Sunday, June 25, 2017

Life: It Goes On - June 24

It's been a ride of emotions for me this past week and my friends have been the greatest therapy. I'm afraid I bored the heck out of my book club the other night as I turned them into my own personal psychologists. Then a Thursday night happy hour with a couple of my friends lasted seven hours - we may have reached the "I love you, dude" stage by the end of the night. I can't tell you how much better I felt after that. Well, after some Motrin, coffee, and McDonald's the next day.

Bracing myself for the coming week which is bound to be worse, emotion-wise.

I have no reviews written for this week, at this point, and I'm unlikely to get any written so the blog will likely go dark until the Fourth of July.

b>This Week I'm:

Listening To: Podcasts again this week, including episodes from Happier, Stuff You Should Know, and Futility Closet. I probably won't start another book for a couple of weeks until I'm back into a five-day work week routine. Then I'll start Middlesex.
Steven Branscombe, USA Today Sports

Watching: College World Series and The Mindy Project for the most part.

Reading: Not much between being busy during the evenings and being distracted.

Making: Shredded chicken for the wedding. Otherwise, the cooking around here has been pretty minimal, as befits summer.

Planning: See the past several weeks.

Thinking About: See the past several weeks.

Enjoying: My kids got home last night. We haven't gotten to spend much time with them yet because they are staying with a friend. They had to bring their dog with them and he can't stay at our house with our cats. I'm looking forward to spending a couple of days with them before the rest of the people start arriving.

Feeling: See first paragraph. Excited, happy, sad, angry (that's a long story), depressed, giddy. See, I told you I'm a roller coaster of emotions!

Looking forward to: The wedding on Friday!

Question of the week: Best tip for remaining calm - go!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon

The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon
Published June 2017 by Penguin Publishing
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:

Both Cassie Hugo and Margaret Brickshaw dutifully followed their soldier husbands to the U.S. embassy in Jordan, but that’s about all the women have in common. After two years, Cassie’s become an expert on the rules, but newly arrived Margaret sees only her chance to explore. So when a fender-bender sends Margaret to the local police station, Cassie reluctantly agrees to watch Margaret’s toddler son. But as the hours pass, Cassie’s boredom and frustration turn to fear: Why isn’t Margaret answering her phone, and why is it taking so long to sort out a routine accident? Snooping around Margaret’s apartment, Cassie begins to question not only her friend’s whereabouts but also her own role in Margaret’s disappearance.

My Thoughts:
Fallon's You Know When The Men Are Gone, a collection of short stories about the people of Fort Hood (my review), was one of my favorite books of 2014. In her first novel, Fallon returns to what she knows, the people who live on the periphery of the action. In The Confusion of Languages, she draws on her own experiences as an Army wife in Jordan to craft her tale of friendship, marriage, and communication.

Fallon has managed to combine the intimate details of a friendship and two marriages with the tension of a mystery that builds throughout the book. This is a book about the little things we do and say but it's also about the things that are left unsaid and how those things can tear life apart.

Back and forth we go, between the minutes ticking off as Cassie waits for Margaret to return and the pages of Margaret's journal which Cassie begins reading while she impatiently waits. Back and forth we go, too, between the way we feel about these two women.

Cassie has longed to be a mother for so long that when she gets the opportunity to mentor Margaret, she treats her much more as a child than a friend. But is she right to insist that Margaret follow the rules just as she has, to stay in the safe places? Or, by following the U. S. Embassy's guidelines, are Americans living in Jordan missing out on the opportunity to connect with the people of Jordan, to create a greater bond? There is no easy answer, as it turns out.

The Confusion of Languages is not just about the confusion when people of two different languages try to communicate. It's the confusion caused by two cultures meeting and the confusion between people of very different backgrounds trying to build a relationship.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Narrated by Amy Poehler
Published October 2014 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: bought the audio version

Publisher's Summary:

In her first book, one of our most beloved funny folk delivers a smart, pointed, and ultimately inspirational read. Full of the comedic skill that makes us all love Amy, Yes Please is a rich and varied collection of stories, lists, poetry (Plastic Surgery Haiku, to be specific), photographs, mantras and advice. With chapters like "Treat Your Career Like a Bad Boyfriend," "Plain Girl Versus the Demon" and "The Robots Will Kill Us All."

My Thoughts:
Confession: I'm not necessarily Poehler's biggest fan and had never seen Park and Rec until Miss H made me watch on episode on Netflix recently. Amend that - I wasn't necessarily Poehler's biggest fan. After listening to this book, narrated by Poehler, I may not be her biggest fan, but I'm definitely a big fan.

Poehler is one funny lady, who has certainly paid her dues. She's done improv on the street, she's done improv in nearly empty studios. Making the cast of Saturday Night Life might seem like the greatest job on earth but Poehler is quick to remind listeners that finding your place there and living through the long hours and quick turnaround times is no glamour job. But it was that job that made Poehler a household name and gave her the opportunity to move onto film and Parks and Rec, And those jobs have given Poehler the opportunity to give back to other comedians as a member of the Upright Citizens Brigade which operates the only improv and sketch comedy training center in the country.

Poehler talks a lot about her career, but she is equally forthcoming with her personal life. She talks about her upbringing (her parents even both read portions), her marriage to actor Will Arnett and her divorce from him, her friendships, the famous people she has known, her pregnancies and her boys and her own self-image.

That last chapter, "Plain Girl Versus The Demon," really made me sit up and pay attention. "That voice that talks badly to you is a demon voice," made me want to put this book in every young girl's hands. Unfortunately you can't do that because this is a grown up book with cursing and sex and drugs. But, if you listen to it and also have a young daughter, you should absolutely take notes because Poehler things to say I wish I had said to my daughter as she was growing up. "The scary part is that the demon is your own voice," "You may even have days or years when you think the demon is gone but it is not." Be vigilant, in other words. But also this: "if you're lucky, there's a moment in your life where you have some say as to what your currency is going to be" and this "decide early on what your currency is going to be and let go of the rest."

Time travel comes up a lot in the book and it's not until nearly the end when Poehler really talks about what she means when she says she believes in time travel and it kind of makes sense when you think of it that way. I'd tell you the secret but you really need to discover it for yourself.

There's an entire chapter about Parks and Rec which includes run downs on all of the key actors in the series and convinced me that when this actor says the cast was like a family she really means it. The chapter about how robots are going to take over the world is hilarious. The chapter about books she would write about divorce is both hilarious and extremely sad.

Yes Please is probably perfectly funny in print. But in print you don't get narration by Kathleen Turner, Patrick Stewart, and an entire chapter written and read by Seth Meyers. You wouldn't get the cadence and intonation of Poehler's voice. Yes Please is not all hilarity and it's not perfect. But I highly recommend this book.

Also, there's a very high probability that I will soon start binge watching "Parks and Rec."

Monday, June 19, 2017

Life: It Goes On - June 18

Bottom: as the 80+ mph winds blew through and branches came
down and as the storm moved out
It's been a week. I'm glad to have over, capped by giant storms that moved through our area Friday night that resulted in tornadoes and a lot of damage from straight-line winds.

