Thursday, October 29, 2009

Book review: A Farewell to Arms

I greatly enjoyed Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, which I read earlier this year. The Sun Also Rises is also one of my favorite books of all time. Based on these two reading successes, I decided to pick up A Farewell to Arms. Once again, Hemingway did not disappoint. I'm not one to read war books, but Hemingway made both this and For Whom the Bell Tolls very readable even though it's a subject I generally wouldn't touch. I will say that I thought For Whom the Bell Tolls was the better read. There were times during A Farewell to Arms when I got a little bit bored by the war storyline, specifically the part when the troops are retreating. The rest of it was fantastic, however. Definitely a must-read.

Book review: Shutter Island

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane was a book I picked up because I had seen previews for the upcoming movie by the same name and thought it looked interesting. Recently I have read several books because I wanted to see the movie. I usually find that it is better to read the book first, because the book is, about 98 percent of the time, much better the movie. The Road, The Reader, and Shutter Island are all books that I read because I wanted to see the movie. Just last weekend we rented The Reader. This movie was one of the rare exceptions to the "book is better than the movie" rule. I definitely liked the movie better than the book in this case. I felt more attached to the characters and felt more of an emotional impact with the movie than I did with the book. Really a great film.

Now, on to Shutter Island. I'm guessing that, in this case, the story will again translate better on the screen than it did on the page. It was a good enough book; something of a page-turner as you try to guess what is really going on. The reveal is not disappointing in the least. It almost read like a movie script at times, though. I also think that it will benefit from what can be done visually with the story. The book was not creepy at all, in my opinion. The previews I have seen for the movie, however, make it look very creepy. I'm looking forward to seeing it.

Where has the time gone?

My goodness. I only recently started this blog and already I have been away for far too long. October has been a crazy, fun, and emotional month for me. My husband and I enjoyed a week-long vacation to Washington and Oregon. We left Oct. 7 and returned Oct. 14. Since returning, the focus has been on returning life to normal. There have been other things that have preoccupied me as well. I hope to now return to my blog and do a better job of doing regular updates! I also hoped to do a blog or multiple blogs about our trip, a sort of journal. I will try to get started on that over the weekend. For now, I'll just catch up on my book reviews.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Book review: The Road

Earlier this week I finished reading "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy. This is a post-apocalyptic novel about a man and his son who are trying to survive. This was a quick read and I really enjoyed it. I felt connected to the characters almost instantly and cared about what was going to happen to them. Essentially this is a story about a father who will do anything to keep his son alive. It is clear early on that everything he does is for the boy, even though sometimes the choices he makes are not always the best or right ones. There is an interesting contrast between father and son throughout. The father had a normal life growing up: living in a house with his family, celebrating holidays, and attending school. The son has had none of that. It is interesting to see how this drives each one's actions and reactions, and to think about the fact that, should humans survive and continue to procreate in this new world, eventually none of them will have memories of life before, and will evolve and adapt accordingly. The father does try to give his son some special treats and memories, such as a can of Coca-Cola. It tugs at the heartstrings to think about events in the book that would be considered special memories later on to the boy, such as getting to sleep in a warm bed for a few nights. I found this a fascinating and well-written story, and look forward to seeing the movie adaptation that is coming out this fall.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Book review: Lonesome Dove and The Reader

There is no disappointment to voice with these two books! Both were excellent, and I'd recommend them to anyone.
First, "Lonesome Dove." I must say, I definitely would not have picked this book up if I had not read so many good things about it. I was admittedly skeptical about reading a western. This is also a loooong book, which didn't intimidate me, but it did take me a while to read. It didn't feel like it, though. At the end, I wanted more. I wanted to keep reading about these characters ... or at least the ones who survived. I don't want to spoil it too much, but there is a lot of death in this book. Maybe not as bad as "Hamlet," but close. "Lonesome Dove" is truly an epic novel. It follows Augustus McCrae and Captain Woodrow Call as they lead a cattle drive from Texas to Montana. It is at times heartbreaking and exhilarating as the men encounter dust storms, thunderstorms, Indians, horse thieves, and all manner of interesting characters. It is rough and a bit shocking at times, but those details made me feel like I understood what it was like to be there right along with them. It wasn't pretty, but it was life as they knew it. "Lonesome Dove" is beautifully written and, in my opinion, a masterpiece.
I didn't like "The Reader" quite as well as "Lonesome Dove," but it was still well worth reading. It tells the story of a 15-year-old boy who begins a relationship with an older woman. When they next meet, she is on trial as a former Nazi prison camp guard. This was a quick read, but even so I thought it dragged a bit during the trial. I still enjoyed it overall, though.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Book review: "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," and "Change of Heart"

