Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Bones of Paradise by Jonis Agee

The Bones of Paradise by Jonis Agee
Published August 2016 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: my copy through the library for book club

Publisher's Summary:
Ten years after the Seventh Cavalry massacred more than two hundred Lakota men, women, and children at Wounded Knee, J.B. Bennett, a white rancher, and Star, a young Native American woman, are murdered in a remote meadow on J.B.’s land. The deaths bring together the scattered members of the Bennett family: J.B.’s cunning and hard father, Drum; his estranged wife, Dulcinea; and his teenage sons, Cullen and Hayward. As the mystery of these twin deaths unfolds, the history of the dysfunctional Bennetts and their damning secrets is revealed, exposing the conflicted heart of a nation caught between past and future.

At the center of The Bones of Paradise are two remarkable women. Dulcinea, returned after bitter years of self-exile, yearns for redemption and the courage to mend her broken family and reclaim the land that is rightfully hers. Rose, scarred by the terrible slaughters that have decimated and dislocated her people, struggles to accept the death of her sister, Star, and refuses to rest until she is avenged.

A kaleidoscopic portrait of misfits, schemers, chancers, and dreamers, Jonis Agee’s bold novel is a panorama of America at the dawn of a new century. A beautiful evocation of this magnificent, blood-soaked land—its sweeping prairies, seas of golden grass, and sandy hills, all at the mercy of two unpredictable and terrifying forces, weather and lawlessness—and the durable men and women who dared to tame it.

My Thoughts:
When The Bones of Paradise was picked to be this year's Omaha Reads selection, one of my book club friends quickly suggested our book club read it and even grabbed one of the library's book club bags with books for us. It included an audiobook copy which I took with us on a recent trip. We got through one disc (which was no reflection on the book; just new terrain that involved more concentration for driving and navigating); my husband was already saying the book was "brutal." I wouldn't have thought that would scare him off but it did; he never asked to read or listen to it again. It did not, however, scare of the ladies of my book club. Not sure if that says more about my husband or my book club friends!

My husband was right; this book is often brutal. But life in the Sandhills of Nebraska in 1900 was brutal, from the weather to the people who inhabited it, and Agee's writing reflects all of the ways that life could be tough in 1900 western Nebraska, from ice storms to tornadoes to the American government to the men (and women) who lived there.

THIS is what the Lakota were
doing that so alarmed the Indian
agent who called in the military

As unforgiving as that land is, in Drum, J. B. and Ry Graver (who discovers the bodies of J. B. and Star) we see the lengths a person will go to to try to own their own piece of it. It makes some people harder, it breaks others, and it drives men to do things they wouldn't think themselves capable of to try to hold on to it.

As the story moves back and forth in time, in part to tell the background stories of many of the characters. But Agee says the real reason she told the story from multiple points of view was to "respect the events and Native Americans at Wounded Knee by making them as alive and as vivid as possible...I dramatized key events with my characters involved so that the impact of the massacre could be registered as horrific as it was." There are several characters who "were there" at Wounded Knee. (Drum, J. B., Ry, and Star). It's this day that is at the center of the book, pulling the story of what happened to the Indians in that area into the story of the Bennett family and the people surrounding them.

And THIS is what was done to the Lakota at Wounded Knee
I was glad to have read this book with a group. I had some questions when I finished and it helped to have people to bounce them off of, many of them having to do with the reason Cullen was sent to live with Drum and why Dulcinea left the ranch. I didn't entirely buy into Agee's reasoning but others in my book club found those reasons believable. All of the characters (with the possible exception of Rose) are deeply flawed and many of them are so hard that they are hard to care for. But Agee lets readers see the humanity in most of her characters and readers can understand what makes them the people they are.

About those murders...there is a murder mystery element to this book, after all...some in my book club figured out early on who killed J. B. and Star. Others were holding on to their own theories until the end. Either way, the slow reveal of what happened in that meadow was satisfying. The ending of the book, though, left some (including my mom) not as satisfied. My mom said she felt like Agee had gotten to the end of the book and didn't know how to finish it so rushed into the ending that we have here. Agee, herself, says she didn't know who killed J. B. and Star when she began writing the book but that she did rewrite the ending many times. One of our book club members said, "how would you have finished the book?" I'm not sure, to be honest. I just don't think it would have ended the way Agee ended it.

Still, it's a fascinating, complex novel, filled with interesting characters and dynamics, one in which the setting plays a very important role. Which, for this girl who was born in the Sandhills of Nebraska, is a very good thing.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

I spent much of a wet, chilly Saturday afternoon cleaning up my Facebook saves...again. I moved, literally, hundreds of recipes onto Pinterest, grew frustrated that so many recipes don't have links to other sites so that I could do that, found dozens of "saves" I have no idea where to store, and realized that I, once again, had a whole lot of bookish things to read and share. Maybe if I spent less time on Facebook, this would stop happening!

From Esquire magazine comes this list of the 40 Best Books of 2017 (So Far). This is where I both pat my back for the books I have already read AND wonder where the hell I've been when I find I haven't even heard of some of the books.

Signature also has a list of The Best Books of 2017. Again, I've read a couple of these, haven't heard of some; the biggest shocker on this list is Dan Brown's latest, Origin. Dan Brown on a list with Ron Chernow, Henning Mankell, and Amy Tan? Hmmmm.

Jane Austen
Also from Signature comes 10 Lessons Every 21st-Century Woman Can Learn From Jane Austen. It makes my heart happy to see that my beloved Jane Austen is still so relevant, all these years after her death!

Speaking of Austen, from The New York Times comes this article that posits that Austen's word choices explain why she endures. The article cites a number of studies and quotes Virginia Wolff as saying "Of all great writers, she is the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness." And yet, her work stands the test of time.

Some other female authors we should be mindful of are highlighted in this list of 12 Revolutionary Novels By Women That Will Motivate You To Keep Resisting from Bustle. It's not too surprising to find Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler on the list, but you might be surprised to also find J. K. Rowling. Of course, the Harry Potter books are largely about resistance.

And yet more women authors to pay attention to are found on PBS's list of 5 Books By Women Of Color You Need To Read Right Now. Haven't read a one of them but they are all, now at least, on my tbr list.

Bookbub Blog has put together a list of 10 Unforgettable Historical Books Based On True Stories. I love reading books that are based on true stories, especially historical ones. I've read a couple of these and will be looking for several others.

Speaking of books I haven't read, here's the list of the National Book Award finalists for 2017. I've got a couple of these lined up to read but had only even read one of the books on the long list. Have you read any of these? Your thoughts?

Finally, Penguin Random House has put together a list of The Best Books About Books. I've actually read more than half of these. Apparently I have a thing for books about books? Are there any other books about books that you would recommend?

