Monday, October 25, 2010

Book Review - "This Must Be the Place" by Kate Racculia

Arthur Rook's wife Amy is killed while at work because of a freak, horrible accident, and he sprirals into debilitating grief. He ransacks their apartment, looking for anything he can of hers to hold onto, something that is purely Amy. What he finds--an unsent postcard dated sixteen years ago in a pink shoebox filled with trinkets and memorabilia--leads him to the tiny town of Ruby Falls in upstate New York. There he meets Mona, Amy's childhood friend, and Mona's daughter, Oneida.

Arthur and Mona knew Amy at different stages of her life: Mona up until age sixteen, when the two girls ran off to Ocean City one summer (and only one of them returned to Ruby Falls), and Arthur in Los Angeles, where Amy had established herself as a creator of monsters on movie sets. Mona did not know the adult Amy and Arthur did not know the child Amy, and so when Arthur takes rooms in Mona's boardinghouse, the two have several weeks to reconcile their versions of the same person. Mostly that means Mona has to share the secret she's kept since that life-changing summer in Ocean City, one that involves Oneida.

Honestly, I'm not sure what to think about this book. It's a debut novel with an intriguing premise and well-written scenes, but I found myself not caring about the characters all that much. Author Kate Racculia tells the story from Mona and Arthur's perspectives and throws in Oneida for good measure. Actually, Oneida's part in the tale makes sense, as Mona and Amy's big secret concerns her too. But then why does Racculia spend so much time on Eugene "Wendy" Wendell, the class screw-up and Oneida's first boyfriend? There's a whole side story surrounding Oneida and her crush, Andrew Lu, and Andrew and Wendy fighting over Oneida. Perhaps it's the result that matters: bringing Arthur and Mona together because of Oneida. In any case, I found myself not terribly interested in Wendy's wacko family or in his feelings about Oneida.

I figured out Mona's secret pretty early on and spent the rest of the book looking for clues that I was right. Losing the suspense didn't detract from the story, however, as I still wanted to find out how Mona would tell Arthur and how Arthur would react.

I was less happy about the epilogue, "Eight Years Later." Things get wrapped up in a way that seems to actually weaken the story. Stopping one chapter earlier leaves things a little unsettled but heading in a good direction. The reader gets to decide whether the ending is bittersweet or happy, and it makes the characters more real. Life is full of people who come and go, who change you in some way, and then vanish. Racculia spells out what happens to Mona and Arthur, Oneida and Wendy, and I found it rather unnecessary.

So I don't give this book a blanket thumbs-up, but if you like your chick lit to be on the serious side, give this book a try. If you go in knowing its flaws, perhaps you can enjoy the story even if the characters don't grab you.

Monday, October 18, 2010

College and Career Information

I got the following links in an email. education-portal.com is a collection of original content aimed at teens and adults looking for colleges, scholarships, or job advice. 

For Teens and College Age Users

10 Education-Portal.com scholarships for high school seniors and university students
Scholarships range from $500-$1,000 in ten different subject matters. Eligibility requirements, applications, and previous winners can be found on each individual scholarship page.
http://education-portal.com/pages/Academic_Awards_Home.html

‘Best of’ Free OpenCourseWare from America’s Top Universities
Education Portal has meticulously reviewed and compiled the best free OpenCourseWare from America’s top universities including Yale, MIT, and Cal Berkeley on a variety of topics from best free math courses to best free literature courses. Our complete ‘Best of’ selection can be seen here to help students learn what subject matters are really like before enrolling.
http://education-portal.com/article_directory/Free_Online_Courses_and_Education.html

University Admissions Reviews by State:
Admission reviews for several of the top colleges in every state
http://education-portal.com/article_directory/College_and_University_Overviews_(by_State).html

For Adults and Job Seekers

Career Counseling and Job Search - Video Center
Free videos from a 20+ year career counseling veteran on important topics such as researching the job market, conducting informational interviews, and how to get your resume noticed.
 http://education-portal.com/pages/Career_Field_and_Degree_Program_Videos.html

There isn't anything wrong with the above sites. In fact, they may give you a place to start as web searching for scholarships, etc. can be overwhelming. However, there are also some other sites that may give you more options.

  • Fastweb.com - Join for free and get matched up with scholarships. They'll send new ones to your email. You can also search for jobs and/or internships, and see if they military might be right for you. The site is geared toward students, but there's a section for parents as well.
  • US News & World Report Rankings - Everything they rank is here, including hospitals and vacations, so head for the college and grad school sections. The lists can be controversial, but if you're looking to specialize, say in engineering or medicine, you'll get some useful information.
  • Peterson's - From the publishers of the college guides comes this comprehensive site. Sort lists of schools by location or major, get test prep help, find scholarships, get advice on admissions, and more. Includes trade schools plus undergraduate and graduate programs.
  • CareerOneStop.org - This site is from the federal government, but it's much more than just searching for federal jobs (look for those at USAJOBS). Find your state job bank here, figure out what kind of training you might need in order to change jobs, get help writing resumes, brush up on your interviewing skills, take a self-assessment to see what jobs might be right for you. It's really a one-stop website for everything career-related.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Book Review - "The Tale of Halcyon Crane" by Wendy Webb

Hallie James gets an envelope in the mail from a lawyer representing her mother. Inside is a letter from her mother plus a notice that she has died recently. The only thing is, Hallie thought her mother died thirty years ago. Hallie's world and everything she has known are about to be turned upside down.

The Tale of Halcyon Crane is Wendy Webb's first novel, and it's a pretty good one. I'm not a big fan of ghost stories, mostly because the images stay in my head and keep me awake at night, but this book isn't heavy on the supernatural. It's definitely there, with Hallie seeing ghostly girls and having the ability to see into photographs and become part of the event being recorded, but it's not overwhelmingly mind-blowing. This is more a story of suspense: What happened to cause Hallie's dad to take her away from her home when she was five? What really childhood friend Julie to fall from the third-story window to her death? Why does Hallie keep seeing a girl in a white dress with a ribbon in her hair?

This is also a family saga. A visit to a healer--or witch, as the townspeople call her--opens Hannah's womb a century earlier, and certain abilities or "gifts" are then passed to her children and to their children, including Hallie. Each generation has tragedy visited upon it because of these gifts, and the shadows of those terrible events still echo in the house left to Hallie by her mother. The strange housekeeper Iris, as creepy as Mrs. Danvers from Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, is also the storyteller of this family, and it is her duty to explain to Hallie her own gift and how to use it. Naturally Iris isn't quite what she seems, but then Hallie comes to realize that several people on this Michigan island have secrets.

Halloween isn't too far off, and this is a good book to get you in that spooky mood, should you want to. It's rather tame as ghost stories go, so you don't have to worry about lots of blood or violence. The supernatural element is stronger than in Carol Goodman's books, but her fans will find something to like here as well. Make yourself a cup of something hot, curl up under a blanket, and enjoy the journey into another place.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Best Free Reference Websites

The Reference and User Service Association puts out an annual list of best websites, and they just released the 2010 list. Most I have not heard of, but they do sound useful. There's fun stuff, like the Baby Name Wizard, and serious stuff, like FedSpending.org. The LIFE Photo Archive is one I want to look at. There are several government sites on the list as well as some that would be good for school reports. Take a look. You might find a new favorite.

Brush Up On Your Typing Skills

I wanted to pass on this article from Mashable: 5 Free Ways to Improve Your Typing Skills Online. I've seen TypeRacer before, but these other ones look good too. Beginners as well as advanced typists should find something useful, from learning the keyboard to increasing speed to using the number pad. Check them out!