What to say about these two books? Both were ultimately a disappointment, and I'm glad to be moving on.
"Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" was just as it sounds: Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" with zombies thrown in. I love Jane Austen and I love zombies, so I didn't think I could go wrong with this. I was sorely mistaken. I really did try to read this book with the fun spirit in which it was intended. However, it fell so flat that I found this difficult to do. The original "Pride and Prejudice" is quite a fun read. I felt that the fun of the original had been sucked out and replaced with poorly written details ("Coy" ponds? Really?) and arguments about whether the Chinese or Japanese training was better for fighting zombies. There was a lot of talk about zombies, but very few actually showed up, and I found the fight scenes lame. I would have liked to see some of the major characters get their comeuppance by being transformed into zombies. Also, there were a few scenes with people fighting one another that were incredibly stupid.

"Change of Heart" by Jodi Picoult was also disappointing, though not quite as much so as "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." "Change of Heart" is the story of a death row inmate who wants desperately to give his heart to a young girl when he is executed. The girl is related to the people he has been convicted of killing. This wasn't badly written, per se. What annoyed me is that if you are at all familiar with "The Green Mile," it is quite obvious that Jodi Picoult gleaned many of Stephen King's plot deatils. Oh sure, she conveniently replaced the mouse with a robin. But so many of the details were the same that I actually felt embarrassed for the author. Also, I wasn't too fond of one of the main characters, Maggie. I think this was mostly the result of listening to this via audio book, and disliking the voice/inflection of the reader. I realize that Jodi Picoult isn't "high art" or anything. I've read a few of her books and have enjoyed them as light reading. I can honestly say, though, that after reading this, I will think twice before picking up another one of her books. The similarities to "The Green Mile" simply leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Goodbye, little friend

Our foster kitten has a new home. My husband delivered here there on Wednesday evening. She went to live with a family in the Twin Cities. The family includes two young daughters, and another kitten. My husband even got a hug from one of the little girls when he dropped off the kitten. I think this kitten, who we fondly called "Little Chick," is going to have a very happy life with them.
I admittedly got attached to the kitten during the two weeks she lived with us. How could I not? It was fun to have a kitten in the house again. During the time that she was with us, she fattened up quite a bit and looked much healthier and cuter when she went to live with her new family than she did when I picked her up. I'm happy that we were able to give her that, in addition to finding her a new home. I'm also happy that I saw her that day, sitting by the side of the road, and brought her home with me. She is such a sweet little kitten, and deserved better than to die on the highway.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Book review: Water for Elephants

Over the weekend I finished the book "Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen. This is a book that had been on my to-read shelf on Goodreads for more than a year. For some reason I hadn't gotten around to reading it until now.
I found this to be a quick, easy, and enjoyable read. The story was fast-paced and kept me intrigued throughout. I really liked the main character, Jacob, as well as his friend, Walter. I felt some of the other characters, such as Marlena, were a little bit one-dimensional, however. I also found the ending to be a bit odd. I don't mind an unexpected twist, but this seemed a bit too far-fetched. All in all it was a good, well-written book, even though it did not make a huge impression.
I have now started reading "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. Yes, that's right ... zombies. I am a huge fan of both Jane Austen and zombies, so when I heard about this book I could not resist. It is entertaining, but I am finding it a bit slow going so far. I think I just read the classics (even those infused with zombies) a bit more slowly than modern literature. That's not a bad thing, it's just a bit of a shock after finishing "Water for Elephants" in a week. I admittedly wasn't expecting too much from this book, other than a little amusement. I am certainly getting that.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Summer's end

It seems summer is coming to an end here in Southwest Minnesota. Though the flowers are still beautiful, there is a definite hint of fall in the air. I can't say I'm sorry for it. Although I love summer, the approaching fall is my favorite time of year. I long for the crispness in the air, the scent of burning leaves, and the sight of the trees and soybean fields as they turn to autumn hues. The only thing I dislike about fall is that it does not last long enough. This picture of a butterfly on a hollyhock was taken at our home last week.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Ghost Hunt!

