Painting a Picture

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I just started The End of East by Jen Sookfong Lee, and the language she uses is just amazing. Lee's writing style is beautiful and poetic. Take the first paragraph, for example:

"At first, what frightened her about this place was the drizzle -- the omnipresent grey of morning, afternoon, and nightime too. She was afraid that she would slowly be leached of colour and that, one day, while she was combing her hair in the mirror, she would see that her reflection was as grey as the sky, sea and land that surrounded her. Everything she saw as she moved about the city was filtered through the mist -- dampened, weighed down, burdened."

This novel is set in Vancouver, Canada. I found this beautiful photo of Stanley Park online -- this kind of fog would act on my imagination too!

Wow! Talk about painting a picture...

Wordless Wednesday

California Redwoods - Muir Woods

Al Capone Does My Shirts

Monday, July 28, 2008

Al Capone Does My Shirts
Gennifer Choldenko
5/5 Stars

Moose Flanagan has just moved to Alcatraz. His father has gotten a job as an electrician at the most notorious prison in the United States. You would think Moose would be excited, but he isn’t. Instead, Moose must watch over his autistic sister, Natalie, while trying to avoid the warden’s scheming daughter, Piper.

Moose’s problems multiply when he catches Natalie holding hands with Prisoner 105. Is Natalie safe on the island? Who is Prisoner 105? Moose enlists the help of the notorious Al Capone in an attempt to keep Natalie in school and off the island.

This is one of the best examples of juvenile fiction I have read in a long time. I am always on the lookout for books that will catch the attention of ‘reluctant readers,’ and this book does just that. The character of Moose is a typical preteen boy – his feelings for his family conflict with his own growing interests. He must choose what is important to him – baseball or Natalie. Ultimately, he make the wise decision and cares for the sister he loves.

Although fiction, the novel has a basis in reality – guards and their families did live on Alcatraz Island, Al Capone did work in the prison laundry, and civilians did interact with some prisoners. Choldenko has included this and other information in the ‘Author’s Note’ at the end of the book. This section sheds some light on ‘life on the rock’ and is a great link between the historical information and the novel itself.

This novel will capture your child’s imagination. I highly recommend it.

First Challenge Completed!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

I have officially completed the Non-Fiction Five Challenge! I was afraid that I had joined too many challenges, but now that I have finished this one -- I feel better about finishing the others.

Thanks Joy!

My final reading list:

1. Desert Flower by Waris Dirie

2. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

3. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

4. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

5. Smoke, Mirrors, and Murder by Ann Rule

Without a doubt, The Glass Castle was my favorite book. This memoir was so well-written that it was easy to read - even though the subject matter was extremely disturbing. If you are looking for a honest portrait of a family, flaws and all, I recommend you pick this one up.

LibraryThing Early Reviewers

Friday, July 25, 2008

I have been a member of LibraryThing's Early Reviewers for months now. Every time new books are posted, I faithfully request the books I would like to read. Up until recently, I have had no luck.

July must be my lucky month -- I have been selected to receive two ARCs! I am expecting a copy of Schooled by Anisha Lakhani and Hurry Down Sunshine by Michael Greenburg.

Nothing is better than opening your mailbox and finding books!

Winchester Mystery House

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

When we decided to go to San Francisco, I knew I wanted to visit the Winchester Mystery House. I was fascinated after watching numerous television shows that highlight Sarah Winchester and her mansion. If you don't know the story, you can read it here. Beautiful and tragic, the Winchester house stands - seemingly unchanged - since Sarah's death in 1922.

The mansion is located in San Jose, California. It was a 45 minute drive from San Francisco, and incredibly easy to find. We began our tour at about 10:00. And by the time we finished, the waiting area was full. If you do have to wait, take some time to stroll around the gardens or visit the Firearms Museum.

Both of my guys agree - this was the best tour of our vacation. It even scored better than Alcatraz!

I'm a Child of the 80's

Monday, July 21, 2008

To Dance With the White Dog

To Dance With the White Dog
Terry Kay
5/5 Stars

From the Publisher: To Dance With the White Dog is a gentle, moving story about an old man's final rite of passage, about family ties and the universal experience of grieving for a lost love. At the heart of the book is a mysterious white dog which appears after Sam Peek's beloved wife has died and stays with him until just before his own death.

Stray dog or phantom? To Sam, the dog is a guardian angel that bridges his final years with warmth and comfort. Sam Peek and his white dog will leap from the page into the reader's heart instantly. And the ending of the book is touching, amazing, and delightful all in one.

