My old friend…

Spoiler Alert – “Wait ’til Helen Comes” by Mary Downing Hahn being discussed.  Spoilers likely.   

I picked up “Wait ’til Helen Comes” with a little bit of apprehension.  Would it be as I remembered?  Would by childhood favorite fade in fondness in my adulthood?  Could it possibly be as good as I remembered?

My old friend did not disappoint.  I’m 43% of the way through, and this book is every bit as magical as I remember.  It’s as if I’ve been transported to my 12-year-old self.  I’ve been able to let my imagination go, and relive the enjoyment that I got out of this book as a kid.  I didn’t know if I had it in me; I’m excited to see that I do. 

I see a lot of myself in the main character, Molly.  I can see why I felt drawn to her as a 12-year old.  She loves to read and write, just as I did.  She’s the oldest sibling, just like me.  And just like me, she feels tormented by her younger siblings; particularly by her youngest sister.  At age 12, I definitely thought that my 7-year-old sister existed solely to aggravate me, much as Molly feels about Heather.   I believed whole-heartedly in ghosts at age 12, so this book appealed to me on just about every level.

There have been a couple of references that I’m not sure a typical 12-year old would be able relate to.  I’m trying to transport myself back to age 12 and remember if I knew who Emily Dickinson and Andrew Wyeth were, but I just can’t remember.  A minor “compliant”, but something that made me wonder as I was reading. 

I’ve been pretty amazed at how the finer plot details have come back to me as I’ve been reading.  I remembered the basic plot points, of course, but as I’m reading, I find myself saying “Oh yeah!  I remember that!” It’s a cool feeling; kind of like going to a 10-year high school reunion and reliving all of your favorite memories with friends you haven’t seen in years.

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Spoiler etiquette…

Lately I’ve been thinking about spoilers, and more specifically, the etiquette one should use when writing a book review.  Do I need to post a “spoiler warning” in the title?  Is there an expiration date on spoilers?  Do people reading a book review blog expect to read spoilers?

Not too long ago I was having a conversation with two friends.  I knew that both people were Harry Potter fans, and it had been quite a while since the last book came out.  Since, in my opinion, any *real* Harry Potter fan would have finished the book long ago, I felt completely ok with discussing my feelings about J.K. Rowling allowing Harry to survive the series (totally a mistake, if you ask me, but oddly; she didn’t consult me).  As soon as the words came out of my mouth, one of my friends said “WTF!!! I haven’t finished the book yet!  You ruined it!”.  My first reaction was to feel bad.  As a reader, I respect the reading process.  I’d never intentionally ruin a book for someone.  I apologized profusely and felt terrible for the rest of the conversation.

Later, as I had time to think about it, I changed my opinion.  Dude had PLENTY of time to read the book; it had been out for AT LEAST six months when this conversation took place.  I finished the book within 24 hours of its release and this asshat can’t finish it in six months?  Even my stepfather, Ken, who read at a snail’s pace, finished the book within a month. 

So that brings me back to my original point.  Shouldn’t there be a shelf-life on spoiler alerts?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m never going to go around intentionally spoiling books for my fellow readers.  But there comes a point when, if you haven’t gotten around to reading a culturally significant book, that you have to accept that it’s going to be discussed in your presence.  If you really care about a book *that* much, move it up on your priority list.  If you let the final installment of Harry Potter languish on your bookshelf for six months then you don’t deserved to call yourself a Harry Potter fan.  You might as well just wait for the movie to come out…

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My childhood favorites…

I don’t remember how old I was when I first read “Wait Till Helen Comes” by Mary Downing Hahn.  According to amazon.com it was released on September 22, 1986, so I had to have been at least 9. 

If I remember right, I bought this book at one of our school’s book fairs.  I *loved* book fairs.  They’d pass around a little catalog a few days before the fair, and I’d pour through it making a “wish list” of all of the books I wanted to buy.  I was lucky enough to be raised by parents who encouraged reading and felt that one could never have too many books, so I was always given a generous allowance to buy books at the fair.  Anyway, “Wait Till Helen Comes” was one of those books that I just *had* to have.  The book appealed to me on a few levels.  Ghosts?  Check.  Oldest sister who felt out-of-place in the family? That described me to a T. 

