Friday, April 28, 2017

Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon!


It's time for the spring 2017 edition of Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon! You know by now how much I love the idea of this bi-annual readathon. You're probably also aware by now of how badly  I generally do at it when I think I'm going to do the full 24 hours. This time I'm being more realistic.

The Big Guy's been out of town for several days and will arrive home about 4 p.m. tomorrow. That means I have about ten good hours to read. After that, let the talking begin. Because, guys, BG loves, and I mean LOVES, to talk. After all of these years, I still don't have him properly trained to be quiet when I have a book in my hands. Also, we have a dinner party to go to tomorrow night which means I'll be gone for those few hours plus I have to get a dessert ready to take. It also means wine. Which means I'll fall asleep shortly after I arrive home.

So, ten hours it is. And I'll be happy with that. Of course, I'll still have a snack/food pile that looks like it could last at least 24 hours. And, maybe, once I get back home tomorrow night I'll still be awake long enough to check in with everyone and maybe do a mini-challenge or two. Who knows?

What I hope to read:
  • Concepcion and The Baby Brokers by Deborah Clearman - I'll finish this one for an upcoming TLC Book Tours review
  • Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell - this one's been on my nightstand forever and I want to get it finished
  • Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig
  • The H Spot by Jill Filipovic
And you joining us? What are you planning on reading?

PAGES READ:
HOURS READ:
MINI-CHALLENGES:

OPENING SURVEY:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
Omaha, Nebraska, US

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
The H Spot

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
G H Cretor's Chicago Mix Popcorn

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
I'm a wild party girl trapped in the body of a terribly responsible, terribly rules-oriented woman

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

Every readathon I wish I had spent more time interacting with the community instead of burying my nose in a book the whole time. I know, I know it's a readathon but the thing that makes it great is the community. So today, even though my time is limited, I'm going to spend a lot of it on the internet talking to other readers.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

Will you look at that? Four posts in one week! I don't know that I'll be able to keep it up in the next couple of months with so much to do before the wedding but at least I'm finally interested in reading and blogging again. I've even been visiting blogs again. I've missed my blogging friends!

Can't already remember how I came across it, but I'm getting emails from Literary Hub. Perhaps you've already known about it? It gives me a lot of links to interesting articles about reading and writing. I don't have time to check them all out but it's nice to have things gathered together from a lot of other sources I definitely don't have time to check out.

Some other bookish things I've been finding around:



Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Homer and Langley by E. L. Doctorow

Homer and Langley by E. L. Doctorow
Read by Arthur Morey*
Published September 2009 by Random House Publishing
Source: my audiobook copy purchased at my library book sale

Publisher's Summary:
Homer and Langley Collyer are brothers–the one blind and deeply intuitive, the other damaged into madness, or perhaps greatness, by mustard gas in the Great War. They live as recluses in their once grand Fifth Avenue mansion, scavenging the city streets for things they think they can use, hoarding the daily newspapers as research for Langley’s proposed dateless newspaper whose reportage will be as prophecy. Yet the epic events of the century play out in the lives of the two brothers–wars, political movements, technological advances–and even though they want nothing more than to shut out the world, history seems to pass through...


My Thoughts:
I don't recall if I first heard of the Collyer brothers when this book came out or if I knew about them first which made this book appeal. Well, that and the fact that the book is written by Doctorow, the man who wrote one of my all-time favorite books, Ragtime. Doctorow is known for dropping his fictional characters into historical events among historical figures. Here he's turned the tables a bit. In Homer and Langley, Homer and Langley Collyer are the historical figures.

Langley Collyer, top center. 
Homer and Langley Collyer were born into wealth and both had college degrees and successful careers. But when Homer went blind, Langley quit his job to care for his older brother. When their divorced parents both died, the brothers combined the two households into one brownstone. Curiosity, paranoia, a changing Harlem neighborhood, and Langley's collecting of newspapers for the eventuality of the return of Homer's sight all snowballed into a home that was crammed so full the when police tried to enter the home in 1947, they were forced to empty the house as they went.

