Sunday, January 30, 2011

Puppy Blog

I am a cat person. Here's me, late 70s (yeah, I look good) with my beloved Rufus, who was with me from birth (his mother, Katrinka, was also an excellent cat) until he died when I was in college. I've always had a cat or two in my life - sitting on my paperwork, making silly noises at birds outside the window, curled up on my feet while I sleep. The cute orange guy is Patrick, my current purring friend.
Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats

Growing up, I collected little cat figurines, I had coffee-table books about cats, I listened to the CATS soundtrack while following along in my copy of Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. When my first son was born, my mother re-upholstered her grandmother's rocking chair for me in cat upholstery.

So what I'm saying is, in that whole cat v. dog debate, I always pick the felines. I grew up with some lovely dogs, and 9 1/2 years ago we adopted Alison, a charming sweetheart of a Boxer-mutt. I like the dogs just fine, but - well - they're just not cats.

But every once in a while, even cat lovers can fall madly in love with a pup, and that's what happened on 12-24, when we met and adopted Eve from the German Shepherd rescue society. Eve is, first of all, gorgeous, and hey, good looks never hurt in love at first sight situations. And she's a puppy - ergo, puppy love. Plus, unlike Ali, she doesn't fart much or leave your hands smelling all doggish after even the briefest of scratches. She's sweet-natured and wags her entire back half when she's happy and plays well with the other pets (well, she will when Patrick gets the rest of the way over his snit about her) and is darn smart.

She has puppy-transition issues - she's not perfect - and she likes to lick my feet, which weirds me out (I have feet issues) but there's lots and lots of good there. There's lots and lots of good in Ali, too, as there was in Pepper and Perro and Pogo and all of those other pups I grew up with. And my husband and sons are dog people. So I'd have been happy to have her in the family regardless. But I'm telling you, there is just something charming and excellent about this one, this cat-lovers dog. I'm smitten, and therefore, I will show you pictures.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

This week has been all about mystery series

When I'm not listening to audiobooks, I'm listening to podcasts, several of which lead me to new books. It was through Audiopolis by AudioFile that I discovered Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series.

The Mapping of Love and Death (Maisie Dobbs, Book 7)Since my library doesn't yet have her latest, The Mapping of Love and Death, on audio, and I'm far too fond of Maisie to wait for it, I checked out the hardback and devoured it this weekend. Maisie Dobbs is a psychologist and investigator in London between the wars, and her insight and compassion, not to mention her ability to transcend her working-class origins and work with everyone while not excluding anyone, stand her in good stead in the cases she tackles. Complete with a begrudging relationship with Scotland Yard, a perceptiveness about others that she has trouble applying to herself, a challenging personal life, and friends who love and respect her more than she knows, Maisie is a classically excellent English sleuth, with just a touch of mysticism to keep her new and fresh. The cases she investigates with the help of able assistant Billy Beale are seeped in their time and place, and Winspear brings 1930s London to vivid life.

Nemesis (Miss Marple)I've also been on an Agatha Christie kick via audio lately, and just finished one of the last of the Miss Marple Mysteries, Nemesis. I love the many references to Miss Marple as a woolly or fluffy pink cloud! This is one of my favorites, but be sure to check out The Caribbean Mystery beforehand, just to fully appreciate it. And if you're going to do that, you may as well read At Bertram's Hotel, which comes between the two. Or really, what would be best would be to start at The Murder at the Vicarage and work your way through them all. They're all in all good stuff, and once Sleeping Murder is off the hold list for me to hear, I'm going to have a bittersweet moment knowing it's the last one. (Don't worry, I'll just reread them all in a few years, so I'll be okay.)

Bones to Ashes: A Novel (Temperance Brennan Novels)The other mystery series that's been occupying me this week - well, for a while now - is Kathy Reichs's Temperance Brennan books. These are the novels that the TV series Bones is based on, and my friend Sarah suggested I would like them. (She was right! Thanks, Sarah.) I've just finished Bones to Ashes, and though there were some disturbing angles to it (more disturbing than the usual collection of scientific information about murder and forensic anthropology that usually comes with these books), I very much enjoyed the opening up of Tempe's character and glimpses into her history.

