Embarrassment of Riches – March check-in

At the beginning of the year, I decided to participate in the Embarrassment of Riches reading challenge hosted by Author Patricia Burroughs.   The goal of the challenge is to make a dent in that stack of books I have been intending to read, but never got around to picking up. 

Given the size of the pile I have amassed, I am aiming to get through 24 of them before the end of the year – a silver level accomplishment.

This month I read:

Portrait of a Spy by Daniel Silva.   I went into this book thinking it would be the story of head spymaster Ari Shamron.  I’m not sure where I picked up that notion, but as it turned out – not about him at all.  I have to say, I liked this one well enough but Silva committed a few plot sins:  1) He introduced a painting in the beginning of the novel, only to let it be forgotten until the wrap up at the end.   2) He killed a character in much the same way he did in a previous novel (The Defector).  3)  The conclusion and epilogue were overlong and burdensome to the story as a whole.  Despite this, I did find it entertaining, though a little redundant at times.

silva_largeFallen Angel by Daniel Silva.  Where to begin with this one?  I can tell you that after five consecutive Allon novels, this one was a chore to read.  In a departure from previous novels, Fallen Angel begins with a murder mystery.  Allon is brought in to investigate the death of a Vatican staffer, at the behest of the Pope’s personal secretary.  The story meanders briefly into the black market world of antiquities, offers the obligatory attempt on Gabriel and Chiara’s lives (sadly they missed her again), and pretty well flounders around in very familiar territory.  It was at this point I walked away from it – for about two weeks.  I honestly didn’t think I was going to be able to finish it.  Then, I gave it another go.   I’m glad I did because at the mid-point, the story took a turn and ended up in Jerusalem.  It is there, among the three Abrahamic faiths’ most sacred sites including the Temple Mount/the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the via Delorosa, the Western Wall, and the Mount of Olives, Gabriel unwittingly uncovers a plot that will most assuredly result in a third intifada.  When the plot is foiled, the story returns to resolve the murder mystery that was left hanging in the balance.  Thankfully, Silva took pity on his readers and wrapped up this useless plot element in a timely fashion.

One interesting note of the story:  Silva delved into the mysteries and controversies of “temple denial” – the denial of the existence of King Solomon’s first Jewish temple.  It’s a subject that I am not all that familiar, and it piqued my interest.  I smell a research project brewing.

Progress toward goal:  7/24

I am officially caught up with Silva’s Gabriel Allon series.  Just in time, too.  The English Girl will be released in July.  I think by then I will have recovered from my Allon fatigue.

So what’s up next for April?

I am still prodding my way through Madeleine Albright’s Prague Winter.  It’s a very interesting read, just not a quick one.  Maybe I will finish it in April.  Maybe not.  In addition, I’ve decided to give Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game a shot.  Everyone I know has read it, and they all rave about it.  I feel left out, so I will give it a go.  It’s not my usual fare, but after three solid months of Daniel Silva, I need a change of pace.  I’ve also started a compilation edited by George Mann entitled The Encounters of Sherlock Holmes.  It is a new book to my list, though, and will not count toward this challenge.  I wish it did.  I am enjoying the hell out of it.

What’s lying around on your nightstand waiting to be read?

Things I learned this week (month)

I learned this week (and last…and maybe even the week before that):

…that there is an old saying in Bohemia (Czechoslovakia):

“When a Czech owns a goat…his neighbor does not yearn for a goat of his own; he wants the neighbor’s goat to die.”

I’m currently reading former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s Prague Winter: A Story of Remembrance 1937-1948In the first few chapters, she chronicles a good bit of Czech history, delves into Czech culture, and explores their predilection for a humanitarian driven lifestyle.  It seems to me, though, their giving nature has its limitations – especially when it comes to coveted livestock.

…that I am grateful that 1) I no longer have small children; 2) that my daughter is a gentle, well-behaved soul; and 3) that I am blessed with a husband who usually understands stating the obvious is not always the correct course of action in a tense situation.

Strange sounding, I know.  Let me explain.

We recently returned from a short spring break trip to San Antonio.  It’s a fun city in the heart of Texas, with a good variety of attractions that can appeal to a whole range of interests – be it the arts, family fun, or just boozing it up down on the River Walk.  Of course, no visit is complete without the obligatory trip to Sea World.  Personally, I’m not the amusement park type.  I would much rather spend my vacation time sipping on a frozen fruity cocktail on a warm sunny beach, or capturing the beauty of a botanical garden with my camera, or exploring a historical landmark  and trying to figure out how to work it into my current WIP.  Sadly, when it comes to family time, one must learn to embrace the art of compromise.  So, off to Sea World we go.  We were joined by thousands of our not so closest friends – some with big obnoxious kids, some with small obnoxious kids, some with no kids – just plain obnoxious personalities.   As an eternal observer, and because amusement parks are all about standing in endless lines where I must endure the invasion of my personal space, I took the opportunity to learn from those around me.  The most valuable lesson of the day:

