Saturday, November 29, 2008

Book Swirl

Happy post-Thanksgiving! I've finally recovered from the turkey hangover and life marches on. This morning I've been helping my mom put up Christmas lights on the house, and I've been feverishly grading papers and discussion forum assignments for my online classes. I need to check in on my grad classes but....I don't want to! So there ya go.

All the while, the two books I'd really like to be reading--The Sugar Queen and You Lost Him at Hello--are sitting next to me. I can almost hear them laughing that I don't have time to read at the moment. I should have everything squared away by later in the afternoon, and then it's heavy duty reading time. I have a party at a friend's house tonight, so I've gotta get this reading thing on if I'm gonna.

So have you ever felt like you have a veritable whirlwind of books floating around your head? I'm there! Like all overzealous reviewers, I have a lot of catching up to do. Near the top of the stack is this little (huge) lovely that arrived on my doorstep last week:

The Hour I First Believed, Wally Lamb's newest book in....well....ages! Ages I tell you. I've heard a mixed bag of reviews about this one. Lots of tragedy, lots of depressing content, etc. I'm excited about it, though, and the cover is great isn't it?

I'm shallow.

I'm OK with that.

In completely un-book-related news, you may have noticed that suddenly my name on my profile is "A. Estella Sassypants." I'm applying for full-time teaching jobs and I'm doing this online dating thing, so I'm trying to make it just the tiniest bit harder for people to find me because of the vast political content here and, well, all the cursing. We'll see how that works out. I hope nobody will be Googling andi(dot)miller(at), etc.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

To those of you who aren't celebrating today, I hope it's a wonderful day for you wherever you are and whatever you're doing.
In some respects this has been a tough year, but at the same time I've been blessed in countless ways. I'm thankful to be near my family again, thankful to have an opportunity to teach, thankful for all the friends I've made both online and off.
Bloggers, you all are an extended family, the best of buddies, and are so kind to give me pep talks on the bad days and pats on the back on the good days. I cherish each of you individually.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2008


Morning! I'm off to teach a class this morning, but I wanted to share my review of The Graveyard Book before I disappear for a few hours. I was completely charmed and won over by this book, and Neil Gaiman is slowly but surely growing on me after some hits and misses.

Read the review at Bibliobuffet.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Sunday Salon - The Father of America and Some Vampires

It's been a busy week, sexy readers! I'm officially in the home stretch of my graduate classes and the basic writing classes I'm teaching. I guess I could safely characterize this period of time as the calm before the grading storm. I'll have boatloads of final projects to grade shortly. Pray for my soul!

In other news, I've sort of stayed away from the 'net the last few days. I check in on the blog, Twitter a bit, but I've been diving into the books and it's paying off!

I finished my second book for the U.S. Presidents Reading Project. Only 42 more presidents to go!

I'm really glad I'm doing this. I was fascinated by this book about George Washington by James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn. I'm pretty certain I learned most of the stuff in this book in school at some point, but the details fade with time. Although, quite honestly, the parts about Washington being a little self-centered and obsessed with his lack of education, as well as his preoccupation with creating a respectable image (military, political, and presidential) were probably left out of my studies. Textbooks, the ones I used in school anyway, were a little more flattering to the men in charge than was necessarily realistic. I like learning about the presidents' flaws, quirks, and failures right alongside their victories. Washington was a great one, no doubt, for the precedents he set and for the life he breathed into the office. The presidency was a very shady, nebulous office before he was unanimously voted in by his colleagues. I was also really fascinated by the birth of our two-party system. What a scandal back in the day!

I'm really glad I decided to undertake this project! I feel a little smarter for the undertaking.

In other news, after I saw the Twilight movie I was gripped with an undying (ha!) need to re-read the series. I started the first book last night, and ripped through 100 pages before bed. It's been a while, so I've forgotten a lot of the finer details. I'm finding Edward and Bella just as compelling as I did the first time, although I might have slightly less patience for Bella's bellowing about how gorgeous he is. Although, thinking about Robert Pattinson...maybe it won't bother me much at all! Rawwr! I feel like such a cougar. The guy is all of 22 or 23. Oh well! Hot is hot.

And he's a musician! Aren't all the actor/models you know aspiring musicians, too? As much as I hate to admit it, I really like his voice even if he is a little growly and incoherent. You can listen to some of this music here, including my favorite..."Never Think."

Coming soon: an in-depth chronicle of Andi's 2008 Experiment. Some of you may remember that I joined up a couple of years ago. I'm trying again. We'll see how it goes! It's an adventure so far.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Twilight Movie (No Spoilers)

The long awaited Twilight movie is here!!! I caught the 1:00 show today so as to avoid twittering young'uns and that was successful for the most part.
So, what did I think?
The movie is BEAUTIFUL. Lots of stunning cinematography. The casting is well done with the exception of the most ridiculous Jasper they could've possible found. I thought Kristen Stewart did a good job Bella'ing, and let's just all say it together...Rob Pattinson as Edward is HOT. Charlie was even funnier and more delightfully awkward in the movie than he was in the book, and Billy was awesome. Jacob? Potential to be hot in the next installment. We'll see. Pattinson might be enough to bring me over to Team Edward, though.
So, the bad parts: horrible fast running effects. They could've at least tried to make it appear as if the vampires' feet were touching the ground. Edward looked a little bit like a disco ball in the sun (thanks for that comparison Sassymonkey). Aside from the effects, as one might expect there were lots of angsty close ups and swoony eyes. There were overtly funny parts and some funny parts that weren't actually supposed to be funny. Sort of cringeworthy in those spots.
Overall? Fun! Good escapism...and definitely worth watching if you liked the books. However, I think it'll be a mixed bag of reviews, much like this one, when all is said and done.
Note: The soundtrack kicks ass. I bought it on the way home. My favorite Muse song, "Supermassive Black Hole" made it into the film. Woot!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The American Journey of Barack Obama

Little, Brown and Company was kind enough to send a copy of The American Journey of Barack Obama, by the editors of Life Magazine. I was really excited about this book purely for the gorgeous photographs. It's an oversized book--coffee table sized--with glossy photos throughout. I've always been fond of the dramatic shots of Obama that I see on news programming, so I was banking on a keepsake to remember the years between the 2004 Democratic National Convention--Obama's coming out party--and the 2008 election.