We were fortunate in only losing a couple of good-sized branches from one of our big trees and a lot of leaves and small twigs all over the yard, but it has meant The Big Guy has had to take time to chop the branches down and get everything cleared up and hauled off to the drop site.

We did enjoy spending yesterday at the College World Series. Miss H picked up four tickets for BG for Father's Day so she, he, Mini-him and myself soaked up the sun, the fun and the atmosphere. We don't have a dog in the fight but it's always a great place to mingle with new people from all over the country who have come to cheer on their teams. It's billed as the Greatest Show on Dirt and the atmosphere around the stadium is pretty great, too.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Podcasts, podcasts, and more podcasts. I've listened to episodes of Reading Women, Happier, You Must Remember This, and Get Booked.

Watching: Still Grace and Frankie, The Mindy Project, This is Us plus we started Veep. And, of course, CWS games.

Reading: I finally finished The Confusion of Languages and tried to get back into The H Spot but it's just too heavy for me right now. Not sure what I will pick up after I finish The Engagements for book club.

Making: Chicken, lots of chicken. Miss H is doing a kind of diet and chicken is on the menu for her a lot. Consequently, it's on the menu for BG and me as well.

Planning: We're almost there, folks, and the actual planning is basically done. Now the planning is all about making sure it all goes off without a hitch.

Thinking About: How much cleaning I'd still like to get done around my house that may, or may not, actually get done. Let's face it, I'm probably the only person that will notice if all of the door frames haven't been wiped down.

1st tomato of 2017!
Enjoying: An evening with friends from Arizona who used to live a couple of blocks away. We met at another friend's house and talked into the wee hours. It was just what the doctor ordered.

Feeling: Happy - harvested my first tomato of the season.

Looking forward to: My kids getting here on Saturday!

Question of the week: I'm headed off to book club this week. I'm still tweaking the schedule for the rest of the year. What book is the book you always recommend to book clubs?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Changeling by Victor LaValle

The Changeling by Victor LaValle
Published June 2017 by Random House Publishing
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
When Apollo Kagwa’s father disappeared, all he left his son were strange recurring dreams and a box of books stamped with the word IMPROBABILIA. Now Apollo is a father himself—and as he and his wife, Emma, are settling into their new lives as parents, exhaustion and anxiety start to take their toll. Apollo’s old dreams return and Emma begins acting odd. Irritable and disconnected from their new baby boy, at first Emma seems to be exhibiting signs of postpartum depression, but it quickly becomes clear that her troubles go even deeper. Before Apollo can do anything to help, Emma commits a horrific act—beyond any parent’s comprehension—and vanishes, seemingly into thin air.

Thus begins Apollo’s odyssey through a world he only thought he understood, to find a wife and child who are nothing like he’d imagined. His quest, which begins when he meets a mysterious stranger who claims to have information about Emma’s whereabouts, takes him to a forgotten island, a graveyard full of secrets, a forest where immigrant legends still live, and finally back to a place he thought he had lost forever.

My Thoughts:
Book two, this week, of the books I judged by their covers. Book two, this week, of the books I judged by their covers whose covers turned out to be right. Well, this one was also pitched to me as a dark fairy tale and I've been feeling like it was time to get back into fairy tales.

That reading rut I've been in for months? This might just be the book that pulls me out. It's not my usual read, very deep into the fantasy realm, but it's also the first book that I've literally been unable to put down in months. Maybe because I needed something that completely took me away from reality. Maybe because sometimes going outside of your comfort zone is exactly what it takes to remind you how great reading can be.

The Changeling is gruesome, and scary, and twisty. It builds slowly, feeling like a perfect ordinary, if somewhat sad story. Then suddenly, the book takes off and LaValle takes readers on a macabre adventure that sucked me in and made me forget where I was and how long I'd been reading.

LaValle included copious references to fairy tales and literature that, of course, appealed to me, including making his lead characters a librarian and a buyer/seller of books. The man clearly knows his way around the book world and the history of stories.

Paul Beatty (author of The Sellout) compared The Changeling to the work of the Coen brothers. The Fargo kind of Coen brothers movie seems more than an apt comparison with an ordinary setting, a lot of unexpected twists and tension, and a whole lot of blood. That gory factor generally turns me off in a book or a movie. But the Coen brothers have a way to do it that I can handle. Victor LaValle seems to have that same touch. Maybe because it feels appropriate where it's used, but also because the stories have so much more to recommend them.

I've never heard of LaValle before. A review on called LaValle a "prolific horror master." Now, I'm not a big fan of horror, not in my movies and not in my books. I don't want to read a book that makes me even more afraid of the bad things that really could happen to me. But if his particular brand of horror combines characters I care about in great story lines and I can don't feel like I won't be able to walk into my own house alone after dark, I might just have to give his work another try.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig

Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig
Published May 2017 by Grove Atlantic
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Miss Burma tells the story of modern-day Burma through the eyes of Benny and Khin, husband and wife, and their daughter Louisa.

After attending school in Calcutta, Benny settles in Rangoon, then part of the British Empire, and falls in love with Khin, a woman who is part of a long-persecuted ethnic minority group, the Karen. World War II comes to Southeast Asia, and Benny and Khin must go into hiding in the eastern part of the country during the Japanese Occupation, beginning a journey that will lead them to change the country’s history.

After the war, the British authorities make a deal with the Burman nationalists, led by Aung San, whose party gains control of the country. When Aung San is assassinated, his successor ignores the pleas for self-government of the Karen people and other ethnic groups, and in doing so sets off what will become the longest-running civil war in recorded history. Benny and Khin’s eldest child, Louisa, has a danger-filled, tempestuous childhood and reaches prominence as Burma’s first beauty queen soon before the country falls to dictatorship. As Louisa navigates her newfound fame, she is forced to reckon with her family’s past, the West’s ongoing covert dealings in her country, and her own loyalty to the cause of the Karen people.

My Thoughts:
I know we're not supposed to judge a book by its cover but, let's be honest, covers are important. When you're browsing the book store or web page or Netgalley, it's the book cover that will make you pull a book off the shelf (either literally or figuratively). It's the cover of Miss Burma that grabbed my attention first. But it was the book's description, and its reference to the Karen people, that made me request the book.

In Mini-me's final year of college, he took a volunteer position at the Intercultural Senior Center where he met Karen refugees (among a number of other cultural refugees). It was the first time I had heard about this minority people who been persecuted in their homeland for centuries. When I read the summary of this book and saw that it was about these people and their struggles, I couldn't wait to read it.

The book spans decades, from young Benny becoming an orphan to an adult Louisa making a final appeal to try to save the Karen people. As the spotlight moved from Benny and Khin to Louisa, I sometimes had a hard time figuring out who the focus was meant to be on and I had a tough time shifting my own interest from Benny and Khin to Louisa. Which is not to say that Louisa was not as interesting a character as her parents. In fact, Craig's characters are all fascinating and complicated, as are the relationships between the characters.