In Doctorow's hands, the brothers Collyer are given a full life before their reclusive years and another 30 years of life, allowing the events of the world to come to their door. Doctorow has the brothers befriend a band of hippies and allow them to stay in the house for weeks; he gives them an early interaction with a mobster who later becomes head of one of the five families and uses their home as a refuge after an attempt has been made on his life; and Doctorow has Homer befriend in a park a journalist to whom he will later write the story of his and Langley's lives.

The Collyer brothers became, even in their lifetimes, objects of ridicule, not just for the way they lived but also for the way they died. Doctorow makes them human. These men did not just one day decide that they wanted to live the way they ended up living. It's not that they couldn't have afforded to live well; they had plenty of money. But life was, for Homer and Langley, as it is for all of us, an accumulation of experiences. Langley,  as Doctorow sees him, was a genius who was fiercely protective of his brother; Homer a man who didn't always understand or agree with his brother's thinking but who always defended it.

As I've been journeying through the 40 Bags In 40 Days, it's become easier and easier for me to understand how someone might end up living as the Collyer brothers did. You begin keeping things just in case you find a use for them, you keep things to use read later, you just don't get around to putting things right. Before long, it becomes so overwhelming it becomes impossible to tackle. Add on to that, the mental illness that so many, like Langley Collyer, suffer and it becomes a recipe for the kind of disaster that happened to the Collyer brothers.

E. L. Doctorow
The New York Times reviewer, in 2009, raved about Homer and Langley. While I appreciate the way Doctorow humanized the brothers and was fascinated with his take on how someone might become what today we call a hoarder, I didn't love the book. I think I would have enjoyed the story more had it hewed to the actual facts of the brothers lives rather than tweaking them to work as a way to look at world events. But perhaps keeping that wider window open throughout the book helped readers to really feel the brothers lives growing smaller and smaller as they near the end of their lives. By the last of the book, the feeling is absolutely claustrophobic.

*Imagine my surprise to pop the first disc of this book in and discover that it was also being read by Arthur Morey, who also read the last book I had listened to. I believe I enjoyed his reading even more in this book.



Monday, April 24, 2017

That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo

That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo
Published August 2009 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Read by Arthur Morey
Source: my audiobook copy purchased at my library book sale

Publisher's Summary:
For Griffin, all paths, all memories, converge at Cape Cod. The Cape is where he took his childhood summer vacations, where he and his wife, Joy, honeymooned, where they decided he’d leave his LA screenwriting job to become a college professor, and where they celebrated the marriage of their daughter Laura’s best friend. But when their beloved Laura’s wedding takes place a year later, Griffin is caught between chauffeuring his mother’s and father’s ashes in two urns and contending with Joy and her large, unruly family. Both he and she have also brought dates along. How in the world could this have happened?


My Thoughts:
Two summers, two weddings, one marriage falling apart in the way that most marriages that fall apart do, not the spectacular way that is so often portrayed in movies and books, but in a slow, quiet decline.

When we marry we all bring with us the models we have for marriage and our families. No matter how lucky we get in what our mate has brought with him or her in this way, it's still a dance. Whose family will you spend Christmas with this year? Why is her brother such a blowhard?  Why does his mother look down on me?

Jack Griffin's parents were really quite unpleasant people, not very good parents, and terrible at being married to each other. Every summer though, they traveled to Cape Cod where they called a truce and actually became affectionate. When Jack marries Joy, he's determined to spend as little time as possible with his parents. But keeping them physically out of his life doesn't mean that they aren't casting a giant shadow over it and over Jack's and Joy's marriage and they still have to deal with Joy's family, a family Jack is ill-equipped to deal with.

Told largely through flashbacks, Russo explores how the baggage we bring with us affects the lives we are working to create for ourselves and how we can never entirely leave our history behind us. Even, as it turns out, when our history is not exactly the way we remember it.

I really enjoyed Arthur Morey as a reader; he did an excellent job of channeling Jack's voice. Russo's no slack at writing either and there was a lot I enjoyed about That Old Cape Magic. But, in the end, I found that I was so annoyed with Jack's character that it was hard of me to care about him or cheer for the survival of his marriage. It's a good book. It's just not a great book.





Sunday, April 23, 2017

Life: It Goes On - April 23

Greetings from pollen-laden Omaha. My allergies got so bad that I had to skip the March for Science here. Seriously unhappy about that. Were any of you able to join a march where you're at? Just like the women's march in January, I got a kick seeing all of the creative signs people were carrying around the world.

