Friday, December 14, 2018

A Month of Faves: Holiday Wishlist

Hmmm - this one's always tough. You wouldn't think so, would you? I mean, there are things we'd all like to have. But some things just aren't practical to wish for (I'm looking at you, world peace) and other things are out of the question (I don't seriously think that putting a remodeled kitchen on my wishlist is going to serve much purpose). But this is a wishlist so I'm going to dream a little bit big, at least.

1. Silver hoop earrings. I lost one earring from the pair I wore almost every day and I'm a little lost without that option. Yes, I know they aren't that expensive and I could easily go out and buy them myself but I just haven't gotten around to that.

2. A comfortable reading chair that I can curl up in. I've been looking for the perfect chair for months. One of these days!

3. I'll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara. There are, of course, a lot of books on my wish list but this is a nonfiction title I'm really eager to read.

4. The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani. I think this one would be the perfect palate cleanser for me just now after so much nonfiction and so many heavier reads.

5. Another cat.  I'm ready for another buddy around the place and my cat is ready for a companion. The Big Guy's not having it so I don't think this is a wish that's coming true. But it never hurts to ask.

6. A blanket with poms. This is sort of ridiculous. I'm imagining my cat would have a field day with the poms but I just think their so cute!

7. A blanket with sherpa lining. Can you tell it's been cold around here. I want choices for when I want to cuddle up!

8. Black booties. I can picture just what I want. Now to find them in a store.

9. A cream cardigan. Mine is shot and I live in cardigans in the winter.

10. World peace. Oh, what the hell. It's a wish list, right? Might as well go big!

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
Read by Maggie Hoffman
Published January 2018 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out through my local library

Publisher's Summary:
If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?

It's 1969 in New York City's Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

The prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in '80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

My Thoughts:
While the story starts in New York City, Benjamin lingers there only long enough to firmly place the family in their background. After the death of their father,  Simon and Klara take off for San Francisco and Benjamin moves her story forward from there by focusing on one sibling at a time until the date the psychic forecast they would die happens. I'm not always a fan of books where the author has broken up the book in this way. I often feel like I've lost touch with the other characters and more like I'm reading a series of connected short stories. Benjamin makes it work. At least one of the siblings and/or their mother, Gerta, play a role in each character's storyline. I never felt disconnected from the rest of the family.

I'll be honest. As much as I was enjoying Benjamin's writing, early on there was a part that was fairly sexually graphic and I began to wonder where the book was going...and if I was going to enjoy it if it continued in that vein. But Benjamin had a purpose for that and when that purpose was served, she moved on. It was truly the only problem I had with this book. Benjamin does a marvelous job of making her settings come to life. In New York, you can practically taste the custards at Schmulka Bernstein's and feel the heat of the desert. Benjamin has clearly done her research on her settings. What struck my most was the relationship between these siblings, their affection for each other, their annoyance and anger, their guilt.

Most of all, Benjamin makes readers think and you know how much I like a book that makes me think.

If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?

Would it change the way you lived your life? Would you live more cautiously, trying to change things? Or would you live life to the fullest, taking risks? If you knew you would live to 90, would you watch your diet and exercise so that you made sure you were healthy as possible into your dotage? Or would you figure it wouldn't matter and eat all of the bacon and chocolate, knowing it wasn't going to cause you to die prematurely? And what of relationships? If you knew you were going to die young, would you avoid relationships so as to not hurt people? Oh, so many things to think about!

