Thursday, November 30, 2017
Published October 2015 by Little, Brown, and Company
Source: my copy was a Christmas gift
The panic began early in 1692, over an exceptionally raw Massachusetts winter, when a minister's niece began to writhe and roar. It spread quickly, confounding the most educated men and prominent politicians in the colony. Neighbors accused neighbors, husbands accused wives, parents and children one another. It ended less than a year later, but not before nineteen men and women had been hanged and an elderly man crushed to death.
Speaking loudly and emphatically, adolescent girls stood at the center of the crisis. Along with suffrage and Prohibition, the Salem witch trials represent one of the few moments when women played the central role in American history. Drawing masterfully on the archives, Stacy Schiff introduces us to the strains on a Puritan adolescent's life and to the authorities whose delicate agendas were at risk. She illuminates the demands of a rigorous faith, the vulnerability of settlements adrift from the mother country, perched-at a politically tumultuous time-on the edge of what a visitor termed a "remote, rocky, barren, bushy, wild-woody wilderness."
At the beginning of this book, there is a long list of "characters." It's more than a bit daunting, but absolutely necessary. My book club read The Witches this month and everyone of us, even with that list, had a hard time remembering, when we talked about the characters, if they were the accused or the accuser. And that's because there is so much information in this book and then, all along the timeline, Schiff detours off to give readers detailed histories and character studies of each of the players.
You would think that something that happened more than 300 years ago might not be that well documented, wouldn't you? I thought so. Turns out that 17th-century Puritans were prolific diarists. Heck, they recorded absolutely everything. Everyone recorded everything. Which is how, even though the official transcripts mysteriously disappeared, there were plenty of records still available for historians to comb through. Still, as much as I'm impressed with the amount of research Schiff and her team have done, it can get more than a little overwhelming. This is not a book you'll race through; but then, it's not a book you should race through. Although those who know report that Schiff doesn't break any new ground here, there was certainly a lot of information that was new to me. For example, I had no idea how widespread witch hunts had been in Europe before they made their way across the Atlantic or the extent to which the judges at the "witches'" trials ignored glaring contradictions that would have led any rational person to find these men and women innocent.
Although the book made a lot of best-of lists in 2015, it's not a book without bias and Schiff frequently made modern references that felt a little out of place in the narration. I went into this book with high hopes that it would be a book that would pull me in and keep me reading. In that regard I was disappointed. When I struggled with the book in print, I moved to audio. I had some concerns about being able to stay focused but it turned out that by combining the audio and print, I was able to find the balance I needed to finish the book. Which I liked quite a lot, even though, on rereading this, it sort of sounds like I didn't.
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
Published March 2016 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: bought this one for my Nook
From the award-winning author of Boy, Snow, Bird and Mr. Fox comes an enchanting collection of intertwined stories.
Playful, ambitious, and exquisitely imagined, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is cleverly built around the idea of keys, literal and metaphorical. The key to a house, the key to a heart, the key to a secret—Oyeyemi’s keys not only unlock elements of her characters’ lives, they promise further labyrinths on the other side. In “Books and Roses” one special key opens a library, a garden, and clues to at least two lovers’ fates. In “Is Your Blood as Red as This?” an unlikely key opens the heart of a student at a puppeteering school. “‘Sorry’ Doesn’t Sweeten Her Tea” involves a “house of locks,” where doors can be closed only with a key—with surprising, unobservable developments. And in “If a Book Is Locked There’s Probably a Good Reason for That Don't You Think,” a key keeps a mystical diary locked (for good reason).
Oyeyemi’s tales span multiple times and landscapes as they tease boundaries between coexisting realities. Is a key a gate, a gift, or an invitation?
I picked up What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours partly because of this:
Winner of the PEN Open Book Award
An NPR Best Book of 2016
A Washington Post Notable Fiction Pick
A PBS NewsHour Best Book of 2016
A Slate Best Book of the Year
One of Esquire Magazine’s Best Books of 2016
One of Oprah.com’s 10 Favorite Books of 2016
Those are some serious kudos there. But mostly I picked it up because I remember someone (a podcaster? a blogger?) fangirling about it big time. So much so that it stuck in my head in a way I couldn't shake loose.
