Saturday, April 28, 2012

No Reading, No Breathing!

Thought I might fill you in on why I haven't posted reviews. I had arthroscopic surgery on my shoulder Wed. morning. Afterward they gave me a nerve block. Everything was going well and we came home midafternoon.

Then all Hell broke lose that evening. My airway began to swell shut. I was truly frightened as we raced back to the ER. With oxygen through a nasal cannula and a breathing treatment I got a little more comfortable. More tests and a powwow of ENT doc, anesthesiologist, hospitalist, etc. followed. They decided it was the nerve block at fault so they kept me for 24 hr observation. The block wore off Thurs. morning.

My throat is sore, I have Thrush from regular use of my inhalers for COPD, and a sling. Also my ribs feel like I've been mugged. I just remembered, wasn't Thrush the evil organization in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.? That explains a lot! :D

I should be able to read this afternoon.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

New Frank Deford Book, Over Time

First, in deference to one of Frank Deford's pet peeves, I have spelled his name correctly. It is not DeFord as so many people write it. Drives him nuts. I can relate; no one could pronounce or spell my maiden name either and it gets really old after a while.

The subtitle of this book is My Life as a Sportswriter and I encourage you to get a copy as soon as it comes out in May. He is in my opinion one of the best writers around. People place sportswriters on a lower level than "actual writers" for some reason, but Deford is just plain great. You may have heard his pieces on NPR on your morning commute as I did for many years. If so, you know he has a somewhat jaded opinion on sports, but since he knows whereof he speaks, it is an opinion that we should take heed of.

In this memoir he writes about his wife Carol, his great friendship with Arthur Ashe, the characters he's met in all his years of covering sports, self-deprecating accounts of his eventful life in sports, and other memories. I hadn't realized how much credit should be given Arthur Ashe for his work in Africa and in trying to create an equality in sports, tennis of course, but also sports in general. I also didn't realize what a great sense of humor he had or his knowledge of topics such as apartheid.

As a person with COPD, I was interested to know that he has lung disease, and that he had a daughter who inherited his abnormality and died of cystic fibrosis. Later he and his wife adopted a little girl from the Philippines, a daughter they adore. He also writes wonderful stories about his son.

Deford grew up in Baltimore and I loved his description of "Bawlmer, Merlin" the way it was in his childhood. In fact, I enjoyed his memories of his personal life more than his sports memories if that's possible. You also get a sense of how sportswriting has changed in Deford's lifetime, from the journalists like Grantland Rice (who, gasp, he doesn't have a lot of respect for) to the television personalities of the current scene. The sportswriters with genuine writing talent don't come any better than Frank Deford. Long may he write. I highly recommend this book.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Grand Murder by Stacy Verdick Case

Thanks to Partners in Crime Tours, I received a signed copy of this book with a lovely note from its author. It's the first of a new series about St. Paul (MN) Police Department detectives Catherine OBrien and Louise Montgomery.

These two partners are an odd couple. O'Brien is very short and so she wears spike heels no matter how badly her feet hurt. She worries herself sick about everything, particularly whether her beloved job will come between her and her beloved husband, Gavin. She is a little bit wacky and lives on coffee. Montgomery, on the other hand, is calm, cool, collected, well-dressed with every hair in place, happily single, and she's a dedicated, hard-working detective. It's O'Brien though who tends to think outside the box and come up with solutions.

Their differences lead to some of the comic tone of the book but there are also side characters who are very funny, for instance, a large female security guard who falls for Montgomery. From the bio provided by the publishing company, I would say the author is probably a tiny bit wacky herself so her book was bound to be a fun read. It is a mystery so there is murder involved of course, but that doesn't get in the way of frequent laughing out loud while you read. I mean, really, the victim deserved it after all.

The second O'Brien and Montgomery book will be out soon and Case is working on Number 3 so there will be more delightful reading ahead. I recommend this first one for one of those days when only something light, amusing and quick will do. I defy you to keep a grin off your face.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Movie: "The Descendants"

As soon as "The Descendants" became available on Netflix I had it at the top of my list. Turns out it wasn't quite what I expected, but I loved it.

I really enjoyed seeing George Clooney play a role so different from the type of character he usually plays. He's Matt King in this one, a Hawaiian lawyer who has neglected his wife and two daughters as he concentrated on his legal career, and he's the head of the Board of Trustees for a huge tract of land on Kauai passed down through his famous Hawaiian family. He has many cousins who have decided it's time to sell that land to developers and make a ton of money off of it.

