Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Girl WithOUT the Dragon Tattoo

It had been sitting on my bookshelf since last summer, but too many other reading obligations kept me from getting to it. But every time I walked by and caught sight of the brazen yellow cover with the dragon design, my heart raced. "Three more books and I'll get you off that dusty shelf!"  Could it be as good as the Hunger Game series? Harry Potter? The various components of Stieg Larsson's "Millennium" trilogy have been dominating book charts for how long now? It was time for me to be swept up by a series once again.

But for as much respect as I have for Mr. Larsson's writing craft (may he rest in peace), I must make this courageous admission. I didn't enjoy the book. Too disturbing for me. Perhaps this writer was too good with his subject matter? 

Undoubtedly, the story was compelling - I had to keep reading to uncover the details of the complicated mystery. (After all, it had been too long since Mom had read it for her to tell me the ending - and that's not my style...) And despite (or perhaps because of) their flaws, main characters Michael and Lisbeth became like next door neighbors to me - a bit scary though. (Once I learned that Daniel Craig will be playing the American version of Michael, the journalist became quite fanstastical...)

There is one observation I learned about myself. I'm not really sure what I truly believe about "vengeance." I thought I was a bit more like Jesus, but perhaps it has its place. That's all I'll say about that. Except I'd never want to cross Lisbeth Salander.

Will I read the sequels? The Girl Who Played with Fire or The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest? Too early to tell. But let's just say I've stood around those Larsson displays in the bookstore and pondered the idea. But I haven't picked them up. Yet. And will I see the movie? Most likely - but did I tell you that Daniel Craig is starring?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Short Story - The Day the Field Blew Up

