Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Hostile Hospital - Lemony Snicket

The Hostile Hospital
By: Lemony Snicket
Published: 2001
Audiobook Read by: Tim Curry
My rating: Delightful

Wanted for crimes they didn't commit, (we know who did commit them) the children are on their own. Not even Mr. Poe can be counted on to help them (not that has ever been much help in the past) so they must stick together and take care of themselves!

Finding very little chance of escape, the children fall in with The Volunteers Fighting Disease. The odd group is heading to Heimlich Hospital to sing to the patients and pass out heart shaped balloons. The Baudelaires are excepted readily as the newest volunteers and transported away from their pursuers. Unfortunately, as has been true so often, Count Olaf finds them and concocts yet another nefarious plan. (A phrase which here means, trying to remove Violet's head completely without her written permission!) Fortunately for the youngsters, they have learned a thing or two about how Count Olaf's mind works and are able to turn the tables on him using some of his own tricks. But how were they to know that all of their efforts would still land them closed up in the trunk of his car heading who knows where?

This book was a little bit different from the others because the children are completely on their own, no Mr. Poe, no guardian, and nobody to help them out of a tight spot. I liked the change of pace and am curious to see how the series progresses from here. They are very resourceful children and each new situation seems to push them to more and more inventive solutions. It's really quite thrilling, in a totally preposterous sort of way. Which is what makes it so much fun! :)

Once again, we were well entertained by Tim Curry's performance! I think it would be most difficult to find anyone better suited to read these books!

Overall, this was a great book in the series, changing up the normal pattern. If you have followed the series this far, don't stop now!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Winesburg, Ohio - Sherwood Anderson

Winesburg, Ohio
By: Sherwood Anderson
Published: 1919
Audiobook Read by: George Guidall
My rating: Interesting

I decided to listen to this book for two reasons. First, when I listened to The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, Ray gave credit to this book as being part of his inspiration. Second, I live just fifteen minutes from the real town of Winesburg, Ohio in the heart of Amish Country. I was slightly disappointed to discover it was not about our Winesburg but was about a fictitious town that Sherwood just happened to call Winesburg. Oh well. :(

It seems that George Willard is destined to learn the strangest things about the people in his little town. As a journalist for the local newspaper, people seem eager to tell him their stories. We learn all kinds of things about the townsfolk, some of it quite interesting, some of it rather odd or even bizarre! We also learn quite a lot about George himself and get to see snapshots of him as he grows up, matures, and finally becomes a man, ready to face the wide, wide world.

This was kind of an odd book for me. I liked some of the stories but others were kind of out there. The quality of the writing is very good and I followed along quite well but now and then I found myself wondering what the point was! The picture of life in the late 1800s - early 1900s was quite interesting and as always when I listen to a book from this era I found myself wishing to live back then!

I listened to the audiobook read by George Guidall. It was a complete coincidence that he was also the one to do the last book I listened to but I was far from crestfallen! Like I said then, he has become my favorite narrator! He has a wonderful voice and is so expressive that I feel like I'm right there in the story itself!

Overall, this is an interesting book but not one I would rush out to get. If you like little "slice of life" stories, this collection might be of interest.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Cat Who Turned On And Off - Lillian Jackson Braun

The Cat Who Turned On And Off
By: Lillian Jackson Braun
Published: 1968
Audiobook Read by: George Guidall
My rating: Wonderful

OK, I'm hooked on Koko, Yum-yum, and Qwill! I have listened to several of the books in this series and have been enjoying them more and more!

In this third book of the series, Qwill is still getting himself established and is finding it difficult to find an affordable place to live. When he finds out about a substantial prize being offered to the staff of the Daily Fluxion for the best story for the Christmas season, he decides to win it with a series on the antiquing scene in the run down part of the city known as Junktown. Well, of course we all know that Qwill can't write a nice feel good story with heart! As always, murder calls to him and he ends up trying to solve the mystery surrounding the death of one of Junktown's most loved and sometimes most hated dealers! The problem is, it wasn't a murder at all, it was just a tragic accident....or was it? Only Koko seems to know!

Once again, Lillian has created a unique mystery here that kept me on the edge of my seat right up to the very end. I have been impressed so far with the variety of mysteries she presents. Each one has been significantly different from the others and presents new possibilities and new characters every time. The one wonderful constant in all the books, though, is the wonderful descriptions of the two cats and their antics. I have never found an author better at conveying the unique nature of cats than Lillian! Her descriptions give me a vivid picture of what Koko and Yum-yum are doing and I often laugh a little as I recognize the very things I see my own cat do!

I listened to the audiobook read by George Guidall and as always, I loved his performance! I think he is probably my favorite narrator of all the ones I have heard so far!

Overall, this is a lot of fun and if you are looking for some light, entertaining reading, you can't go wrong with these books!