Last month, my husband and I had the pleasure of staying at the Palmer House Hotel in Sauk Centre, MN. The stay was a gift from my sister and brother-in-law for Christmas. The Palmer House has a reputation for being haunted, and we requested one of the most haunted rooms. We were booked in Room 22.
We arrived at the hotel on Thursday afternoon. Immediately upon entering our room, we both felt somewhat light-headed. I especially noticed this feeling in the small hallway in between the sleeping area and the bathroom. The best way I can describe it is that there was a fun house effect. I think the floor slanted slightly, which contributed, but later that night and the next morning I did not have any strange feelings there at all. We went down to the lobby to read some of the ghost stories that other guests have shared, and I felt fine once again.
We ate at the hotel's restaurant and enjoyed a wonderful meal and great service. Afterward we were lucky enough to be able to chat with Kelley, the owner, as well as another couple who was interested in ghost hunting. Kelley agreed to take us into the basement, where some of the activity has occurred, and also gave us permission to investigate wherever we liked in the hotel. She was a very gracious host.

The other couple who we met at the restaurant investigated with us. My sister, niece, and nephew also joined us.

The first thing we did was turn off all the lights and turn on the victrola in the Palmer House lobby. Kelley told us that sometimes this prompts a reaction from the resident ghosts. It was really fun to stand there and listen to the music, imagining guests of the past coming down to enjoy a dance in the lobby.
We used EMF (electro-magnetic field) detectors, digital camera, video camera, and an EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) recorder. Unfortunately we had forgotten our EVP recorder and did not have an EMF detector yet, but the other couple we investigated with was kind enough to loan us one of their EMF detectors. We have since found one just like it at a garage sale! What a find.

My husband, Tim, uses the EMF detector in the Palmer House lobby near the steps. He got really strong readings in this area, but when we went to the basement we discovered that there was a line running underneath the floor, explaining the phenomenon.

This is the children's play room, on the third floor. I got a creepy vibe from this room, but later when we were investigating, I didn't really feel anything.

Tim uses the EMF detector. Also pictured is my niece.

Investigating near the steps.

A view of the lobby.

The bar/restaurant area.
This is such a fun place to hang out and have a bite to eat and a beer.

The lobby area. Music was being played on the victrola in an effort to draw out some ghosts.

Our room. The rooms were very comfortable and nice.
It was the perfect mix of old and modern.

Fireplace in one of the hallways. The chair next to the fireplace, where my husband is sitting, has been known for paranormal activity.

This photo was taken in the basement. The basement is very large and has many rooms. The owners found some bones in this area underneath the stairs. The bones were sent in for analysis but were subsequently lost. My husband got some EMF readings in this spot, even though it was just dirt.

After our investigation, we tried to sleep. I actually fell asleep pretty quickly, considering that I kept hearing howling and barking noises. I'm quite positive there were no dogs staying there. We also heard what sounded like a ball being thrown against a floor or wall.
Coincidentally, my husband, my sister, my niece, and I all had terrible nightmares that night. My nephew was the only one who did not. I awakened from my nightmare at about 2 a.m., and was awake for about half an hour. Just as I was falling back to sleep, my husband (in his sleep) shook me awake to point out the skulls that were floating above the bed. Of course he has no recollection of this, since he was asleep when he said it. It made it rather difficult to fall asleep, though.
The Palmer House is a great place to stay. I encourage anyone who is in the area to stop by and check it out. Everyone was extremely friendly and accommodating, and we had a fabulous time. I can't wait to stay there again.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Book review: Letter from Peking

Yesterday I finished "Letter from Peking" by Pearl S. Buck. This is the second Pearl S. Buck novel I have read, the first being "The Good Earth." I didn't like this one quite as well as "The Good Earth," but it was still a worthwhile read. It is the story of a family torn apart by war. Gerald, half-Chinese, stays in China, while his wife and son move to her family home in Vermont. It is heartbreaking to see what this family goes through as they are forced to live separate lives yet always keeping their loved ones in their minds. Each one goes through stages of grief and handles the situation in his or her unique way. One thing I liked about this novel is that the narration is very simple and straight-forward. So many times in modern literature, the prose is so flowery and overly descriptive that something that should take one page becomes 10. Buck's novel is short, but effective.

In its place, I've picked up "Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen. I'm only a short way into it, but I've liked what I've read.