So...book of short stories which are loosely tied together by the theme of locks and keys. Which, because I didn't read the summary before I launched into the book, I didn't wise up to until well into the book. Which is ridiculous because those things play such prominent rolls in several of the stories. But, hey, sometimes that's how I read...obliviously.
Like every book of short stories I've ever read, I liked some of these stories much more than I liked others and not just because I understood some of them more than I did others. Although that's true. I adored the first story, "Books and Roses" with its intertwined stories about love and family and secrets. "Drownings" and "Dornicka and The St. Martin's Day Goose" read the most like modern twists on traditional fairy tales. ""Sorry" Doesn't Sweeten Her Tea" offers insight into idol worship and the repercussions on young girls. Puppets play a role in more than one of the stories and give readers much more than you might think to consider.
If you like your short stories unique and with unusual characters and story lines that sometimes make you think "what the heck did I just read," What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is for you. I'm still working on what I like in a short story collection; it would appear that Oyeyemi may already have figured it out for me.
Sunday, November 26, 2017
This Week I'm:
Listening To: My favorite thing I listened to this past week was my great-niece chattering. She was so much the center of attention that we were almost able to ignore the Huskers' painful football loss. Almost.
Watching: See above.
Reading: I have only read 10 pages since Wednesday night. But I have started Pachinko which I am reading with Care of Care's Books and Pie. Care is a big reader of the books selected for The Morning News' Tournament of Books and Pachinko is one of the book selected for the tournament.
Making: Crockpot cherry steel cut oats, bread pudding (and bread crumbs with the crusts), banana bread, pumpkin muffins, egg muffins. My mom insisted on doing all of the food for Thanksgiving dinner herself which is why you don't see any of that kind of food on my list. It also explains where I got my control freak tendencies from, doesn't it?
Planning: On getting Christmas decorations up this week. I usually do them this weekend but my sister, her husband, their daughter and her fiancé came in yesterday and spent the night. So no decorations yet but at least my house is clean!
Thinking About: I believe I've mentioned that my thoughts were on the road with Miss H. Which is pretty much what I'll be thinking about until she pulls into our driveway next Sunday.
Feeling: Like I don't really want to get out the Christmas decorations. Does that make me a Scrooge? I really love my fall decorations so I'm always sad to put them away. Plus, it's such a major job!
Looking forward to: A much quieter week both at work and at home.
Question of the week: Am I the only one who doesn't look forward to starting the whole Christmas decorating process?
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
You'll have noticed that I didn't put up a list of choices last week. That's because I've never joined in on the spin before and really didn't think I'd be doing it now. Until the other day when the spin result post popped up on my reader and a little light bulb went on. I have very few reading commitments in December so I have plenty of time to read whatever I want. And I clearly need a kick in the butt with my classic reading.
The spin result was #4 so I just picked the fourth book down on my list. Which means that, before December 31, I'll be reading Thomas Hardy's Far From The Maddening Crowd. Once I've read the book, I also plan on watching the 2015 movie adaptation starring Carrie Mulligan. I'm looking forward to both!
Anyone want to read along with me?
Monday, November 20, 2017
This week's prompt is hosted by Katy at Doing Dewey:
"We’ve talked about how you pick nonfiction books in previous years, but this week I’m excited to talk about what makes a book you’ve read one of your favorites. Is the topic pretty much all that matters? Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love? Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone? Let us know what qualities make you add a nonfiction book to your list of favorites."Do you remember the other day when I said my nonfiction reading was all over the place? Because I thought that, I assumed it would be tough to do this prompt. Since six years ago I started tracking my favorite books of the year, breaking out nonfiction, I thought I'd head to those lists to see if I could find any patterns. It turns out that, while the subject can be almost anything (from drug addiction, careers in math and science, the Civil War), I tend to like to get those stories in the form of a biography, memoir, or personal essay collection. Apparently I need to be able to learn about a topic through an individual.
How the information is presented is less important. Some of my favorite personal stories are incredibly sad (The Year Of Magical Thinking, An Exact Replica Of A Figment Of My Imagination, Behind The Beautiful Forevers, This Republic of Suffering). Other favorite nonfiction works include healthy doses of humor (Cocktail Hour Under The Tree of Forgiveness, anything by Sarah Vowell, Let's Pretend This Never Happened, and I Feel Bad About My Neck).