Wearing duct-taped glasses and whistling Darth Vader’s Imperial March, Leif Emerson Andersen approached home plate as a hush settled in the crowd.
“Eye on the ball, Leif-Blower!” yelled out his coach, chewing gum so ferociously, he bit his cheek.
Leif scanned the bleachers to find his sister - the one with blue streaks of hair, pretending to read a horror novel. Then the batter made a request to the baseball spirit of Roger Maris before stepping up to the plate. As the ball sped toward the scrawny ten-year old, he knew this one would finally be his.
Like a missile targeting the scoreboard, the baseball took flight into left field. And before the boy’s eyes, he watched the baseball explode into pieces.
“I did it,” he whispered to himself. “I blew the insides out.” 
Bits of dirty white leather and crimson stitches suddenly reversed directions and headed straight back to the assailant who was still holding the bat, watching. 
An explosion was taking place, propelling the disassembled ball back to where it came. The town’s new and colossal scoreboard had burst into flames, setting off a chain of explosions with the billboards following suit. Flames engulfed the outfield. Little baseball players ran aimlessly. Mothers frantically screamed for their kids. Pieces of plastic and wood flew through the air. Through a crackling sound system, John Fogarty still sang of centerfielders playing the game.
Only Leif stood staring at the spectacular sight, until his sister grabbed his hand and dragged him away.
“OMG, Dude. What in the shit did you do?”
Facing his sister as she drove a ’99 Chevy pickup out of the ballpark, Leif asked, “Dad would’ve been proud of that hit, do you think?” Then he cleaned his glasses. “Is that blue in your hair, Ambrosia?”
“Seriously, Dude? Did you have a baseball wired or something? Cuz like blowing up a baseball field? Major felony!” Ambrosia scanned the radio. “It was only ‘sort of’ awesome. As long as no one got hurt. Or killed.”
Leif peeked back at the ballpark.  “Hey! There’s Mom! She came to my game!” Leif hopped around in his seat. “Let’s go back.”
“No way, Bro,” Ambrosia barked, accelerating out of the park. “We’re getting you outta here ASAP. Mom will totally understand.” Ambrosia glanced at herself in the mirror. “And yes, I just added blue in my hair. You like?”
As the pickup growled into the street and wove in with the rest of the traffic, sirens grew louder. Leif was still staring out the back window, watching the actions of his hysterical mother, still in her scrubs from work.
“Where we going?” Leif asked, slamming his head on the window.
Humming the tune of Green Day, Ambrosia turned to her brother. “ find Dad.”
While the thought of seeing his father perked him up, Leif was concerned. “Have you ever driven in Chicago?”
Sam Rush, police chief of Woodgrove (population 2,444), had finally shown up after his local police force and the volunteer firemen had cleared the premises of the ballpark. The only injury considered to be serious was a slice to a coach’s head --  a flying piece of fence post was sure to leave a remarkable scar amidst the receding hairline.
Five of the voluntary firemen, including Fire Chief Andre Wilson and police deputies Chaz Popp and Joe Easterly, gathered around the fire truck to assess the damage. All were quenching their thirst with beer provided by an appreciative community member.
“Gentlemen,” Chief Rush addressed the group as he scanned the field, now black with soot and scattered with pieces of billboard, which still hinted of advertisements from insurance agents, banks and restaurants. In left field, the scoreboard lay disheveled: a robot, now dead, unmoving and not willing to fight.
“It’s a damn shame,” Chaz shouted to the police chief. “You told your wife yet?”
“Christ, you’re an idiot.” Joe slugged his partner. “Holly was at the game, Numskull.  Watching Sammy Jr. play!” Joe addressed his boss. “I made sure they got outta here safely, Sir. You bein’ outta town and all.”
“Out of town?” asked Fire Chief Wilson. “Was wondering why you hadn’t shown up to this disaster.” Easing his way toward Sam, the 6‘5 fireman hoarsely stated, “Just about called the sheriff. Or the FBI.”
“I left Chicago as soon as I got the call. Required training. The sheriff was there too. Shit - he’d come to Woodgrove the day he’d wipe Chaz’s ass.” Sam sighed and looked at the field. “Thank God no one was hurt. Only needed one fire truck, at least.” Sam rubbed his temples. “Who in the hell would do this? And why?”
One of the firemen brought a beer to the police chief and said, “Looks like Holly done all that fundraisin’ for that fancy new scoreboard for nothing. Sucks man.” 
Sam didn’t acknowledge the beer offer.
“Sam,” Andre called out as he he stomped toward the scoreboard on the field. “Come with me.”
Andre and Sam had been friends since junior high. They didn’t currently run in the same social circle, because Andre was still single. But occasionally, they found an excuse to drink a beer together.  And more often than not, their professions brought them together out of necessity.
“Here’s what I know,” Andre explained. “The scoreboard was wired to create a pretty damn nice light show. But was it a professional? These wires are messy.” Andre held up a mesh of colored wires . “It was done fast. And the billboards seemed to be an afterthought. But I can’t figure out the trigger. Must be off-site. If you figure that out - you’ll solve your case.”
The bomb had been planted at the base of the scoreboard. No one noticed or questioned the conglomeration of wires which connected the other wires on the fence line, ready to wreak havoc on Woodgrove’s beloved baseball field.
“So, is it out of the question to think it would be the work of kids?” asked the police chief.
The men stared at the field. The same field where they played ball as kids.
“Apparently that little Andersen kid was up to bat,” explained Andre as he took a drink of his beer. “You know, Davey Andersen’s kid?”
Sam nodded. “That skinny, runt of a kid? Kind of geeky? Not like the old man.”
Andre shrugged. “Apparently he’s not a bad hitter. The story is that little Leif crushed it to left field - straight to the scoreboard when it exploded.”
“Crushed it? What was the score?”
“Score was tied. Bottom of the fifth,” Andre sighed. “Left a kid on third. Woulda meant the win. It was the county tournament, you know.”
Sam had heard much grief about missing the tournament.
Andre finished his beer. “Sam, is Leif in your son’s class?”
“Is he smart?”
Sam nodded. “My boy tells me that he’s wicked smart.”
Andre grabbed his old friend on the shoulder, “Chief, I think you have your first suspect then. And he’s a ten-year old boy.”
The pickup sputtered to a halt in the secluded the driveway, lined by aged and overlapping pine trees. The white farmhouse didn’t welcome Leif and Ambrose, but it didn’t repel them either.
“Why are we here?” Leif whined to his sister.
Ambrosia snapped her gum while studying her phone. Then she peered at a window on the second floor. “Hold on a sec.” Easing herself out the pickup door, Ambrosia sauntered toward the massive front door. Leif was hoping to take her phone so he could text his mother, but she stuck the device in her pocket.
Eventually, the front door opened and out he came. Pierced nose. Jet-black hair. Pittsburgh Steelers t-shirt. White jeans.
“There’s my fair little lady,” said the boy as he moved closer to cup his hands around her face.
