Sunday, August 18, 2019

Life: It Goes On - August 18

August 18. The kids here are all back in school. Summer is almost over. Oh, maybe not officially. But even for those of us who don't have school-aged children, summer is over when August is over. Honestly, if we didn't mentally start fall on September 1st, we might not even get two months of it - more than once we've had winter storms before then end of October. So while I've absolutely enjoyed beautiful evenings on the patio this week because of evening temperatures in the 70's, I need me some 90 degree days before the end of the month. I need it to feel like summer before summer is gone.

Last Week I:

Blair Brown, Judith Ivey
Listened To: I finished Elizabeth Gilbert's City of Girls on Thursday and started J. Ryan Stradal's The Lager Queen of Minnesota Friday. Can I just tell you how perfect the readers are for both of these books? Blair Brown reads City of Girls and Judith Ivey reads Lager Queen and I can't recommend listening to these books enough.

Watched: Football, America's Got Talent, and several episodes of Orange Is The New Black. I'm struggling with Orange, with the violence and threat of violence that is much more constant than previous seasons. I have to be in the right frame of mind to watch it.

Read: I raced through Melanie Benjamin's Mistress of the Ritz and yesterday started Ted Genoway's This Blessed Earth which was a Nebraska Reads choice and is now the Omaha Reads choice.

Made: If it's got tomatoes in it, we've had it this week. This will pretty much be the case for the rest of tomato season!

Enjoyed: Lots of time with friends this week - dinner on Wednesday at a Thai restaurant and last night on the patio having s'mores.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On finishing up Miss H's room. The new bedding is on, the painting will be done this afternoon, and the curtains are hung. We just need to finish up some organizing and she'll be good to go. 

Thinking About: What I'm going to refinish next. I finally finished the plant stand I've been working on for weeks. Early last week I stained it. Then decided I hated the color. So I stripped it back down, sanded it a bit and gave it a new color. It's not perfect (I would have had to sand it down another half inch or so to get to all of the paint!); but, for me, it's imperfectly perfect!

Feeling: Excited - next week we head north for my niece's wedding and I'm already making packing lists. Can't wait to get in the car to celebrate, enjoy time with family, get to see my kids from up north, and spend time along Lake Superior.

Looking forward to: Book club this week and, hopefully, a book club outing to see Where'd You Go Bernadette.

Question of the week: What's your favorite part about a road trip?

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Accidentals by Minrose Gwin

The Accidentals by Minrose Gwin
Published August 2019 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Following the death of their mother from a botched backwoods abortion, the McAlister daughters have to cope with the ripple effect of this tragedy as they come of age in 1950s Mississippi and then grow up to face their own impossible choices—an unforgettable, beautiful novel that is threaded throughout with the stories of mothers and daughters in pre-Roe versus Wade America.

Life heads down back alleys, takes sharp left turns. Then, one fine day it jumps the track and crashes.”

In the fall of 1957, Olivia McAlister is living in Opelika, Mississippi, caring for her two girls, June and Grace, and her husband, Holly. She dreams of living a much larger life—seeing the world and returning to her wartime job at a landing boat factory in New Orleans. As she watches over the birds in her yard, Olivia feels like an “accidental”—a migratory bird blown off course.

When Olivia becomes pregnant again, she makes a fateful decision, compelling Grace, June, and Holly to cope in different ways. While their father digs up the backyard to build a bomb shelter, desperate to protect his family, Olivia’s spinster sister tries to take them all under her wing. But the impact of Olivia’s decision reverberates throughout Grace’s and June’s lives. Grace, caught up in an unconventional love affair, becomes one of the “girls who went away” to have a baby in secret. June, guilt-ridden for her part in exposing Grace’s pregnancy, eventually makes an unhappy marriage. Meanwhile Ed Mae Johnson, an African-American care worker in a New Orleans orphanage, is drastically impacted by Grace’s choices.

As the years go by, their lives intersect in ways that reflect the unpredictable nature of bird flight that lands in accidental locations—and the consolations of imperfect return.

