Tuesday, July 31, 2012

{read: Southern tale of love gone wrong} Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick

The beginning of this book reminded me of The Bridges of Madison County with its description of a rural town and the pace of life. Then man meets woman and all hell breaks loose - but slowly, gently, until it gathers momentum and destroys not only the lives of those involved but  the innocence of a small boy. I saw Goolrick at a book signing, and he said the story is true and happened to a butcher on the Greek island of Paros. He heard it told 25 years ago when he lived there and thought it was the best true story he'd ever heard, so he wanted to write it into a novel. He hasn't seen the butcher for 15 years, but he has imagined in the book how he will be when he is 70.

Compared to A Reliable Wife, I thought this book was less complex and had fewer layers. It was a lighter read, but the language is very lyrical and the dialogue flows naturally. Goolrick comes from Virginia and an oral storytelling tradition, and that music flows through his work.

The title comes from this passage:
"When you're young, and you head out to wonderful, everything is fresh and bright as a brand-new penny, but before you get to wonderful you're going to have to pass through all right. And when you get to all right, stop and take a good, long look, because that may be as far as you're ever going to go."

For those of you wondering where the suitcase of money comes from that Charlie brings with him when he comes to town, that will be the subject of Goolrick's next book. He said that the butcher didn't tell him, but he's thought a lot about it as he wrote Heading Out to Wonderful. So stay tuned.

Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2012)
My rating: 4 stars

Monday, July 30, 2012

{crafts} PomPom from Mini eco

Ever wonder how to make Pompoms? Here is a great tutorial from Mini eco.


I’m sure there are a gazillion pompom tutorials out there…and you can probably make them in your sleep…but if you need a quick reminder, here’s how:
You will need
- – – – – – – -
// Scrap card
// Wool
// Scissors
- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -
1. You need to cut two cardboard ‘doughnuts’. Ours measured about 8cm in diameter but you can experiment with different sizes. Needless to say the bigger the doughnut the bigger the pompom. Put the doughnuts together and start winding the wool around them (we were lacking in patience that day so we wrapped four stands of wool at a time!).
2. Keep going.
3. Keep going…you can switch color if you want ^_^
4. Keep going!
5. Pop your scissors between the two pieces of cardboard and cut all the way around the edge.
6. Be careful at this point…don’t let it fall apart.
7. Cut a long strand of wool and put it between the two pieces of cardboard. Tie in a knot and pull tight. Knot again.
8. Remove cardboard and fluff up!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

{read: reincarnation and the Irish} Until the Next Time by Kevin Fox

I read this for a book group, and I am even the one who suggested it for our group to vote on. I was looking forward to reading it. A blurb somewhere had promised that fans of The Time Traveler's Wife, which is one of my all-time favorite books, would love it. For some reason, I had it in my head that Kevin Fox's writing style was similar to Dennis Lehane's writing, and I love his Patrick-and-Angie series. I was ready for a good read. And I was disappointed.

Sean's father gives him a diary for an uncle he never knew he had, Michael, and Sean takes off to Ireland to find out the rest of the story since the diary is missing chunks of pages. From reading the diary, he finds out that Michael killed an unarmed black civil rights worker in Pennsylvania and then fled to Ireland to escape prosecution. Once there, he gets tangled up in the deadly Irish conflicts. And, of course, there's a love story.

This book bogged down in the middle with all the explanations and examples of reincarnation and not enough action. Things picked up again in the final third or so of the book, when the bullets start to fly and the bombs explode. As a reader, I was relieved that we could watch the story unfold instead of being preached at. I also felt the characters of Michael and Sean were too similar. This can be explained through the plot and perhaps would have been OK if the characters of Kate and Anne had been more different. I kept getting confused about which time period I was in because the characters were more or less the same. Finally, either Irish people really use the word "amadan" to excess or Kevin Fox has been reading too much Andrew Greeley.

All in all, I thought it could have been more well thought out and more tightly plotted. The writing also seemed choppy in places, perhaps because Fox is a TV writer. The concept was a good one, but its execution seemed muddy.

Until the Next Time by Kevin Fox (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2012)
My rating: 3 stars

Monday, July 23, 2012

{crafts} Shell Candles from Martha Stewart

After being at the beach for a summer vacation I have a few shells. I saw this craft idea from Martha Stewart and thought it would be a beautiful way to use the shells.

The shells that the ocean cast at your feet this summer -- the ones you so fastidiously collected -- make lovely remembrances of the season with candles formed inside them. Deep shells like scallops, clams, and quahogs work best and burn longest. 

