Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Wednesday Word: Opine

Image result for opine


verb: opine; 3rd person present: opines; past tense: opined; past participle: opined; gerund or present participle: opining
  1. hold and state as one's opinion.
    "“The man is a genius,” he opined"

I was part of a conference call the other day where someone used this word. She used it correctly, but it made me realize that there is a tendency to use this as a synonym for "lament":


noun: lament; plural noun: laments
  1. 1.
    a passionate expression of grief or sorrow.

Lament is a statement of one's opinion, but it is limited to grief or sorrow. You may also use it as "complaining", as in the song I sang in high school choir, "Alto's Lament", which is a song about an alto who longs to sing melody for a change from harmony.

Opine, on the other hand, is an expression of any opinion. "This pizza is wonderful!" he opined. "Her skirt is too short," she opined.

"We should use this word more often," she opined.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Library Look: Nassau Public Library

Usually, libraries are in the spotlight because they are impressively large structures that are historic in some way, or at least exceptional. The Nassau Public Library is impressive historically because of what it used to house: criminals.

From the web:

The Nassau Public Library and Museum, in Nassau, is the largest of five libraries in the Bahamas. Its building was once a colonial jail, dating back to 1797, when it became the first building in Parliament Square. "The building is said to have been inspired by the Old Powder Magazine in Williamsburg, Virginia." It was converted into a library in 1873. The small prison cells which once housed prisoners now contain old colonial documents, newspapers, books, charts, Arawak artifacts, and historic prints. "Since its conversion in 1837 from a hectic prison environment to that of a tranquil place of study, the library has seen an extensive increase in a variety of services, numerous technological advancements, vast expansion in study material, and many added special features all fully accessible to the general public."

Friday, May 22, 2015

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

SOME STORIES CANNOT BE TOLD IN JUST ONE LIFETIME. Harry August is on his deathbed. Again. No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes. Until now. As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. "I nearly missed you, Doctor August," she says. "I need to send a message." This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.

My take: 5 looks and a catcall!!

Oh. My. Goodness. My favorite so far this year, I was drawn into this fantastic tale from the start. Unlike another one of my favorites, Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, First Fifteen Lives feels more whimsical, and less demanding. It is not quite as long, and North didn't instill the feeling of suspense that Atkinson was able to achieve in me. For that, it is the same genre of reincarnation, but with a very different feel and flavor.

Harry is altogether likable. He handles having life-after-life-after-life very possibly in the way most of us would: trepidatious at first, then falling into a rhythm, and finally taking things very seriously. She supporting characters become familiar to the reader, and I found myself anxious to see who Harry would encounter in this life.

The writing style used by North is perfectly done. Going back and forth in time, North traverses the parallels seamlessly and there is no brokenness to the story as it fills in at the edges, gains more support, and continues to move forward.

I absolutely could not put this book down, and will think of it (and recommend it) far after finishing it. The perfect spring read while smelling the honeysuckle come into bloom.The perfect summer read with your toes in the sand. The perfect autumn read while enjoying the shortening days. The perfect winter read by the fire. Whatever season, you will love it.

Highly recommended

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Wednesday Word: Pedantic


1. ostentatious in one's learning.
2. overly concerned with minute details or formalisms, especially in teaching.
From Middle French pedant, pedante, from Italian pedante (a teacher, schoolmaster, pedant), of uncertain origin, traced by some sources to Latin paedagogans, present participle of paedagogare ( = to teach, from Greek "paedagogein" = to instruct children ). Confer French pedant.
The easiest way to define this word is someone who nitpicks the smallest of errors. For example, some think that those who are pedantic are looking down their noses at bad grammar usage. However, as one who really struggles to NOT correct people, I can say that, personally, it's because I truly want a person to know how to use a word correctly.
As an illustration, an educated man can use the word "went" instead of "gone", which is very common here in the deep south. Immediately, his education flies out the window, and his IQ drops at least 10 points to the person who notices the gaffe. If I used a word incorrectly like that, I would want to be corrected, in private, so I could make better use of the language in expressing myself in the future.
I guess to one who is a pedant, being pedantic is a compliment. haha!

