Review: Dead in the Family

Dead in the Family Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I fell in love with Charlaine Harris and her Southern Vampire series long before Twilight filled the vampire fiction bandwagon to overflowing. Unlike many of the readers currently enjoying this series, I had been reading for some time when Ms. Harris announced that the story concept was going to be developed into a television show called True Blood, and I’m in an even smaller minority when I stake out my claim as someone who does not like the TV series at all, despite – or perhaps because of – my fondness for the books.

(It seems somewhat pertinent at this point to mention that Sookie is only my second favorite of Harris’s heroines – if you want a fun mystery/action/romance series with a strong, complex heroine but aren’t big on the paranormal, try Shakespeare’s Landlord.)

I unabashedly enjoy Harris’s books. If you pay attention to these things – and when I’m pleasure reading, I rarely do – they’re not fantastically written. Just listen to one of them on audiobook and you’ll catch the roughness around the literary edges. Fortunately, they’re not intended as great works of literature but rather as tickets to escapism, accompanied by unforgettable female leads. The Southern Vampire series focuses on Sookie Stackhouse, a small-town southern girl with the (un)fortunate ability to read minds. Her gift drags her into strange company and stranger situations as the world grapples with the existence of vampires and weres in their midst.

Dead in the Family is the newest installment in a series that I feared had gone off the rails in the prior installment. Everything in the last book – heck, the last two books, if I’m being fair – was painted in day-glo crazy. I’d been beginning to worry that Harris was writing for her True Blood fans rather than her Southern Vampire fans – understandable, given the profit margins, but still quite sad.

Then DitF came along, and that small part of my brain that worries about such things feels much better now. This book starts off as thick and slow as a condensating glass of sweet tea on an Louisiana afternoon as Sookie recovers from the traumatic events of the last book. When the action picks back up, it delicately knits together all of the crazy (inter-vampire politics? insane fairies? governmental anti-werewolf conspiracies?) into something that fits nearly seamlessly into the world Harris originally created. The focus is much less on romance and sex than on intrigue and the tricky process of deciding who – if anyone – Sookie can trust.

This book consumed the better part of a rainy afternoon for me, and I recommend it very much to anyone who has fallen in love – and maybe even out of love, a bit – with Sookie and her life.

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No Plot, No Problem?

Maybe you recognize this entry’s title as a reference to NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty’s book, No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days. And if you’ve ever done NaNoWriMo, you can probably imagine exactly the nervous-to-panicked edge to the typing voice infused into that title….

For the third year in a row, I’m facilitating the Young Writers’ Program at my school. I’m worrying about it less, and am going to cut down on my investment level somewhat; I have a core group of kids via my Creative Writing class who will get the whole rigamarole, but I’m not going to kill myself with twice-weekly after school meetings or anything. Ultimately, NaNo is an individual enterprise with occasional social gatherings – not the other way around.

My problem comes from the fact that I really don’t know what to write about.

Well, that, and I promised myself I’d finish Wyrd before this November. And I haven’t.

I’ve got three novel ideas bouncing around in my head, and I know that what I ought to do is to release them onto paper and let them fight it out Star Trek-style, but I think a part of me is scared that they’re still so fragile that open air would kill them. One is a story – or rather, a mesh net of stories – that has been sitting around in my brain for a couple of years. Another came to me early this school year, and I like the idea of it but am not at all sure that I have it in me to write it. The third idea is extremely zygotey, only a couple of days old, and I’m not sure if there’s enough there to bloom into a full grown manuscript or not….

The main thing, I guess, is that I’m just not inspired to write this year. I’m struggling to get my butt in gear to finish the last book, and it’s a book I not only love but know how to end. There’s just so many other things I’d rather do with my non-work time. On the flip side of that, I know that this is good for me – I know that if I’m going to pretend to be a Writer, I need this tough forced-discipline thing in my life. It’s my only hope of ever completing manuscripts, and I know that.

Plus, I want another star.

Back of Sash

My stars for years of NaNo - there's another gold one now, for last year!

 (If you like my sash, check out more pictures here.)

Monday Meme

Pilfered with affection from Mrs. Chili.