I first read this book when I was in college. At the time, this beautiful, tear-jerking story became one of my favorites. Almost 18 years later, I feel the same way. This story of grief, loss, love, and healing holds even deeper meaning for me now. This is a book I will keep in my collection -- to read over and over.

Alcatraz - The View from the Bay

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Last week, we took a cruise around San Francisco Bay. No surprise, it was very foggy. But, toward the end of our adventure something suddenly appeared -- Alcatraz. The setting seemed appropriate -- a desolate, deserted island emerging quietly from the fog. What do you think?

Catching Up

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Now that I am back from vacation, I'm catching up on the blogs I read. If you have a chance, pop in and take a look.

Thoughts from a SF Renter - An entertaining blog that focuses on financial issues, as well as job and roommate hunting. A fun read.

Catherine Wheels - Catherine writes about family life -- her two children, cooking, etc. She also reviews book weekly. The books I have chosen based on her reviews have been great! I always look forward to new posts on her blog.

Confessions of a Pioneer Woman - Ree spins stories about life on a working cattle ranch. Her tales are always interesting and accompanied by gorgeous photos. Be sure to check out her epic -- Black Heels to Tractor Wheels.

Frugal Babe - A financial blog focused on frugal living and family life. FrugalBabe has a ten week old son and has posted great information on sewing cloth diapers and saving money on baby clothes.

Give Me Back My Five Bucks - Krystal is debt free, having paid off $17,000 of debt in ten months. Her blog focuses on budgeting, job interviews, and life in general. Stop by and sign up for her weekly transportation challenge.

If you read any interesting blogs, leave a comment and let me know about them!

Puppy Love

funny pictures

Chinatown - San Francisco

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Mistress's Daughter

The Mistress’s Daughter
A. M. Homes
3.5/5 Stars

A. M. Homes always knew she was adopted. She spent her life trying to discover where she ‘fit in’. When Homes was 31, her biological mother contacted her. This is the story of Homes’ struggle with her identity, as well as her attempts to connect with her birth parents.

While reading this book, I was struck by just how honest Homes is about her thoughts and feelings. The basic story of her adoption is what captures your attention, but it is her powerful story telling that keeps the tale interesting. From her account of meeting her father for the first time, to conversations with her mother, and finally her search for a genealogical identity – Homes pulls you along with her on this important journey.

Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Parking Ticket?

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Jean-Dominique Bauby
5/5 Stars

Jean-Dominique Bauby is a victim of 'Locked-In Syndrome." At the age of 43, he suffered a massive stroke that left him unable to move or speak. His only means of communication -- his left eyelid. Bauby spent weeks painstakingly dictating this memoir -- letter by letter.

I read this book in one sitting, it was that captivating. Through short vignettes, Bauby manages to describe the minute intimacies of his life in astonishing detail. From his first experience in a wheelchair, to bath-time, and finally through the development of his communication 'code' - Bauby's emotions touch on both anger and sadness without becomings desperate or hopeless.

There are also times of hope and, ultimately, love -- when he describes the visits of his children or memories of this father. Throughout the book, I was struck by Bauby's ability to be thankful for small things -- the ability to move his limbs a fraction of an inch, sitting in the Cinecitta, and the the ability of his mind to fly away like a butterfly.

It is not until the end of the book that Bauby describes his last day as a 'perfectly functioning earthling.' This most important day in his life is detailed with very little emotion. This makes the catastrophic details all the more haunting.

This is one the most poignant memoirs that I have ever read, and one of my favorite books of 2008.

Aquarium of the Bay

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Aquarium of the Bay is located on Pier 39 in San Francisco. Which, by the way, is filled with loads of restaurants and shopping.

When you first walk into the aquarium, there are numerous small tanks, holding tropical fish, anchovies, and jellyfish.

Once we left this area of the aquarium, we took an elevator to the main exhibit. An automated sidewalk took us through the underwater tunnels -- we could see the fish up close. This exhibit focuses on marine life in San Francisco Bay.

The last stop on the tour was the 'petting zoo.' Here we were able to touch skates, leopard sharks, and a lot of different starfish and sea cucumbers.

This tour is great for families -- even those with small children.

For a quick lunch before or after your tour, I recommend the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company for delicious seafood and a relaxed atmosphere.

San Francisco - Update #1

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

We are having a great time -- but the hills take some getting used to!

Riding the cable car is a good way to get around.

Lombard Street is absolutely gorgeous.

The view from the top of Coit Tower is fantastic. From the Golden Gate Bridge to Alcatraz -- you can see it all.

Next Stop: Aquarium of the Bay