Thursday I did get out and get some good exercise in doing yard work. It felt so good to out in the sun, using the muscles you only seem to use when you're wielding a rake or a shovel. I finally got around to tearing out our compost pit. The plans I've had for a couple of years for a new compost pit will get put into motion in the next couple of weeks. I'm ridiculously excited by the prospect of at last being able to dispose of food waste in a way I don't feel guilty about again.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I started Nell Freudenberger's The Newlyweds after finishing Homer and Langley. I've listened to a couple of discs now but I'm still not sure it's the right book for me right now. Still, it's got some things that interest me and I'm hoping it's going to suck me in so I'm not giving up on it yet.

Watching: I'm down to one more episode left of The Crown for season one. Then I'll have to wait six or so months for the next season, darn it. Trying to figure out what I want to watch next. Maybe Grace and Frankie. Or I may got back and rewatch The Gilmore Girl or Luther. Or go watch upstairs where we have Amazon and check out some interesting looks shows on that. There's really no reason to watch t.v. mindlessly any more, is there?

Reading: Elizabeth Strout's Anything Is Possible. It took me by surprise to find Lucy Barton (title character of her last book) appear in this book. In fact, the book is a collection of short stories about the people in the town Lucy grew up in. I'm enjoying Strout's writing, as usual; she's become one of my go-to authors. I would love to know if she had intended this collection as a follow up to Lucy Barton all along or if, in writing that one, discovered that Lucy's hometown had a whole lot of stories to tell as well.

Making: Nothing creative this week in the kitchen for me but we were able to bust on some pasta on the patio for the first time this year.

Planning: It's all about the wedding for the next 69 days here. 69 days! I can't believe we're only a little over two months from the big day.

Thinking About: Gardening. We'd like to get a jump on things so they look good by the end of June so we'll be starting to buy plants starting next week.

The Princess
Enjoying: This face! Any time I get a new picture of The Princess, it makes my day.

Feeling: Lighter, both emotionally and mentally. Yesterday I dropped of three boxes of material to be shredded at a free community shred event and will make another drop off at the Goodwill today. I'm officially at 51 "bags" at this point and am ready to start getting rid of some furniture. I can't wait!

Cheryl Strayed
Looking forward to: Going to see Cheryl Strayed, who is coming to Omaha as part of a Writer's Lecture series, Thursday with friends.

Question of the week: If you going to make one quick change to your home for the spring, what would it be?

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Girl In The Garden by Melanie Wallace

The Girl In the Garden by Melanie Wallace
Published: January 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Source: my egalley copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for  an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
When June arrives on the coast of New England, baby in arms, an untrustworthy man by her side, Mabel—who rents them a cabin—senses trouble. A few days later, the girl and her child are abandoned.

June is soon placed with Mabel’s friend, Iris, in town, and her life becomes entwined with a number of locals who have known one another for decades: a wealthy recluse with a tragic past; a widow in mourning; a forsaken daughter returning for the first time in years, with a stranger in tow; a lawyer, whose longings he can never reveal; and a kindly World War II veteran who serves as the town's sage. Surrounded by the personal histories and secrets of others, June finds the way forward for herself and her son amid revelations of the others' pasts, including loves—and crimes—from years ago.

My Thoughts:
Given my months long reading slump and lack of books to review, you'd think I would have gotten around to reviewing a book I finished weeks ago sooner. But the it kind of got finished up with a fizzle as I raced to read books that had to be finished by a certain time. Unfortunately, it means that my feelings about the book have faded and my copy has expired so I can't even go back and refresh my memory.

Here's what I do remember:

  • This is a tough book to read - very little dialogue, very few breaks on a page and long sentences that would make William Faulkner proud. Your eyes don't get a break and your mind doesn't get a break. 
  • As much a collection of short stories as a novel, Wallace moves the story along by letting different characters take the lead in each chapter. It's an interesting way to get the back story of each character although it can take you a long way from the main story line.
  • Characters - this book is all about its broken characters, and they are all broken characters. Some of their stories worked for me. Others were harder for me to buy into. Part of that has to do with my feelings about being a mom - it's always hard for me to read about moms who neglect or harm their children. 
  • In the end, it's a book about a community of broken people who come together in support of June and her son. Which is all lovely. I'm just in a place right now where I read that and instead of making me feel better about the world, I read it and and think that it's implausible that one quiet girl would have the power to heal so many broken lives. 
  • Maybe the wrong book at the wrong time for me. But there would be a lot here for book clubs to talk about.

