Friday, June 22, 2018

Flashback Friday: The College World Series

I thought it might be fun to look back at some of my older posts. Or it might be painful. Either way, here's one from June 2009, when I first talked about the College World Series:

It's good to be in Omaha this week if you're a fan of college baseball as Rosenblatt Stadium is playing host to the College World Series. We love playing host to the thousands of fans that travel here from all over the country in support of their favorite team and usually buy up the rest of the tickets to ensure a full stadium for most games, adopting a new favorite team each year.

Last night's game between Virginia and Arkansas was a big fan favorite--Dave Van Horn, coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks, used to coach at the University of Nebraska and Brian O'Connor, coach of the Virginia Cavaliers, used to play ball at Creighton University which is located in Omaha. The game was what the series is all about. Arkansas was down to their last out and behind by two runs and it looked like they were headed home. Then they managed to tie up the game with a two-run home run and hold the Cavs to take the game to extra innings--three extra innings to be exact. Twice Virginia had the bases loaded but could not score and in the top of the 12th inning the Razorbacks were able to score the game winning run. You couldn't help but cheer for the Razorbacks even as your heart broke for the Cavaliers. On to the next game--play ball!

The College World Series has since moved to a new stadium, just north of downtown Omaha. Instead of parking in the yards of all of the small homes near Rosenblatt Stadium, there are now parking lots nearby. Otherwise, much of what made the event such a fan favorite has been transplanted to the new digs - food vendors, dozens of baseball clothing vendors, and concerts. They've even kept a few pieces of Rosenblatt Stadium around, including that statue.

That's a different picture than the one I originally posted, which was at the old stadium. It's already hard to remember what it was like to be at the old stadium. The other night when we were at a game, The Big Guy and I both remarked on how much better than new facility is, how much more they are able to set up for fans to do around the stadium, how many more eating and drinking establishments are within walking distance, and how much easier it is to explore Omaha from this location.

There's not really an underdog here this year, no team that I think the locals are really embracing. Except, maybe, for Dave Van Horn's Razorbacks, who are back again this year. They are also known as the Omahogs, so you know we have to love that!

No matter where in Omaha the Series is played, it's still the Greatest Game On Dirt and Omaha still loves playing hosts to the thousands of fans that come to town to watch some great baseball and some of the players we'll be watching in the major leagues in the future.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash

The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash
Published October 2017 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Twelve times a week, twenty-eight-year-old Ella May Wiggins makes the two-mile trek to and from her job on the night shift at American Mill No. 2 in Bessemer City, North Carolina. The insular community considers the mill’s owners—the newly arrived Goldberg brothers—white but not American and expects them to pay Ella May and other workers less because they toil alongside African Americans like Violet, Ella May’s best friend. While the dirty, hazardous job at the mill earns Ella May a paltry nine dollars for seventy-two hours of work each week, it’s the only opportunity she has. Her no-good husband, John, has run off again, and she must keep her four young children alive with whatever work she can find.

When the union leaflets begin circulating, Ella May has a taste of hope, a yearning for the better life the organizers promise. But the mill owners, backed by other nefarious forces, claim the union is nothing but a front for the Bolshevik menace sweeping across Europe. To maintain their control, the owners will use every means in their power, including bloodshed, to prevent workers from banding together. On the night of the county’s biggest rally, Ella May, weighing the costs of her choice, makes up her mind to join the movement—a decision that will have lasting consequences for her children, her friends, her town—indeed all that she loves.

Seventy-five years later, Ella May’s daughter Lilly, now an elderly woman, tells her nephew about his grandmother and the events that transformed their family. Illuminating the most painful corners of their history, she reveals, for the first time, the tragedy that befell Ella May after that fateful union meeting in 1929.

My Thoughts:
TLC Book Tours: Hey, do you want to read the new Wiley Cash book for a review?
Me: How is that even a question?

Ok, well, that's not exactly how the conversation went but it's pretty close. I've read and loved Cash's first two books (A Land More Kind Than Home and This Dark Road To Mercy). The only question when they asked me to review The Last Ballad was why had I not read it earlier. It's a question I'm still asking myself. Because Cash has done it again and I'm not sure why I haven't heard more about this book in the blogosphere.

Cash is a master at using multiple voices to tell his story. Here it is Ella May's story that is the through line of the book but Cash moves the story forward through the stories of those whose lives will intertwine with hers. There is not a character in this book whose story I was not interested in reading but I was always happy to get back to Ella, a woman who has finally tired of letting life carry her along, who is tired of watching her children go hungry and being used by every man she has met since her father died.

If you know your history, you know that violence was the norm which these strikes. So even if you've never read one of Cash's book (and know that things will get tense and there will be sadness), you'll know almost as soon as you start reading this book that something bad will happen before the book is done. It's the South, Ella's a mill worker, and she lives in a community of blacks. While Cash gives us brief periods of reprieve, there are so many levels of stress here that your apprehension never really lets up.

There's a tendency to think of the mill owners as the bad guys, the union organizers as the good guys, the ones who are coming in to help the workers to have a better life. But Cash wants readers to see how the unions were just as willing to use the workers to get what they wanted. The bad guys here are predominately mill management and law enforcement but there are more nuanced characters on both sides of the fight.

Poignant is a word that is probably used all too often in book reviews. Yet I don't know a better word to describe this book.

The Last Ballad is based on the true story of Ella May Wiggins and Cash shares her story in the Afterword. Do not look Wiggins up or peek at that Afterword. You want to this story to unfold in the way Cash wants to tell it. When you've finished, go read about Wiggins and the mill strikes; but not until you're finished.

Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for making sure I read this one. I've already passed it along to my parents and the day I gave it to them, my dad had already started it because he well remembered A Land More Kind Than Home. For other opinions on this book, check out the full tour.

Wiley Cash is the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of A Land More Kind Than Home. A native of North Carolina, he has held residency positions at Yaddo and The MacDowell Colony and teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Southern New Hampshire University. He and his wife live in Wilmington, North Carolina. Find out more about Wiley at his website, and connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Life: It Goes On - June 18

It's Monday, not Sunday, and that will tell you everything you need to know about my weekend in a nutshell. It was a busy one but I've also been battling headaches, which is something I haven't had to contend with in a while (thanks, unsettled weather!).

We bought a new car this weekend (actually, an SUV but I'm not ever sure if that rightfully falls in the category of truck or car). The Big Guy did most of the work over the phone and the internet, we ran over lunch on Friday to pick out the exact vehicle we wanted, and still on Saturday it took hours to actually do the paperwork, turn in the old vehicle, and get the new one. Why do they have to make it so painful?!

Last Week I:

Listened To: Special Topics In Calamity Physics - I'm about a third of the way done. But now that I no longer have a CD player in my vehicle, I'm stymied as to how I will finish it. Very bummed that I will not be able to support my local library by buying books on CD from the book sale anymore. Unless I can figure out some way to move them to a digital format.

Watched: I can't actually remember what we watched. A couple of nights we actually did leave the tv off except for the news and we spent hours on the patio a couple of other nights. All good; it means I read more than I have been reading.