Monday, May 23, 2011

John Adams - David McCullough

John Adams
By: David McCullough
Published: 2001
Audiobook Read by: Nelson Runger
My rating: Wonderful

After listening to Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow, I decided to set out to go through biographies of all or our presidents in chronological order. It is going to be a long process considering the vast number of other books I love to listen to but I think it will be very rewarding as well as greatly educational!

John Adams as president did not seem to be the most popular since he was voted down for a second term. However, his intense love for our country and undying zeal for freedom are a testament of where his heart was.

Adams spent much of his adult life in the service of our country, enduring hardships that would have brought a lesser man to his knees. As a diplomat to foreign countries such as France and Holland, he had to fight not only the view of America as a backwater upstart country with little chance of succeeding, but personal struggles with his health, loneliness, and the feeling of being cut off due to the length of time it took to communicate with home. Despite all the obstacles, he never gave up and was able to produce results wherever he was posted.

Never to be one that let opposition hold him down, he moved into the presidential office prepared for his opponents and ready to deal with the mountains of criticism his decisions would bring. In everything he did, he acted according to his own values and with a clear conscience that what he did was done for his country and not out of any hope for personal gain.

This has been an interesting experience for me. I must admit that I was never much interested in history and therefore did not pay attention in school. I have learned a lot about the founding of our country from these biographies that I should have already known! What has interested me most was seeing the same time period from different perspectives as I have with Washington's biography and now this one. It's the same time with the same activities going on but it looks vastly different through each man's eyes! I am starting to see that I will be getting a very well rounded view of our nation's history as I travel through the stories of each president!

I listened to the audiobook read by Nelson Runger. Nelson did a great job with this and I loved his choice of voice for John Adams. I got a sense of the good natured attitude that John had and could hear the good humor in the voice that Nelson gave him.

Overall, this was a well done biography of John Adams that kept me interested without sacrificing the historical accuracy. If you are looking for an Adams biography, don't hesitate to give this one a try!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The King Size Sandbox

I built a sandbox for my kids a few years ago.


When I was a kid we had a nice size sandbox and all of the neighborhood kids loved playing in it with us! My dad built it for us out of sandstone and it even had a little roof over it and everything. We spent many very happy hours playing in it.

So I wanted my kids to have that as well. But as in everything it seems, I had to make it BIG!! :)

Yep, I said big. 10' long, 5' wide and 16" deep.
Oh yeah, it holds 2 tons of sand!

So anyway, I built it several years back and got it filled up with sand but guess what? When kids play in a sandbox the sand seems to slowly disappear! So this year it needed a fresh filling, so Tammy and the kids shoveled what was left of the old sand out and got it cleaned up and ready for the first load.

It's hard to see but there is a little bank that makes
it interesting to get the truck up to the end this way!

Oh yeah, I have a really cool gadget called a LoadHandler! :)

So the first load is unloaded it's off to the gravel yard for load #2!

So while I'm off getting the second load, let me tell you about my back yard. From the back of the house there is about 40' and then a drop off into some woods. (That's the trees you see in the left hand side of the pictures. The small bank in these first pictures cuts across from the back corner of my garage back to the woods. At the other end of the house is another bank that does the same thing but is about 8' high and quite steep. (It's a bear to mow!)

Being the perfectionist that I am, (despite there being no room to move in the back yard on a bicycle let alone in a full size pickup) I had to attempt to get the second load of sand into the empty end of the sandbox so this is what I ended up doing to achieve that:

It took about 20 minutes of maneuvering to do this during which time,
Tammy was cringing every time I came within 3" of hitting the house!
(Which was quite often!)

Well, we got all the sand in the box where it belonged, got the truck out of the back yard and with the exception of a few tire tracks in the grass, there was no harm done!

And now we have a very happy little boy!

OK, make that two happy little boys!

I love tunnels! :)

So there you have it! One big sandbox, 2 tons of sand, some beat up trucks, cars, and other toys, and a whole summer of fun!! What could be better? Well, maybe the GIANT slip-n-slide I'm going to put up but I'll save that for another post! :)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

In Which My 12 Year Old Daughter Becomes A Grandma!

First of all, allow me to let out a WHOOP
because this is my 100th post!!
That's right, 100 posts under my belt!
So go ahead, have a glass of bubbly on me!
It's a celebration!!! :)

o-o-o-o          o-o-o-o          o-o-o-o          o-o-o-o          o-o-o-o

Now, back to the original purpose of this post!

Last weekend, my daughter, Cheyenne, played the part of Grandma Josephine in our school's production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory! It's funny, I'm not even a grandpa yet but she is a grandma! Something just doesn't seem right here! :)

Anyway, without further ado, here is what you are dying to see!