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Telling Room by Michael Paterniti

The Telling Room: A Tale of Loe, Betrayal, Revenge And The World's Greatest Piece of Cheese by Michael Paterniti
Published December 2013 by Gale Group
Source: this one is mine

Publisher's Summary:  In the picturesque village of Guzmán, Spain, in a cave dug into a hillside on the edge of town, an ancient door leads to a cramped limestone chamber known as “the telling room.” Containing nothing but a wooden table and two benches, this is where villagers have gathered for centuries to share their stories and secrets—usually accompanied by copious amounts of wine.

It was here, in the summer of 2000, that Michael Paterniti found himself listening to a larger-than-life Spanish cheesemaker named Ambrosio Molinos de las Heras as he spun an odd and compelling tale about a piece of cheese. An unusual piece of cheese. Made from an old family recipe, Ambrosio’s cheese was reputed to be among the finest in the world, and was said to hold mystical qualities. Eating it, some claimed, conjured long-lost memories. But then, Ambrosio said, things had gone horribly wrong. . . .

By the time the two men exited the telling room that evening, Paterniti was hooked. Soon he was fully embroiled in village life, relocating his young family to Guzmán in order to chase the truth about this cheese and explore the fairy tale–like place where the villagers conversed with farm animals, lived by an ancient Castilian code of honor, and made their wine and food by hand, from the grapes growing on a nearby hill and the flocks of sheep floating over the Meseta.

What Paterniti ultimately discovers there in the highlands of Castile is nothing like the idyllic slow-food fable he first imagined. Instead, he’s sucked into the heart of an unfolding mystery, a blood feud that includes accusations of betrayal and theft, death threats, and a murder plot. As the village begins to spill its long-held secrets, Paterniti finds himself implicated in the very story he is writing.

My Thoughts:
I know what the "experts" say about the food groups, but I have my own edition of what the food groups are and one of them is cheese. Yep, cheese gets it's own group. There are a whole lot of cheeses out there in the world and there are very few of them that I've tried and didn't like. So four years ago when I first heard about this book, I knew that I had to find out about the world's greatest piece of cheese.

I must admit that it seemed like it would be a stretch to write an entire book about one kind of cheese. Clearly I did not read the summary before I started reading because this book is so much more than a book about cheese. It is, at least a little bit, about the slow-food movement (it was that movement, after all, which caused Ambrosio Molinos' cheese to gain world-wide fame).
"Ambrosio saw himself as the needle and thread, stitching backward in time, unifying epochs. The awards had validated the idea that you could still make old food, the old way, and enthrall."
It's also about the Castilian way of life and the land. It's about family, friendship gone wrong, greed, and obsession. Not only Ambrosio's obsession with revenge but Paterniti's obsession with Ambrosio and the village of Guzman; Paterniti, a journalist who had traveled the world, became so obsessed with Ambrosio's story, eventually, he moved his entire family to Guzman. Which all makes it a book that's hard to put down, something you almost certainly wouldn't expect from a book you thought was just about cheese.

A word about Paterniti's writing: this book is chock-a-block full of footnotes; footnotes that have footnotes that have footnotes. Some of this is because of the way Ambrosio told his tale (and the tales of others). Much of it is simply Paterniti traveling down side roads, roads that were often humorous, often filled with Spanish history. Occasionally they were distracting but for the most part I enjoyed them. Just as I did Paterniti's writing. He brings the processes, the food, the land, and the people alive.
"The only constant was the bodega. It was nearly guaranteed that at some point along the way we'd end up in the telling room with Ambrosio holding forth, in great word gusts of appreciation for the joys of Castile. He slurped wine and let out wondrous sighs, saying, "Its taste reminds me of the old people who once sat here. It's a privilege to drink this wine." It was a privilege to eat the almonds and the chorizo and jamon, too. It was a privilege to sit on one's derriere in the telling room and get pleasantly soused while hearing stories. It was a privilege to walk this land, to live in this place, to watch the grain grow."
Years ago, my husband picked up a book called Driving Mr. Albert. He thoroughly enjoyed it but it didn't appeal to me (let's be honest, I wasn't really listening when the hubby was telling me about it). Turns out Paterniti wrote that book. I wonder if we still have it. Suddenly, it sounds very much like something I'd like to read!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Life: It Goes On - October 15

Happy Sunday! And by Sunday, I mean that the sun is finally shining today, hopefully all day. It's been so dreary and wet here for most of the past week. Doesn't do much to help the mood I'm put in first thing every morning when I turn on the news. It's also making it tough to start getting the yard ready for winter.

You'd think that would free up more reading time but, I've got to be honest, I'm not doing as much reading as I was for a while. Grant is brilliantly interesting but it's very slow going and I feel guilty if I pick up anything else for a break.

The Big Guy is watching The Coneheads today. It's all silly fun except when you hear Michael McKeon's character, who works for the INS, tell a boatload of refugees to "Go home. You have no skills and will only be a burden on our society." Then it starts to feel like you're watching the evening news.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I finished The Bones of Paradise, have been making myself listen to the news more (although that always makes me an angry driver), and I'm back to podcasts (this week I listened to episodes of Stuff You Should Know and Classical Classroom). I actually added several new ones to my list (Crimetown; Terrible, Thanks for Asking; and Pod Save America) which were recommended by NPR; I haven't listened to any of them yet, though.

Watching: The baseball playoffs. I've got family happy about how the Cubs and Dodgers are doing (although someone is not going to be happy at the end of their series) and a girl very happy with how her Yankees have been playing.

Reading: An interesting article in Harper's Bazaar about emotional labor.  My work load, emotional labor-wise, is considerably less than when my kids were young and I was a stay-at-home mom. Still, I'd made supper last night for two of my kiddos and an hour later had to go in and clean up the kitchen when it became clear that neither of these grown adults thought that maybe they should do it. When I said something about it, they both said, "You didn't ask me to do it." And so it continues.

Making: Slow-cooked pork chops with apples, chicken enchiladas, turkey tater tot casserole, lasagna bake, chocolate chip cookies, shortbread cookies, and, last night, we tried cloud eggs. Got the bug last Sunday to meal prep for the week and I'm always so grateful to be able to walk in the door after work and just heat something up. Today will definitely include meal prepping again!

Planning: Our trip to Missouri this week. Cannot wait to get my hands on my great-niece who will turn one next week.

Thinking About: Making some changes to make myself happier. For starters, maybe get back to that Happiness Project I started at the beginning of the year and abandoned months ago.
Miss E

Enjoying: Last night a mildly amusing thing happened that, for some reason, struck Miss H and I as much funnier than it really was. Then the fact that we were laughing so hard made us laugh even harder. Tears streaming down our faces harder. Can't even breathe harder. This happens to us sometimes and BG just rolls his eyes and says, "I don't get it." That's ok, we do; and it's great!

