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Halloween Update

I know I spent an awful lot of time and energy wailing on this blog about my Halloween costume dilemma. Thus, I figured it would only be fair to give my loyal readers the payoff of finding out the results.

Behold! I give you that Rock of Love himself, the Thorn on your Rose, What the Cat Dragged In....

BRET MICHAELS!




(Rock of Love girls not included...though not from lack of trying. However, The Boyfriend was strangely resistant to the idea. Go figure.)

An Angry Consumer

Dear Old Navy,

Listen, mostly I really like you. I appreciate that you keep your prices reasonable, have a decent selection, and most importantly make plus-size clothes (I mean, you don't make them available in your stores, because after all, there's not really enough space to display the fat-fat-fatty clothes, but you at least have them on your website, and that's awfully nice of you). I am generally a fan, but today I am so angry with you that I can barely stand it.

Last Thursday (note: nearly a week ago), I placed an order with you. I ordered several items (in order to take advantage of free shipping for orders over $50). Two of these items were Christmas gifts for The Boyfriend, as he also enjoys your clothes and appreciates that you carry styles for the big and tall gentleman. One of these items was an orange (excuse me..."Autumn Log") performance fleece jacket. The Boyfriend needed a new fleece, and his favorite color is orange. I was so excited.

Then, today, …

Addendum to 'Observations'

I forgot, when mentioning television shows I've been watching, to bring up Hawaii Five-O. However, I can't pretend that I watch it for any reason other than to drool dreamily at teensy, cranky, adorably Jersey Scott Caan. Therefore, it's probably best to not bring it up.


P.S. I fucking LOVE Scott Caan, okay? I just want to bring him home and snuggle him like a lost hamster. Is that so wrong?

P.P.S. The show itself is not terrible. Sometimes it (mostly Scott Caan) is funny. The scenery is very beautiful, and sometimes Alex O'Laughlin takes his shirt off (why not you, Scott Caan?) and that is beautiful too.

P.P.P.S. Actual native Hawaiian actors are being used, it seems, which is a good thing.

P.P.P.P.S. Scott Caan, people. If he's wrong, I don't want to be right.

P.P.P.P.P.S: Don't worry, Nic Cage. Scott Caan is just a fling. You know I'll always love you best.

Observations

I had totally planned to do NaBloPoMo, and then suddenly realized it's November 8th and I am already seven days behind. So that was the end of THAT idea.

I have been reading quite a bit lately, though have not yet started blogging on books again. No word on whether there will be a Cannonball Read 3. I kind of would love to get it going among a small group--more like a book club but we read different books--but I'm not sure how well that idea would go over. After all, most of the people I know (live and virtually) are very busy. If any of you readers are interested or have ideas of your own, please let me know. I guess I feel kind of silly blogging away about books almost by myself. Left to my own devices, I just read them, which is probably not as effective and productive.

Speaking of books, I have discovered that my giant Ikea shelf my parents bought me in
April is now almost completely full (as are all the other shelves in the house.) I am either going to have to do a serious b…

Halloween is Upon Us!

Halloween is upon us again. As usual, despite my yearly vows that I will plan AHEAD! I seem to be three weeks away without even a wisp of an idea. Miss Piggy worked out great last year, but I have a personal belief that wearing the same costume more than once is laziness. The Boyfriend doesn't understand this, but that is because he is the kind of person who doesn't really enjoy dressing up, and therefore has been perfectly happy to be Walter Sobchak for three years running. (Besides, I've already promised the Piggy costume to a friend who is going to rock the shit out of it and I can't let her down.)

Someone suggested to me that I go as a Titanic victim. The costume would be fairly simple--peasant duds, blue make-up, wet hair, seaweed, life ring with HMS Titanic stencilled on to it--but I was surprisingly appalled by the idea. Now, I am not someone who is generally bothered about being horribly tacky (i.e. if I could get my hands on a pink sweater seat and a pillbox ha…

A Reminder

Just a reminder to check out The Boyfriend's blog, The Frugal Bostonian. If you go over there today, you will find the first post from your old pal me, giving away the secret to one of my famous barbecue sauces.

You know you want it!

