More Adventures in Pumpkin Carving

pump4Every year I promise myself that I’m going to carve out more time to create a pumpkin masterpiece, and every year it gets harder just to find twenty minutes to get it done. I buy the pumpkins. A few days later, I’ll scoop them. And a few days after that, I finally manage to wrangle my husband into a chair, make him pick what he wants to carve, and draw the pattern¬†for him.

pump5The funny thing is, once I get him in the pumpkin carving frame of mind, he becomes much more ambitious about the project, and is willing to dedicate more time to it than me. Each year I pick the pattern that I want to do – the one I would carve if I had more of that nonrenewable resource called time. Then I pick a sad imposter that takes much less time and effort, and carve that.

pump1pumpThis year, I wanted to carve a kraken. Don’t ask me why, I was going to go with Sloth from Goonies, but I woke up with my mind filled with awesome images of a kraken wrapping long, murderous tentacles around a pirate ghost ship, slowly dragging it down to the depths of the sea, never to be seen again. What I ended up carving was an angry octopus ūüė¶

pump2pump3My husband decided to go with a headless horseman. So I drew a template for him, and he went to work. He ended up creating a masterpiece that puts my angry octopus to shame. He’s won his gloating rights, and I’ll have to wait until next year to reclaim my best in show pumpkin carving glory. I suppose¬†it serves me right, but you better believe that it’s all the motivation I need to bring my A-game next year.

The 6th Extinction by James Rollins ~ Fiction Review

book16I’m a HUGE fan of books that mix science and adventure. Ever since I read Jurassic Park for the first time at age¬†11 and realized that I¬†could¬†lose myself¬†in a thrilling story AND learn science facts that could potentially¬†increase my winnings on¬†Jeopardy, I was sold. That said,¬†I’m a long time reader¬†of James Rollins. I’ve spent the last ten years anxiously awaiting the release of his latest action packed novel.

I must admit, I enjoyed some of his books more than others. His earliest, which are pretty imaginative, have always been my favorites. At some point in his career, he went mainstream. They were always good, but some of his books were kind of heavy on the gun details and military storylines for my tastes.

When I saw the cover of The 6th Extinction, I got really excited, and for good cause. James Rollins is going back to his roots! The author who brought us piranha-frog hybrids (I know it sounds hokey, but I mean, really, how cool would they be!?!?) is planning on bringing us more outrageous plots laced with true history and credible science. This book was great, a wild ride that I thoroughly enjoyed, and I’m sure his next book will be too! Definitely a book to read if you need a quick reminder that reading should be fun!

The Gathering by Anne Enright ~ Fiction Book Review

book15The Gathering by Irish author Anne Enright was the 2007 winner of the Man Booker Prize.¬†Reading the book eight years after, I’m a little late to the game, but I figured I was in for some elegant prose and maybe a few out of date pop culture references. What I was really in for, it turns out, was a huge surprise.

There’s no doubt about Anne Enright’s talent as a writer. Her words evoke imagery that is both beautiful and grotesque. But that’s pretty much the sum of my understanding of this book – I get the words, but not the point. This is one of those books that you either love or hate.

The narrator of the book is unsure of anything. She takes the reader on a ride, tells us it didn’t really happen, then that it might have happened, then that it probably didn’t, and on and on, one instance after another. This seems to be the character’s way of working through some psychological mayhem that she is experiencing; but then again, it may not be. It may be, but probably not. And on and on.

At the end of the novel, I was left wondering what I had just read. Which is the way some people like their books, written along the delicate line where literature crosses the line into art, subject to each individual’s interpretation. Which I guess explains how 39 chapters of semi-sensical musings on death, sex and religion equate a prestigious literary award.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty ~ Fiction Book Review

book14I’d read one book by Australian author Liane Moriarty before and enjoyed it, so when I saw this one, I decided to give it a go. It was a good decision. Plus, it’s ‘soon to be a major motion picture’ so I just doubly saved whatever exorbitant price I wasn’t going to pay to visit the movie theatre where I rarely¬†ever go to not watch a movie I would never pay to see. I’m so thrifty it’s confusing.