Ambrosia blushed. “Look, Jax. Can you help us? You know I’ve never driven in Chicago.”
Jax looked over to the pickup and waved at Leif, who quickly looked away.
“Sorry,” Ambrosia gulped. “He’s had a tough day.” 
Jax pulled Ambrosia toward him and whispered in her ear,“You are way too cute.”
“So, will you?” she pleaded.
As he kissed her neck, she only heard the birds in the awful trees and knew the answer. Thank God her father kept the GPS in her truck.
“What an effing jerk,” Ambrosia uttered as she spun out of the driveway, hoping the gravel would hit Jax squarely his proclaimed third eye.
Leif turned to his sister, “Never trust a guy in a Steelers shirt. That’s what Dad always says.”
As the Chevy rattled on the highway, Jax dialed 911 to let authorities know the whereabouts of a runaway teenager and her little brother.
Natalie Andersen sat at her kitchen table, drinking cold coffee and staring at the text message received from her daughter.
Leif n me OK. B home soon.
But when she tried to call or text Ambrosia, there was no response. That girl’s independence frustrated Natalie beyond all reason. Her only consolation was that she maintained straight A’s, worked a steady job and always took care of Leif. What could Natalie say when she herself typically worked 50-hour work weeks in the ER and couldn’t rely on her workaholic husband to be home before 8:30 every night? 
Something had to change. This was not the family life she dreamed about. Exhausted from the day, her job, her life; she laid her head on the table, and thought about the stories being circulated at the ballpark.
“Leif hit the winning run! And the scoreboard caught on fire!”
“Isn’t he a brainiac? He blew up the ball in midair!”
“Does Leif know quantum physics? Because that genius has somehow ruined our entire field.”
Leif is a lot of things, Natalie thought. But he’s not destructive. She decided to check out his bedroom anyway. On the way to his bedroom, the nurse became aware how tired she felt - how inviting the shower looked. Then the doorbell rang. 
Without checking the peephole to preview her visitor, Natalie swung open the door.
“Chief!” Natalie cried with terror, knees dropping to the floor. Ambrosia. Leif. Gone. Dead. Her worst fear realized. She had wasted her life at the hospital. Now her beloved children were gone. She began to sob.
“Natalie!” Sam stepped in to help her up. “Are you okay? I came to ask if I could speak to your son. Is he here?”
She considered the police chief’s words. Then noticed his dark skin and dark eyes. At this proximity, she could see the Native American blood. “Did you just ask to speak to my son?”
Sam nodded.
Relief swam through her body. The smell of the hospital on herself made her giggle. Then cry. “Oh, Sam. He’s not here. Neither is Ambrosia.” Natalie wiped her nose. “That’s what I thought you came to tell me…something terrible.”
Sam scratched his head, trying to figure out what to say. “I see. Didn’t mean to scare you, but uh...” Sam looked around and tapped his boot. “Do you know where they are?”
Natalie shook her head.
“Look Nat, I know this is hard,” Sam said kneeling down. “But Leif might be in some trouble here. If he blew up the field, he’s looking at juvie. Do you care if I look around?”
“Sam, can I talk to you as a person?” Natalie stared at the chief.
The chief flinched.
“That  kid is not capable of violence. When his hamster died, we held a two hour funeral, eulogy and all. Would you like to see the gravestone we ordered over the Internet?”
“Look, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t investigate. Can I just look around?”
Natalie pushed her greasy, blonde bangs back and reached her hand out. “Help me up. I’ll show you to his not very secret lab. Then maybe you could please help me find my kids?”
Deputy Chaz Popp pounded on the newly-constructed home where Sam Rush resided with his wife, Holly and their only son, Sam Jr. 
Even though Sam had assured Chaz his family was fine, the deputy insisted on checking on them “after his shift was over. Really it’s no problem, Sir. It’s on the way home.” In reality, Chaz’s partner, Joe Easterly, had pulled him aside to make the suggestion. “It wouldn’t hurt for you to make some brownie points with the Chief.”
Face scrubbed clean and dressed in her pajamas, Holly opened the door reluctantly.
“A lil’ early to call it a night, don’t you think, Holly?” Chaz joked, inviting himself inside. “Howdy, Sammy! Eatin’ chicken?”
Picking at his TV dinner in the kitchen, Sammy tossed his hand in the air toward Chaz.
“Chief isn’t home yet, Chaz,” Holly stated dryly, staring straight ahead.
Chaz nodded, “Figured. Just checking on ya. Joe thought I should stop by to make sure you’re alright.” Chaz surveyed the house. “Chief’s probably busy piecin’ the whole damn explosion thing together.”
Holly began to sneeze. She sneezed eight times before Sammy got up and went to his bedroom, leaving most of his dinner on the table. 
“Geez! God Bless...” Before Chaz could finish his sentence, the window shattered. Holly screamed. Chaz fell to floor, blood spilling from his right shoulder. 
As Holly stood paralyzed watching Chaz bleed on her Persian rug, Joe Easterly blasted through the front door. Then he pointed his weapon at the crying woman, ready to shoot as her son crouched in the hallway, watching in horror.
Once they were within thirty minutes from their father’s office, Ambrosia called her father - only to reach his voice mail, as usual. But he’d be calling her back as soon as he realized they were on their way to the city. Any second now.
“You want to know how I see trees?” Leif asked his sister.
Beads of sweat were forming on Ambrosia’s upper lip as the city’s skyline became more prominent. She knew the route to her father’s building, but she had never actually driven it herself.
“Uh, sure,” Ambrosia said as she considered taking the next exit.
“Searchers, dancers and warriors.” Leif pointed. “See how that tree looks like he’s looking at the ground? He’s a searcher.” Leif watched the tree closely. “Although...he kind of resembles an elephant. Don’t you think? Ambrosia, look at it!”  
Ambrosia cut in front of a semi-truck to get take the exit. I see it, Leif.” She smiled as she felt her shoulders drop and her knuckles lighten off the wheel now that the pickup sputtered on the highway. “You study trees, huh?” Ambrosia’s breath returned to normal. “I prefer to look at the sky.” She tilted her eyes under the visor. “See all swirls right now? It’s as if God couldn’t quite mix the paint into one color. He’s trying to make that one color - not quite blue - not quite purple. What is it?”  
Leif shrugged.
“Uh...periwinkle! Anyway, looks like God finally gave up. And decided to leave the sky a swirly mess.”
Leif laughed. Ambrosia? When I’m out of college, will you hang out with me? Like come over and watch movies and eat Wimmer’s hot dogs?”
Pulling into a diner and messing her little brother’s white hair, she responded, “Sure.” 
Then her cell phone dinged. “Dad’s ring tone.”
“Ambrosia,” Leif whispered. “Look who just pulled up.”
As Ambrosia grabbed her cell, anxious to consult with her Dad, a sudden cramp numbed her legs as a state trooper glared into her glossy eyes.
Sam Rush picked up a light saber that lay on an unmade bed.
“You’re probably wondering how I dust this room with all this crap everywhere.” Natalie picked up t-shirts, socks and Star Wars action figures.
“Not really.” Sam tossed the toy of the floor. “Got bigger things on my mind. You talk to your husband yet?”