The story begins just after King's wife, a thrill-seeker and heavy drinker, is in a racing boat accident which leaves her in a coma. Suddenly he is totally responsible for his 17 and 10 year old daughters, both of whom are acting out in their despair and confusion over the situation. He admits he just plain doesn't know what to do with his younger daughter. Many of the other members of the cast besides the daughters are well-played, especially the wife's father.

The plot is about Matt King's suffering in the face of his wife's coma, his lack of faith in himself as a father, and his decision about the land. As head trustee, he has the final say about whether to sell or not. As if he doesn't have enough on his plate, he learns a shocking secret about his wife which leads to another direction in the story.

Clooney is wonderful in this movie. I'm glad I got to see him as more than a handsome womanizer because he nails this role. Even though the movie is very sad, I'm not surprised at the acclaim it has received. Definitely see it if you can.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen

This book won't be out until next month but I couldn't wait to tell you about it. I imagine it can be preordered now.

I remember very well when we lived in New Jersey years ago I loved Anna Quindlen's columns in the New York Times. She wrote about her life raising three children, being a wife and a writer, and trying desperately to keep up with everything. Even though I didn't have children, I did have a busy life. I identified with her, but mainly I appreciated her writing style. She wrote down-to-earth yet beautifully crafted columns. I don't know why I have never read any of her books, and there are many, but suppose it goes back to the busyness of my life in the intervening years.

Now I'm retired and reading more than I ever have so I was thrilled to receive this book from Random House to read and review. I hope they won't mind my jumping the publication date a little.

Quindlen has turned 60! That really makes me feel old, but thankfully it doesn't seem to bother her at all. The point of this memoir and her take on women's lives today is to look back from her current mature viewpoint on her life and her previous writing. Her children of course are grown and busy with their own lives. She has been through the death of her mother, such a traumatic experience for all of us. She and her husband have settled into the empty nest to lead a quieter life with gratitude for their relationship and shared joys and sorrows.

She writes about friends, marriage, being a mother, her career, family traditions, her faith, and her own mortality. I appreciated the insights from this woman who thinks deeply about life, and death. Once again I could identify with her and see in her maturing my own.

Anna Quindlen is a writer well worth reading. Yesterday at book "club" (for lack of a better word), some of the women said they hadn't liked a recent novel of hers, but I encouraged them to read this one. In Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake she has gone back to the Anna Quindlen we all loved many years ago. I highly recommend this book.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Movie: "The Pursuit of Happyness"

Once again I've been watching an old movie from Netflix. I'm too old to know much about Will Smith but the idea of this movie appealed to me. I did know that his real life son played the part of his son in the movie which made me curious.

We both enjoyed the movie but I have an objection to the rating. It was a PG-13 film simply (I guess) because an F-bomb was painted on the sign of the day care center where the boy was cared for during the day, and during a conversation about the fact that the word "happiness" was misspelled on the sign the boy asked if F--- was spelled right. Dad went into detail explaining that the word was an adult word that should not be used at all. So for that they gave it a PG-13 rating? I object!!

The story, based on a true story of a self-made multi-millionaire, was heart-wrenching and heart-warming. I'm not one to get choked up over a movie but a man in my household who shall remain nameless got teary. As Will Smith loses absolutely everything except his little boy, you wonder how in the world he'll manage to take care of the two of them, but he perseveres through all the difficulties. They do spend one night in a bathroom in a bus/train station but mostly they go to a shelter or spend some money on a motel room. The main object always is to keep the boy fed, warm and safe.

Meanwhile, Dad endures a tough internship at a brokerage firm, competing with 19 other interns to win the one full-time job available. Of course you know he's going to get the job but he sure does earn it.

If you haven't seen this old movie, get the DVD. It's a great story and Will Smith and his son are perfect in it.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Seven Dials by Anne Perry

I was delighted to find several books by Anne Perry in a bag of books given to me by a friend a few months ago. This is a 2003 mystery in the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series, a favorite series of mine. They are set in 19th century London, and as a bonus, this one also has Thomas Pitt being sent to Alexandria, Egypt so the reader gets a good idea of what Egypt was like at that time as well. Perry portrays these settings so well, I'm amazed at her ability to set the scene without sounding like a travelogue.

