Sunday, December 26, 2010

I did it!

According to my "read" list on, I have achieved my goal of reading as many books this year as I did last year. And just what is the magic number? (drum roll please.....)


Yep, that's right - I've read eighty-six books this year. YES! I am very impressed with myself. That averages out to 1.65 books every week of the 52 weeks this year. And I still have a few days left, meaning I could possibly surpass my goal.

Why get so excited about this? Well, there are a lot of studies/articles out there stating that people don't read nearly as much as they used to, especially with all the technology taking up our time (computers, cell phones, gaming, etc). And let's face it, since I do work in a library, it's good publicity for the employees to be reading. I also think it's good to have goals, and while I do try to set other goals each year, this is the one that I seem to excel at (probably because I love to read so much).

At one point, I was hoping to read 200 books in a single year, which of course, I never did. Once I started crunching the numbers, I realized that's probably never going to happen; that's almost 4 books a week, every week, for 52 weeks. WOW! If I was retired, I might be able to do it, but since I do still have to work for a living (and since I'm lucky enough to have a job paying my bills), I guess my current speed isn't too bad. Maybe next year I'll shoot for an even 100 titles.

Happy Reading in 2011!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

"The Heart of Christmas" by Mary Balough, Nicola Cornick, and Courtney Milan

'Tis The Season for Falling in Love...

A Handful of Gold: a love story from "New York Times" bestselling author Mary Balough
Not only is Julian Dare dashing and wealthy, but he's the heir to an earldom. So what do you get a man who has everything? Innocent and comely Verity Ewing plans on giving Julian her heart - the most precious gift of all.

The Season For Suitors: a captivating romance from Nicola Cornick
After some close encounters with rakes in which she was nearly compromised, heiress Clara Davenport realizes that she needs some expert advice. And who better for the job than Sebastian Fleet, the most notorious rake in town? But the tutelage doesn't go quite as planned, as both Sebastian and Clara find it difficult to remain objective when it comes to lessons of the heart!

This Wicked Gift: an original romance from Courtney Milan
Lavinia Spencer has been saving her hard-earned pennies to provide her family with Christmas dinner. Days before the holiday, her brother is swindled, leaving them owing more than they can ever repay. Until a mysterious benefactor offers to settle the debt. Innocent Lavinia is stunned by what the dashing William White wants in return. Will she exchange a wicked gift for her family's fortune?

OK, I can hear the questions already.... "She read this crap?" "Is she on drugs?" "What was she thinking?" why would I assume that my loyal readers would think I've lost my mind? Well, this is not the sort of book I normally read, I'll grant you that. This is classified as "historical romance" - not usually my cup of tea. No, I'm not on drugs, although this sort of acted like one (and I mean that in the best possible way). And what I was thinking was this: I needed a break from my usual bibliographic fare, and this seemed to be just the thing. A collection of three short stories, all romances set in 17th century England, and all pretty much pure fluff. Consider it a palate cleanser of sorts....

I've never read anything by any of the authors, although I have quite a few library patrons who love Mary Balogh. Her story was all right, nothing new, and when the overturned coach produces not only a Reverend with two boys but his very, very pregnant wife, I knew pretty much exactly where the tale was headed. Still, it's a nice little romance. Nicola Cornick's story was also OK, again a nice romance, although it turns out the two main characters have a bit of history that wasn't alluded to in the blurb on the back of the book.

That brings us to Courtney Milan's story, which was quite a surprise. I think I enjoyed this one the most because none of the characters was a Lord or a Lady; the beautiful heroine works in her family's "lending library" after the death of her mother and grave illness of her father, while the handsome hero works as an accountant at a local firm. Lavinia struck me as more of a modern heroine, in control of her future, while William is the more distraught character, having been "robbed" of a promised inheritance from an old business partner of his father's. It was a wonderful story, and I might actually look for something else by the author.