Monday, April 17, 2017

A Gate At The Stairs by Lorrie Moore

A Gate at The Stairs by Lorrie Moore
Narrated by Mia Barron
Published September 2009 by Knopf
Source: my print and audio copies both purchased at my local library book sale

Publisher's Summary: Tassie Keltjin has come from a small farming town to attend college in Troy, “the Athens of the Midwest.” She's swept into a thrilling world of books and films and riveting lectures, high-flying discussions about Bach, Balkanization, and bacterial warfare, and the witty repartee of her fellow students. At the end of the semester, Tassie takes a job as a part-time nanny for the newly adopted child of Sarah Brink, the owner of a trendy downtown restaurant, and her husband, Edward Thornwood, a scientist pursuing independent research. Tassie is enchanted by the little girl. Her feelings about Sarah and Edward are less easily defined, and as she becomes an integral part of their family, the mysteries of their lives and their relationship only deepen. She finds little to anchor her: a boyfriend turns out to be quite different from what he seems; vacations in her hometown are like visits to an alien country; and her loving, eccentric family no longer provides the certainties and continuity that shaped her childhood.

My Thoughts:
At the end of 2009, A Gate At The Stairs appeared on a number of "Best of 2009" lists, including the New York Times and Slate. This despite the fact that most of them acknowledged plot issues. They were that impressed with Moore's writing.

I'm inclined to be a little less forgiving. Why, you may ask? Because in addition to all of those plot issues, I so very often found myself thinking "now that doesn't seem at all possible" or "I don't see how that would work." When I begin to find myself distracted in that way, it's hard for me to appreciate what's good in a book, or a movie, or life, for that matter.

It's a lot of little things. Like, why is a woman who owns an upscale, inventive restaurant at home so much of the time? And why has Sarah worked so hard to adopt a child we rarely see her interacting with? Why does Tassie dislike her mom so much? And how does a full-time college student have so much time to nanny and have a boyfriend she spends quite a lot of time with? Also, even though I was cool with ghosts in Lincoln In The Bardo, when they appeared in this book I might have thrown the book across the room...if it weren't an audiobook...and I hadn't been in my car.

Still, I do agree with those who put this on their "best of" lists that Moore's writing can be impressive. Edward and Sarah host a group of parents who have adopted children of other races and the conversations that Tassie overhears (although how she manages to overhear whole conversations while caring for a number of children is another of those things I questioned) ask racial questions I hadn't considered. That's always a good thing, right?

Then, too, there are two scenes in the book that broke my heart. Both were the kinds of scenes, like auto accidents, that you wanted to look away from but, because they are so well written, you find yourself unable to put the book down. One of them will stay with me for a very long time.

Will this make my list of best books I've read in 2017? Probably not. But it was worth reading because it made me think and because it left a mark on my heart.








Sunday, April 16, 2017

Life: It Goes On - April 17

April showers will bring May flowers, right? At the rate we're going, we're going to have a bumper crop of flowers in May. Everything is certainly greening up, growing up, and blooming out. Gardening is beginning. Yesterday I dug up columbine to give to a friend (I hope she understands that it grows like a weed. Perhaps it is one?) and split lilies. Today I will plant hostess and fern that my friend gave me and moving out the big front porch pots that I managed to keep some plants alive all winter in. Feels good to get back in the dirt!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'm about half way through Homer and Langley. It's an interesting exploration of how a house might reach the extremes of hoarding that Homer and Langley Collyer's home did. Musically, my Spotify playlist on shuffle - it's pretty much all over the place but never boring!

Watching: I'm finally getting The Big Guy to use the best features of our new television system and I've taken advantage of my time alone to catch up on "my" shows. Together we watched some episodes of Longmire and a couple of episodes of Game of Thrones. I watched finished the Big Little Lies series (I'm actually going to miss that one!) and 3 episodes of The Crown (so good!).

