Sunday, April 19, 2015

Life: It Goes On - April 19

Look, Ma - pink! If you know me at all, you know that I am most decidedly not a pink girl. But the blooms on the crabapple tree in my front yard have the most beautiful pink to them so it seemed natural to use pink lettering on a picture of it. This is one of the few times of year that I actually like that tree - it is beautiful right now but just finished dropping its berries from last year all over my driveway and front sidewalk, effectively dying both as feet and tires crushed them. Spring will make a girl forgive a lot of things. Like winter.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: The Reader by Bernard Schink after finally finishing The Ten-Year Nap. Truth be told, I finally started skipping whole tracks because I was hell bent to finish it but what a yawner.

On Pandora, I've been listening to the Cat Steven's station. Lots of James Taylor, Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, and Elton John - the music of my early teens.

Watching: Movies - Miss H and I had movie night Friday night and watched Trouble With The Curve and 10 Things I Hate About You; last night was a Sandra Bullock double header with Two Weeks Notice and The Proposal. Sundays are all about PBS right now with Selfridge and Wolf Hall. Have you caught Wolf Hall? I have yet to read the book but this adaptation is really quite good and Mark Rylant, who plays Thomas Cromwell, is superb.

Reading: I finished Last Night at the Blue Angel this week. Loved it; I hope the TLC book tour I was a part of will help get this wonderful book more attention. Also, finishing up I Know This Much Is True for book club. We made it a two month read and it had been three weeks since I had picked it up before I started it again last week. It wasn't hard for me to recall the book but harder for me to get back into the feel of it. I was getting a bit bored with it but it has picked up again for me and I'm looking forward to finishing it.

Making: Chicken nachos, bacon avocado burgers, chicken tex-mex salad, fried potatoes - the Big Guy was out of town for a couple of nights so Miss H and Mini-him came over to keep me company for a couple of dinners and we had fun with food!

Planning: With just BG and I in the house now, my focus for the coming couple of weeks will be in making the best use of the space upstairs. We're going to be working to turn Mini-him's room into a second guest room after we finally get all of the things he's left behind sorted and hidden away. I can't tell you how happy I am to have the "kids" bathroom stay clean after all of these years! Definitely looking forward to a mini-remodel in there soon.

Grateful for: Rain! We've been living the "April showers..." part of the saying the last couple of weeks. Trees are budding and blooming, the lawn has had to be mowed twice already, and my perennials are well on their way.

Enjoying: Roasted vegetables; this week I've roasted cauliflower twice, broccoli, and asparagus. I may never steam vegetables again!

Feeling: Happy about the longer hours of sunshine and warmer temps. Dinners on the patio have started and s'mores can't be far behind.

Looking forward to: Book club on Tuesday and Wednesday I'm thrilled to be going to hear Mini-me read several of his poems at Omaha's biggest indie bookstore. It's being done through the university; he'll be reading his poetry and another student will be reading his non-fiction narrative.

What are you looking forward to this week?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Fairy Tale Friday

You may have noticed that the post title is simply "Fairy Tale Friday" rather than "Fairy Tale Fridays." You may also have noticed that there haven't been very many fairy tales on Fridays again this year. Hence, I hesitate to insinuate in the title that there may be more coming. Although I hope there will be. If I can only make myself reach the point where I am making fewer commitments and freeing up more time to free range read.
Remember this beloved Disney animated adaptation of a fairy tale classic? Me either. That's not entirely true; I do remember parts and my kids did have it growing up. But for some reason, Pinocchio was never a favorite of theirs or mine. Some one must have enjoyed it immensely (or Disney just can't be bothered to come up with adaptations of previously unmined fairy tales), because things are in the works at the Disney studios for a live-action adaptation. Another one.

What's that you say? You don't remember Disney having previously tried and failed with this one? Then you were lucky enough to have missed the 2000 made-for-tv adaptation starring Drew Carrey and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Geppetto. A musical. Stephen Schwartz actually wrote the music but wrote it with a rematching of Mary Poppins stars Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke in mind. Andrews was having throat surgery at the time and was unable to do it but how you went from that cast to were they ended up I can't imagine.