Cheyenne with her husband, Grandpa Joe
All the grandparents in the big bed
Willy Wonka welcoming all the winners into his factory
In the chocolate room standing by the chocolate river
Riding down the chocolate river in Wonka's private yacht
The Oompa Loompas
Willy telling Charlie that the factory is his
And one more of Cheyenne looking really old.
That's Grandpa George next to her.
Cheyenne had a great time and had a lot of fun but was very glad to get the makeup and gray hairspray washed off when we got her home! All the kids did a great job and worked very hard.

This production was directed by some of the high school students and was completely produced by the students. There was one teacher who kept an eye on things and acted as an adviser but otherwise it was students only! They deserve a lot of credit for making it happen! I can't wait to see what kind of program they do next year!

And now I will return my daughter to the role of little girl and hope for many years to pass before she is actually a grandma!

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy - Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy
By: Douglas Adams
Published: 1979
Audiobook Read by: Stephen Fry

Entry from the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy:
     Earth: Harmless

Arthur Dent is quite fond of his home. He's lived there for a long time. The council wants to knock it down to make room for a bypass. Arthur is not going to let them. Besides, what's with the bypass anyway?

What Arthur doesn't know is it doesn't really matter. His house and belongings are about to be destroyed anyway by the Vogon Constructor Fleet to make room for the new hyperspatial express route. Oh yes, they'll destroy the entire earth along with Arthur's house. So, Arthur might just as well go along to the pub with Ford to have a pint or three.

Now Ford Prefect was one of Arthur's best friends and hailed from a small planet in the vicinity of Betelgeuse. He has been stranded on Earth for the past fifteen years. Of course he has used the time wisely to update the entry on Earth in the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy since that is his job. Arthur doesn't know all this about Ford and just thinks of him as a rather strange person whom, for some strange reason, he rather likes.

However, Arthur was now quite disliking Ford for coaxing him away from lying in front of a bulldozer to go to the pub, since the bulldozer had now quite knocked over his house! Before he knows what he's doing, he discovers himself running down the road towards his demolished house and ending up on a spaceship headed for who knows where! (A spaceship!?!? Where did that come from?) (Oh yes, the Vogon Constructor Fleet.) (What is a Vogon anyway?)

To say Arthur was having a bad day would be putting it mildly. His house has been bulldozed, (along with the whole rest of the Earth), he's muddy and sore, has been nearly killed by bad poetry, (not to mention being thrown out an airlock by a shouting Vogon), lost both legs and one arm, been subjected to a long walk with a manically depressed robot named Marvin, and to top it all off; he doesn't even know where his towel is! Yes Arthur is having a bad day. So imagine how it felt to be told that mice have been running the Earth! (MICE!?!? What on earth have mice got to do with anything?) Let's sum up how Arthur feels right about now: "Look, would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now?"

This was an awesome book chock full of so much crazy off the wall fun I am very tempted to just turn around and listen to it again right now! I loved it!! I have never laughed so much at a book before. The complete absurdity of it was great! Maybe it's an unfortunate testament to my mental state but I just don't care! :) Douglas Adams is the top of the list in my book for having the most amazing imagination and the greatest sense of humor! I suppose if you are looking for a deep and meaningful tome filled with wise sayings and philosophical wonders that explains the answer to life, the universe and everything, you'll probably be disappointed. Oh wait, this book does tell you the answer to life, the universe and everything!! You won't like it but it's there! :)

I listened to the audiobook read by Stephen Fry. I loved Stephen's performance just as much as the book itself! He obviously had fun with it and did an absolutely superb job bringing it to life!

Overall, if you want an irreverent, absolutely hilarious look at humanity and the insignificance of our existence, this is the book for you. (But please cut Marvin some slack, he's depressed.) So in the words of Zaphod Beeblebrox, president of the galaxy, "OK baby, hold tight! We'll take in a quick bite at the Restaurant At The End Of The Universe."

Updated Entry from the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy:
     Earth: Mostly Harmless

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Death Of A Celebrity - M. C. Beaton

Death Of A Celebrity
By: M. C. Beaton
Published: 2002
Audiobook Read by: Graeme Malcolm
My rating: Wonderful

I have come to love hearing about Hamish MacBeth's antics as the constable of Lochdubh! This time he finds himself under the scrutiny of a television show host who has no scruples about digging up scandals and causing someone else pain if it gives her the ratings she wants! As she is about to bring his dubious career down around his ears she is found dead! Fortunately for Hamish he escapes being a suspect but now he is faced with the possibility that someone he knows and likes might be a murderer! As he goes about his own brand of investigation he discovers a disturbing connection to the local horoscope columnist, Elspeth Grant. He also discovers he has a disturbing attraction to this same person and decides it's better to be rude and cold than to fall in love. He fails to maintain his hard demeanor and ends up spending quite a bit of time in her company. Fortunately for Hamish, she is a very astute young lady and helps him immensely as he struggles with the seemingly unsolvable case! Unfortunately for Elspeth, she realizes Hamish is never going to give himself over to her advances and she resigns herself to the fate of all of Hamish's many lady friends!