I read this book over and over and over again.  I must have read it at least twenty times.  But now, twenty-plus years later, I can barely remember the basic plot points.  There was a ghost, some pre-pubescent angst, and the main character (whose name I have long forgotten) falls under the spell of a ghost who haunts their new house.  Other than that, I don’t remember an awful lot.  This kind of bothers me.  Whenever I think of “Wait Till Helen Comes”, I get a nice, warm nostalgic feeling.  But I don’t remember the details.

Amazon.com has a Kindle edition of this book available for $4.69.  Once I got over my surprise that they actually have a Kindle edition of this book, I decided that it was time to reintroduce myself to my old friend.  I downloaded it to my Kindle this morning, and it will be the next book on my reading list. 

This idea makes me a little bit nervous.  What if the magic disappears as an adult?  Obviously the same scary thrills I got at age 9 are not going to happen at 33. But what if the book totally sucks, and I ruin that nostalgic feeling I get when I remember reading this book?   Is it best to leave well enough alone? 

Maybe…maybe not.  Despite the risks, I’m excited about spending some quality time with my old friend.

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Next up on the reading list…

Note:  If you haven’t read ‘The Friday Night Knitting Club”  or “A Scattered Life” and plan to, you’ll want to skip this blog…

Next up on my reading list is “Knit the Season: A Friday Night Knitting Club” book by Kate Jacobs.  Yeah, I know it’s not fine literature, but I like reading, and I like knitting.  What could be better than combining the two?  Besides, I like me some good chick lit.

I’ve read the first two books in this series.  It’s a rare book that brings tears to my eyes, but “The Friday Night Knitting Club” managed it.  I’m a sucker for mothers dying of cancer.  I cried like a freaking baby when Georgia died.  I saw it coming, of course, but it got me none-the less.  Same with “A Scattered Life” by Karen McQuestion.  We all knew that Roxanne wasn’t going to win her battle with cancer, but the tears ran down my face anyway.  Mother + cancer = guaranteed tears from me.

So anyway, this morning I ponied up $9.99 and downloaded this week’s guilty pleasure read.  I haven’t started it yet, but I’m excited to find out what happens with Dakota and her pals from the knitting shop.  Seeing as it’s the third book in a chick lit series, I’m not expecting to be blown away (movie sequel rules tend to apply to literary sequels).  Sometimes a mindless, entertaining read is just what I need.  Something tells me that this book will fit the bill.

So here’s to book #8 on my reading list, and to the goal of finishing it before January 31. Knocking out 8 books in one month would be a pretty nice accomplishment, particularly when working 55+ hours each week.   Then again, after crunching numbers and staring at a computer screen for that amount of time, a literary escape is essential.

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52 books in 52 weeks…

Being the goal-oriented person that I am, I couldn’t possibly usher in 2011 without setting some kind of goal for reading.  Last year I read 47 books, so for 2011, I set the oh-so-unique goal of reading a book a week.  So far, as of January 22, I’ve finished 7 books.  Not bad…although I’ll admit to padding my reading list with some shorter books to build in a cushion for some longer books that I plan to attack this year, including an epic biography of the Queen Mother that my Mom gave me for Christmas.

One of the books that I read towards my 2011 goal is “A Changed Man” by Francine Prose.  I’ve had this book for quite some time; it’s been languishing on my bookshelf.  The premise sounded good; a neo-Nazi attempts to change his life and keep other like-minded neo-Nazi types from becoming just like him.  I like a good redemption story, so I was excited to cross this book off of my “to-read” list.

Boy, did this book blow.  The characters were poorly developed, and so painfully self-aware.  Do most people really spend that amount of time on self-reflection?  If they do I am in SO much trouble, because I very rarely have such moments of self-realization.  My epiphanies tend to be few and far between.  These mo-fo’s seem to have them several times a day.  Ah, to be so enlightened…

I get the basic message of the book.  People can change, even people on the extreme ends of the spectrum.  It’s a nice thought, and could have been a pretty awesome book, but the author just didn’t capture it.  Her characters were overly contrived and rather clichéd.  The neo-Nazi has lots of tattoos.  The divorcee was frumpy and frazzled.  The Holocaust survivor spends his life making good and saving the down-trodden. 

I know that this comment sounds SO pretentious, but in this case it’s true.  The book was very poorly edited.  The author went off on tangents, leaving the reader confused.  I’m no dummy, but there were several times I had to go back and re-read paragraphs because I lost the author’s train of thought.  At times I felt like I was reading a book written by someone with ADD; the thought patterns followed no discernible logic.