My Thoughts:
I've been reading a lot lately - books for review, library books that have become available and need to get read quickly. It's meant I'm not always reading the book that I would have chosen for the reading mood I'm in at that moment. Truthfully, I'm not even always sure what I'm in the mood to read. For example, I didn't know, when I picked up The Accidentals that I was in the mood for a beautifully written book about family that spans decades and explores the ripple effect of our choices. She vividly describes the birds, the land, the food and drink, the clothing - it's all part of a beautiful picture. More importantly, Gwin does a marvelous job of helping readers feel her characters anger, their guilt, and their pain.

In the time before Roe v. Wade, three unwanted pregnancies result in three different choices and three very different outcomes. Gwin doesn't make any judgments about her characters choices; she seems to want readers to understand that any choice is a tough choice when faced with an unwanted pregnancy. Olivia had to be willing to risk her life, Grace was forced to give up her daughter, and June felt forced into marriage - all choices they felt they had to make because of the morals and laws of that time.

Speaking of the morals and laws of the time, Gwin loads up her story with references that put readers squarely into the decades in which the book takes place. World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the space race, the Challenger accident, Hurricane Katrina, and Barack Obama's first bid for the presidency help readers keep track of when the book is taking place; Gwin tends to skip forward in time, sometimes taking great leaps, and those references helped me keep track of the ages the sisters.

She also touches on a lot of subjects in the book: homosexuality, abortion, teen pregnancy, rape, adoption, racism, love, redemption, forgiveness, family, racism, "passing," mental illness, Alzheimer's, cancer, animal abuse, pedophilia, rights of felons to vote, and gender inequality. Sound like a lot? It is and, to be honest, Gwin might have been better served by cutting back on some of it. Occasionally it felt forced, like when Ed Mae can vote for the first time just as the first black man is running for president. Sometimes I wasn't sure it was Gwin's place to try to tell the story. I appreciated that she was trying to weave in a story about how unfair life was for blacks in the south in the second half of the last century; but I wasn't sure it was her story to tell.

One reviewer on Goodreads wrote "much like the birds - the "accidentals" that lose their way - so, too, does the story." I'm not sure I entirely agree with that, but the last quarter of the book feels like it is racing along to get to the finale. And it felt a little jarring that Gwin chose to let Ed Mae's story be the final chapter since the book was not her story. That being said, despite a need for some suspension of disbelief, I did like the way the story lines came together at the end of the book and that fact that Gwin left readers to come to their own conclusions about what might have come next.

Thanks to the ladies of TLC Book Tours for giving me the right book at the right time, a book about these "accidentals." For other opinions about this book, check out the full tour.

About Minrose Gwin

Minrose Gwin is the author of The Queen of Palmyra, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick and finalist for the John Gardner Fiction Book Award, and the memoir Wishing for Snow, cited by Booklist as “eloquent” and “lyrical”—“a real life story we all need to know.” She has written four scholarly books and coedited The Literature of the American South. She grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi, hearing stories of the Tupelo tornado of 1936. She lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Find out more about Minrose at her website. The book can be found at HarperCollins.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

You Can't Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson

You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have To Explain by Phoebe Robinson
Read by Phoebe Robinson
Published October 2016 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my audiobook copy checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Being a black woman in America means contending with old prejudices and fresh absurdities every day. Comedian Phoebe Robinson has experienced her fair share over the years: she's been unceremoniously relegated to the role of “the black friend,” as if she is somehow the authority on all things racial; she's been questioned about her love of U2 and Billy Joel (“isn’t that...white people music?”); she's been called “uppity” for having an opinion in the workplace; she's been followed around stores by security guards; and yes, people do ask her whether they can touch her hair all. the. time. Now, she's ready to take these topics to the page—and she’s going to make you laugh as she’s doing it.

Using her trademark wit alongside pop-culture references galore, Robinson explores everything from why Lisa Bonet is “Queen. Bae. Jesus,” to breaking down the terrible nature of casting calls, to giving her less-than-traditional advice to the future female president, and demanding that the NFL clean up its act, all told in the same conversational voice that launched her podcast, 2 Dope Queens, to the top spot on iTunes. As personal as it is political, You Can't Touch My Hair examines our cultural climate and skewers our biases with humor and heart, announcing Robinson as a writer on the rise.