1. What is the closest item near you that is blue? Closest to my left hand is a blue Sharpie. Closest to my right hand is my 2010-11 flash drive.

2. What is your favorite color? Generally, green. Specifically, there’s this dusty greeny-bluey-gray color that I just adore but can’t name.

3. When is your birthday? I was born on St. Nicolas Day, exactly thirty years after my grammy’s first child was born.

4. When did you last go to the mall? Yesterday, I spent a few hours at Borders using their table and espresso machines to grade papers.

5. When was the last time you bought a pair of pants? At the beginning of the school year I bought two pairs of colored denim trousers – not jeans. Brown and black.

6. What do you want for your birthday? Mostly electronics this year, it seems. A clock (no radio needed) for inside the shower, a telephoto lens for my good camera, maybe a new pocket digital camera. A nap.

7. Who will be your next kiss? Honestly, Paisley will probably beat anyone else to the punch.

8. What was the last candy you ate? After Borders closed, we went to Barnes and Noble to use their tables and espresso machines. I bought a cup of tea and they gave me two pieces of Godiva chocolate.

9. Are you wearing socks right now?  Yes; gray ones. With sandals. The shame!

10. When was the last time you went out of the state? When we went to northern California in July, I guess, but I’m going to be crossing state lines tonight to go to a marching band competition.

11. Have you been to the movies in the last 5 days? No, but I have been to the movies in the last six. I go on Tuesdays. Last week was The American; don’t bother.

12. What was the last thing you had to drink? Currently drinking a strawberry soda, because it’s 3:20 on “grades due” day and I need the sugar.

13. What are you wearing right now? A multicolored top with gray pants.

14. What was your last purchase? I was in two different book stores last night. What do you think my last purchase was?

15. Who was the last person you talked to on the phone? Mi madre. No, wait! The office called during 4th period to ask if one of my students was actually present or not.

16. Have you bought any clothing items in the last week? Nope.

17. Do you have a pet? The Paisley, the d’Artagnan, and the increasingly annoying (because it’s cold and she’s moved inside) Sophie.

18. What’s the last sporting event you watched? I watched a few minutes of the Boise State/San Jose football game before falling asleep, if that counts.

19. What’s the most played song on your iTunes? “Shambala” as performed by Rockapella.

20. If you could be anywhere right now, where would you be? Curled up on a comfy couch with afghans, tea, and a good book. Said item could be located anywhere for all I care.

21. What is the last thing you purchased online? Probably books, but I need to order my contacts.

22. One thing you hate about yourself? Habitual nonproductive-ness and ADHD-like symptoms when attempting to do housework.

23. What’s your favorite soup? Will you mock me if I say Zuppa Toscana from Olive Garden? I could eat that stuff forever.

24. Do you miss anyone? Sometimes. For example, I was dodging ghosts on Saturday.

25. Last play you saw? “The Wizard of Oz” performed by Starlight Mountain Theater.

26. What are your plans for the day? I just finished an exhausting day of teaching (made more so by the fact that I came up with a better plan for the day at midnight last night, and stayed up until nearly two making it happen). Now I’ve got to drink home, change clothes, get on a bus, and take an 80-minute bus ride to a marching band competition – most of which I will miss. Then I’ll lug percussion equipment and drum major podiums around for half an hour or so, take some pictures, help pack up, and hopefully fall asleep on the bus home. When I get home – around 11, probably – I have some work to do on tomorrow’s lesson for creative writing… hopefully not much work, though.

27. Last person you messaged? Facebook. I was updating profusely on Saturday.

28. What do you know about the future? It’s gonna be the future soon; I won’t always be this way.

29. Are you wearing any perfume or cologne? I may have spritzed on some Bath & Body Works “Sapphire” this morning; if so, it’s long gone by now.

30. Where are your best friends located? I live with my bestest friend. 🙂

31. How old do you want to be when you have kids? A year or so younger than I am right now. 😦

32. Who was the last person who made you cry? I’m not sure. I have a tendency to block that sort of thing out from my longterm memory.

