Sunday, March 20, 2016

Shining Stars!

If you're wondering when I'm going to let go of the whole star theme, I promise this will be the last time. In truth, my last post would have been the last time...until something else happened. I mean, isn't it just like life to let you bash star ratings,...only to let you turn around and find you should be grateful for them? (Sigh.)

So, here's my tale...

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been sick all week and yesterday was the first day I felt, somewhat, human again. I joined the land of the living by descending from my upstairs bedroom and going out for awhile yesterday. I ended my evening early by curling up on the couch in my pajamas with a blanket, happy I could breathe on my own again and glad the worst of my illness was over. I decided to scan Netflix to see if there was anything that interested me. After scanning only a couple of minutes, I saw a movie that caught my attention.

I preview a movie, basically, the same way I preview a book. The odd title caught my eye, but the cover didn't really interest me. The little synopsis seemed to pique my curiosity a bit. I wasn't really in the mood for a romantic comedy, though (which is how it was described), and was about to change to see what else was available when my husband said, "Wait. Why don't you try that one? It rates it 4.3 stars. That's pretty high for you."

He was right. I don't typically find anything rated that high when I look for a movie. And I know Netflix considers things I've watched before to determine if I'll like it. I looked at the clock, looked to see how long the movie was, and determined I would give it a try. I had already decided that if I didn't like it after watching a bit, I could always go read a book.

4.3 stars? Yep. They nailed it.

If you've never seen the movie "Man Up," you should give it a try. It is most definitely a British romantic comedy. If you like movies like "Bridget Jones's Diary," "Once," and "Love Actually," you will get a kick out of "Man Up." I laughed out loud, more than once. I clapped my hands, too. (I even cheered!)

Now, you could say that some of my euphoria came from the fact I was happy to be alive, which is probably true,...but it was just a great, fun film! The premise of the movie is that a thirty-something year old woman, who hasn't been lucky in love, is standing under a big clock in the train station when she is approached by a man who mistakenly thinks she is his blind date. She decides to go along with it and allow him to think she's the girl he's been set up with. It ends up being quite an interesting date.

Did I mention I wanted to watch a movie because the book I'm currently reading is about a man who owns a little old-fashioned cinema in Paris? The narrator in the novel references movies I love and  reminded me of the magic of getting lost in a film. He mentions that 'after glow' of carrying a piece of that art in your heart after the movie is over. I definitely enjoyed that "movie magic" feeling from watching "Man Up" and was still smiling (and chuckling) after the movie was over.

And, yes, I thank my lucky 4.3 stars for a lovely evening!


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Dilly Bars, Dreams,...and Those Damn Stars

I just finished a book I completely enjoyed...for many reasons:

 1)  I love the title.
 2)  I love the cover.
 3)  I love Dairy Queen, as it was a big part of my childhood.
 4)  I love stories about Southern folks because it's a part of who I am.
 5)  I was raised in a religious home and I get the humor of it all.
 6)  I am heavily medicated and confined to my bedroom because I'm sick.
 7)  I needed to read something that felt like comfort food for the eyes and brain.
 8)  I'm feeling a bit...sorry for myself because it's my Spring Break (refer to #6).
 9)  It's the author's debut novel.
10) I love Dairy Queen.

It is because of these many reasons that I feel sure I am unable to give a fair assessment. That being said, I'm going to give my assessment anyway.

Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Gregg Gilmore is a charming, coming-of-age type story about a girl growing up in a small town in Georgia. She is the oldest of two daughters, and her daddy is the Baptist minister for the town. All Catherine Grace Cline thinks about, while she sits on a picnic table at the local Dairy Queen eating a Dilly Bar once a week, is how she's going to get out of that town when she's eighteen and chase her dreams.

Catherine Grace is a delightfully funny and honest narrator. She uses a combination of phrases and Southern idioms I grew up with and know quite well. She loves her daddy, loves her sister, and loves Jesus. As we all know, we don't question things much when we're young. It's when we begin turning into young adults that we question things and learn we have to find our own way. Things can get a bit...complicated, as they do for our narrator, which makes for quite an interesting story with some surprising turns.

Now, while I know this is not Daphne du Maurier, I did give this one four stars on Goodreads. I laughed out loud when I did it. Not because I didn't take it seriously, but because I meant it - wholeheartedly. I have no doubt the ten reasons listed above may have had something to do with that - in fact, I'm sure they do - but it was my heart's honest rating. It also made me feel bad I'd only given two stars to Still Life by Louise Penny, so...I changed it and gave it a three. Yeah, yeah. I know.