This is a tough read. Terrible things have been done to the minorities in Burma, not just by the majority but also by the British, the Japanese and the Americans. Terrible things are done to the people in this book and Craig does not shy away from details. She clearly wants readers to understand the horrors that humans are capable to committing. The atrocities are not drawn out, though, because this is a story about one family's part in the Karen's struggle and in their own struggle to understand and live with each other. The fact that Benny is Jewish is also an underlying storyline that impacts the family throughout their lives.

It's always a good thing to read venture afield in your reading, to learn about other lands and other peoples. It's especially valuable exercise when a book is as well done as Miss Burma. It is an emotional work that was at once hard to read and hard to put down.

The real Louisa and her father, Saw Benson (which was the name Benny became known as in the book)

Only after finishing the book did I discover that this is more than just a novel based on historical fact; it is a novel very closely based on Craig's own grandparents and mother. I almost certainly would have read the book differently had I known that going in so I'm glad I didn't. But it absolutely makes me think differently of the book knowing how much of the book was real.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Life: It Goes On - June 11

Well, we've had quite the week at our house this week - Miss H got a new car, my sister moved in one of those you-can't-make-this-stuff-up scenarios, and wedding prep is in full on mode. I

've hardly read a page and even forgot to finish up the two reviews I have in draft that are well on their way to being finished. That may well be how the next three weeks go reading- and blog-wise as we work to get final things done around the house and put the finishing touches on wedding "stuff." I'm trying to skim over blog posts but I'm unlikely to have time to comment until July.

As much fun as the wedding planning has been, and as excited as I am for "wedding week," I'm also kind of looking forward to life returning to normal.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I finished Amy Poehler's Yes Please, which I really enjoyed. With only two weeks weeks of driving to work before I have the week off for the wedding, I'm not planning on starting a new audio book right now. I've been listening to the news and plan, for the next couple of weeks, to listen to podcasts during drive time. I'm WAY behind on those!

Top, left to right: There's something you don't see every day, Miss H's new car, the girls and I prepping guest gifts, my sis' dogs arriving in their new home
Bottom: the guest room is nearly finished! Need a new lamp shade, some decorative pillows and, time permitting, a couple of headboards brought up

Watching: Grace and Frankie (into Season 3 now and I'm going to be so sad when I'm all caught up and there are no more binge sessions to be had!), The Mindy Project (laugh out loud funny), hockey and basketball finals (the only time of the year I care about either one of these professional sports), and the first episode of the new season of Orange Is The New Black.

Reading: See above.

Making: Salads and dinners on the grill. Does having my great-niece bake brownies count for actually making something?

Planning: You already know this answer.

Thinking About: My sister and brother-in-law as they settle into their new house. They arrived yesterday and were greeted by their daughter, her SO, and her SO's parents who brought lots of food, gifts, and laughter - just what the doctor ordered after an extremely stressful week. Wish I could be there to help her!

Enjoying: Spending time with our great-nieces who came and helped me work on some projects for the wedding, including filling 102 cans with dirt and planting flower seeds.

Feeling: Depends on the hour of the day.

Looking forward to: Seeing my kids in just 13 days!

Question of the week: What's your best "how to stay calm" tip?

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Life: It Goes On - June 4

It's sunny, it's sunny! We're finally able to eat dinner on the patio most nights. The cats are happy that they can finally lounge in the warm  sunshine and the flora and fauna are flourishing. Makes me a happy girl.

The Big Guy and Mini-him returned from a long weekend in Milwaukee  exhausted and full of stories of the fun they'd had. Makes me eager to get back up that way myself before the summer is over. I'm going to need a beach fix after I get through the wedding!

I'm reading! It took a book that was out of my usual wheelhouse to do it but I'm happy to say that I finally found a book that made me stay up past my bedtime reading. It got me to rethinking what I'm otherwise reading at this time. While I absolutely loved Ruby, I decided to skip moving onto another literary fiction audiobook for now and I've lightened up my nightstand reading as well. It's going to be hard for me to focus on books through the rest of this month and I've just got to acknowledge that and work around it.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Yes Please by Amy Poehler which I downloaded through Audible and can listen to while I'm painting this weekend. I may look for something similar when I finish it rather than launch into my last book on CD, Middlesex, which is quite long and sure to require more thought.

Watching: Game of Thrones (we have GOT to get through season 6 before season 7 starts!), more Grace and Frankie (I'm seriously loving this show) and, this morning, on one of those weird channels I'll never find again, a show called Brain Games which we all three really enjoyed and which makes me want to work on word puzzles.

Reading: See above and in the sidebar. Siobhan Fallon, Confusion of Languages, is the author of You Know When The Men Are Gone which I was so impressed with so I have high hopes for this one.

Making: Not much creativity in the kitchen this week. Mostly salads and some grilling.

Planning: I'm not even going to bore you with the same response I've had every week for the past umpteen weeks! Let's just say that the corner of my dining room is fast filling up with things for the wedding and that doesn't include the boxes in the basement or the things on my dining room table.

Thinking About: The people of London. We are living in scary times.

Enjoying: Knocking a big project off my to-do list this weekend - I am finally getting the guest room painted. Can't wait to get it all put back together and different curtains hung.

Feeling: A little bit sad. I've know for weeks that my sister was moving and I'm very excited for them as they set off on their new adventure. I've even seen packed boxes piling up and lots of empty shelves. But it wasn't until I went into the bathroom there the other night and there was nothing left in there except soap and a hand towel that it really hit me that she won't be just two minutes away from me by this time next weekend.

Looking forward to: A virtual bridal shower for Miss S in just a couple of hours. It just occurred to me that in just 26 days she won't even be "Miss" S any more. Then what to call her? Mrs. S?

Question of the week: What's your go-to meal for summer dinners?

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Ruby by Cynthia Bond

Ruby by Cynthia Bond
Read by Cynthia Bond
Published April 2014 by Crown Archetype
Source: purchased my audiobook copy at my local library book sale

Publisher's Summary:
Ephram Jennings has never forgotten the beautiful girl with the long braids running through the piney woods of Liberty, their small East Texas town. Young Ruby Bell, “the kind of pretty it hurt to look at,” has suffered beyond imagining, so as soon as she can, she flees suffocating Liberty for the bright pull of 1950s New York. Ruby quickly winds her way into the ripe center of the city—the darkened piano bars and hidden alleyways of the Village—all the while hoping for a glimpse of the red hair and green eyes of her mother.

When a telegram from her cousin forces her to return home, thirty-year-old Ruby finds herself reliving the devastating violence of her girlhood. With the terrifying realization that she might not be strong enough to fight her way back out again, Ruby struggles to survive her memories of the town’s dark past. Meanwhile, Ephram must choose between loyalty to the sister who raised him and the chance for a life with the woman he has loved since he was a boy.

My Thoughts:
Some book reviews need to percolate in your brain awhile after you finish a book, allowing you time to gather your thoughts and process what you've just read. Some book reviews need to be written immediately so the feelings the book has generated shine through.

