Friday, August 18, 2017

Fairy Tale Fridays: Horse, Flower, Bird by Kate Bernheimer

Horse, Flower, Bird by Kate Bernheimer
Published September 2010 by Coffee House Press
Source: bought this one three years ago when I was deep into reading fairy tales

Publisher's Summary:
In Kate Bernheimer's familiar and spare—yet wondrous—world, an exotic dancer builds her own cage, a wife tends a secret basement menagerie, a fishmonger's daughter befriends a tulip bulb, and sisters explore cycles of love and violence by reenacting scenes from Star Wars.

My Thoughts:
Ti, of Book Chatter, starts her book reviews with "The Short of It." If I were to do that, this review would open like this:
The Short of It:
Dark, modern fairy tales that made me think.
This tiny book (just 6" x 7 1/2") is just 185 pages. Many of them look like this:

Which makes writing the second piece of Ti's usual reviews, The Long Of It, tough. There's not a lot here, word count-wise. On the other hand, I really liked the way the stories were printed. It lent a break in the reading that enhanced the stories.

The eight tales in the book are odd, to say the least. All are about girls or young women and some have a Jewish element which makes them unique among fairy tales. But, like traditional fairy tales, the men in these tales tend to be the oppressors and there are no lessons to be learned. Unless the lesson you take from A Cageling Tale is to make sure that you never let your daughter have a parakeet lest she one day become an exotic dancer in a cage and eventually builds a cage for herself in a spare room.

I told you they were odd. But also utterly unique and original and the perfect way to break up my other reading and to spark my fairy tale reading again.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Talented Ribkins by Ladee Hubbard

The Talented Ribkins by Ladee Hubbard
Published August 2017 by Melville House
Source: my ecopy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
At seventy-two, Johnny Ribkins shouldn’t have such problems: He’s got one week to come up with the money he stole from his mobster boss or it’s curtains for Johnny.

What may or may not be useful to Johnny as he flees is that he comes from an African-American family that has been gifted with rather super powers that are rather sad, but superpowers nonetheless. For example, Johnny’s father could see colors no one else could see. His brother could scale perfectly flat walls. His cousin belches fire. And Johnny himself can make precise maps of any space you name, whether he’s been there or not. In the old days, the Ribkins family tried to apply their gifts to the civil rights effort, calling themselves The Justice Committee. But when their, eh, superpowers proved insufficient, the group fell apart. Out of frustration Johnny and his brother used their talents to stage a series of burglaries, each more daring than the last.

Fast forward a couple decades and Johnny’s on a race against the clock to dig up loot he’s stashed all over Florida. His brother is gone, but he has an unexpected sidekick: his brother’s daughter, Eloise, who has a special superpower of her own.

My Thoughts:
This is one of those books that I thought sounded interesting when it was pitched to me then completely forgot what it was about by the time that I started reading it. I'm so glad I did - going into the book completely unaware meant that it was an even bigger treat than it might otherwise have been.

Inspired by W. E. B. Dubois' essay "The Talented Tenth," Hubbard has crafted an utterly original novel full of heart, hope, and, dare I say it, fantasy. Is it possible that I have actually enjoyed two books already this year with a fantasy element? The Talented Ribkins is also something of a reverse graphic novel - rather than taking a story and turning it into an illustrated work, this feels like an illustrated work that's been translated into novel form. I don't read many graphic novels, either so this one would really seem to be out of my wheelhouse.

Maybe what I've learned from this book is that those genres, fantasy and graphic novels, might actually not be that far distant from my usual fare. Because this book is filled with interesting characters I grew to care very much for, there is an interesting family dynamic, there are complicated relationships, and there is a depth to the story I wasn't expecting. Perhaps I've been giving those genres short shrift. Or perhaps Hubbard is just that great at storytelling, which makes this debut novel all the more impressive.