Assuming your book club wouldn't be put off by that section I mentioned earlier, I think there'd be a lot here for a book club to talk about.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A Month of Faves: Routines, Habits and Changes. What Worked this Year and/or What Didn’t

So today's prompt is: Routines, Habits and Changes. What Worked this Year and/or What Didn’t. I'm going to go out on a limb and bet that you already know that I don't have much to contribute to this subject. This might be the year I've least adhered to a schedule and I have no explanation as to why. No one who knows me would ever accuse me of being a "fly by the seat of your pants" kind of gal. But the older I get, the more I feel like I just want to do what I want, when I want. Also, my mind tends to wander these days which makes it hard to stay on task. Some things I did do this year that were changes I made that worked for me:

1. Pack My Lunch. Every. Single. Day. I actually started doing this to help Miss H save money and since I was packing her a lunch it just made sense to pack both of us a lunch (The Big Guy is on his own!). If we've got leftovers, that's what we have. Otherwise, we've done wraps, sandwiches, soup, cheese and crackers, chicken salad - whatever we have on hand. I do not make a point to buy special food for lunches which actually made it easier to keep this up. No more of "well, I guess were out of the special lunch food; I guess I'll just have to run out for a burger." I always toss in some fruit and generally a granola bar for the midmorning pangs.

2. Scale Back On My Bullet Journal. I was spending a lot of time trying to make my pages all pretty. But I don't have time for that. Or rather, I prefer not to take the time for that. Now setting up pages is not so much of a task for me.

3. Create Monthly Tasks. My cat needs her claws trimmed and her fur brushed. My stupid front load washing machine needs to be drained and cleaned. But I could never remember how long it had been since I'd last done those kinds of tasks and I always forgot to put them on the to-do list. Now I do those kinds of task once a month, the first week of the month. They go on my monthly to-do list, then onto my to-do list for the first week and then I try to knock all of them out in one day that week. It's possible the cat actually needs her claws trimmed every 3 weeks but she's just going to have to live with it because this works for me. Besides, she hates having it done anyway so she doesn't mind the wait.

Have you made any changes to your routine this year that worked for you? Created any new habits? What works for you? I'm especially looking for tips on time management. My phone is such a time suck and I just haven't been able to find a way to get in a better routine about using it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Wangs Versus The World by Jade Chang

The Wangs Versus The World by Jade Chang
Published October 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Source: my ecopy purchased for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
Charles Wang is mad at America. A brash, lovable immigrant businessman who built a cosmetics empire and made a fortune, he's just been ruined by the financial crisis. Now all Charles wants is to get his kids safely stowed away so that he can go to China and attempt to reclaim his family's ancestral lands - and his pride.

Charles pulls Andrew, his aspiring comedian son, and Grace, his style-obsessed daughter, out of schools he can no longer afford. Together with their stepmother, Barbra, they embark on a cross-country road trip from their foreclosed Bel-Air home to the upstate New York hideout of the eldest daughter, disgraced art world it-girl Saina. But with his son waylaid by a temptress in New Orleans, his wife ready to defect for a set of 1,000-thread-count sheets, and an epic smash-up in North Carolina, Charles may have to choose between the old world and the new, between keeping his family intact and finally fulfilling his dream of starting anew in China.

My Thoughts:
I've started this review three times and deleted everything I'd typed. I liked this book; I really did. But it's been a month since I read it and I'm having a hard time remembering the details of it that made me like it and the things that kept me from loving it. Back in the day, when I was blogging like I was getting paid to do it, even if I couldn't get a full review written out right away, I'd start a draft and getting some rough thoughts put down. Too bad I don't do that any more, it would really be helpful now. Luckily, I read it on my Nook so at least I do have the things I highlighted! So let's try doing this review this way:

What I Liked:
I'm a sucker for stories about families, especially when they involve a road trip. As a veteran of many a trip in the family station wagon growing up, this book took me right back to those days, to the ways being stuck in that car and sharing experiences could both drive you crazy and bring you closer. When you can relate to a book that way, it's always a point in favor of the book.

Curiously, I actually felt a bit sorry for Charles which helped me care that his journey was a eventually a success and to know that I'd feel bad for him if it wasn't For a guy that had been smart enough to build up an empire to be so clueless about what was going on around him, and for his chances for success, made Charles more likable than rich guys losing it all usually are.

I loved the relationship the siblings had with each other. They didn't always get each other, they often annoyed each other. But they had a bond forged from the loss of their mother. And I enjoyed watching each of them grow throughout the book.

What I Didn't Like:
Ok, maybe "didn't like" is too strong a phrase. Let's say these are things that didn't work for me.