Summer Challenge: 13 Short Stories

While listening to Books on the Nightstand this week, host Michael Kindness announced that he is committing to a summer reading challenge. This one is to read a list of 13 short stories. Here they are:

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce
A Perfect Day for Bananafish by J.D. Salinger
A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor
Child's Play by Alice Munro
The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell
The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
The Catbird Seat by James Thurber
The Aleph by Jorge Luis Borges
Zombie by Chuck Palahniuk
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The Semplica-Girl Diaries by George Saunders
Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut

I have read a number of these, but many will be new for me. I think I will do this challenge, too!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

If at first you don't succeed...

I have had an issue lately with not being able to "get into" a book that I am reading. Some of my latest fails:

The Martian by Andy Weir
Ready Player One by Earnest Cline
The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman

So, if they don't grab me right away, I close it and pick up another. I don't get frustrated or feel bad, and I certainly don't press on reading a book in which I am not interested.

I remember this happening with a few of my favorites:
People of the  Book by Geraldine March
Astrid & Veronika by Linda Olsson

I put those books down, and picked them up later. LOVED both of them. It just wasn't the right time to read them before, I guess.

So, reshelve your book if it doesn't grab you, with no guilt. You will pick it up, and maybe fall in love with it, later.

Library Look: Eden Prairie Library

The beautiful Eden Prairie Library, located in Hennepin County, Minnesota, is housed in a former Lund’s grocery store space. Groundbreaking for the $17.6 million renovation project took place in July 2002, but the project was put on hold in March 2003. The project suffered a six-month shut down, with water damage occurring during the shut down, adding $1 million in cost to the county. After a delay of nearly a year the new Eden Prairie Library opened its doors to the public on August 12th 2004.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist (Portuguese: O Alquimista) is a novel by Paulo Coelho first published in the year 1988. Originally written in Portuguese by its Brazilian-born author, it has been translated into at least 56 languages as of September 2012. An allegorical novel, The Alchemist follows a young Andalusian shepherd named Santiago in his journey to Egypt, after having a recurring dream of finding treasure there.

My take: 3 looks
I have waited about a week after finishing this book to write a review because I am so torn about my thoughts and feelings on it.

On the one hand, it is nicely written. It is very easy to read, engaging and has a very nice flow. I quite like the story of a shepherd boy following his dream and finding his way in life. I liked the people he meets along the way, and the lessons he learns from them.

There are some beautiful sentences in the book:
  • If you start out by promising what you don't even have yet, you'll lose your desire to work toward getting it.
  • Sometimes there is just no way to hold back the river.
  • Making a decision is only the beginning of things.

On the other hand, I found the allegory to be very heavy-handed. It almost read like a very long parable. No, scratch that. It IS a very long parable. If I wanted this, I would read the Holy Bible. As a matter of fact, I got the creeping suspicion that a bit of Coelho's novella was lifted from religious texts.

Here are the obvious ones:
  • It's not what enters men's mouths that's evil. It's what comes out of their mouths that is. (see Matthew 15:11)
  • God created the world so that, through its visible objects, men could understand his spiritual teachings and the marvels of his wisdom. (see Romans 1:20)
  • Because, where your heart is, that is where you'll find your treasure. (see Matthew 6:21)

These are some of the sentences that made me roll my eyes:
  • And, when you want something, all the universe conspires to help you to achieve it.
  • Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we're living right now.

It was also an odd combination of spiritual and material. The point of the journey was to find the boy's "personal legend", in this case, a treasure hidden in the pyramids of Egypt. However, I wanted the journey to become the treasure. The boy left those he loved in search of this treasure, based on a recurring dream, and ended up communicating with the sand, wind, and sun. If I could name the religions of the world, I'll bet I could point out where they are all represented in this book.