Reading: With book club coming up this week, I'm reading Angela Flourney's The Turner House. I'm really liking the writing. I put down The Shadow Land and I'm not entirely sure I'll pick it up again.

Making: I'm taking dessert to our combined family Easter dinner today. Since there are 21 of us, I decided to do angel food cake in three different ways - thank heavens I bought the actual cakes because between three different filling and three different frostings, I have made a hella mess of my kitchen. I made lemon curd for the first time; I'm now trying to figure out how many different ways I can incorporate it into my life because yum!

Planning: A bachelor's/girls' weekend in Milwaukee for the affianced couple. They can't get enough time off to get south so we will take the party to them. They will be moving in the next few months and we wanted to get up to Milwaukee again before they leave anyway so this is perfect.

Red/White Spring Game Fun

Thinking About: 40 Bags In 40 Days is officially over but the decluttering is not so I'm still thinking of how to get everything accomplished around the rest of our lives. Today while the rest of my crew was off to Lincoln for the annual Red/White game, I worked on the garage. Looks like they had more fun than I did!

Enjoying: Dinners on the patio!

To Their
Future
Feeling: Happy for my sister and brother-in-law. Because of his job, they will be moving to Wisconsin in a few weeks. Last week they got their house sold before it even went on the market and had their offer accepted on a house they fell in love with last weekend. We'll miss having them nearby but can't wait to visit them in their new place.

Looking forward to: Book club this week. And something on Saturday but I can't remember what. That's not good!

Question of the week: What's your favorite way to make your house spring ready?

Monday, April 10, 2017

Mississippi Blood by Greg Iles - A Guest Review

Mississippi Blood by Greg Iles
Published March 2017 by William Morrow
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Because my parents first introduced me to Penn Cage and this trilogy, I knew as soon as this book became available that I would be putting in their hands first for review. Below is my dad's review of Mississippi Blood.

Publisher's Summary:
The endgame is at hand for Penn Cage, his family, and the enemies bent on destroying them in this revelatory volume in the epic trilogy set in modern-day Natchez, Mississippi—Greg Iles’s epic tale of love and honor, hatred and revenge that explores how the sins of the past continue to haunt the present.

Shattered by grief and dreaming of vengeance, Penn Cage sees his family and his world collapsing around him. The woman he loves is gone, his principles have been irrevocably compromised, and his father, once a paragon of the community that Penn leads as mayor, is about to be tried for the murder of a former lover. Most terrifying of all, Dr. Cage seems bent on self-destruction. Despite Penn’s experience as a prosecutor in major murder trials, his father has frozen him out of the trial preparations–preferring to risk dying in prison to revealing the truth of the crime to his son.

During forty years practicing medicine, Tom Cage made himself the most respected and beloved physician in Natchez, Mississippi. But this revered Southern figure has secrets known only to himself and a handful of others. Among them, Tom has a second son, the product of an 1960s affair with his devoted African American nurse, Viola Turner. It is Viola who has been murdered, and her bitter son–Penn’s half-brother–who sets in motion the murder case against his father. The resulting investigation exhumes dangerous ghosts from Mississippi’s violent past. In some way that Penn cannot fathom, Viola Turner was a nexus point between his father and the Double Eagles, a savage splinter cell of the KKK. More troubling still, the long-buried secrets shared by Dr. Cage and the former Klansmen may hold the key to the most devastating assassinations of the 1960s. The surviving Double Eagles will stop at nothing to keep their past crimes buried, and with the help of some of the most influential men in the state, they seek to ensure that Dr. Cage either takes the fall for them, or takes his secrets to an early grave.

Tom Cage’s murder trial sets a terrible clock in motion, and unless Penn can pierce the veil of the past and exonerate his father, his family will be destroyed. Unable to trust anyone around him–not even his own mother–Penn joins forces with Serenity Butler, a famous young black author who has come to Natchez to write about his father’s case. Together, Penn and Serenity–a former soldier–battle to crack the Double Eagles and discover the secret history of the Cage family and the South itself, a desperate move that risks the only thing they have left to gamble: their lives.

Guest Review:

Greg Iles opens his newest book with this line: “GRIEF IS THE most solitary emotion; it makes islands of us all.” And there’s grief to spare in this one. But hope, too.