Given my voracious reading about Obama to this point, I never expected this book to actually give any new biographical information. It's an account from his childhood right on up to the time before the election, and I was delighted to learn a wealth of new information.

I found this book gave a much broader view of Obama's father's side of the family than what I've read before. His father, Barack Obama, Sr., was married multiple times...married when he took up with Obama's mother, Ann, as a matter of fact. Polygamy was not unusual in Kenya, and Obama's mother seemed not to have much of a problem with it at first. It was unclear to me if Obama, Sr.'s marriage would've been considered legal in the U.S., but ultimately Ann would have a big problem with the situation and the distance between the two as Obama, Sr. left her in Hawaii to pursue a PhD on the east coast. I was also unaware just how many half brothers and sisters Obama has in Africa, and it was nice to learn more about his relationships with those relatives.

Given the ongoing excitement about Obama since the 2004 Democratic National Convention I expected this book to be mostly roses and daisies. Ultimately I found it a very fair account of his life in politics including his failings and flounderings along the way. The book was quick to point out his underdog status in the early stages of the primaries when Obama's lack of experience was expected to be a detriment to his campaign.

One of the meatiest and most telling portions of the book is a collection of essays about Obama from some fantastic writers including Gay Talese, Charles Johnson, Melissa Fay Greene, Andrei Codrescu, Fay Weldon, Richard Norton Smith, Bob Greene, and others. They're dense, they're funny, they're thoughtful. They're all very telling and make a nice accompaniment to Obama's life in pictures.

If you're in the market for a keepsake or a deeper understanding of the life of our 44th President, I would highly recommend this book for the stunning photos, quality construction, and the story between the covers. You'll have a nice souvenir and a good biography.

This is my first book for the U.S. Presidents Reading Project.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I Can Never Stay Away...

I'm happy to report that I'm feeling much better today. I've been downing the meds and vitamin C like crazy, and I don't feel like death at the moment. Three cheers for that!

I've been trying to throw myself into books whenever I get too tired to grade papers or work on Library Science classes, so I've finally finished The Graveyard Book! And I bawled like a baby when I turned the final page. Next week's Bibliobuffet column will be a review, so I hope y'all like it!

And since I've forgotten to mention it, my latest column is a review of Tricia Dower's short story collection, Silent Girl. It was a great book, so go read about it. I gush. I really do.

So the other day, while mom was drugged up and having her mouth invaded by the endodontist, I did what all good daughters do. I went to Starbucks for a white chocolate mocha and a slice of lemon poundcake, and then I shopped for books! There's a Half-Price Books right around the corner from the coffee shop, so I thought it my obligation to at least take a quick look. I found a few fantastic goodies:

The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart - Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities? When this peculiar ad appears in the newspaper, dozens of children enroll to take a series of mysterious, mind-bending tests. (And you, dear reader, can test your wits right alongside them.) But in the end just four very special children will succeed. Their challenge: to go on a secret mission that only the most intelligent and resourceful children could complete. To accomplish it they will have to go undercover at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, where the only rule is that there are no rules.

I've heard fantastic things about this book, so I was sooo excited to find a copy in great shape for a ridiculously low price. It was truly a heck of a bargain buy.

Daisy Miller, by Henry James - Daisy Miller travels to Europe with her wealthy, commonplace mother and in her innocence and audacity offends convention and seems to compromise her reputation.

When B. and I first adopted Daisy the dog, I actually really made my head hurt trying to come up with a fitting literary name for her. I finally decided on Daisy never thinking that, given my last name, she was indeed named after a literary character! Now I have to read James's book to see what kind of reputation I've accidentally inflicted on my pup.

Finally, while I was at the library today working on some information hunt assignments, I couldn't resist checking out...

The Sugar Queen, by Sarah Addison Allen - Twenty-seven-year-old Josey Cirrini is sure of three things: winter in her North Carolina hometown is her favorite season, she’s a sorry excuse for a Southern belle, and sweets are best eaten in the privacy of her hidden closet. For while Josey has settled into an uneventful life in her mother’s house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes to each night…. Until she finds it harboring none other than local waitress Della Lee Baker, a tough-talking, tenderhearted woman who is one part nemesis—and two parts fairy godmother…

I found the details in her first novel, Garden Spells, so wonderfully decadent that I anticipate The Sugar Queen will be a perfect nearing-the-holidays read.

My stacks just keep growing with no signs of slowing (singing the song from the old Wonka movie in my head...the part where they're in the boat going through the cave). I could stop, but I love it! Why squelch a good time, right?

Monday, November 17, 2008


It's been a busy few days, folks! Friday was my mom's oral surgery, and I'm glad to say that it went very well. She's really funny and the usual headstrong even when she's drugged, so it made for an interesting afternoon and evening. Saturday night was a good friend's wedding. Another good friend and I were cake cutters, and we asked Amanda if she was REALLY SURE what she was getting into with us as cake cutters. She said she was, and we didn't destroy anything, so it was a success in my eyes. Saturday was a lazy day. I think. I can't really remember. Last night I went over to a friend's house for dinner, drinks, and boisterous conversation. Today is the beginnings of a sinus infection and rest.

I may be pretty scarce for the next few days. I have a final group project and two assignments due in my Access and Retrieval class Wednesday night, and I need to wrap up a few more obligations. Reading has ground to a sickening hault aside from bloggy reading.

