Sunday, April 15, 2018

Life: It Goes On - April 15

Winter...cover your eyes, Mom...sucks. It needs to be gone two weeks ago. We dodged the blizzard that shut down roads north and south of us but our driveway is covered in ice and snow this morning after a day of cold temps, high winds, rain, sleet, and snow yesterday. This, mind you, after we were able to eat dinner on the patio three nights last week. Enough already - we cry "Uncle!"

So bummed to realize that Dewey's Readathon is the same weekend we will be in Dallas. I love the spring edition; for some reason, I always seem to get more read than during the fall one. I may just take a day next weekend and give myself permission to spend the whole day reading. Or not. It wouldn't be as fun as knowing I'm doing it with thousands of people all over the world and I have a hard enough time not feeling guilty about getting nothing done on the official days.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Podcasts including The History Chicks, Gretchen Rubin's Happier, and Terrible Thanks for Asking. I'm continuing work on my Spotify playlists and have been listening to everything from the playlist I put together for the bridal shower to The Offspring, AFI, and Muse.

Watching: I was poking around Netflix the other night for something to watch late night that wasn't too in-depth (you know, in case I dozed off in the middle of it!) and found BBC's The Great Interior Design Challenge. I'm enjoying it as much for getting the chance to see how different architecture is in Great Britain as for seeing what the designers can pull off.

Reading: I finished Anna Quindlen's latest, Alternate Side last night and I'm still processing my thoughts on it. I love Quindlen's writing and this one had some great thoughts. But...

Today I'll likely start Lisa Genova's latest, Every Note Played.

Making: Spaghetti with meat sauce, tacos, flatbread pizzas, steak salads. Saturday, in lieu of bundling up to go to a movie, we stayed in and I made a loaf of Outback bread and an Gooey Butter cake just for an excuse to run some extra heat in the house!

Sookie feels the same way I do!
Planning: I had lots of plans for the weekend but I've caught a niggling cold that kept me mostly home yesterday and may do the same today. If it were a beautiful, sunny day I might head on out and bask in the sun. But since it's still miserable out, I'm not sure I want to catch a chill (as Jane Austen might have said). If I stay put today, there is plenty to do here. My office has gotten out of control again and we are in the midst of making some changes in Miss H's room that need to get finished up.

Thinking About: My mom's cousin who passed away last week. Her funeral was on Friday and I can't help but think how much better off the world would be if more of us were like her. She was a sweet, giving, caring woman who had the most delightful ornery streak.

Enjoying: Helping Miss H put together a bullet journal. She's doing hers the way I did my first one, in a binder so it's more forgiving as she figures out what will work for her. She's had the stuff to do it since Christmas but, being a perfectionist, has put it off for fear of it not being perfect. She's got so much going on, though, that it's time to help her keep track of everything.

Feeling: Excited for my married kiddos! Ms. S has finally gotten the go for the job she's been waiting on for months and they will be moving the end of May. They will be sad to leave Milwaukee, having absolutely loved it there. But they are ready to start this new part of their lives and we can't wait to have them three hours closer!

Looking forward to: Leaving for Dallas in eleven days. Can't wait to be with family, get in a little vacation time, and, celebrate my nephew's wedding.

Question of the week: Dallas area friends, we have at least one day that's completely free. What do we absolutely need to see? And, how far from downtown are you? Maybe we could even meet?!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Published September 2002 by Knopf Canada
Read by Kristoffer Tabori
Source: my audiobook purchased at my local library book sale; I also have a physical copy, the origins of which I don't recall

Publisher's Summary:
In the spring of 1974, Calliope Stephanides finds herself drawn to a classmate at her girls' school in Grosse Point, Michigan. That passion -- along with her failure to develop -- leads Callie to suspect that she is not like other girls. The explanation for this is a rare genetic mutation -- and a guilty secret -- that have followed Callie's grandparents from the crumbling Ottoman Empire to Prohibition-era Detroit and beyond, outlasting the glory days of the Motor City, the race riots of 1967, and the family's second migration, into the foreign country known as suburbia. Thanks to the gene, Callie is part girl, part boy. And even though the gene's epic travels have ended, her own odyssey has only begun.