Natalie nodded, “Look Sam. I know what you’re thinking, but how in the hell do you think my kid could’ve pulled this thing off?”
“Where’s Ambrosia’s room?” Sam asked.
“Brosia? You think it’s a conspiracy now?” Natalie stomped through the hallway. “Come on.” 
As Natalie led the police chief across the house to her daughter’s bedroom, Sam stopped at a window. “Wait - what’s that?” Sam pointed to a tree house near the edge of the backyard.
Creeping back to Sam, the tired nurse began to nod, “The treehouse. That their Dad built…” And when she saw the old baseball scoreboard behind the oak tree, her thoughts suddenly became very unclear.
“Did Leif have the old scoreboard working?” Sam asked.
Natalie stared at the backyard without responding. How could she have completely forgotten? The Andersen’s had taken that old scoreboard - as a  project for Leif. This couldn’t look good.
“Ambrosia! What in the hell are you doing?” Dave Andersen scolded his daughter. “Have you any idea how sick you’re making your ma?”
Leif brightly waved at the state trooper while Ambrosia barely registered her father’s words. If the trooper had been suspicious, Leif’s countenance had erased any semblance of it. With a tip of his big hat, the trooper was out of sight and into the diner.
Ambrosia high-fived her brother, “I know. Dad - I’m sorry. But…”
“No “buts”, Brosia,” Dave paused. “I can’t imagine what possessed you to take off to the city.”
“I was only trying to protect Leif.” Leif slumped a little while they talked. He was ten, not five.
“And your mother’s not capable?”
Ambrosia wanted desperately to respond by saying, “Not sure. She’s not around a helluva lot.” But she didn’t want to hurt her brother’s feelings.
“Dad, can you meet us here?” Ambrosia pleaded. “We’re just outside of the city. I’ll text the address.”
Dave Andersen had already shut down his laptop and locked down his file cabinet. “Of course. Stay where you are. Send me the address and I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
After Dave hung up with his daughter, he reviewed the report laying on his desk and sealed it in an envelope. Then he called his wife.
“Hey, the kids are safe. Going to meet them right now.”
When Natalie explained that the Police Chief was at their home, investigating the possibility that Leif caused the explosion, Dave requested to speak to the Chief immediately.
“Sam? Give up trying to peg the explosion on my ten-year old kid. Or my daughter.”
Dave paused and listened to the Chief. Then he opened the envelope again to review a certain page of the report.
“Because I know who’s responsible. As a matter of fact, I have the evidence in my hands at this very moment. When a person plans to blow up a scoreboard, they should know better than to call the insurance company to confirm coverage amounts. We log our calls. I’ll bring you the report directly.”
I’m going to die, thought Holly as she closed her eyes. Joe Easterly is going to kill me. And my son will see his mother die.
Joe switched positions and demanded, “Who shot him? Who shot Chaz?”
Now visibly trembling, Holly opened her eyes. But she couldn’t speak. Sammy ran to Holly. The movement caught Joe off guard and he pointed his gun at the young boy.
“NO!” Holly leapt in front of her son.
But Joe didn’t shoot. Instead he ran to Chaz and checked his pulse. 
“Call 911!”
Holly kissed her son’s head and ran to the phone and did what was instructed.
Sammy joined Joe who was attempting to stop the bleeding around Chaz’s shoulder.
“Is he dead?” Sammy asked.
“Not yet,” Joe said, panting.
“I saw the car that drove away,” Sammy whispered. “It was a blue Volkswagon bug. An old, rusty one. I’ve seen it around here before.”
“Sammy!” Holly interrupted. “Get your shoes. I’m taking you to Grandma’s.”
When Sammy left, Holly asked, “Why’d you come here, Joe?”
“Just passing by. When I saw the window blown out, thought I better stop.”
“Chaz said you told him to come.”
Joe shrugged, “My hunch about danger was right.” Joe looked at Holly. “Sorry about your scoreboard.” Then leaning back over his friend, he instructed, “Come on Buddy, I hear you breathing. It’s just a little shoulder wound.”
Then the sirens sounded once again.
After turning off his squad car, Sam could do nothing but sit in his driveway, listening to the crickets and occasional toad. It had been a long time from when he left this morning.
A tap on the passenger door interrupted his meditation. “Care if I take off, Boss?” asked Joe who was anxious to get to the hospital. “No sign of the perpetrator since the incident.”
Sam pulled himself out of the car. “Get outta here. Chaz wasn’t making a whole lotta sense when I left. But when does Chaz make a whole lot of sense?” 
Sam studied the broken window, then trudged inside to see his wife scrubbing the Persian rug. What a lonely life I’ve made her lead, he thought, studying her pale white skin and muted red curls. Without a word, he took her hand and led her outside to a swing in the backyard.
“Do you remember our first date?” Sam asked.
“We went fishing.”
Sam nodded. “We haven’t fished in a long time.”
“Do you feel safe tonight?”
Holly didn’t respond, but her breathing became louder.
“Was Sammy on third base when you blew up the scoreboard?” he asked.
With her arms covering her head, Holly collapsed to the ground. Between gasps she whispered, “It wasn’t supposed to happen this way...He was only supposed to take out the scoreboard...a small implosion…to make it look like faulty wiring!”
Sam, not typically moved by any criminal’s show of emotion, kneeled down and caressed his wife’s back. “Holly, just tell me why. It doesn’t make sense. All the fundraising.”
Her tear-stricken face shot up. “Because everyone hated it! It’s all I heard. ‘It’s so ugly. Wish we had the old scoreboard back. What a waste of our money.’ So, I thought I’d show them. God, what if Sammy would’ve got hurt?” Her body collapsed again.
“Who did you get to do it?” Sam asked.
“Some kid from Chicago. When I told him that I wouldn’t pay him since he almost killed Sammy, he came by and shot out the window. So, I called him later to say the checks in the mail.” Holly looked at her husband. “I’m so sorry Sam. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone.”
While looking into his wife’s amber eyes, he could blame no one but himself. His inattentive self. 
“Try it now, Leif!” hollered Dave from the outfield.
Inside the bleachers, Leif flipped a series of buttons and levers before the flash of the old scoreboard lit up. Cheers from the fans (Ambrosia and Natalie) could be heard throughout the ballpark.
The family went to the field with baseball gloves and an old bat.
“Dad?” Leif twirled the bat.
“I don’t want to play baseball anymore. I mean for the Woodgrove Giants.”
Dave took a deep breath while he tossed the ball in the air. “Bud, I don’t blame you.” Then he placed his son’s baseball cap on backwards. Now, let’s have some fun. Okay? Brosia? You’re pitching first.”
“Girls against boys, right Mom?” asked Ambrosia .
“Girls against MEN, right Dad? corrected Leif.
The family played baseball that afternoon. It took hours, because every time a run was made, someone had to race to the top of the bleachers and flip the lever to change the score. But the scoreboard functioned and resided peacefully amidst a charred outfield, which now showed evidence of healing as new growth sprouted in the space where small cleats once roamed. And intended to roam again. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