So why would I read this sort of thing? Call it the spirit of the season, but I just wanted a little Christmas romance to take my mind off the incredibly cold weather we're having here in North Carolina. Plus it was the only thing that seemed to fit the bill at the last minute and was sitting on the shelves of my branch!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Work = Fun?

I had a conversation while at work yesterday that I just can't get out of my head. Thought I'd post an entry about it and ask all of you for your opinions (thus the cute little sign to the left).

The topic turned to work, and we were discussing how many people are out of work right now, how people are getting by, etc. Eventually the conversation turned to a mutual friend who will potentially be downsized out of an existing position and what we would do in such a situation. I said it would be a good opportunity to look at all the plusses and minuses of the current position, and that I knew that quite often, this person wasn't happy in that current position, so maybe this was a sign to look for something somewhere else. The other person in this conversation immediately responded "So what if they're not happy? Work isn't about having fun, it's about collecting a paycheck".


Since that talk, I've been thinking about it off and on. Why? Well, I'm one of those people that truly believes that if you have the chance, do something you love when it comes to "work"; you spend way too many hours in your lifetime working to be miserable at your job. I don't know if I'd go so far as to say that work should be fun, but I think it's certainly a good idea to try to pick a job where work can be fun.

I know, it's "work" - not "leisure" (or "play" or whatever else you want to call it). But should it really just be all about collecting a paycheck, about being able to pay your bills? Am I missing something by looking at it the way I do? No, I don't always have fun at my job - I'll be the first to admit it. But I do enjoy my work the majority of the time that I'm doing it, and I think that's important. Now, having said all this, let me be clear about something else: I believe that any job is what you make of it. What I mean by that is that if you're determined to find things about your job to like, you're going to do just fine. If all you can do is concentrate on all the things you hate about your job, well..... yeah, you're going to be the person that I don't want to work with!

It's definitely been food for thought, this idea of what work is. So now I pass the question along to you. Is work really just about the money? Or is it something more? What is it to you personally, and what do you think others think?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"Full Dark, No Stars" by Stephen King

"I believe there is another man inside every man, a stranger..." writes Wilfred Leland James in the early pages of the riveting confession that makes up "1922", the first in this pitch-black quartet of mesmerizing tales from Stephen King. For James, that stranger is awakened when his wife, Arlette, proposes selling off the family homestead and moving to Omaha, setting in motion a gruesome train of murder and madness. In "Big Driver", a cozy-mystery writer names Tess encounters the stranger along a back road in Massachusetts when she takes a shortcut home after a book-club engagement. Violated and left for dead, Tess plots a revenge that will bring her face-to-face with another stranger: the one inside herself. "Fair Extension", the shortest of these tales, is perhaps the nastiest and certainly the funniest. Making a deal with the devil not only saves Dave Streeter from a fatal cancer, but provides rich recompense for a lifetime of resentment. When her husband of more than twenty years is away on one of his business trips, Darcy Anderson looks for batteries in the garage. Her toe knocks up against a box under a worktable and she discovers the stranger inside her husband. It's a horrifying discovery, rendered with bristling intensity, and it definitively ends a good marriage.

It's always good news when King puts out short fiction; my husband and I agree that there's probably not another author currently writing that does the short stuff better than King. But when he writes novellas - that's when you're really in for a treat. The novella form seems to give him the best of both worlds - long enough to really flesh out his characters but short enough to keep the writing nice and tight (and making it impossible to get long-winded, a common complaint from some about his works).