  • Giving a three-year old a king-size bag of M&Ms at ten in the morning will result in a series of successive events;
    • increased hyperactivity (child);
    • stern reprimands (mom);
    • whining (child);
    • decrease in patience and energy level (mom);
    • rapid crash, additional whining with pitch elevation (child);
    • bribes of more candy capped by threats of harsh discipline (mom);
    • meltdown of cataclysmic proportions complete with screaming, thrashing, and tears – tone now ear-splitting (child);
    • demands for support from father figure who had wandered off to avoid the impending explosion (mom);
    • Poorly timed parental criticism, “You shouldn’t have given him that candy.” (dad);
    • hate filled glares followed by expletives then stony silence (mom);

Of course, silence isn’t always golden.  As I stood in line, I could see the wheel in her mind turning as her eyes bored a hole through his skull.  Scheming; plotting; planning.  How could she do it?  When should she do it?  Could she get away with it?  Did she have a plausible defense?  How hard could life in prison really be?

that the Catholic Church has a new leader.  I don’t really like to talk about religion on the blog.  It can be a polarizing subject that sometimes brings out the worst in people.  I believe religion is a personal endeavor and should be spared societal judgment.  Unfortunately, not everyone sees things my way.  I was raised in the Church, though I haven’t practiced in many years.  I don’t feel Church doctrine correlates with my worldview, and by and large, I lack the traditional spirituality that comes with unconditional faith.  I’m more of a good Karma/bad Karma kind of person with a healthy dose of superstition thrown in for good measure. You know that whole “spit in the wind…” thing.  However, I find the entire process of electing a new pope utterly fascinating.  I love the ritual of it; the politics of it; the clandestine nature of it.  It’s the stuff of novels – add a little murder and mayhem and you’ve got yourself a bestseller.  Oh, wait.  Daniel Silva and Dan Brown already did that.

Damn them.

…that historical geology is a science of many faces.  This week it is masquerading as biology.  My head is filled with biological classifications – kingdom, phylum, class, family, genus, specie.  I’ve done this sort of thing before – in high school biology.  I did alright, and I liked it well enough.  But somehow classifying animals I knew and understood seemed so much easier.  These fossils are a pain in my ass.  They all look the same; their names all end in –ite or -pod.  Half of them look like clams but are not related to the clam in any way.  I find that suspect.  Also, if it looks like sponge, acts like a sponge, then it is not a sponge.  Seriously?

Dr. M:  It is very easy to see the difference between this trilobite from the Cambrian and this one from the Ordovician.  See the eyes; the shape of the back-end?

Me:  No.  No, I do not.  I see a brown lumpy bit of rock.

Dr. M:  Oh, you found the coprolite.

Ew.

…that my daughter does not appreciate unsolicited conversation with strangers anymore than I do.  This weekend we went to see (hear) the Plano Symphony.  While we were waiting for the performance to begin, the woman sitting next to my daughter began to engage her in a bit of small talk.   Megan listened politely to the woman, answered her questions guardedly, and cast a few glares in my direction.  At the end of the night, while waiting for our car, my daughter commented on her experience:

Megan:  Mom, that lady made me feel socially awkward.

Me:  Get used to it.  Happens to me all the damn time.

Megan:  Great.

***side note:  If you live in the Dallas area, and have the opportunity to check out the Plano Symphony – do it.  They are fabulous.

…that after reading five Daniel Silva (Gabriel Allon series) novels since the beginning of the year, I have come to the conclusion that I do not like Gabriel’s wife, Chiara.  There are many things I admire about Silva’s writing – his penchant for strong memorable characters; his knack for brevity; his enviable grasp of show vs. tell.  However, I am baffled by Chiara’s evolution from Gabriel’s leather clad, motorcycle riding guardian angel to nagging fishwife who has forgotten the complexity of her husband’s chosen profession – a profession she shares.  I know it’s pretty drastic of me, but I keep hoping Silva will do the humane thing and kill her off.  At least it would shut her up and Gabriel could go about the business of saving the world in peace.

…and last, but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by this spotted leopard we stumbled upon at the San Antonio Zoo.  I have posted a different shot of him, but I think this one is my favorite.  He appears to be looking right at me.  Such a beautiful animal.

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Embarrassment of Riches Challenge – January check-in

At the beginning of the year, I decided to participate in the Embarrassment of Riches reading challenge hosted by Author Patricia Burroughs.   The goal of the challenge is to make a dent in that stack of books I’ve intended to read, but never found the time.

This month I read:

The Cold War – A New History by John Lewis Gaddis – This is non-fiction and as the title suggests, a historical overview of the Cold War from its postwar inception until its end in the early 1990s.  It was a fascinating read and I enjoyed Gaddis’ easy writing style and occasional sarcastic barb aimed at those leaders he felt lacking.  *cough cough Kennedy cough cough*

Slightly Dangerous – Mary Balogh –  No one have a heart attack.  This is indeed a romance novel.  I do enjoy a good romance every now and then.  This one I particularly enjoyed, probably because it is a take on Pride & Prejudice.  I like it so much I might put in the “will read again” stack.