I have finished The American Journey of Barack Obama, and I'm right on the edge of finishing The Graveyard Book. It's so good that I keep putting it off so as to drag out the goodness of the reading experience.

I'm off to take a nap before my face snaps off from the sinus pain and pressure. Where's my sinus drug cocktail?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Want to be a winner?

Go over to Old Red Barn Co. and enter to win one of three GORGEOUS quilts. GORGEOUS I tell you! Do it now! Be gone!
Click the image to go straight to the giveaway post.
The contest closes at 7:00pm US EST on Monday, November 17, 2008.

They Holler (Yes, Holler) at Me Constantly

So y'all know I have a ridonkulous review pile. I'm working my way through them slowly but surely. Some are sent straight to me, some are old books that piled up when I was in NC and some publishers couldn't seem to get my address just right, and some are rejects that don't get picked up by Estella's Revenge reviewers. They've taken over the top shelf of my closet and a shelf in the big 'to be read' bookcase in my bedroom. There's a significant pile on the floor. They call to me. They sit and look at me. They waggle their bookish eyebrows.

They tempt me.

Here are some of the latest temptresses...

After the Train, by Gloria Whelan - The National Book Award-winning author of "Homeless Bird" weaves an important, atmospheric story about a young German boy who discovers a troubling mystery that sheds light on his town's dark nature, and casts doubts on his parents stories about the war.

This one doesn't come out until February. I couldn't find a cover image, but the copy I have (and it's not one of the cheap paper ARCs) is simply a white expanse with "After the Train" printed in the middle. You're not missing much, but it does sound like a great book. It's a skinny volume, too, only 160 pages, so I expect I'll bust through it quickly when I get the chance.

This One is Mine, by Maria Semple - Violet Parry is living the quintessential life of luxury in the Hollywood Hills with David, her rock-and-roll manager husband, and her darling toddler, Dot. She has the perfect life--except that she's deeply unhappy. David expects the world of Violet but gives little of himself in return. When she meets Teddy, a roguish small-time bass player, Violet comes alive, and soon she's risking everything for the chance to find herself again. Also in the picture are David's hilariously high-strung sister, Sally, on the prowl for a successful husband, and Jeremy, the ESPN sportscaster savant who falls into her trap. For all their recklessness, Violet and Sally will discover that David and Jeremy have a few surprises of their own. THIS ONE IS MINE is a compassionate and wickedly funny satire about our need for more--and the often disastrous choices we make in the name of happiness.

Semple has written for shows like Arrested Development, Mad About You, and Ellen. I'm sold! The blurb on this one might not normally grab me, but I have high hopes for it. The actual cover is far more striking than the image above. I just wanna eat it up. Actually, I want to swim in that pool.

Dear Julia, by Amy Bronwen Zemser - Elaine Hamilton has never wanted to be the center of attention. She'd like nothing more than to cook quietly in her kitchen, mastering French cooking with the recipes of the great Julia Child.
So how did she end up with cameras zooming in on her and a crowd cheering her on?

Well, it involves . . .
-an eccentric best friend named after a font,
-five lively brothers constantly asking, "What's for dinner?",
-a rotten fig and a weakness,
-feminist congresswoman mother,
-a yoga-practicing father,
-a chest full of unsent letters,
-and many, many roast ducks.

I actually started Dear Julia a couple of books ago, but when Living Dead Girl and The Graveyard Book came into my life, I had to put this one aside. That's not a judgement, it's just the nature of borrowing books and getting them back to the owner (Susan) quickly. Once I finish Graveyard and the Obama book I'm working on, I'm diving right back into Dear Julia. Something about fall always puts me in a frame of mind for children's and young adult literature, so you've been given fair warning.

What's calling to you from your review shelf or your unread stack?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to make a big pot of loaded baked potato soup. My hips cringe at the thought. Mom is having a bit of oral surgery tomorrow (to fix a botched root canal), so I expect I'll be a wee bit occupied tomorrow. We're stocking up on soft food. Wish her luck!

Kreativ Catching Up!

The wonderful-fantastic Karen from BookBath bestowed upon me the Kreativ Blogger award! Thanks so much Karen, and right back atcha my friend!
And the accompanying meme:
7 things I did before
1. web design
2. survived on snark
3. drank shots
4. read horror almost exclusively
5. spent time with my grandparents
6. made lots of phone calls home
7. avoided the news

7 things I do now
1. watch the news like a maniac
2. read everything
3. teach college English courses
4. make a car payment
5. think about the environment
6. drink occasionally
7. play with Daisy

7 things I want to do
1. have medical benefits again!
2. get my own place
3. lick Colin Firth's ear
4. get my nose pierced again
5. finish this Library Science degree
6. buy some cheap books
7. marry

7 things that attract me to the opposite sex
1. humor
2. intelligence
3. integrity
4. height
5. creativity
6. inner strength
7. a supportive nature

7 Favorite Foods
1. loaded potato soup
2. dragon roll sushi
3. grilled lobster
4. dulce de leche cheesecake
5. roasted asparagus
6. fried catfish
7. cheese enchiladas

7 things I Say Most Often
1. expletive, expletive, expletive
2. Daisy, NO!
3. Good times...
4. Not so much
5. I love ya!
6. Miss you!
7. Daisy, NO!
7 More Kreativ Bloggers:
Heather from A High and Hidden Place for her rotating bloggy graphics and fantastic photography. And her writing, which is really awesome. AND she knits!
Amanda from The Blog Jar for her cool recipes, snark, and random thoughts that make me laugh.
The Funky Bee for photos, craftiness, and she even made a wedding cake once!
Purl for her rock awesome knitting projects.
Christine from Between Concrete & Sky for awesome photography and all around creativity!
Terri from Reading, Writing, and Retirement. If you saw her countdown to retirement you would be amazed at her creativity.
Danielle from A Work in Progress for her creative reviews and her beautiful needlework.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Library and Me

When I was asked to participate in Jennie Shortridge's blog tour for Love And Biology at the Center of the Universe, I snapped up the opportunity. Jennie is very kind, and a fantastic writer, so I'm excited to bring you her reminiscences about the library and the role libraries have played in her life thus far.