I sometimes felt like Chang wasn't sure if this book was about Charles' journey, or the family finding a way to overcome their loss, so much as it was a story about Saina. Chang spends a lot of time tells us about Saina's experiences as an artist and her fall from grace, as well as her relationships with men. Strangely, I felt less sorry for Saina than I did for Charles which may account for why I got tired of reading so much about her.

But then I felt like Chang also got a little long-winded when she went off with Andrew on his solo expedition. I just really wanted things to feel a little more balanced.

Things That Caught My Attention:
"The only people who still used mules for anything other than entertainment were the mujahideen and the Amish, both lost tribes fighting for the useless past."
I'm pretty sure it would never have occurred to me that the mujahideen and the Amish had anything in common, but it turns out they do.
"He [Charles] wished they [children] could stay hidden away, with the damp, trusting little mouths, until they developed some sort of hard shell impenetrable to drugs or sex or disappointment or any of the thousand poison-tipped arrows the world might aim in their direction."
Yes, yes, yes. Every parent ever can surely relate to this.

My book club read this book. We did a terrible job discussing it but I do believe there is a lot here for a book club to talk about. Family relationships, art, cultures, ethics, the immigrant experience, what wealth does to people. Also, I don't think I mentioned this yet, the book is frequently quite funny which keeps it from getting weighed down with its heavier topics.

Monday, December 10, 2018

A Month of Faves: A Day In The Life

So we're two and a half weeks from Christmas as of this past weekend and before that arrives, I am hosting a dinner party and book club. Plus I'm still finishing up shopping. But...I'm battled the tail end of a cold so I wasn't as productive as I'd liked to have been.

8:30 a.m. - My alarm went off but I'd been up to 1:30 a.m. so I shut it off and thought I'd get a little more sleep.

8:37 a.m. - Well, that didn't work. Time to get up.

8:45 a.m. - First cup of coffee. It's the weekend so there will be at least a couple more cups. I settle in to watch the rest of CBS Sunday Morning.

9:30 a.m. - Breakfast time - bagel with cream cheese and lemon curd. While I'm eating (and having my second cup of coffee), I'm internet shopping. I'm philosophically opposed to Amazon but, damn, I do love free, 2-day shipping.

10:00 a.m. - Time to get busy. I dust the walls on the first floor, then scrub the walls in the vanity, back hall, and kitchen. Can anyone explain to me how some kind of liquid got spilled on the walls in the back hall?

11:00 a.m. - Third cup of coffee. Time to check in on Facebook and Instagram.

11:30 a.m. - Back to cleaning. When I win the lottery, I'm paying someone else to clean my bathrooms! One bathroom done.

12:00 p.m. - Blogging time. Getting my Sunday post written.

12:30 p.m. - Lunch time. The Big Guy made stir fry and I'm here to tell you that sometimes that guy can really shake a pan.

1:00 p.m. - Laundry time. It seems like it's always laundry time on the weekend.

1:30 p.m. - Watered the plants. Two years ago I had two plants. These days I have 15 in the house. I'm always forgetting to water at least one of them.

2:00 p.m. - Repotted a couple of plants. BG hates when I play with plants in the house; I tend to get dirt every where. In my defense, I am also the person who cleans it all up.

2:45 p.m. - I finally get dressed and convince BG to make a Christmas shopping trip with me.

Love the title, love the price!
3:15 p.m. - Barnes and Noble time. We look at games, books, and when we check out we find that we've gotten a "buy one cookie, get another free" coupon.

4:20 p.m. - We buy those cookie: peanut butter cup for me, oatmeal raisin for BG. We'd eat them at the store except we have plans. We're pretty darned excited to have earned another coupon. Guess we'll be back to the store again soon!

4:35 p.m - Did you know that Dunkin' Donuts has lattes and cappuccinos for $2 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. every day through December 30th? I found this out on Saturday, thanks to Instagram. A latte for him, a cappuccino for me.