Like any book I pick up, my nonfiction choices are largely a matter of what appeals at a particular time. Am I ready to immerse myself in a book dense with information (anything by Ron Chernow, Instant City, On China) ? Or, maybe something that give me information in a way that's less scholarly (Moranthology, Orange Is The New Black, The Happiness Project). What it comes down to is that the book needs to be well written, just like any other book.
What qualities do you look for in a nonfiction book?
Sunday, November 19, 2017
This homebody has certainly had a busy week! Sunday Miss H and I went to a basketball game; Monday night Miss H, The Big Guy, and I went out to eat because Miss H and I had free pizza to redeem; Tuesday night I had book club; Thursday BG and I went to the U.S. Olympic Team Curling Trials; and Friday Miss H and I went back to them. I would have loved to have gone back again last night for the final match; but, let's be honest, I really didn't want to have to get cleaned up in time to go. Or leave my house again.
This Week I'm:
Listening To: The soundtrack to La La Land. Mostly in my head. Seriously, I cannot get those songs out of my head! I like the soundtrack well enough but a week of it is quite enough.
Watching: My late night movie this weekend was the 1965 version of Rodgers' and Hammerstein's Cinderella, starring Lesley Ann Warren, Celeste Holms, Ginger Rogers, Walter Pidgeon and Stuart Damon (remember him as Alan Quartermaine on General Hospital?!). I adore this movie but I'm the only one in my house that does so I can only watch it when I'm by myself.
Reading: I finally finished The Witches and spent a couple of days dipping into new books. I finally settled on Helen Oyeyemi's What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours. It's pretty much perfect after two heavy nonfiction reads.
Making: Between eating leftovers and eating out (dinner both nights of curling was at the event), I was hardly in my kitchen this past week. Yesterday I did use the last of this year's tomato crop to make homemade marinara sauce so we had spaghetti with that last night. Best marinara I have ever made so I'm looking forward to pulling out the container I froze later this winter.
Planning: Thanksgiving's long weekend. I need to get my Black Friday and Small Business Saturday shopping lists ready so I can knock out a bunch of Christmas shopping this weekend.
Thinking About: Miss H is heading off to South Carolina by herself on Friday. She'll be gone a week. You moms out there will know that I'm consumed with making sure she has everything she needs to make her travels safe. And then I won't stop worrying until she is back a week later.
Enjoying: Sunshine and fresh air.
Looking forward to: Family time. And my sis and her hubby spending the night Saturday night!
Question of the week: Ladies, have you ever traveled solo? If so, hit me with your best trips for staying awake in the car, being safe, things you need to take. Also, if you live in the south, what kind of weather might Miss H be driving into this time of year? And, if you live along the route from Omaha to Greenville, SC, can she hit you up if she needs help? (Can you tell I'm a worried mom?!)
Friday, November 17, 2017
AND I'm caught up! This week's prompt is hosted by Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness.
Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).
My nonfiction reading is all over the place (I'm not sure I've ever read three nonfiction books about the same subject) so "being the expert" is out. I'm not necessarily looking for recommendations about specific topics at this time; I tend to choose nonfiction books because they sound interesting not because I was looking for a book on a specific topic. So "ask the expert" isn't for me right now. So I went to my TBR list and sorted it by type to find out what kind of nonfiction books I've got on it to see if there's a topic that it appears I want to become an expert on. Turns out, that seems to be murders. So, here are three books I'd like to read that will help me become the expert:
The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers Who Inspired Chicago by Douglas Perry and The Devil In The White City: Murder, Magic Madness at The Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson are both set in Chicago. Three Bodies Burning: The Anatomy of An Investigation Into Murder, Money, and Mexican Marijuana by Brian Bogdanoff was added to my list after hearing Bogdanoff speak (he was the lead investigator on the case) and is about murder right here in Omaha.
Now that you know about my fascination with murders, I'll understand if you don't want to be friends any more!
Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Week Two's prompt is hosted by Sarah, of Sarah's Book Shelves:
It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.
This is the prompt that always proves tough for me and I often skip it. This year, I'm in!