So that's me and the mystery series this week. All good ones, worth checking out even if you're not normally a mystery person. (I never think I am. And yet I could add several others to this list with very little effort, so....)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Peter Carey coming to Houston

Next Monday is the 20th anniversary of the first date Robert and I had. I can usually tell you the date of our wedding, after a moment's thought (I have to count backwards - I know our first son was born three days, or was it two?, after our second anniversary. So however old he is, basically add two years and that's how long we've been married.) But I always remember the date of that first date, and the horrible, horrible play we went to see for it. (We also met at a play. A much better one. I guess theatre was quite the thing to do in Norwich in the 90s.)

Parrot and Olivier in AmericaSo, we were all set to celebrate this big day, but as it turns out, that's the same day that Inprint is bringing Peter Carey to the Margarett Root Brown Reading Series, and Robert is going to be the one interviewing him on stage after the reading. He's been blogging about Carey on the Inprint site, and also reviewed his latest novel for the Dallas Morning News.

Maybe it's just twenty years of friendship and influence on each other, but I read Parrot and Olivier in America last year, too, and agree with Robert about it. It's often bitingly funny and always smart, and Parrot in particular is a character worth savoring. If you're fond of intellectual playfulness and looking at history through a variety of prisms, Carey is an author to note. This novel mingles the early days of democracy in America with a hefty dose of mommy issues and plenty about class differences and what makes people loyal to each other. It's far more enlivening than that awful play twenty years ago.

Don't worry, though, we're just going to have our anniversary dinner on Saturday instead. After all, knowing me, it might have actually been January 22nd instead of the 24th that he first held my hand and I marveled at how tingly and right it felt.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Audio Crushes - narrators I love

The Girl with the Dragon TattooI listen to as many - or more - books as I read. (How else could I consume in the neighborhood of 100,000 pages in a year?)  That being so, I end up following some narrators as much as I do some authors. When a series I really enjoy is narrated by a reader I really enjoy, so much the better! Never was that more the case than with Stieg Larrson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo novels as narrated by Simon Vance. 

A Sort of Homecoming: A NovelVance is my favorite narrator. If Anna Fields were still alive, it would probably be a tie, and if you haven't heard her work you should definitely check it out. (I first heard her reading the delightful novels of Susan Elizabeth Phillips, who I can probably blame for putting me on the path to so many romance books.) But based on volume, Simon Vance wins. Anyway, following his narration I also throughly enjoyed novelists Naomi Novik, Iain Piers, Tatiana de Rosnay, Christopher Priest, Dan Simmons, and Patrick O'Brian, among others. (Technically I knew about O'Brian already, since he and my husband Robert Cremins share an agent - shared, in O'Brian's case - but I'd never have picked them if it weren't for Vance reading them.)

There are others I enjoy nearly as much. Among them is Simon Prebble (if your name is Simon, you can read to me anytime, I suppose! Prebble reads me lots of historical romance, especially that of Stephanie Laurens, who I can blame for all the historical romance on my reading list.) Davinia Porter (especially for Alexander McCall Smith and Diana Gabaldon), Cassandra Campbell (Stephanie Bond's Body Mover Series, etc.), and Lisette Lecat (more Alexander McCall Smith, et. al.) also hang out at the top of my list of favorite readers.

So - there's my answer to the question I often get about narrators. If you want to get a start listening to books, and only know about Jim Dale (and if you don't know about Jim Dale, put him on your radar), look for these names and you will ditch your pre-conceived notions about having to have the pages to turn to really delve into and enjoy a book.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

3 books from this week

Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool SelfBefore You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self is Danielle Evans' debut story collection, and wow, it's good. Evans has an incisive, confident voice, and she knows exactly how to say what she wants to say. 
As with other collections, for me, these are best when given a little breathing room between stories, and since I'm normally a 'read all the time, straight through' kind of book consumer, I feel like I've had to adapt a litte. But that's my own issue.
In general, the narrators here are young women with somewhat complex histories - divorce, inter-racial realtionships, and class issues all crop up - and who are moving into a more self-aware maturity through a world full of internal or external hurdles. It's a good subject to explore, and Evans does so deftly.
My favorite story is "Snakes," in which a bi-racial girl is sent to live with her disapproving white grandmother for the summer, but it is her relationship with her blonde cousin/BFF that shines the harshest light onto the issues within their extended family. The payoff at the end is lonely and deeply felt.