In fifth grade, I had the option of taking a study hall or working in the library. I thought I'd hit the jackpot, and was surprised I was the only one who thought an hour alphabetizing and shelving books was the ideal way to spend one's time. But I got the library to myself, and I got to wander through the stacks, breathing in that gorgeous book smell. The books I remember shelving most often were those from the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, Island of the Blue Dolphin, and the books about the Chincoteague ponies. Girls and wilderness, girls and dolphins, girls and ponies--wow! Upon reflection, perhaps those were just the books I was most interested in.

My mother took us to the library every week, as far back as I can remember. We were allowed three books each, my three sisters and I, and my mother generally checked out even more for herself. We were a family of voracious readers, in an almost ridiculous way. We'd quickly zip through our own books then read each others, even my mom's. I was nine or ten when I read Pearl Buck, Mary Stewart, Philip Roth. When our family went camping, we'd all grab our books and find a spot to sit and read. No hiking or fishing for us, to my dad's dismay. We just wanted to enter the private worlds waiting for us between the pages.

In high school, I had yet another chance to work in the school library, and again, I jumped on it. I memorized the titles I wandered around, particularly in fiction. I read the dust jackets and wanted to read them all, even though I didn't understand quite a few of them at the time. I was still game. I read Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto, Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, The Stranger by Albert Camus. I was giddy with the words and ideas, even though many of the concepts eluded or befuddled me. I wanted to be smart and know about the world. I still do, but I feel pretty certain The Stranger would still elude me.

Of course, I also read trashy novels from the library, like Valley of the Dolls, and popular fiction. I found my first Barbara Kingsolver there, my first Alice Walker. I started checking out record albums of old blues singers and folk musicians, Odessa, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey.

I learned the history of literature, music, my country, and all of the things I would not get to learn about in college, because, alas, I would not be going. I moved out on my own at seventeen and began to support myself. It was then—most especially—that the library was my oasis, the place I could go find anything I wanted to know about, anything I wanted to hear, and eventually, watch on video, and all for free.

Now, as a writer, the library—and the wonderful people who work there—are my godsend. I can do research still not available on the internet, find a quiet place to write away from my home office phone and dirty laundry. And I can walk the stacks and take a deep breath, and marvel, still, at how much I love books: their smell, the ideas and words and many possibilities they hold.
Thank you to Jennie Shortridge for taking time out to write this lovely post! Visit her website here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe

Jennie Shortridge's third novel, Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe, is the first one I've had the pleasure of laying hands on. I can assure you it won't be the last. Admittedly, the delectable cover was the first thing that drew me in. You book lovers know what I'm talking about. Some covers look edible, lickable, and give us the munchies.

I'm happy to report that the material between the covers is also sweet but not saccharine. It's the story of Mira Serafino, a 45-year-old teacher, wife, and mother who appears to have the perfect life--and the perfect big Italian family. When she finds out about her husband's indiscretion her life spirals out of control. In a flurry, she hits the road without a clue as to where she's going and eventually settles in Seattle when her car breaks down. She finds herself out of touch with her sullen daughter and the rest of the bunch and working at the Coffee Shop at the Center of the Universe, living in a microscopic apartment, all the while wondering where her life is going.

Mira's split from her husband and her new adventures in singledom also leave her contemplating her own sexuality. She reminisces over her past experiences, the secrets she's kept all her life, and the possibility of stepping into an intimate relationship with someone besides her college boyfriend-turned-husband, Parker. That explains the "biology" part of the title.

This book was a nice blend of humor, drama, and romance. My favorite part of the book was definitely Mira's life in Seattle. She quickly figures out that life's unexpected twists and turns can be liberating and fun. She meets a slew of quirky characters...the kids that work in the coffee shop, the regular patrons, the odd owner, and she even dips her toe into a new romance. Her work at the coffee shop made me hungry much of the time as Shortridge describes the drinks Mira mixes, the pastries she brings into the shop, and her grandmother's soups that she begins to whip up and sell to the customers. I found Mira much more likable and funny when she was bumbling through her life. Much like her estranged daughter, Thea, I felt Mira was trying too hard to be perfect in her everyday life, and it was only when she hit rock bottom that she began to have a good time and take some chances. Outside her small town and the reach of her obligations she could try on a new identity. Who hasn't wanted to at least try that at some point?

While I liked Mira and the majority of the other characters, I found Thea a little bit unbelievable at times. I don't know if it was Shortridge's use of slang to make the daughter sound authentic or what, but it kind of bugged me. The more I read and got to know the characters, the less I noticed, though. It was a small hurdle, but certainly not enough to make me dislike the book.
If you're in the mood for a tasty, joyful, uplifting story, give Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe a chance. You'll turn the last page with a smile and a craving for a tall white chocolate mocha. Or maybe that's just me...

Visit Jennie Shortridge's website.

One of the Sad Parts of Being a Teacher

Despite the overall greatness of yesteray, my day ended far worse than it started. I found out that one of the North Carolina students I taught during the in-person summer session was killed in a car accident. She was a wonderful, vibrant, motivated, and so very caring. She was studying criminal justice with the intent to enter law enforcement. The great and tragic irony is that she was fresh out of high school and fresh off of a very involved senior project in which she worked with law enforcement to study and help prevent the rapidly rising rate of youth deaths in car accidents in her county. She was killed in that very county by a drunk driver.