Movie-goers well recall how Hollywood made two excellent movies based on Mario Puzo’s character Vito Corleone, THE GODFATHER, and his family, but then followed those two gems with one more effort, which was a complete bomb.


You readers, on the other hand, have my assurance that Greg Iles has not wrapped up his giant story with anything like that kind of thud. In fact, as well-crafted as NATCHEZ BURNING and THE BONE TREE, are, he has capped them off with the best of the trilogy. MISSISSIPPI BLOOD is just stunningly good. I’m a slow reader, who has a lot of other things occupying his time. A book this long might well have taken me a couple of months to get through, But I finished it in a week and wished there had been at least a couple hundred more pages.

All the surviving family, friends, allies, and mortal enemies of Natchez Mayor Penn Cage show up again this time, along with a few additions, including a dynamite lady, Serenity “Tee” Butler, who is so interesting that I can well imagine Iles using her in a spin-off.

The fate of Penn’s father, Doctor Tom Cage, still hangs in the balance. He’s in jail, awaiting trial for the murder of his one-time nurse and lover, and he’s still holding back from his family and his attorney information they regard as essential to winning an acquittal. Further frustrating Penn, Tom’s attorney, the elderly and ailing legal whiz Quentin Avery, is being no more forthcoming as to the strategy he intends to use when the case comes to trial.

Snake Knox, the last truly dangerous member of the Double Eagles, who have been terrorizing black people and whites alike in the region for fifty years, is still out there, still elusive, and still willing to sacrifice anyone who represents a threat to him and his plans.

You’ve read and seen a great many fictional trials, but prepare to be amazed by what Iles does with Doctor Tom’s time in court.

I won’t give you excerpts from this book. The publisher warns against it, and, besides, I don’t want to risk depriving you of one single bit of the pleasure I’m convinced this book is going to give you. Think of how often when watching a movie you’ve said, “Well, dang, I knew that was coming. They ran it in the previews on TV.” Not gunna do that to ya.

Spoiler alert: About 500 pages in, Iles hit me between the eyes with a mallet. I presume you read sitting down, but, if not, I recommend it. I’m glad I was.

I have only one tiny complaint. To my way of thinking, Iles has put in one chase scene that goes on too long, stretches credulity a bit, and really didn’t have to be there at all. You’ll know it when you get to it.

Have you not read NATCHEZ BURNING and THE BONE TREE? You would get into MISSISSIPPI BLOOD more smoothly if you have, of course. This is, after all, the last chapter of a long continuous story. But, like this one, those are long books and if you don’t think you have the time to read them first, Iles, without interrupting the flow of this story, fills you in on who’s who and what’s what. Read carefully in the first pages and with a little effort I’m sure to you can catch up.

This is, of course, a work of fiction. But Iles, who surely is one of the pre-imminent authors of this genre, prefaces his story with this quotation from ALL THE KING’S MEN by Robert Penn Warren: “For the truth is a terrible thing.” Iles writes so convincingly that you could sell yourself on the idea that all this has, in fact, really happened and that, if so, then Penn Warren had it right.

Thanks, Dad, for a great review! I knew I was right to put this book into your hands for review!

For other opinions about this final book, check out the full tour. Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for including my family on this tour (my mom has read the book as well, at this time, and I'll be reading it soon).

Greg Iles spent most of his youth in Natchez, Mississippi. His first novel, Spandau Phoenix, was the first of thirteen New York Times bestsellers, and his new trilogy continues the story of Penn Cage, protagonist of The Quiet Game, Turning Angel, and #1 New York Times bestseller The Devil’s Punchbowl. Iles’s novels have been made into films and published in more than thirty-five countries. He lives in Natchez with his wife and has two children.

Find out more about Greg at his website, follow him on Twitter, and connect with him on Facebook.



Sunday, April 9, 2017

Life: It Goes On - April 9

So we were finally going to get some sunshine this weekend, then Kansas decided it was time for some controlled burns which means, with winds out of the south, it's been overcast with smoke all weekend. Argh! This girl needs some sunshine!

On the plus side, grey, wet days make it a whole lot easier to keep plugging away inside on the decluttering.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Bookwise, I have about a half disc of That Old Cape Magic left which I will finish tomorrow. I'm not really sure what I'll pop in next. Musically, I'm on a soundtrack kick, mostly Hamilton and Beauty and The Beast. As for podcasts, this week I finished up The History Chicks episodes about Catherine The Great (and now want to read Robert Massey's book!) and I've listened to a couple of episodes of Futility Closet (I especially love their lateral thinking puzzles).

