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Archive for February, 2009

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Sunday Salon: Oh Happy Day

February 28, 2009 By: J.C. Montgomery Category: Miscellaneous

It’s Lazy Day Sunday tomorrow and I don’t have to do anything but read. And I won’t. To make it even more special, it’s my birthday.

Today though, the morning began perfectly with an early present. My husband took me out to my favorite coffee house to enjoy a latte and a pumpkin scone. Heaven!

Even better, I made a trip to the library to do some research for a story I’m writing inspired by The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell.

Of course, I can’t walk straight through to the tables in the back; I have to take that circuitous route which takes me by the used book store. I admit it. I have no will power. None. Plus, I thought I would treat myself to a few more early presents.

Not much of a selection after their warehouse sale being held a couple of weeks ago, but I wasn’t surprised. Nor should I have been shopping for more books as I bought eleven at said sale. But I digress.

Somehow, even after being picked through, they still managed to have several books that caught my eye (and emptied my wallet):

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
I’d originally been introduced to this author through the movie adapted from this novel. I had tried to avoid seeing the film as I didn’t want to be influenced one way or the other regarding the book; however I was too intrigued after hearing so much about it and finally relented. The film was better than I expected and after glancing through the novel I can see that I was concerned for nothing. (I already have One Hundred Years of Solitude on my shelf, but I plan on reading this one first.)

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
I haven’t read much young adult or fantasy and feel lucky to have come across two in one book. I’m thinking this will be a fun read. I can’t wait to find out if I’m right. And no, I’m unfamiliar with the Grimms’ fairy tale this is based on, but I find that may make it easier to read since I won’t be constantly trying to compare them to each other.

Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue
I wasn’t sure about his one at first, but I love historical fiction and after reading that the story is based on a true one, a violent one, and one where the actual motive remains unknown, well…it was just too good to pass up. So I didn’t.

The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman
Very rarely do I ever peruse the non-fiction section, yet I did today on a whim — not that I don’t like non-fiction, I simply don’t come across too many that compel me to get them. There are many stories related to this particular subject matter (the hiding of Jews during WWII), but this is one so unique and well told that I had to pull it out and buy it.

A Field of Darkness by Cornelia Read
All the books above were ones I’ve heard about. This one is completely new to me. That and I don’t seem to read enough mystery’s anymore. After reading the opening paragraph, I felt that this book would be a good book to easy me back into the genre:

There are people who can be happy anywhere. I am not one of them. When the house on the next street went up in flames for the second night in a row, I wondered again what the hell I was doing in Syracuse.

What a way to hook a reader, especially this one!

As I recently lamented on twitter, “My poor, groaning, sagging, suffering TBR shelves.” Let’s hope by the end of the year there will be a lot less sagging.

I wish I could say the same for a few parts of my body. I really think that after one reaches a certain age, mirrors mounted below the waistline on any wall should be banned, or at least moved up several (or more) inches.

Just a thought.

Weekly Geeks #2006-07

February 24, 2009 By: J.C. Montgomery Category: Miscellaneous

Having a little…no a lot, of fun with this week’s Weekly Geeks.

We were asked “to pretend we were able to get in contact with one of our favorite characters and interview them” then blog about it.

There is only one author whose complete works sit on my shelf. Within them is a character that not only sticks out in my mind as one of the most enduring of all time, he has done so with nearly anyone on the planet who has come across him and the work in which he plays a prominent role.

So. Here goes…….

I decided to hold the interview outdoors as it is the first nice day we’ve had in Reno in weeks. As my guest settles himself, I notice him admiring the landscaping. Hoping to break the ice a bit, I begin the interview with a little small talk.

Hey, thanks for stopping by. I see you’ve noticed the new garden decor we’ve put in. Yes, it is anchored to the ground. You’re very observant aren’t you? Well, after last year’s fiasco with the plastic patio furniture and matching umbrella, we realized that going cheap was a bad idea.

We are so happy our neighbors are speaking to us again, although they must admit living downwind on a downhill slope makes them, their pool, and any living creature left exposed in their yard a prime target for flying debris.