Read: The Last Ballad for an TLC Book Tour review this week. Ermagawd, Wiley Cash has done it again, made me love his characters and broken my heart.

Made: Lot of eat-on-the-patio foods plus cheesy hash browns, roasted broccoli tossed with Italian dressing, and homemade ice cream with homemade chocolate syrup for Father's Day.

Enjoyed: Father's Day at the College World Series with two of my kids and The Big Guy. The game we attended started three hours late, thanks to a rain delay in the first game. Imagine 14,000 people just milling around the stadium for that long with no idea when the next game was going to start, in 90+ degree temps and high humidity. Then imagine all of those people trying to get into the stadium at once when they finally started letting us in. Let's just say the fun did not start until we actually finally got to our seats!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: Just to stay on top of things this week. I've got several things planned during the week so no major projects on the horizon.

Thinking About: Trips to Missouri (I've got a great-nephew due in the next few weeks I'll be wanting to meet!), to Wisconsin (to see my sister), and to Minnesota (to see Mini-me and Ms. S's new place). Now the trick is to find times for all of those trips that work for everyone.

Feeling: Sloggish. Yeah, I know that's not a word but best sums it up. Today's headache has me struggling just to get simply tasks done. At least it's not keeping me from reading!

Looking forward to: Book club tomorrow night, dinner with a friend on Wednesday, and seeing the great progress my dad has made between yesterday and Thursday when I see him again.

Question of the week: I've got some chicken breasts cooking right now but haven't yet decided what we'll use them for. What's your go-to recipe for using chicken breasts?

Heading Out To Wonderful by Robert Goolrick

Heading Out To Wonderful by Robert Goolrick
Read by Norman Dietz
Published June 2012 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Source: my audiobook copy purchased at my library book sale

Publisher's Summary:
In 1948, a mysterious and charismatic man arrives in a small Virginia town carrying two suitcases - one contains his worldly possessions, the other is full of money. He soon inserts himself into the town's daily life, taking a job in the local butcher shop and befriending the owner and his wife and their son. But the passion that develops between the man and the wife of the town's wealthiest citizen sets in motion a series of events that not only upset the quiet town but threaten to destroy both him and the woman.

My Thoughts:
If I had kept track of my favorite reads of the year in 2009, Goolrick's A Reliable Wife (my review) would have been on it. Goolrick had the capability to make the bitter cold of rural Wisconsin cool a torrid Nebraska summer day and convince me to care about some very unlikable characters. When Heading Out To Wonderful was released, I didn't hesitate to pick up a copy. But when I began reading less than glowing reviews, I found Wonderful getting pushed aside again and again in favor of other books. Eventually it was the victim of a book cull.

Still, when I found an audiobook copy for $2 at my library book sale, I decided to give it a try. After all, not all of the reviews had been bad, including this fantastic review from Jill at Rhapsody In Books Weblog. If Jill likes a book, there's a good chance I'm going to like it, too. I'm glad I didn't give up on this one but even happier that I waited to "read" it until I could listen to it. Norman Dietz's reading is marvelous. His mellifluous voice reading me very much of listening to Garrison Keillor telling a story and perfectly suited the setting of the book.

In Heading Out To Wonderful, Goolrick lulls readers with the quiet, peaceful setting of small-town Virginia, the kind of town "where no crime had ever been committed,"  just after the second World War. The people of Brownsburg "believed in God and The Book." There is a real sense of community in Brownsburg. Still, it's not all as wonderful as it seems on the surface when Charlie Beale arrives in town. Surprisingly, the town quickly grows to love Charlie, a man who is kind and giving to everyone. So when word gets out that Charlie has taken up with the wife of the richest man in town, a man no one likes, they are happy for him. Until the scandal takes a new turn.

I liked the way Goolrick slowly built up the tension (you just know that this is not going to end well), the way that he called out racism and the hypocrisy of organized religions, and the way we got the back story on so many of the important characters. And that ending completely stunned me.

But, like A Reliable Wife, Heading Out To Wonderful, has its flaws.

We never get Charlie's back story. Where did he come from, why is he working so hard to find a permanent home, and where did all of that money come from? And, if the young boy that Charlie becomes so attached to is actually telling the story looking back 60 years, how does he know everything that happened in people's history or the things he was never privy to? As to that later point, it wasn't one that bothered me throughout because I was so into the book as I was listening.

Like Reliable Wife, there are also passages in this book where Goolrick drags things out too long, particularly when he's talking about Charlie's feelings about the woman with whom he's having the affair and their relationship. The beauty of listening to a book, when it comes to places like this in a book, is that I can sort of just tune out until things pick up again.

Would it make a good book club choice? Yes. There is certainly a lot to discuss, including religion, racism, small town ethics, adultery, parenting, the class divisions. It's not a perfect book; but, especially on audio, it's worth reading.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

Eats, Shoots and Leave: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss
Published 2004 by Avery
Source: bought this one through Better World Books

Publisher's Summary:
We all know the basics of punctuation. Or do we? A look at most neighborhood signage tells a different story. Through sloppy usage and low standards on the internet, in email, and now text messages, we have made proper punctuation an endangered species. In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, former editor Lynne Truss dares to say, in her delightfully urbane, witty, and very English way, that it is time to look at our commas and semicolons and see them as the wonderful and necessary things they are. This is a book for people who love punctuation and get upset when it is mishandled. From the invention of the question mark in the time of Charlemagne to George Orwell shunning the semicolon, this lively history makes a powerful case for the preservation of a system of printing conventions that is much too subtle to be mucked about with.

My Thoughts:
Huzzah! I finally finished this book after it languished on my nightstand for months and months. And why is that? I have no idea. I mean, I don't know that it's a book you would want to try to push straight through. It is, after all, a book about grammar and punctuation. On the other hand, it certainly deserved to be read faster than a couple of pages every few days and I absolutely would have remembered more of what I learned if I hadn't stretched it out so long.

Here's what I did learn:

  • There are more punctuation rules than I was even aware of there being.
  • Punctuation has been evolving since people began writing words.
  • There is a difference between how Brits punctuate and how Americans punctuate and it's not always the Brits who are the bigger sticklers. 
  • Authors have very vocal opinions about punctuation in their books. So do editors. These opinions can often lead to conflict. 
  • Punctuation can be humorous. 
As to that last point,  this book is filled with humor. Which, I suppose, you might gather from the title and the cover; but which, nevertheless, was a pleasant surprise. Truss gets that she's a stickler when it comes to punctuation, even calling herself and those like her "punctuation vigilantes." In talking about the name of a British pop music group named Hear'Say, Truss says:
"And so it came to pass that Hear'Say's poor, oddly placed little apostrophe was replicated everywhere and no one gave a moment's thought to its sufferings. No one saw the pity of its position, hanging there in eternal meaninglessness, silently signaling to those with eye to see, "I'm a legitimate punctuation mark, get me out of here."
More on apostrophes:
"Now, there are no laws against imprisoning apostrophes and making them look daft. Cruelty to punctuation is quite unlegislated: you can get away with pulling the legs off semicolons; shrivelling question marks on the garden path under a powerful magnifying glass; you name it."
This one's a keeper. It will go on the shelf with my other reference books and may even (gasp!) be highlighted. And when I pull it off the shelf to check on a rule of punctuation, I may even reread passages just for amusement. I'll bet you never thought you'd hear anyone say that!