Yeah, that's not at all scary
The script is in the works and said to be a "loose adaptation." That probably goes without saying since it's unlikely that Disney would stick to the original story. Wouldn't want to scar the children. Although mine often watch the movies of their childhood and figure if Disney had gone as far as it did (I'm looking at you Skeleton Ursula!), they might as well have gone all in. Although, in the case of The Little Mermaid, it's probably best they didn't.

On a much more serious note, Kristin of Tales of Faerie, has a thought-provoking post, Mother's Who Kill Their Children, about a book by the same title by Cheryl L. Meyer and Michelle Oberman. She uses the book as a basis to explore abuse in fairy tales and those ties to real life, as well as the subject of feminism in fairy tales. She discusses the ways in which we have, throughout history, been quick to blame the victim as well as the abuser (a subject which has been a hot button lately with the release of the new Cinderella movie which has people again saying that Cinderella, as a character, was too passive). Very powerful stuff which I highly recommend reading.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Giveaway Time! Win A Copy of Jojo Moyes' One Plus One!

You all know how much I enjoy Jojo Moyes' books so it won't surprise you to know how eager I was when offered the chance to put a copy of her latest, One Plus One into one of someones hands.

One Plus One just came out in paperback the end of last month and Penguin Books is offering one of my readers the opportunity to read this wonderful book. To enter, just leave a comment with your email address. For an extra entry, leave me the name of your favorite book from 2014. I'll draw the winner on Sunday.

Suppose your life sucks—a lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied, and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. If you’re Jess Thomas, you do what you always do—make it work.

Jess and her family (including their giant, smelly dog Norman) begin their doomed-from-the-start adventure stranded on the side of the road next to a dilapidated Rolls Royce—sans license, sans insurance—having just been pulled over by the police for a missing headlight. And the unexpected knight in shining armor who rescues them? Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home Jess happens to clean. With big problems of his own, Ed, in perhaps his first ever unselfish act, offers to drive Jess and her dysfunctional brood to the Maths Olympiad and a prize that could turn everything around for Jess’s family.

This unlikely cast of characters is easy to fall for: Nicky, Jess’s stepson, wears mascara, doesn’t fit in at school, but is fiercely protective of Tanzie, Jess’s precocious math prodigy daughter; Jess and Ed are the kind of opposites you love to watch attract; and pungent Norman, the immovable mascot of the back seat, is the best guard dog you’ll ever find drooling on your shoulder.

“Bridget Jones meets Little Miss Sunshine in this witty British romp from bestseller Moyes… Wryly romantic and surprisingly suspenseful.” —People

 “ONE PLUS ONE adds up to a delightful summer read… Moyes is masterful at creating characters … You don’t need to be a math whiz to figure out this book is one worth adding to your summer reading list.” —USA Today

 “A funny and engaging road-trip…ONE PLUS ONE shimmers with both unyielding warmth and canny incisiveness.”—The Boston Globe

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Last Night At The Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert

Last Night At The Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert
Published  July 2014 by HarperCollins; paperback release April 2015 by William Morrow Paperbacks
Source: I bought my copy at the Omaha Lit Fest and had it autographed!

Publisher's Summary:
It is the early 1960s, and Chicago is teeming with the tensions of the day—segregation, sexual experimentation, the Cold War, and Vietnam—but it is also home to some of the country's most influential jazz. Naomi Hill, a singer at the Blue Angel club, has been poised on the brink of stardom for nearly ten years. But when her big break, the cover of Look magazine, finally arrives, it carries with it an enormous personal cost. Sensual and magnetic, Naomi is a fiercely ambitious yet self-destructive woman whose charms tend to hurt those around her, and no one knows this better than her daughter, Sophia.