My feelings on this book are mixed. All four stories are good, but I was a bit dismayed at how dark two of them are. Even worse, I skipped around and read those two tales back-to-back, which left me wondering if I would actually finish this book. And trust me, readers, when I say "dark", I mean exactly that: gut-wrenching, dismal, no light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel, depressing as hell sort of dark. "1922" starts off the collection, and that's the first story I tackled. "Wilf" James has been married to Arlette for 14 years or so, producing one son, Henry "Hank" Freeman James. They own a small family farm that has been in Wilf's family for generations, around 80 acres or so. When her father dies, Arlette is left 100 acres of good farmland; however, being the sort of woman she is (not a farmer's wife, that's for sure), Arlette wants to sell the land to a hog farm and move to "the big city" - forever leaving behind the dirty work that makes up the backbone Wilf's days. He doesn't want to sell it, of course, but it's not his decision to make; the land was left to Arlette and her only. Wilf sees only one way out of this predicament, and it means no more Arlette in his life. But getting what he wants will be messy, and tragic, and will ultimately drive him mad.

Hoping for something a bit lighter, I turned to the shortest of the four works, "Fair Extension". My husband said he really liked this story, so I thought I would, too. Well, you can't agree on everything, can you? Dave Streeter has cancer and not long to live. Late one evening, when the road is empty of traffic, he sees one last vendor on the Extension, a stretch of road typically brimming with roadside deals. Not so much during the dinner hour, though. Streeter makes a deal with Mr. Elvid (knowing full well who he's really talking to) and gets a "fair extension" on his life, 15 years for sure, possibly even 20. But as it has to be a "fair" swap, the bad luck/mojo/juju has to go somewhere, or more exactly, to someone. Dave picks his best friend from grade school, the guy who stole his girl years ago, and the deal is done. I had a hard time with this one because the two now-grown men are supposed to still be friends, and what happens to Dave's "friend" is worse than just bad luck. The fact that Dave gets happier and happier as his friend's life spirals further and further out of control.... well, that's just hard to read about. I wondered what my husband saw in this story that he liked so much (and worried about that same thing a bit, if I can be honest), as well as why the book jacket blurb called it "the funniest". I certainly didn't find it funny, and I wondered which of the remaining two to tackle next, fearing that I might just want to leave the book alone after these two grim tales.

Luckily, I opted for "Big Driver". Yes, it's a grim tale, but it's the sort of grimness that I expect from King, and it has a point. Tess is a meek, mild-mannered 30-something writer of cozy mysteries starring a group of little old ladies; the series is enjoyed by pretty much the same demographic. She'll never get rich from her books, but they do sell enough to let her live comfortably. Her real money, her "retirement" fund, comes from the 12 speaking engagements she does every year, never more than driving distance from her cozy home where she lives with her cat Fritzy. She'll travel far enough to occasionally need a hotel for the evening, but never enough that she's away more than one night. One day she receives an last-minute invitation for one of these engagements; their original guest, Janet Evanovich, had to cancel and would she be so kind as to fill in, and they can offer her a bit more than her usual fee, and they'd be ever so grateful if she'd say yes. The gig is fairly close by, and she says yes. When she's done her job, Ramona Norville, the local librarian and head of the book club, suggests a shortcut to Tess, one that will save her at least 10 miles and some time. Tess loves a good shortcut, and programs the new route into Tom, her TomTom GPS. Little does she know what lies in wait for her down the road.... This is a female-empowerment story, done King's way, and yes, this one more than made up for the first two stories.

King finishes things off with "A Good Marriage" and so did I. Darcy and Bob Anderson have been married for 27 years. It hasn't been an exciting coupling, but it's been a good, solid union. Bob is an accountant and coin-collector; Darcy is a home-maker. They met when Bob's accounting firm was hired to do the books for the auto dealership where Darcy worked as a secretary. A comfortable existence with two children, a son and a daughter. A loving relationship built on the little details of every-day married life. A marriage built on a lie, as it turns out, one that Darcy literally stumbles upon when she heads out to get some batteries for the TV remote control during one of Bob's business trips. A gruesome lie, a lie of such staggering proportions that a wife will question everything she's ever known, about her life, her husband.... and herself. This one was a doozie, but gosh, it was good. It certainly does bring up the question can you ever really know the one you love? Really?