Monday, June 11, 2018

Dream Like A Champion: Wins, Losses, and Leadership the Nebraska Volleyball Way by John Cook

Dream Like A Champion: Wins, Losses, and Leadership the Nebraska Volleyball Way by John Cook with Brandon Vogel
Published 2017 by University of Nebraska Press
Source: borrowed from my parents to whom it was loaned by a friend

Publisher's Summary:

Since becoming the Nebraska women’s volleyball coach in 2000, John Cook has led the team to four national championships, seven NCAA semifinal appearances, and the nation’s top winning percentage in women’s volleyball. In Dream Like a Champion Cook shares the coaching and leadership philosophy that has enabled him to become one of the game’s winningest coaches.

Growing up in San Diego, Cook acquired his coaching philosophy from his experiences first as a football coach, then as a student of the sport of volleyball on the beaches of Southern California. After a stint as an assistant volleyball coach at Nebraska, he returned to Nebraska as head coach in 2000 and won the national championship in his first season. Even with a bar set so high, Cook saw at Nebraska’s tradition-rich program the potential for even greater growth and success. He decided to focus on higher expectations, training, motivation, goal setting, and other ways to build the strongest teams possible.

In Dream Like a Champion Cook shares the philosophy behind Nebraska’s culture of success and reveals how he’s had to learn, evolve, and be coached himself, even in his fifth decade as a coach. With openness and candor he delivers insights about his methods and passes along lessons that can be used by leaders in any field. Cook also shares behind-the-scenes anecdotes about Nebraska volleyball moments and players—and how he coaches and teaches his players about life beyond the court.

My Thoughts:
When John Cook took over the University of Nebraska volleyball program, we knew he was going to be a good coach. But we also imagined that this program, which had only in the past few years become a great program, was going to take a hit. I mean, you just don't get two coaches in a row that can build championship teams. Except Nebraska volleyball did. Under Cook, Nebraska has been the Big 12 champion 12 times, the Big 10 champion 4 times, and national champions 4 times. This man knows how to coach.

In this book, he shares a lot about the way he coaches and the tools he uses. He is quick to give credit to others who have helped him along the way, people whose advice he has sought, and the coaches who have assisted him over the years. He has high praise for the University, which has thrown its full support behind the team, and the people of Nebraska who have become, maybe not even arguably, the greatest volleyball fans in the country.

Cook spends a lot of time talking about how important culture is to a sports program. When he took over the volleyball program at the University of Wisconsin, it was a program that had a long way to rise. There he developed a mindset among that girls that had them playing with a chip on their shoulders, wanting to prove something. It was just what they needed; in just a few years, Cook had the program playing in the Final Four. At Nebraska, he came into a program that already had an established culture; but, Cook soon put his own imprint on the culture. It shows in the way you can always tell how hard Cook's teams work and how much of a "team" they really are.

I really enjoyed the stories Cook shared about some of the players he's coached with Nebraska, names I vividly remember, young women I remember watching play. Watching on television that is; home games have been sold out since 2001, even after the team moved to an arena that held twice as many fans. It was also nice to learn how much Cook and his family love living in Nebraska and appreciate that things about this state that so many people don't know about.

I had some minor issues with some editing problems (because I can't just read a book and enjoy it without putting on my school marm cap) but, otherwise, I enjoyed this book a lot. Would I have enjoyed it as much if it weren't about the coach of a team I love? Maybe not quite as much; but, if you're person that wants to learn coaching from one of the best, there's a lot to enjoy and learn here.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Life: It Goes On - June 10

Oh my good lord, I hope it's not as hot where you are as it is here! I am avoiding the great outdoors as much as I possibly can the past few days except when the evenings are finally cool enough to spend some time on the patio. Or when we are at an outdoor wedding, as we were last evening. There was not a person there who was not sweating and/or waving a paper plate fan. About this time every year, I start to think "winter's not so bad; at least you can always add on more layers." Slap me if you hear me say that! I can never get warm in winter and I hate the short days!

Last Week I:

Listened To: I finished Heading Out To Wonderful (review next week) and started Special Topics In Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. Like her book Night Film (my review), I suspect Pessl has loaded this book up with bonus materials: footnotes, images, etc. But I'm listening, not looking, and I'm starting to feel like I'm missing out on some of what makes the book interesting.

Watched: I finished season one of Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, we watched an episode of Westworld (we may finally finish season one so we can move into the current season), and we watched a fair amount of the NBA finals. We don't watch a lot of NBA basketball so I don't know what fans think of having the same two teams play in the finals four years in a row; but I can't help but think it's not helping the game.

Read: I made quick work of a book about the Nebraska volleyball program, written by the coach, which I enjoyed (review this week) and I'm now reading Wiley Cash's latest, The Last Ballad. Having read Cash's first two books and the setting of this book, I have a feeling my heart will be broken before it's finished. I also finally finished Eats, Shoots and Leaves off my nightstand (review this week)!

Made: Not much. Pasta, salads, chicken salad made from a roasted chicken The Big Guy picked up at Costco. This week it's been all about quick food and as little use of the oven as possible.

The backdrop of the arch is hundreds of paper cranes and
they were also found in bowls on the tables and larger
cranes were given as favors. So neat!
Enjoyed: Watching a dear friend of the family get married. His parents live across the street from my parents and we consider them all family. The wedding was in his parents' back yard and their patio is big enough to have room for tables for dinner and a dance floor. It was great fun, even if we had to keep hugs to a minimum!

Also, bringing my dad home from the rehab facility on Thursday, two weeks after he had major back surgery. He is so happy to be home at last!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: BG bought a chain saw yesterday and will be cutting down a big pine tree in our back yard this week. It's going to leave a big area that will need to be filled in so I'm planning on what plants will be moved or brought to fill that area in, the possibility of making it a bird friendly zone, and, since we will be burying our kitty there (he loved to spend hours lounging under that tree where he could see all that was going on in the yard), some way to memorialize him there. Yep, I'm definitely much more affected by this cat's passing that I could possibly have expected to be.

Thinking About: How much yard work I should be doing and how much I don't want to go outside to do it.

Feeling: Sad to have missed a party with friends last night and a baby shower for my niece this morning but the wedding was scheduled first and had to be a priority.

Looking forward to: Dinner with a former coworker one evening and lunch with my best friend from my teen years on another day.

Question of the week: Do you have a bird bath in your yard? If so, is it more of a pain than it's worth, what with the constantly needing to keep it filled and the birds pooping all around it?