But enough about my landscaping, we’re here today to talk about you. How exciting!

I’ve always wanted to meet you in the flesh…uh feathers, and here you are! So, let’s have at it, shall we?

Just recently, the world celebrated the bicentennial of the author who made you famous. How do you feel about that?

Ahem. I would tactfully point out that it was I who put said author on the map. Oh, he wrote some brilliant stories that ended up as inspiration for other writers, music, TV, and film. But who can forget my appearance on The Simpsons? Now that is the true test of a cultural icon that survives the ages.

Actually, that show had a number of references to Poe throughout its Halloween specials.

But you feel then, that you are not so much identified with Poe as he is with you?

Let’s look at the facts. Up until this work was published, the man was a struggling nobody, barely making ends meet, many times not – having to rely on friends and family for financial assistance. We won’t even touch upon his propensity to spend more time with a Cognac bottle than his prose.

I’m not sure you’re being very fair here. That time in American history was hard on those like Poe seeking to live solely by writing. In fact, I think he was one of the first to attempt to do so. Without the protection of an international copyright law, many works from overseas were being reproduced in the U.S. to the detriment of American authors. As you may know, the poem made him instantly well known – but never rich.

Plus, there was the added stress of watching his young wife dying before his very eyes. He had lost his mother to the same disease. I’m sure it was heartbreaking.

You have a point. Poe did have a thing for loss and death as he had already been abandoned by his father and lost his mother while quite young.

I suppose then, I might not have been made such a prominent character in the poem, as my kind is said to symbolize death and ill omens, hence him calling me a “grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominus bird of yore” and a “thing of evil”.

In his essay, “The Philosophy of Composition”, Poe discusses how he deliberately attempted to compose “The Raven” as a work that would appeal to the public and critics. It appears that this is exactly what happened. In creating you, he said, you were meant to symbolize ‘mournful and never-ending remembrance’, and it worked.

Wouldn’t you say then, that as much as you helped popularize him at the time, you couldn’t have done so if he had not created you as such a powerful and enigmatic symbol? Shouldn’t you both deserve equal credit for a poem that has endured, and will endure for all time?

At this point in the interview, the Raven had severely ruffled his feathers in an attempt to shake off the question. After several minutes of careful preening, and hopes that I would forgo expecting a response, he regained his composure and continued.

I’d nearly forgotten about that damned essay. You know, there are some who argue it was at worst a satire, and at best a way to rationalize how he came to write “The Raven” rather than all his works.

Clearing throat…

Yes. I’d read that. You, uh, haven’t answered my question.

At this point I discovered that ravens can glare. Or perhaps his stare and persona were so strong, I was imagining it.

After that poem was published, the man earned the nickname, “The Raven”.

You don’t hear too many people seeing a few of us flying over head and call out, “Hey, there goes a murder of Poes” – do you?

At this point, I figured I’d learned enough about one of my favorite characters from a writer I grew up admiring, my enduring fascination of gothic horror begun with reading The Tell-Tale Heart and The Pit and the Pendulum.

As my guest flew to his next appointment, I realized that even though he was nothing as I had expected, he remains as mysterious as he was when he arrived and he never did answer my question.

Or did he?

What do you think?

Can an author create a character in such a way, that even a century later the character stands out in your mind more than the one who created him or her – or it?

Sunday Salon: Too much reading, Not enough month

February 22, 2009 By: J.C. Montgomery Category: Miscellaneous

As in, I planned on doing a lot more reading this month but had not taken into account it’s a little bit on the short side. It didn’t help that everyone in the house has been ill, including me.

Even the cat got into the act, poor thing. I’ve discovered that except for grown men, there is nothing more pathetic looking than a sick cat.

But I’m happy to report that everyone has or is well on their way to recovery.

Looking at the month, and what is left of it, I see that I will only meet one of my goals: to read more Short Stories. Other than that, my production level has been dismal.

