Saturday, January 29, 2011

Attracting Birds to Your Backyard - Sally Roth

536 Ways to Create a Haven for Your Favorite Birds
Rodale Press, 1998
paper $16.95
TPPL 598.07234

Well, for some reason after many grownup years of total disinterest in birds, I'm getting a boot out of watching the finches outside my study window. I went to Wild Birds and bought a niger feeder with a contraption to stick it onto my window. It sat for almost two months before I had any visitors, but now they've found it and are nibbling happily away. They're pretty cool to watch up close.

So I returned two weeks ago and bought a feeder and contraption that screws to the top of my wrought-iron fence out back. And to my great delight, last Saturday morning, amid finches and other birds, along came a CARDINAL! This was a pretty big deal to me. I do not recollect ever seeing a cardinal before. I may have, I just don't recollect it.

I'll miss the northeastern robins, though, that always meant that spring was finally, FINALLY coming to the coast of Maine!

I just finished reading/skimming this helpful, interesting book. It's full of information about different birds, different seeds and feeds, who likes to eat what, plants that are helpful and nutritious...all sorts of really nifty information. Groan, groan, I'm going to start a journal/notebook. I'm too old to hold all of this in my head. But at least I've gone from only being able to identify a chickadee, robin, pigeon, crow, seagull, quail, and owl to a fine purveyor of Tucson winter finches - of the house finch and goldfinch variety.. Cool colors, reds, and lime greens and yellows. Pretty fun!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

8. At Ease With the Dead - Walter Satterthwaite

Joshua Croft #2
University of New Mexico Press, 1990
paper $9.95
237 pgs.
Rating: 5

A very fine mystery, taking place in Santa Fe, NM; El Paso, TX, and Navajo country, Arizona and New Mexico. Joshua Croft is a private investigator who functioned without cellphones or the internet, since the book was written over 20 years ago. Really well crafted, an interesting suspenseful tale.

Joshua Craft and Rita Mondragon run the Mondragon Investigation Agency together, although Joshua does all the "legwork." Rita's in a wheel chair and never....ever....leaves her house on the side of a mountain overlooking Santa Fe. The story begins with Joshua Meeting a wise old Navajo man named Daniel Begay while camping and fishing in northeastern New Mexico. They bond. And awhile later, Begay comes to him with a 65-year old mystery that is almost all dead ends, since almost everyone that could answer any questions is either dead or in their 80's. But Joshua proceeds, meeting fascinating people in El Paso and seeing first hand the trepidation that Navajos have for non-Navajos.

There's fighting and killing, with a little detail that's uncomfortable, but not enough to stop me from giving this a top-notch rating. I didn't read the first in the series, but I've ordered the second and can't wait to receive it.

MOVIE - Country Strong

Loved the music
Released 1-7-2011 (wide)
PG-13 (1:52)
Wed. 1-12-11 at Park Place with Terri
RT: 17% cag: 73%
Director: Shana Feste
Wyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw

This is the story of a sad, country music legend who can no longer deal with her life without substance abuse. She's been in and out of rehab, but her estranged manager husband gets a comeback gig for her and she leaves too early. She seems smart and sassy, but she's riddled with demons. She's having an affair with a much younger guy.

As this is going on a hungry-for-the-fame, much younger, singer has been asked - by the husband - to open the big show. The story follows the relationship of the younger guy and the wanna-be singer as well.

The movie entertained me and pissed me off, too. The slap-in-the-face ending proved how messed up Paltrow's character was, but was disappointing nonetheless.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

7. A Song for You - Betsy Thornton

Chloe Newcombe #5 (Dudley/Bisbee, Arizona)
Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin's Press, 2008
291 pages
Murder Mystery for Adults
Rating: 5

Wow. I love the way that Betsy Thornton weaves a story, using one major protagonist, then inserting a couple other voices to spice things up a bit. This mystery had me going until almost the end. And the setting – SO much in Tucson, road by road, through Sierra Vista many times, I could see it, I was there. And Bisbee. I need another trip there. She includes the setting as another character. Love it
And, as usual, she left a few things unsaid, open, ready to add your own slant. Because Chloe has quit her job for the Cochise Country Victim’s Assistance program and become a full-time investigator with a previous fling and cop who has started his own PI company in Sierra Vista. Brian Flynn. Throw in a 17-year old murder, then add another, mix it up with the 10-year old daughter who found her mother 17 years previously…with her head blown off. Raised a hippy, taken by her developer father to the Tucson foothills, where she is now a married preppie. Now throw in the hippie life of Dudley, Arizona (Bisbee, Bisbee!) both now and two decades ago, shake it up with many interesting walks up and down the hills and stairways of an old west town and voila! A recipe for a great murder mystery.