My Thoughts:
"I was born twice: first, as a baby girl...in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy...in August of 1974."


Once upon a time, I suppose I had some inkling what this book was about. Then I forgot. I just knew that it was a book that people raved about. So I bought it. Twice. Then, shortly after I bought the audiobook, I read somewhere that it was the first popular book with a hermaphrodite as its main character; and, I'm ashamed to say, I moved it to the bottom of the pile. And then I listened to podcasts instead of popping in the first disc. I could not imagine 500 pages about a hermaphrodite that wasn't just sensationalized. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

If you've been reading my Sunday posts, or follow me on Instagram, Snapchat, or Litsy, you've been hearing me rave about this book for the past few weeks, "One of the best readings of a book I've ever listened to; Kristoffer Tabori is amazing,""just blown away by Eugenides writing. Why did I wait so long?!" When the end-of-the-year post goes up with my favorites for the year, it's going to be pretty tough to top this one as my favorite audiobook of the year.

But just how did I overcome my qualms about a book featuring an hermaphrodite? I'm not going to lie; some parts of the book made me a little uncomfortable. But, then I've been working the past couple of years to read more books that make me uncomfortable so I appreciate the ways that Eugenides made me learn about human sexuality. In the end, what he seems to be saying about all of that is that it is who we are inside that makes us who we are, not what we are on the outside.

But this book is about so much more than gender identity. It's a coming of age story that's also about war, passion, immigration and the immigrant experience, the rise and fall of a city, racial tensions, religion, nature versus nurture, societies, the American Dream, gender roles, and, most of all, it's about family. The characters in this book will stay with me for a long time: Lefty and Desdemona who escaped the great fire of Smyrna and pursued the American Dream while never leaving their Greek customs entirely behind; Jimmy Zizmo, who was married to their cousin and took them under his wing but who also exposed them to the seamier side of America; Milton, who worked hard to leave behind his Greek roots and become a big man with his Cadillacs and unusual house in the tony suburb of Gross Pointe; the aunts, uncles, and family friends who made up the Sunday dinner crowd. They all made Callie/Cal who she/he was as much by who they were as by genetics.

Does Eugenides sometimes get a little verbose? Oh, yeah, sometimes to the point of ridiculousness. But I'm willing to forgive all of that for the empathy, sadness, humor, and insight that he has imbued his story with. As I said when I was getting near the end, I'm going to miss this book.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Life: It Goes On - April 8

So, spring - that's a thing, right? Wednesday I wore my winter coat, hat and gloves into work as we recorded record low temps (I'm talking 12 degrees at 6 a.m.). Yesterday morning, record lows again. Today snow flakes swirled about. We are supposed to get a few days of spring this week but I'll believe that when I feel the warm sunshine on my face.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I finished Middlesex in the driveway on Friday and I'm sort of glad that I don't have another book to jump into on audio right away. If you've never read Middlesex, I can't recommend you listen to it enough. One of the best readings of a book I've ever listened to; Kristoffer Tabori is amazing.

Watching: I started typing that we've managed to leave the big box in the corner off a lot this week when it occurred to me that televisions are no longer boxes. I'm wondering how old are the young people who don't even remember a television that looked like a black box? Whereas I can remember rabbit ears, having to get up to change channels, and even when people only owned one (gasp!) television. I feel old.

Reading: Nook, Netgalley, and I have been having quite a go of it for the past couple of weeks. Numerous people from Netgalley have jumped in trying to figure out why I couldn't download books from their site to my Nook. I was pretty darn excited Friday to figure it out myself. Then Saturday night, Bluefire Reader wouldn't open, which is where I download all of the Netgalley books. Emailed their support system and got a canned message that they would respond in three working days. So I uninstalled it, reinstalled it and it works. Thanks all of you tech people.

Making: We've been making good use of Easter leftovers this week so I haven't cooked much. One night The Big Guy used leftover ham and made a ham and vegetable soup that (don't tell him I said this because I really hated the smell of it when it was cooking and might have been a little rude about it) was not bad. Back to the reality of having to plan meals this week.