What I’ve read so far:

What I’m reading:

  • Peony In Love by Lisa See
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyer

What I have planned:

Today begins the Freedom To Read Week in Canada. The blog, Fahrenheit 451 hosts a challenge and, as I did last year, I will be participating. I hope to read the following by the end of the challenge on June 30th.

  • The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

And if I weren’t crazy enough – a new challenge! Which isn’t too crazy as this is one of my categories for the 999 challenge and we are allowed to overlap. Plus, and I love this part, nothing is written in stone, so this list can change. Whew!

The Classics Challenge 2009 is running from April 1 to October 31, 2009. For my level, I am going light and choosing to “snack” on just four classics while also reading one book suggested as being a future classic by another participant.

  • My Ántonia by Willa Cather
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  • Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  • Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Ann Porter
  • Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt (for my bonus read)

In addition, we were also asked to suggest a book we feel may become a classic as well as suggest a novel for those new to reading classics. For the former, I will name Empire Falls by Richard Russo and one to look out for. As to the latter? I suggest The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Seems I’ve spent as much time on this post as I have my reading, so I better sign off and get going on those plans and challenges. Thank goodness March is a longer month. Let’s hope I use the extra time more wisely.

Review: Lélé by Edwidge Danticat

February 15, 2009 By: J.C. Montgomery Category: Reviews

“Lélé” by Edwidge Danticat
from The Book of Other Peopleedited by Zadie Smith

Each copy of this book sold benefits 826NYC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. Click on the link above to learn more and how you can become involved.

Originally, I’d come across Edwidge Danticat while taking a diversity course in college. However at the time I wasn’t reading much of anything unless directly related to my academic studies, so I didn’t look at any of her work in depth. However, what I’d seen intrigued me, planting a seed that finally bore fruit.

When I came across her name on the back cover of The Book of Other People, I made it a point to make hers the next story I read for this week’s Short Story Sunday.

As I began, right from the first paragraph, I knew I was going to like this choice much better than the last one.

Here is the opening sentence, long and descriptive, but not overdone; setting a tone that immediately had me at ease and wanting to read more:

It was so hot in Léogâne that summer that most of the frogs exploded, scaring not just the children who once chased them into the river at dusk or the parents who hastily pried the threadbare carcasses from their fingers, but also my 39-year old sister Lélé, who was four months pregnant with her first child and feared that, should the temperature continue to rise, she too might burst.

On a basic level, this story is of the relationship of a brother, his sister, and her estranged husband. Beyond that, and more importantly, it is one about character: those that are strong and those that aren’t.

Not long into the story, the reader discovers the son and his father weren’t close. It is his daughter, Lélé (short for Léogâne, the town where they lived), with whom he dotes on and is proud of, while he shows disdain for his son. This is evident when she finds notes their father made in a journal about her:

I wanted to ask her if he had written anything like that, or anything at all, about me, in case I had missed it, hadn’t seen it. But I knew he hadn’t. And she did too.

As we learn, both have hurtful pasts, but it is their relationship and Lélé’s character that hold them together and sees them through their respective difficulties: it is her strength that has given him his, to survive his childhood and his vocation as it puts him face to face with the ugliness of life and people more often than the beauty of it, which he finally begins to see at the end of the story.

There is a heartbreaking revelation, but because of Danticat’s skill at weaving hope within the narrative, I was not overly saddened by it. In fact, I was left feeling that Lélé, her brother, and her husband would be fine as they have decided to face their challenges and not run from them.

I am giving this a rating of 5 Stars - I enjoyed it that much. I doubt I will like every story I read in this anthology, but I hope to find a few more like this one. I really do.

Review: Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz

February 12, 2009 By: J.C. Montgomery Category: Reviews

Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz (2003)
Contemporary Fiction/Thriller, 446 pages
Published by Bantam Dell, a division of Random House

Read for:
The 999 Challenge
Read Your Own Book
Chunkster Challenge
Year of Readers (See sidebar if you’d like to sponsor me)
Gayla (You many now sheath the Katana)

The was the first ever Dean Koontz book I’ve read.

It will not be my last.

I don’t have many serious regrets in my life, you know, the kind that keeps you up at night?

Well, this isn’t one of them.