My first pairing combines one of my favorite fiction reads of 2016, Jesmyn Ward's Salvage The Bones and Sheri Fink's nonfiction Five Days At Memorial, which I've been meaning to read for a long time. Both share Hurricane Katrina as a central event.
My second pairing is a pair of books set in India which both examine the lives of the poorest of that country's people, Thrity Umrigar's The Space Between Us (one of my favorite books of 2010) and Katherine Boo's Behind The Beautiful Forevers (one of my favorite books of 2016).
What nonfiction pairings would you suggest?
Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Published November 2017 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review
“Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me. Aren’t you?”
When The Graduate premiered in December 1967, its filmmakers had only modest expectations attached to what seemed to be a small, sexy, art house comedy adapted from an obscure first novel by an eccentric twenty-four-year-old. There was little indication that this offbeat story--a young man just out of college has an affair with one of his parents’ friends and then runs off with her daughter--would turn out to be a monster hit, with an extended run in theaters and seven Academy Award nominations.
I was seven years old when The Graduate came out; clearly I didn't see it for years after it was released. Still, I can't remember a time when I wasn't aware of it. Let's face it, everyone knows the Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack. I've read some interesting things about the making of the film before so I didn't even read the synopsis when I saw this book was available.
Here's some of what I learned:
- Producer Larry Turman read Charles Webb's book after reading it because a book reviewer had compared it's protagonist to Catcher In The Rye's Holden Caulfield. He paid Webb $1,000 for the rights because two scenes particularly grabbed him: young Benjamin Braddock decked out in an entire SCUBA get up floating in the bottom of his parents' pool and the final shot of a disheveled Benjamin in the back of a bus with a young woman in a wedding gown.
- Robert Redford really wanted the role of Benjamin Braddock and, physically, he was perfect for the role of a young California man, suntanned, blond, and tall. But Benjamin was a kid who was supposed to have had little luck with girls. When director Mike Nichols asked him if he had ever struck out with a girl, Redford said, in all earnestness, "What do you mean?" He was out.
- Dustin Hoffman gave up a role in Mel Brooks' The Producers to play Benjamin and make love to Brooks' wife, Anne Bancroft, who played Mrs. Robinson. My background has always led me to find nothing odd at all about Hoffman being cast as Benjamin but, at the time, a Jewish leading man was certainly a daring choice.
"The casting of Dustin Hoffman as The Graduate's romantic leading man was a shock to Hollywood, which had spent decades trying to sidestep the Judaic roots of its founders. But in the wake of The Graduate, young Jewish males were suddenly everywhere, and often they were playing characters with backgrounds similar to their own."
- Much of Mrs. Robinson's look and her home decor are the result of Nichol's reading Henry James' novella The Beast In The Jungle. Hence, Mrs. Bancroft appears almost exclusively in animal prints and her sunroom is backed by a jungle of tropical plants.
- Mike Nichols used light and dark to differentiate between Mrs. Braddock and Mrs. Robinson and glass and water to illustrate the way Benjamin was trapped in his parents' world. In fact, a lot of the things Nichols did in this movie changed the way other filmmakers make movies.
- That iconic shot at the end of the movie of Hoffman and Katherine Ross, where their faces turn from exuberance to "what the hell have we done?" That wasn't scripted or directed. Someone forget to say "cut" at what was to have been the end of the scene and that's what happened to Hoffman's and Ross' faces when they thought they were done with the shot. It was so perfect that Nichols left it in.
"In hindsight, it's easy to wonder: If Ben and Elaine have backed away from the future that's been preordained for them by a hypocritical older generations, where exactly are they headed? The fact that there's no good answer reminds us of what this film may actually portend. Perhaps that's what it's secretly about - the end of the happy ending."
- No one expected this movie to the hit that it was. Young people stood in long lines, even in the cold, to see it because of the way it spoke to them about what would come to be known as the Generation Gap. But not everyone loved it; critics definitely had a wide range of opinions about what it was, what it wasn't, and what it could have been.
"The Graduate's prescience about matters of grave concern to the Baby Boom generation gave it a life of its own. If we young Americans were anxious about parental pressure, or about sex (and our lack thereof), or about marriage, or about the temptations posed by plastics, it was all visible for us on the movie screen. Today The Graduate continues to serve as a touchstone of that pivotal moment just before some of us began morphing into angry war protesters and spaced-out hippies."
