Thursday, September 21, 2017

Bloggiesta - OLE!


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

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

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

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

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian by Andy Weir
Published:
Source:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Life: It Goes On - September 17

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

This Week I'm:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XII


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

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


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

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

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

Monday, September 11, 2017

Love And Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford

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

Publisher's Summary:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






Sunday, September 10, 2017

Life: It Goes On - September 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking forward to: A quiet week.

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

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

So many bookish tidbits to share with you this week!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Life: It Goes On - September 5

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

This Week I'm:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feeling: A little sad. Goodbyes are hard.

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

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

Siracusa by Delia Ephron

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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