Watching: A couple of episodes each of Big Little Lies, Longmire, and Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee (Jerry Seinfeld); The Voice; and the birds making nests in my trees.

Reading: The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova. Honestly, I'm about 100 pages in but seriously considering giving up on it. The writing is not impressing me and the thing that pulled me in about her The Historian, a plot that wouldn't let go of you from the beginning, is not developing at all.

Making: Not making, but remaking, a bar that my uncle made in the mid-1960's so that it can be passed on to Mini-him and a cedar chest finished to match that he can use as a coffee table.

Planning: On continuing on with my decluttering even after 40 Bags In 40 Days is finished in a week. In the beginning, I made a plan that mapped out each individual area that I wanted to get to during the project and I'm not through that list yet despite having gotten more than 40 bags/boxes out of my house these past five weeks.

Thinking About: My sister as she and her husband get their house ready to put on the market and shop for a new home. They are headed to Wisconsin as he has a new territory. We're going to miss having them close to us but excited for them.

Enjoying: Watching our great niece play soccer the other night. Even if it was freezing cold out (okay, not literally, but it felt like it in the wind!).

Feeling: Determined. The wedding is less than three months away now and I'm determined to check off everything on my to-do list of home fix-ups I want done before then.


Looking forward to: Flowers. The begonia that I brought in last fall has survived the winter and is already blooming inside. I can't wait my pots to be filled again and the garden beds to be growing.

Question of the week: This week I found the instruction manual for Windows. Not Windows XP, not Windows 95. Windows. Plus discs for so many iterations of Windows since then. Why in the world have we not gotten rid of these long ago? Are you as afraid of letting go of things you might need later as I seem to be?

Friday, April 7, 2017

Mama Shepp's Family Recommends


It's back, Mama Shepp's Family Recommends! A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...oh, wait, that's a different story. A few years back, I started sharing recommendations from my family; there are quite a lot of readers in my family, of diverse and interesting tastes. Then, as I do, I forgot to remember to ask them what they were reading and enjoying. Also, forgetting to share what they have recommended with you.

A couple of weeks ago, the Rhodys (my aunt and uncle, who live in...wait for it...Rhode Island), recommended Peter Heller's Celine. I'm familiar with Heller's work (The Dog Stars and The Painter) but I've never read any of his work or heard about this one. Of Celine, Uncle Rhody says:

"The premise was, to me, off-putting---an elderly couple of investigators who specialize in reuniting families. It doesn’t require many pages to find yourself completely taken with these people and their relationship. Plus, the story becomes very interesting and takes you to some places you have probably never been. Which is one of the great charms of fiction."

I agree! Have you read this one? If so, what did you think of it?

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Why You Shouldn't Be Afraid To Read Literary Fiction - A Guest Post by Author Anne Leigh Parrish


Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid To Read Literary Fiction
Anne Leigh Parrish


Let me take a moment and talk a little bit about genre. This is essentially a marketing idea, a guide to where you might find the books you like to read in your favorite bookstore. What are you drawn to? Mystery? Romance? Historical novels set in the time of Tudor England? Maybe a good crime story is what you’re looking for. What’s better than finding out who did it?

Most writers probably aren’t comfortable having their own work slotted so neatly. A really good book could be placed in several categories at once. The detective who, underneath it all, is a sensitive soul. The alien being, sent to work among humans, suffers from a wrenching loneliness. Any novel that imbues its characters well with feelings we understand gives us a taste of literary fiction, even as it lives up to its particular genre.

So what is literary fiction? What sets it apart? Put simply, literary fiction relies primarily on two things: language, and character. You’ll notice that plot isn’t mentioned. Literary fiction isn’t plot heavy. Of course, things happen, but they don’t drive the story forward. Rather, it’s the depth—often the unhappiness—of the main character that keeps things afloat. You don’t have to like that person, you don’t even have to sympathize with them, but as a reader, you do have to have a firm sense of what’s important to them, what’s at stake. When you read a novel that identifies itself as literary fiction, you’re going to really be brought into someone’s life, up close and personal.