33. Do you have any tattoos or piercings? My ears are pierced.

34. How do you like your soda? Ice cold, served in a can or in glass over ice. I like straws.

35. Do you like hot sauce? Sometimes.

36. Next time you’ll take a shower? Tomorrow? Depends on how exhausted I am in the morning.

37. What was the last movie you watched at home? Shoot; I can’t remember the name of it now, but it was good. Helpful, ain’t I?

38. What is your mood? That difficult place between “I have so many ideas of things I’d like to do!” and “I’m exhausted and triple booked.” Not sure if that’s a mood, but it leaves no room for anything else.

39. What kind of car do you drive? I cruise down the road in my PT Cruiser.

40. Have you ever been to Virginia? I have. Spent almost a week in the Norfolk area.

41. What are you doing right now? Procrastinating having to get in the car and drive home. I’ve been carpooling with Ryan for the last two months, and he took the afternoon shift (when my energy is the lowest). Now I’m on my lonesome, and not looking forward to the commute. Maybe I should have grabbed a Red Bull instead of a strawberry soda.

Review: Forever Amber

Forever AmberForever Amber by Kathleen Winsor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very readable historical fiction taking place in 17th century England. Before starting it, I read two things about the book; one turned out to be true, and the other not so much. Everything I read about Forever Amber said that it was this fantastically scandalous book full of so much sex that the city of Boston banned it upon publication. And yes, the title character does get around – but this book would only scandalize you if you’re the sort who preferred it when TV/movie couples slept in separate twin beds. Winsor does that adorable 1940s thing where she leads you right up to the idea that these two characters might be about to get it on, and then fades to black and picks the storyline up the next week. Nothing is EVER explicit, and most of the escapades require some careful reading to notice.

On the other hand, anyone who said that it was like Gone With the Wind was speaking the truth. The heroine, plot structure, voice, and sheer physical bulk of this book are all reminiscent of GWTW – in a good way.

Amber is an infuriating heroine, and you keep hoping that the book will conclude with some sort of redemption or comeuppance for her. Whether or not Amber gets what she needs/deserves is in the eye of the reader, I suppose. If you like a good historical fiction, a sprawling tale of a flawed person’s life, court intrigue, etc., then by all means check out this book – I think you’ll like it every bit as much as I did. Just be prepared to want to slap the MC a few times.

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Pomp and Extravagance

I wasn’t always a football fan, but I always loved the hoopla surrounding games. You’re not going to escape that as a marching band junkie. And really, what’s not to love? Crisp fall weather, bright shiny lights, vivid colors, the roar of the crowd, boisterous music, acts of daring-do, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat! What a great way to spend an evening. Then, as a college student I grew to enjoy the game itself, which just added to the experience.

I’ve occasionally paused to consider the weirdness of the American college football game. It’s not hard to make the connection between a football stadium and the events held within, and the Roman colliseums with their melodramatic displays of athleticism and violence. Beyond that, I’ve been intrigued, repulsed, and eventually warmed by the sense of community surrounding the games. At first I couldn’t understand why people would spend – waste, even – an entire Saturday cooking and watching TV in a parking lot, particularly if they didn’t even have tickets to the actual game. The more I thought about the entire football thing, the more I thought it was all just a wee bit crazy.

I never really thought about how it must look to an outsider, though. Although my family isn’t a big “sports” family, as a child I certainly knew what football was and that it was important to other people. I’ve always been at least tangentially aware of the Super Bowl and the idea of homecoming games and marching bands and cheerleaders. But what would all of this seem like to someone who wasn’t a born-and-bred American?

Enter Stephen Fry.

A British author, actor, and comedian, Fry did a BBC series and wrote a book called Stephen Fry in America wherein he spent some time exploring the land across the pond. I’m not sure if this clip is part of that series or not, but it really puts the college football experience into a new and alien perspective.

I love how the marching bands seem to particularly capture his bewildered attention.

Perhaps the best part, though, is if you go through to the YouTube page where that video is originally located.  Check out the comments; all of the Brits are convinced that it isn’t real, that it’s all done with mirrors. I’d love to invite them all to a Bronco game, wouldn’t you?