She's the second student I've lost in six years of teaching, and that's two too many. Even though they're technically "grown up" by the time they step into my classroom, I can't help but think of them as my babies in some ways. You see them day after day, get to know them, they make you laugh, occasionally they make you cry, they learn and grow up a little more right before your eyes, and you always hope they go on to full lives.

I'll be thinking of her family today.

The Birthday Wrap Up

Yesterday was a truly funtastic (no misspelling there) day. I spent a lazy morning eating cake for breakfast and I did do a tiny bit of work. Around 11:00 Mom finished her obligations for the day, and we struck out for the big city. She needed Oreck vacuum bags, and I found a clothing store. I wound up buying myself a few birthday treats: a nicely fitted denim jacket, a new green purse, and a blingy, chunky silver necklace for the wedding (originall spelled "weeding"...take from that what you will!) I'm attending Saturday night. I'm a cake cutter, so I've gotta look good! Mom surprised me by kicking in for a pretty pewter and black clutch for the wedding. So cute!

I had my pick of lunch places, so I snapped up the chance to go to Razzoo's, a Cajun chain here in Texas (and one location in NC...go figure). I always seem to order the same thing, "Crawdaddies 2-Ways," a plate of fried crawfish tails, crawfish etoufee, dirty rice, fries, and hush puppies. There was enough food for two good-sized meals, so I ate the leftovers last night. Sooo good! And hot enough that it made my nose run. A sure sign of good Cajun food.

We came on home in the afternoon, I cleaned up my bedroom a bit--hung up clothes mostly and rearranged book piles. I spent the evening curled up with The Graveyard Book, and I absolutely love it. It's spooky, quirky, fun, and just what I'm in the mood for right now. I hope I can polish off another good-sized chunk today. Maybe even finish it!

I also found out that I won a couple of books from the wondermous Joanne, of Book Zombie.

When We Were Romans, by Matthew Kneale: Nine-year-old Lawrence is the man in his family. He carefully watches over his willful little sister, Jemima, and his mother, Hannah. When Hannah becomes convinced that their estranged father is stalking them, the family flees London and heads for Rome, where Hannah lived happily as a young woman. For Lawrence, fascinated by stories of popes and emperors, Rome is an adventure. Though they are short of money, and move from home to home, staying with his mother's old friends, little by little their new life seems to be taking shape. But the trouble that brought them to Italy will not quite leave them in peace.

Schooled, by Anisah Lakhani: Lakhani paints a darkly comic picture of what a five-figure tuition bill really gets you at an elite Manhattan private school. The former Dalton English teacher knows the territory, and it is bleak. Here's Anna, a newbie teacher with Ivy credentials whose passion for the low-paying teaching profession is cause for celebration at the upper-crust Langdon school, where as the exotic-looking newcomer, she is mistakenly identified as a coveted minority hire. With low pay and even lower expectations from teachers and parents, Anna realizes there's no way she can survive — until she learns about lucrative after-school tutoring gigs. And just like that, Anna's ideals go out the window.

I'm excited to read both of these. Thanks so much, Joanne!

Thank you all for your kind birthday wishes! You made my day even brighter!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Line of the Day

My mom and I were sitting at the breakfast table when she began to sing a slowwww, soft rendition of "Happy Birthday." It crawled, it meandered, it was drawn out. I thought she was still tired and singing half-heartedly until she said, "As you get older it begins to sound more like taps doesn't it?"

My first snorty laugh of the day.

I See Another Birthday, Then I Go Back to Bed

Hopefully the way my morning started is not a sign of things to come for the day or the year. I'm 28 today, and I had every intention of sleeping late. Daisy, on the other hand, had far different plans for me. She stood on her hind legs by the bed at her usual 5am, so I popped up to let her out. First I have to toss her in the crate for a minute so I can close my mom's bedroom door effectively protecting mom and her two dogs, Scooby and Dash, from a fit of pouncing. Then I go into the living room to turn on a light. Then I can actually let Daisy out of my bedroom.

We were supremely surprised to find it RAINING this morning. It was great, we need rain, but as you probably already know if you've been reading here for a while, Daisy won't go out in the rain. She much prefers to squat in the sunroom when no one is looking. But I digress...

I threw a hooded raincoat over my sleep shirt and shorts, put on some flip flops, and shut us both outside in a cold rain in an effort to force her to squat outside. A few minutes and much wetness later, we were back in the house, back in bed, and back to sleep until 7:00. Wheee!

Now for birthday loot of the bookish and non-bookish variety:

Mom brought the cake home yesterday, and I can assure you it is deeeelicious. I've been up for a while and have braced myself for sugar, so I'm going to have a piece for breakfast in a few minutes.

The pile below that is my birthday loot! Mom bought me the Sleeping Beauty fabulous, titanium, super-deluxe edition. I always forget to buy my favorite Disney DVDs for myself when they come along, and she knows this one is my favorite. Thanks, Mom! She also indulged my latest smelly obsession: body cream, body splash, and a huge candle from Bath and Body Works. The scent? Vanilla Bean Noel. It smells just like a cupcake. I'm aiming to smell like a confection 'til Christmas.

The other fantabulous goodies are from Heather! She knows me too well and always manages to find the coolest stuff to surprise me. The books are The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, by Gordon Dahlquist and Wise Children, by Angela Carter. I can't wait to dig into them! The test tube is actually the packaging for a great necklace that says, "I Read Banned Books," and last but most assuredly not least, a handmade journal by the illustrious Iliana!!! I had my eye on this one from the moment Iliana posted it. It's my favorite shade of green with a flaming heart on the front. The design matches another journal I have, and it kind of reminds me of my claddagh ring that I wear daily. I love love love it! Go check out her Etsy shop, Bookgirl's Studio.

It's only 8am, and already it's been a fantastic birthday. I have no intention of doing any serious work today (I took a day off from the in-person teaching gig), and I have every intention of digging further into The Graveyard Book. 30 pages so far, and I love it!