First, clean the shells in a weak solution of bleach and water, and let dry. Melt paraffin wax or existing candles in the top of a double boiler (use one with a lip, if possible; it will be easier to pour from). We mixed the melted wax of pink, mauve, and yellow candles to create coral tones that complement our shells. 

If a shell has a tendency to wobble, stabilize it by resting it on top of a cup. Cut the wicking to 2 to 3 inches, and attach it to a metal wick holder; set aside. 

Pour the melted wax into the shell, then place the wick and holder in the bottom of the shell, being careful not to burn your fingers. If wick droops, trim slightly. Let cool until hardened, about 30 minutes. 

And be careful: The top layer of the wax hardens first, but the melted wax underneath will spill out if the candle is moved before it has had a chance to cool completely.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

{read: family vacations} The Red House by Mark Haddon

I had a hard time keeping the eight characters straight in this story about two estranged families who go on vacation in Wales. The book is divided into chapters by days of the week, and each chapter contains sections told in the third person about each of the characters. The POV switches back and forth between characters, and I had to keep stopping to think who this person was and how they were connected to the other people so I could keep the relationships straight. While I've seen the storytelling lauded as "dazzlingly inventive," to me it was just a tiny bit confusing.

A quick word about the plot: Richard has invited his sister, Angela, and her family for a week in Wales following their mother's funeral. Angela accepts because her husband is out of work and this is the only way they can afford a vacation. They have three children, and they join Richard with his new wife, Louisa, and her daughter. As you might expect, packing eight people (including three teenagers) into a house, accompanied by all their personal baggage and neuroses, causes conflicts to ensue.

While I did have to concentrate on the characters, I realized about halfway through the book that I was enjoying it in a held-at-a-distance sort of way. I couldn't get emotionally involved with any of the characters, but it was amusing to watch them spin and snort and generally get tangled up in their own lives with no clue what they really wanted or how to get it. Perhaps this is what Mark Haddon intended.

The Red House by Mark Haddon (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2012)
My rating: 3 stars

Thursday, July 12, 2012

{a thought for Thursday} Writers

The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say. — Ana├»s Nin

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

{read: vampires and history} Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

Although I'd heard many good things about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, it bogged down in the middle for me and only the promise of a great ending kept me reading. For me, the most interesting part was the introduction. A failed novelist (author Seth himself) is the proprietor of a small town general variety store, and he's put his dreams of writing a novel aside for dreams of family and running the store. In short, life has gotten in the way of who he wanted to be when he graduated from college. Then one of his regular customers, Henry, leaves him with several very old books, which turn out to be Abraham Lincoln's secret diaries. Henry takes Seth on a tour to convince him that vampires are indeed real and leaves him to write about Abraham and his secret life as a vampire hunter. This intro hooked me and pulled me into the book, and I found the beginning part of Abraham's life interesting, although the plot soon became predictable. The insertion of vampires into history and the recasting of Abraham Lincoln as a vampire hunter was clever and done well, the plot bogged down in the second section of the book for me and I lost interest. I kept reading to see what twist the ending might have, although I could anticipate it as it got closer. I did like the final chapter and thought the ending was quiet but well done. 

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith (Grand Central Publishing, 2010)
My rating: 3 stars

Thursday, July 5, 2012

{a thought for Thursday} Truth in fiction

To me, fiction is a fast-track to the sort of truth with which facts interfere. ― Sarah Terez Rosenblum

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

{read: Southern thriller} A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash

An atmospheric Southern novel, A Land More Kind Than Home in some ways reminded me of Tom Franklin's Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter in its use of setting and dialogue to convey mood and character.

The plot moves fast, starting with two brothers, Jess, 9, and Christopher, 11, who each see things they shouldn't have. Christopher can't tell anyone what he saw because he's mute, but the consequences are nevertheless swift and devastating.

The story is told by three narrators: Jess, Adelaide, a midwife who's in her 80's now and carries the history of the town with her, and Sheriff Clem Barefield, who has his own history that ends up playing a role in the ongoing events.

Wiley Cash does a superb job of weaving in the back stories and flashbacks to provide a nuanced account of not only these few tragic days but also what's led up to them. Snakes, crazy Christians, tragedy, healing, and perhaps even a little redemption and hope — this book has it all, and you won't want to put it down. Plus, it has a great title. Who can resist?

A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash (HarperCollins, 2012)
My rating: 4 stars