This is yet another wonderful tale in the long series of Hamish MacBeth mysteries! I have now gone through several and each one is just as fun as the rest! I love the way Hamish is willing to sacrifice his possibility of advancement in the police force in order to stay in Lochdubh. He loves his village and his people and cares deeply about what happens to each and every one of them. I also very much enjoyed the escape from CI Blair who is on holiday and is replaced by a much more likable CI Carson. Hamish is finally recognized for his skills as an investigator and if he isn't careful, might just find himself promoted!

I listened to the audiobook read by Graeme Malcolm who, as always, is absolutely wonderful with these books! I love his accent and am looking forward to many more hours of enjoyment as he narrates other Hamish books!

Overall, this is a wonderful book in a wonderful series! You won't go wrong with them!! :)

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Martian Chronicles - Ray Bradbury

The Martian Chronicles
By: Ray Bradbury
Published: 1950
Audiobook Read by: Scott Brick
My rating: Interesting

If you've followed me for a while you may have seen that I was totally blown away by Ray's book Fahrenheit 451. I decided to try some of his other work and being a Science Fiction nut I thought I'd go for this one. I must say, it was very odd and not at all what I expected!

We all know that Martians are little green men with six arms and eleven eyes looking all around them at once, don't we? Well, maybe not after we reach the age of 12 but definitely before that we are enamored by daydreams of what a Martian might be like. Ray has painted a picture that flies in the face of any imagining I ever had of Martians by his portrayal of them as quiet, cultured beings of grace and beauty. As the story progresses we see the impact of human colonization on Mars and how in a very short time we as humans manage to ruin thousands of years of culture and replace it with our own warped morals and misguided opinions! Each new wave of explorers, adventurers, and settlers brings with it more and more of the disintegrating culture of Earth which is exactly what many of them are trying to escape! In the end, they find that no matter how hard they try to escape, there is nothing they can do. The destruction will follow them and pull them back every time!

This was a study of the decline of our societies and a picture of the destructive path we, as a race, are walking. Ray is attempting to show the error of our ways in this book and points out the fact that running from it won't do anything but spread the poison of arrogance we seem to be so prone to. As far as a plot goes, the story on it's surface is mildly entertaining at best, but looking deeper is pretty dark and disturbing. I found the technology amusing since it is based around 1950s ideas and is often behind today's advances instead of being innovative as I'm sure it was when Ray was writing this. The book's message is quite clear and just as relevant today as it was 60 years ago; We as a race are heading for a destruction of our own making!

I listened to the audiobook read by Scott Brick. I have enjoyed his work on other books but this one was a little disappointing for me. He used a very melancholy voice and it kind of droned on and on in a sing song style that I didn't enjoy very much.

Overall this was an interesting book just for the odd ideas of space travel and what Mars might be like but it isn't something I would rush out to get by any means.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Jesus Wept

John 11:35 says:
"Jesus Wept."
That's it, just two little words. The shortest verse in the entire Bible but when you stop to think about it, it is loaded with wonderful meaning!

Let me set the scene for you. Jesus has arrived in Bethany after hearing that Lazarus has died. Martha and Mary have both told Him that if He had been there, their brother would not have died. Jesus, seeing their tears, is deeply moved and sheds tears Himself.

Now, a couple of things cross my mind as I think about this:
  1. If you look back to verse 11 you see that Jesus tells his disciples that "our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up." (NIV) Jesus knew He was going to raise him from the dead!
  2. If you go back farther to verse 6 you see that Jesus intentionally waited two days before He set out for Bethany. He knew Lazarus was going to die and was not in a hurry to get there because He was planning to perform miraculous works to bring glory to God.
So I have to wonder, if Jesus knew He would be raising Lazarus from the dead then why did he weep? If I was an all powerful being with the ability to perform any miracle in the book I'd be feeling smug and thinking, "they're in for a big surprise when they see what I've got planned!"

So why did Jesus weep?

Here's what I think: Jesus loves us so much that even though He knows He is going to take care of all our problems and see us through all of our trials and tribulations, He still feels our pain when we hurt. When we feel like our heart is breaking, His heart is breaking too. When we fall down and get hurt on the road of life, He hurts right along with us!

He is all powerful God with unlimited power and authority to create or destroy universes yet he will put His loving arms around us and cry right along with us until the pain is gone. He is our best friend and like a true friend, He is never going to turn His back on us when we are down!

So the next time you feel alone and imagine that nobody cares or understands what you are going through, remember this little verse, and know that Jesus is by your side, matching you tear for tear as His heart aches with the pain you are going through! But unlike any earthly friend we have, He is also able to carry us through that pain if we just put our lives in His capable hands.