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
Originally published in installments between 1851 to 1853
Read by: Clare Wille
Source: my audiobook purchased at my local library book sale

Summary (Amazon):
Cranford depicts the lives and preoccupations of the inhabitants of a small village - their petty snobberies and appetite for gossip, and their loyal support for each other in times of need. The village is dominated by women, from the kindly spinster Miss Matty, living in genteel poverty with her redoubtable sister, to Lady Glenmire, who shocks everyone by marrying the doctor. When men do appear, such as 'modern' Captain Brown or Matty's suitor from the past, they bring disruption and excitement to the everyday life of Cranford.

My Thoughts:
For the love of Pete (whoever that may be), why in the world did I wait so long to discover Elizabeth Gaskell?

Cranford reminded me so much of two of my favorite authors, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, in the way that Gaskell skewers society and mores. But, readers, Gaskell is ever so much more approachable. Where Dickens can romp off into political statements and Austen can describe the countryside for pages, Gaskell pares it down to the essentials in Cranford. Make no mistake, nothing is lost in this method. The town of Cranford and its denizens are vividly portrayed. It's easy to picture the gently worn carpets and gowns, the small rooms in the cozy homes.  More importantly, these ladies became real, their pettinesses, their loyalty, their sins of pride. Cranford is charming and sweet and, undoubtedly, my gateway to more Gaskell.

I must say, this is clearly a ladies' book. The men in the story, while they often play key pieces in the lives of the Cranford women, their roles are small and generally brief. I'd put this book into any woman's hands, but I'd be hesitant to recommend it to any of the men in my life.

I highly recommend the audiobook version; Clare Wille is marvelous. The emotions of the novel were palpable in her capable hands. I truly felt as though Miss Mary Smith were telling me about her visits to the town of Cranford.

Monday, June 4, 2018

A Handbook For Beautiful People by Jennifer Spruit

A Handbook For Beautiful People by Jennifer Spruit
Published November 2017 by Inanna Publications
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Publisher's Summary:
When twenty-two year old Marla finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, she wishes for a family, but faces precariousness: an uncertain future with her talented, exacting boyfriend, Liam; constant danger from her roommate, Dani, a sometime prostitute and entrenched drug addict; and the unannounced but overwhelming needs of her younger brother, Gavin, whom she has brought home for the first time from deaf school. Forcing her hand is Marla’s fetal alcohol syndrome, which sets her apart but also carries her through.

When Marla loses her job and breaks her arm in a car accident, Liam asks her to marry him. It’s what she’s been waiting for: a chance to leave Dani, but Dani doesn’t take no for an answer. Marla stays strong when her mother shows up drunk, creates her own terms when Dani publicly shames her, and then falls apart when Gavin attempts suicide. It rains, and then pours, and when the Bow River finally overflows, flooding Marla’s entire neighbourhood, she is ready to admit that she wants more for her child than she can possibly give right now. Marla’s courage to ask for help and keep her mind open transforms everyone around her, cementing her relationships and proving to those who had doubted her that having a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder does not make a person any less noble, wise or caring.

My Thoughts:
Those ladies at TLC Book Tours know me so well. They know when they've got a book that's right in my wheel house. And they know that I'm usually game for something that will push me out of it. This one definitely pushed me out of it. So many characters that I couldn't relate to, that, frankly, weren't all that likable. Oh, heck, some of them weren't likable at all (I'm looking at you, Dani).

I started this book at exactly the wrong time to start a book that wasn't going to be an easy read. My life has been extra busy, my brain extra distracted. It took me a week to read 100 pages of this book. I wasn't enjoying it, wasn't getting into it at all. But I needed to write a review so I needed to push through it. Yesterday, I did something I never do - I read the last page. If I couldn't get through the book in time, at least I would know how it ends so I could write a better review. And that's when I realized that I was beginning to get into these characters. Because I didn't like the ending at all; it didn't feel right for the characters I'd been reading about.

So instead of writing this review so it posted this morning, as I would normally post reviews, I decided I needed to finish the book. All 167 pages I had left to read in time to still get a review posted today. Here's the surprising thing - reading that last page turned out to be the best thing. Because, instead of just speed reading enough to write a review, I read this book. And those characters? The ones I didn't particularly care for? I found myself caring very much for them, feeling their pain, understanding their anger and addictions.

That's an impressive feat from a debut author. I don't know what Spruit's background is but she seems to very much understand what makes a what makes her characters tick, what drives someone to addiction, and how to make readers feel empathetic.

Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for pushing me out of my comfort zone again. To read other reviews of this book, check out the full book tour here.

Jennifer Spruit was born in Lloydminster, AB/SK, and now lives in Courtenay, BC. She attended the Creative Writing MFA program at the University of British Columbia. Jennifer enjoys teaching kids, playing music, and paddling a blue canoe. This is her first novel. Find out more about Jennifer at her website.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Life: It Goes On - June 3

Why, hello there! Assuming you are even still there after my extended absence. My dad had major back surgery a week and a half ago and between a house full of family, time at the hospital and real life, I haven't touched my computer once in the past two weeks. He gave us a scare but he's well on the road to recovery now. Gardening is out this summer, which will be tough for him, but he'll have lots of time for reading on the front porch in the sun or back deck in the shade so I'm hoping for some guest reviews out of him!

Last Week I:
Chihuly and Kaneko art in the hospital and my parents, who
celebrated their 60th anniversary on Friday. Not the way
they might have hoped but in just the way to prove
how they have lived their marriage vows.

Listened To: I am loving Robert Goorick's Heading Out To Wonderful, particularly Norman Dietz' reading which reminds me very much of Garrison Keilor's tone of storytelling.

Watched: Not a whole lot until this morning when I am watching an 80's movie marathon, apparently, starting with Tootsie and now Mystic Pizza.

Read: A Handbook for Beautiful People for a TLC Book Tour review for tomorrow. It's been tough to focus this past week so reading has been slow going.

Made: To make sure we had foods we could take to the hospital or for quick meals here, I had prepped sirloin, seasoned taco ground beef, and shredded chicken thigh meat and baked a loaf of bread, blond brownies, and sour cream raisin bars. So we had a salad buffet one night at the hospital, made sandwiches there one noon, and did a taco bar one night there (have I mentioned before how my family takes over hospitals?). We didn't have to make much the rest of the week between leftovers and take out.

Enjoyed: The quiet evenings on my patio this weekend including toasted marshmallows and equal parts quiet and bird songs. We even discovered we have a family of cardinals living in one of our trees.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: Trips to Lincoln to be with my parents as my dad finishes rehab and finally gets to go home.

Thinking About: My kiddos who moved on Friday to Rochester....and will not have their furniture until Tuesday. In the meantime, they will sleep on an air mattress and eat take out food on paper plates.

Feeling: Sad. One of our cats died just about the time I stopped posting. He was my buddy, followed me everywhere and cuddled with me whenever I sat down. He was a big cat and a big presence and I keep being surprised by how much I miss him.

Looking forward to: Heading to Rochester soon!

Question of the week: Now that summer's started, what are your big plans to enjoy the warmth and sunshine!

