All the Dancing Birds by Auburn McCanta (Book Review)

All the Dancing BirdsAll the Dancing Birds by Auburn McCanta
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh, how this book made me cry. The prose is luminescent, the love is transcendent.  It should have been a faster read as it’s not a long book, but Lillie’s heart-wrenching slide into forgetfulness and despair is overwhelming and I had to take breaks. I felt like I was cheating, too, because people living with Alzheimer’s, either as the patient or someone who loves the patient, would be immersed in it, no breaks. A beautifully written, eye-opening read.

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Story of a Crime Series (Martin Beck) (Book Review)

The Fire Engine That Disappeared  (Martin Beck #5)The Fire Engine That Disappeared by Maj Sjöwall
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“So we find ourselves in the strange position of not knowing what happened? said Hammar severely.

“Not all that strange,” said Kollberg.  “I personally hardly ever know what’s happened.”

There are actually two fire engines that disappear, but that title wouldn’t be quite as catchy.  This is another delightful Story of a Crime mystery from the Swedish husband and wife writers Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö.  Infinitely readable. I can go through one of these books in a single lazy day, but they are not easy so much as they are compact.  Words are not wasted in these novels.  The humor is wry; the action moved briskly along; our hero detective squad peopled by cops whose personalities are finely sketched and not always likable.  My favorite in the series is still “The Laughing Policeman,” but don’t pass this one by.

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The Ghosts of Maraval by Siobhan Fraser (Book Review)

The Ghosts of MaravalThe Ghosts of Maraval by Siobhan Fraser
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is almost a wonderful book, but I felt like I was reading a draft. There is so much potential here, and all it needs is smoothing over from a couple more rewrites. The omniscient narrator is difficult to pull off and I felt there was frequently more telling instead of showing. Lots of typos, misplaced or missing paragraph breaks, punctuation errors, things like “loose” instead of “lose.” I acknowledge that I am pickier than a lot of people about the mechanics, but I personally dislike stumbling over things like that. It pulls me out of the story.

BUT. ..there is a lot of good stuff here too. I really like the characters,  quirky and half-crazy. I love the lion dog and the Dutch nudists. The sense of place is wonderful. I’d look up from reading and think, wait a minute, I really need to be camped out by a falling-down old farmhouse in the French countryside .. what the heck am I doing on this metro bus in downtown Seattle? The story itself is original, nicely plotted, and as enchanting as the spring of Maraval. I’m interested to read more from this author.

I received an ARC through NetGalley and Cameron Publicity in exchange for an honest review.

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Poof! You’re a Tree: #1000Speak

Acceptance is so very, very hard. The one thing it absolutely requires is suspension of judgment, true absence of judgment, something few of us are very good at.
One thing I am learning, slowly, as I struggle uphill through my haphazard life, is that if we’re going to be able at all to accept the world around us and the people in it, the first thing we need to be able to accept is ourselves.
This month’s #1000Speak post is not a how-to or a how-I-got-here or a here-is-what-I’ve-learned. It’s random thoughts, mainly, on something I need to get a lot better at. But I didn’t realize that at first. As usual, I was struggling with what to write this month.
And then I saw this on Facebook the other day, and it was perfect:

I can’t credit the author of the meme, but I can tell you that it came from the Facebook page of Tree Sisters, and I love it. Trees and Ram Dass; what’s not to love?
I struggle horribly with acceptance. Like so many, I’m a lot more forgiving and accepting of others than I am of myself. (Well, except for bigots and Kardashian fans. We’ve got nothing to talk about.)
The different body types. Oh Lord, is this a peeve of mine, the notion that an imperfect body denotes a imperfect person, and don’t even get me started on my loathing for the ridiculous standards of beauty rampant in this country. I’m the first to defend anybody else for not being physically “perfect” (whatever that’s supposed to be anyway), but I’m the first to criticize myself. I remember when Dream Girl was little and she asked me why people love other people who are ugly, and I told her that no one who is loved is ugly, because love makes people beautiful. I would do well to remember that I am loved, and therefore I am beautiful.
Personal faults. How silly is it, to be accepting and understanding of the faults of others but not to extend that same grace to myself? This is not an excuse to decide I don’t need to try to become a better person. I believe that’s one of the things we’re living this life for – to evolve. But it is a reminder that as much as I want to be better, I am also exactly where I’m supposed to be. If I was supposed to be somewhere else, that’s where I’d be. As long as I don’t stop striving, it’s okay to cut myself some slack.
The views and opinions of others. Yes, even bigots and Kardashian fans. Each of us here is evolving, in our way and in our own time, with our own unique histories and memories and battle scars and fears and windmills to tilt at. No perception of the world around us is without stain or skew. We’re all learning. Some of us are a little further along than others, and not for one second am I claiming I’m any further than anyone else. Except Kardashian fans. No, wait — them too. And yes, even bigots.
So, back to Ram Dass. How awesome is that quote, how perfectly true? We see a tree, or a flower, or a star, and we don’t criticize it. We may analyze it and classify it and place it in a certain context, as it paints part of our picture of the world for us, but we don’t criticize it. It just is.
And that’s how I’m going to look at this from now on.
I’m a tree.
You’re a tree.
And how much do I love trees?
Some of my favorite trees. Founders Grove, Humboldt Redwoods
State Park, California.
Time, and judgment, stand still.

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (Book Review)

A Spool of Blue ThreadA Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I often feel more at home in an Anne Tyler novel than I do in my own life. She has confirmed in a BBC interview that this is to be her last novel, so it’s not just a horrible rumor. Well…she’s been writing superb studies of family and love and home for 50 years, so I guess she’s entitled to retire, but it still makes me sad. That’s the only way in which this last book disappoints. She is as poignant and lovingly funny as always, her characters so finely drawn I feel I know them better than I know my own family. If you’re looking for high drama look elsewhere, but if you’re looking for the extraordinarily ordinary that most of us live, you’ll be right at home in these pages and in the Whitshank house.