Feeling:  Like I need to get out and enjoy the sunshine instead of doing the things I know I need to do.

Looking forward to: This face.

Question of the week: Last night I drove through a patch of water on the road and found myself already wondering if it was just wet or might be icy. I hate that I'm already focusing on winter! If you live in a part of the country with four distinct seasons, how do you help yourself enjoy this season without thinking too much about upcoming winter?

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
Published October 2017 by Simon and Schuster
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Find your magic.

For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man.

Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk.

From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.

The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy.

My Thoughts:
So, I know I just said, in another review, that I don't like supernatural elements in books. Literally just said it. Even after I had started reading this book. As it turns out, I may be wrong, at least when the supernatural is done by someone who knows how to do it as well as Alice Hoffman. For some reason, even though the entire book is about witches, and curses, and mind reading, it never felt like the magic was the center of the book. Instead, this is really a book about family, love, redemption, and being true to yourself and I do love a book with those themes.

I've never read Hoffman's Practical Magic (this is actually a prequel to that earlier book), but I love the movie adaptation, starring Sandra Bullock, Nicole, Kidman, and Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest (the later two play Franny and Jet Owens, the sisters in this book). I adore that movie for the very reasons that I enjoyed this book. It's not a given that a movie adaptation of a book will fairly represent the book on which it was based (ok, it's often not even close); but, on the assumption that this one did, I had a feeling I would enjoy a book based on the aunts younger lives. Hoffman did not disappoint because, at it's heart, the magic in this book is the characters, who adored, each in their own way.

Even though the rules the Owens children grow up with are a little unusual, they are still rules made by parents and not understood by the children. Even though the Owens children have unique magical gifts and can often read each others minds, don't most siblings grow up each with their own unique gifts and an ability to read each other where others might not be able to do so? They don't appreciate their parents until they are gone, they long to be accepted, they long to be loved but are afraid of love - aren't these all things that are universal?

Hoffman charmed me with her blend of humor, sadness, grief, love, spirit, and family bond. Perhaps that was the greatest magic of the book. It's not perfect (it can drag on too long in some places and occasionally feel repetitive) but it was the perfect book for me at just the right time.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Life: It Goes On - October 8

Ladies and gentlemen: I have, perhaps for the first time, actually completed the R. I. P. Challenge. Already. Yea, me! Ok, ok - it's entirely to do with the fact that both of the books I read were downloaded from Netgalley and had to be read by now. But still!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I've continued "reading" The Bones of Paradise. There's no way I would have gotten through the print copy of my library book before the book club bag was due back; being able to do a listen/read has been a lifesaver!

Watching: The Avett Brothers in concert! Oh, sure, it misted the entire concert and I was pretty cranky about that right up until they started. But once they started, I was remind again how much I enjoy their storytelling and the energy the entire band puts into giving their fans a great experience. 

Reading:  Basically, I've been a reading fool because I went completely berserk requesting books on Netgalley without paying any attention to archive dates. Boy, is it showing in my house. But we're only eight days into the month and I've finished three books, and will finish a fourth today. Of course, this week I will start Ron Chernow's Grant which will take me the next two weeks to read. My dad's also reading it so when I review it, you'll get his opinion, too. But he doesn't know he's going to do that, yet, so don't tell him.

Making: I can hardly remember what we ate for meals at all this week except I did make Irish nachos for supper on Friday. Health food at it's finest! Tator tots topped with ground beef, bacon, cheese, onion, sour cream, chives and tomato.

Planning: On heading off to Junkstock shortly. I don't usually go on Sundays but it has been so rainy here all week (several inches in just a couple of days) so I decided to give the mud a chance to dry up some.

Thinking About: How it might be time to give up on shorts and capris for the year. Even the cats, in their fur coats, have decided it's time to start cuddling up on our laps (aka stealing our body heat).  

Enjoying: Family. Jeff's cousin and his wife, as well as their son and his wife and baby boy, came to Nebraska this weekend from California. It's always good to get to spend some time with them and it was fun to get to meet the baby. As much as Facebook makes me crazy most days, it's been fun getting to watch him grow up that way but more fun to actually get to hold him!

Feeling: Angry. Wednesday night Mini-him walked out of work at 9 p.m. only to find that his car had been stolen. He's been driving the original Mama Shep's 2000 Honda Civic, nothing fancy at all. We're almost certain it was stolen for parts so don't hold much hope out for it being found. It was in fantastic shape and, of course, he had no car payment. It will be hard to replace, particularly since he hasn't been saving money to be ready to get a new car. So frustrating that people think it's ok to just take the things that others have worked so hard for.

Looking forward to: A normal week? I'm not entirely sure what that means any more. It seems like there's always something, even in this phase of our lives.

Question of the week: Have you ever had a car stolen? How did that experience end up for you?

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Witches' Tree by M. C. Beaton

The Witches' Tree by M. C. Beaton
Published October 2017 by St. Martin's Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Cotswolds inhabitants are used to inclement weather, but the night sky is especially foggy as Rory and Molly Devere, the new vicar and his wife, drive slowly home from a dinner party in their village of Sumpton Harcourt. They strain to see the road ahead—and then suddenly brake, screeching to a halt. Right in front of them, aglow in the headlights, a body hangs from a gnarled tree at the edge of town. Margaret Darby, an elderly spinster, has been murdered—and the villagers are bewildered as to who would commit such a crime.

Agatha Raisin rises to the occasion (a little glad for the excitement, to tell the truth, after a long run of lost cats and divorces on the books). But Sumpton Harcourt is a small and private village, she finds—a place that poses more questions than answers. And when two more murders follow the first, Agatha begins to fear for her reputation—and even her life. That the village has its own coven of witches certainly doesn't make her feel any better...

My Thoughts:
M. C. Beaton is known for two series of books, one featuring Hamish Macbeth (whom I adore), and one featuring Agatha Raisin. Agatha is a character that the other characters in Beaton's books tend to dislike so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that I don't care much for her myself. I feel rather bad about this given that she is a woman of a certain age (mine) who has bad a name for herself and runs her own business. But to call Agatha "independent" would be wrong. She is forever trying to find the love of her life; she wants the full on romance. I tend to come away from books featuring her feeling that we've dwelt entirely too much on Agatha's problems with men. Which isn't fair, I suppose, when I consider how much time is devoted to Hamish's love life in his series. Nevertheless.

This time it really did feel a bit like Beaton forgot all about the murders as the book went on. Even when we got to the end, it felt like Beaton had forgotten to tie up some of the loose ends. In some books, that would be alright. But this is a cozy mystery and cozy mysteries are meant to finish all neat and tidy. In fact, there was a lot about the book that felt as though it hadn't been thoroughly thought out, from the fact that the coven so much is made of that ends up featuring almost not at all to conversations that don't seem to flow properly. My copy is, as I note above, a egalley. Perhaps before the book went to press, some of those concerns were cleaned up.