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Task It Tuesday: May 22

This week's task list is all about finding the balance I need in my life to get back to blogging. I love this community, I love writing, and I love reading the books I need to read to be able to write posts. But how to make the time for all of it? Well...

1. Put it on the daily and weekly to-do lists. Not so much because it is a task to be done (despite the name of this post), but because I don't want it to get lost. If it's on my list, I will make sure I take the time to do it. And taking the time to do it is taking time for myself.

2. Work on ways to make writing reviews faster and easier. I used to spend hours working on my reviews, back when I thought that "someday" I might try to make this sucker pay for itself. But I've long ago abandoned that idea and I know that anyone reading the blog is also busy and would prefer that I just get to the point.

3. Use phone time to read more blog posts. This may mean I don't get any more comments left on blogs than I do now, but at least I will have the time to read posts which I find hard to do some weeks.  And, let's face it, I spend entirely too much time on my phone playing Two Dots and checking out Facebook updates so it will be easy enough to make that change.

4. Make a quiet place. I tend to read curled up on the sofa in my family room which is, oddly enough, filled with my family and the television is on. I like quiet so I'm not opposed to being off by myself in another room. I just need to get the right furniture in place to make that happen.

5. Turn off the t.v. I'm as guilty as the next guy of turning that thing on just to have it babble in the background. The thing is, even if it's just babbling in the background, it's a distraction, one I don't need. If I find I'd rather turn on the t.v. than pick up the book I'm reading, it's time for a new book.

6. Make time for Bloggiestas and readathons. I make time for all the other events in my life so why do I only do these things when I think I have "spare" time? Again, put them on the calendar and I'm more likely to give myself permission to do them.

So how about you? How do you find time to do the things that are just for you?

Monday, May 21, 2018

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead
Published May 2012 by Blue Door
Read by : Arthur Morey
Source: bought my audiobook copy at my local library book sale

Publisher's Summary:

Winn Van Meter is heading for his family’s retreat on the pristine New England island of Waskeke. Normally a haven of calm, for the next three days this sanctuary will be overrun by tipsy revelers as Winn prepares for the marriage of his daughter Daphne to the affable young scion Greyson Duff. Winn’s wife, Biddy, has planned the wedding with military precision, but arrangements are sideswept by a storm of salacious misbehavior and intractable lust: Daphne’s sister, Livia, who has recently had her heart broken by Teddy Fenn, the son of her father’s oldest rival, is an eager target for the seductive wiles of Greyson’s best man; Winn, instead of reveling in his patriarchal duties, is tormented by his long-standing crush on Daphne’s beguiling bridesmaid Agatha; and the bride and groom find themselves presiding over a spectacle of misplaced desire, marital infidelity, and monumental loss of faith in the rituals of American life.

My Thoughts: 
This may be a book set around the wedding of Daphne and Greyson; but, make no mistake about it, this is Winn's story, despite the many journey's down the life stories of the other characters. Which was my problem with the book. I really, really, did not care for Winn.

Here is a middle-aged man who makes no bones about the fact that he really wasn't excited to find himself with two daughters when they were born and nothing in their lives has endeared them to him any more than the day they were born. Boo hoo, so you wanted a boy. I watched my husband fall in love with my daughter the minute she was put into his arms (although, to be fair, he already had two sons) so I had very little patience for a man who would carry that kind of thing with him for all those years. Also? What kind of a father cares more about being in the right club more than he cares about his family? Winn, that's the kind.

One reviewer on Goodreads called this the whitest book she'd read that year. I'm trying to think over what I've read but I'm pretty sure I'd have to say "ditto." Seating Arrangements is a book full of bland, WASPy characters so if Shipstead had chosen another central characters, I'm not sure it would have made much difference. Maybe that was her point? That these kind of people are essentially interchangeable? Even all of those different characters' backstories only seemed to make them seem more stereotypical.

Curiously, the book still held a certain charm. I mean, wedding weekends are crazy things and people drink too much and hookups happy and two families have to try to get along. And Shipstead captures all of it...all before we even get to the wedding. And, I did find the ending mostly satisfying.  Plus, Arthur Morey is a pleasure as a reader (although, a male trying to differentiate so many female voices pushes his capabilities; perhaps a female co-reader would have helped).

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Life: It Goes On - May 20

Happy Sunday from grey, wet Omaha. I suppose I'm meant to be happy about the rain; we need it. But it's the weekend and I'd really liked to have been able to spend at least some of it basking up the sunshine on the patio!

Ah well, I have a lot to get done inside this weekend so I suppose it's just as well that I can't play outside. My whole family will be here for an extra long weekend this week. To avoid them needing to wear flip-flops in the shower and being able to write in the dust, I need to get this place cleaned up. So, of course, the first thing I did this weekend was deep clean my laundry room. Because that makes sense, right?

Last Week I:

Listened To: Started listening to Cranford. It was time for a classic and I needed something completely different from what I'd just finished. Thanks to errands, I'll be about half done with it by the end of today.

Watched: Once in a while I have nights that I just do not sleep well. Friday night was one of those nights. Just before five, I stopped fighting it and just got up...just in time to watch the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. I'm was quite taken by how happy they both looked.

Read: The Women In The Castle for book club this week. I have no idea what I'm going to pick up next. I did notice the other day that I've read almost no nonfiction this year so maybe it's time to pick up something in that vein.

Made: Pork tenderloin, Cuban sandwiches, bbq chicken, naked pasta - but we've spent almost as much time eating out as eating in this week.

Enjoyed: Watching the election results on Tuesday night. My friend who is running for office, was the winner in her district and will move on to the general election in November. Very excited for her!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: Meals for this coming week. I need to have things that will work as people are around to eat and it might not be all of us here at the same time for a meal. It requires a different kind of meal planning but I do love the challenge.

Thinking About: Our summer calendar. Trying to plan some weekend trips and thinking about a trip to South Carolina.

Feeling: Sassy. I had my annual summer chop off of the hair yesterday. Every time I do that, I wonder why I let it grow out! We even opted for a violet glaze so I'm feeling a little less middle-aged!

Looking forward to: Book club Tuesday and having all of my siblings together.

Question of the week: 'Fess up - did you get up early to watch the wedding? Or spend a chunk of yesterday watching it run over again? I just can't get enough of it, the fashion, the pageantry, and those hats!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe by Madeline Miller
Published April 2018 by Little, Brown, and Company
Source: my ecopy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child--not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power--the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

My Thoughts:
A relatively minor character in Homer's The Odyssey, Circe comes into her own in this story that draws on both Homer's work and Greek mythology. Miller has everything you'd expect in a story about gods and witches - terrifying power, horrifying creatures, impressive magic, and even more impressive temper tantrums. In a book that spans hundreds of years, there's a lot of action, a lot of characters to track, and you'll definitely find yourself reacquainting yourself with Greek mythology. All of the is terrific but it's the more human aspects of the story that really make the book shine.