Once in a while, things got a bit muddled, but Hubbard pulled things back together and wove the various threads she'd been developing throughout into a very satisfying ending. Although she relies on the fantastical gifts of the Ribkins to drive the story, the clear lesson here is that people need to make the most of the gifts they are given. Oh yes, and that no matter what our issues are with our family (however we define that), family is everything. I like that, I like that a lot.

Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for introducing me to this book and to Hubbard. I look forward to reading more of her work. For other opinions, check out the full tour.

About Ladee Hubbard:
Laddee Hubbard is the winner of the 2016 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award and the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition for the Short Story. She holds a BA from Princeton University, an MFA in Dramatic Writing from New York University, an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin, and a PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles. She lives in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Talented Ribkins is her first novel.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Nasty Women: A Collection of Essays and Accounts On What It Is To Be A Woman In The 21st Century

Nasty Women: A Collection of Essays and accounts On What It Is To Be A Woman In The 21st Century
Published March 2017 by 404 Ink
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:

With intolerance and inequality increasingly normalised by the day, it's more important than ever for women to share their experiences. We must hold the truth to account in the midst of sensationalism and international political turmoil. Nasty Women is a collection of essays, interviews and accounts on what it is to be a woman in the 21st century.

People, politics, pressure, punk - from working class experience to racial divides in Trump’s America, being a child of immigrants, to sexual assault, Brexit, pregnancy, contraception, identity, family, finding a voice online, role models and more, Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!, Zeba Talkhani, Chitra Ramaswamy are just a few of the incredible women who share their experience here.

Keep telling your stories, and tell them loud.

My Thoughts:
If you'd titled your book "Nasty Women" a year ago, you'd have been putting together an entirely different kind of book. Since last year, though, if you give your book that title, there's a good chance I'm going to pick it up. And I'm going to know exactly what I'm going to get.

This collection, largely written by women in the UK, covers the gamut of issues women have, from birth control to sexual orientation, from a woman's place in predominately male venues to race. Every one of these women is tired of having to fight but inspired to keep up the fight, to be a nasty woman. Given the number of authors not from the United States, I was more than a little surprised to see the current U. S. president come up again and again. But it's not just the political climate in the U. S. that has these women concerned; it's the political climate in their own countries, as well. These women understand that's it's taken a long time for women, particularly those of color or of the LGBTQ community, just to get where we'd gotten. Now many feel that we will fall back.

As with all collections, some of the writing are stronger than others and some of the writing really stands out. I particularly liked "Independence Day," about a woman who was forced to face the bigotry of a family member after the 2016 election in the U.S.; "Lament: Living With The Consequences of Contraception," which mixes a letter to "D" with a story about the author's ordeal with Depo-Provera injections; "The Nastiness of Survival," the author's story of being a rape survivor; and "These Shadows, These Ghosts," in which the author talks about the generations of nasty women in her family and the ways that stereotypes and expectations damaged them.

I read this collection straight through but I wish I had read it an essay at a time and let myself have time to really consider each essay before moving on to the next. It can get to be a little much read straight through. But as a collection, it's well worth reading. Particularly if you proudly call yourself a nasty woman.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Life: It Goes On - August 13

We've had a quiet week which skidded into a very busy weekend. Friday night was dinner with friends on their deck, last night was all of the in-laws on our patio and today we are headed off to The Big Guy's aunt's 88th birthday party. Not looking forward to the three hour drive there and the three hour drive back except that it will give me a lot of reading time. Because it's HIS aunt so he has to do all of the driving, right?!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Nerdette, Stuff You Missed In History Class, Futility Closet, Stuff You Should Know, and 10 minutes of an episode of Slate Audio Book Club. I've about decided to be done with that podcast - I swear those people have never read a book they really loved. In this episode, they were not impress with The Handmaid's Tale, particularly compared to the television adaptation, calling it dated. Well, duh, it was written more than twenty years ago. I'm on the fence with whether or not I'll just delete all of the other episodes I've downloaded.

Watching: Everything I could find about Princess Diana, lots of baseball and some soccer, and last night Bridget Jones' Diary. Which suddenly I found, as a feminist, a little appalling. And that made me sad, because, dammit, I love that movie!