In the end, it's a fun enough book (if one can say a book in which four people are murdered is "fun"). It just wasn't up to the standards of Beaton's previous books.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Life: It Goes On - October 4

We finally got to my sister's and brother-in-law's new house this last weekend (hence, no post on Sunday). Just the Big Guy and I were able to go but it did give us a little more flexibility; made a bit of an adventure of the trip north that included a trip to a book store where the owner gifts you a free book on your first visit. He asks about your reading preferences than chooses a book he think you'll enjoy from his inventory of used books. I think we both got winners. Of course, the benefit of this for him was that we felt obligated to buy a couple of books as well (as if I weren't already going to buy a book!). If you're ever in Red Wing, Minnesota (also home of Red Wing pottery and Red Wing boots), I highly recommend you check out Fair Trade Books.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: The Big Guy and I tried to listen to Jonis Agee's The Bones of Paradise on our trip but with our meandering up and semi-stressful ride home, we only got through one disc. So I'm listening to it this week as a read/listen combo.

Watching: Over the weekend we spent a good deal of time watching that river that my sister's property backs on to, a bonfire, and some football.

Reading: I have soooo many books to finish this week, between a library book due back soon and Netgalley books that are about to expire. I'm hoping to finish M. C. Beaton's The Witches' Tree today then it's on to Alice Hoffman's latest, The Rules of Magic, which is a sort of prequel to her Practical Magic.

Making: Tacos, coleslaw, steaks, fried apples, salads, and BLT's. We seem to be fighting the end of summer eating.

Planning: On spending most of the rest of my free time this week reading.

Thinking About: Getting my Halloween decorations out today.

Top to bottom, left to right: looking up at my sister's house from the river, getting love from one of their dogs who kind of loves me, the river my sister's house backs onto, on a wagon ride through an orchard, the guys at winery #1, BG and I at winery #2, and my sister and me at winery #1.

Enjoying: See collage.

Feeling: Like Menomonie is too far away, especially with winter just around the corner.

Looking forward to: Seeing The Avett Brothers in concert tomorrow night.

Question of the week: When someone asks you what you like to read, what's your quick answer? Can you even narrow it down?

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

We Were Eight Years In Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

We Were Eight Years In Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Published October 2017 by Diversified Publishing
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
“We were eight years in power” was the lament of Reconstruction-era black politicians as the American experiment in multiracial democracy ended with the return of white supremacist rule in the South. In this sweeping collection of new and selected essays, Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the tragic echoes of that history in our own time: the unprecedented election of a black president followed by a vicious backlash that fueled the election of the man Coates argues is America’s “first white president.”

But the story of these present-day eight years is not just about presidential politics. This book also examines the new voices, ideas, and movements for justice that emerged over this period—and the effects of the persistent, haunting shadow of our nation’s old and unreconciled history. Coates powerfully examines the events of the Obama era from his intimate and revealing perspective—the point of view of a young writer who begins the journey in an unemployment office in Harlem and ends it in the Oval Office, interviewing a president.

We Were Eight Years in Power features Coates’s iconic essays first published in The Atlantic, including “Fear of a Black President,” “The Case for Reparations,” and “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” along with eight fresh essays that revisit each year of the Obama administration through Coates’s own experiences, observations, and intellectual development, capped by a bracingly original assessment of the election that fully illuminated the tragedy of the Obama era. We Were Eight Years in Power is a vital account of modern America, from one of the definitive voices of this historic moment.

My Thoughts:
I'll bet you thought you knew what that title referred to, before you read the summary, didn't you? I did, too. We are only partially right. The title is actually taken from a quote by South Carolina congressman Thomas Miller in 1895:
"We were eight years in power. We had built schoolhouses, established charitable institutions, built and maintained the penitentiary system, provided for the education of the dear and dumb, rebuilt the ferries. In short, we had reconstructed the State and placed it upon the rode to prosperity."
It was Miller's plea to the "fair-minded people of South Carolina to preserve the citizenship rights of African Americans." It didn't work. The white men who had recently fought so hard to preserve slavery were not ready yet to acknowledge the "actual record of Negro government;" that success undermined white supremacy and had to be crushed.

We Were Eight Years In Power is a series of essays, written during the eight years of Barack Obama's presidency, along with a new essay used to introduce each of the previous essays. In the new essays, Coates examines how his own opinions have changed, explains what he was trying to say in those original essays, and sheds even more light on the subjects he covers. It is clear that Coates is a man who is tireless in his desire to learn but willing to admit that his opinions may change and that there are grays areas.

This book is a tough read for a white person. It made me uncomfortable. It sometimes made me defensive. It absolutely opened my eyes and made me rethink things I had taken as truth, from Booker T. Washington to  Ken Burns' documentary about the Civil War and revered historian Shelby Foote, from W. E. B. Dubois to Malcolm X, from the reasons black Americans were happy to see a black man elected president to ways that Obama failed them (although Coates does not blame Obama for all of those failures).

I have my copy of this book through Netgalley which means that it will expire in a couple of weeks. It's a book I will likely buy a copy of, a book that I feel I will need to pick up again to reread essays, to continue to think about the things Coates has said. At one point Coates talks about people asking him to be the voice of black people now and how he is not comfortable with some of the things they ask of him. I'm not sure I'm ready to accept him as the only voice of black Americans. But he is certainly an important one, a writer who will have me looking to learn more.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Mary Jane's Ghost by Ted Gregory

Mary Jane's Ghost: The Legacy of a Murder In Small Town America by Ted Gregory
Published October 2017 by University of Iowa Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Summer 1948. In the scenic, remote river town of Oregon, Illinois, a young couple visiting the local lovers’ lane is murdered. The shocking crime garners headlines from Portland, Maine, to Long Beach, California. But after a sweeping manhunt, no one is arrested and the violent deaths of Mary Jane Reed and Stanley Skridla fade into time’s indifference.

Fast forward fifty years. Eccentric entrepreneur Michael Arians moves to Oregon, opens a roadhouse, gets elected mayor, and becomes obsessed with the crime. He comes up with a scandalous conspiracy theory and starts to believe that Mary Jane’s ghost is haunting his establishment. He also reaches out to the Chicago Tribune for help.

Arians’s letter falls on the desk of general assignment reporter Ted Gregory. For the next thirteen years, while he ricochets from story to story and his newspaper is deconstructed around him, Gregory remains beguiled by the case of the teenaged telephone operator Mary Jane and twenty-eight-year-old Navy vet Stanley—and equally fascinated by Arians’s seemingly hopeless pursuit of whoever murdered them.