I'm not really sure which is the better approach for Ruby. I know that I will be thinking about this book for a very long time; perhaps I'd be more articulate if I gave myself more time to absorb Bond's story.

On the other hand, I've just finished it and I need to talk about it; I only wish I could do it justice. Because this is a book that needs to be read; we need to force ourselves to face the things in our world that are horrific and unimaginable. Ruby is filled with those things. It is a punch to the gut over and over again. I wanted to keep thinking to myself "it's only a book, it's only a book." But, the thing is, that it's not. The things that happen in this book happen in real life and, like the citizens of Liberty Township, we are too quick to turn a blind eye, to allow people to hide behind screens like religion and to believe that things cannot change.

The publisher's summary only hints at the kind of person Ruby has become when the book begins. After a lifetime of being the victim of monstrous men and women, Ruby has turned inward to try to hold onto the only thing she has left in the world. She is, both literally and figuratively, a mess. Through flashbacks readers discover the evil that has been done to Ruby. But it is not Ruby alone who has suffered and Bond helps readers to understand the domino effect that abuse causes. She makes us see that as much harm can be caused by those who turn away as from those who perpetrate abuse. As much harm is caused by those who turn a blind eye to racism as by those who practice it.

Bond's writing is both beautiful and graphically violent. You know the old trope "show me, don't tell me?" Bond is brilliant at showing readers what she wants them to see. The land around Liberty Township, the way Ruby's hair cascades down her back after Ephram washes it, the men who cluster harmlessly on the porch of the P & K grocery only to become entirely different people when they leave that place, the uptight and self-righteous way Ephram's sister Celia lives her life. It was like watching a movie play out in my head, which made the terrible things that happened that much more difficult to hear.
"She wore gray like rain clouds and wandered the red roads in bared feet. Calluses thick as boot leather. Hair caked with mud. Blackened nails as if she had scratched the slate of night. Her acres of legs carrying her, arms swaying like a loose screen. Her eyes the ink of sky, just before the storm."
"He sat alongside the crowd of men parked on their stools outside P & K. Who read their papers, played dominoes and chewed tobacco. Toothpicks dangling. Pipes smoking. Soda pops sweating. Just as they had the day Ruby arrived back in Liberty. When she'd stepped from the red bus, the porch had crowded her with their eyes. Hair pressed and gleaming like polished black walnut. Lipstick red and thick, her cornflower blue sundress darted and stitched tight to her waist. Ephram had watched her light a cigarette and glare down at the crowd on the market porch in such a way that made folks feel embarrassed for breathing."

Bond reads the audiobook and it is one of the cases where there could not have been a better person for the job. She knows exactly how to sooth the listener, how to build the tension, when to let things settle in slowly. I highly recommend the audio version of the book. I also can't recommend highly enough Andi's review of this book on Estella's Revenge. It is what convinced me to read this book even though it scared me enough to put it off for a while.

Be warned, the book is filled with sexual and racial violence. It is not for the faint of heart. But it is also a story about love. About the ways that the lack of love in a life can hurt but also about the ways that love can save, the love of a man for a woman and the love of a mother for her children. You will cry, you will be awakened to things you might prefer be left unknown, but you will also be left with hope.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day

Life: It Goes On - May 29

Ah, glorious four and a half day weekend! I've been so looking forward to this for so long. And now there's only one day left. And I haven't even gotten started on painting the guest room which was my Saturday project. I have checked off to-do's off my list. But you know how things always take longer than you think they will. I did, after all, spend 30 minutes deciding on just the right shade of white to paint that bedroom. That's normal, right?

The guys are at the beach
The Big Guy and Mini-him headed to Milwaukee Friday for a boys weekend with Mini-him, all of his attendants and a couple other of his closet life friends. Mini-him's been sending me lots of pictures and they look like they are having so much fun; I wish I were a fly on the wall to see my guys so happy.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: While I'm driving, still Ruby, which is such a tough read. These past few days, I'm enjoying the quiet of BG being gone.

Watching: Lots and lots of Grace and Frankie while I'm working on projects in the family room and quite a few episodes of The Mindy Project during the evenings when Miss H and I are hanging out. Also, while my dad, a huge fan of it, was here today, we watched the Indianapolis 500.

Reading: Victor LaValle's The Changeling has grabbed my interest, something that's been hard to do of late.

Making: Tuna salad, grilled burgers. Otherwise, Miss H and I have been eating a lot of takeout.

Planning: On getting on the ball and getting some painting done tomorrow. Hopefully, I'll get some of the other things on my list checked off as well.

Thinking About: Remember how last week I was feeling remarkably calm? Yeah, this week, I'm thinking about all of the things and I'm pretty sure I will never get it all done.

Enjoying: Some time with my sister before she moves. We went to the town my dad grew up in and put flowers on the graves, visited my mom's cousin, and stopped at the ice cream place my grandpa and grandma used to take us to when we were little. It was a good afternoon!

Feeling: Remember how last week I was feeling remarkably calm? Yeah, this week, not so much. Even with the long weekend. How can it only be 33 days to the wedding?!

Looking forward to: Next weekend, we're having a virtual bridal shower for Miss S. She can't get down here to have a real one so my sister and and sister-in-law have put together a Facebook Live shower. Party goods have been sent and food is being shipped so it will feel like a real shower. They are the best aunties!

Question of the week: I'm kind of a chihuahua and I'm trying to find ways to keep myself calm the week of the wedding (short of medication and alcohol!). What are your best tips for keeping calm?

Friday, May 26, 2017

The View From The Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman - Guest Review

The View From The Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman
Published May 2017 (reprint) by William Morrow Paperbacks
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
An enthralling collection of nonfiction essays on a myriad of topics—from art and artists to dreams, myths, and memories—observed in #1 New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman’s probing, amusing, and distinctive style.

An inquisitive observer, thoughtful commentator, and assiduous craftsman, Neil Gaiman has long been celebrated for the sharp intellect and startling imagination that informs his bestselling fiction. Now, The View from the Cheap Seats brings together for the first time ever more than sixty pieces of his outstanding nonfiction. Analytical yet playful, erudite yet accessible, this cornucopia explores a broad range of interests and topics, including (but not limited to): authors past and present; music; storytelling; comics; bookshops; travel; fairy tales; America; inspiration; libraries; ghosts; and the title piece, at turns touching and self-deprecating, which recounts the author’s experiences at the 2010 Academy Awards in Hollywood.

Insightful, incisive, witty, and wise, The View from the Cheap Seats explores the issues and subjects that matter most to Neil Gaiman—offering a glimpse into the head and heart of one of the most acclaimed, beloved, and influential artists of our time.

**I don't know what I said about this book when it arrived in the mail that made my husband decide it wanted to read this book. Whatever it was, it convinced him that he needed to read this book right away. I told him he could as long as he wrote a review. Now that he's finished, maybe I'll finally get to read it. In the meantime, here's his review.**

The Big Guy's Review:

Yes, this book caught my attention, not only by the look, but also because it has a large number of essays on a great variety of topics, which fits my attention deficit personality.  Evidently I have been living in a can as I was not that familiar with Neil Gaiman's work outside of Coraline, but I will now seek out some of his other stories.