I'll update later if anything over the top happens, but you can be pretty positive that I'll be eating good food, lounging, and reading. The perfect birthday!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

This is What Heaven Looks Like

Even the lamp incident couldn't make me stay mad at her.

The Sunday Salon - In Which Living Dead Girl Dies a Horrible Death

Good Sunday morning everyone! And welcome to another rousing round of The Sunday Salon. So before I get to the point, I have to tell you a story.
Last night I was fiddling with some things on my dresser...examining some books, lighting a candle, etc. I heard a noise behind me and turned around just in time to see Daisy knock a lamp off the nightstand. It then crashed into a wooden game/decoration table stacked with books where the heavy frosted glass shade shattered into a gazillion pieces. She darted under my feet, knocked me over, I screamed, and my mom arrived on the scene to see me, Daisy, a bazillion books, and a field of broken glass scattered across the room.
The dog has talent. I'll give her that. I was just about to start The Graveyard Book when all the excitement went down, but Daisy and I were both so flustered that by the time I cleaned up the entire room, we curled up on the couch and watched Iron Chef until bedtime. Never a dull moment in this house.
But back to books...
When I should've been grading papers yesterday, I was curled up in the sunroom with Elizabeth Scott's Living Dead Girl, and I fear I'm in the minority, since I have to give this one a big ole two thumbs down. Now, keep in mind, I read young adult literature like a person with a Masters specialty in children's lit. I can't help's how I was trained. Generally, I'm not looking for a good story necessarily, but how the book fits into the overall trends in young adult lit, "problems" that are worth discussing like ideological hiccups and contradictions, and I'm generally looking for the big "so what?" What does the book accomplish that's worth teaching and discussing? Alas, Living Dead Girl registers on my scale as a moot point. But here's a blurb before I tear into it more:
"Alice" is 10 years old when a man named Ray kidnaps her from an aquarium where her class is on a field trip. Over the course of five years he starves Alice to keep her tiny and looking as little girlish as possible, he beats her, he rapes her, he controls her in every way. He tells her what to wear (little girl dresses until she outgrows them), when to bathe, and how to touch him. He tells her that he will kill her family if she ever runs away. He shows her newspaper clippings of her family, her funeral, and generally terrifies the living daylights out of her until she is completely under his control. She longs to die, but she eventually finds out that Ray's plans for her may be much more sick and twisted than death.
So, sounds like a real upper, huh? It's just as unpleasant as it sounds, and I can't claim to pooh-pooh a book just because it's unpleasant. A number of books I've read for courses, discussed with classes, and retain on my keeper shelves are depressing as hell. Push, by Sapphire comes to mind as one of the most supremely unpleasant but highly discussable and teachable books I've ever read. And if we're talking about pedophile books (watch the Google hits flow in from that one) I loved Lolita.
On the whole, the reviews I've seen for this book are positive and I can understand why. It's a very readable book. I knocked it off in a few hours. Would've been quicker but I had to take a nap in the middle. You have to know what happens, for sure. It's certainly involving and horrifying. However, it's like watching a car accident, and all of those potentially positive attributes I listed above weren't enough for me to think it a good book. I'm not sure what this book is trying to accomplish. I can guess based on my own interpretations and Elizabeth Scott's podcast, that she's trying to make a point about control and not blaming the victim, but I think most of us know not to blame the victim...especially when she's 10, kidnapped, and abused in every conceivable way. So, that's a big fat moot point. It's a "duh."
I guess my problem with this book is that it's packed with sensational violence and abuse, and there's no shred of hope for Alice. She's a living dead girl, just as the title suggests. Ray is pure evil.
So what's the point? I don't always require that a book be hopeful to give it a good review, but it is nice when there's an element of writerly nuance, some threads of meaning to tease out of the book, but this one struck me as an unwavering bash over the head with the horrible stick. I don't think Scott accomplished much of anything except a grossfest. Violence for violence's sake, if you will.
I can only compare this book to Lolita because, honestly, how many pedophile books does one run across? I enjoyed Lolita for Nabokov's humor, the intense writing, and his unnerving ability to somehow humanize the perpetrator, Humbert Humbert. Given, Lolita is decidedly an adult book as opposed to YA, but YA, as all of us who read it regularly know, does not have to be oversimplified. Living Dead Girl could've been much more, and that's one of many things that disappointed me.
Now, having looked over Scott's website, I think she's a lovely, fun person. I would love to read some of her other work sometime for the sake of comparison, but overall I would say Living Dead Girl is a bust.
If you've read it, leave a comment because I would love to hear your take on it.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Book Trailers All Around...

My next Bibliobuffet column is a review of Tricia Dower's short story collection, Silent Girl. It includes eight short stories loosely based on some of Shakespeare's heroines. Whether you have a knowledge of Shakespeare or not, this collection is very enjoyable, and if you're not a particular fan of short stories, this is probably a good place to start. They're on the long side of short and give a nice, full description of the characters' struggles.

But enough of the blurbing, you'll have to read the full review on Monday. In the meantime, I thought I'd whet your appetite with a book trailer!!! I love these things.

They Just Keep on A'Comin...

More books keep flying through my door! I had breakfast with Susan this morning. Today is her birthday, and mine is Monday, so we had eggs and hash browns, and bacon and sausage, and stacks of streusel coffee cake pancakes! It was delightful, delectable, full of carbs, and just damn good. Happy birthday to us!

Note: Watch for a birthday post on Monday to recap all the bookish loot that I've gotten lately. Can I get a wahoo?!

We also took the opportunity to trade some books. I grabbed some from my review closet for her to spread around to her students for review, and she brought two books I've wanted to read and that she's recently finished.

The Graveyard Book needs no introduction. It hasn't been out too long, but I still feel like I'm the last poor sap on earth that hasn't read it yet! I expect I'll dive into it this week, and hopefully I can beat this ongoing case of startitis.