Moscow Rules – Daniel Silva –  This is the 8th or 9th installment in the Gabriel Allon series I’ve been working my way through for a while now.  I must say, it was not my favorite – I would even go so far as to say I didn’t like it.  Yikes.  I hope I’m not coming down with a case of Silva fatigue.  I have to get through book 12 or 13 (I’ve lost count) before the next one comes out this summer.

My goal is silver so I’ve read 3 out of 24.

I’ll take that considering I can be a painfully slow reader.

So, what are you reading?  What’s in your TBR stack?

Things I learned this week…

This week I learned…

…that nothing strikes fear in my heart, or pisses me off more than being surrounded by young, obnoxious kids in a freshmen level class.  This semester I am taking Intro to Sociology.  It is a low-level course and thus, it is expected that the majority of the class will be under the legal drinking age.  I knew this going in.  I was prepared for it.  Turns out one can’t really prepare for a surprise invasion by six hockey players.  They sauntered in five minutes after the professor began to take roll, and proceeded to occupy all of the seats at my table.  I can’t tell you what to expect this semester in Sociology. I can’t tell you when our first exam will be, or what our first writing assignment entails.  However, I can tell you that the six hockey players are all good buddies and play for the same team – their camaraderie is nauseating;  Collin College is just a pit stop – they fully expect to be scouted soon; they all think that Sociology is going to be a stupid class; they are all in agreement that it is a good thing that this professor will not be grading attendance – I myself can’t attest to this as I was unable to hear that part of the introduction; and one of them insists that he is from England and can turn his accent off at will – I call bullshit on this one.  If he’s English, I’m the queen of Denmark.  It’s going to be a long semester; and before it’s over, I might need bail money – and a good defense attorney.

…that Rick Perry has come slinking back home to Texas.  I am relieved by this. I don’t look forward to his continued leadership, but at least I can watch the nightly news without seeing his smug mug and incompetent gaffs splashed all over every channel.

…that the librarian who mans the circulation desk at my college library conspires against me, I just know it.   I am a huge advocate of their online card catalog system that allows a student to electronically browse all of the districts books, media, etc.  I can order any book I choose – as long as it is not checked out – and it will be delivered to my campus.   All I have to do is go pick them up.  I love this and take advantage of it every change I get.   Unfortunately, the books seldom arrive at the same time.  This is where the conspiracy comes in.   I will pick up part of my order with the expectation that the rest will not be delivered until a later date.  Inevitably, twenty minutes after I’ve left campus, the librarian will call me to tell me the rest of my books have arrived.  She does this to me every semester.  She did it to me again on Friday.  I think she holds my books behind that circulation desk of hers and waits until she knows I am too far away to turn around and come back.

…that my new “Yoga for a grade class” is going to very interesting.  Very touchy-feely; much like I imagine group therapy to be.   I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I’m not much of a “kumbaya” kinda gal.  I’d rather remain anonymous, quietly sitting in the back of the class assessing my classmates.  An impossibility in this one.  On the bright side, I’m sure I will benefit from the five minutes of meditation that will close out each class period.  That just might keep me from doing harm to the hockey team in Sociology.  Or, at the very least, allow me to contemplate a proper disposal method.

…that after five months, I finally finished the third installment of Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series.    I don’t want to give the impression that it wasn’t a good book.  It was.   Great, in fact.  I just have a very hard time committing myself to doing nothing but reading.  Yes, I can hear my fellow writers groaning at me.  Shut up.   I always have something else that takes precedence.  Since Christmas, I have been determined to finish it and I had to resort to an audio-book to get the job done.   That worked out so well, that I’ve decided that audio-books are not cheating after all and am going to listen my way through the rest of his books.  I am already a third of the way through the next one.  The only problem I have with audio-books is that sometimes in the carpool line when I am watching the moron’s around me, I lose track of the story and have to back up.

…that a new spy thriller has quietly been released when I wasn’t looking.  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.  It’s based on the 1974 novel of the same name by John le Carre.  Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Colin Firth and who?  Benedict Cumberbatch?  My new favorite Sherlock Holmes?  Where do I buy my ticket?

…that I am going to have to step away from Retribution or else I will end up burning it.  I tried the weekly word count push, but if the story isn’t there, it isn’t there.  No matter how much I desire to finish it, I feel that I am force it.  I think I’ve just made it too complicated and I lack the experience to work through.  Does this make me feel like an utter failure?  Yes, and I don’t want to talk about it.

…that upon editing this post, I notice that I had a lot of negative energy this week.  Hmmm…

…that – in trying to find something a little more positive – the smell of new leather in a new car is almost as good as the smell of rich, dark chocolate – but without the caloric consequences.

…and last but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by this adorable baby hippo.

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Source:  http://pinterest.com/pin/138345019772779073/