Circe grows up the unloved, black sheep of her family who is constantly told no husband will ever have her. When she falls in love for the first time, her heart is broken. Her revenge goes terribly awry leaving her with a guilt that will not end. Left on her own, Circe, learns to care for and protect herself and turns into a serious badass. Which is a good thing, because her family is not done making her life difficult, there will be more trouble with men, and she will have to go to the ends of the earth for her child. In the end, it's her humanity that is what is most appealing about her - the heartbreak she suffers, the desire to be someone other than who she is, her love for her son, her sorrow. I seriously loved this character.

Kudos for my daughter-in-law (after almost a year, it still seems strange to say that!) for bringing this one to my attention and to NPR for bringing it to her attention some months ago. This is definitely one of my favorite books of the year. And since I'm going to have to buy a copy to pass on to my daughter-in-law, I might just read it again.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Life: It Goes On - May 14

Better late than never, right? I woke up feeling super productive yesterday and couldn't stop long enough to post. That's what spring does to me! I cleaned, I did laundry, I gardened. The perennials are finally coming along and the annuals and herbs are all planted. I've planted mostly mosquito deterring plants this spring - lavender, geraniums, catnip, marigolds, and lemon geranium (aka citronella). We've got a major ground cover/shady area project yet to do - we'll move a lot of stuff we already have including lily of the valley, hosta, and bleeding heart. My backyard is my happy place again!

Last Week I:

Listened To: I'm about 70% through Seating Arrangements and I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about it.

Watched: Westworld and The Voice (although this may be my last season of this one - starting to feel too much like a judge popularity contest). I can't remember anything else we watched, although I know I didn't watch nearly as much as I normally do.

Read: Loving Madeline Miller's Circe; I'm going to be sad to be done with it tomorrow. Then I move on to this month's book club selection, The Women In The Castle.

Made: Champagne cupcakes, dipped strawberries, and a cranberry/pink lemonade punch for the bridal shower we hosted on Saturday. Strawberry rhubarb pie and rhubarb sauce from the first harvested crop of 2018. Cooking with rhubarb always wraps me up in all the  mommas I come from - my plant came from one grandma, my pie recipe from another, and my mom taught me how to make rhubarb sauce.

Enjoyed: Dinner with friends, happy hours on our friends' deck on Friday evening, making a bride happy with the shower, and Mother's Day with my kids (well, Mini-me via a long, long telephone call).

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On a lot of cleaning this week. My family will be coming for a long weekend next weekend and every last bed will be put to use.

Thinking About: Sunny days on the patio, tomatoes on the vine, fresh foods at dinner.

Feeling: Tired bu accomplished.

Looking forward to: Voting tomorrow then heading off to my friend's (she is running for office!) campaign party.

Question of the week: We have been so busy the past couple of months; spring is flying by. Have you found time this spring to enjoy the season?

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Hello, Sunshine by Laura David

Hello, Sunshine by Laura David
Published July 2017 by Simon and Schuster
Source: bought this one

Publisher’s Summary:
Sunshine Mackenzie has it all...until her secrets come to light.

Sunshine Mackenzie is living the dream—she’s a culinary star with millions of fans, a line of #1 bestselling cookbooks, and a devoted husband happy to support her every endeavor.

And then she gets hacked.

When Sunshine’s secrets are revealed, her fall from grace is catastrophic. She loses the husband, her show, the fans, and her apartment. She’s forced to return to the childhood home—and the estranged sister—she’s tried hard to forget. But what Sunshine does amid the ashes of her own destruction may well save her life.

My Thoughts: 
The other day I found myself waiting somewhere and without a book (shocking, right?). Fortunately, this book was on my phone and I figured it was just the thing for the situation. It turns out it was just the thing for my mood, too. Hello, Sunshine falls somewhere on the scale between chick lit and women’s fiction - not too heavy on the drama, not too light and frothy. I sometimes wanted to bop Miss Sunshine upside the head (do you ever worry that I have anger issues, as often as I threaten that?!) and there were parts of the book that didn’t seem very plausible to me. Also, there’s a betrayal that I found unforgivable but David leaves the door open for forgiveness which didn’t work for me. But I found myself racing through it, enjoying Sunshine's journey.

One of the things that saved the book for me was that David kept me guessing. Just when I thought David is going down a predictable path, she stopped short. You know that all chick lit (and a lot of women’s fic) includes the handsome guy who steps in and gives our leading lady a new romance. He’s in this book, too. Sort of. But David doesn’t make him the perfect guy and it’s not a foregone conclusion that he and Sunshine will end up together in the end. In fact, nothing is a foregone conclusion in this book which is what really made this one satisfying for me. The learning curve is slow, the easy out isn’t necessarily the choice made, and everything isn’t tied up with a bow in the end. But there is hope. And I liked Sunshine a whole lot more in the end than I did in the beginning.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Task It Tuesday

Welcome to Task it Tuesday, created by the fabulous Geeky Blogger and adopted first by Because Reading and now by Bloggiesta!

What is Task it Tuesday? Task it Tuesday is a weekly meme dedicated to the list makers of the blogging world 🙂 It’s all about being productive and organized – on your blog and in real life (if you so chose). By sharing our lists we get instant accountability partners and also get ideas of things to add to our lists (or sometimes ways to tackle tasks more efficiently). We hope you’ll join us!

One of the reasons I started my bullet journal almost two years ago was because I like to make lists. I live by lists - if I don't have a list, I'm lost so I'm pretty excited about Task It Tuesday.

For my first Task It Tuesday, I'm actually pulling a list I posted here five years ago. It's not a task list, specifically, but in listing out the things that make me happy, I'm looking to remind myself to work those things into daily life, to work into my everyday lists. I've already got a couple of them worked into this coming week. I've made a few tweaks - there were some things I forgot, there were some things that I've learned I love in the past five years.