(I have been told by The Boyfriend that I am not allowed to give away the recipe for my Coke sauce or my Sweet Caroline mustard sauce. Apparently, those are trade secrets. *Shrug*)


Also, I have been reading books lately, but haven't necessarily felt like blogging, partly because I've finished the Cannonball Read and prefer to just READ the books. I've just started Robert Leckie'sStrong Men Armed, which is his non-biographical book about the Pacific theater of WW2. So far it's pretty good. I've also read some trashy books and re-read some old favorites. I've also read several new ones that I'm sure I'll get around to blogging on eventually.

Then again, fall television is here, and you know how hard it is for me to accomp…

A Quick List

In honor of the long weekend, here is a list of ten movies I am utterly unable to resist if I come across them on television. If I'm looking at the guide or flipping through the channels, and I see one of these I have to stop and watch, no matter how far into the film it happens to be. (These are all movies I do not own on DVD.) In no particular order:

1. Mama Mia!
2. The Replacements
3. The Rock
4. The Legend of Billie Jean
5. The Princess Bride
6. Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark
7. Swiss Family Robinson
8. Annie
9. Die Hard
10. Steel Magnolias

Do any of you have movies that you just can't resist when you're flipping around on a drizzly Sunday afternoon?

A True Blood Post: Because I am Possibly the Biggest Dork Alive

Unfortunately, neither The Boyfriend nor Starbucks Queen are even the slightest bit interested in True Blood, and most of the people I know who are have either only read the books or only seen the show or are behind on the show because they're watching it on DVD or whatever. Therefore, I am spewing out all my opinions here because I can't keep them to myself any longer.

Reasons the Books are Better than the Show:

1. Sookie is a lot less annoying when you can't hear her. I like Anna Paquin, and think she mostly does an okay job with the character (though this season the writing for her has been weak at best) but sometimes she has a voice like a dental drill. Particularly when she is shrieking "BEEEEEEEEEELL!" every 38 seconds.

2. In the books, Alcide is a hottie and he and Sookie have crazy chemistry. On the show he has all the personality of a garden hose, and he and Sookie seem to barely like one another. He's been underused this season, but I'm not exactly…

Cannonball Read 2 #52: Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley

Whoohoo! I managed to complete the Cannonball Read goal this year with two whole months to spare! (I actually probably would have finished sooner, but I haven't been as good about blogging as I could have been. I'll get around to writing those blogs eventually.) Even though I wasn't chosen to actually compete in CR2, I'm proud of myself that I managed to do 52 books in one year. Since I started my first Cannonball Read way back in December 2008, I feel like I've done an incredible amount of reading for pleasure -- something I had let fall by the wayside in college. Anyway, I want to take this moment to thank all the little people (ha ha) who helped me get where I am...my faithful readers, including fellow Cannonballers Jen, Mike, Figgy, and Doc Spender. It's not easy to keep up something like this without the encouragement of being part of a group. And thanks to my other readers, who read my (often bizarre) ramblings purely out of friendship.

Anyway, on to book …

Cannonball Read 2 #51: Plague of the Dead by Z. A. Recht

This was great as far as zombie books go. Unlike World War Z (which is an incredible book) this is more personal -- we are introduced to a set of characters whom we follow as the world collapses.

In this book, zombies are caused by a disease. It's spread through blood contamination, and it first kills, then reanimates its victims. The American government tries to keep the public in the dark, but an Army scientist and a daring reporter (two of the main characters) break the story, and have to suffer the consequences. The other group of survivors are a military group, and include a wild private, a beautiful young Red Cross volunteer, a worldly photographer, a hardened military leader, and several other terrified refugees. This group escapes from Africa on a ship and lands in the Pacific Northwest, trying to make their way east while avoiding the hoards of the undead. The scientist and the reporter also have to try and make their way to a safe place to meet up with the other group.

It&…

Cannonball Read 2 #50: Citizen Soldiers by Stephen Ambrose

The full title of this book is Citizen Soldiers: The U. S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany. It's a well-written, well-researched book detailing the experiences of the men on the ground in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) during WW2.

Stephen Ambrose has once again created a book crammed full of facts and first-person experiences, much like his Band of Brothers. This book is less specific, in that Band of Brothers followed just one unit, while Citizen Soldiers is more of an overview of the entire ETO. He explains the troop movements and what was going on at the top, but most of the story comes directly from the enlisted men who were there, explaining what their day-to-day lives were like, and what kind of conditions they were surviving in.