7th Lucky Agent Contest

Here we go again! Some of you might notice my blog roll (See menu to the left below). It's packed with blogs I've found chock full of superior writing advice. One of my often-frequented blogs is called the Guide to Literary Agents - a compendium of knowledge from a variety of writers, agents and editors. Currently Mr. Chuck Sambuchino (editor) is sponsoring a contest which will allow one talented winner a look-see at their manuscript....Sooooo, I'm currently throwing my name in the hat for my work-in-process "Diamonds in the Woods" YA novel!   Got anything you'd like to submit?

Here's the link!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Ladies of Seneca Falls by Miriam Gurko

Mrs. Cady-Stanton and Miss Anthony
It's quite possible that I might be difficult to live (unlike before), now that I've read a completely fascinating account of the 19th Century women's movement.  Oh sure, I'd heard of Susan B. Anthony. And knew she had something to do with women's suffrage. (And of course, we banking professionals are all too well-aware of the nifty silver dollar done in her honor.) But just ask me about this amazing Quaker-feminist-speaker-writer who never even lived to see the 19th amendment passed. We all have those people we can't wait to meet in heaven...Jesus (of course), our grandparents, Buddha, and so on. Well, Miss Anthony is in my top five. Elizabeth Cady Stanton would be there as well; although, I dare say I might be a bit intimidated by her. Simply put, my greatest question to these courageous women would be: How far do you think we've come? They might just turn around and tell me, "Look, here are the things you still need to do."

To encapsulate how this book affected me in a blog is impossible, but here are a few thoughts to summarize:

