Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Book #5

I finished My Antonia on Monday during lunch, the first of eight novels I will be reading this semester for my "American Lit since 1914" class. The class officially started on Monday and so far, the online interface has been great. For some reason, I was really nervous about posting my first response to a discussion question and probably spent way too much time crafting it, but I think I just needed to do it and get it over with, which I finally did around 10:30 Monday night. I'm still trying to figure out my time management for this class and I'm unsure of myself with it being online. I feel this urge to check the site all the time to make sure I'm not missing anything, but I don't want to over think it. I should be spending three hours a week for a three credit class for the online part, plus another few hours outside "the classroom" doing reading and research. I'm thinking I should pretend this is either a MWF or TuTh class from my old college days and just commit to those days for being online instead of spending ten minutes here or a half hour there just checking for updates.

I now have all of the books for this class and was able to find most of them on bookcloseouts, plus I already had two of them. Most of the books I haven't read yet (only In Cold Blood and The Joy Luck Club), so I'm looking forward to being "forced" to read something new. I scored my best deal yesterday afternoon when I found a used copy of The Grapes of Wrath at the library for only 25 cents.

But now that I've finished My Antonia, I'm stuck. I haven't started another book yet, because I feel like I should start reading the next book for class. I have to remember this is only one three-credit class and I should still have time for pleasure reading before starting The Great Gatsby.

Friday, January 21, 2005

True Crime

I have always been fascinated by the Jeffrey MacDonald case. Fatal Vision was one of the first true crime novels I ever read and I clearly remember watching the miniseries with my parents when it first aired (and I still watch it every time I stumble across it on A&E or another channel - it sucks me in). One of the figures from the book, of a floorplan of the house marking the spots where blood was identified (and each family member had a different blood type, making it easy to identify) is still burned in my memory. I've had Fatal Justice, MacDonald's rebuke to Joe McGinniss's book, on my to be read list for ages, but haven't been reading a lot of true crime lately. This article in today's Washington Post, along with the hour I spent afterwards perusing MacDonald's website, renewed my interest in the case and makes we want to reread Fatal Vision and follow it up with Fatal Justice. MacDonald is in a federal prison in Maryland now, recently married to a woman who lives in Howard County. One of the more interesting statements in the article is that until the mid-1990's, most people would not have even considered claims of prosecutorial misconduct or government/military interference, but "people are more willing to concede that the government or the courts could make such a terrible mistake," thanks in part to "CSI" and DNA technology. The case has turned up in the news recently, with MacDonald applying for parole for the first time and continuing DNA testing on evidence from the case. He has also added Tim Junkin, lawyer and author of Bloodsworth (a Maryland true crime case) to his defense team.

Monday, January 17, 2005


Snow in the Smokies today. Well, there was a little bit of snow here today, too, but it's much prettier in the mountains!
Book #4

High Country Fall is the 11th installment in Margaret Maron’s Deborah Knott series – more of a cozy series than crime fiction, but one of my favorite series nonetheless. I’ve been reading this series since 1996 and, for me, is has yet to get stale or predictable. In High Country Fall, Deborah jumps at the chance to fill in for another judge in the mountains of western North Carolina during the peak of fall – and to escape the wedding plans of her overzealous relatives now that she is engaged. Although she is barely in town for a week, Deborah attends a party where a fellow guest goes missing and gets involved with solving the mystery. Maron’s stories and clues are straightforward, but subtle, so I’m always left doubting my choice for who the killer might be. In this book, the discovery of the killer is somewhat anticlimactic after Deborah is involved in an unrelated, life-threatening accident, but the story also moves Deborah’s personal life forward another notch, leaving me waiting for the next book in the series (Rituals of the Season to be released in August 2005) and hopefully, the wedding of Deborah and Dwight.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Book #3

China Lake
By Meg Gardiner
(purchased on bookcloseouts)

I discovered this author and series via Sarah's website as well, with a brief review on the side bar and a mention of how Meg Gardiner’s situation is a bit unusual. She is a U.S. writer who lives in the UK whose books are set in California, but are only published in the UK and Canada. Thanks to bookcloseouts, I was able to purchase the first two books in the series, China Lake and Mission Canyon. The main character, Evan Delaney, is a freelancer legal researcher and part-time author with a lawyer boyfriend who has temporary custody of her nephew. Just as she is about to give her nephew back to her brother, the boy’s mother reappears, bringing along the quasi-cult she belongs to, The Remnant, a group that is preparing for The End. The action in this thriller begins right away and never stops. Evan and her family are swept up in what The Remnant has planned and meet resistant at every step when they try to stop the group. A slight suspension of belief is necessary to believe all of the interlocking elements and characters that must come together throughout the story, but that’s what makes reading books like this an escape. My only complaint, and that’s because it’s a pet peeve of mine, is the “overexplaining” of terms that I feel most people, or atleast most mystery/thriller/crime fiction readers, should be familiar with, such as acronyms like CDC and ATF. Maybe it was more for the benefit of readers in the UK, who many not know these terms. Also, a long explanation about Botox as a hot, new cosmetic procedure (and biological weapon) that Evan had never heard of didn’t hold up. Has it only been since 2002 that Botox has become a part of our everyday language? Regardless, Mission Canyon is sitting on my shelf waiting to be read.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Finding the Perfect Words

I love this paragraph from a Christmas story by Margaret Maron:

Amber nodded, and I looked at our hodgepodge tree. A crystal snowflake from Ben's sister hung beside a paper butterfly Ruth had painted when she was nine. Dangling from the branch below were a glass angel Ben and I had bought on our honeymoon and a Star of David that Ruth's best friend had made from gilded toothpicks. Everything on the tree was like that-a messy, three-dimensional scrapbook of times and places and people we had loved.