My Thoughts:
I was not familiar with Robinson before I read this book, although I had heard of her podcast/HBO show 2 Dope Queens. But you know that I'm trying to educate myself so I decided to pick this book up after seeing it around the blogosphere. An education is exactly what I got from a lady who knows how to blend serious subjects with humor and down right funny stories.

Robinson opens the book talking about black people's hair - the ways it has been used to make statements, the way her feelings about her own hair have changed over the years, and the way black people's hair has been used as a weapon against them. Robinson writes about wishing she were the girl with the great hair but she also acknowledges that she can play with her hair in all kinds of ways. Google images of Robinson and you will see that she takes full advantage of her options.

Perhaps my favorite part of this book were the letters Robinson wrote to her now very young niece, who is half black (which, given the content of many of them, we can only hope she won't read for a good long while!). Robinson wants to make sure her niece understands the good things about her black heritage and gives her some heads up about how to make her way through the world as a black woman. And then, hilariously, brings in comedian John Hodgman to explain the good things about being white.

I was educated, I was amused, and I often found myself nodding in agreement. All of which is a good thing in an essay collection and makes this book well worth a listen. Now I need to find the print copy I have somewhere on my shelves because as much as you gain somethings by listening to a book, you also miss out on all of the pictures.

My only, small issue with the book is this: after several similar books in the past few months, there is starting to be cadence and manner of speaking that feels like the funny ladies I'm listening to have all gone to the same "how to read your book" school. If I was more familiar with Robinson, I would know if what I heard here was true to Robinson's style. I suppose I should just go download some @ Dope Queens and find out...and educate myself some more.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Flea Market Fabulous by Lara Spencer

Flea Market Fabulous by Lara Spencer
Published 2014 by ABRAMS
Source: my copy checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary: 
Focusing on nine different rooms (including her own recently purchased Manhattan apartment), Lara Spencer shows readers that all it takes is planning, shopping know-how, and a little imagination to create beautiful and comfortable homes that reflect their personal style. She takes readers through the step-by-step process of overcoming the challenges of the room, offering helpful tips and lessons along the way. She identi­fies the design dilemma; comes up with a decorat­ing plan; makes a mood board for inspiration; compiles a shopping list; scours flea markets for furniture and accessories that fit the bill; restores, repurposes, and reinvents the pieces she finds, giving them new life; and brings all the elements together in the gorgeous, finished space. With illuminating before, during, and after photographs of her DIY projects and the room installations, Lara demystifies the decorating process and allows readers to envision endless possibilities for what they can do in their own homes.

My Thoughts:
I’ve long been a fan of Lara Spencer’s HGTV show Flea Market Flip and I’m always impressed with how creative the contestants on the show are (although I can’t say I always like their ideas!). So when I saw this book was available from my library, I figured it was something I would enjoy.

I wasn’t wrong. But then I wasn’t entirely right, either.

When I finished, I had to look up when the book was published because, honestly, it felt a little dated to me. I was a bit surprised to find that it was only five years old but then I imagine that many of the rooms highlighted were actually decorated some time before that. Still, there were only a couple of the finished rooms I really liked and I’m sure that I would have felt the same way five years ago. Most of the time, I felt like it was all just too much. Too much color, too many patterns, too much “stuff.”

My other issue with the book, as with the t.v. show, is that, while there are some great ideas here for ways to use or reuse flea market finds, many of them require a skill set that I just don’t have. It doesn’t do me much good to know that a metal piece might easily be transformed, for example, if welding is required. Sure, I could do some research around town and try to find a welder that would take on a small project but I’m not sure it would be worth the time or money. The same holds true with reupholstering furniture. Spencer does include a guild at the back of the book that gives cost estimates to have some of these kinds of jobs done, which is helpful to have when you’re considering purchasing a piece of furniture. For example, maybe you find an old sofa with great “bones” and it would cost $3000 for something comparable new; with that guide to show you that it will probably cost $1500 to have it reupholstered, you’d know that it was still a good deal.