This book provides one with a real insight into Neil's life, works, thoughts on literature, music, art, history and all of the good things in life.  He opens up about his childhood and how he had his nose in a book most of the time and was a ward of the librarians as he did not always have the funds for his habit and all of the authors and titles he would have liked to read.  I get the image of Neil as that egghead junior chicken on the Foghorn Leghorn cartoon.

In his formative years Neil explored deep recesses of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Graphic Novels (before they were called that) with many authors I am not familiar with and also plan to explore. I can really relate to the content of his genre choices as a youth as I was provided with many horror, fantasy and good choices of mainstream books from an intelligent brother, a few teachers and an old family friend as a teen.

Having written some in college and having too many excuses to not write now, I haven't written much in a long time. Gaiman's insights might just motivate me enough to start doing some short stories.  I think this book is an outstanding read, certainly for anyone interested in writing, but also for anyone interested in good literature, so I give it two thumbs and a big toe up.

Thanks for your review, BG! You always come at a book from a different angle than I would. For other opinions about The View From The Cheap Seats, check out the full TLC tour. Thanks to the ladies at TLC for including us on the tour!

Neil Gaiman is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Neverwhere, Stardust, American Gods, Coraline, Anansi Boys, The Graveyard Book, Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett), The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains; the Sandman series of graphic novels; and the story collections Smoke and Mirrors, Fragile Things, and Trigger Warning. He is the winner of numerous literary honors, including the Hugo, Bram Stoker, and World Fantasy awards, and the Newbery and Carnegie Medals. Originally from England, he now lives in the United States. He is Professor in the Arts at Bard College.

Find out more about Neil at his website, find all his books at his online bookstore, and follow him on Facebook, tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, and his blog.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

DNF: The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova
Published April 2017 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
A young American woman, Alexandra Boyd, has traveled to Sofia, Bulgaria, hoping that life abroad will salve the wounds left by the loss of her beloved brother. Soon after arriving in this elegant East European city, however, she helps an elderly couple into a taxi—and realizes too late that she has accidentally kept one of their bags. Inside she finds an ornately carved wooden box engraved with a name: Stoyan Lazarov. Raising the hinged lid, she discovers that she is holding an urn filled with human ashes.

As Alexandra sets out to locate the family and return this precious item, she will first have to uncover the secrets of a talented musician who was shattered by political oppression—and she will find out all too quickly that this knowledge is fraught with its own danger.

My Thoughts:
Before blogging, I read Kostova's debut novel, The Historian. Except for an ending that made me want to throw the book across the room, I thoroughly enjoyed that book. It was a wild ride combined with well-researched and well-written story. I was definitely looking forward to seeing what else Kostova had up her sleeve. But The Swan Thieves, Kostova's sophomore effort, left me flat. It lacked the adventure and pacing of The Historian that I was looking forward to.

The Shadow Land doesn't make that mistake; Kostova amps up the ride almost right from the start. That's exactly what I asked for, right? But you've got to buy into some pretty unlikely action and I didn't. I really did try to get past that, to allow Kostova to introduce me to Bulgaria, its past and its people. She's good at that and she convinced me to read nearly 200 pages while I tried to invest myself in the mystery at the heart of the story.

Considering the difficulty I've had falling into any book in the past few months, I might well have said to The Shadow Land "It's me, not you." That might well be true, even. Regardless, at that point, I couldn't muster the interest to keep reading. Given my reaction to this book and The Swan Thieves, it's likely that I'm through with Kostova. I doubt she'll miss me.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Life: It Goes On - May 21

You know what else goes on? The rain. I feel like I've been whining about the rain for weeks now! When we started planning the wedding, I wondered about ordering some handheld fans in case it was too hot. Now I'm wondering if we might need to order a lot of umbrellas and rain ponchos, in case it never stops being the rainy season!

I haven't necessarily been doing more reading lately, but I have been enjoying the reading more. Once the wedding is over, I may give myself permission to spend a week of evenings doing nothing but reading! I've been reading a lot of books with heavy themes - that week, maybe it'll be time for some chick lit, something light and fluffy.

My sister and her husband were up north for a couple of days so I got to spend some time with these two pups this week. They have a lot of energy so we played a lot of fetch and tug but they were missing their people so I got a lot of love, too.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Slate Audio Book Club's discussion about Lincoln In The Bardo and a couple of episodes of This American Life; Ruby is still breaking my heart on audiobook; and live jazz music Friday night at The Omaha Lounge which is located in an old shoe store and still has all of the original fixtures and lighting. We'll definitely be going back there for the music and the atmosphere.

Watching: Some Grace and Frankie, The Voice (although, once again, I have some issues with the people who made it to the finals), some baseball, CBS Sunday Morning.

Reading: I finished Miss Burma and Notorious RBG and started The H-Spot. I'm finding, lately, that as much as I've really enjoyed the fiction I've been reading, it's the nonfiction that has pulled me in.

Making: I can't actually recall what we ate this week, except homemade mac and cheese with mushrooms and bacon.

Planning: Yeah, you already know the answer to this one. We did go and get the catering order finalized yesterday. The kids are having Mexican food and the place we're using is nothing fancy but the food is sooooo good!

Thinking About: How few days it is now until I get to see my kids again!

Enjoying: Lots of time with friends this weekend. Friday night we celebrated the birthday of the woman who introduced me to The Big Guy with a fabulous dinner then drinks and live music. Last night we had cocktails with friends at our favorite place in our "neighborhood." We knew that place was closing but were surprised to find out they had decided last night was their last night. Had to get in one last time!

Feeling: Surprisingly calm. For now.

Looking forward to: A four day weekend with the house to myself. BG is headed to Milwaukee with Mini-him for a bachelor's weekend. I've got a to of stuff planned to do but I'm giving myself one day to just sit.

Question of the week: Looking for recommendations for books I should read that week after the wedding when I won't be wanting to think to much.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik
Published: October 2015 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: bought for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg never asked for fame—she has only tried to make the world a little better and a little freer.

But nearly a half-century into her career, something funny happened to the octogenarian: she won the internet. Across America, people who weren’t even born when Ginsburg first made her name as a feminist pioneer are tattooing themselves with her face, setting her famously searing dissents to music, and making viral videos in tribute.

Notorious RBG, inspired by the Tumblr that amused the Justice herself and brought to you by its founder and an award-winning feminist journalist, is more than just a love letter. It draws on intimate access to Ginsburg's family members, close friends, colleagues, and clerks, as well an interview with the Justice herself. An original hybrid of reported narrative, annotated dissents, rare archival photos and documents, and illustrations, the book tells a never-before-told story of an unusual and transformative woman who transcends generational divides. As the country struggles with the unfinished business of gender equality and civil rights, Ginsburg stands as a testament to how far we can come with a little chutzpah.

My Thoughts:
I have been wanting to read this book since before it was published, something like two years now. I may actually have developed the entire theme of my bookclub for the year as an excuse to make sure I found time for it (Family, Friendship, and Feminism).