100 Things That Make Me Happy

1. Family
2. Friends
3. Chocolate
4. Coffee
5. Gerbera daisies
6. Fresh cut grass
7. Fields of wildflowers
8. Beaches
9. Blue
10. Sunshine
11. My cats
12. Homemade ice cream with homemade chocolate syrup
13. Vanilla
14. Lavender
15. Books and everything about them
16. Movie theater popcorn
17. Being silly
18. My faith
19. Office supplies
20. Candles
21. The perfect pillow
22. Smiles
23. Laughter
24. My kids being friends
25. The smell in the air just after a rain fall
26. A few hours of quiet
27. Being surrounded by the things my ancestors touched
28. Head massages
29. The perfect haircut
30. My favorite necklace
31. Refurbishing furniture
32. Musicals
33. Nebraska sports
34. NPR
35. Fluffy snowflakes
36. Lightning
37. Nebraska sunsets
38. Pouring rain
39. Chives
40. Homegrown tomatoes
41. Cheese
42. Newborn babies
43. Memories of my grandparents
44. High school football on a crisp fall evening
45. Sitting around the firepit on a beautiful summer evening
46. Hugs
47. The internet
48. Organizing supplies
49. Dolce and Gabanna Light Blue
50. Walks in fall leaves
51. Daylight savings time
52. A perfectly clean room
53. The possibilities of a full pantry
54. A toasty warm house on a cold day
55. Watching my kids succeed
56. Resting my head on my husband's chest
57. Old wooden boxes
58. Frogs - NOT live ones!
59. Going bare-footed
60. Taking care of my family
61. Finding the perfect gift
62. Watching people open gifts from me
63. Music - in general
64. Johann Sebastian Bach in particular
65. Crossing things off my to-do list
66. Being in control
67. Learning
68. Playing the piano
69. Swimming pools
70. Sitting on a bluff over the Missouri River valley with a glass of wine
71. Flea markets
72. Turning up the music and dancing
73. Volunteering
74. Gardening
75. The sound of waves crashing
76. A blank journal
77. Noodles
78. The afghan my mother-in-law made for my husband
79. The sound of mourning doves
80. Cookie dough
81. Breckenridge, Colorado in the summer
82. Champagne
83. That a-ha moment
84. My postcard collection
85. Fast boats
86. Truth
87. Rearranging furniture
88. Exploring new towns
89. White
90. A good day dream
91. Sarcasm
92. Movie nights
93. Inspiration
94. Girls' nights
95. Writing
96. Old movies
97. Boudin's sourdough bread
98.Crawling into bed at night on clean sheets
99. Waking up and realizing it's Saturday
100. Finishing things

What would you put on your list?

Monday, May 7, 2018

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Originally Published 1966
Source: purchased

Wikipedia Summary:
It is the story of Antoinette Cosway, a Creole heiress, from the time of her youth in Jamaica, to her unhappy marriage to a certain English gentleman—he is never named by the author. He renames her to a prosaic Bertha, declares her mad, and requires her to relocate to England. Caught in an oppressive patriarchal society in which she fully belongs neither to the Europeans nor the Jamaicans, Antoinette Cosway is Rhys' version of Brontë's devilish "madwoman in the attic."

My Thoughts:
This is my second shot at a review for this book. The first one simply wouldn't post and I've had to start all over. So if this review seems a little lacking, I'm going to chalk that up to not having the energy to spend another hour on it. Sorry about that.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is one of my all-time favorite books. Some people love to read spinoffs of their favorite reads; I'm not one of them. I don't want my beloved characters tinkered and the spinoffs aren't always very original. So I put off reading this book for a very long time once I realized what it was about. But it's always earned high praise and, eventually, that convinced me to read the book despite my reservations.

In Rhys' hands, Bertha is no longer relegated to being merely the "madwoman in the attic." Instead she becomes Antoinette, the Creole daughter of a Creole mother and an English former slave owner. In the aftermath of emancipation of the slaves and the death of her father, life for Antoinette is precarious. She and her mother are stuck in a no man's land where they are accepted by neither the whites nor the blacks. A predisposition to mental illness and life's circumstances conspire to drive this young woman mad. More and more, the people she trusts turn on her or disappear from her life, including, eventually, her husband. You can hardly blame a girl for trying to kill her husband and burn down his house given what's happened to her.

Rhys also gives readers a back story on Rochester to explain his bitterness and anger in Jane Eyre but it's much harder to be sympathetic toward him. Boo hoo, you're the second son of a wealthy man. Maybe instead of marrying for money, you might have thought about getting a job.

As much the story of these two characters, this book is also the story of the West Indies in the aftermath of slavery. Rhys explores the hierarchy of the people who inhabit the islands and the mutual dependence that remains between the former slaves and their former owners. She  also looks at the ways in which a woman's life was completely dependent on men - what they were forced to put up with and how the lose of a man impacted their lives. I can see why this book is a staple in university literature; there is a lot to chew on here.

The islands themselves come alive as well, both their beauty and the way that nature will take back what man has tried to claim.

I'm very glad I gave this book a chance; I will certainly be thinking about it the next time I reread Jane Eyre. Which I'm thinking needs to be sooner rather than later.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Life: It Goes On - May 6

Happy May! We've been getting rain, and sun, and much warmer temperatures. I think spring has finally sprung! Makes this girl so happy to have been able to spend Friday evening on the patio, relaxing the week away. The lilies, daisies, irises, and peonies are all going great guns and yesterday I even started putting plants in pots outdoors. I can't wait for all of the color to arrive!

Life is back to normal this week, if still busy. There were lots of Mom things to be done - Mini-him needed my vehicle and help exchanging a mattress, Miss H needed help working on a budget - which I don't mind doing at all. I had a girls' night and The Big Guy and I enjoyed a beautiful evening at the ballpark.

Last Week I:

Listened To: More podcasts, including Annotated, Happier, and Radiolab. Thursday I finally had a chance to hit up the library book sale for more audiobooks. I came away with four and decided to start with Cranford. Popped in the first disc and it didn't work. Ugh! So instead I'm listening to Maggies Shipstead's Seating Arrangements. I thought I recognized the reader's voice so looked to see who it was - Arthur Morey. Hmm, that sounded familiar. What other book did I listen to that he read? Turns out I've listened to him read three books in the past year: The Old Cape Magic (which actually has a strikingly similar story setting), Homer and Langley, and The 19th Wife. I don't specifically look for books read by him but I do enjoy his reading.

Watched: The Voice, an episode of The Crown,  and I finished a season of The Great Interior Design Challenge. I've really enjoyed seeing all of the English architecture as much as anything.

Read: I finished Wide Sargasso Sea, I'm about half way through Hello, Sunshine, and I started Curtis Sittenfield's You Think It, I'll Say It. I'm feeling the reading bug again which makes me happy, especially as reading on the patio season starts.

Made: BBQ chicken and mac 'n' cheese, nachos, breakfast for dinner - if it wasn't easy, it wasn't getting made this week.

Enjoyed: Happy hour with Tier One friends!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: Gardens and changes around the yard, including enlarging some beds.

Thinking About: Everything I need to get done today. Yikes!

Feeling: Excited for Mini-me and Ms. S as they are launching into their next life experience. She is already in Rochester while he finishes out their lease in Milwaukee and preps for the move. We're going to miss visiting Milwaukee but can't wait until we don't need a wedding for us to be all together again!

Looking forward to: Dinner with a coworker and former coworker.

Question of the week: When I read Lincoln In The Bardo last year, I wanted to put a copy into every one's hands. But I'd read it through Netgalley so I didn't have a copy and I couldn't even loan them my Nook to read it since it expired. When I found a copy at my library book sale, I bought it just so I could loan it out. And, probably, read it again. Have you ever loved a book so much that you bought an extra copy just to share it?

Thursday, May 3, 2018

What Changes Everything by Masha Hamilton

What Changes Everything by Masha Hamilton
Published May 2013 by Unbridled Books
Source: bought this one

Publisher's Summary:
In a gamble to save her kidnapped husband’s life, Clarissa Barbery makes the best decisions she can in the dark nights of Brooklyn. Stela Sidorova, who owns a used bookstore in Ohio, writes letter after letter hoping to comprehend the loss of a son on an Afghan battlefield and to reconnect with the son who abandoned her when his brother died. And Mandy Wilkens, the mother of a gravely wounded soldier from Texas, travels to Kabul to heal wounds of several kinds. At the same time, What Changes Everything is the story of two Afghans who reveal the complexity of their culture, the emotions that hold it together and those that threaten to fracture it. These lives are braided into an extraordinary novel about the grace of family.