"...those of my generation - didn't much want to face a life built on a bedrock of our elders' choices. In Benjamin we found a hero willing to turn his back on the kind of bright upper-middle-class future we weren't sure we wanted."
- Gray has done a thorough job of researching and presents a lot of material. She gives the background of all of the players in the making of the movie and follows up with them afterward; she takes viewers through the entire movie to explain what makes each scene work; and she talks about the impact the movie had on the generation it was targeted at and the generations that followed.
- As much as I learned, and as much as I did enjoy the book, I think I'm not the kind of person that wants to read a book that breaks down one movie quite as much as this one did. I must admit that I started skimming quite a lot in the last 100 pages. I think if you were a person for whom this movie was a touchstone (a.k.a. someone about ten or fifteen years older than I am) or someone who really enjoys learning about movies, you'd likely enjoy this book even more.
- I definitely need to watch this movie again soon while all of this is still fresh in my brain and I can really appreciate the film making touches that made the story work so well.
"The Graduate lasts partly because it offers something for everyone, the restless youth; the disappointed elder; the cinephile who values the artistic innovation that's the legacy of director Mike Nichols. And this film has also burrowed its way into Hollywood's dream factory. The American movie industry, which worships box-office success, has learned from The Graduate brave new ideas about casting, about cinematic style, about the benefits of a familiar pop music score."
Monday, November 13, 2017
Well, this month clearly got away from me and I'm hard pressed to say how. Nevertheless, as nonfiction is something I'm really pushing myself to read more of, I definitely didn't want this month to go by without me playing along with everyone for Nonfiction November. So this week, I'll be playing catch up. Week 1's was hosted by Jules of @JulesReads:
Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?
What Was Your Favorite Nonfiction Read Of The Year?
This one's a tie between Elizabeth McCracken's An Exact Replica Of A Figment Of My Imagination and TaNehisi Coates' We Were Eight Years In Power. Two very different books - one that made my heart break and one that made my brain work.
That Nonfiction Book Have You Recommended The Most?
Even more than fiction, I feel that nonfiction is something that I recommend based on what I know about particular readers. For example, I have recommended Shrill by Lindy West to all of my feminist friends but West's language and graphic subject matters make it a book that's not for everyone. For biography buffs, I highly recommend both Grant by Ron Chernow and Victoria: The Queen by Julia Baird. But they are both very big books and definitely not for the faint of heart. For my more liberal friends, I always recommend Sarah Vowell's books and Assassination Vacation is no exception. Perhaps the book that I find myself recommending most, of the nonfiction books I read this year, is Notorious RBG which really has something in it for everyone.
What Is One Topic or Type of Nonfiction You Haven't Read Enough Of Yet?
Easy - science. I'm not looking for textbook reads but I would like to read some of Mary Roach's books, perhaps some Carl Sagan, and, definitely, Neil DeGrasse Tyson's Astrophysics For People In A Hurry.
What Are You Hoping To Get Out Of Participating In Nonfiction November?
As always, it's a great chance to remember the nonfiction books I've read this year and to kick myself in the rear for not reading more nonfiction (although I may have reached a personal best this year). Most of all, it's always great fun to visit the sites of everyone participating so I can find even more nonfiction reads I want to read.
What about you - how was your year in nonfiction?
Sunday, November 12, 2017
On CBS Sunday Morning today, they had a story about charity where those in need can come to get free books. A fire had destroyed the warehouse the charity is housed in and the man who runs it thought that was that. But locals weren't letting it go and soon they were holding fundraisers and cash and book donations poured in...7,000 boxes of books. My husband looked at me and said "You could run a place like that." To say that the wheels in my head are spinning now is an understatement. I mean, after Thursday I can't help but think it might be time to make a change.
This Week I'm:
Listening To: NPR in the mornings and podcasts most of the rest of the time, including Crimetown, Singing Bones, and Stuff You Missed In History Class.
Watching: "La La Land," finally. I do love movie musicals and the sets and cinematography were incredible. Ryan Gosling turns out to have one flaw...he's not much of a singer. Luckily, the filmmakers managed to work around that, giving Emma Stone the lion's share of the work in their duets. I'll likely watch it again, maybe even this week.