As the only child of a single mother growing up in an adult world, Sophia is wise beyond her years, a casualty of her mother's desperate struggle for fame and adoration. Her only constant is the colorful and unconventional family that surrounds them, particularly the photographer Jim who is Sophia's best friend, surrogate father, and protector—but Jim is also deeply in love with Naomi.

My Thoughts:
"Mother is a singer. I live in her dark margins."
Do you remember the scene from the movie "Jerry Maguire" when Renee Zellweger's character says to Tom Cruise's character "You had me at hello?" That's the way I felt when I read those first two sentences of Chapter 1. Rotert's debut is beautifully written, filled with characters who will stay with me for a long time.

Told through a dual narrative, Rotert uses Sophia's voice to tell the story of their life in early 1960's Chicago while Naomi's past is seen through her own eyes. It goes a long way to helping readers understand Naomi, not to look at her as an abusive parent, a woman who raises her daughter in a run-down apartment building, keeps her up late into the night, brings strangers home to spend the night and who is utterly absorbed in herself and her career. Instead we come to understand her need to desire to rise above the poverty of her youth, her need for love and her inability to accept it.
"I love David or perhaps I just found a way to matter to him, to be noticed. He has made me feel small and I hate him for that but I also long for him. I'm embarrassed."
Sophia adores Naomi, craves her attention, treasures the rare moments her mother notices her. She is what might be called "precocious" except so often means a child that is overly confident in her own abilities, exceptional in every way. But while Sophie is deeply perceptive, she is also very real - she struggles with math, worries about having friends, and carries around a notebook where she keeps a list of all of the things she will need to know how to make in case of nuclear disaster. Fortunately, she is surrounded by people who love her and try to make sure she gets what she needs. My favorite relationship was the one between Sophie and Jim, a man deeply in love with Naomi who acted as a pseudo father for Sophia. Naomi may be the star on stage but Sophie is the heart and soul of this book.

I've owned this book since last fall; I bought it with the intention of reading it immediately but, as so often happens, it got set aside. Then the ladies at TLC asked me if I'd like to be on a tour for the book. "I'd love to and I already own the book," I eagerly replied! Thanks to them for giving me the push to pick up the book; I simply loved it. It's hard to believe it is Rotert's debut novel. Last fall Rotert said she writes what haunts her. After reading Last Night At The Blue Angel, it will haunt me as well. For other opinions on the book, check out the full tour.

In speaking about music in this book, last fall at the Omaha Lit Fest, Rotert said that she was raised on the American songbook so had Naomi raised this way as well so that she could use the music to show generational tensions. She said that authors have to choose what not to give there characters as well as what to give them. She chose not to give Naomi the choice to have her own voice, the ability to express herself only in song. Naomi was then left to express herself only through others which made her a less healthy person intentionally. Robert said that in using music in her book, it was about trusting the reader to understand that the references advance the story even if they don't know the music. Despite all of the music in the book, Rotert said she writes in quiet.

Rebecca Rotert received an M.A. in literature from Hollins College, where she was the recipient of the Academy of American Poets prize. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times and other publications. She’s also an experienced singer and songwriter, who has performed with several bands, and a teacher with the Nebraska Writers Collective. She lives in Omaha, Nebraska.

I'm a little giddy about the kind of writing talent Omaha is turning out these days: Timothy Shaffert, Rainbow Rowell, and now Rebecca Rotert are all writers I'm delighted to share this city with. Maybe there's something in the water. Perhaps it's time to consider writing that novel?!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess)
Published 2012 by G. P. Putnam's Sons
Source: bought this at my local library sale

Publisher's Summary:
When Jenny Lawson was little, all she ever wanted was to fit in. That dream was cut short by her fantastically unbalanced father and a morbidly eccentric childhood. It did, however, open up an opportunity for Lawson to find the humor in the strange shame-spiral that is her life, and we are all the better for it.