There are chapters dedicated to many different types of soldiers and types of units. There are chapters about the Air Force, detailing what it was like to be a pilot or a gunner, as well as about the …

Cannonball Read 2 #49: Bringing Out the Dead by Joe Connolly

I saw the movie based on this book a few weeks ago and immediately purchased the book to see if it was equally interesting. To be honest, I was surprised how closely the movie resembled the book -- it's a good adaptation, and for the most part, the things that were left out or changed were an improvement.

The plot is the same as the film -- Frank Pierce, a NYC ambulance driver/EMT is in the middle of a breakdown. His past is haunting him constantly, and the madness that surrounds him is starting to be more than he can handle. The book spans about five days in Frank's life, starting with the night he and his partner save an elderly man named Mr. Burke from cardiac arrest. This brings the patient's daughter, Mary, into Frank's life. Mary is the one thing that seems to make sense to Frank, and they continue to run into each other for the next few days as Mr. Burke lingers in the hospital. Frank careens through the night with various partners, answering a variety of calls. …

Cannonball Read 2 #48: Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon

I have not seen The Wire. Yes, I know--every time I turn around, someone is insisting that I MUST see it, that I would LOVE it and how can I possibly have NOT SEEN THE WIRE BECAUSE IT IS SO AWESOME. Unfortunately, the more people push me, the more I balk. It's just the way I am. However, I am reconsidering my position because David Simon's book Homicide (on which The Wire, as well as the old show Homicide are partially based) was so good I may not be able to resist him.

Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets is a non-fiction account of David Simon's time shadowing a shift of Baltimore homicide detectives for the calendar year of 1988. He follows them as they work on cases, process evidence, testify in court rooms, and interact with one another. It's a fascinating study of the way the job of a homicide detective works, and Simon's writing style is totally engrossing. The personalities of the detectives come alive, and as a reader I really cared about each of them. T…

Cannonball Read 2 #47: Calico Palace by Gwen Bristow

After reading all those very heavy non-fiction war books, I felt like I could use a little break. I needed something fluffy and simple to relax my poor over-extended brain, so I picked up Calico Palace by Gwen Bristow. It's an historical fiction romance, much like Bristow's other book, The Jubilee Trail (one of my favorite no-brainer romances.)

In the Calico Palace, young Kendra ends up on the west coast of the USA during the mid-nineteenth century, just in time to be involved in the 1849 gold rush. This is the story of her and her friends (including Marny, an independent woman who runs a gambling parlor) and their struggle to thrive in the newly settled wilderness as gold fever takes hold. The characters are met by a variety of obstacles, including abandonment, disease, weather, fire, and human nature. They all manage to overcome and end up more or less happily ever after.

To be honest, it's almost the same basic plot and character types as The Jubilee Trail, though I found…

Summer TV: 2010

It's that time of year again, when I tell you what's great to watch if you are a couch potato like me. The summer shows are surprisingly good this year, and I have also found that reality TV is playing almost no part in my summer. Which is good--I think supporting scripted television is totally the way to go.

Rizzoli & Isles (TNT Mondays 10pm): This isn't anything particularly special, but it's a competent procedural, and it's nice to see a show with females as the leads in this genre. I always liked Angie Harmon when she was on Law & Order, and Sasha Alexander was great during her stint on NCIS. The two of them are believable as friends, though they're only a few episodes in to the series and are still finding the characters' rhythm. I'm pleased to see Donnie Wahlberg working, since I think he is the less attractive but more talented of the Wahlberg brothers. Main distraction: every time Bruce McGill comes on screen I find myself …

"The streets are not like the ER. There's no walls, no controls." - Bringing Out the Dead

I knowit's not cool, but anyone who knows me (or has read this blog at least twice) knows I have a totally irrational love for Nicolas Cage. I don't know what it is--his insanely rolling eyes, his slightly over-large teeth, his totally inexplicable and rapidly-worsening hair? Maybe it's the sense that he's probably a douchebag in real life...but one of those hilariously entertaining douchebags, the kind who are just self-aware enough to to be in on the joke of their douchebaggery. I really don't know, but I find him irresistible. Bringing Out the Dead is Nicolas Cage as I love him best--with echoes of the style of The Weatherman or Lord of War--a character who is calmly voicing-over totally chaotic events as they unravel around him, despite the fact that somewhere along the line he himself has gone mad.

