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The past couple weeks have been a bit hectic what with my corneal infection, Penny’s surgery, house-hunting, Mother’s Day, and, most recently, the stomach flu.

Occasionally during this time I have come to my sad, neglected little blog and think “Oh, no.  My readership is down! Sad! I should really write more. But not today…” Or I’d simply fail to form some coherent sentences after staring at the computer screen for several long minutes.  But then I’d get over it and go back to reading my cheesy mystery novels.

In just over three weeks I’ve read all of the following novels:

The mysteries: I love historical mysteries! They combine two of my favorite genres–historical fiction and mysteries.  by C S Harris

What Remains of Heaven: A Sebastian St Cyr Mystery by C S Harris

What Angels Fear: A Sebastian St Cyr Mystery by C S Harris

When Gods Die: A Sebastian St Cyr Mystery by C S Harris

Where Serpents Sleep: A Sebastian St Cyr Mystery by C S Harris

Why Mermaids Sing: A Sebastian St Cyr Mystery by C S Harris

And Only to Deceive (A Lady Emily Mystery) by Tasha Alexander

A Fatal Waltz (A Lady Emily Mystery) by Tasha Alexander

A Poisoned Season (A Lady Emily Mystery) by Tasha Alexander

Tears of Pearl (A Lady Emily Mystery) by Tasha Alexander

Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen

A Royal Pain by Rhys Bowen

Royal Flush by Rhys Bowen

The supernatural fiction: I’m hopelessly addicted to “fantasy” fiction, though I would like to add an addendum by saying that I don’t delve into the depths of fantasy with the whole Star Trek worlds or fighting dragons and what not.  I stick with mostly witches and vampires, because the make me oh so much cooler.

Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

Burned by P C and Kristin Cast

Prior to the last two weeks, more like in the two weeks before that (with some time off for my eye infection), I read the entirety of The Hollows series by Kim Harrison.  They’re violent, sexy, over the top, and completely addictive.

I guess I should do some more serious reading.  I currently have two Lincoln assassination histories, a Mark Twain biography, a Pulitzer prize winner, and a book about cyber-librarians lined up on my nightstand.

And yet…I’m just itching for another book in one of the series I’ve been reading to come out…or maybe a whole new series to latch on to.  That would be lovely.

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I went to the LA Times Book Fair a million years ago.  No? It was only a couple of weeks ago?  Geez, it’s been a very trying couple of weeks.  Well, I’ll try to remember what I thought about it since it was only a couple of weeks ago and not a million years ago, as you claim (though I doubt you).

First I remember it was crowded.  Very very crowded.  And I remember that it was a mistake to bring my giant mountain of a stroller.  Next time I’ll bring the lithe umbrella stroller.

That’s right, I said next time, because I also remember that the book fair was wonderful.  I only wish I’d been a little more organized.  There were tons of speakers (like Trisha Yearwood talking about food and music), workshops, and kids readers and performances (like Henry Winkler reading his new children’s book).  I was a little overwhelmed by all of this, figuring I would just make a plan when I got there.  You know, go with the flow?

Well there was no flow.  There were too many people there to have any kind of flow.  So next year, I’ll make a plan.  I’ll bring my print-out lineup with me and circle in red pen what I want to see.

I will also refrain from purchasing any books for at least three months before the Book Fair.  Ok, maybe only two months.  All right, just a month, but I’m holding firm to that limit.

Each pathway of the fair was lined with vendor stalls.  Most of the vendors were books sellers, although various writing groups and special interests were thrown in here and there (like the LA area mystery writers or the California-based Muslim group handing out copies of the Koran-for free! I almost took one but I figured I don’t actually read the Bible that much, I don’t know how much time I’d actually devote to reading the Koran).  Many of the book sellers had writers available throughout the day to sign a copy of their book, some even gave impromptu interviews.

I must admit, I was a little overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the materials available.  There were literally books everywhere!  I didn’t know where to start!  My mom kept urging me to look at the books every time I oohed or aaahed over a particular stall, but I hesitated, knowing I could lose myself in just one shop for hours.

I was also very conscious of my son’s presence.  I had intended to take C to the children’s music performances, but we were always slightly off schedule and the stage was thronged by masses of young families.

Fortunately, C didn’t seem to mind.  He was very happy just to lay back in his gargantuan stroller and people watch.  No crying or fussing at all, for the entire time we were there!  It was a small miracle!  And one that makes me think I can tote him with me to any outdoor festival, just as long as there are lots of people and frozen treats (we shared a snow cone, it was a big hit with the little guy).

All in all it was a good day, one I can’t wait to repeat next year.