This book grew out of the Tumbr account, NotoriousRBG; it grew out of...oh here, I'll let them tell you:
'This Tumblr began in tribute to Justice Ginsburg’s fierce dissent in a voting rights case, in which she acknowledged the long history, and continuing reality, of racial discrimination in this country. As she has said in another dissent, “The stain of generations of racial oppression is still visible in our society and the determination to hasten its removal remains vital.”"
I've been aware of Ruth Bader Ginsburg only about as long as most other people my age, that is to say since she was named as a Supreme Court Justice. Which is also to say that I must have been living with my head under a rock. Much of what makes Bader Ginsburg so beloved now, in addition to her fierce dissents to majority opinions of the Court, is her tiny stature and her, shall we say, advanced age. But those in the know have long known that this woman has been fighting hard for the rights of women (and, she would be quick to point out, for all people) for a very, very long time. Really, most of her life, first as a student fighting to get into law school, then to get every job she's ever had, and then on nearly every job she's ever had.

As for the book itself, the opening chapter, "Notorious," threw me a bit. I felt like we were beginning at the ending and I couldn't quite figure out where it went from there. And it did bug me quite a lot that the authors referred to Bader Ginsburg throughout the entire book as "RBG." Only RBG, never by Ruth or Bader Ginsburg or whatever nicknames for her her friends may use.

But the authors have clearly spent a great deal of time with the Justice, herself, as well as with her family members and those who know her best. Readers come away from the book feeling very much as if they know the woman who was known in her youth as Kiki. We learn about the great influences of her life, the great love of her life, the great achievements of her life. We also learn that Bader Ginsburg is a terrible cook, is as passionate about working out daily as she is about opera, and counted Antonin Scalia as a close friend. It's  clear from her body of work that Bader Ginsburg is also passionate equality of all people and incredibly devoted to her work.

Unbiased the book is not. But I think the title alone is fair warning that the authors are fans. RBG's legion of fans are surely more than happy with the book. I already knew RBG was a woman to be admired and a feminist icon. Now I'm certain that the woman is a national treasure.

Kate McKinnon is clearly another great fan!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Life: It Goes On - May 11

Happy Mother's Day to all of the mothers out there and those who have been like a mother to a child who needed one! We went to Lincoln yesterday to have lunch with my mom and dad to celebrate with her. Getting out of the house for a few hours is the best way for me to really relax so in a little bit Miss H and I will head off to a college baseball game to celebrate. Later Mini-him will come over for steak dinner. Wish my other two could be with us!

Realized the other day that the end of my five years for Classics Club was fast approaching and it was clear I wasn't going to get through the fifty classics I'd planned to get read in that period. I thought about leaving that page up on the blog as a reminder to get to those remaining books. Instead, I deleted the page. Who needs that constant reminder of failure when it was an entirely arbitrary goal? Sure, I should probably be reading more classics, especially since I already own them; but I'd much rather be reading what I want to read when I want to read it.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Ruby by Cynthia Bond, read by Ms. Bond. I cannot believe this is Ms. Bond's first novel and I'm already aware that I am going to have a hard time putting into words how I feel about this book when it comes time to review it.
Saturday evening dinner time

Watching: The evening sky from the terrace of my brother-in-law's condo while we ate dinner on a beautiful Saturday night.

Reading: Still working my way through Miss Burma. Like Ruby, it's a tough read. I'll set it aside today to read this month's book club choice, Notorious RBG.

Making: A strawberry/rhubarb crisp with my first harvest of rhubarb for my dad and a peach crisp for my mom.

Planning: 45 days to go! I can't believe the wedding is only six weeks from now! I'm so looking forward to it but also a bit nervous that I won't be able to enjoy it because the control freak in me always has a hard time relaxing and letting things just be what they'll be.

Thinking About: My happiness project - I realized the other day that I'd completely let it slip by the wayside all of April and into May. I'm still going to work on the goals I'd set for May which is all about finding a contented heart.

Enjoying: Book mail! Best part of the books that arrived this week is that they came on my half day so they made their way into my office without The Big Guy seeing them. Thus, I avoided the "do you really need any more books?" question! I'm very excited about these books - so many have been on my wish list for years.

Feeling: Guilty about what a terrible blogger, and even more a terrible blog reader, I've become. I did have to resign myself to that continuing until after the wedding.

Looking forward to: Dinner with some of our oldest friends this coming weekend; they're coming to town to celebrate her birthday.

Question of the week: Summer is fast approaching - do you have any big plans for the summer?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger

The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger
Published May 2012 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Read by Mozhan Marno
Source: purchased audiobook at my local library sale

Publisher's Summary:
Amina Mazid is twenty-four when she moves from Bangladesh to Rochester, New York, for love. A hundred years ago, Amina would have been called a mail-order bride. But this is the twenty-first century: she is wooed by—and woos—George Stillman online.

For Amina, George offers a chance for a new life for her and her parents, as well as a different kind of happiness than she might find back home. For George, Amina is a woman who doesn't play games. But each of them is hiding something: someone from the past they thought they could leave behind. It is only when Amina returns to Bangladesh that she and George find out if their secrets will tear them apart, or if they can build a future together.

My Thoughts:
Of The Newlyweds Ann Patchett said "Every minute I was away from this book I was longing to be back in the world she created." You all well know how I feel about Ann Patchett; when I grow up, I want to be Ann Patchett. So I feel like I missed something in this book when I say that I have very mixed feelings about it.

What I Liked:
Mozhan Marno's reading: Although she is American-born she perfectly captures the accents and speech patterns (well, at least I think she does - it sounded great to me) and manages quite a number of characters, each with a distinct voice.

Learning more about Bangladesh and it's culture: Four years ago, I read and very much enjoyed Tahmima Anam's A Golden Age about Bangladesh's war for independence from Pakistan. I referenced there the Concert for Bangladesh (George Harrison's and Ravi Shankar's first ever benefit concert). I got a kick, here, of hearing a character refer to that concert when he joked that he had been to Bangladesh, anyway to the Concert for Bangladesh. Like that character, that concert was my first awareness of this country and its very complicated history. Set where it is, much of the culture is similar to that of India and Pakistan. But for the Mazid family, their Islamic religion and village home add an entirely new layer to my understanding of the region. A good part of the book is set in Bangladesh which allowed me to learn about life for villagers, life in the city, and the complications when long traditions run into modern ways.

The way Freudenberger wealth with the Muslim religion: This book is set post-9/11 so Amina's Muslim religion plays a role in her relationship with George, what her family expects of her, and comes into play in the story of another character. But it never hijacks the story; it simply serves as another way to demonstrate the difficulties that relationships such as George's and Amina's face.

Seeing marriage through these characters' eyes: The publisher's summary says that Amina moved to America for love. But she didn't, not really. Their relationship begins more as a way to heal from other relationships but it's not like the usual rebound love kind of story. Amina likes George well enough but it's more about the opportunity to make a better life for her parents. And George likes Amina well enough. But because of the way that they met, because of the secrets that they are both keeping, and because of their very different backgrounds, there are well more than the usual number of adjustments that have to be made. Mostly by Amina who necessarily has to adjust to living in another country.