My Thoughts:
Murder, obsession, a cover-up - just the kind of book that I used to love to read 30 years ago. I'm thinking Joseph Wambaugh, Vincent Bugliosi. I couldn't wait to get started on this one. Unfortunately, Gregory failed to deliver the kind of gripping story I was expecting.

That may be partly my own fault and false expectations. I wanted more about the lives of Mary Jane Reed and Stanley Skridla; it would have made the solving of their murders as imperative to me as it was to Mike Arians and Ted Gregory. But the book is titled Mary Jane's Ghost for a reason and the reason is not, entirely, a supernatural one (although Arians spends decades convinced that Mary Jane's ghost does haunt the restaurant he owns). Rather, the book is about the way that Mary Jane's murder haunts these men, particularly Arians who spent more than $100,000 trying to solve the murders, agitates officials for decades, and gains a reputation as being a little bit crazy amongst the townspeople.

If Gregory had stuck to that story, even, I think it would have been one that kept my attention. But by the time he came into the picture, and so many years after the murders, there were few people to interview and not a lot of evidence to examine. Perhaps there just wasn't enough to write a whole book about. So Gregory puts himself, and the stories he was writing for the Chicago Tribune during the more than a decade that he was involved with Arians, into the book. It begins to feel like a book about Ted Gregory and the stories he wrote for more than a decade, that happened to include, over and over again, the murders of Reed and Skridla and Arians quest to solve them.

It's not that Gregory doesn't have an interesting story; he does. He was, after all, at one of the countries most respected newspapers at the time of the Great Recession and at the time that print media relinquished its reign at the source of hard-hitting news. It's a story worth telling; it just wasn't the story I was expecting.

Still, at just over 200 pages, it's an interesting read. Readers will learn more than than they will ever want to know about what goes on when you exhume a body that's been in the ground for decades (hint: you'll be glad this is a book and not a documentary). And the other stories that Gregory takes about are all interesting to read about. I just wish there were more about Reed, perhaps pictures, so that I might have understood better how Arians became so obsessed by a girl who died years before he came to Oregon, Illinois.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Banned Books Week

We have once again arrived at that week of the year when we celebrate the books that people, world-wide, have banned or challenged, for various reasons. Generally, I try to make sure I'm reading a book during this week that's been banned but I have entirely too many books that I need to get through in the next few weeks to push in another book. In lieu of that, one of my local movie theaters is making it easier to celebrate these books. This week they've been showing movie adaptations of some of the books. In that spirit, tonight I'll be going to a showing of To Kill A Mockingbird, the adaptation of Harper Lee's book by the same name. It's a movie I've seen many times but never on a big screen so I'm pretty stoked to go. It's also the first time I've seen it since reading the long-hidden prequel, Go Set A Watchman.

To Kill A Mockingbird was published in 1960 to great success and won the Pulitzer Prize. It is loosely based on Lee's own life. The top left picture is Lee with Mary Badham, the young actress who played the character based on her in the movie. It remains one of the most challenged and banned books. Those who challenge it contend that its racially- and sexually-charged themes are too mature for young children.

I love both the book and the movie for the ways they deal with those mature subjects but also for their warm, humor, and the relationships between the characters. It seems this is a story that is particularly timely, 57 years after the book was first published.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Life: It Goes On - September 24

I didn't entirely panic when a few months back, I used up the last inhaler on my refill. I haven't had a serious attack in some time and I really was going to get to the doctor's office some time. Thursday evening, though, my asthma flared up Friday morning, it almost sent me to the emergency room. I'm a pro at this so I had the skills to settle myself and make it through a day at work; but a visit to urgent care will cost me a lot more than a visit to my doctor's office would have. One dose of the inhaler and I was feeling much better but, dang, I lost a couple of days to using all of my energy just to breathe instead of actually doing anything. I couldn't even focus on books. And here I'd given you all the impression that I was a smart woman! So here's your PSA for the week folks: don't let yourself run out of the medicines that can save your life.

This Week I'm:
Singing Bones podcast

Listening To: I'm not sure when I'm going to be in the mood to go back to listening to books while I'm in the car. I'm loving the flexibility of listening to podcasts and I'm learning so much. This weeks podcasts included: Singing Bones, Annotated, The History Chicks, Happier With Gretchen Rubin, Nerdette and Stuff You Should Know.

Watching: Lots of football, some baseball, Orange Is The New Black, The Mindy Project, and the finale of America's Got Talent.

Reading: Still plugging away at The Telling Room but I've got to get through it soon because I need to read the October book club book soon and I have Ron Chernow's Grant to read in the next month. That's gonna take some time!

Making: That enthusiasm I expressed last week for turning on the oven fizzled under last week's heat. Mostly, we ate salads, pasta, light foods. Temps are supposed to be cooler this week so I may get myself back in the mood.

Planning: A trip to the paint store this week. We have, finally (I think), agreed on a color to paint our front door. In working on the blog this weekend, I discovered that this is something we've been "discussing" for at least three years! The current color of choice is something we've never considered before but would make my mother-in-law so happy if she were still alive.

Thinking About: Where to hang the latest photo I bought from my brother once I get it matted and framed. I am so impressed by how professional this looks! Once again going to promote his website because I love his stuff so much - check him out at See-Nile Photography!

Enjoying: Scents - bergamot hand soap and lotion, eucalyptus and spearmint lotion, lavender everything, pumpkin spice  and sandalwood candles. Lately I find myself lost in testing fragrances when I'm out shopping.

Feeling: Like there has to be an easier way to deal with a sick cat. This girl's been sick and needs medicine twice a day. She cannot be tricked into eating it and getting it down her is a two person job. One of us (me) wraps her up in a giant towel and tries to hold her down while the other one (BG) tries to get a syringe far enough into her mouth (while she flails her head back and forth) so that she won't spit the medicine back out right away. It's probably a very comical thing to see but we have the scars to prove that it's no laughing matter. Ah, the joys of pet ownership!

Looking forward to: Heading north to see my sister and brother-in-law this weekend!

Question of the week: The Big Guy is frying up some potatoes for lunch; wish I could eat them at least once a week! What's your favorite way to eat potatoes?

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Bloggiesta - OLE!

Oh, hey - there you are fall Bloggiesta! I'd completely forgotten about you so I'm late getting a starting post and I'm not even sure how much time I'll have to devote to you this weekend. But I've always enjoyed this excuse to spend guilt-free time working on the ol' blog so I'm jumping in for as much as I can get done in the next three days. Most of what I'll be working on is what I'm working on every Bloggiesta; these things seem to be a lot like dusting - you no sooner get it all done, then it needs doing again.