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I love books, perhaps too much.  I can’t seem to part with them.

I can’t seem to stop buying them either.  When book clerks seem me their eyes glisten with joy.  I would hope that at this point Amazon has me flagged as a gold star customer.  I love Amazon’s recommendation list; it’s like dangling a string in front of a cat-I just can’t help it, I have to look!

It’s not that I need any more books either.  I have plenty.  Here’s a picture of just my books I haven’t read yet.

unread books

These are just the ones I haven't read!

I have them specifically organized, but I won’t bore you with the details of my personal cataloging system.  This is a picture of the bookcase in my bedroom, keeping the books I haven’t read close at hand should I desire a new one.  I’m not sure I’m going to ever post a picture of the book case in my office.  It’s is completely stuffed to the point that I have started piling books around the bottom.

However, I don’t go through books as fast as I used to.  Or at least, I’m not going through the new book list as fast as I used to.

I find I have so little time to devote to reading, that I find I am often hesitant to take a risk on a new book.  What if it’s boring? overly analytical? tedious?  I don’t have the time to waste on drivel! Instead I read and re-read old favorites.

Baby C seems to have a similar attitude to his books.  He is also hesitant to pick up new books with the same vigor he returns to his own favorites.  C gives a new books a page or two to grab his attention or delight him and if it fails, he pushes it away with disdain.  I try to entice him back, pretending to read and enjoy the book myself.  I oooh and aaaah, smiling as I turn the pages, trying to demonstrate that new books are just as fun.  Usually, this fails, perhaps it’s my acting skills, or perhaps C  feels as I often do: why waste time on something new when I know I love the things I have?

In recognizing this attitude my son may be adopting, I’m pushing myself to read something new, to break out of my lazy reading habits (and perhaps awaken my lazy mind) and set a better example.  There are dozens and dozens of books I know C will one day love and I want him to be open to reading them.

So if that means I have to read some new books (and perhaps purchase even more) I guess I’ll suffer through it, for the good of the boy, of course.

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Without endings

I am as much of a modern literature fan as anyone these days, but sometimes I yearn for the old ways of writing.  I yearn, in fact, for books and movies to have endings.  Now I know that literally all books end, factually the pages run out and the back cover closes.  But in the literary sense of the word, many books today don’t have a sense of finality.  There is no realization that the main character has come to, the wrong is left unrighted, the romance ends with questions instead of a marriage or a breakup.   Instead, we, the readers, are treated to an open ending.  A conversation occurs that unveils previously unknown facts and the words on the page run out without an explanation or resolution.  A new plot twist occurs, sometimes a car crash, a death, and our beloved characters are left scrambling to pick up the pieces.  In these cases, and in many others, it feels that the characters (and us, dear reader) are left in perpetual limbo, never moving forward or, conversely, coming to accept that things will never change.  There is just…

I’ve noticed this trend in movies as well.  Granted sometimes it is my own fault that I expect an ending without knowing enough about the movie.  For example, I recently say The Golden Compass, which for all intents and purposes was a good movie.  But in the spirit of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, had no ending for it’s first installment.  It merely showed the main characters moving off into the distance while we are left on the far shore watching them fade into the distance.  Now, when I saw this movie, I did not realize that this had been a series of books.  I thought that it was one book, and I set myself up for disappointment when I expected at the end of 3 hours to be treated to a resolution.

Yet this kind of non-ending is accepted in the case of movies that are made to have sequels or are a part of a trilogy. There are many other movies that end with the sense that there is more to the story without it being explained.  Take for example the movie The Kingdom.  It is the fictional account of a group of American intelligence agents going somewhere in the Middle East to investigate an attack on Americans living in that country.  The movie is entertaining, if not slow and at times under-developed, but it ends with the question of what will happen in the future?  Now I would guess that the director and screen writers created this ending for it’s dramatic effect, but, while I appreciated the fact that there is no ending to conflict in the Middle East at present, I longed for the resolution to be some what stronger.  I longed for the director to give me a tidy ending, an answer to the problem.  I know this is an unrealistic hope, as so many movies today aim for realism rather than resolution.

I’m sure there are a million other movies or books out there without endings.  If you, dear reader, are as tired of stories without endings as I am, let me know about them so we can warn others so they can stave off disappointment!

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If you’ve been reading my blog you know that I am a modern housewife. One of the qualifications of being a “modern” housewife is that I am very well educated. I am also an avid reader (but this has been the hallmark of housewives for at least a century). I was once told by my grad professor at over 60% of high literary fiction published each year is consumed by women, particularly well- educated women. I would definitely fall into this category. And to round out the picture, I started a book club with some friends that meets once a month to discuss the book du jour. We spend a good amount of time talking about the book, and also a good amount of time gossiping, drinking wine, and nibbling on appetizers.