I’ve begun and discarded almost a dozen books in the last couple of weeks, nothing interested me at all, until I found and started this one last night. A winner.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

6. The Book of Names - Jill Gregory & Karen Tintori

Audio read by Christopher Graybill
Brilliance Audio, 2007
7 unabridged cds
9 hours
HC 320 pgs.
Rating: 3

Professor David Shepherd's life changed when he fell off a roof as a teenager and almost died. Ever since that time he gets a terrible headache and names come to him. He keeps these names written in a book. He has no idea about why they come or what they are. He's shared his questions with his best friend, but few others.

This book is the story of the Gnoseos (who are the bad guys) vs. the Hidden Ones. The Hidden Ones are predestined righteous souls whose names have been given to David. The Gnoseos are attempting to destroy the world by eliminating these righteous souls. It is when he discovers that his beloved stepdaughter, Stacy, is one of these special Hidden Ones and she is kidnapped that he goes after the bad guys full throttle.

Always questions who is a good guy and who is a secret bad guy, this is one bumby ride from beginning to end. You sort of have to suspend belief in reality to go along with some of the happenstance in the story. It was entertaining, frustrating, and interesting. Some of the setting was in Israel, but I couldn't reallly picture it from the telling.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

5. Best Friends Forever - Beverly Patt

Illustrated by Shula Klinger
A World War II Scrapbook
Marshall Cavendish Children, 2010
$17.99 hc
92 pages
Rating: 5

This book is written as a journal/scrapbook by 14 year old Louise Margaret Krueger in 1942. Her best friend is Dottie Masuoka, and they live and go to school near Seattle. Their lives are forever changed when Dottie and her entire family are relocated to interment camps after the bombing by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor.

The diary includes letters from Dottie to Louise as well as newspaper articles about the bombing and coverage of the relocation. Therefore, it covers the feelings and sentiments of non-Japanese Americans who have Japanese American friends as well as insight from the interred Japanese Americans. We see and feel what it's like to be on the outside of the fence, as what it feels like to be on the inside. The housing is described really well, and the decline of Dottie's grandfather and his growing resentment of the U. S. government is powerful.

The book is well-written, interesting, fun to read, and filled with historic information. After visiting Manzanar last summer it was particularly poignant to read. There is a five-page afterward that includes oodles of information related to the historical background of the story.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Tale of Two Daddies – Vanita Oelschlager

Illustrated by Kristin Blackwood & Mike Blanc
Vanita Books, 2010
40 pgs.
Rating: 3.5/4
Endpapers: Simplistic silhouette, two shades of deep pink
Illustrations: Afterword includes a description of their process!

There are many things I like about this book, and just a couple that I don't. I love the subject, of course, that a child of any gender can live a normal, loving life with gay parents. I love that the personalities of the two dads are not only discussed, but SHOWN in the illustrations. Only their legs, never their faces. Love it! I love that this wonderful child is such a free spirit. I like that the story rhymes and has somewhat of a rhythm. And that leads me to what I'm not so crazy about...the rhythm is off in many places, and sometimes the rhyming seems forced. But you can't have everything, right?

The protagonist and her male friend are having a back and forth question and answer conversation, that's how the storyline goes:
"Who's your dad when your hair needs braids? Who's your dad when you're afraid?
Poppa's the one when I need braids. Daddy is there when I'm afraid."

The First Pup – Bob Staake

The Real Story of How Bo Got to the White House
Illustrated by the author
Feiwel and Friends, 2010
32 pages
Rating: 4
Endpapers: Colorful cartoonish dogs running across the page
Illustrations: 1.) pencil sketch 2.) cut out the silhouettes 3.)scan and digitally color 4.) Adobe Photoshop details added

Here's another book about Sasha and Malia Obama's dog, Bo. He even graces the cover of Of Thee I Sing! It's a cute story of how the Portugese water dog came to the White House. I'd love to know how much of this was true. I'm sure that it was Ted Kennedy's idea, that makes sense and I know he had a Portugese water dog. But did it arrive by limo as the world watched?

The illustrations are cartoonish, but work (I'm not really a fan of cartoonish illustrations, especially in true stories). A great book to share with kids, especially when talking about the presidency and the First Family.