Reading: I'm racing to finish The Witches by Stacy Schiff for book club on Tuesday. I'm very impressed by Ms. Schiff's research and writing.
Making: Chicken and noodles, taco salads, lasagna and brownie sundaes (the last two for dinner with my parents today). I'm planning on making chili this week. The Big Guy thinks it's going to be too warm for chili but I disagree. I'm in the mood for chili and cinnamon rolls.
Planning: On ordering Christmas cards this week; I'd love to have those in the mail and off my to-do list by the first of December.
Thinking About: What it takes to start a nonprofit. See above.
Feeling: Is it getting old for me to say, I'm feeling like I need a third day to this weekend?
Looking forward to: Book club this week!
Question of the week: If I open a nonprofit book warehouse, will you please come volunteer?
Monday, November 6, 2017
Published November 2017 by Crown/Archetype
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review
Jazz Bashara is a criminal.
Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you're not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you've got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.
Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she's stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.
A couple of years ago, we gave Weir's The Martian to Mini-him for Christmas. He read it, passed it along to us, and it sat on the shelf for two years. Until a couple of months ago when I read it and thoroughly enjoyed it. Just in time to find out that Weir's latest, Artemis, was available for review so I immediately downloaded it. Then got very nervous that it wouldn't live up to its predecessor. So, how did it live up to my expectations?
Set in space? Check.
Yes, yes, I know the whole point of grown up books with descriptive words is to paint a picture in the reader's mind of what the scenes look like. But, dang, I really wished this was a picture book so you know I can't wait until this gets turned into a movie. Which you know it will be.
Filled with humor? Check.
It's official. I'm pretty much in love with Andy Weir's sense of humor.
Loaded with tension? Check.
This time the it's not just space that's trying to kill our hero. There are actual people with actual weapons. And there's murder, and chase scenes, and a cop trying to take down our girl.
Also loaded with science? Check.
As with The Martian, I have no idea if all of the science rings true. It mostly sounds plausible enough and Weir writes it interestingly enough to make me want to read it and try to understand it.
But, this is also the only real problem I had with Artemis. It's set 100 years from now, right? But, on several occasions, Weir refers to devices and such that we use now. Based on the way that the world has changed in the past 100 years, I can't help but think that people wouldn't still be watching cable TV; that even for the older generation, laptop computers might be archaic; and that fiber optics might have been replaced by something we can't even imagine yet. Still, that's all a small enough thing, because...
Book I couldn't put down because it was so much fun? Check!
I adored Jazz, with all of her faults. And this time, Weir's lead character got to have real interactions with his other characters and I thoroughly enjoyed the relationships Jazz had with the men in her life. Did I like it as much as the first book? Maybe not quite; but, to some extent, that was only because I knew something of what to expect from Weir. Still, it's a a book I will happily recommend to anyone who enjoyed The Martian. In fact, I might just have to make this one a Christmas present for Mini-me as well!
Sunday, November 5, 2017
This Week I'm:
Listening To: Podcasts (including Criminal, Pod Save America, and Classical Classroom), NPR in the mornings, and Sam Smith's new album, after listening to him on an NPR interview.
Watching: The World Series, football (it's quite the bleak year for this fan), Disney's 2017 Beauty and the Beast (I loved it in the theaters; in rewatching it, I was as big a fan), and Bridget Jones' Baby.
Reading: Starting a new book today, Beverly Gray's Seduced by Mrs. Robinson, about the making of the iconic movie, The Graduate. I just finished Andy Weir's Artemis, which I'm reviewing tomorrow. I enjoyed it a lot.
Making: For our anniversary, I did roast a pork tenderloin, baked hasselback potatoes, and made chocolate-dipped strawberries. We did chicken flatbread pizza one night. And last night, we had pasta with tomatoes from our garden that are still ripening on our counter and basil I've brought inside to keep growing.
Planning: On continuing work in my office this week. Doesn't it feel like I'm always talking about working in this little room? It does seem to be a room that is always in flux as things change around here. One of these days, I'll finally decide what it's real purpose is!