  • It took 72 years from the first organized women's convention to grant legal authority for women to vote. 72 years! Trivia: When was the 19th Amendment passed, allowing women to vote? Hint - It wasn't terribly long ago (in a historical sense). The answer: 1920.  Although, women have been paying taxes since...uh, we landed on Plymouth Rock perhaps?  Interesting. Does anyone recall a little saying that went something like "taxation without representation"? I believe the book points out how a few feminine property owners, such as Susan Anthony's sister, Mary, would pay her taxes along with a note stating "Paying Under Protest." 
  • The masculine consensus was that women were too frail or didn't have the capacity to make such decisions. And a populace women's vote could be the detriment of the country!  Obviously, this argument is flawed at many levels. Most women weren't allowed an education. But so what if a woman wasn't educated? If a man wasn't educated or intelligent, was he not allowed to vote? Of course he was.  (I didn't come up with this argument - one of the great minds at the convention at Seneca Falls argued this point.) As for the capability for women to learn?  We must give thanks to our Quaker brothers and sisters for being the predecessors of equality in this particular issue. If they had not brought up female and male to be educated equally, who knows where women would be today? This issue continues to boggle my mind. Even today's classroom, don't girls mature more quickly than boys? Couldn't society see this in the 19th century? Most recently I read an editorial in the WSJ from Thomas Spence How to Raise Boys Who Read . Instead of creating these dumbed-down grossology version of novels, shouldn't we be holding them accountable to learn at a certain level? (Let's say the same level as our female student? Tee-hee. Issue aside - the article is worth reading.) Anyway - I was thinking how the 1800's culture would read the title to Spence's article as such a paradox! 
  • In general Quakers led the cause in the education of females; however, there were a few brave non-Quaker women to buck the issue of education and demand more than elementary schooling, i.e., Lucy Stone and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The great men of our country (and they were great in many other ways) argued that the Bible commands women to be subservient to their husbands. A few great women, the aforementioned, could not and would not accept this. So, they needed to learn Greek and Latin to translate the original text of the Bible. Of course, they were called heretics and much worse, for that matter, but eventually, they came to prove their position upon equal standing as men. And guess what? There were many, many men that believed in what they had to say.
  • I'm getting a bit windy, aren't I?  Okay, I'll try to be succinct, but these points are worth reading. (Oh, maybe you should just read this book...I'm just barely touching the surface.) The Civil War actually was a setback to the movement.  Almost all of the women felt their contributions to the War would earn them "points" in the eyes of the government. When the the black man was allowed the vote, surely women would be allowed to vote as well. Not so much. Susan B. Anthony was the only one to predict this. The Republic felt that women needed to put their selfish wishes on the back burner. It was the negro's time. It couldn't be done all at once.  Where did this leave the black woman? Ask Sojourner Truth - one of the few Black Abolitionist Women. It set them further back than anyone could imagine.
  • Beyond suffrage, what were the other issues of the women's movement? If women owned property, it went to her husband. If they divorced, the husband gained custody of the children. Women couldn't sign a contract. If a woman was beaten by a drunk husband, she had no civil rights. If she was raped by her husband, she had no civil rights. If the woman worked outside the home, all earnings went to her husband. And of course, the education of women for any of the fields open to men has been a long and arduous journey.
  • Issues of abolition and temperance ran parallel to women's rights in the 19th century. Would you believe these issues actually hampered the women's right movement? I alluded the Civil War setting back the women's movement above. But temperance? Well, there were two major entities who absolutely did not want women to get the vote; politicians and the alcohol industry. Politicians didn't want women taking note of the corruption - and cleaning up their machine. And the alcohol industry saw women as the ultimate  victims of alcohol abuse. So, put those two factors at work and the result? 72 years of fighting for the vote.
I've been trying to decide, where does this leave us today? Obviously, women have all the possibilities as men in terms of education and career paths. Susan and Elizabeth are smiling down at that. But I think a few of us are not carrying on the fire of the women's movement. Women's pay is not equal for the same job uniformly across industries. And surveys show that the majority of childcare and household chores are still carried out by the woman even if both are working full-time. This is NOT freedom. (Is this the collective psyche that girls are the natural caretakers? Whatever!) I love taking care of my family - so should my husband. Anyway, I think there is some work to do. I'm going to start by making my daughter and son read this great work by Miriam Gurko. And I'll end this rant with a quote from Susan B. Anthony:

"Oh, if I could but live another century and see the fruition of all the work for women! There is so much yet to be done."-  Susan B. Anthony 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My Reading Pile?

I'm on a bit of a non-fiction roll these days...but apparently my focus is easily diverted. The following three books have been cracked open:

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya A...awesomely heartbreaking

The Glamour of Grammar by Roy Peter Clark - delightful, can't keep myself from picking this one up. How can Mr. Clark make apostrophe's and semi-colon's so intriguing? 

The Ladies of Seneca Falls by Miriam Gurko - for my book club, truly a fascinating account of women who fought for equal rights. Hopefully it becomes required reading in all high schools so that all American females can appreciate our circumstances today.

In the hopper - Elizabeth Gilbert's Committed (Yes, I miss her already.)

Boy, I'm gonna need some fiction soon to break up all this reality. (The Dragon Tattoo has been sitting on my bookshelf, waiting, staring me in the face.)

So, what's on your nightstand? BTW, it's banned book week. What's your favorite banned book? Huck Finn? To Kill a Mockingbird? Let's hear it!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mockingjay and Eat Pray Love

Mockingjay tis finished...It's always kind of sad to come to the end of a truly great series...but it did not disappoint. I like to cry, and tears held me captive for the last quarter of the novel...that's all I will say.

So now I'm rereading Eat Pray Love, which is not something I normally do. I have too many other unread book sitting on the shelf. But seeing the movie inspired me to pick up the book and reminisce over a few of Liz (as if we're friends) Gilbert's the great passages. I love funny and smart women. Makes me want to be one when I grow up...

BTW, did you know that Elizabeth Gilbert is coming to Omaha in April next year?  That is way cool. I think I'll see go and see her if at all possible...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

E-Readers and Books

Denise (a co-worker) and I were talking about books and Kindles the other day. She didn't have a Kindle and was asking how I liked mine.  Did I like it better than an actual book?...I do like my Kindle. But do I like it better than an actual book?  No.

Currently E-books are outpacing the sales of books which is no big surprise. They are cheaper and it's a new technology. But books are still magical. Don't you remember when you were little and you held that one special book in your hand? Even before you could really read?

After lunch Denise brought back some wonderful hardbound books that were given to her by her grandmother.  She keeps in her enclosed bookshelf and one of her favorite happens to be Evangeline by Longfellow. What a treat it was to thumb through the weathered, crisp pages with evidence of Denise's grandma's studious mind leaving a pencil trail of notes. I couldn't help myself but to take a whiff of the stale and glorious novel. It really was a beautiful tome. And why don't they have illustrations like that anymore?? I totally appreciated my friend sharing it with me.

I don't think E-readers will be the death of books. My Kindle hasn't really slowed my book-purchasing habit. If anything, it's increased it. I noticed on my Shelfari, I'm way ahead of the number of books I read last year. Perhaps because I purchase books on the Kindle and yet, I haven't stopped frequenting bookstores. When it stops being a fun past time for me and my family, then maybe I'll quit buying books? But for now, I'll just keep piling up the reads on my actual and virtual shelves...and truly, I predict that book sales will pick back up again. It's still an art form that people appreciate - especially the young-uns.