Reading: I raced through Ruth Ware's The Woman In Cabin 10 and then B. A. Paris' The Breakdown. Which makes two books over 300 pages I managed to read in one week. I'm getting back into the groove! I did realize that, right now, I need to read print books and nothing that makes me think too hard.

Making: Caprese salad for Friday night. Actually, a lot of salads this week. Also, BLTs!

Planning: A re-do of the "kids" bathroom. Several years ago, I neutralized it from the undersea adventure it had been for nearing twenty years. But now that it's really just Miss H who uses it, I thought she might like something that's a bit more girly and soft.

Thinking About: Our great-nephew who is headed off to boarding prep school today. Dinner on the patio was a going away party for him. Wishing him much success and hoping his mom doesn't have too hard of time leaving him this afternoon.

Enjoying: See that face in the middle. Golly I love my great-nieces and nephews!

Feeling: Better this week.

Looking forward to: Getting to bed tonight - it's been a busy weekend!

Question of the week: We are blessed to enjoy being with both sides of our families and food so often seems to be involved. What are some of your family favorites for summer get-togethers?

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Two DNF's - The Locals by Jonathan Dee and Once, In Lourdes by Sharon Solwitz

The Locals by Jonathan Dee
Published August 2017 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:

Mark Firth is a contractor and home restorer in Howland, Massachusetts, who feels opportunity passing his family by. After being swindled by a financial advisor, what future can Mark promise his wife, Karen, and their young daughter, Haley? He finds himself envying the wealthy weekenders in his community whose houses sit empty all winter.

Philip Hadi used to be one of these people. But in the nervous days after 9/11 he flees New York and hires Mark to turn his Howland home into a year-round “secure location” from which he can manage billions of dollars of other people’s money. The collision of these two men’s very different worlds—rural vs. urban, middle class vs. wealthy—is the engine of Jonathan Dee’s powerful new novel.

Inspired by Hadi, Mark looks around for a surefire investment: the mid-decade housing boom. Over Karen’s objections, and teaming up with his troubled brother, Gerry, Mark starts buying up local property with cheap debt. Then the town’s first selectman dies suddenly, and Hadi volunteers for office. He soon begins subtly transforming Howland in his image—with unexpected results for Mark and his extended family.

My Thoughts:
Well, I suppose the DNF (did not finish) in the title pretty much gives away what my thoughts were about this book. You all know how rare it is for me to give up on a book.

I keep wondering if maybe what I downloaded isn't even the right book. It has the same cover. It even has a character named Mark Firth who is a contractor in Massachusetts. But the page for the book on Barnes and Noble's website says this is a 400 page book - the book I downloaded is just 284 pages. I could understand a difference of a few pages but more than 100? And the book I downloaded opens in Manhattan the day after the 9/11 attacks, not in Massachusetts, with an unnamed first-person narrator who is an extremely unlikable character. By the time I got to the actual first chapter, I was no longer interested.

George Saunders (Lincoln In The Bardo) calls the book "bold" and "vital." Mary Karr (Lit) called it "moving." The New York Times reviewer, on the other hand, didn't love it. And I can't tell whether Ron Charles (The Washington Post) liked it or not. So I'm not saying don't read it. Although I might be saying borrow it from your library if you're interested. There's a good chance you won't want to have paid good money for it.

Once, In Lourdes by Sharon Solwitz
Published May 2017 by Penguin RandomHouse
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review, through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary:

As the Vietnam War rages overseas, four friends make a vow. For the next two weeks, they will live for each other and for each day. Then, at the end of the two weeks, they will sacrifice themselves on the altar of their friendship.

Loyal Kay, our narrator, dreams of being an artist and escaping her stifling family—the stepmother and stepsister she gained after her mother’s early death, and the father she no longer feels she knows. As she struggles with her weight, her schoolwork, and her longing for her mother, she feels loyalty only to her three friends, determined to keep their group together at any cost. Brilliant, charismatic CJ appears to have everything—though even those closest to him can’t see him as he really is. Steady, quiet Saint wants to do right by everyone, trying not to let his emotions destroy himself and those around him. And beautiful Vera’s family secrets are too dark to share, even with her closest friends; caught in a web of family dysfunction, she can only hope the others won’t get tangled up in the danger she senses around her.