I also finished my audio book, "The Jane Austen Book Club." I had already seen the movie so there were no real surprises here. It wasn't deep, but for an audio book, which I listen to while working out, I'm not looking for that. I want something fun and/or light, and that's what I got. My new audio book is "Change of Heart" by Jodi Picoult. With Picoult, once you've read one you've pretty much read them all, since she's so formulaic. It's entertaining so far, though.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sure as shootin'

Last Sunday we went to my dad's for a little shooting and to let the dogs play together. My dad's dog, Snickers, and our dog, Weezer, just love playing together.Weezer thinks he is a lake dog. He absolutely loves to swim and dig at rocks. He is very good at fetching sticks that we throw out into the water and bringing them back. Who would have thought that a half-pug, half-eskimo would be such a great swimmer?

We shot my husband's new 9mm as well as a couple of .22 pistols. We shot at this target, which my husband uses when he competition shoots, and also just at some aluminum cans. Here is me posing with the 9mm. (Those shots were from my dad, though, not me. I was a MUCH better shot ... ha, ha.)

My dad takes aim.

My husband, Tim.

And last, but not least, me. I did pretty well considering that I had never shot a handgun before. I have shot shotguns and rifles, but not for a long time. It was really fun and I look forward to doing it again sometime soon!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I found a kitten!

Yesterday on my way to the bank in Balaton I saw a kitten sitting by the side of the road. I didn't have time to stop right at that moment because I needed to get to the bank before the drive-up window closed. I told myself that if it was still there on my way back, I would stop. As I drove along, my eyes searched for it. Just when I was beginning to think it must have run off, there it was. I pulled over to the side of the road and walked across to where it was sitting. It started to run, but didn't get far before I caught it.
I got to the car and called my husband. What should I do? I wasn't going to leave it there, where it would surely be dead before morning. I said I'd bring it home and we'd try to find a home for it. If we don't have any luck, we'll bring it to the humane society.
The kitten is very thin. The first thing she did was eat and eat. We had to stop her so that she wouldn't make herself sick. She appears to be potty trained; when my husband set her on the makeshift litter box he made for her, she went right away. She is also extremely friendly. Last night while my husband was making dinner, she followed him around and meowed the entire time. I am hoping we can fatten this little girl up, and find her a good home.
It upsets me that this kitten obviously belonged to someone who abandoned her in this way, along a busy highway. With the amount of semi and other traffic along Highway 14, she wouldn't have lasted long. She also didn't appear to have eaten for days. The poor creature just sat in the same spot, watching the cars go by, until I picked her up. Why do people do this? Animals are not play-things. When you get an animal, you make a commitment to care for it. If you can no longer care for it, it is your responsibility to find it another home. You don't just leave it by the side of the road. I'll get off my soapbox for now, and work on finding this precious little cutie a new home!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Whatcha reading?

I'm currently reading "Letter from Peking" by Pearl S. Buck, and "Lonesome Dove" by Larry McMurtry. My current audio book is "The Jane Austen Book Club" by Karen Joy Fowler. I've finished 22 books so far this year.

If you haven't already, I encourage you to visit Goodreads. It's a great website to help you keep track of what you have read, and lets you rate each book. I find it very helpful in many ways, least of which is encouraging me to read more! You can also join book groups and connect with people you know to see what they are reading. Have fun!

Small-town girl

When coming up with a name for this blog, I wanted to choose something that was at least somewhat original while having special meaning to me. "Main Street" jumped into my head for two reasons. First, it is one of my favorite books, written by my all-time favorite author, Sinclair Lewis. Second, it conjures an idea I can relate to—living in a small town. That is what I envision for this blog: a journal of a small-town girl.
So who am I? I'm a journalist in the small town of Tracy, MN. My husband of nine years and I are both in our early 30s. At the present time, our household consists of one dog, Weezer the Pugamo, and three cats, named Poopy, Buggy, and Fuzzy. My hobbies include reading, writing, bicycling, fishing, and playing piano.
I am admittedly something of a schizophrenic when it comes to small-town life. There is a part of me that despises living in a small town. I hate the fact that everyone knows where I live, what kind of car I drive, and what color underwear I'm wearing today. I resent not being able to go to the gym for a workout without someone commenting about my job. But for every day that I am discontented with small-town living, there is a day in which I find myself loving the many benefits it brings. I love the lack of traffic during my morning six-block commute, the (relative) peace and quiet it affords, and the many other simple luxuries.
Enjoy the ups and downs that life in Main Street America brings as I share the sometimes fun, sometimes exciting, and sometimes dull happenings in a rural Minnesota town.