Friday, January 7, 2011

4. Hawkes Harbor - S. E. Hinton

Audio read by Dick Hill
Brilliance Audio, 2004
6 unabridged cds
6 hrs.
256 pages
Rating: 3.5

This was nothing like I expected from S. E. Hinton. It was a fascinating story with many different layers, investigating the human mind and psyche. Depression, amnesia, short term memory, affects of uppers and downers and muscle relaxers, and the holds that people can have on one another. Take one footloose orphan that’s become a conman, seaman, and rabble-rouser, add a life-changing encounter with a vampire, and away we go!

The story skips around from early 1960s to late 1970s and is told in different ways. Jamie Somers relates tales told by his Irish friend, Kell, that reveal his late teens and early twenties, we look at the world through Jamie’s eyes at different, later, time periods, and we also listen to the recordings and notes that Dr. McDevitt, director of Terrace View Asylum, shares during his time with Jamie. It’s a rolling sea of story. The ending is unsettling. But, as I think about it, as it sits with me awhile, it works.

The book was read quite well by Dick Hill. He put an inflection into Jamie’s voice, making him sound feeble-minded and totally messed up, uncertain or jaunty – when it was called for. His Irish brogue for Kell was great, and the deep, masterful voice of Grenville Hawkes was right-on.

What a story!

3. Hereville - Barry Deutsch

How Mirka Got Her Sword
A graphic novel
Amulet Books, 2010
HC $15.95
For: Middle Grades
142 pgs.
Rating: 5

Now here’s a winner. The first graphic novel I’ve really enjoyed…enjoyed enough to finish, too! Hereville is a fairy tale, set solidly in an Orthodox Jewish community somewhere in contemporary America. However, it could have been set just about anywhere. It is isolated and totally Orthodox. Residents speak Yiddish and Hebrew, words are sprinkled thorough the story. The translations are thoughtfully stuck onto the bottom of the page, but most of the text is in English.

Clever. Funny. Fun. And even educational, when it comes to learning about Orthodox Judaism. I can’t even begin to go into the plot, which is multi-layered. The protagonist, Mirka, is one of nine children in a blended family. She respects and cares about her stepmother, Fruma, who is wise and my favorite character in the book. Mirka has studied monsters, she keeps a hidden book about them under her mattress. It his her great desire to become a dragon slayer. She has a younger brother, Zindel, who spends much time with her, and a stepsister, Rochel, who seems wise beyond her years.

The characters, including a huge talking pig, a witch that lives in a nearby house just discovered, and a knitting troll are wonderful. Fresh, believable, fun, and funny. Adventurous, animated, well-illustrated, clear…a wonderful book!

Barry Deutsch has a Hereville BLOG that he writes almost every day. It’s fun.

Stephen Frug has a blog that reviews Hereville beautifully and thoroughly. So does the Bob Hayes Online blog. So I'd suggest reading one (or both) of those for more in-depth information about the plot.

2. Ninth Ward - Jewell Parker Rhodes

Little, Brown & Co., 2010
HC $15.99
218 pages
For: Middle grades
Rating: 3

I ran to the library to find this book, because the ACPL Mock Newbery had voted it their winner for 2011. The library actually had it, which was a pleasant surprise. It’s about a 12-year old girl, Lanesha, who has been raised by Mama Ya-Ya, the midwife who birthed her. Lanesha’s mother died during childbirth, and her “uptown” family has completely ignored the child because her 17-year old mother had taken up with someone they didn't approve of. Lanesha does not know who her father is.

So we see Lanesha at home, in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, a particularly poor neighborhood. She and Mama Ya-Ya have an incredible relationship, filled with love. Although they have very little, every tiny aspect of life is made special. Mama Ya-Ya is a good woman. Lanesha is a great kid. We meet Lanesha’s math teacher, who sees promise in her and encourages her to be an engineer, a bridge builder. We meet the kids who bully and taunt her because of Mama Ya-Ya’s “sight.” We meet the boy who lives down the street from her. TaShon is tiny, also bullied, almost-silent, and has never really spoken to her before. And then there’s Spot, the stray dog that Lanesha takes home for TaShon, who has a personality of his own.

All this takes place on the eve of Katrina. Mama Ya-Ya starts to have strange dreams, dreams that take hold of her and make it difficult for her to focus on the everyday. So it’s up to Lanesha to plan and prepare for what the news says is going to be “unfathomable.” She watches the neighborhood prepare. She watches them leave, some to escape New Orleans, some to stay at the Super Dome.

And then Katrina strikes. And then the water starts to rise. And then Lanesha, who’s been joined by TaShon, must really use their wits to survive.