All well-written fiction offers the reader a form of escape. I like to think that literary fiction goes further by taking the reader on a journey. You experience the world the way the characters do. If you find yourself truly immersed, you’re reading the work of an accomplished author.

The other facet of literary fiction—language, is equally important. I speak from experience when I say I really focus on word choice. Does a young man just walk? Or does he amble, stride, pace, or suddenly sprint? It’s critical to say exactly what you mean, so the reader sees what’s going on behind the page.

Language can be spare, or flowery. Sentences can be short, or long and winding, like a musical passage. When done right, language engages you every bit as much as a character does. It penetrates the mind so much that your own turns of phrase might be altered just a little. I think the highest compliment I can be paid as a writer is that my writing is “elegant,” or “poetic.” “Haunting” is another word that thrills me, because it means my words have more than a momentary presence.

Literary fiction excises the brain. It keeps us sharp, engaged, and aware. What better way to pass the time, than by improving your understanding of the human condition? And literary fiction is beautiful, too, when crafted with skill and care. So, readers, jump in! You honor us by spending time with us. And we’re always very glad for your company.

Anne Leigh Parrish is the author of By The Wayside, a collection of short stories on tour now through TLC Book Tours. She is also the author of All the Roads That Lead From Home, stories (Press 53, 2011); Our Love Could Light The World, stories (She Writes Press, 2014); and What Is Found, What Is Lost, a novel (She Writes Press, 2014). Her new novel, Women Within, is forthcoming from Black Rose Writing in September 2017. Find Anne on Facebook, Twitter, and her website.

Thanks, Anne for taking time out of your very busy writing schedule to encourage readers to read my favorite kind of writing, and to remind readers that genres are just labels we shouldn't be put off by when we're choosing books!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Life: It Goes On - April 2

Ok, we're not quite to blooming trees yet but it's officially spring so I'm busting out the spring photo. We're certainly getting the spring showers, though. We're well into our second week of grey skies; how do people in the Pacific Northwest survive all of the dreariness?! My kingdom for some sunshine!

On the plus side, I don't so much mind doing 40 Bags in 40 Days in the basement when I'm not missing sunshine by being down there, so there's that, I suppose.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'm very much enjoying That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo while I'm driving; Arthur Morey does a bang up job reading it. When I'm home alone, my Spotify playlist is including a lot of Avett Brothers, Sarah Jarosz, Brandi Carlile, and Josh Ritter and when I'm working out I've been listening to the The History Chicks talk about Catherine the Great.




Watching: College basketball (I cannot believe the UConn women lost!), Bill Maher, The Voice, Game of Thrones.

Reading: Well, I am finally reading again, although I haven't had a ton of time to do it lately. I did finish Epic Measures (and reviewed that) and A Gate At The Stairs (review this week). I'm hoping to finally finish Assassination Vacation in the next couple of days so I can add a new book to my nightstand and then its' on to The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova.

Making: It's been a lazy week in the kitchen - baked potatoes, salad, omelets. And we ate out an astonishing, for us, three times, last week. I did whip up a couple of banana breads yesterday.

Planning: On several trips to drop off donations this week - a third trip in five weeks to Goodwill, two to different homeless shelters. I'm serious about getting things out of my house that we're not using when they are things other people could use.

Thinking About: What I've got left to do during 40 Bags in 40 Days. I've got a long way to go in my basement but this time I'm hell bent to get the job finished before I give up on it. I swear, when I'm not actually sorting, purging, and reorganizing, I'm thinking about doing those things. Thus, the lack of reading time.

Enjoying: Wedding planning. As in, we've been sampling food for the reception dinner. It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it!

Feeling: Like someone who's trying to reduce the "stuff" in her house probably shouldn't been bringing more books into it, even virtual books so I've been working really hard to keep myself from doing that. Until Thursday when I bought five new books. In my defense, in total they only cost $10 and four of them will never come into the house. Which of the audiobooks would you listen to next if you were me?

Looking forward to: Dinner today with my parents and siblings at my parents. Yep, I get out of cooking again!

Question of the week: How sentimental are you when it comes to holding onto things? My hardest things to sort are the things that were my kids', family photos, and things that came from family.