Overall, I still liked this offering from King. It might have gone better if I'd read the stories in order, thus having dark, less-dark, dark, less-dark. I see where King gets the title, too - there's not much light here. But it's still a treat for the Constant Reader, and King promises in his afterward to take us back into the sunshine next time.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Twin Peaks homage

The TV show "Psych" just did an episode that was an homage to "Twin Peaks", David Lynch's wild and wonderful show back from the early 90s. I watched it not because I'm a fan of "Psych" (I'm not) but because I absolutely loved Twin Peaks and was one of the handful of faithful watchers. Sadly, Lynch's vision was just a bit too weird for "normal" prime-time programming, and only ran two years. There was a movie, eventually, although I wasn't impressed with it, and there was some merchandise, and yes, there was a book that went with the series: "The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer", written by Jennifer Lynch, David's daughter. A TV tie-in book is nothing new but this was the first time I'd ever experienced anything like it. And Jennifer's book did offer a few insights, but really, it just added to the whole Peaks vibe.

Peaks used to be on Thursday nights (probably at 9 pm, but honestly, I can't remember that far back), and I loved to get into the show. I didn't go to a bar or a TP party, but I did have cherry pie at least one episode a month, and if one of my friends was coming over to watch, I'd even make coffee (I'm a tea drinker myself). All the lights would be off, and we'd dissect the episode after it aired, trying to figure out who Bob was, who was going to go off the deep end next, who would sleep with whom, etc. It's funny now to think about how involved I was with such a short-lived series, but obviously it can and does happen; look at all the rabid fans of shows like "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives".

So how did the producers/director of "Psych" do? I'd say they were spot-on, and there were quite a few things that helped them out. First, they were able to snag a good handful of the original cast members of Twin Peaks for their episode, including such biggies as Sherilyn Fenn, Sheryl Lee, Dana Ashbrook (who has gone almost completely gray, but is still uber-handsome!), Robin Lively, Lenny von Dohlen and Ray Wise. They also had a lot of the original character types, including the strange guy who also loved Laura... I mean, Paula...the Native American deputy, the odd townsfolk, even The Log Lady. And after doing a bit of digging on Internet Movie Database, it turns out the actress who played The Log Lady on TP played the same character on this episode, although now she's billed as "Woman with Wood". How funny is that? There wasn't anything like Bob in this episode, which I think was smart of them - stay away from the elements that caused the downfall of the original series. But there was pie - cinnamon pie this time - and a hot beverage to go with it, cider (no coffee). They had a diner, a library (loved Sherilyn Fenn as the "hot" librarian!), and of course, the scenery that Peaks used to perfection. Overall, I thought it was nicely done, and it brought back a lot of fond memories.

So here's my question to you fans: how do you feel about such TV shows? Do you prefer to remember the original and leave the "new" stuff for others? Do you watch and compare? Do you watch the homage and just enjoy it for what it is? And how about those TV tie-in books - how do you feel about those? Are they worth picking up? Or do you think they blur the lines between the arts too much? Should there be more interactive options for books? Let me know what you think!

Thursday, December 2, 2010


If you've just tuned in today to my blog, you'll notice it looks a bit different. I'd been thinking about changing the template for a while, and my little sis has been thinking along the same lines. When I checked in on her blog last night, she'd been playing around with her background/template too! I took it as a sign from above that it was time for a change....

And as always, I plan to change the content of the blog a bit, too. I know I haven't been providing reviews nearly as often as you would like, for which I apologize. Nor did I keep up on my intent to let you know what was going to be available each month. Bad blogger!

In an attempt to at least keep you entertained, I do plan to try to blog every day. It might not be a review or news about a new work, but it will still (hopefully) pertain to books and the world of reading. Might be very, very short, but I suppose a new entry every day, no matter how small, would be better than waiting a month or longer to hear from yours truly!

Please let me know what you think of the new look, and what you would like to see in the content. After all, I write this for you, not for myself. Keep on reading!