In Bringing Out the Dead, he plays EMT Frank Pierce in events that span the course of three nights. Pierce is living in a strange nightmare life--existing on alcohol…

Cannonball Read 2 #46: We Were Soldiers Once...And Young by Harold Moore and Joseph Galloway

The full title of this book is We Were Soldiers Once...And Young: Ia Drang - The Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam. It's a true story, written by two men who were there--Col. Moore, who was the commanding officer of the first part of the battle of Ia Drang, and Joseph Galloway, who was there as what we'd now refer to as an "embedded" reporter.

The battle of Ia Drang, which happened in November of 1965, was one of the first real battles of Vietnam. It was the first time the Americans had met the North Vietnamese on a real battlefield, and was also the first time that helicopters were used in battle. Col. Moore was in charge of the newly formed 7th Cavalry division (a division that hadn't existed in the US Army since Custer's 7th cavalry were slaughtered at Little Big Horn) which was the first "air mobile" unit in the army. The idea was to use the helicopters to move men quickly on and off the battlefield. In this particular engagement, orders wer…

Give him a hand, folks!

Just a quick post to let you know that The Boyfriend now has his own blog, The Frugal Bostonian. He's going to be posting about two of our favorite things -- cooking and eating! (Okay, well admittedly, cooking is not one of my favorite things, but I do love eating the things he cooks, so I think that should count.) From now on, my BorkBorkBork posts will be going up over there, and since we now own a camera, I'll be able to take photos of my culinary efforts so you'll know how they're supposed to look...or rather how they look when I make them, anyway. Mind you, there probably won't be any cooking posts from me any time soon, since it's been approximately a million degrees here lately, which makes me lose all motivation to do...anything, really. However, I'm told that someday it WILL cool down, so there you have something to look forward to.

For those of you who are local (I'm not sure any of you readers are local, but who knows, you might visit!) we'…

Cannonball Read 2 # 45: Helmet For My Pillow by Robert Leckie

Helmet For My Pillow is another of the three books upon which the HBO miniseries The Pacific was based, and as far as the miniseries goes, Robert Leckie was by far my favorite character. His book begins with him joining the Marines, follows him through training camp, and into his first several battles in the pacific theater.

It's hard not to compare this book to E.B. Sledge's With the Old Breed. While both books are very similar in some ways--they are both men who are in the same places at approximately the same time enduring the same circumstances--there are some marked differences. The first and most obvious is style. Sledge's memoir is much more "Just the facts." He is quite direct in his descriptions, while Leckie's past as a newspaper writer shows in his more "literary" style of writing. Another difference is that Sledge was a mortar operator, while Leckie began as a rifleman and eventually ended up working in intelligence, so they got very diff…

Poetry Corner #1

In a rather lazy attempt to class up the joint, I decided to begin a poetry corner. People like poems, right? Okay, well I like poems and guess what? It's my blog and if I want to post poems I will! So there!

I figured I'd start with one I particularly like. I actually wrote a paper on this one years ago for some class. The paper is long gone, but I still like the poem. If any of you out there have poem suggestions, please feel free to leave them. (Also, if you're nice to me I may try to locate some of my really appalling high school poetry, which is always good for a laugh.)

The British Museum
by Miroslav Holub

To the tune of "Bolero,"
any ark
will be ruined
once, the trilingual
Rosetta Stone will be broken, steles of Hallcarnassus
will turn to dust, sandstone Assyrian spirits
with eagle heads will shyly take off,
the carved man-head lions of Ashursirpolis will croak,
the last red-granite hand of the Colussus of Thebes
will drop off, the Indian supergod Harik…

Cannonball Read 2 #44: Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

I had not read any of Jon Krakauer's books up until this point, because the two I'd heard of frankly didn't interest me that much (I am particularly uninterested in the story of some idiotic trust-fund baby who wanders out into the woods and freezes to death.) However, this story sounded interesting so I ordered the book.

Under the Banner of Heaven was described almost as a true crime novel, however, once I actually started reading I discovered it was more a history of Mormonism. It's definitely not an objective view -- Krakauer is quick to point out the history of lies, violence, oppression, and struggles for power within the Mormon organization, and also the destruction caused by its numerous splinter groups.

It is slightly out of date, as some of the figures named in the books as persons of power withing the splinter movement have had changes of fortune (i.e. Warren Jeffs who was arrested and charged with several sex crimes related to his taking of multiple young wive…

BorkBorkBork#4: Mexican Lime Pie

I found this recipe on a site called That's My Home! while trying to find a dessert for a Mexican-themed dinner I was making (perhaps my next BorkBorkBork entry will be the recipe for my oh-so-gooey and unhealthy creamy chicken enchiladas...then again, perhaps I should keep that a secret...). This is ridiculously easy to make, and it is so wonderfully refreshing when the weather is hot and muggy.