Damn stars.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Problem with Stars

Don't you hate to rank a book with stars? I do. I mean, I want to give it a rating to help other people out, but...there's so many things to consider in that rating. It would be easy if I were rating it to someone I know, someone who knows me. I would know what their reading taste is, and they would know mine, so the rating would have more meaning. Don't you think? I do. It's easier for me to give my opinion on this blog because it's not just a star rating, I can explain why I liked a book or didn't like it.

You see, I decided to do the Goodreads Reading Challenge and put the app on my phone.  I'm supposed to rate a book between one and five stars when I'm done reading it. Now, there IS a place to write additional comments, but I don't really have time to do all that. I've tried to a couple of times, but - for me - it would be like writing a blog all over again. Too much to say, you know?

I said all that to lead up to my star ranking of the novel I just completed.

I finished Still Life by Louise Penny today, which is the first in her Chief Inspector Gamache series. I was already struggling with what I was going to rate it, so I decided to look at how some other people had rated it. I was dumbfounded to see that some people gave it five stars! And, thus, my problem began.

You see, a book has to be something extra-special to rank five stars with me. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss is a good example of five stars to me. But it isn't all about size, as I definitely think Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane ranks a five. In middle school books, the Ranger's Apprentice series by John Flanagan would rank five stars for me, as would Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly. It isn't that I don't give five star ratings, it just means you really have to impress me to get one.

Still Life didn't impress me. But I liked it. I didn't like it enough to give it four, I knew that immediately. My problem was whether to give it a three or a two. Three seemed like too much and two seemed too few. Hmmmm.

I ended up giving it a two with no explanation, as I decided to explain it here:

I enjoyed Still Life, but it was a bit disjointed here and there. Not the plot itself, but exchanges between characters and one character that seemed to serve no real purpose at all (unless, I suspect, she may be a pain in the side of the inspector later on in another book). There were a few very cliche' characters and a whiner. There were also a few places where it was hard to tell who was saying what. I don't know if that was just my ebook that was lacking defined paragraphs and quotation marks, or if the printed copy looked the same.

Here's the thing, though, I read the book over a couple of days, and I did enjoy it. It was a fun, easy read with some twists and turns I liked. The overall plot worked, as a small town crime mystery, but I'm not sure I'd be interested in reading the whole series. I have wondered, though, if the author improves with each book. I can see how Still Life could have been a better book with a few changes and a better editor. I may, eventually, read another just to see if the author improves on a few things. After all, this is the first in a series of eleven (number twelve comes out in August of this year), and it was written over ten years ago. On second thought, I think I will read another after I've read some others on my "to read" list. I just talked myself into it (which happens, sometimes, when I talk to myself).

By the way, did I mention I finished Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier? I enjoyed it thoroughly! As I mentioned in a previous post, it was a good adventure. I imagine the author had great fun writing that one. I've been to Cornwall, where the author lived, and can understand the inspiration for writing such a novel. It's easy to imagine what it must have been like in the days of pirates. I have no doubt I'll be smiling about that adventure for some time to come.

Am I allowed to give five stars to a novel just because it was fun, and I like pirate stories?

See? This is the problem with stars.

"Aarrrgh!" ;)


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Adventure on the High Seas!

While this week at work has been crazy busy, I just had to pop in and say how much I'm enjoying Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier. It is exciting and adventurous,...and I swear I can feel the salty sea spraying in my face and the wind blowing in my hair, as my ship sails around the English coast of Cornwall! It makes me want to strap on a sword and shout, "Aaaargh!" at my a French accent, of course.

I look forward to reading every morning and starting my day off with a spirit of excitement. I have taken the book to school a couple of times, but I get carried away reading it and don't want to stop, so I'm keeping it at home from now on. I'm currently at a place in the book where I'm trying to slow down a bit. I'd like to save the last part for Spring Break, which I'm happy to say begins tomorrow at 3:45 for me, so I can savor the end.

I hope this post finds you doing well and reading something that starts your day off right...or ends your day quite pleasantly.

Happy reading!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Second Post Today?!

What can I say? It's either a drought or a downpour when it comes to me. There's been so much dryness lately, I need a flood of writing for awhile. Perhaps, I want to write more because I know spring break is one week away, and I feel I'm finally beginning to breathe again. Or maybe, just maybe, I've finally decided my priorities need to be adjusted a bit. (Okay, more than "a bit.")