In the two-week span in which the novel takes place, during the summer before their senior year of high school, the lives of Kay, CJ, Saint, and Vera will change beyond their expectations, and what they gain and lose will determine the novel’s outcome.

My Thoughts:
Perhaps this one follows too closely on the heels of The Girls for me, another book set in the same time period also about teenagers struggling with family problems and secrets and looking for a family of friends. Perhaps I just had a hard time believing that friends would all have kept so much from each other (with the exception of CJ's secret which would have been something he would have wanted to hide even from his closest friends in the late 1960's).

Solwitz moves the story between the four characters, Kay's in first person and the others in third person. The changing narrative, particularly the changing point of view, just didn't work for me. I gave it 50 pages before I gave myself permission to stop. Sometimes you need to push through, and if other people who generally like the same books as I do told me it was well worth reading, I might have done that. But no one had. And so I gave up.

My not finishing this book probably has as much to do with it being the wrong book at the wrong time as it does with the book itself, in the end. It hit on too many triggers for me just now. That being said, I also don't see myself going back and picking it up any time. Unless one of those friends can convince me to do that. You never know.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking
Published January 2017 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: Bought for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
Embrace Hygge (pronounced hoo-ga) and become happier with this definitive guide to the Danish philosophy of comfort, togetherness, and well-being.

Why are Danes the happiest people in the world? The answer, says Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, is Hygge. Loosely translated, Hygge—pronounced Hoo-ga—is a sense of comfort, togetherness, and well-being. "Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience," Wiking explains. "It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe."

Hygge is the sensation you get when you’re cuddled up on a sofa, in cozy socks under a soft throw, during a storm. It’s that feeling when you’re sharing comfort food and easy conversation with loved ones at a candlelit table. It is the warmth of morning light shining just right on a crisp blue-sky day.

The Little Book of Hygge introduces you to this cornerstone of Danish life, and offers advice and ideas on incorporating it into your own life, such as:

Get comfy. Take a break.
Be here now. Turn off the phones.
Turn down the lights. Bring out the candles.
Build relationships. Spend time with your tribe.
Give yourself a break from the demands of healthy living. Cake is most definitely Hygge.
Live life today, like there is no coffee tomorrow.

From picking the right lighting to organizing a Hygge get-together to dressing hygge, Wiking shows you how to experience more joy and contentment the Danish way.

My Thoughts:
In the English language, we seem to have multiple words for every thing but there is no word in English that hygge translates directly into. In fact, there doesn't seem to be a word in any other language that means exactly the same thing. Other Nordic languages have similar words but those words don't seem to convey quite the same spirit. Hygge is a concept, but it is also a verb. The Danes live their lives around the idea of hygge and compound words have grown around it.

This is a little book that made me want to pull out blankets, candles, and put a stew on to simmer. So, yeah, maybe a book to study in the fall or winter, rather than the summer. In Denmark, of course, they don't get summers like we have in Nebraska so I'm not sure what they would do to introduce hygge on a day when the temps are in the 90's.

Or do I? After reading this book, I sat and pondered how I can make the ideas work for me this time of year and I came up with some ideas that I think are hygge, summer style - comfy cushions on the patio furniture, a table full of candles, soft light-weight cotton blankets for the evenings when it gets cool, blooming plants, friends around a fire, and summer comfort foods ( you know, strawberry shortcake and s'mores). Yep, I think I've got this. This quarter Danish girl has got this.