Her characters are rightfully beloved ones among Anne Perry fans. Charlotte and Thomas especially with their loving marriage and comfortable, if not plush, home. Their maid Gracie is very funny, but a strong woman who surprises herself with her strength. Great-Aunt Vespasia is a character I love. She reminds me of a good-natured version of the dowager countess in Downton Abbey.

The mystery is difficult to figure out, for me anyway. An Egyptian woman living in London is found in her garden at 3 a.m. trying to dispose of the body of a man and the gun that killed him, which happens to be her gun. Her current lover is also at the scene; he is a cabinet minister, Member of Parliament for Manchester. It's all a huge scandal and Pitt's job is to solve the mystery but keep the cabinet minister out of it if he possibly can. An impossible task but he is now with Special Branch and must do as he is ordered.

I recommend this novel, and for that matter the entire series.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Hills at Home by Nancy Clark

I finally finished that long book. It was a gift from Diane of Bibliophile by the Sea because I was the only commenter that said I would continue reading it when she quoted the first paragraph for a Teaser Tuesday post. I loved the description of a rainy, windy night, probably because I just love rain. I'm still glad she sent it to me. (Thanks, Diane.)

This is a book I didn't like but it wasn't bad enough to call it a DNF and toss it in the box to donate to the book sale. It's the story of a family in which each character's individual quirks and idiosyncrasies are exaggerated to the point of being ridiculous. The dust jacket says it's a "wonderfully comic family story" but I didn't even smile most of the time. It sort of reminded me of the only Ann Tyler book I read, which was so long ago I can't remember the title now.

Somewhere near Boston in a town named Towne (really!) lives Lily, an elderly lady who never married and enjoys a peaceful life alone in the old family home. Then, beginning on the aforesaid rainy night, a variety of family members descend on the house, supposedly for a visit, but actually to stay. There is Lily's brother, an opinionated old man who talks a lot but never gets anything done. Their niece Ginger and her daughter Betsy arrive from Kansas since drama queen Ginger has left her husband, and Betsy is distraught over the situation. Alden and Becky arrive with their bratty twin sons, Brooks and Rollins, and whiny daughter Little Becky. Other folks come for a bit and leave, but for almost a year the rest of them are stuffed into the house like so many sardines.

I did smile occasionally when the twins were up to something. No one could tell them apart so they were referred to thus. "What's for dinner?" asked Brooks. Or Rollins.

Not much happens in this long book. A guy named Andy Happening (I'm not making this up) comes to stay while he studies the family for his master's thesis, I think it is. So Andy observes, Ginger emotes, Betsy pines for her dad, Alden tries to think of a business to make some money, the twins and Becky drive everyone nuts, and Harvey, the brother, pontificates. Then just as suddenly as they arrived, they are all gone, and Lily sits alone on her patio answering their letters and enjoying the peace and quiet.

I suppose this is an interesting character study, but that's really all I can say for it. I wouldn't recommend the book.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Sorry I've Been Neglecting My Blog

I know, I know, I've been neglecting you lately. One reason is that I'm slogging through a book I don't really like that happens to be a loooong one. Trouble is that it isn't bad enough to just call it a DNF and get rid of it so I'll keep slogging.

The other reason is that I've been busy. Of course I was watching the Final Four and congratulations to Kentucky for the big win. Great team. I do feel badly for the Kansas team though and its fans, i.e. Margot of Joyfully Retired.

I'm participating in something new in Montrose, the county seat about six miles from home. A few years ago someone had the brilliant idea of conducting adult classes in a wide variety of subjects in spring and fall. I hadn't enrolled but the classes have been very popular. Then my friend Joan told me about a new one called "The Book Society" and we both enrolled, as did another friend Susan. We've enjoyed the first of the four sessions and I'm really looking forward to the other three.

Around here I rarely have an opportunity to talk with other readers even though I know there are many in the area, particularly mystery fans. We met at a small restaurant in town which specializes in the use of local foods, and all of us were delighted with our meals. There were eight of us at the first one, three others being away on vacations at the time. We discussed books to our hearts' content and I felt so at home doing so. The woman "teaching" the class moved here from NYC and she's an excellent discussion guide.

Between the Book Society, doctors' appointments for both of us, basketball on television, and the long book as well as other, more ordinary, chores and fun, I failed to post on this blog. However, I'm nearly finished with the book and have a stack of others to read, most of which are coming out in May. Hopefully I won't neglect you any longer.