Still, there are a lot of great tips in this book, particularly for those who are considered completely redecorating a room. Some seem pretty obvious (understand the way you will be using the room before you buy anything); other ideas are less obvious (Spencer bought a set of small tables for the tops only to be used as frames for artwork). Some of the tips are just great reminders of things I already knew (use fabric to line the inside of a hutch to add color and pattern). There are also sections of general information to keep in mind when on the hunt, including one of flea market rules, style inspiration for each room, and some suggestions for things to keep an eye out for that always make good additions to a room (huzzah for the suggestion of old books!).

Despite what I said earlier about not really liking all of the finished rooms, nearly all of them had something I liked about them and decorating ideas I do think I could manage. One piece was a clock with a really terrific frame but the clock didn’t work; they took out the clock piece and put in a mirror. Voila - really cool wall hanging for a really low price with very little effort. Most importantly, this book reminded me that my flea market/thrifting/picking can really pay off – now to put that inspiration to work!

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Life: It Goes On - August 11

You guys - wasn't it just yesterday that we were saying "I can't believe it's August already?" and now we are a third of the way through August? Summer has gone by way too fast! Why do the good things seem to go by so much more quickly? I mean, February may show that it's only 28 days but we all know that it really lasts 56 days!

Also, hit up some garage sales while I was out!
In bookish news, in one of our older neighborhoods, some people were clearing out a space to open a new business and they let people come this weekend to take away as many books as they wanted. I filled three bags and walked out with 25 "new" books. Truth be told, I'm mostly going to be using them as decor items so my first criteria in choosing a book was that it had to fit the color palette that I wanted. But, because I might pick them up to read them someday, they still had to sound interesting. The first thing I need to do with them is to get them out in some fresh air and sunshine and take brush to them because they are filthy and stink. See that top one? That's Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott. It's one of the worst offenders but I love that book so I couldn't leave it behind!

Last Week I:

Listened To: I about half way through Elizabeth Gilbert's City of Girls and will finish it this week. I am really loving it.

Watched: Some more episodes of Orange Is The New Black with Miss H. More importantly, preseason NFL football! I know there are a lot of things the NFL needs to clean up and I know it's a terribly violent game that leaves men with brain damage. But I can't help myself, I love the game. I just keep hoping they can make it safer and solve their other problems.

Read: I raced through Minrose Gwin's The Accidentals which I really enjoyed and now I'm reading Melanie Benjamin's latest, Mistress of the Ritz. My reading lately has me thinking about the "six degrees of separation" game. The Accidentals includes a wayward daughter who is sent off to live with her aunt. City of Girls also has a wayward daughter who is sent off to live with her aunt and includes a reference to Coco Chanel. Yesterday I was reading Mistress of the Ritz and, lo and behold, there was Coco Chanel!

Made: Lots of salads, lots of pastas, and BLTs. It's tomato season and if I can use tomatoes in a dish and I don't have to turn on the oven, there's a pretty good chance we're eating it.

Enjoyed: Spending last evening and this morning with my sister and brother-in-law who had made a quick trip down for a funeral. Sad day for them but we were happy to get to spend some time with them...and their dogs. Not gonna lie, I kind of miss going over to their place for a pup fix, especially their Puck who loves his Aunt Lisa!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: Remember all of those things I had here last week? Yep, still need to do most of them. My half day got consumed with sofa shopping (we had, unsurprisingly, no luck finding anything we agreed on) and then yesterday I ended up going down to get those books and hitting up garage sales instead of staying home and doing the things that needed to be done. 

Thinking About: My niece's wedding, which is only 20 days away and which means I get to have my whole family together and I get to travel. What a great way to close out summer!

Feeling: Lazy. And I definitely don't have time for being lazy.

Looking forward to: Tuesday we meet the Big Guy's sister and niece for dinner and Wednesday I'm having dinner with friends. So, yeah, I'm looking forward to not having to cook for two nights and seeing people I haven't seen in a while. 

Question of the week: Anyone have any tips for cleaning up old books?