I hate to give away any plot details about the books I read, but I figure there’s no harm in glossing over the main gist of the ¬†novel since it’s written on the back cover. (Am I the only one who likes to wait until they’re 50 pages into the book to read the blurb?) The main character in this book is Alice, who falls, hits her head, and forgets the last ten years of her life. So she thinks that she is twenty-nine, pregnant with her first child and madly in love with her husband, when in reality she is thirty-nine, the mother of three, and getting a divorce.

I really enjoyed this book, and the subliminal moral it slipped between the wrinkles of my brain is a good one. As the years go by, we have a tendency¬†to be¬†in such a rush, overwhelmed with all of the responsibilities we have to take care of and obligations we have to fulfill. During this process, we have might¬†take for granted the loved ones who help us on our journey. Instead of appreciating what they do, we tend to focus on their shortcomings and focus on what they don’t do.

What would your self from ten years ago think about your life today? About your choices and reactions and time restrictions? Sometimes it’s better to let perfection slide through our grasp than to resent imperfections. Reading this book made me feel wiser. It probably won’t last long. I may have to read it again twenty minutes after my husband gets home from work, but I’m going to try really hard to remember what I think I learned. I give this fun, cute book 5 stars.

Behold a Pale Horse by Peter Tremayne ~ Fiction Book Review

book13This is the story of a book that I never would have chosen for myself. A story that begins in my local bookstore, an overstock and remainder shop where you can get new books at a fantastic price. The only problem is that your options are a bit limited, but if you’re up for trying something new, this is a great place to be. The¬†shop owner and I were discussing our reading preferences.

Me: “Mysteries are my favorites, but it’s been a long time since I actually chose a book from the mystery section. I really like the¬†unconventional mysteries¬†I find in the mainstream fiction section, especially those by foreign authors.”

Her: “Like who?”

Me: “Like Tana French.”

Her: “I haven’t heard of her. Where’s she from?”

Me: “She’s Irish.”

Her eyes opened wide and she said, “Oh! I have the perfect author for you. He’s Irish and he writes the best mysteries!”

I was sold. I¬†went home with a copy of “Behold a Pale Horse” by Peter Tremayne knowing only the genre and the author’s country of origin. The first chance I got I opened the book and dove right in. Well. Surprise # 1 was that the book is #22 of a series. Surprise # 2 was that the series takes place¬†in ancient Ireland. This particular novel follows Sister Fidelma, the mystery solving lawyer/religieuse/princess in Northern Italy in the year 664 AD.

Mind blown.

It took me much longer than usual to get through this book. I had to get over #1, my prejudices about the book, #2, the history lesson I was gaining from reading the book, and #3, several small hissy fits that I threw upon having to read something outside of my comfort zone. But after I readjusted my attitude and approached the book as an adventure, I discovered that I actually enjoyed the story. I don’t have the urge to conquer the entire series, but I would¬†spend some more time with Fidelma. Just not any time too soon. My personal rating is a 4, but if an accurate historical piece¬†rich in learning opportunities and mystery is your thing, I’d say this¬†might be¬†a five.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson ~ YA Fiction Book Review

book12I did something I never do – I started reading a book based on the recommendation of a stranger I met in the book store. Two days and only five pages later, I needed a quick reading fix. Something short, something easy, but something good.

I had this award winning slice of Young Adult fiction sitting on a shelf, so I grabbed it and devoured it on a weekend afternoon. This story was edgy, dark but funny, emotional but not tear-jerking. It was just what I needed.

Laurie Halse Anderson ¬†has a gift for¬†the teenage psyche. She does¬†an incredible job of developing the character, and then letting her grow and evolve in a natural way, not the way a mom, teacher or adult would dictate. And while I’m not sure I would have liked this book when I was a young adult (I was on a strict diet of Michael Crichton with a side of Anne Rice and Stephen King – I liked¬†my fiction to be a far cry from my reality), I appreciate the depth and craftsmanship that went into now. Five stars.