To Do (god, I do love to-do lists!):

1. Clean up the mail box.
2. Work on tags (I'm actually making great progress on this one - I might finish it soon...ish!)
3. Get templates set up for the books I've downloaded on Netgalley.
4. Work on a new header. I like the one I have but I'd like to update some of the pictures.
    Maybe include my new daughter-in-law, for example.
5. Update this year's challenge page. That shouldn't take long - I'm doing a terrible job with them!
6. Check out the mini-challenges. I'm not going to commit to doing any; I'll play it by ear and
    see what there is.
7. Get pictures for Litsy challenges.
8. Clean up my blog reader.

I'll update here as the weekend progress and probably check in on Twitter, Litsy and Instagram as the mood strikes me.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian by Andy Weir

Publisher's Summary:
Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

My Thoughts: 
Well, damn, that was fun! Doesn't seem like it should have been, does it? You expect drama. You expect science. You get plenty of both of those. But Weir also imbues Mark Watney with a terrific sense of humor which keeps this book from slipping into complete hopelessness.

It may also turn out that I like science fiction much more than I think I do.


I have no way of knowing how much of the "science" in this book is accurate, but it certainly read as accurate and believable and I bought into it entirely. I may have skimmed over some of the scientific explanation (ok, I did skim over some of the lengthier passages) but most of it was fascinating. While Watney was a well-trained, scientifically-minded person, he wasn't going to survive simply based on his own training. He had to rely as much on his own instincts and common sense as science and he is not infallible, all of which make him easier to relate to than the real astronauts we watch on t.v.

The book doesn't entirely focus on Watney, though. No way is he going to survive being left on Mars without a lot of help from Earth. The politics, ingenuity, and hard work involved on Earth are nearly as interesting as what Watney experiences. The crew that evacuated without Watney is also an integral part of the story, although they are not as fully developed characters as they were in the movie adaptation of the book.

Speaking of that movie, I liked it a lot when I saw it. I like it even more now that I've read the book. It includes all of the important details of the book, fleshes out the crew of Watney's mission, and Matt Damon is perfectly cast as Watney. It's understood that it would take a small army on earth to do what needs to be done to save an astronaut lost in space, but the movie did pull back on that piece of the story and focused on fewer Earth-bound players. It's a sacrifice that didn't really impact the story.

I'd give both the book and the movie adaptations high marks. Mini-him, who was given this book for Christmas a couple of years ago, agrees. Now the book gets passed on to The Big Guy. It's definitely a book you want to put into another person's hands.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Life: It Goes On - September 17

It's been summery here this past week. Until yesterday, when it actually felt chilly out in the middle of the grey day. Convinced me I need some new, cozy throw blankets soon. It also convinced me that, since I was the only one at home for five hours, I needed to spend the morning curled up on the sofa, reading and playing games on my phone. I felt a little guilty about it. But only a little.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Podcasts: Happier, Stuff You Missed In History Class, The History Chicks and Radiolab. Music: The Avett Brothers, after seeing the movie (see below).

Watching: Football - ouch (very painful Husker loss), three episodes of Orange Is The New Black, Hidden Figures (a good movie although it certainly took liberties with the facts and blended some characters) and the Judd Apatow documentary about The Avett Brothers, May It Last which was one of the best music documentaries I've seen.

Reading: I started I Am A Man after seeing author Joe Starita, but stopped when I realized that I'm meant to be reading (my choice) foodie books for Fall Feasting this month. So now I'm reading The Telling Room. Which is bound to make me want to cook but even more likely to make me want to eat great cheeses every day.

Making: Hot pork roast sandwiches (using last Sunday's leftover pork roast), tacos, avocado toast, and, yesterday when it was cool and I felt like turning the oven on, I made lasagna. I know I'm starting to get the autumn feeling when I'm ready to start doing real cooking. Also, I made a pumpkin dip. If that doesn't say autumn, I don't know what does.

Planning: A trip to Wisconsin to see my sister's new home and a trip to Missouri to see my great-niece my brother and his whole family.

Thinking About: Tackling my office. How can it always being needing to be cleaned up? How can we, after all of the purging and organizing I've done this year, still have so much "stuff?" To be honest, I was sort of glad, while we were doing craft projects for the wedding, that I had a lot of the things I had previously considered getting rid of, like dowel rods and fabric scraps. On the plus side, my organizing efforts meant I knew I had those things and exactly where they were. I don't think we'll ever be able to live as minimalists.

Enjoying: The house being decorated for fall. I'm sure I'll continue to switch things up a bit but I'm happy with it for now. In October, I'll switch out some of the things for Halloween and in November for the Thanksgiving things but the base pieces will stay where they are.

Feeling: Like it's time to break out the apples, caramel, and pumpkin. I'm working really hard to, now that I've accepted it's fall, appreciate all of the great things the season brings.

Looking forward to: Getting this print which my brother put together of images he took of the eclipse. Can't wait to get it hung above The Big Guy's desk! If you're interested in a copy, email me. He's putting in an order for them tomorrow. Prices start at $25 for a 6" x 30" copy.

Question of the week: What's your favorite thing about fall? All of the pumpkin and apple flavored foods? The colors and light? The crunch of the leaves underfoot? Pulling out sweaters and warm blankets? The smell of your fall candle scents?

Remember when I reviewed the book about hygge a few weeks ago? I feel like fall is the perfect hygge season!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XII

It's that time of year again - you know, the time of year when I think I'm going to read a lot of books that qualify for the Readers Imbibing Peril "challenge," and even watch some movies and read some short stories, but then I'm lucky if I finish one book. Yep, that time. Because, apparently, it's fall. Not sure how I feel about that but maybe joining in some of the fun bookish activities to be had this time of year will help me get in the spirit of things.

As it happens, I have a couple of books downloaded from Netgalley that are publishing in October and will be perfect for R.I.P.:

The Witches' Tree by M. C. Beaton is one of her Agatha Raisin series, cozy mysteries with a sassy heroine. Mary Jane's Ghost by Ted Gregory is the story of an unsolved 1948 murder and the two men who, more than 50 years later, became obsessed with solving the case. Finishing both of these books would mean that I've completed Peril the Second.

I had so much fun watching old episodes of Dark Shadows on YouTube last year (or two years ago?), that I may try to do some more of those to complete Peril of the Screen as well.

Are you participating in R.I.P.? Are you one of the people with a giant stack of books to read? I'm always fascinated by what others choose to read for this.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Love And Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford

Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford
Published September 2017 by Random House Publishing
Source: my ecopy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:

For twelve-year-old Ernest Young, a charity student at a boarding school, the chance to go to the World’s Fair feels like a gift. But only once he’s there, amid the exotic exhibits, fireworks, and Ferris wheels, does he discover that he is the one who is actually the prize. The half-Chinese orphan is astounded to learn he will be raffled off—a healthy boy “to a good home."