Lime Pie La Lechera1 prepared 9-inch graham cracker crust 1 can Nestle La Lechera Sweetened Condensed Milk 1/2 C. (about 3 fresh limes worth) lime juice
1 tsp. grated lime zest 2 c. frozen non dairy whipped topping, thawed

1. Beat sweetened condensed milk and lime juice in small mixer bowl until combined; stir in lime peel. 2. Pour into crust, spread with whipped topping. 3. Refrigerate for 2 hours or until set.


This is extremely delicious -- you could probably substitute real whipped cream for the Cool Whip, but you'd need to add sugar because the pie is a little tart and ben…

Cannonball Read 2 #43: Generation Kill by Evan Wright

Evan Wright was a reporter embedded with the First Recon Platoon, the first Marines to enter Iraq during Gulf War II. Wright travels with them, getting to know the twenty-six men and their commanders, and experiencing modern warfare from the enlisted man's point of view.

The platoon is the first to enter Iraq, and it doesn't seem that the plan of attack is very well organized or explained. The men basically drive around Iraq, drawing fire and eliminating enemy targets. They spend a great deal of time lost, confused, exhausted, and hungry. Their equipment doesn't function properly, they don't have enough food, and their vehicles are uniquely unsuited for the task at hand--in fact, the specialized training they received as a recon platoon is uniquely unsuited for this assignment. They are engaging in a mission that doesn't make sense to them and that they were not really trained for. It's a constant barrage of stress, never knowing if the people they see by the si…

Cannonball Read 2 #42: The Avengers by Rich Cohen

Amazon recommended The Avengers to me based on the fact that I enjoyed Defiance. This book is also about Jewish partisans, but the Avengers' focus was less on survival and more on resistance. The story focuses on Abba Kovner, RuzkaKorczak, and VitkaKlemperer, three young eastern European Jews who lead others in a resistance movement against the Germans and eastern European Nazi sympathizers. The three young people managed to rescue many people from ghettos and work camps as well as committing acts of sabotage against the Germans. After the war was over, Abba continued his plans for revenge against the Nazis by organizing a mass poisoning of several hundred war criminals at Nuremberg. The two women and Abba eventually moved to the area that would become Israel where they joined the Israeli political movement and the kibbutz movement.

The book was really interesting and informative, and shines light on yet another perspective of the role of Jewish people during WWII. I'd recommen…

BorkBorkBork #3: Insanely Easy Cheesecake Fruit Pie

This recipe is something that is incredibly easy to throw together, and you can use just about any kind of fruit you want in it, though I prefer berries. I've made it with strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries, and each version was equally good. It'd probably also be tasty with cherries, or maybe chocolate chips....

Cheesecake Pie

Ingredients

1 package Jello Cheesecake flavored pudding
8 oz plain cream cheese
Milk (as require by pudding recipe)
Fruit (2 pints blueberries, strawberries, blackberries -- you can add more or less depending on your taste.)
1 Oreo or graham cracker pie crust

1. Bring cream cheese to room temperature
2. Mix pudding according to box instructions.
3. Whip cream cheese into pudding (I used a hand mixer, but you could probably use a stand mixer if you have one.) Cream until smooth and completely mixed.
4. Mix 3/4 of the fruit into the filling mixture. (Strawberries should be sliced, but any other berry could just be washed and thrown in whole.)
5. Pour filling…

Cannonball Read 2 #41: With The Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by E.B. Sledge

I think I mentioned before that I was really excited about HBO's recent mini-series The Pacific. While the show didn't exactly live up to my expectations (Darn you, Band of Brothers for making me expect too much!) it did get pretty good during the last four or so episodes. One thing it definitely did was set me on a quest to find two of the three books the show was based on. The first I managed to get my hands on was With the Old Breed, which was written by E.B. Sledge (those of you who watched the show may recognize him as the character played by Joseph Mazzello.)