What the Heart Remembers by Debra Ginsberg ~ Fiction Book Review

book11My process for choosing a book is a little eclectic. If it’s written by an author I know I like, I just get it, no questions asked. When looking for a new author, however, a catchy title or showy cover will grab my attention. If I like the blurb on the back, I’ll give it a chance. I never open the book and read a sample before making my decision. What if I catch a glimpse of a critical moment in the book, and the whole experience is ruined because of this slip? (#booknerdproblems). This particular book was set on the shelf backwards, with the back facing out. The plot sounded interesting. I was hooked.

When I began the book, I was struck by the style of writing. It was very simple, almost juvenile compared to the poetic prose of the last few books I had read. Three pages in,¬†and I was trying to remember the last time I put a book down without finishing it. But the blurb on the back sounded so good, so fresh and different from what I’d been reading. So I decided to give it a chance. I’m glad I did.

I’m not sure if the writing got better, or if it just stopped¬†bothering me, but I suspect that the writing improved¬†as the author hit her stride. There were several descriptions that struck me like an electric shock because they were so good. I enjoyed the story, was surprised by the twist, and felt satisfied by the ending.

Once again, I am humbled and reminded that good authors come in all genres, structures, and styles. What one author lacks in fanciful language, she make may up for in creative execution and original ideas. Four and a half stars.

Burnt Meadow Mountain

burntmount2It was supposed to be a quick hike, more of a walk, really, just a little fresh air and exercise. It was called the Burnt Meadow Trail. We passed Burnt Meadow Hill Road on the way to the trailhead. It wasn’t my turn to choose, so I hadn’t read anything about the trail, I just grabbed a bottle of water and got in the car.

burntmountI suppose I should have known when the trail was immediately steep and craggy. Or maybe when the trail failed to level out. But I was duped by the name. When I picture a meadow, I see a flat expanse. Not a mountain. But that was what we were on, climbing by (my) surprise.

burntmount1There came a point when it was obvious, when we looked ahead¬†and saw a rocky summit in the near distance and realized that’s where we were headed. Sure, we could have turned around. But where’s the fun in quitting? So we continued up to the summit of what I now know is¬†the North Peak of Burnt Meadow Mountain. And the trail did eventually level out after 1.25 miles. At the top.

The Beauty of a Bad Book

wpbook5There’s nothing like a good book to inspire a writer. You read an incredible story that transports you to another place, and magically, you’re unable to put the book down. The beautiful prose, the edgy dialogue, you read it and say to yourself, “I want to create something like this.”wpbook4

That said, there’s nothing like a bad¬†book to get you writing.

Don’t get me wrong – I love, love, LOVE getting lost in a good book. But . . . I’ve noticed that there’s a little problem with that. When I can’t put a book down, my reading time cuts into my writing time. I find myself making bargains – write 500 words and you get to read five pages. Only five pages turns into ten and then I’m sweating trying to squeeze in the other 1500 words I try to write a day, laptop on the counter while I’m making dinner, literally stir the pot, type a sentence multitasking, and that’s no fun.

wpbook1I consider myself lucky that¬†I had a really long run of great books to read. Only, that seems to have come to an end. At first, I was really uncomfortable, pulling at my collar, looking at the words on the page, thinking, “But this isn’t good. The writing doesn’t flow, the characters aren’t developed, I don’t like this at all.” It was the same kind of itchy uncomfortableness that comes from trying to give up chocolate. It just doesn’t feel right.

wpbookInstead of looking across the room at my book with longing, I find myself not looking at it at all. Instead, I find myself typing. Creating. Being much more productive in my own endeavors. And when I take a break and, say, take the dogs outside, the book is there. When we come back in, there is no battle to put the book down and get back to work. I just do it.

wpbook6Eventually, another incredible book will fall into my hand. I’ll treasure my time with it, even if it takes time from my own writing, because you gain so much from reading a good book. But if the next book¬†is subpar, I’ll read that one, too. Because sometimes¬†bad books, stories with gaping holes in the plots and poor writing and boring characters, have even more to teach you. What not to do when you get back to work!