So, while I liked the book, it read a bit like it was written by a frustrated spiritual leader, perhaps trying to find his own faith. While it was intended to make the reader think, perhaps take stock of where you are in your own personal legend, it instead laid everything out a little too precisely, allowing little room for self-reflection and change. In the end, it was just a well-written parable.

Wednesday Word: Eschew

verb: eschew; 3rd person present: eschews; past tense: eschewed; past participle: eschewed; gerund or present participle: eschewing
  1. deliberately avoid using; abstain from.
    "he appealed to the crowd to eschew violence"
  2. Origin
    late Middle English: from Old French eschiver, ultimately of Germanic origin and related to German scheuen ‘shun,’ also to shy.
Isn't this a fantastic word? I used it this past weekend, and think it's a word that more people should use regularly.
The definition and meaning are fairly straight-forward. You would use it in place of "avoid" or "shun".

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Library Look: Central Library

This is the Central Library in Cape Town, South Africa. Located in an old drill hall, this is a treasure. It is even located on the corner of Parade and Darling streets - how adorable is that?

According to web info:

Volunteer Drill Hall

The original function of this hall was to accommodate the volunteer forces of the Western Division as its headquarters and instruction venue, including drilling when the weather was not good. In 1954 the building was transformed to accommodate the Central Library Cape Town.


  • 1884 – Foundation of the Drill Hall laid by Thomas Uppington, the Prime Minister of the Cape Colony
  • 1885 – Building inaugurated
  • 1889 – Building extended by architect Anthony de Witt
  • 1987 - Declared a National monument and a Provincial Heritage Site
The library, which was previously housed in the City Hall, has moved to the site of the Old Drill Hall where it re-opened as a Centre of Excellence to the citizens of Cape Town on 1 September 2008.
Initial funding for the upgrade of the new library came from the Carnegie Corporation, when they awarded a $2 million grant to the City of Cape Town in 2004.
I love this quote from a senior librarian there: "We are not the quietest library. You should be here on a Saturday, this place is buzzing." That is exactly what a library should be! The days of uptight libraries loudly shushing patrons is o-v-e-r. Today's libraries have rooms for quiet study and reading. The rest of the library should be respectful of others, of course, but not completely silent.

Well done, Cape Town!

Monday, May 11, 2015

A word about the dreaded reading slump

I have heard from a few fellow bibliophiles that they are experiencing a reading slump, and it is lasting longer than they want it to.

A few words about the reading slump:

1. Embrace the slump.
My first piece of advice is to not worry about not reading. There are a lot of book-related activities you can do that do not involve reading a book, and every avid reader needs a break now and again. Instead of reading, look at descriptions of new releases, go to your library and look at magazines or newspapers, the latest CDs and DVD offerings, and sit in the children's section to watch the wonder of a child discovering a love of reading. Read online book blogs and see what everyone else is reading. Look at short-lists and winners of book awards. Add to your TBR. One of these activities may ignite your reading fire.

2. Read a book of short stories.
The immediate gratification of reading short stories is not to be missed. While in the waiting room, on the bus or train, before bed at night ... all of these are great opportunities to read a short story. And before you know it, you have another book under your belt!

3. Change Genres.
If you are used to reading non-fiction, read a work of fiction. If you need a huge change of pace, pick up a graphic novel. Shaking up your routine may be what you need.

4. Return to your roots.
When I am in a slump, I love to pick up The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. I absolutely delight in the wit and wisdom in this book, and invariably, it leads me back into reading.

5. Read a book about books.
There is not much better than a book about books. To read a story of a character reading a story, about a librarian or bookstore owner recommending books to fictional customers; it just puts you into the swing of reading by association.

6. Embrace the slump.
And I will say it again - embrace your slump. There is a reason you are not reading. Reading is about pleasure, not lists, goals, or checkmarks. Watch a few Hercule Poirot episodes on Netflix. Work a few crossword puzzles. Peruse the magic that is Enjoy the break and don't let it make you feel guilty.