This is exactly how I think of our Christmas tree.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Scrap Happy

I spent my birthday weekend in Gettysburg, scrapping away. Way back in early fall, N. & W. & I signed up to attend a weekend-long scrapbooking workshop through my Creative Memories consultant, which turned out to be the perfect birthday gift for me, since it was scheduled for this weekend.

We arrived at the hotel on Friday afternoon, checked in, and got started right away. The whole weekend was wonderful, with lots of activities, door prizes, meeting new people and, of course, plenty of scrapbooking. I completed 33 12x12 pages over the weekend, including finishing H's first year (plus three months) album. I was also able to start on my other travel album and get all of my calendar pages for 2005 set up. We took a short break on Saturday afternoon to visit Boyds Bear Country, but other than meals, we pretty much participated non-stop. And I do mean non-stop! N. stayed up all night Friday night, not going to sleep until Saturday morning at 9am. W. and I called it quits around 1am and woke up to find that N. never came back to the room. But she finished the album of the cruise she had taken back in October and was working on something new. W. pulled the almost all-nighter Saturday night, staying up until 5:30am after N. and I left around 2am. W's goal was to complete the year 2003 in her daughter's album. We were up at 8am both days to be present for the 8am door prize and to earn tickets for the grand prize drawing. As usual, we didn't win anything the entire weekend, although I did receive a nice little birthday gift and balloons Sunday morning. At the 8am drawing Sunday morning, our entire table of 8 was present, the only complete table out of 225 people, and we still didn't win anything.

But the weekend was a great success and we're definitely going to sign up again for next year and maybe find one or two other weekends we can go to this year, since we were so productive!

While I was away, H. stayed with Daddy Friday night, then with my parents on Saturday. I went there to pick her up Sunday afternoon and we had a nice spaghetti birthday dinner for both my dad and me with everyone there. Although H. didn't sleep very well while she was at their house, I think we have definitely turned a corner for potty training. She consistently went all day both Saturday and Sunday, at somebody else's house no less, so this was a real breakthrough. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for continued progress this week.

Friday, January 07, 2005


It's bad enough that I'm turning 33 over the weekend, but I shouldn't have to come home to find a direct mail piece inviting me to subscribe to "MORE," the magazine for women 40 and over. Uh-uh, no way.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Book #1 and Book #2

As one of my unofficial New Year’s resolutions, I’m going to try to write more short reviews or commentary about the books I’m reading (and to keep from boring you with only toddler stories). January 5th and two books down already, so here goes.

The Jasmine Trade by Denise Hamilton
(from the public library)

Book #1 of 2005 is the first in the Eve Diamond series written by Denise Hamilton, originally published in 2001. I believe I found out about this series from a post or link on Sarah’s website and since I love series, I decided to check it out. Eve is a beat reporter for the LA Times, which is a legitimate profession for getting involved in a crime, so that appealed to me right away. Even though she’s young, she has a somewhat tragic past, which is slowly revealed throughout the book and is part of the motivation for some of her actions. I liked the basis for the story – Chinese immigrants adapting to life in America and “parachute kids,” a topic I know very little or nothing about, so learning something new made the story more enjoyable for me as well. Eve is a likable character (who wouldn’t like someone with a dog named Bon Jovi?) with room to grow, so I’m sure I’ll check out the second book in the series, Sugar Skull. Other than a few trite phrases from some characters (Eve’s boyfriend jumping from the shadows to yell, “Drop the gun, Michael!” during a climatic scene), it is a well written, fast-paced mystery that made me want to read more about Eve Diamond.

Twelve by Nick McDonell
(from the public library)

Twelve is not a crime fiction book, just a regular old fiction book from 2002, which I probably added to my “To Be Read” list from a review in the NYTBR. I say that because otherwise I probably never would have read this book. I only finished it because the chapters were very short, so the pace was fast and I finished it in a few of hours. I actually started this book at the end of 2004, then set it aside for several days while reading the Denise Hamilton book, so it definitely didn’t hold my attention.

Apparently, Nick McDonell is a whiz kid who wrote this book at age 17 and it received all kinds of praise. I found it terribly dull and boring. None of the characters were particularly likable, just a bunch of self-involved, selfish rich kids living in Manhattan and doing whatever they pleased, mostly drugs. I found it hard to keep all of the characters straight, since they all knew each other through “a friend of a friend,” none of them had any qualities to make them stand out from the others and chapters would go by before some of them were mentioned again. A superfluous murder and arrest added little to a story that already jumped around randomly. The surprise ending wasn’t a surprise at all – you could see it coming from a mile away – nor was it very original. The epilogue only addressed what happened to one of the characters, leaving you to wonder about the fate of several others. I think I’ll stick with crime fiction for awhile.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Scrapbooks Create $2.5 Billion Industry

How interesting to see the above headline and article on Yahoo! this morning!