The winning ticket belongs to the flamboyant madam of a high-class brothel, famous for educating her girls. There, Ernest becomes the new houseboy and befriends Maisie, the madam’s precocious daughter, and a bold scullery maid named Fahn. Their friendship and affection form the first real family Ernest has ever known—and against all odds, this new sporting life gives him the sense of home he’s always desired.

But as the grande dame succumbs to an occupational hazard and their world of finery begins to crumble, all three must grapple with hope, ambition, and first love.

Fifty years later, in the shadow of Seattle’s second World’s Fair, Ernest struggles to help his ailing wife reconcile who she once was with who she wanted to be, while trying to keep family secrets hidden from their grown-up daughters.

My Thoughts:
Sometimes it's good to be completely surprised by a book. Sometimes it's great to find, within a books pages, exactly what you expected to find.

Love and Other Consolation Prizes falls into that second category for me. I've read both of Ford's previous books (Hotel On The Corner of Bitter and Sweet and Songs of Willow Frost) and expect to learn a lot about the history of the Pacific Northwest and the Chinese and Japanese immigrants who came there when I open one of Ford's books. I expect that there will be children involved in the story and I expect that there will be tears (mine) at some point in the reading. Love and Other Consolation Prizes more than met my expectations in all regards.
"This is a love story, but so was the tale of Romeo and Juliet. That was the greatest love story of all time. And we all know how that turned out."
We don't know how Ernest Young's love story will turn out but this book is more than just a love story. It is also a story about families, even unconventional ones. It's a story about accepting people for who they are and about the kinds of sacrifices people are willing to make, both to get what they want and for others.

Ford also raises moral questions that don't necessarily have black or white answers. The character of Mrs. Irvine is a woman who pays for Ernest to attend a private school but only because it makes her feel better about herself. She doesn't care that Ernest if treated as a servant by the richer, white boys; she doesn't want to know that he is left out of all extracurricular activities. She is only too quick to punish him when he expresses the slightest self-interest by raffling him off to a good home. How he might be treated in that home interests her not at all, as long as the home belongs to good, white Christians. For the coming decades, she will make tirelessly work to destroy the home that Ernest does find himself in. Given that the home is, in fact, a brothel, is she wrong to do so? At Madame Flora's, Ernest is given his own room, clothing, responsibilities, and a fair wage. More importantly, he is surrounded by people who care about him, even love him. Which is the better woman?

The love triangle at the heart of the story is lovely - Fahn and Maisie are friends, both are in love with Ernest and he with them. Both Fahn and Maisie are fighting to make their way in the world and Ernest will do what ever it takes to try to keep them from becoming "upstairs girls." I wanted to wrap all three of them up in my arms and make life better, more fair. Later in life, my heart broke for Ernest again but Ford, as you will know if you've read his previous books, will not let this be an entirely sad story. There will be reunions, there will be hope.

Like his previous books, Love and Other Consolation Prizes would make a terrific book club selection. From the history of the two Seattle World's Fairs, the importing of Chinese and Japanese children to sell in the United States, the ethics of governments and police forces, the treatment of immigrants there is a lot of here to talk about. And that doesn't even touch on the themes of family, love, abuse, morality, and friendship. Ford packs a lot into this book, making it a lovely book with a lot of depth.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Life: It Goes On - September 10

Goodbye to last week; sort of glad to see it go. One of those weeks that was more emotionally tough than busy but it's the past and we move on to a new week. This is the week I will make myself accept that fall is here. Even though last night I was sitting outside until midnight in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, eating s'mores. Best of both worlds!

Sorry, Mr. Squirrel, put I needed
these for decorating!
This Week I'm:

Listening To: My latest Spotify playlist is the Happier 911 Songs playlist which I discovered through Gretchen Rubin's Happier podcast. It's all songs that her readership/listeners suggested as songs that lift them up when they need a boost. I'm finding a lot of new-to-me songs and artists.

Watching: Football and storm and fire coverage. Those fires in the west are terrifying and so under-reported.

Reading: About to finish The Martian; I'm really enjoying it even though I do skim over a lot of the scientific calculations. They're essential to the book but there's no way for me to even know if they're accurate so I don't need the details. Next up, I think, is Joe Starita's I Am A Man.

Making: A mess of my kitchen as I repotted all of those plants I brought home from Milwaukee. "Why didn't you do that on the patio?" The Big Guy asked me. Yeah, I don't know. Easier for me to go scour the house for other things to use as pots, I guess. I shopped for pots this week but just didn't find enough things I liked for a reasonable enough price. So I hit up the Goodwill and shopped my house and I'm pretty pleased with the results. I'll keep looking for more permanent solutions but for now, this works.

Planning: On finishing up my fall decorating today. I always start the fall decorating with natural materials (acorns, apples, small mum plants). I'd leave it at that for now but Miss H insists that the gourds and pumpkins be added right away so I'll pull up those boxes today. I wish Trader Joe's had their tiny pumpkins in already!

Thinking About: All of those in the path of Hurricane Irma and the wildfires.

Enjoying: So many bookish things (see last Thursday's post). Also, pretty excited that I've (finally!) been approved to get an early read of Ron Chernow's Grant - all 960 pages of it!

Feeling: Like I just want to curl up and read all day. My house says that's not really an option, sadly.

Looking forward to: A quiet week.

Question of the week: Tell me one thing you love about fall.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

So many bookish tidbits to share with you this week!

#1 Better World Books had a sale. The Big Guy suggested that I shouldn't have ordered books because I don't need any. I laughed. Then I reminded him that they were on sale. If you read my post yesterday, you know what a sucker he is for a sale so he really had no comeback for that. Here's what I picked up (after I removed ten other books from my cart - BG has no idea how lucky he is I didn't buy all of them!):

Defending Jacob by William Landay: this one isn't something I'd normally pick up but it's the kind of thing I'm into right now and it does get very good reviews

Our Souls At Night by Kent Haruf: I've never read a Haruf book I didn't love

You Can't Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson: because humor works for me know but I'm also getting a some racial enlightenment while I'm at it

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert: Creative Living Beyond Fear is the subtitle - hope against hope that she can get my creative juices flowing

#2 Like a lot of communities, Omaha has chosen one book for the city to read together (Omaha Reads). This year's selection is Jonis Agee's The Bones of Paradise (which my bookclub will be reading for October). As part of the celebration of that book, the Omaha Public Library system has lined up speakers/authors whose books or areas of expertise tie into The Bones of Paradise in some way.