Hmmmm. There have been some excellent reviews of this book. Some of the writing is superb.
"I think the quiet before the storm means it isn't really quiet. Maybe it means only no you can hear birds flying, forming a V overhead. Or that the air has sound. That it whistles, low and deep, as a storm approaches. Quiet before a storm maybe means folks are done hammering wood across their windows and placing sand sacks beside their front doors. Or maybe it means there's loneliness. A weird loneliness that is, yet isn't, real."
But I had a few problems with it. It was repetitious. Much of the scenes from the rooftop were unbelievable . Come on, if they’d really been doing what they did on the roof, one or both of them would have drowned. And, they hey just happened to have a neighbor with a rowboat? A dog like Spot was afraid to jump across…or into…water?

My biggest hangup with the book, however, was Lanesha’s ability to see ghosts. I’ve pondered upon why Rhodes would have added this not-so-believable-for-me ingredient to the story. I suppose to show the superstitions and beliefs of many of the people of New Orleans. Well, she covered that with Mama Ya.-Ya’s “sight.” Perhaps because when Mama died at the end, she wouldn’t feel too much sadness because she knew she’s always be able to “see” her? So that her dead mother could save her when she was drowning? This touch of fantasy was a big weakness for me.

So, yuh, this book had many flaws for me. They can’t all be winners, right? It’ll probably win awards, because it seems I never agree with them, anyways!

The Gift – Carol Ann Duffy

Illustrator: Rob Ryan
Barefoot Books, 2010
Price not included (British author and illustrator)
32 pages
Rating: 4
Endpapers: white lacy flower paper cuts on dark yellow background
Illustrations: hand-cut paper cuts colored by spray paint
Author is from Manchester, England and Illustrator is from London

This is a visually amazing book. Such gorgeous paper cuts!

The story is of a young girl who discovered a beautiful spot in the woods. Through the years she visited often, bringing stones, seeds, plants. She tended and cared for the spot as it grew and became even more beautiful. She brought her own children there, then her grandchildren. And when she died, she was buried there, as she had wished when she was a young girl and had first set eyes on the spot.

At the beginning of the book, when she found this special place while on a picnic with her parents, "a thought suddenly came to the girl - as urgent and vivid as a butterfly opening its orange wings -- that she wanted to be buried in this plot of land when she died."

I very much like the progression of life from birth to death. But I was troubled when she first had this revelation. From a purely personal standpoint, if my own daughter had been read this as a child it would have bothered her greatly, I think. She worried about death and dying all the time, and although this is a joyful portrayal of life from beginning to end...dying at an old would have given her more opportunity to dwell on death. So before reading this to a (young) child, I'd be sure about their predisposition in this area.

Beautifully told. Gorgeously illustrated. But not for every child.

Hope for Haiti – Jesse Joshua Watson

Illustrated by the author
G. P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin), 2010
32 pages
Rating: 4
Endpapers: Yellow
Illustrations: Acrylic

The book begins with this author's note:

"When I was young, my father worked as a designer for the humanitarian aid organization World Vision International. He brought home photos of kids from poverty-stricken countries, and specifically Haiti. I spent my childhood wishing there was something I could do to ease the people's suffering. As I got older, I saw how my own country was further impoverishing Haiti with its economic and political policies. Then, when the earthquake hit, I felt void of hope...until I started seeing photos of children playing soccer amidst the chaos. And in this I found great hope for Haiti, that even in the most tragic of circumstances children are resilient and will overcome. This is the hope I want to share with children everywhere. --- J.J.W."

Living in the soccer stadium in a new home made of six posts holding up a piece of tin with three sheets for walls, a young boy despairs. Then he sees a girl kicking a ball she has made from rags and rubber bands, and a soccer game ensues. And for just these few moments, these kids think of nothing but the joy of the game. A real soccer ball is introduced, a special soccer ball, and the world seems a little brighter for these kids.

There's a lot to think about here. The soccer ball was an old ball that had been autographed by Haiti's most influential soccer player, Manno Sanon. Its owner was smart. "We can let go of the past," the man tells us. "Right now we need to think about the future. And the future is you."

Thursday, January 6, 2011

MOVIE - The King's Speech

Wow - AMAZING acting - My favorite so far this year
Limited release (WHY Limited???) 11-26-10
R (for language - sort of crazy!)
1-5-11 at El Con with Sheila
RT 95 cag 97
Director: Tim Hopper

Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter,

Prince Albert...."Bertie"...soon to be King George VI....has had a debilitating stammer since he was five years old. Speeches, especially in the 1930's when radio speeches were listened to by the entire country, were of the utmost importance. Not only was Bertie paralyzed by this, it made the entire country uncomfortable.