Just KidsJust Kids by Patti Smith - I know it has the seal of approval right there on the cover,
but I was often inclined to skim this memoir of Smith's life with Robert Mapplethorpe. The early years were the most beguiling - poor kids struggling to stay alive and together while finding ways to express themselves as artists in the unforgiving world of NYC in the 1960s.
As their lives grew more complex, though, Smith's descriptions moved between "sure, I worked all the time while he drew and did drugs all day, but wasn't a martyr, nope, not at all, I liked giving him cash to buy porn and staying up all night to write since it was the only time I had" defensiveness and "we went on the train, I wore a white shirt from the thrift store, he wore a hat and a necklace" emotionless descriptions of appearances and movements only. I don't know if it was just too hard to describe a love that deep, or if she didn't want to risk offending anyone by leaving their name out of the descriptions of where they went and who they talked to, leading to pages of name-dropping without benefit of an interior arc to frame it all. Or maybe I just don't get it, man, what it was like in the 70s, maybe I'm just too unimaginative and not tuned into the arts enough.
I admit it would be hard to write an honest yet favorable account of an early passionate relationship without delving into "he came to pick me up for prom, he was wearing his Dr. Who scarf, he gave me a white corsage" reportage, but Just Kids left me reading between the lines and on Wikipedia to get any sense of connection to the two central characters, which hardly seems ideal.

Zombies vs. UnicornsZombies vs. Unicorns, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier is an audiobook of often funny YA stories I've enjoyed listening to this week. It alternates zombie stories with - you'll be surprised to hear - unicorn stories, and each is introduced by Black (for Team Unicorn) and Larbalestier (for Team Zombie), who apparently debate this issue on-line frequently.
It includes stories by many of my favorite YA writers - Libba Bray, Meg Cabot, Naomi Novik - and some that were new to me. I adored the ones by my favorites, either because I'm biased or because they're legitimately really good. Or both? I also liked getting to know Diana Peterfreund & Scott Westerfeld, in particular.
Overall, since I know you're curious - Team Unicorn won this debate, in my opinion. "Princess Prettypants" and "Purity Test" were just too delightful, and Garth Nix's "Highest Justice" was all about the creepy power held juuuuust in check by a force for good, and you can't go wrong with that.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Introductory Post

I admit to feeling a little shy about starting a blog - I am a 41 years old suburbanite after all - but it's been kicking around in my mind for a bit, so - like Pallas Athena (literary reference!) I'll let it spring fully formed from my forehead.
So, first off, the name - daki is a handle portmanteaued together from my son's names; I use it at the working moms' community (of international ax murderers, as my mother-in-law fondly calls them) where I've been hanging since - gasp! - the 90s when my teenager was way smaller. (If you ever catch me knowing something smart about the universe, I've picked it up from them.) Mel is my real-life nickname. Since my name is Melanie and all. Not too mysterious. (Don't worry, you can't use this info to break into my home, email accounts, bank, or library request list.)

I am mom to a high schooler and an elementary schooler (first year for the first, last year for the last, which feels momentous in our little world). I am a wife, though that feels like the oddest word to describe our lovely & complex relationship. I work full time - though that seems like an odd way to describe my position running Fixtures with my sister and through the gradual retirement of our parents. (Oh, and you can't use any of this info to hack into the corporate accounts either.)

In early 2010 I saw a friend's challenge to read 100 books in a year and thought 'yeah, I bet I do that' and started a spreadsheet. Turns out, I really do do that, and more (audiobooks play a large part). As I love to share the joy with others and am not currently reviewing books - here we are. My blog. Welcome.