What I Didn't Like:
George's cousin: Kim plays a big role in the story but I just didn't care for her and couldn't understand the attraction that any of the characters had for her.

George, for that matter: Seriously, this guy seems like he's trying to be accommodating but he really doesn't make any changes in his life other than the occasional ride for Amina and learning to enjoy her cooking. How, I wondered, had he given the impression that he was someone she could learn to love and spend the rest of her life with?

Too much thinking: Sometimes it felt like we were spending much too much time in Amina's head, rehashing the same thoughts over and over.

I can't help but wonder, despite Marno's excellent reading, if I wouldn't have like this book more if I had read it rather than listened to it, if I had spent more than a couple of 25 minute blocks a day "reading" it.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
Published April 2005 by Simon and Schuster
Source: bought this one

Publisher's Summary:
From Buffalo to Alaska, Washington to the Dry Tortugas, Vowell visits locations immortalized and influenced by the spilling of politically important blood, reporting as she goes with her trademark blend of wisecracking humor, remarkable honesty, and thought-provoking criticism. We learn about the jinx that was Robert Todd Lincoln (present at the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley) and witness the politicking that went into the making of the Lincoln Memorial. The resulting narrative is much more than an entertaining and informative travelogue -- it is the disturbing and fascinating story of how American death has been manipulated by popular culture, including literature, architecture, sculpture, and -- the author's favorite -- historical tourism. Though the themes of loss and violence are explored and we make detours to see how the Republican Party became the Republican Party, there are all kinds of lighter diversions along the way into the lives of the three presidents and their assassins, including mummies, show tunes, mean-spirited totem poles, and a nineteenth-century biblical sex cult.

My Thoughts:
Having heard Sarah Vowell on NPR many times, I no longer need to listen to her books on audiobook; I read her books in her voice in my head. You have to. Really. They are so much funnier when you do. Which is not to say they aren't funny to begin with because they are so much fun and so snarky. Which is a rare thing in a book about history.

Sarah Vowell does not drive. Which means her fans owe her friends and family a debt of gratitude. Here, she's dragged them all over to sites related to Lincoln, James Garfield, and William McKinley and the men who killed them. I'd have been happy just to learn what I learned about Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth and all of the amazing coincidences that intertwined the two families or the way Teddy Roosevelt rose to the presidency because of McKinley's death. But in both of those cases, it was more a matter of filling in what I already knew. With Garfield, though, it was nearly all new to me. It shouldn't surprise anyone, considering the times he lived in, to know that Garfield might well have survived his assassin had doctors not repeatedly thought it was a good idea to stick their dirty fingers into his wound.

No one has ever said that Sarah Vowell's books are boring. Nor has it ever been said of them that they are without bias. Assassination Vacation is no exception. Which was just fine with me; she and I largely agree politically. If, on the other hand, you tend to lean right, you may not enjoy her writing as much. Still, Vowell is more than willing to take shots at all politicians. Except Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln she loves.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Conception And The Baby Brokers by Deborah Clearman

Concepcion And The Baby Brokers by Deborah Clearman
Published Marcy 2017 by Rain Mountain Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
In nine thematically linked stories set largely in Guatemala, ConcepciĆ³n and the Baby Brokers brings to life characters struggling with universal emotions and dilemmas in a place unfamiliar to most Americans. From the close-knit community of Todos Santos to the teeming danger of Guatemala City, to a meat-packing plant in Michigan and the gardens of Washington DC, Deborah Clearman shows us the human cost of international adoption, drug trafficking, and immigration.

A Cup of Tears, the opening novella, reveals a third-world baby farm, seen through the eyes of a desperate wet nurse, a baby broker, and an American adoptive mother. In “The Race” a young man returns to his native village to ride in a disastrous horse race. “English Lessons” tells of a Guatemalan immigrant in Washington DC who learns more than English from a public library volunteer. A teenage girl tries to trap her professor into marriage in “Saints and Sinners.”

With searing humanity, Clearman exposes the consequences of American exceptionalism, and the daily magic and peril that inform and shape ordinary lives.

My Thoughts:
When you're struggling through a reading slump, it's tempting, very tempting, to stick to books that seem like they can't miss. Oh heck, it's often tempting to do that. But TLC is always offering me books that are, as I called them the other day, "take a chance" books. And I'm hard pressed to turn those books away because I know that this blog owes some of what it is to the authors and publishers that were willing to give me books early on. From them I learned that small publishers are just as likely to have wonderful authors and unique and marvelous books as the big guys. In Concepcion And The Baby Brokers and Deborah Clearman, Rain Mountain Press has a wonderful author and a unique and marvelous book.

Guatemala can feel, like all of the countries of Central America except Mexico, a bit like a lost country. I've never read any book set there. Or for that matter, any book about anyone from there, that I can recall. Clearman opens readers eyes to life throughout Guatemala, especially village life - especially the poverty that drives so many to seek a better life in the north.

All of the stories are strong but my favorites were the three that made up the opening novella. In a story where we expect to find "bad" guys, Clearman reminds readers that people have lives we know nothing about and we shouldn't be so quick to judge. And that, sometimes, people do the right thing, even when it's incredibly painful. Clearman's writing it not showy but she does does paint vivid pictures of the land, the clothing, and the food of the countryside. Most importantly, she helps readers understand the people of the region and it's always good to try to understand other cultures.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour and to my friends for always putting books into my hands that they know will push my buttons. For other opinions, check out the full tour.

About Deborah Clearman 

Deborah Clearman is the author of a novel Todos Santos, from Black Lawrence Press. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals. She is the former Program Director for NY Writers Coalition, and she teaches creative writing in such nontraditional venues as senior centers, public housing projects, and the jail for women on Rikers Island. She lives in New York City and Guatemala.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Life: It Goes On - May 7

Sunshine and warm temps = a very happy Lisa this week. It meant I got to do lots of productive and fun things. Which also meant I didn't get a whole lot of reading done this week which is disappointing because I have some really good books going right now.

By the end of today, we'll have all of our planting done. I spent most of my half day at nurseries and planting. With the wedding coming up, I wanted lots of color in my yard so I planted about a half dozen more pots than I usually do. The first thing I planted was a pot to go into the planter that Miss S's mom gave us last year when she visited; it ties that happy weekend celebrating the engagement with the upcoming nuptials.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'll be finishing The Newlyweds in the next couple of days. The wife in this book is from Bangladesh and I'm learning a lot about that country, which I'm enjoying quite a lot. Next up is Cynthia Bond's Ruby. Andi, of Estella's Revenge, convinced me to read this one after she wrote this review.  It could definitely make for some emotional drives home from work.

Watching: The Voice (some really impressive talent this season), we finished the most recent season of Longmire (wow-cliffhangers abound!), and I started watching Grace and Frankie. I'm sure hoping that The Big Guy will spend plenty of time away from the house so I can watch more of that. It is so well done - funny and touching.