Of course, I could be way off on this. But my intuition tells me otherwise. I guess we'll see.

Just a Quote

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”
-Charles W. Eliot (1834-1926)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

On Sonia Choquette

Three books - I've read three of her books since I saw this inspirational speaker at the ICAN conference last April. And I highly recommend them ALL! Each has a distinctly different flavor, but they all impacted me greatly:

The Answer is Simple..Love Yourself, Live Your Spirit (Five Star with a Heart):  Read this book if you have a great need to boost your self-esteem or just need to find yourself or your spirituality. I found great inner peace. This book remains by my bedside at night.

Your Heart's Desire:  Looking to reach a particular goal, but having trouble getting there? READ THIS BOOK! It will be perfect for you. (Five Star)

Ask Your Guides: Connecting to your Divine Support: This book is nothing what I expected to be, but it was really wonderful. It sort of confirms everything that was taught to us in Sunday School and everything that we innately know, but sometimes choose not to believe. I love this book -- another Five Star and a Heart for Sonia.

Sonia Choquette is an amazing person. I visit her website regularly and check her inspirational comments on facebook. I really hope to meet her someday. But for now, I'll just keep reading her books!

The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard

Success! I got my hubby to read this suspenseful novel. It's definitely a page-turning, difficult-to-put-down tome. And Ms. Pickard is an enjoyable writer to read!

Perhaps I felt closer to this novel because of the small town setting, but I really think the author is masterful job at creating characters you care about. And she creates a few despicable ones - but what I found myself wondering near the end of this book, "should I be caring for...? Maybe he/she is the bad guy?" It adds to the suspense - and the fun of this book!

My rating - a four star, strong recommendation for anyone that wants to get lost in a cliffhanger! Oh, and there is definitely romance in the book...gotta to love that!

Sweetness of the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

I can't remember why I bought this - maybe an NPR recommendation? But the cover is adorable - bright green, dead snipe with a  bright orange stamp sticking through the beak. The artwork is wonderful.

The names in the book are lovely - Flavia De Luce, with sisters Ophelia and Daphne and I really do love Flavia. BUT, I do not for one minute believe that Flavia is eleven years old. Perhaps British children in the 1950's were incredibly cultured and way beyond my level of intelligence. Maybe it's just my blue collar background? Nonetheless, it doesn't take away from the fact that I really enjoyed the mystery behind the novel. And like I said, I really liked Flavia. (I just couldn't believe she was eleven - no matter her level of precociousness.)

And - I was disappointed with myself. Typically, a fairly good sleuth, I missed this one.  Maybe I was too focused on not knowing some of the cultural references to figure out the mystery. Perhaps that's Mr. Bradley's device?

My rating?  3.5 star -- almost 4. But, I would certainly recommend the book!

I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron

Because I was going to be traveling in my car during my two weeks vacation, I went to the library to check out some Bill Bryson audio books. Since our library only had Bill on cassette, I had to find something else. As fate would have it, my eyes were drawn to Nora Ephron's bright yellow cover "I Feel Bad About My Neck" which happenend to be on DVD.  And thank goodness. Because it was so hilarious, that I spent quite a bit of my vacation googling Ms. Ephron on watching her on YouTube and reading her articles in the New Yorker.

And I thought she just made movies. My, that woman is clever.

My review of Nora doesn't really mean squat, but if you're just feeling kind of bad about anything at all, this might be the book or audio for you. I almost recommend audio - hearing it in Nora's voice is par for the course. She doesn't try to cover up any of her heartache. She makes an art of self-deprecation. And she still knows how to laugh. But you know what's best about Nora? Underneath it all, it's quite evident that Nora is still a hopeless romantic. Who can't love this woman??? I just wish I could have coffee with her tomorrow. If I drank coffee.

I'm going to get her other stuff as soon as I get through about five other books waiting to be read. I'm just trying to decide - audio or paper? I'm pretty sure if I buy her books, I can imagine her voice since now every other book I read is now in Nora's voice (even those not written by her).

Rating? Five star and a smiley face. (No neck)

A Bride Most Begrudging by Deeanne Gist

This book got the little heart on my Shelfari bookshelf. Completely enjoyable - but I'm partial to historical fiction with witty dialogue.

Taking place in colonial America (circa 1640's), the story revolves around the tobacco brides that were traded among the Virginian farmers. The premise is that an independent (and educated!) daughter of an earl was mistakenly swept up on a ship to be sold as a bride in exchange for tobacco...well, you can imagine how the rest of the story might go. Yes, a bit predictable. However, the social context and commentary would be great for reading group for discussion. And again, I was completely delighted by a few scenes - the wedding night when the subject of the bible keeps rearing, a dinner fight, Christmas service where the London "scoop neck" has not yet been fashioned and the appearance of the earl himself near the end of the novel.

My rating - a definite five star, with a heart to boot.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Tired of vampire love stories? This YA story is a nice change of pace, especially if you lean toward Team Jacob. I wouldn't put it in the same league as the Hunger Games, but I was certainly compelled to find out what happened between Grace and Sam. Ms. Stiefvater seems particularly talented at creating vivid scenes.
And the ending certainly was set up for a sequel - you have to love that.

I'd give this book a strong 3 star - definitely worth the read.

Book Rap!