No matter the reason, here is my second post of the day:

I read the classic Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier, and I absolutely loved it! I know, I know,...I should have read it before now. Everyone should have read it by now. I don't know how I missed it all these years - and I mean completely missed it. I had no idea it had been made into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock (which, now, I can't wait to see because I hear it's really good). I didn't know Maurier also wrote a novelette, The Birds, which also became one of Hitchcock's movie - one I've loved since childhood.

I know there is more to learn about this wonderful authoress, but I hesitate to research her any further for now. I enjoy her style of writing and look forward to reading more of her work. I've already bought Frenchman's Creek and My Cousin Rachel. I'd like to read those before I delve into who she was as a person. I hate to admit this, but learning about a writer sometimes taints my view on their writing. I'd rather love the work first, learn about the author second.

As for the novel Rebecca, I loved everything about it. I love the way the story unfolds, the reader not knowing anything more than the narrator knows. I found myself questioning whether the narrator was reliable or not. I didn't know if things were really as they appeared to her on the surface or was she just being overly dramatic. And, trust me, there is plenty of drama in this novel. Drama, suspense, thrills, chills, and love - they're all there in perfect portions.

Reviews have told me that Frenchman's Creek is closest in style to Rebecca, which is why it's the one I'm beginning tonight. I hope I've found another writer whose literary works are the kind I can soak my brain in and enjoy the mental rollercoaster rides. If they are anything like Rebecca, I'll be riding with my hands in the air and screaming for more. :)

Book Balm

I don't know how I've managed to read all the books I've read in my lifetime and never read Anna Quindlen! How is this possible? Well, thank goodness, I found her just when I needed her. (Isn't it amazing when that happens?)

It had been a rough couple of weeks for me. Work had been especially demanding, and I've had many things to deal with. I've been reading some books I've enjoyed, but I had not read anything that helped quiet my mind from all the turmoil going on around me. I had been feeling impatient, short-tempered, and agitated. I needed something, I just didn't know what. When I finished my last book, I couldn't find anything that seemed to fit my mood or one that would help me out of it.

A few things happened, within a couple of days, that led me down a literary path and brought me to the book I needed...

First, I saw a post from Erica Bauermeister (an author I enjoy) on Facebook about Anna Quindlen. It wasn't about any of Quindlen's books, it was actually about how they both live in the same area. I thought I remembered seeing Quindlen's name before (a quote of hers on Goodreads, perhaps?) and made a mental note to look her up when I had the chance.

Second, my daughter and son-in-law gave me a gift card to Barnes and Noble as a thank you, which was really sweet and unnecessary but really thoughtful of them. There isn't a store near us, but my daughter knows I order online. I hate Texas traffic, so I seldom make the drive to the nearest Barnes and Noble unless it's for something extra special.

Third, a student of mine needed the second book in a series I'd been trying to get her to read (The Ranger's Apprentice). She gobbled up the first one much faster than I thought she would (which made me SO proud). When she went to our school library to get the second book, it was already checked out to someone for the next two weeks. I just couldn't let her wait that long. As soon as school was over, I called around to find the second and third book. And, as I'm sure you guessed, only Barnes and Noble had what I needed. They pulled the two books and put them on hold for me to pick-up.

And, finally, when I arrived at Barnes and Noble, my plan had been to just run in and get the books at the service counter. I had a lot of work to do that evening and didn't have time to wander around a bookstore. When I walked in, though, the books beckoned to me and convinced me to look around just a bit. I'm sure some of them whispered, "You will have money left over on that gift card after the two books, don't you want to take me home?" I ignored the whispers of the full price books, as I usually do, and decided to just browse the bargain aisle.

And there she was.

She was lovely. Truly lovely. She was a hardback with a beautifully simplistic cover and a title that spoke to me: Still Life with Bread Crumbs. And I could just tell when I took her off the shelf and held her in my hand, this was the book my soul needed.

And I was right.

I have relaxed and relished every moment of Quindlen's novel. Her writing was balm to my tortured mind, and it helped heal a few bruises on my heart. She's a wonderful storyteller, very descriptive, with characters you really like that have real world problems. Within her story, she provides a great deal of wisdom about how to live life to the fullest and how to treasure moments that are gone too quickly. Just...lovely.

I'll leave you with 'the hook' from the inside cover:

"Still Life with Bread Crumbs begins with an imagined gunshot and ends with a new tin roof. Between the two is a wry and knowing portrait of Rebecca Winter, a photographer whose work made her an unlikely heroine for many women. Her career is now descendent, her bank balance shaky, and she has fled the city for the middle of nowhere. There she discovers, in a tree stand with a roofer named Jim Bates, that what she sees through a camera lens is not all there is to life."