In the irreverent Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Lawson’s long-suffering husband and sweet daughter help her uncover the surprising discovery that the most terribly human moments—the ones we want to pretend never happened—are the very same moments that make us the people we are today. For every intellectual misfit who thought they were the only ones to think the things that Lawson dares to say out loud, this is a poignant and hysterical look at the dark, disturbing, yet wonderful moments of our lives.

My Thoughts:
Having just read back-to-back Faulkners and being in the middle of I Know This Much Is True for book club, I knew I needed something light to break things up. Oh my lordy, was this book ever the "right book at the right time!"

Let's Pretend This Never Happened is, literally, laugh out loud funny.  And read whole passages to your spouse funny. Luckily for my spouse, it was humor that was right up his alley and he (mostly) always at least chuckled when I read passages to him. He did point out, Mom, that this is not a book for you. Too much talking about vaginas, he said. I agree but I think my mom would mostly not enjoy it because there is a generous use of the "F" word. So, if you have a problem with either of those things in a book, you've been warned. Also, if you're not a fan of taxidermy. There's a lot of that, too.

To say that Lawson's childhood was unconventional would be a massive understatement. Thanks largely to her father, though, her childhood was hysterical to read about. Because her father was prone to bring home inappropriate animals (both living and dead), Lawson and her sister invented "The Dangerous Thesaurus of My Father."

  "It's not going to hurt you." = "I hope you like Bactine."
  "It's very excited." = "It has rabies."
  "Now, don't get too attached." = "I got this monkey for free because it has a virus."
  "It likes you!" = "This wild boar is now your responsibility."
  "Now, this is really interesting." = "You'll still have nightmares about this when you're thirty."
  "Don't scream or you'll scare it." = "You should really be running now."
  "It just wants to give you a kiss." = "It's probably going to eat your face off."

This is man who thought using a dead squirrel as a hand puppet and waking his daughters up in the middle of the night to surprise them with it was a good idea. Between their father, a mother who was the school lunch lady, and being poor, growing up was tough and most people would have probably written this as a tragedy or a "how I overcame great obstacles and succeeded in life" memoir. Lawson grew up to find the humor in it all, but also to appreciate the fact that she didn't have a cookie cutter upbringing.

As funny as I found this book (the conversations between Lawson and her husband, Victor, are a riot), what made it such a good book was the honest way Lawson talked about more serious subjects. She doesn't shy away from talking about the sorrow of multiple miscarriages, the difficulty of dealing with a chronic medical issue, or her ongoing battle with mental illness (she suffers from OCD and crippling anxiety disorder). Beneath that wild woman who grew up thinking that there was such a thing as water squirrels (until she was told later in life that those squirrels she had once upon a time been swimming with were actually squirrels that had drowned in a flash flood), there is a woman who appreciates all that life has thrown at her.
"Because you are defined not by life's imperfect moments, but by your reaction to them. And because there is joy in embracing - rather than running screaming from them - the utter absurdity of life. I thank my family for teaching me that lesson. In spades."
I thank Lawson for reminding me of that. And for reminding me that there's nothing wrong with a marriage where people bicker as long as they love and understand each other. And for making me laugh. I needed that!

*Bloggers, there is an entire chapter about a trip Lawson went on with a group of bloggers that cracked me up but also reminded me why I love my blogging friends so much!
"Women scare me enough, but bloggers can be even more frightening to deal with. Most bloggers are emotionally unstable and are often awkward in social situations, which is why so many of us turned to blogging in the first place. Also, they are always looking for something to write about, so you f*&% something up it will be blogged, Facebooked, and retweeted until your death."
**Why doesn't Blogger's dictionary recognize the word "blogger??"

***This is what Neil Gaiman had to say about the book:
"The Bloggess writes stuff that actually is laugh-out-loud, but you know that really you shouldn't be laughing and probably you'll got to hell for laughing, so maybe you should read it. That would be safer and wiser."
At least that's what they say on the book that Gaiman said. But there is also a quote for Jesus (who appears numerous times in the book) which I'm pretty sure is not a real quote, so who knows.