The other book she brought is Living Dead Girl, by Elizabeth Scott. Apparently this one is quite the controversial novel. Read the blurb and you'll probably understand why:

When Alice was ten, Ray took her away from her family, her friends — her life. She learned to give up all power, to endure all pain. She waited for the nightmare to be over. Now Alice is fifteen and Ray still has her, but he speaks more and more of her death. He does not know it is what she longs for. She does not know he has something more terrifying than death in mind for her. This is Alice's story. It is one you have never heard, and one you will never, ever forget.

I know what Susan thinks (you can read her review HERE), and I'm always curious, when it comes to a love or hate type of book, which side I'll inevitably fall on. I plan to sit out in the sunroom this afternoon and give this book a go. We'll see how it turns out. I'll be sure to post a review when I'm finished, and I'll definitely be calling Susan to compare notes.

If anyone else has read Living Dead Girl, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Library Binge!

It's been a long day. Daisy woke me up with a loud case of the itchies at 4:30, so I doped her up with antihistamines, and we went back to bed. I needed the sleep since I had to be out of the house and on the road to Oklahoma by 9:00 at the very latest. I trekked upward to do HR paperwork for the spring Children's Lit. class I'll be teaching. It was a relatively quick trip...about 3 hours of driving for only 1 hour of department head chatting and HR stuff. Hmmm.

I popped by the library to return American Wife and The Monsters of Templeton, neither of which got finished in their allotted time. *sigh* One day! Of course, I'm feeling the itch to start the U.S. Presidents Reading Project, so I picked up two books for that, and I always find at least one or two fun books. Today was no exception!

For the U.S. Presidents Reading Project:

Washington and His Colleagues, by Henry J. Ford: Washington was glad to remain at Mount Vernon as long as possible after he had consented to serve as President enjoying the life of a country gentleman which was now much more suited to his taste than official employment. Not much of a synopsis, but hey, it's better than nothing!

George Washington (The American Presidents series), by James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn: Revolutionary hero, founding president, and first citizen of the young republic, George Washington was the most illustrious public man of his time, a man whose image today is the result of the careful grooming of his public persona to include the themes of character, self-sacrifice, and destiny.

And just for fun:

The Man in the Picture: A Ghost Story, by Susan Hill: Hill crafts an old-school spooker in this atmospheric tale of a sinister painting imbued with the vengeful spirit of a former owner. The painting, owned by retired Cambridge don Theo Parmitter, catches the eye of a visiting former student who's intrigued by its depiction of an 18th-century Venetian carnival scene and a figure in the foreground who looks anachronistically modern. The student's questions extract from Theo the strange story of how he won it at auction and the even stranger tale of the bidder he beat: the elderly Lady Hawdon, who claims that the man in the picture is her husband, imprisoned in the painting through the designs of a jilted lover who gave it to them as a wedding present.

Finally, I rechecked American Wife, by Curtis Sittenfeld. I didn't get around to it in my previous batch of library books and I'd met my recheck limit, but I found another copy, so I was good to go! Woot!

Has anyone read The Man in the Picture or anything else by Susan Hill? It's a tiny little book, but it looks creeptaculous!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

I Have No Snappy Title

Morning bloggers. So the day after the election was hellish. While I would've loved to languish, grade some papers, and soak up the news, I had to teach in the morning, feverishly try to finish an assignment in the afternoon, and last night was the long trek to/from Denton to my class. We stayed for every bit of our 6-10 meeting, and I made the mistake of swinging through Taco Cabana for a quesadilla on the way home. Not cute. The chicken was so hard, dried out, and discolored I didn't eat more than a couple bites.

When I was finally ready to fall into bed, I had to take Daisy's crate blanket away from her because she has a tendency to chew on it, eat pieces, and get sick. So as it turns out she didn't get sick, but her nails clicked on the plastic floor all night and I got zero sleep. Got up at 5am so dizzy I thought I was going to retch, so I camped out on the couch and caught some zzz's from 5-9 this morning when I had to get online for my virtual reference internship.

So, yeah, GOOD TIMES!

But today I'm catching up on what news I missed yesterday and looking through students' assignments. If I feel like leaving the house later, I think I might go on a trek for my first presidential book for the US Presidents Reading Project.

Should I start at the beginning with George Washington or at the end with Barack Obama? I guess I'll have to paw the books some more to decide!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Can YOU dig it?

Last night I was teary, overwhelmed, astounded, exhausted, and now I'm just GIDDY!!!!! Can't wait to hear what my students have to say about this today. I'm sure they'll have lots of interesting comments.

In other news, what better occasion to join a new reading challenge?! The lovely and fantastic Lezlie from Books 'N Border Collies has assembled the U.S. Presidents Reading Project! This challenge asks us to read one non-fiction book about each of the presidents (although dependent on our interest, we may also read books about multiple presidents and count the book toward all of those included).

This election has really fired my interest in politics and history for the last few years. so this challenge seems right up my alley!

I think I'll start by finishing Dreams from My Father, by our President-Elect, Barack Obama!!!

Now I hope you'll all take the plunge with us! There's no time limit on this one, just a leisurely exploration of our national leadership. Woot!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Yes We Can!

What started as an underdog grassroots campaign has paid off in a big way. Barack Obama is the President-Elect of the United States, and I really don't know what to say on an historic occasion like this that's been so close to my heart for so long.

In short, I hope that this change will usher in a new age of accountability in America. It won't be easy to fix the issues that need fixing, but we have a leader we can be proud of and a new face to show the world. It feels good to have a president I can be genuinely proud of because it's been a painfully long time. I am achingly proud to be an American tonight and it feels good to have been part of something so inspirational and far-reaching. I hope the next four years drive millions of us to take change upon our own shoulders and help make it happen.