Wednesday night, a friend and I went to hear journalist/teacher/author Joe Starita talk about his book, I Am A Man: Chief Standing Bear's Journey For Justice. Starita was a great choice; he is passionate about the subjects he writes about and about story telling in general. He spoke for 45 minutes then took another 30 minutes just to answer two questions! The money he made selling books last night all goes into a scholarship fund for Native American high school seniors for college. It was great to see people who already had the book drop off money just for the scholarship fund or add a couple of extra dollars to their purchase. As it happens, I had my parents' copy and was able to get it autographed for them.

#3 I mentioned yesterday that we had gone to the Milwaukee Art Museum while we were in that fine city. Mini-me wanted to get us into the building (it's an incredible structure) but he was also eager to have us see the works of Rashid Johnson. The biggest piece on display is titled "Antoine's Organ." It's an incredible work.

And why might it be relevant to this blog? Because throughout the work, Johnson has included books about the black experience in America, including Richard Wright's Native Son, Te-Nehisi Coates's Between The World And Me, and W. E. B. Dubois's The Souls of Black Folks, all of which I'd like to get read one of these days.

In the final room of the exhibit, copies of the books were available for people to sit down and read through; of course, they were all available for purchase in the gift shop as well. I loved seeing the book world and the art world blended together.

#4 Finally, it's September, which means it's time for my annual Fall Feasting reading. Because I kind of forgot about it and because I want to make time for R.I.P. reading and Nonfiction November reading, I'm probably only going to get a couple of foodie books this fall.

I do have other books that could work for both Fall Feasting and Nonfiction November so I may be able to get one of two more worked in as well; but, for now, I'm shooting on (finally) reading The Vegetarian by Han Kang and (in honor of the people I love who live in Wisconsin) The Telling Room:  A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese. 

I'd also like to take the time to read a cookbook as well; you know, the kind that don't just have recipes but all kinds of great information about food and cooking. Perhaps the one that's simply titled Soups? It is, after all, the perfect time of year to find some new soup recipes! Do you ever just sit down and read your cookbooks?

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Life: It Goes On - September 5

A couple of days late this week  - spent the long Labor Day weekend in Milwaukee! Unfortunately, Mini-him could join us (he works for Apple and they had a new store opening here so it was all hands on deck for that) but the rest of us had so much fun. We did went to a lot of new places this time but still made time for the beach and a couple of trips to our beloved Purple Door ice cream store. The kids even did a kind of ghost tour our last night there!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: We listened to several episodes of RadioLab on our trip; it's one all of us enjoy. We also listened to NPR's Road Trip Playlist which we all really enjoyed.

Watching: Miss H and I watched the Milwaukee Brewers play the Washington Nationals Saturday night. She's a huge baseball fans and one of her goals is to see a game in every major league baseball stadium. It's a great stadium that was closed that night due to rain. Neither of us had ever been to an indoor game.

Reading: Once again, I vastly over estimated that amount of reading I'd get done during the drive. I did finish Jamie Ford's Love And Other Consolation Prizes and just started Andy Weir's The Martian.

Making: Asian Chicken Salad, fettuccine alfredo, a killer tossed salad with crumbled black bean burger, chocolate chip cookies, and we grilled both burgers and steaks.

Luckily, they didn't let BG in this room!
Planning: On getting out this week to pick up potting soil and new pots. Mini-me works for a plant company and they had a sale this weekend. The Big Guy cannot resist a sale - he grabbed one of their big boxes of random plants the minute we walked in the store for $2.95 that had 8 plants in it. We also managed to grab four others. Left three for Mini-me and Ms. S but I've still got 4 times as many plants now as I did four days ago and they all need to get out of their grow pots soon.

Thinking About: How I'm going to talk myself into being happy that fall has arrived (although, not officially yet!).

Enjoying: The beach, a river cruise, an art museum, a lighthouse, and time with my kids. Oh yeah, and Kopp's cheeseburgers. At four in the afternoon, it still took about 20 minutes to get our burgers to go, if that gives you an idea how great those burgers are!

Feeling: A little sad. Goodbyes are hard.

Looking forward to: Well, I was going to say an author talk but I went to that tonight before I finally got this posted. So, nothing much at the moment.

Question of the week: Of the things we did in Milwaukee, which would you most have enjoyed and why?

Siracusa by Delia Ephron

Siracusa by Delia Ephron
Published July 2016 by Blue Rider Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
New Yorkers Michael, a famous writer, and Lizzie, a journalist, travel to Italy with their friends from Maine—Finn; his wife, Taylor; and their daughter, Snow. “From the beginning,” says Taylor, “it was a conspiracy for Lizzie and Finn to be together.” Told Rashomon-style in alternating points of view, the characters expose and stumble upon lies and infidelities, past and present. Snow, ten years old and precociously drawn into a far more adult drama, becomes the catalyst for catastrophe as the novel explores collusion and betrayal in marriage.

My Thoughts: 
Unlike some of my fellow bloggers, I am terrible about writing down where I first heard about a book. So I have no idea when I became aware of this book when it came out last year. I just remember hearing good things about it. So when it came out in paperback and I was offered the chance to review, I jumped at it. And then, you know, the great reading slump hit. You'll also know that I've  been working my way back out of that by reading thrillers. While Siracusa might not, technically, qualify as a thriller, it certainly has elements of that genre that made it a book that I raced through. It also feels very much like a work of literary fiction. That combination might be just what I need to ease me back into my usual reading pattern. Fingers crossed.

If you are going to fill a book with unlikable characters, as Ephron has, you had better make them very interesting. Ephron has not only created four unlikable characters, she also has all four of them giving first person narratives. It takes some skill to pull all of that off. Ephron pulls it off wonderfully,   moving the story back and forth, giving readers scenes from multiple points of view, uncovering the lies and deceptions in these characters' lives.

Snow, oh Snow. Now there's a character you rarely see in a book. A character who never gets her own voice but who manipulates much of the action of the book. Sure she's only ten, but she might be the least likable character in the book. But her mother, with her creepy co-dependent ways; her father, who is far more interested in trying to seduce Lizzie than be a parent; Lizzie, who has engineered the entire trip to try to re-win her husband but spends as much time flirting with Finn and with Michael; and Michael, who is carrying on an affair and seems to develop an icky affection for Snow - they are all vying for the title.

All of that wrapped up in a book that explores marriage, fidelity, literary merit, elitism, parenting, travel, truth and lies.
"As for lying, in this story, which is also my life, I will make a case for the charm of it."  - Michael
From the beginning of the book, we know something has happened because the four narratives are told from a future point. But Ephron gives little away and, when we got to that something, Ephron still had surprises for me. Even better, she left me wondering at the end. Given that one of the comforts I've been taking from reading of late has been the tidy ending, the fact that I was happy to be left wondering says something for this book.

Left: Ortigia, part of Syracuse in Sicily; Right: Lo Scoglio, off Ortigia

* With all of those themes and the ambiguous ending, Siracusa would make a terrific book club selection.