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The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (Book Review)

The Remains of the DayThe Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“The evening’s the best part of the day.” Not always, in matters of the heart. This is one of the most deliciously ironic and bittersweet books I have ever read. Ishiguro does a masterful job of telling a story between the lines.

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Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (Book Review)

MiddlesexMiddlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Everyone struggles against despair, but it always wins in the end. It has to. It’s the thing that lets us say goodbye.” As it did to others, the book’s title had me thinking of an idyllic English shire. I was surprised to be reading a present-day Iliad. Eugenedis’ writing is clear and cool like a running stream on Olympus. Excellent modern epic.

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Accepting the Nicholas Sparks Challenge

Mike Licht, Flickr/Creative Commons
This past week I posted a pretty snarky review of The Notebook. The book, not the movie. I know the movie was a sleeper hit and has become a cult classic. I also know that most people say this is one of those cases where the movie was actually better than the book. Still, I am not a very sentimental or romantic person. My cold heart cannot take that amount of sap. I will not be watching the movie. I only read the book by kind-of accident, and once I realized the sappy romance I had gotten myself into, it turned out to be the horror show I couldn’t look away from. That, and I was stuck away from home with nothing else to read, which is another sin. I got what I deserved.

But…in the course of writing that review, that in-all-fairness thought did voice itself to me: “So, you criticize, but can you do it better?”
Actually, I think I can.
This is not least because that book was terrible. I mean, weak plot, characters introduced for no reason (hi, Gus, the stereotypical wise old black man friend), no character development, tropes and clichés freakin’ everywhere. The words “what we have is too beautiful to throw away,” in that exact order, appeared in that book. Puh-leeze.

There was an event, long ago in my life, that served as the catalyst for ongoing panic attacks and anxiety disorder that still plague me to this day. I have long thought that the best catharsis might be to write it out, but all the journaling in the world has not availed me much. But with the “I suppose you can do better?” mental chiding came the inspiration: that event may possibly be best memorialized and cauterized in the form of a sappy, tragic, heart-wrenching, cheesy romance. In one fell swoop, I can tell the world, get it out of my system, and turn the whole sick mess into what it might have been if the gods didn’t have a wicked sense of irony. I find it hysterically funny that the story I am aching to tell seems to best fit the genre I despise the most. Is there some deeper meaning to that, or is it just a cosmic joke?

So, I owe Nicholas Sparks a thank-you. Not an apology, because The Notebook was utter drivel and I’m standing firm on that, but that godawful book has inspired something in me, and inspiration is a wonderful thing. I realize I may be forced to change my blog banner to, “write something that’s really really acceptable,” and I’m okay with that. The point is, I’m inspired to do something. I love the feeling of being on fire again.

And…and…I was disappointed that this didn’t happen around National Novel Writing Month…but I’m just in time for Camp NaNoWriMo! It’s a sign from above! S’mores for everyone!

Of course, this entire blog post is basically a way to put off actually writing, because writing is hard. I’m not kidding myself; writing a cheesy romance is going to be a lot harder than it looks, like so many things are. But I think I can take it as well as I can dish it out. I spent yesterday brainstorming and outlining, and I think this might actually work.

Let the hokey writing commence!


OK, wait…if I’m not a sentimental sap then why, a few hours later, am I sitting here with a glass of wine, watching Sense and Sensibility? Oh yes, because…Colonel Brandon, kicking some Willoughby ass.

Brothers and Sisters by Bebe Moore Campbell (Book Review)

Brothers and SistersBrothers and Sisters by Bebe Moore Campbell
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I don’t understand all the praise. This book is awful. Flat, stereotyped characters. Jerky timelines and POV’s that switch suddenly and clumsily. I keep having to backtrack to check where we are in time and whose head we’re in. How exactly do you smack yourself in the head so hard that it “reverberates in the empty room” (that we’ve already been told isn’t empty) or tremble so hard somebody can’t hold on to you?  Take a minute and picture those things, seriously. Hamfisted, overdramatic, contrived. Yes, I get the story, I really do get it, it’s about prejudice and power and the moral choices each of us makes, and had the story been told well this could have been a Truly Important Book. Campbell is capable of a good turn of phrase –describing buildings in a depressed part of town as “the color of bathtub rings” was evocative. As it is, it comes off as a sophomoric soap opera. Life is too short for bad writing, but I have to finish this because it’s assigned reading for an MCS class. At least I can sell it back after the quarter.

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Measureless Night by Chris Culver (Book Review)

Measureless Night (Ash Rashid Book 4)Measureless Night by Chris Culver
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This is my first Ash Rashid novel,  but I see it is #4 in a series.

It started out well, but at about the 50% mark it seemed to get loose, like somebody stopped halfway through a rewrite. For example, another detective tells Ash they picked his family up for protection, but a few pages later they’re right where they had been and Ash picks his daughter up from school. In another spot he makes sure there is a round in the chamber, and then a couple of paragraphs later he chambers a round. Little things that made the story not quite tight and pulled me out of it, and I don’t know how much of that is due to final proofing not being done yet. The final chapter was disappointing. The author stopped showing and started telling, issuing a clinical wrapup with no real life in it, more like a closing a case file than ending a story. The outcome of the city-wide attack wasn’t very believable.

I liked the peeks into the life of a Muslim family, giving me some understanding of customs and beliefs as well as the prejudices they face in America. The inclusion of Santa Muerte was also a treat, although I wish she wasn’t strictly associated with criminals.

Overall, though, an enjoyable police procedural mystery; I’ll check out the first three in the series.

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