Planning: Our trip to Dallas, another bridal shower in May, and a trip to Minnesota in June. My Milwaukee kiddos are finally getting moved in May and I can't wait to visit them in their new home. Although we are going to miss going to Milwaukee.

Thinking About: Blogging. I'm sort of terrible at it right now, especially the part where I visit blogs and let my friends know I've stopped by. So, is it time to give it up? Or is it the only thing that pushes me through reading slumps?


Enjoying: My first ever political fundraiser for a friend who is running for office. So excited for her and need to make sure I find some time to help her as she reaches out to people.

Feeling: Frustrated and, to be honest, more than a little bit stupid. Yesterday, without even thinking, I dumped a big container of rice down the garbage disposal. More than 24 hours later, we still cannot use the kitchen sink, after trying all of the tried and true methods to dislodge that clog. I'm don't even want to think what the plumber is going to charge us when he gets here in a bit. Luckily, I think we're getting the "my friend is your daughter's boyfriend" discount. At least I hope so. Because The Big Guy is not exactly my biggest fan just now!

Also, feeling very sad today. We got the call this morning that my mother's cousin, who has been more like a sister to her all of my mom's life, passed away in her sleep last night at 98. It is a blessing for her but the world has lost the sweetest person I've ever known.

Looking forward to: Did I mention spring-like days this week? This girl is looking forward to at least one dinner on the patio!

Question of the week: On top of being cold and damp here, it's also been grey almost every day. What's your go-to way to pick yourself up on grey days?


Paper Ghosts by Julie Heaberlin

Paper Ghosts by Julia Heaberlin
Published May 2018 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: my e-copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
An obsessive young woman has been waiting half her life—since she was twelve years old—for this moment. She has planned. Researched. Trained. Imagined every scenario. Now she is almost certain the man who kidnapped and murdered her sister sits in the passenger seat beside her.

Carl Louis Feldman is a documentary photographer. The young woman claims to be his long-lost daughter. He doesn’t believe her. He claims no memory of murdering girls across Texas, in a string of places where he shot eerie pictures. She doesn’t believe him.

Determined to find the truth, she lures him out of a halfway house and proposes a dangerous idea: a ten-day road trip, just the two of them, to examine cold cases linked to his haunting photographs.

Is he a liar or a broken old man? Is he a pathological con artist? Or is she?

My Thoughts:
Two-ish years ago, I read Heaberlin's Black-Eyed Susans (my review) and was impressed enough with it that I didn't even read what this one was about before I requested it on Netgalley. The truth is, I had been disappointed by the ending of that book; but it gave me the creepies big time and I raced through it so I knew Heaberlin was capable of taking me for a ride again. And, oh, what a ride!

Like Black-Eyed Susans, there is almost no violence in the book, and almost no description of the murders of the girls Carl is supposed to have killed, which I very much appreciate in a book. My imagination can handle that part just fine and I really don't need to read descriptions of things that will keep me up at night. The thrill factor relies almost entirely on Heaberlin's ability to get into her readers' heads by making them think about what might happen (or what the heck just happened?) and she is certainly up to the task. More than once, I almost dropped the book in surprise and if this had been a movie, I would have watched peering through my fingers. Heaberlin made great use of Carl's photography; including descriptions of his photographs at the beginnings of many chapters to help readers climb into his head and to paint scenes. It managed to cast an extra layer of eeriness over the story.

Texas comes alive in the book - I found myself, as I so often do when a book piques my interest, turning again and again to the internet to see pictures of the areas Heaberlin is writing about, to see a map of the route Carl and Grace are taking, and to learn more about the historical events Heaberlin writes about.

All that being said, at the heart of this book is a story about the relationship between two people and how it changes and what those changes reveal about each of them. That's something you rarely see (at least in my somewhat limited experience) in this kind of book. I really liked this part of the story and it's what kept the book moving, even in places where the story lagged.

