out the why and how and what Frank was going to do when he finally reached the same conclusion I had a hundred pages back. 

Notwithstanding the mystery of what happened to Rosie, and later why another character was murdered, a significant portion of the book is about Frank dealing with his family and all his emotional baggage from childhood. I liked the story even if I didn't like Frank much of the time.  I felt sorry for him, growing up in home with a physically abusive, alcoholic father and his placating mother, but it's like he thought that he was the only one who suffered.  Don't worry no spoilers - I'll just say part of the motive for the first murder centers around shattered dreams and familial responsibility.  Frank was one of five kids, but Frank seems to forget about the four others that grew up in the same house he did and what they endured.  There's one scene when Frank is dumping on Shay for the time when they were kids when Shay locked a young Frank and a 2-or-3-year-old Kevin in a dirty closet in a rundown house.  The kids were terrified and thought Shay was playing a cruel joke on them.  For Frank this is proof of what a bastard Shay was.  From Shay's perspective he was saving them from their father who had come home in an alcoholic rage and threatened to slit the throat of everyone in the house while they slept, especially the kids. Their mother and the oldest daughter Carmel held the dad off while Shay tried to get the younger kids out of the house.  Maybe sticking them in the closest wasn't the best option, but Shay himself was only 8 at the time, and it was the best he knew to do at the time.  For a detective, especially an undercover detective, one might think Frank would be better at seeing things from other people's points of view, or at least realizing their might be more to a story, but he never does.

Overall, I would recommend this book.  French is good at setting mood and atmosphere and at creating a believable world.  Her characters seem like real people, even if I wouldn't ever want to meet them or know them.  Faithful Place is evidence of all this.  This is her third book and French gets better with each one.  Her first two books are In the Woods and The Likeness, two books which are definitely worth checking out.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Recently I have become obsessed with bookplates - the labels that go inside the cover of book indicating ownership.  They’re a great way to identify your books, which is especially helpful when loaning or borrowing books.  They can also be a way to add a little bit of art into one’s life.  They can be simple with text on a solid color background or more artsy with pictures, drawings, or logos.

My search for bookplates began at my local bookstore.  With only four choices, the bookstore’s limited selection left much to be desired.  I then turned to the internet where I found a much larger selection.  One of the sites I found Etsy.  Etsy has a generous selection of handmade bookplates, many of which can be customized. 

The selection of customized bookplates made me wonder if I could make my own bookplates.  The simple answer seems to be yes.  One idea I had is to have stickers made using the services of Moo.  I just ordered a set of Moo mini cards, which are essentially business cards only smaller.  What I love about Moo cards is that they’re fun and unusual which I hope will make them stand out from the crowd of ordinary business cards.  One side has a design that I chose from among their huge selection (you can also use your own design or picture), and the other side has my contact details.  Anyway, Moo also makes stickers which I’m thinking might work well as bookplates.  Alternatively, I found simple instructions on how to make bookplates from multiple websites.  So now I’m trying to come up with designs so I can make my own bookplates.  When I've made a few I'll post them here.  If you have made any bookplates on your own, feel free to share them here.  I would love to see what others came up with.

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Practical Magic

I saw the movie Practical Magic years ago, but it is only now that I got around to reading the book.  It has been awhile since I saw that movie, but from what I can remember of the movie the book is completely different.  For those who have not seen the movie or read the book, the story centers around sisters Sally and Gillian and the generations of Owens women that came before and after them.  After their parents death, the sisters moved in with their elderly aunts.  For generations, the Owens women have been blamed for whatever went wrong in their Massachusetts town.  I can't remember if the word is ever actually uttered, but essentially the people think the Owens women are witches or at least that something is odd about them.  Unfortunately for Sally and Gillian this translates into being bullied and teased by the other children. 

Though they are as different as night and day, with no others friends the sisters cling to each other.  Gillian is carefree and careless.  She falls in and out of love, marries and remarries several times over, and drifts from one town to another.  With no responsible adults in sight, Sally becomes the responsible one in her aunt's house, insisting on vegetables at dinner and making sure laundry gets done.  As an adult Sally is cautious, craving a white picket fence and a town where people don't whisper witch or cross to the other side of the street when she walks by.  Both sisters seek to escape their aunts and their Massachusetts town.  For awhile they do but in very different ways.

This was a pleasure to read.   I would place it in the genre of magical realism, which is becoming a genre I like more and more.  If you like stories about women's lives, this is something you might consider picking up.