You'll be back in the reading mode in no time!

Two in one: Beside Still Waters -and- Restoreth My Soul, both by Debbie Viguie


I am going to skip the summaries on this two-in-one.

My take: 2.5 looks

I read the first two in this series of 11 (so far) last year, and put them aside for a while. I couldn't remember why until I read #4 and #5 in the series over the weekend. Now I remember.

I really, really want to love these books. However, I am finally admitting that they are too sophomoric for me.

Not that I am a highbrow, but these are written for a different kind of reader than I am. I think they are written for older teens or younger twenty-somethings. And it's Christian fiction, which I normally eschew, but this is not over-the-top with religious doctrine. There is a complicated almost-love relationship. There is a handsome man with a secret past. There is a policeman who acts tough, but is really a big teddy bear.

And I think therein lies the rub - it is very formulaic. It is the same story in each book, regurgitated with a different crime. Plus, the sexual tension between the two protagonists is contrived and forced (after book five, they still haven't acknowledged their feelings?!).

But the real kicker here for me is the lack of proofing/editing on the books. They are riddled with errors in grammar. I may even be able to read the rest of the series, if it were not so frustrating, but the egregious grammar errors seal the deal for me.

Not recommended.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Paris Trout by Pete Dexter

A respected white citizen of Cotton Point, Georgia, Paris Trout is a shopkeeper, a money-lender, and a murderer of blacks. And his friends, family and foes do not realize the danger they face in a man who simply will not see his own guilt.

My take: 2 looks


A National Book Award winner, this was an easy book to read. It is nicely paced and the story flows well. The antagonist is very hate-able, and the other characters are very flawed, yet likable. Kind of.

I don't mind reading books that have a negative storyline. It doesn't bother me to read about violence, sexual situations, or bad language. If it supports and enhances the characters, I am all for it. However, I have an issue with shocking things that seem to come out of nowhere, add nothing to the story in the least, and doesn't help to fill out a character. That happened for me too often in this book. I also have a problem with lost opportunities to make readers take pause and ponder themes presented in the course of a story. That, too, happened too often.

The characters seems rich in detail, until you start to look closer. Why did Paris' mother tremble when her son was in the room? What kind of childhood did he have? Why did he take her with him at the end?

What was up with those hand-jobs of the Bonners? What was wrong with Carl's wife, that she couldn't fit into the community?

And what on earth was wrong with Hanna? Was she just so broken that she had become stoic? Was she so closed off that she saw herself helping Seagroves come to terms with his own emotions, but felt that she was too far gone for help? And what was the purpose of cutting her foot, taking those baths, and acting so vacuous?

Paris Trout, on the surface, is a story of a bigoted and psychotic man. There is really no more substance to the book than that. There is no "old south" truth here. There is no redemption in showing a culture that has grown, leaving a man behind. There was so much room for more, and Dexter didn't come through. He could have provided more of a commentary on the struggle of a bigoted Southern man coming to terms with undue hatred. He could have shown a flawed logic in elevating a man simply because he has money, but no scruples. He could have shown the emptiness of living in hate, and the richness of love and forgiveness, even though you are physically destitute. He could have compared and contrasted relationships/marriages/friendships.

Yet, he did not. He wrote a surface story of hate, justice, and revenge. I found very little to take away, otherwise.

Recommended in that this is an award-winning novel, but it won't make you think as deeply as Dexter wanted you to.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Wednesday Word: Thug


noun \ˈthəg\
: a violent criminal
Once again, our precious language has been hijacked. Because of the riots in Baltimore, and the media, the mayor of Baltimore, the governor of Maryland, and the president of the United States of America all using the word "thug" for these rioters/looters/thieves, it has suddenly become a racist term.
Excuse me?
Why? Because the majority of these thugs (used correctly here, may I add) are black does not automatically make this a racial slur.
An associate professor at Columbia went as far to say that, when black people use the word, it is a term of endearment, but when white people use the word, it is a nice way of saying the "n" word.
Excuse me?
I am going to use the word "thug" to describe these lawless citizens, because that is what they are: violent criminals. If the majority of them happen to be black, that's their problem, not mine.
Please don't allow the language to be hijacked. Continue to use this word.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Library Look: McAllen Public Library

I continue to be dismayed when I see an empty or abandoned building. But let me tell you what I have noticed lately: WalMart seems to be building new buildings and abandoning their old location. For example, in my hometown, WalMart just built a new building less than one mile from the old location, leaving the old location empty. Not a good corporate citizen, I think.