This story is somewhat unique, because there are not very many books about the fighting in the Pacific theater written by enlisted Marines (one reason being that so few of them survived intact, and those who did survive were not inclined to discuss their experiences.) This is a book from the perspective of a "boots-on-the-ground" Marine, and the tale is both gripping and bleakly brutal. Sledge does not shy …

Cannonball Read 2 # 40: Carpe Jugulum (Discworld 23) by Terry Pratchett

I wish I liked Terry Pratchett. I feel like I SHOULD like him, but I just sort of don't. CarpeJugulum is the second of his books that I've read and I wasn't particularly impressed with either of them. This one was significantly less annoying than The Color of Magic, in that by the end I was actually vaguely interested in how things would turn out rather than wishing all the characters would die horrible, painful deaths, but that's still not exactly a glowing recommendation.

CarpeJugulum is the story of three witches who live in Discworld. Their relatively quiet existence suffers great upheaval when the head witch goes missing and some very odd vampires arrive to take over the town. I actually liked the majority of the characters, though the vampires' henchman's horrific lisp was funny the first time but grew extremely tiresome.

On the whole, I guess I feel the same way about this as I do about Christopher Moore--there's wacky and quirky, and then there's …

BorkBorkBork #2: Deviled Ham Salad

I read a lot of food blogs. Mostly because I am a big fan of food. And I like to cook -- to a certain extent. I mean, I am not going to give Gordon Ramsey anything to worry about. Most of the things I cook fall into one of four categories: casseroles, appetizers & dips, sauces, or desserts. The other thing they all have in common is that they are pretty easy. So I figure that for my 6 loyal readers out there, I would broaden my blogging topics out into recipes. I call this feature "BorkBorkBork" after one of my favorite celebrity chefs, The Swedish Chef.

Today's offering is Deviled Ham Salad. I found this recipe on Homesick Texan, which is a great blog with a lot of terrific Tex-Mex food. I'd never had ham salad before, but the recipe looked simple enough, and I am usually enthusiastic about foods that are designed to be served on Ritz crackers. The recipe is as follows:

Deviled ham salad
Ingredients:
2 cups ham, chopped (I used a pre-cooked ham steak from the groc…

Cannonball Read 2 #39: The Princess Bride by William Goldman

I think most people are probably more familiar with the film version of The Princess Bride, starring Robin Wright and Cary Elwes (before the fathead got him). The book is--well, let's just say they cut a lot out for the movie, and that was probably a good thing.

The basic premise is that Goldman is abridging The Princess Bride from a longer version written by S. Morgenstern. This device results in pages of explanations of things that were "cut out" and why the book is abridged as it is. There are also three introductions in the version I read (the 30th anniversary edition) which go into more detail of the alleged abridging process. Of course, this is all a complete fiction, and it seemed rather unnecessary to me. I would have been perfectly happy to just have the story of Westley, Buttercup, Inigo, and Fezzik. In fact, the one thing I like more about the book than the movie was that Inigo and Fezzik had more to do, since they're my favorite characters. For those who d…

Cannonball Read 2 #38: Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Everything Is Illuminated is ostensibly the story of a character named Jonathan SafranFoer who travels from his home in America to the Ukraine to try and trace back the roots of his family and find Augustine, the woman who rescued his grandfather from the Nazis. However, it is mostly told through the eyes of Alex, a young Ukrainian whom Jonathan hires to be his translator for his trip. Alex writes up a description of their journey together (along with Alex's blind grandfather who is their driver and the "Seeing-Eye Bitch" Sammy Davis Jr. Jr) through the Ukrainian countryside. Alex's portions are written in the style of a person for whom English is a second language and the thesaurus is a dear friend--they are stylistically hilarious, and (particularly in the beginning when he first starts writing) I laughed aloud at some of his descriptions. Intermingled with Alex's travelogue are snippets from the novel Jonathan is writing about his Ukrainian ancestors and their…

Cannonball Read 2 #37: The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough

In 1889, the small steel town of Johnstown Pennsylvania was nearly wiped off the map by a flood. This was only partly a natural disaster--the breaking of the South Forks dam was not entirely due to an unprecedented rainstorm--the selfish behavior of rich industrialists was also to blame.

High in the hills of Pennsylvania, the rich elite of Pittsburgh--people like the Fricks and the Carnegies, for example--purchased a piece of land to create a summer club. They built a hotel and cabins. They also liked the built-in lake, but decided the old earthen dam could use some improvements...they made it lower and flatter (so they could take carriage rides across) and put in some mesh "fish-gates" so the expensive fish they stocked couldn't escape. These "improvements" would weaken the dam, so when the record-setting rainstorm came along, there was almost no chance the dam would stay intact.