Bertie had a really cool wife (I remember her as an elderly woman, the "Queen Mother") who adored her husband and supported him. She sought out Lionel ......, an expert speech coach. He is unorthodox, clever, and funny. Bertie and Lionel don't hit it first. But the relationship that grows between them, and the help and confidence that he's able to give the king, is fascinating to watch.

How did Colin Firth pull this off? The stammering. Stuttering. Agony in his clenched jaw. Rage. Tenderness. Wow oh wow. He did an amazing job. As did Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush. Wow.

(Woven into Bertie's story is Lionel's story. I love they way we meet his wife and sons. The entire movie was clever, solid, well-written, and blew me away.) It was funny too!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Henry Knox, Bookseller, Soldier, Patriot - Anita Silvey

Illustrated by Wendell Minor
Clarion Books, 2010, $17.99
40 pgs.
Rating: 4.5
Endpapers: Lt. Blue map bordered by smaller illustrations.
Illustrations: Acrylic on gessoed wood panels.

This biography made the American Revolution come alive for me, more so than anything I've read in recent memory. And since I've visited Fort Knox in Bucksport, Maine, many times and know of the U. S. gold bullion depository of the same name in Kentucky, the name was familiar. But I knew no particulars about the man. Now I do.

Anita Silvey has created an informative, interesting story. She uses primary sources
- including Knox's own journals and diaries - and seems to have researched extensively. This would be an excellent addition to a study of colonial America, the American Revolution, or a unit on biographies.

At 25, Henry Knox completed the seemingly impossible task of transporting a convoy of huge cannons 300 miles from Ft. Ticonderoga in New York to General Washington in Boston. It was the turning point in the defense of the city of Boston. And from that point onward, Knox appears to have become General Washington's right-hand man and advisor.

Also included are pieces of information on Knox's childhood and marriage (to a Tory!) that add interest.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

1. Bloody Mary - J. A. Konrath

#2 Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels series
Audio read by Susie Breck & Dick Hill
Brilliance Audio, 2005
7 unabridged cds
7 hrs, $29.95
(HC 320 pgs.)
Rating: 2

Very grizzly...almost upsettingly so, I literally cringed at some of the descriptions. And also quite funny in some places. They didn't really seem to work together for me. I read the first- Whiskey Sour - and didn't really care for the protagonist. And I didn't like her any more in this installment. So kick me if I decide to read another.

One of Lt. Daniels' coworkers is a cruel serial killer and he has decided that Jack is his ultimate target. In the meantime, he kills randomly, going somewhat crazy, and dismembering his female victims. When he is caught it is discovered that he has a tumor and it is blamed on all his previous vicious behavior. He fakes amnesia and is set to stalk Jack and kill even more. Her mother is one of the next victims, but she's still somewhat alive when the story ends.

2011 Golden Globe Awards (and other 2010 movie watching)

I'm a bit behind on the Golden Globe nominations, but they'll be announced in two weeks (on January 16th) so I'd better get hoppin'. There's still a lot that haven't gone to video yet that are on the list...guess I'll start this afternoon, the last day of a wonderful Winter/Christmas break.

127 Hours (Actor)
Alice in Wonderland (Best Comedy/Musical, Actor)
Animal Kingdom (Supporting Actress)
Barney’s Version (Actor)
Black Swan (Best Drama; Actress, Supporting Actress, Director)
Blue Valentine (Actress, Actor)
Burlesque (Best Comedy/Musical)
Casino Jack (Actor)
Easy A (Actress)
The Fighter (Best Drama, Actor, Supporting Actress (2), Supporting Actor, Director)
Frankie and Alice (Actress)
Inception (Best Drama, Director)
The Kids are All Right (Best Comedy/Musical, Actress)
The King’s Speech (Best Drama, Actor, Supporting Actress, Supporting Actor, Director)
Love and Other Drugs (Actress, Actor)
Rabbit Hall (Actress)
Red (Best Comedy/Musical)
The Social Network (Best Drama, Actor, Supporting Actor, Director)
The Tourist (Best Comedy/Musical, Actress, Actor)
The Town (Supporting Actor)
Wall Street Money Never Sleeps (Supporting Actor)
Winter’s Bone (Actress)

What were my own favorite movies of the year? The King's Speech, Secret in their Eyes, Avatar (did that come out in 2009 or 2010?), City Island, Girl With a Dragon Tattoo, Fair Game, Winter's Bone, and Easy A. The biggest disappointments? Ironman 2 and The Back Up Plan. And the worst movie of the year? Hot Tub Time Machine. However, I only saw ....movies this year, compared with ....last year. I'd better get back into the groove!