Thinking About: Yeah, it's one of those weeks when my head's aswirl with so many things I can't even seem to alight on one thing long enough to finish that thought.
Enjoying: A quiet day yesterday while BG was off to spend the day with friends and Miss H took a four hour nap in anticipation of a very late night last night with her best friend who is on leave from her post in Virginia.
Feeling: Like I need to get busy cleaning but I'd much rather be doing organizing and decluttering things.
Looking forward to: A very quiet week. Again.
Question of the week: Last week a lot of you were surprised that I had already started shopping for Christmas. I couldn't possibly get it all done if I didn't start early. My question for you is, how do you find the time to get everything done for the holidays that needs to be done? Start early and spread it out or devote the month of December to getting it all done?
Wednesday, November 1, 2017
Published October 2017 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review
It’s Christmas, and for the first time in years the entire Birch family will be under one roof. Even Emma and Andrew’s elder daughter—who is usually off saving the world—will be joining them at Weyfield Hall, their aging country estate. But Olivia, a doctor, is only coming home because she has to. Having just returned from treating an epidemic abroad, she’s been told she must stay in quarantine for a week…and so too should her family.
For the next seven days, the Birches are locked down, cut off from the rest of humanity—and even decent Wi-Fi—and forced into each other’s orbits. Younger, unabashedly frivolous daughter Phoebe is fixated on her upcoming wedding, while her older sister, Olivia, deals with the culture shock of being immersed in first-world problems.
Their father, Andrew, sequesters himself in his study writing scathing restaurant reviews and remembering his glory days as a war correspondent. But his wife, Emma, is hiding a secret that will turn the whole family upside down.
In close proximity, not much can stay hidden for long, and as revelations and long-held tensions come to light, nothing is more shocking than the unexpected guest who’s about to arrive…
When I was pitched this book, I read that summary and imagined "light and frivolous." While there is a lightness to the book, frivolous it is not. Hornak touches on infidelity, homosexuality, cancer, deadly viruses, adoption, abandoned dreams, and complicated relationships within families.
Sometimes when I sit down to write a review, I think it might just be easier to start giving ratings and leave it at that. This one would get, for example, three of five stars. Which, as it turns out, makes it harder to review than a book that got one star or a book that got five stars. So why isn't this a five-star book?
- Because the characters are somewhat caricatures. Andrew, for example, is the crotchety middle-aged man who dreams have been squashed and who takes it out on the restaurants he now reviews. Phoebe is very much the pampered younger daughter who believes the world revolves around her. And her fiancé, George, and his family are the stereotypical upper class English family, with the macho, sporty men. To some extent, those tight characters forced Hornak to follow particular plot lines; more rounded characters would have made some of the action less predictable. It might also have made it easier to like the characters and this is a book that needs readers to like the characters.
- Because, while the writing is perfectly acceptable, there was nothing that particularly exceptional about it. Some of it is predictable. There weren't passages that made me think, "wow" or "that's beautiful." If I'm giving a book five stars (theoretically), it has to have that kind of writing.
- I was never entirely sure how I was supposed to feel about one of the love stories and I wasn't clear if Hornak meant for the reader to wonder or if that was just the way I felt about it.
- Because this is a book that, despite all of those heavy subjects, mostly stays away from being overly dramatic and predictable; and it does maintain that lightness which makes it the kind of book that you can read almost any time. People who don't read a lot may not even know why that's important. But for those of us who do, we know that, sometimes, you need a book you know you're not going to carry around with you (figuratively) when you finish it. Sometimes I need a book that I can enjoy while I'm reading it and then be done with it when I'm done. That's a good thing, really it is.
- There are a couple of things that really took me by surprise. One thing in particular that I did not see coming and I always love when a writer can do that without making it feel unnatural.
- I don't want to give away the ending. But...this is the kind of book that you know going into is going to have a happily-ever-after ending. And then Hornak doesn't do that. Not everyone is going to come to their senses. Every relationship is not going to get tied up with a pretty bow. That made me very happy because it felt just right. And if you leave a reader feeling like the ending was just right, then you've done a job well worth a three-star rating.
*Would this one make a good book club choice? Yes, with all of those themes, there is a lot here book clubs could discuss. Plus, it might be just right for those members who get scared off by heavier books.