We started this blog in 2010 after a New Years' Resolution to read 60 books between the two of us. (40 for C, 20 for D.) After reaching our goal, we decided to keep going in 2011. This year, C has pledged to read 30 books, and D will read 12. By no means are we professional reviewers; we're not even professional bloggers. We're just two people who love to read and decided to share our thoughts and offer our limited insights. We hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Book #21: The Cracker Queen

You've got to love a slightly crazy Southern woman. Look at Dolly Parton or Paula Deen. Kinda nutty, questionable decisions (whether it's multiple plastic surgeries or multiple sticks of butter in one recipe), annoying accents, but completely lovable. That's what this book is all about, and that's what a "Cracker Queen" is all about.

The author of The Cracker Queen: A Memoir of a Jagged, Joyful Life, Lauretta Hannon, describes in the first few pages exactly what her term "Cracker Queen" means to her:

"The Cracker Queen is a strong, authentic Southern woman. She is the anti-Southern Belle. She has a raucous sense of humor and can open a can of whup-ass as needed. [...] The Cracker Queen knows loss and hurt; these things have made her beautiful, resourceful, and, above all, real."

I think my maternal grandmother may have been a Cracker Queen. Actually, I'm sure she was. Lauretta Hannon believes that she herself is a Cracker Queen, and this is her memoir of growing up in the South in a family full of fellow Queens. The introduction to the book goes into great detail about this honorable title and why it's important. The rest of the book is divided into three parts. In the first part, Hannon describes her childhood, including her parents' strained and violent marriage, her mother's alcoholism, and the death of her father. The second part is about Hannon in adulthood and how she carried the ways of the Cracker Queen into her professional and personal life. The third (and very short) part reads like a self-help book -- how to become a Cracker Queen yourself, including the attitudes and traits you need to accomplish it.

This book reminded me a lot of The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, just because it shares Jeanette's story of growing up poor in a not-so-great home. The tone behind The Cracker Queen is humor, but there's a lot of sadness in this book. Some of the events that Lauretta describes are heart-breaking, but her attitude helps her persevere. It's overall a very positive book, because her purpose is to show the reader that no matter what's going on in your life, your attitude can change your situation. You can either wallow in self-pity, or truck on through life and try to have fun while you're at it.

Other than the fact that we share a Southern heritage, Hannon and I also share a career in education. She's not a teacher, but she works with students in universities. Hannon is now a writer, humorist, and contributor to National Public Radio, but from what I understand, she still works in marketing at a small technical college in Atlanta. There's a lot to be said for working with students (even college students), especially at a school where your students may not come from the best situations. I've been there, and it really does change how you look at things. There's a quote in Part II of this book that stuck out for me:

"The truth is that the bad days at work are the best, too, because they remind me of the urgency of our mission. It goes far deeper than education: We are soul warriors."

There's a lot of truth in that. Kids all over the world could stand to take a tip or two from a Cracker Queen. They may have grown up poor, in bad homes, and gone through far too much for a child to have to go through, but your life can turn around. I think that's what's at the heart of this book. I'd recommend it to anyone, Southern or not.

Read from July 25, 2010 to July 26, 2010

5/5 stars


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Book #20: No Mercy

Ah, my first Kindle book. If you know anything about me at all, you know that I can pinch a penny better than anyone in the world. I would guess that 90% or more of the books I own are used, and you all remember how I raved about Big Lots' fifty cent book sale. You obviously can't buy used books on the Kindle, but they do have a selection of books for around $1 and many for free (especially classics). This was one of the cheap ones. It was decent, but I'm glad I didn't pay much for it.

No Mercy centers around Jonathan Grave, the owner and main employee of a company that essentially exists to do illegal things. Not bad illegal things, but illegal things. Jonathan is a former army specialist with experience doing rescue missions in just about every environment. So, naturally, he now makes his living as a hired vigilante. If your kid gets kidnapped by thugs who warn you not to get the police involved, you call Jonathan Grave.

And that's exactly what happens in No Mercy. The book opens with Jonathan rescuing a college student named Thomas Hughes, who is being held captive on a large property in rural Indiana. Jonathan doesn't know why Thomas was captured in the first place, but he finds out soon enough. It turns out to be a long, twisted, complicated story that involves some of Jonathan's own friends, homeland terrorists, and a lot of other things. I'm not quite sure exactly what was going on, to be honest. Matters are complicated even further when local police have to clean up the mess Jonathan left when he rescued Thomas. As far as the sheriff is concerned, even though Jonathan was a hero and saved the victim, he still has to be punished for taking the law into his own hands. So, the books takes us through Jonathan running from the Indiana police, all while trying to solve the problem that got Thomas kidnapped in the first place.

It took me forever to read this, considering the pace at which I usually read. I juuuust wasn't into it. Parts of it were really good, but then it would get boring and weird again. I felt like the logistics of the whole situation were really complicated, but I think part of it was that it just wasn't that interesting to me. I don't have trouble following a complicated conspiracy plotline (I mean, hello, Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy), but only if they're interesting. Maybe this particular plot just wasn't my thing, because I don't think Gilstrap is a bad author. The situation just didn't really grab me.

Apparently he's written an entire series of books with Jonathan Grave and his crew, which is cool. I liked Jonathan. He wasn't afraid of anything, and he had very clear definitions of right and wrong. He didn't care that he had no authority to kill bad guys. He did it anyway, because they were bad guys. Makes sense to me, but to a lot of characters in the book (and probably a lot of people in the world), you let the cops or the FBI or the military worry about bad guys. Your job is to report them, not kill them. So, there's a lot of line-blurring when it comes to good and evil in this book. I liked that. I also liked that Jonathan's sidekick, Boxers, referred to their Hummer as the Batmobile. That was awesome.

Here are two of my favorite quotes from the book, which I marked with my handy "Clippings" gadget on the Kindle:

"Protesting others' decisions is always easier than making your own."
"A career is a poker game. You can't expect to win every hand. Sometimes you have to fold to preserve resources for the future."

All in all, I didn't love this book, but I still don't think it was bad. Just, you know, not generally my thing. If you like, say, Tom Clancy or any kind of crime thriller, then pick this up for sure.

Read from July 7, 2010 to July 25, 2010.

2.5/5 stars.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Special Post: EXCITEMENT!!! (Part II)

Last time I got really excited about something book-related, I made a special post about it I think I should do it again today.

I unexpectedly received a graduation present from my brother and sister-in-law in the mail today. Lo and behold, the Amazon Kindle!

I am beyond excited. I've been fiddling with it for the last hour. Truth be told, I've only read a chapter or two in the book I started a few days ago, so I thinking pretty seriously about scrapping it so I can read something on the Kindle.