The book is not without flaws. It sometimes drags a bit, as we spend a lot of time in our heroine's head. The biggest flaw, for me, was the fact that, for a person who talks so much about how much she has trained for all situations, that Grace seems to find herself in bad places without a backup plan all too often. And given that most of the "action" is psychological, there wasn't much need for all of her physical training anyway. Perhaps the point was that no matter how well prepared we think we are, there will always be surprises in life we can't foresee. At least that's the reason I'm giving Heaberlin because I liked this book well enough to want there to be a reason for the things I questioned.
"Bad people are to be found everywhere, but even among the worst there may be something good."
I was much more satisfied with the ending to this book than I was with Black-Eyed Susans. Parts were unexpected and other pieces tied up exactly as I wanted them to end. A very satisfying read!





Friday, April 6, 2018

Fingerprints of Previous Owners by Rebecca Entel

Fingerprints of Previous Owners by Rebecca Entel
Published June 2017 by The Unnamed Press
Source: my pdf copy courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
At a Caribbean resort built atop a former slave plantation, Myrna works as a maid by day; by night she trespasses on the resort’s overgrown inland property, secretly excavating the plantation ruins the locals refuse to acknowledge. Myrna’s mother has stopped speaking and her friends are focused on surviving the present, but Myrna is drawn to Cruffey Island’s violent past. With the arrival of Mrs. Manion, a wealthy African-American, also comes new information about the history of the slave-owner’s estate and tensions finally erupt between the resort and the local island community.

Suffused with the sun-drenched beauty of the Caribbean, Fingerprints of Previous Owners is a powerful novel of hope and recovery in the wake of devastating trauma. In her soulful and timely debut, Entel explores what it means to colonize and be colonized, to trespass and be trespassed upon, to be wounded and to heal.


My Thoughts:
I don't usually include the parts of the publisher's summary that are like that last paragraph. I prefer not to have the publisher try to sell you on the wonders of a book but to do that (or not, as the case may be) myself. But I have just finished this book and it's time to write the review so it can be posted in the morning and I find myself almost speechless.

When Lisa, of TLC Book Tours, first emailed about this book this is the summary she gave: "This is a literary fiction title/coming of age story set at a Caribbean resort atop a former slave plantation." And that was all it took for me to agree to read it for review. And then I forgot all about it (seriously, I completely forgot I needed to get it read and missed my first review date). So when I finally picked it up, I had entirely forgotten what it was about. And, once again, that was a good thing because this book completely took me by surprise and washed over me with its pain in a way that would not have happened if I'd gone into it with any expectations.

In these times when we talk so much about race relations and white privilege, this book seems more timely than ever. By looking at the long-reaching effects of slavery in a place where things have moved at a slower pace, where the ancestors of those slaves remained so close to the place where their forebears had suffered, Entel makes it that much easier to understand the ways in which those scars have been passed down. It is not a comfortable read. That's ok. We need to be made uncomfortable.

All that being said, I don't want to shortchange how well written this book is - Entel's focus is on Myrna but all of the inhabitants of Cruffey Island play vital parts in the novel and Entel allows each of them to tell their stories, slowly revealing truths that many of them had hidden from each other for decades. I could feel the heat of the days, clearly envision the trash washing up on the beaches, feel the sting of the haulback plants tearing at Myrna's skin as she works to uncover the past. I wanted to yell at the resort owners who go through their employees bags at the end of the day to make sure that not one penny has gone missing while they throw away mountains of perfectly good food. I wanted to hold Myrna's mother who has suffered so much. I wanted to be able to go to that island to help those people find a better life but then understood that those people wouldn't want my pity.

It makes me sad to think that I had never heard of this book until Lisa wrote me about it and I can only hope that being on this tour will get it into the hands of more people. For other opinions about the book, check out the full tour here.

Rebecca Entel began this novel while teaching on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. She is Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing at Cornell College, where she teaches African-American and Caribbean literature, creative writing, and the literature of social justice. She holds a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin.

Her short stories and essays have been published in Guernica, Joyland Magazine, The Madison Review, Electric Literature, Literary Hub, and elsewhere, and several have been shortlisted for awards from Glimmer Train, Southwest Review, and the Manchester Fiction Prize. Fingerprints of Previous Owners is her first novel.