No matter what your politics, thank you for going out to cast your vote and for being a part of the process. We've seen a crack in the glaze of apathy affecting this country, and I think we can all agree that it's a wonderful thing.

God bless America!

Running Commentary

If you're at all interested in something of a videography of the election, check out my running commentary throughout the day over at Unlikely Activist. The activism blog has sort of turned into a chronicle in pics and videos of this election. Snippets of things that I want to remember.

Join me!

On Not Reading Sucky Books...

If you're still wondering, as I am, how I managed to read 21 books in October, I have to give credit to a newfound philosophy: don't read sucky books.
That is, when my mood is sour, a book isn't blowing my skirt up, and I just don't feel like reading something, I put it aside. Sometimes it goes back on the stacks, sometimes it goes in the used bookstore "sell back" sack, and other times I give it away.
For years I had a weird compulsion to finish every single book I started. Given my finicky reading tendencies, I just can't do that consistently. Especially when I have trouble settling on something--anything. It's exhausting.
Right now I'm in a "startitis" kind of mood. I stole that term from Danielle at A Work in Progress, and it sure fits! I started The Year of Living Biblically, and I'm not really in the mood for it. I picked up Tender at the Bone, and I'm not terribly enthused. Now I'm picking at a cute YA book called Dear Julia, by Amy Bronwen Zemser. This one might stick, but it'll be a bit longer before I can say for sure.
Do you ever get startitis, and how do you get over it?
Cheers to not finishing books we don't like, readers! If you're ever wondering why 80% of my reviews are positive: because I don't finish books I abhor! Most of the time I don't even bother with books I'm lukewarm about.
Life's too short. Read like your hair is on fire.
I think I'll have that motto tattooed on my forehead.
Happy election day! Even if you don't vote for Obama, JUST GO VOTE!
Vote! Vote! Vote! Vote! Vote!
And if you're in a country other than the U.S., sit back and have a turkey sandwich.

Monday, November 03, 2008

My American Prayer

And these are the hands

What are we gonna build with them?

This is the church you can't see

Give me your tired, your poor and huddled masses

You know they're yearning to breathe free

--My American Prayer, by Dave Stewart and Seth Dalton

This is my last post in regards to the election. Until afterwards, anyway. I, like so many others, will be waiting impatiently and hopefully for quick results and the outcome we so desperately yearn for. I'm continually humbled by the outcry for positive change in this country...for hope and direction...for the mending of old wounds. There's nothing anti-American about people banding together under the umbrella of a common vision and a peaceful future. This election demonstrates patriotism at its finest--millions of citizens willing to cast our ballots and passionately debate our most pressing issues in an effort to see what we believe come to fruition. No matter what your party, this is an historic time to be an American.

Now we wait.

We Have a Lot of Work to Do

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Sunday Salon - October Recap

Pardon the blue, but I'm a little excited pre-election, so I thought I'd whip out a special bloggy theme! If it annoys ya, it'll be gone after Tuesday. Never fear.

Looking back at my reading in the month of October is sort of staggering. The Read-a-Thon pushed me to read eight extra books I probably wouldn't have read otherwise, but even without those, I still would've read way more in October than any other month this year. Maybe it's the weather change, or maybe I'm finally in a good groove at work, or maybe I'm setting more time aside to read. Whatever it is, I love it! The grand total I read in October: 21 Books!

That's almost twice the number of books I've ever read in a single month. To recap:

Capote in Kansas, by Kim Powers
Jamberry, by Bruce Degen (picture book)
Don't Bump the Glump, by Shel Silverstein (poetry)
Papa and Me, by Arthur Dorros (picture book)
Welcome to Your World, Baby, by Brooke Shields (picture book)
Evernight, by Claudia Gray
Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe, by Jennie Shortridge
The Partly Cloudy Patriot, by Sarah Vowell
Psyche in a Dress, by Francesca Lia Block
Magic Trixie, by Jill Thompson (graphic novel)
Dope Sick, by Walter Dean Myers
I Was Told There'd Be Cake, by Sloane Crosley
In the Shadow of No Towers, by Art Spiegelman (graphic novels)
Incantation, by Alice Hoffman
Ghostsitters, by Angie Sage
The Gargoyle, by Andrew Davidson
Queen of Halloween, by Mary Engelbreight (picture book)
Cat Nights, by Jane Manning (picture book)
Halloween Night, by Marjorie Dennis Murray (picture book)
Ghost Files: The Haunting Truth, by The Ghost Society
Tell the World, by the students of WritersCorps (poetry)

Given, I read several picture books for review, lots of children's and YA, but still....that's a boatload of books for me!

Favorites: The Gargoyle, Incantation, The Partly Cloudy Patriot, Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe, Capote in Kansas (OK, can you tell I'm having a hard time narrowing it down?)

Best YA: Evernight

Favorite graphic novel: Magic Trixie, by Jill Thompson

Favorite picture book: Halloween Night, by Marjorie Dennis Murray

It was a great month. I would highly recommend any of the books in the list--a testament to my philosophy of not finishing sucky books. More on that in another post.

I finished Silent Girl, by Tricia Dower yesterday, and you can expect an upcoming review over at Bibliobuffet. I've started Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone, and I'm really enjoying it so far. The Year of Living Biblically was moving kinda slowwww, so it's on hold for the moment, but I have no doubt I'll come back to it soon.

Happy Sunday reading, everyone!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Estella on the Scene

The new issue of Estella's Revenge is available now! It's a great issue: interviews with Christine Son and Jennie Shortridge, feature essays on Spider Girl, counting our readerly blessings, and a great new 2009 reading challenge hosted by one of our own. We also have a big, sexy stack of reviews: The Graveyard Book, Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth, The Shoe Queen, Tell the World, and more!

You might also be interested to know that the Estella e-zine also has a Twitter feed now, as well as a revamped MySpace page.
Images by Freepik