There's nothing in this book that anyone can't do. It's largely a matter of putting it all together and getting yourself in the right frame of mind. For an introvert like me, the hardest part will be making myself spend time with my tribe. Not that I don't enjoy that, I just have to remind myself of the happiness it brings me and make it happen. If the Danes can be the happiest people in the world with their weather, I think this might just be my ticket to survive Nebraska's winters.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Life: It Goes On - August 6

Guys - I have book reviews written for the next two weeks! I'm reading again! Truth be told, many of the books weren't that long but if that's what it takes for me to get back in the swing of things, I'm good with that. Today I was rearranging the book shelves in my office and began gazing longingly at A Suitable Boy and other such chunksters there and it occurred to me that I might just be ready to dive into one of them.

But, people, this is how flighty my mind is of late - I went off to have a happy hour therapy session with my girlfriends and completely forgot that my niece (from Wisconsin) and parents were coming for dinner! That is so not me! I hadn't even written it in my bullet journal. That is the whole point of the bullet journal - so you don't forget things!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Yep, still podcasts. This week it was lots of "Stuff You Should Know" and "RadioLab." Sometimes you don't even know how interesting those shows will be until you just let one run into another one.

Watching: Comedians In Cars Drinking Coffee (Jerry Seinfeld's web show - we watched episodes with Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah), Game of Thrones, Westworld. Oh yeah, and yesterday an episode of Wild, Wild West; how I loved this show growing up!

Reading: I finished three books in eight days! I'm caught up for scheduled reviews and Netgalley requests and now I get to read something just because I feel like it. Because Miss H's best friend read The Woman In Cabin 10 last week, I'm reading that now so I'll be able to talk with her about it.

Making: Grilled chicken salad, grilled chicken with black bean and roasted corn salad, grilled steaks (well, The Big Guy actually grilled the steaks), S'mores - you get the idea, we're eating summer foods.

Planning: On going to protest the Keystone Pipeline this afternoon. Assuming I get the energy to drive to Lincoln. I feel like I need to go but I'm on both a reading and an organizing kick lately and I kind of want to keep at both of them.

Thinking About: Ways to pick myself up - Friday night it was a bonfire on the patio with friends, last night it was delicious pizza and this morning it was great coffee and pastries.

Enjoying: My brother sent the pictures he took the weekend of the wedding. He was the official photographer for the actual wedding. He's never taken pictures at a wedding before and we are so impressed with the pictures he took!

Feeling: Down; thus "Thinking About."

Looking forward to: Lots of family time next weekend - a going away for our great-nephew who is headed off to boarding school and a birthday party for BG's last member of the older generation.

Question of the week: What do you do to cheer yourself up?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

Time again for the periodic "Lisa needs to clean up her saved links on Facebook" post. Let's see what I've got, shall we?

First up, a fun look at children's picture books from The Millions: Are Picture Books Leading Our Children Astray?  When I first saw the link, I wondered if someone seriously thought I'd screwed my children up by reading them Ferdinand The Bull and Caps for Sale!

Had you heard that PBS has ordered a new series called The Great American Read? It will feature people from all over the country talking about their favorite books and will culminate with a vote to choose American's best-loved books. Sadly, we have to wait until spring 2018 for it to start.

From Penguin Random House comes this list of 40 Books To Read Before You're 40. This poses a bit of a problem for me since I'm well past 40. Also, quite a lot of these books weren't even published before I was 40. Still, it's a good list to look at and maybe there's still time for you.

From The Man Book Prize page, comes the long-list of finalists for the 2017 prize. As usual, there are books on the list I haven't even heard of; but, unlike some years, I've actually read at least a couple of them.

Book Riot has given us their list of best books of 2017, so far (and looky, there are a couple of my faves so far this year) and The Millions has given us a list of books to look forward to in the second half of the year. I need to get over to Netgalley and see what I can pick up from this list.

From Literary Hub comes a list of 10 Famous Book Hoarders. Karl Lagerfeld, with his 300,000, might actually have a problem. Otherwise, I think these are just famous people who really like books. It does make me feel better about the number of books I have.

Riot New Media gives us a list of 25 Nonfiction Favorites Out Now In Paperback and Electric Lit gives us a list of 34 Books by Women of Color To Read This Year. Definitely adding at least a couple of these to the bookshelves. Quite a lot of these will be coming to my house sooner rather than later.