Harvest Time in Old Boise

Sunday, we went to the Idaho Botanical Garden’s Harvest Festival. I don’t know exactly how, after fifteen years in Boise, but I’d never been to the IBG in the summer months. And given that it’s still in the 90s around here, I think October counts as summer…


We didn’t plan it or anything, but Captain Jack Scare-o and I dressed in the same color palette.


See that delicious corndog that Ryan is eating? That’s not just any corndog…


…it’s a CORNDOG FOR GROWNUPS. Ladies and gentlemen, the beer-battered bratwurst. ON A STICK.


We listened to Travis Ward and Hillfolk Noir while we ate. I’m not sure what was better: the sleeping backpack baby, or the fact that their instrumentation included a real saw.


Ryan made a new friend.


While taking a mildly photogenic moment to rest in the shade, we inadvertently made friends with a passel of kids who figured out how to freestyle climb up the walls of the gazebo. Ryan was pretty sure they were going to fall and die right in front of us, so when their dad showed up we vacated.


We met the world’s largest sock monkey. Really wondering where they found a sock big enough for the head. It was probably six feet tall if it stood up.


Also encountered Spongebob Scare Pants…


…and a blackbird retriever, which MIGHT have had a cute picture of it taken had someone’s backside not made a cameo. Seriously, people, I’m trying to take pictures of inanimate objects here. Show some consideration!


It was hot, but a little rainstorm blew in and cooled things off enough that we were able to enjoy some beautiful late summer/early fall foliage.




On the way out we had some apple cider and snapped one last shot of the Old Idaho Penitentiary, a striking place with an ugly past now surrounded by this beautiful garden.


An Irrational Fear of Single-Reeded Brass Instruments

Although, really, isn’t any fear of that particular thing completely warranted?

Our plans for Friday evening fell through, which opened up our calendars to attend a concert I’d been sorry to miss: Saxophobia. To quote the University’s promo materials for the concert:

Saxophobia brings to the stage a “Who’s Who” of sax gone wild. Artistic director Rob Verdi has accrued an impressive collection of rare saxophones (even an original 1880 Adolphe tenor sax) and offers an exciting musical celebration for audiences around the world. Saxophobia traces the history of the saxophone through words, music and humor while paying tribute to the great jazz legends who popularized the instrument and contributed to the development of America’s indigenous art form. Highly enlightening as well as thoroughly entertaining, Saxophobia is a unique opportunity to listen to some of the most unusual saxophones ever made, along with the classic melodies associated with each extraordinary instrument.

Verdi is an ASU graduate, a former junior high band teacher, and currently a performer at Disneyland. He travels to perform and teach clinics about saxophones, specifically his impressive and sometimes amusing collection of saxophones.

The thing that caught my eye initially was the fact that he toured with a contrabass saxophone. If you’re a band person, you know that the usual lineup of saxophones includes alto, tenor, baritone, and sometimes soprano. Bass saxophones are rare. Even more rare is the contrabass saxophone, an evolutionary misstep if there ever was one in the musical kingdom. They’re six and a half feet tall, which makes them instantly qualified to play on many college basketball teams.

I completely failed to keep a straight face while listening to Verdi play it. Well – not completely. I did okay until he hit the lowest notes. Then I giggled.

I also giggled when he played the slide saxophone, another woodwindy error in evolution. It’s a saxophone without any keys. So rare that GIS utterly fails to uncover any images thereof. I’ve been trying for a few minutes, but I just can’t come up with any words to describe the sheer awesomeness of “Mood Indigo” performed on slide saxophone. You’ll just have to hear it for yourself, which will involve a well-worth-it $1 investment.

Loved the 1950s-era plastic sax, the bizarrely beautiful Conn-o-sax, and hearing a pro play a C-melody. But my favorite had to be the curved sopranino saxophone (seen here being played by some other dude), which looked like a toy in his hands and melted my gooey little band nerd heart. I’ve got a new goal in life, and it’s to own a curved sopranino. So practical!

Anyway, it was a lot of fun, and I highly recommend that you check them out if you like saxes, music history, a fun performance, or beautiful jazz.