But, for those that have me slapping myself upside the head as I say to myself, ‘What was I thinking?’ this one goes to the top of the list.

From experience, I usually don’t buy a book unless I can skim a few pages first. However, the three Koontz books I received were a gift and highly recommended by friends and fellow bloggers.

About the book. This comes from the back cover of the copy (mass market) I have:

Sometimes the silent souls who seek Odd out want justice. Occasionally their otherworldly tips help him prevent a crime. But this time it’s different. A stranger comes to Pico Mundo, accompanied by a horde of hyena-like shades who herald an imminent catastrophe. Aided by his soul mate, Stormy Llewellyn, and an unlikely community of allies that includes the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Odd will race against time to thwart the gathering evil. His account of these shattering hours, in which past and present, fate and destiny converge, is a testament by which to live – and unforgettable fable for our time destined to rank among Dean Koontz’s enduring works.

Written to help sell the book, but no matter how good it sounds, it’s the actual content that matters. In this case, the content is such that I couldn’t tear myself away for a moment.

Koontz baits the hook expertly from the very beginning. It wasn’t until the last couple of pages in the first chapter that I realized what had transpired, and was left gasping, flipping back several pages to try and figure how and when the barb was set well and firm. I never saw it coming. It was then I knew I was in for one helluva read.

I really enjoyed how he introduces and develops the main character, Odd Thomas. Here are several excerpts:

My name is Odd Thomas, though in this age when fame is the altar at which most people worship, I am not sure why you should care who I am or that I exist…In fact I am such a nonentity by the standards of our culture that People magazine not only will never feature a piece about me but might also reject my attempts to subscribe to their publication on the grounds that the black-hole gravity of my noncelebrity is powerful enough to suck their entire enterprise into oblivion.

I lead an unusual life…Peculiar things happen to me that don’t happen to other people with regularity, if ever. For example, I would never have written this memoir if I had not been commanded to so do by a four-hundred pound man with six fingers on his left hand.

The day had dawned less than an hour ago, and I had spent every minute of the morning living up to my name.

I admire authors who can create such characters. The following was taken from the author’s website about how Odd Thomas came about:

When I wrote ODD THOMAS, the title character came to me fully formed, as if he were a real person whom I had known all my life. No character in any of my previous novels led me through his story with such grace, with his voice unfailingly strong in my mind’s ear, making revelations about himself and his family that were surprising – even shocking in some instances – yet seemed inevitable to me the moment they were made.

Other characters have endeared themselves to me – nearly always because of their humanity and their courage and their intellectual conviction. Never had one of them filled me with awe and with admiration, which it seems could be earned only by real people, never by fictional characters – but then along came Odd. By the time I finished ODD THOMAS, I knew Odd was on a journey unique to a character in contemporary fiction, a journey exploring the beauty of humility. Yes, these books are about the power of love and friendship. About the reality of evil.

This, for me, made reading the book even more meaningful: understanding that Koontz cared as much for Odd as I did.

I was never disappointed, even when reading the ending, knowing ahead of time what possibly awaited me. And yes, I admit it; I shed a tear or two. It was The Time Traveler’s Wife all over again. Even though I know what was going to happen – it still got to me.

The author’s style of writing is what I liked most. The banter between characters never ceased to bring a smile, a laugh, and even a solemn moment. In fact, I looked forward to seeing upcoming dialogue. This is how his characters became so alive to me and why I cared so much about all of them. (Except for the bad guys of course)

Told from the point of view of the protagonist in retrospect, the story recounts a series of events that happens over the course of a few days in a small California desert town. There are ghosts, demons, murders, and mayhem, but none of it was excessive or gratuitous – perfect for a horror wuss like me.

As I mentioned earlier, this was a book I could not put down and only did so because of the cold medicine I’m taking: great for getting a good night’s sleep, bad for trying to finish a really good book.

However as soon as I woke up this morning, I finished it and this review. I think this is a record for me.

That being said, there is no way I cannot give this book anything less than 5 Stars and hope the other two Odd Thomas books on my TBR shelves are as good a read as this one was.


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