By the looks of this blog, it quite appears that nary a book I've read lately. Quite the contrary, actually! But, I'm not very good at updating this blog! I need to figure out how to link this up to Shelfari. Undoubtedly, there's a way and I could probably spend the next three hours trying to figure it out. Instead, I'm going to do a series of mini-posts with mini-reviews of the books I've read this read on for my picks and pans. (Well, I'm too nice to have any pans really.) So, read on for my picks and my super duper picks!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

On Edith Wharton

So I'm a bit behind on any bit of reading or writing tidbits...instead of listing off excuses, let me get down to business by going clear back to the beginning of the summer when I was into reading Edith Wharton.

It all started with Ethan Frome - the book chosen for our book review club. I was thrilled because I had read it many moons ago and remember pondering the book for some time and even renting the flick to see Liam Neeson's interpretation of the somber and pathetic Ethan Frome. (Yes, he gave him a much more dapper appearance than my imagination.) Anyway, after re-reading the depressing tale with the unhappy ending, I decided to wallow in another by Wharton and picked up The House of Mirth which had an interesting prologue on the life of Ms. Wharton. (It was enlightening as to the subject matter of her novels...and her outlook on life in general.)

Anyway, as I logged into my Shelfari account to do "my reviews" on Frome and Mirth, it occurred to me how demoralizing it would be for Edith to be receiving a 3 star from some unknown self-published flunky of an author like myself. But truly the purpose of Shelfari isn't necessarily to grade writing, would you agree? Obviously, if I were rating her novels on writing, she'd be receiving way beyond five stars. She's a completely brilliant writer - a great author for writers to study in terms of prose, character development, setting a scene and making a political statement through a story line. But it terms of pure enjoyment, I couldn't honestly give it anything over a 3 star. So sorry Ms. Wharton. Both stories made me too sad.

Anyway, it was difficult to pick up anything after reading two classic Wharton novels in a row.  Not so much because of the sadness. Everything I started to read seemed so, so trite! (And that's coming from someone who wrote Goodbye Def Leppard, I'll Miss Those Jeans.) I actually stopped reading the first book (which need not be named). Finally, I started a Young Adult detective novel - The Sweetness of the Bottom of the Pie. It was the perfect read after Edith's tumultuous novels.

That delicious review to come later.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Writer's Digest Lucky Agent Contest!

One of the blogs on my google reader is And they do some really cool stuff -- like sponsor contests! If you're interested in entering, check out the blog!

I'm so entering...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Same Kind of Different as Me

This non-fiction story by Ron Hall and Denver Moore is so worth the read. It's one of those, "gosh, I should become a better person" book.

The book is told in from the perspective of two men from completely different sides of the fence -- a very rich Texan art dealer and a poor homeless man who has had his share run-ins with the law. The men are brought together by the art dealer's angel of a wife who volunteers at a homeless shelter. And this woman is an angel...I'm sure she and SIster Theresa are sitting together on a cloud somewhere.

Anyway, I love those stories which fate brings together the unlikeliest of characters and causes unforeseen changes of the heart...especially when the change of heart is the reader. A must read for anyone...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Harry Potter. Twilight. Those of you who have read either of those series understand the "that was good-can't wait to read the next one!" feeling. Suzanne Collins' sequel to The Hunger Games, CATCHING FIRE, smashes that sentiment to pieces. As a matter of fact, thirty seconds after I read the last word of the last chapter, I was searching for the third novel online - only to find out that it won't be released until AUGUST 24TH! Let me apologize to all those whom I've recommended the read - If you haven't started reading it, perhaps wait to start the series this summer so as not to keep you hanging for so long. Or not.

Ms. Collins not only has an incredible imagination, but she has strong prose (especially for YA), colorful dialogue and characters that make you go "hmm". The heroine of our story (Katniss) can't really be described as endearing, yet her character quite preoccupied me. Brutally honest. Protective. Loyal. While she does everything she can to keep within her walls, the author intricately allows a love triangle to enter her life. Oh, yes - it's also a romance.

While the book is fantasy, the underlying political themes are a bit haunting...and most profoundly pronounced in this sequel. Of course, I'm beyond anxious to find out the fate of Panem (a place formerly known as North America) and Katniss's loved ones.
(Katniss is only one of the interesting names in the books...for those of you looking for unique baby names, put the baby name books away!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Forgotten Garden - A Novel by Kate Morton

2009 was a good reading year for me. The Help by Kathryn Stockett - a favorite. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - another favorite. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shafer - a double favorite. (Just to name a few.) Now 2010...with its inclement weather encouraging us to stay at home and starting off in a grand way.

Yesterday I finished a novel complete with mystery, longing, unrequited love, relentless maternal motifs, haunted histories and (alas!) FAIRY TALES. In THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN, Kate Morton creates a beautiful novel with imagery that is so escapist, I was able to stay up past 10:00 pm in recent weeks. (Big feat for me.) She creates a story line so compelling that my mind was always a minute away from considering the plot -no matter what I happened to be doing. (Sorry Boss.) But most of all, Ms. Morton passed my lovability test by creating incredible and soulful heroines amidst three very distinct story lines that ultimately become interwoven.

I can't wait to discuss this book at my book club next week. It's a double favorite - right up there with Guernsey. Obviously, I highly recommend. But if you do, a quick warning: Be prepared to lose yourself.