In the middle of the day on May 31, 1889, the South Forks dam collapsed and sent th…

Cannonball Read 2 #36: Defiance: The Bielski Partisans by Nechama Tec

I had seen the film Defiance and greatly enjoyed it, so when I watched the extra features, I made a note about the book it was based on. NechamaTec's work is a well-researched and even-handed explanation of a piece of history I'd never heard of.

During the early 1940s, the Jewish people of Belorussia had few choices--many were either slaughtered outright or relocated to ghettos where they lived in constant terror of the Germans. However, a few managed to avoid those unpleasant options, fleeing into the heavy forests. Danger was around every corner--the Germans were often on the hunt and local peasants were likely to be Nazi collaborators. The Soviet partisans who also roamed the forest were not always friendly toward Jews, particularly unarmed women and children. All that aside, there were the obvious pitfalls of living in a forest with very little food during the Eastern European winter. However, many groups of Jewish refugees managed to survive, and a few armed themselves and…

Cannonball Read 2 #35: Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

SookieStackhouse is back, still recovering from the bloody battle at the end of her previous adventure. In her latest outing, there are vampire politics, fairy intrigue, werewolf betrayal, and another psychic. Not to mention the usual small-town interactions. When Erik's maker shows up with a special guest in tow, things go from crazy to downright insane!

I loved this book, though I did feel that occasionally the plot was in danger of flying off the rails, and there were a few moments when I wondered exactly what had happened. Luckily, I'm not nearly as sensitive about plot holes or logic issues as some people are, and was able to enjoy Sookie's drama-filled life. I'm also a big fan of Erik, and he was prominent in book #10.

On the whole, another great entry in the SookieStackhouse series. Now...how long will I have to wait for book 11 to come out?

Cannonball Read 2 #34: Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk

Invisible Monsters is the story of Shannon McFarland, a model who was in a terrible car accident and had her jaw eaten by birds. After her disfiguring injury, she throws in with Queen Brandy Alexander and they hit the road, criss-crossing the country in search of drugs, make-up, and entertainment. Along the way, Shannon tries to figure out who she is and what her life means.

The story, as is the case with all Palahniuk's books, starts out reasonable enough. However, the chronology starts leaping back and forth through time, and soon things begin to spiral out and become more and more bizarre. Shannon's first person narration is wholly unreliable, and her circumstances are often utterly ridiculous. Just like an old mystery novel, everyone somehow manages to turn up again in the end, and who they are and what they want will be surprising.

I feel like this is Palahniuk's version of a coming-of-age story. It's about identity--where does it come from? Who creates it? Are you …

Cannonball Read 2 #33: Heat by Bill Buford

The full title of this book is Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany. It sounds exciting, but for me it really was not. The writer, Bill Buford, decides--for reasons that are never fully explained--that he wants to be an apprentice to Mario Batali, a famous American chef. Buford takes a job in Batali's kitchen, travels around Italy learning the secrets of butchering, pasta making, and Italian food in general. There is a lot of information on Batali (most of which puts a serious dent in his Disney-fied Food Network image of cheerful sweetheart in goofy shoes--there is much discussion of his drug use, occasional bad temper, and lack of concentration on his business projects once he became famous) which can at least be somewhat amusing.

Maybe I would have enjoyed this book more if I were really into cooking. I bought it for The Boyfriend, and he really enjoyed it. I personally am not interested …

Cannonball Read 2 #32: Columbine by Dave Cullen

As anyone who follows this blog knows, I am fascinated by disasters. I know more about shipwrecks, fires, and molasses floods than anyone I know. I love the historical context, the idea that disaster brings out both the best and worst in people. However, I like my disasters in the past--a past where men wear watch fobs and women wear corsets and people travel by buggy--basically, a past so distant to me it might as well be another planet. I am not quite as comfortable when the disaster occurred during my lifetime--for example my review of 1 Dead in Attic, a series of essays written about the disaster of Hurricane Katrina. However, that still seemed pretty foreign--I've never been to Louisiana, and have no real reference as to how that whole thing might feel. Columbine was different.

I was a junior in high school on April 20, 1999. I remember when the news reports of the massacre in Colorado started trickling in--this was in the days before cell phones were everywhere, before textin…