My book club has found that we lack structure. We aren’t sure of themes to discuss or questions to ask, if not readily apparent. So in response, I’ve decided to do a weekly blog on a possible book club book. This week’s selection: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

This book does come with a section devoted to book-group discussion questions, as well as a conversation with the author, but I thought it would be a good book to start with.

To begin with, I was pleasantly surprised to find this an excellent read and truly deserving of it’s New York Times Bestseller status. So often, I’ve found books on those lists to be lacking in one respect or another, whether it is in plot, character development, description, etc. I found none of these areas to be lacking in Water.

It is a tale told simultaneously by one man, who has become two over the years. One side of the story is told by Jacob Jankowski at 90 or 93, and the other is told by Jacob Jankowski at 23. You can imagine the difference in these two men as 70 years has passed. The whole story is sparked by a circus setting up across the street from Mr. Jankowski’s assisted living facility (in other words an old folks home). It is this seemingly insignificant event that causes a wave of memories to come rushing into Mr. Jankowski’s dreams and waking moments. These memories begin with the Jacob at Cornell University, finishing his veterinary degree. It is in the final weeks of his degree that his parents are both killed in an automobile accident. Though this in itself is shocking enough, Jacob returns home to find that he no longer has a home. We, the reader, then start to patch together the time period. We know that Jacob’s story is set in the early part of the 20th century, but just how early or late was unclear. It is with the death of his parents and the bank taking his parent’s home, land, everything, that we understand that this is the particularly devastating time of the Great Depression. We also learn that having a good job like being a veterinarian doesn’t mean you’ll be spared the crushing despair of the time period, as we learn through the fact that Jacob’s father, also a vet, took payment in the form of beans or eggs or whatever his customers could pay.

Jacob is left alone and bewildered. He returns to school only to leave moments later and wanders off into the dark, where he just walks and walks and walks until exhaustion and hunger stop him. It is at this moment that his adventure begins. Jacob hops a train and inadvertently joins the circus. Things grow increasingly interesting as the cast of characters is revealed. Jacob’s bunk-mate is a defensive dwarf, his love interest is a married horse-performing Marlena, his adversary is the director of animals married to the lovely Marlena. Things become more complicated as the world of Depression Era circuses is revealed to us. The desperation is tangible and the air tense as we discover that the circus owner and operator is as dangerous as he is cruel, and his second in command, August the animal director, is an unstable and paranoid schizophrenic.

It is a joy to watch Gruen unravel the tapestry before our eyes to reveal the secrets behind it. The characters seem to dance a waltz around each other that we know will only end in disaster, but we cannot turn our eyes away. We, the readers, seem to feel their emotions and tensions as our own, as we cringe in horror or gasp in excitement. There are few books that can create this type of transferable emotion.

The only part of the novel that verges on disappointment is the time we spend with Mr. Jankwoski. Though he is a sympathetic and somewhat interesting character, our time with him often languishes in the doldrums of old folks home politics. My biggest joy in reading these passages was knowing that they led another piece of the Jacob puzzle.

If you or your book club is considering reading this book, here are some themes or questions I suggest discussing:

1. The desperation of of the Depression and how it affected people morally

2. Describe the circus

3. Treatment of animals then vs. now

4. What causes a person to dramatically break from their past? or their morals?

Also use the book club guide in the end of the book. And as a side note here are some possible snacks for the meeting: roasted peanuts, popcorn, cotton candy, lemonade (in other words, circus fare).

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Hello world!

Hello all! Friends and foes, family and strangers! I’ve decided to finally take action. I talk about how I want to write and my dearest dream is to be a professional writer. But what do I do about it? I start short stories and never finish them. I create a series of short poems, but stop after 3 or 4. I have novel ideas jotted on note cards and grocery receipts, in journals, on the backs of bills and torn envelopes. But what do I do with these ideas? I organize them into piles or files and put them aside to gather dust. So I must take action! And I’ve decided the first step towards my dream is to write; to write every day, whether profound or profane, the key to my success lies in writing.

So here’s my plan:

1. Post to this blog at least 5 times a week.

2. Finish at least one short story before the end of the year.

3. Outline at least one of my novel ideas by Christmas.

4. Research literary agents and publishing houses that take unrepresented authors.

5. READ everyday! (and not just gossip on TMZ or the news on CNN and AOL, really read, as in books)

6. Re-evaluate after New Years.

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