Reading: Miss Burma, which is so good and, like The Newlyweds, I'm learning so much about another country. Speaking of reading, while I was downtown yesterday for the season's first Farmer's Market, I got some time to prowl through my favorite used book store. Although, it does make me a little claustrophobic - it's a bit like a hoarder opened a book store.

Making: Chicken alfredo dip for food days at work, a new recipe for black bean and corn salad, and blonde brownies with M & M's (the recipe made a 9x13 pan - I'd say they were a hit because just six people polished off the entire pan!).

Planning: This week has a fairly empty calendar. Although, last Sunday the calendar looked pretty clear and I ended up out and about quite a lot. Anyhoose, the plan is for the week to be spent working on the house, doing those things that I've wanted to get done but just haven't gotten around to. Like taking down valances in the dining room and picking up new sheets for one of the guest room beds.

Thinking About: You know me by now so you'll already know that I'm thinking about logistics. What still needs to be done, making lists so nothing falls through the cracks, wondering how we're going to make it all happen smoothly. Miss H admitted the other night that she's looking forward to getting out of town the week after the wedding in no small part because she'll need a break from the crazy person (that would be me) she's had to live with in the days leading up to the wedding.

Enjoying: Spur of the moment got to go watch our great-niece at her track meet and wish her a happy birthday, Star Wars night at the baseball park with friends, and dinner on my sister's patio with her brother-in-law and his wife. It was a good week!

Feeling: Like I should be doing something more productive. But I was a busy girl yesterday and I'm feeling a little slow today.

Looking forward to: Right at this moment, I'm just trying to live in the present.

Question of the week: If you garden, what's the one thing you absolutely must plant every year?

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
Published April 2017 by Random House Publishing
Source: my copy courtesy through the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Anything Is Possible explores the whole range of human emotion through the intimate dramas of people struggling to understand themselves and others.

Here are two sisters: One trades self-respect for a wealthy husband while the other finds in the pages of a book a kindred spirit who changes her life. The janitor at the local school has his faith tested in an encounter with an isolated man he has come to help; a grown daughter longs for mother love even as she comes to accept her mother’s happiness in a foreign country; and the adult Lucy Barton (the heroine of My Name Is Lucy Barton, the author’s celebrated New York Times bestseller) returns to visit her siblings after seventeen years of absence.

My Thoughts:
So it's a book by Elizabeth Strout. I'm reading it and I don't even need to read a summary to know that. Which means I went into this book with absolutely no clue what it was. Which is often a good thing. In this case, it was a bit of a jolt when I started reading and, all of a sudden Lucy Barton was in the story. And by a bit of a jolt, I mean I wasn't sure at all that I liked it. I wondered if Strout had decided to take an easy out and just use some leftover material.

But, wait. What if Lucy's hometown of Amgash has stayed with her and she wanted to visit the people in that town more closely? Or, is she just brilliant and planned it all along? I don't know. I just know that it didn't take me very long to get over my initial hesitation.

There is nothing flashy about Strout's writing. There are no gripping plots nor literary gymnasts (ala Michael Chabon). Instead, not a word is wasted in these quiet stories of people in pain, people hiding secrets.

Charlie McCauley, for example, who has fallen out of love with his wife:
"The very stuff that would make him roll his eyes now - her utter foolishness, the useless, nauseating softness that lay at the center of her - had thrilled him quietly that day with a rush of love and protectiveness as the autumn smell of earth filled him, kneeling there with the trowel."
Despite her economy of words, Strout still paints vivid pictures.
"Panic, like a large minnow darting upstream, moved back and forth inside him. He was suddenly as homesick as a child sent to stay with relatives: when the furniture seemed large and dark and strange, and the smell peculiar, each detail assaultive with a differentness that was almost unbearable. I want to go home, he thought."
This is how you write damaged characters. And this is how you treat them with compassion,  without glossing over their flaws. Every person has a story. Elizabeth Strout is brilliant in the way she tells those stories.

Monday, May 1, 2017

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante and Mama Shepp's Family Recommends

December 21, 2013 - why, yes, that's when Rhody aunt wrote recommending author Elena Ferrante. She had just finished My Brilliant Friend, which she "adored" and recommended to our family's female readers. She was off to check out the rest of the books in the series as well as Ferrante's previous books, including Days of Abandonment. I made a note of the recommendation because she recommended it and because it definitely sounded like a book I'd enjoy. And then I forgot about it, so much so that even when it seemed like every blogger was talking about the Neapolitan novels, I didn't recall the recommendation at all. Until, thanks to 40 Bags In 40 Days, I was cleaning out my email account and found the recommendation and decided it was time to read Ferrante.

My Brilliant Friend (Neopolitan Novels #1) by Elena Ferrante
Published September 2012 by Europa
Source: bought it for book club

Publisher's Summary:
Beginning in the 1950s in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples, Ferrante’s four-volume story spans almost sixty years, as its protagonists, the fiery and unforgettable Lila, and the bookish narrator, Elena, become women, wives, mothers, and leaders, all the while maintaining a complex and at times conflictual friendship. Book one in the series follows Lila and Elena from their first fateful meeting as ten-year-olds through their school years and adolescence.

Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists.

My Thoughts:
Okay, let me just say up front that some people may tell you that this book could be read as a stand alone book. Don't listen to them. Yes, there is something of an ending to this book. But it's also clear that it's merely the end of a chapter in the lives of Lenu and Lila and that things are going to get very interesting in the next novel.

Also, this book series has possibly got the worst covers. They are one of the reasons I didn't pick up these books sooner. Because, it turns out, I do judge books by their covers, no matter how many people recommend the book, apparently.

As it turns out, I should have listened to my aunt three years ago.

I liked this book. A lot. Ferrante makes the neighborhood come alive - the relationships between its denizens, the violence of their lives - but she also makes readers feel the insularity of the neighborhood. It's easy to forget the characters live in Naples and not a small village.
"I feel no nostalgia for our childhood: it was full of violence. Every sort of thing happened, at home and outside, every day, but I don't recall having ever thought that the life we had there was particularly bad. Life was like that, that's all, we grew up with the duty to make it difficult for others before they made it difficult for us...The women fought among themselves more than the men, they pulled each other's hair, they hurt each other. To cause pain was a disease."
I loved the relationship between Elena and Lila. Elena, who's telling us her story, struggles with her relationship with Lila. There is so much about Lila that Elena admires but often to the point that she becomes jealous of it. It's sometimes hard to tell if the girls are even still friends.
"I felt grieved at the waste, because I was compelled to go away, because she preferred the adventure of the shoes to our conversation, because she knew how to be autonomous whereas I needed her, because she had her things that I couldn't be a part of...because, in short, she would feel that I was less and less necessary."
We know from the beginning, as Elena looks back on their relationship, that it will remain rocky. Yet, the two seem to have a bond that cannot be broken. I can't wait to read the next book to see what life has in two for these girls and how their relationship will continue to influence their lives.