Books that actually did get added to my shelves last week:

Of course, I want to read all of them right now. Which would you read first?

Oh, yeah - guess what I did? I actually DNF'd another book. At better than 20% into The Locals by Jonathan Dee, the book didn't remotely seem to be about what I thought it was going to be about and I really, really did not like the narrator. I've already quit more books this year than I did in the five years before this. Pretty proud of myself!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

An Exact Replica Of A Figment Of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken

An Exact Replica Of A Figment Of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken
Published September 2008 by Little, Brown, and Company
Source: bought through Better World Books

Publisher's Summary:
A prize-winning, successful novelist in her 30s, McCracken was happy to be an itinerant writer and self-proclaimed spinster. But suddenly she fell in love, got married, and two years ago was living in a remote part of France, working on her novel, and waiting for the birth of her first child. This book is about what happened next.

In her ninth month of pregnancy, she learned that her baby boy had died. How do you deal with and recover from this kind of loss? Of course you don't--but you go on. And if you have ever experienced loss or love someone who has, the company of this remarkable book will help you go on.

My Thoughts:
I'm fairly certain that this book has been on my radar since I heard Maureen Corrigan review it on NPR shortly after it was published. It's a shame that it languished on the TBR list for so long; it might not have if it were still getting the kind of notice that other books about loss, such as Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, do. But maybe, sometimes, books fall into our hands at just the right time. For me, losing a child has always seemed like the worst thing that could possibly happen. What's going on in my life is not that. Other people are dealing with so much more.

"This is the happiest story in the world with the saddest ending," McCracken writes, early on in the book. That is after she wrote:
"A child dies in this book: a baby. A baby is stillborn. You don't have to tell me how sad that is: it happened to me and my husband, our baby, a son."
How can this possibly be the happiest story in the world, then, I wondered. McCracken's story does begin with a woman who had resigned herself to a happy life alone. No, that's not right. She hadn't resigned herself; she was perfectly fine with the idea that she would be, as she called it, a spinster. But then Edward came into her life, adding a new layer of happiness and they created a life that included time in Europe between teaching gigs in the U.S. In her late 30's, McCracken became pregnant while they were living in France; she was the poster child for happy, healthy pregnancies. She did everything right - she ate healthy, she kept active, she shopped around for the medical professionals she felt were best for her.

Then one day she realized that her baby, a son they had taken to calling Pudding because they didn't want to give him his name until he was born, had become very inactive. By the time they got to the hospital, it was too late. How do you get over that?
" goes on but that death goes on, too, that a person who is dead is a long, long story. You move on from it, but the death will never disappear from view. Your friends may say, Time heals all wounds. No, it doesn't, but eventually you'll feel better. You'll be yourself again. Your child will still be dead."
As with all grief, I'm sure the grief of losing a child, in particular a stillborn child, is unique to every person. McCracken is incredibly honest with her grief, from her own guilt, to the need to escape everything that reminded her of her son, to the ways in which the people surrounding her helped her through the worst of it (and, in some cases, the ways in which they made it so much worse).

As much as the book is about losing Pudding (because they had not decided on a name before he was born and couldn't bear to give him a name that would only be a death name, their son's birth and death is recorded in French paperwork was Pudding Harvey), it's about the ways in which that loss affected her second pregnancy. McCracken and her husband never gave the second baby a nickname, they didn't prepare a nursery, they went to multiple classes to make sure they were doing all of those things the right way but she didn't worry about what she ate the same way she had in her first pregnancy.

There is never a point in the book that doesn't feel sad but it is also filled with hope (McCracken became pregnant with her second child only three months after losing her first), and even humor. It is, simply, a beautiful book and it taught me so much about the way to help someone who is grieving. I don't know that I will ever be able to read it again (which is usually the criteria for me keeping a book); but, for now at least, I'm not ready to part with it. I think I'm going to want to revisit it.