With 50 pages to go, I no longer gave a shit what happened to these characters.  Because I felt like I couldn’t count this book towards my 52 book total until I got to the bitter end, I finished it.  Barely.  I’ll admit that I skimmed the end, and even that took a good amount of effort.  This book will definitely be in the box when I make my next trip to Goodwill.  I’d rate this book a big, fat “skip it”.

PS – don’t you kind of think that every good book review should include the term “mo-fo”?

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Currently reading…

My last post had *nothing* to do with reading, and rather explained my absence over the last couple of weeks.  My honeymoon wasn’t entirely without reading opportunities; in fact, I had several lovely hours to read on our private balcony as we cruised through the Mediterranean Sea.  There isn’t much better than sitting in the cool, sea air listening to the waves crashing against the side of the ship while enjoying some quiet reading time.  Pure bliss, for sure.

Before we left, I loaded up my Kindle with lots and lots of books, because I wasn’t entirely sure what type of book I’d be in the mood to read on our vacation.  I was about 25% (one of the super cool stats the Kindle provides) of the way through “The Lady in White” by Wilkie Collins before we left.  I was pretty sure that this book was too “serious” to read on our honeymoon, but as it turned out, this book was *exactly* what I needed during our trip.  Because it’s deemed a “classic” (per “1,001 Books to Read Before You Die”), I assumed it’d be kind of stuffy, pretencious, and, well…kind of boring.  As it turns out, I was wrong (as I’ve been repeatedly wrong about the “classics” in recent months.  You’d think I’d learn…). 

Sure, “The Lady in White” is predictable.  Cliched.  Kind of corny.  But it’s also kind of exciting.  I found myself sucked into the story, and even though I wanted to put my book down and go explore the ship, I just couldn’t.  I needed to know what was going to happen next, even though I already knew. 

There was one thing about the book that annoyed me.  Her name is Laura Faerlie.  She’s the typical, stereotypical 1800′s weak-willed, pathetic little woman.  Honestly; I wanted to wring the bitch’s neck.  The way that Walter and Marion indulged her weakness really made me sick.  They walked on eggshells around this pathetic little creature.  I wanted to reach through my Kindle screen and tell her to “man up” and deal with the cards that life dealt her.  Marion “manned up”.  So did Walter.  As did Anne, despite her bat-shit craziness.  Why couldn’t precious little Laura?  I don’t particularly care for characters (or real-life people, for that matter) who are completely incapable of dealing with the problems of life.  Grow a pair and handle it, sweetie.

I’m almost all the way through; only 8% more to go.  I’m not sure that the author is going to be able to throw in any more curveballs.  It appears that the remainder will be the tying up of lose ends, rather than having any more revelations.  We shall see, I suppose.

I’m not quite sure what my next read will be.  Perhaps another “Anne of Green Gables” novel?  Or maybe something Christmas related?  Or some good, cheesy chick-lit?  So many books…so little time…

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We’ve been kind of busy…

At the Colesseum...At the Step Pyramid at SakkaraAt the Great Pyramids at GizaAt the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, TurkeyAt the Acropolis in Athens, Greece

Best and worst of:
Best food:  Istanbul, Turkey – we dined at a beautiful inn on a meal of pureed eggplant topped with a tomato based sauce and lamb.  Delicious.
Worst food:  None.  The food was amazing everywhere.  The only thing I didn’t really care for was the raki in Turkey. 
Cleanest city:  Istanbul, Turkey – so clean that I’d have eaten my lunch off of the sidewalk.  Immaculate.
Dirtiest city:  Cairo, Egypt – garbage.  Everywhere.  Lots of it.
Best bathroom:  Cairo, Egypt – our hotel had a deep, deep bathtub and a rain shower with windows that looked out over the city skyline.  Very cool.
Worst bathroom:  Cairo, Egypt – I didn’t really enjoy being charged for toilet paper.
Best excursion:  this is a tough, tough call.  I’m going to have to go with Naples, Italy.  We got to hike Mt. Vesuvius and explore the ruins of Pompeii.
Worst excursion:  Khios, Greece.  This was COMPLETELY the fault of Princess Cruise Lines, not Khios.  Princess cancelled our excursions, but released us on the island.  On a Sunday.  When everything was closed. 
Best on-ship experience:  “Movies Under the Stars”.  We LOVED watching movies on deck at night snuggled under blankets.  So much fun!
Worst on-ship experience:  Walking behind the many, many old people.  They move VERY slowly…