My Thoughts:
Eight-ish years ago, I read and was completely sucked in by Hamilton's 31 Hours (my review). When What Changes Everything was released in 2013, I was just starting to use Netgalley and eagerly requested an ecopy of the book. Then it archived before I got a chance to read it and other books came along and...well, you know how this story goes. A year or so ago, I found a copy at Better World Books and it's been sitting on my shelf since, waiting for me to finally get around to it.

The problem with putting this book off for five years is that it doesn't feel as topical as it would have in 2013, when Afghanistan was still a country in the news every day. Still, the conflict in Afghanistan serves as a compelling backdrop for exploring cultural differences, our role on the world stage, and family dynamics. What Changes Everything looks at the ways that war (whether we call it that or not) leaves scars on everyone involved. You know me well enough by now to know that after reading this book, I had to go learn more about Mohammad Najibullah, former president of Afghanistan, whose actual letters to his daughters appear throughout the book as a way of helping readers understand Afghanistan.

There are a lot of storylines running through this book that all, in one way or another, tie together. As with most books that try to balance numerous storylines, I found some more gripping than others - Clarissa as she tries to cope with her own history and fears while dealing with a step daughter, friends, and the government who all want a say in how to proceed with her husband's kidnapping; Danil, who uses graffiti art to try to deal with the pain of losing his brother and the pain of a mother who will not accept the realities of her son's death; and Amin, who lives in a no man's land between the Americans and his own people and who carries almost unbearable guilt for the death of someone who tried to help years ago.

What Changes Everything doesn't have the tension that had me racing through 31 Hours, but it did pull me into these people's lives and made me want to find out how they might find a way to heal. And it raised questions that still have me thinking:
"Here he was, face-to-face with a question that had been nibbling at him for months. How much responsibility did one person have toward another? If what you mainly had in common was being alive at the same moment and in the same physical space, and then being present enough to see a need, how far must your outstretched hand reach?"

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Life: It Goes On - May 1

Happy May Day!

So Dallas happened. I'm finally finding the energy to return to real life and have gotten laundry pretty well caught up.

What a great weekend we had! Lots of time with family and lots of eating. Our hotel had complimentary cookies and milk in the evenings. It's my new favorite thing for a hotel to do. We sort of took over the second floor of our hotel in the evenings and the breakfast cafe in the mornings. The cafe had a cream cheese croissant that I may have had every morning (yes, yes, I did have it every morning). We also got to spend time at the newlyweds' house and at the bride's parents' house playing in their pool. And now Miss H is trying to talk us into a pool in our backyard.

 Also, there was a wedding! All of my kids were together for the first time since Mini-me and Ms. S got married last summer which made this mama's heart so happy. There were almost as many tears as there were smiles. My parents got to have a special dance, everyone looked great and had a wonderful time, the venue was beautiful, and we got doughnuts to take home for breakfast! Sadly, I forgot the photos we took in the photo booth.
We did a little sightseeing, as well. My mom, who's from a very small town and has never spent much time in big cities, spent a lot of time looking up. My sister-in-law was almost as entranced by the Book Depository museum as my history teacher dad was. The giant eyeball mesmerized my hubby nearly as much as it creeped out Miss H and my nephew. We ate at some really good places and also managed to get our first taste of Whataburger (I gotta tell you, I don't get the attraction).

One thing I did not end up having time for was meeting with my long-lost friend or getting to meet any of my blogging friends. Next trip!

This week it's time to finish plans for the next bridal shower my mom and I are hosting, meet with some friends for happy hour tomorrow, get caught up on book reviews, and start getting flowers into the pots outside.

What's on your agenda for the week?

(Photo credits include Nile K, Lora H, Miss H, and The Big Guy)

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Life: It Goes On - April 29

Well, not exactly fishing but "weddinging" is not a word and "gone weddinging" doesn't really trip off the tongue, does it? We don't get in until late tonight so I'm not even sure when I'll get back to the blog this week. Hope you've all had a great week!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Every Note Played by Lisa Genova

Every Note Played by Lisa Genova
Published March 2018 by Gallery/Scout Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:

An accomplished concert pianist, Richard received standing ovations from audiences all over the world in awe of his rare combination of emotional resonance and flawless technique. Every finger of his hands was a finely calibrated instrument, dancing across the keys and striking each note with exacting precision. That was eight months ago.

Richard now has ALS, and his entire right arm is paralyzed. His fingers are impotent, still, devoid of possibility. The loss of his hand feels like a death, a loss of true love, a divorce—his divorce.

He knows his left arm will go next.

Three years ago, Karina removed their framed wedding picture from the living room wall and hung a mirror there instead. But she still hasn’t moved on. Karina is paralyzed by excuses and fear, stuck in an unfulfilling life as a piano teacher, afraid to pursue the path she abandoned as a young woman, blaming Richard and their failed marriage for all of it.

When Richard becomes increasingly paralyzed and is no longer able to live on his own, Karina becomes his reluctant caretaker. As Richard’s muscles, voice, and breath fade, both he and Karina try to reconcile their past before it’s too late.

My Thoughts: 
I read Lisa Genova's Still Alice in 2014 and it made my best-of list that year. That book really spoke to me and I was impressed with Genova's ability to combine the science of an illness and a really wonderful story. It was not the first book I'd read by Genova; in 2012 I read Left Neglected and felt very much the same about it. Which meant that I am prone to want to read anything that she writes and was eager to read this one when I first found out about it.

One of the things that I said about both Left Neglected and Still Alice was that the characters felt so real and relatable. Unfortunately, I didn't feel the same way about the characters in Every Note Played. The focus here is very tightly pulled in on just Richard and Karina so it's very important that readers care about them. But I found that I didn't care enough about them as people. Certainly I felt sorry for Richard as he watched his life slip away from him and sorry for Karina as her life becomes entirely wrapped up in having to care for him. Yes, they both had very tough childhoods which should have made me understand them better. But the crux of really caring about their relationship is that readers need to believe that, once upon a time, they were in love so that we can care about how their relationship failed. But, I didn't feel that way, so it was harder to be sad that their marriage had failed and harder to buy into the need to forgive each other and try to remember what they once had.

Genova has plenty to teach readers about the terrible betrayal of the body that is ALS. Stephen Hawking was the poster boy for ALS for decades but the truth is that those who contract ALS rarely live that long. I was astonished by how fast Richard's disease progressed; although I haven't looked into how accurate that was, Genova does have a PhD in neuroscience and her books seem well researched so I always feel like I've been well educated when I've finished one.

I only wish the story here had been one that drew me in more, that I had cared more about the characters. Still, I must admit that I did tear up near the end. So maybe I did come to care more than I realized.