McAllen, Texas officials had the right idea: Putting a library in an old WalMart building. Here are some pics of the interior:

Isn't that wonderful? I am a HUGE fan of repurposing, and this is the best! A typical WalMart Supercenter covers about 2.5 football fields worth of space, so that is no small library! It cost the city $24 million to renovate, and has won awards for design.

This is the best use of an abandoned building that I have seen in a long time. Well done, McAllen, Texas!!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
When Alice Love surfaces from a beautiful dream to find she's been injured in a gym, she knows that something is very wrong – she hates exercise. Alice's first concern is her baby – she's pregnant with her first child, and she's desperate to see her husband, Nick, who she knows will be worried about her. But Alice isn't pregnant. And Nick isn't worried. Alice is the mother of three children and her hostile husband is in the process of divorcing her. Alice has lost ten years of her life. Alice's sister Elisabeth, who seems uncharacteristically cold, drives her home from the hospital. And "home" is totally unrecognizable, as is the rest of her life. Who is this "Gina" that everyone is carefully trying not to mention? Why does her mother look like she's wearing fancy dress? And what's all this talk about a giant lemon meringue pie? In the days that follow, small bubbles of the past rise to the surface, and Alice is forced to confront uncomfortable truths. It turns out forgetting might be the most memorable thing that's ever happened to her.

My take: 3 looks
A fun, light read for the summer! Like Moriarty's other novels, this one is easy to read, tightly written and fun to read.

Alice is very likable, and her journey to rediscover who everyone is around her feels very personal. You will wonder why Elizabeth is so distant, why her mother is so changed, why her husband is so mean, and who these three little hellions are, who everyone refers to as her children.

Through the story of Alice trying to be a 1998 person in 2008, she is able to relive and rethink her decisions with impunity, something of which many of us would also benefit. In the course of finding out who she is, by being who she was, she is able to change who she becomes. And that is the best description of all!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

In 1956, toward the end of Reverend John Ames's life, he begins a letter to his young son, an account of himself and his forebears.

My take: 4 looks
I removed most of the summary on this one, because I am finding that summaries give too much detail. They make statements on the nuances of the story that the reader should be left to determine. That was the case here.

Gilead was a difficult book for me to get into. I found it slow and sloshy. The lack of chapters was different, and the journal/letter format was off-putting.

However, I found an afternoon that I could sit unencumbered and give to it my full attention. What a beautiful flower this book turned into! The tightest of buds in the beginning, slowly opening its petals to the world, and finally releasing the sweetest of fragrances.

I picked up this book because it won the Pulitzer, and I wanted to find a book that I felt was worthy of this award. After reading several others, and finding them sorely lacking, I have found (along with Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind) a true masterpiece strong enough to support the honor.

The premise of the book is an aged father writing to his young son. He wants his son to know him in a way that time will not allow. I am not going to go into much detail about the nature of the entries, but I will tell you that John Ames is a man of love, wonder, faith, and hope. He is beautifully presented, then compared and contrasted with his best friend, his wife, and his namesake.

Here are a few of my favorite passages:

This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it. p28

"The full soul loathes an honeycomb; but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet." There are pleasures to be found where you would never look for them. p39

A moment is such a slight thing, I mean, that its abiding is a most gracious reprieve. p162

Adulthood is a wonderful thing, and brief. You must be sure to enjoy it while it lasts. p166

Highly recommended.