4:50 p.m. - We've brought our coffee and cookies home for an early dinner, I guess, and enjoy them while watching football.

5:45 p.m. - Because apparently we're old people, and also because we probably need to put something at least nominally healthy into our stomachs, BG gets us some apples, grapes, popcorn, and cheese. This, of course, requires that we continue to just sit.

6:15 p.m. - Time to clean up the dishes. Miss H has been kind enough to clean out her car today. It's kind in that I now know where half of my plastic containers have gone and will finally have some again for packing lunch. This also means that cleaning up the kitchen involves washing all of those containers as well as a half dozen water vessels she's been driving around with.

6:45 p.m. - Shopping time. BG and I spend the next hour online shopping and discussing what we'll get for Mini-me and Ms. S. While I'm at it, I'll be having a text conversation with Ms. S about things they might need/want as well as her visit, today, to my sister's house.

7:30 p.m. - Pretty sure we've hit present gold but it's a bit of a daring choice so we don't pull the trigger just yet. This one gift will require 30 minutes of conversation with no decision.

8:00 p.m. - Time to catch this post up while I can still remember what we've done today. I'm old, you know, and these things pass quickly from my memory.

8:10 p..m. - On the "I'm getting old" front, time to put new insoles into my shoes. This is about as exciting as it gets on a Sunday night, folks.

8:15 p.m. - The dishes got done but the kitchen is still a mess. Anyone else's kitchen the catch-all spot in the house? Everything gets put back where it belongs, then I sweep and mop and cross my fingers that no one spills anything on the floor for at least a couple of days. History tells me that the best I can realistically hope for is 24 hours.

8:45 p.m. - Time to work on the bullet journal for the coming week. I'm happy to see that I won't be carrying much into next week that was on this week's to-do list.

9:05 p.m. - Finally opening a book for the first time this weekend. I'll be reading while I watch football so it's not the most productive time to read but it's better than nothing.

9:20 p.m. - Oops! Back on my phone again. In my defense, I'm doing some Christmas shopping. I have two gifts left now (which I will get this weekend) and some stocking stuffers and then I'm done! Now to wrap them all. But that's for another day.

10:35 p.m. - The football game is done and it's time to do the "end of the day" tasks. One last spin through the kitchen to make sure it's still tidy. Check the cat's water bowl to make sure it's full. Turn off all of the Christmas lights - three trees, the mantle and six sets of twinkly lights. It's worth every minute - I'm so enjoying the glow all around my house!

11:05 p.m. - One last load of laundry in, which I'll toss into the dryer in the morning.

11:15 p.m. - Fill up a glass of water, get my purse, pour out half dozen kitty treats and then we girls head up for the night. Kitty will have her treats next to her bed. Wash face, brush and floss, jump into my jammies (well, maybe not "jump" exactly) and then crawl into bed where I will actually read for another 25 minutes.

11:55 p.m. - Turning out the light, finally. One day I'll learn how to get myself to bed early. Today's clearly not that day.

Well, that could not have been any more dull to read about but I do love a good, lazy day!

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Life: It Goes On - December 9

Happy two weeks until Christmas! Anyone else starting to kick it into overdrive? Yesterday I got the Christmas cards ordered. I've done a lot of Christmas shopping this weekend. Wrapping won't get done until next week since I have a dinner party and book club meeting to plan for before that can happen. I decided that after spending so much time getting the house decorated, someone might as well actually see it. And I have spent a ridiculous amount of time fussing around with the decorating this year!

I'm dragging this weekend; Miss H was kind enough to share a cold. Luckily, I don't have it nearly as bad as she did so I'm still getting things done. I guess if I'm going to have to have a cold this time of year, this weekend is better than any of the next three!

Last Week I:

Listened To: The Immortalists, which I'm enjoying a lot. My Year of Rest and Relaxation became available ten days ago but I doubt I'm going to get to it before my loan expires so I suppose I'll have to put that on hold again. Not sure what will be available next.

Watched: Lots of sports this week - some football, college basketball, international curling, and college volleyball. Very excited that our Huskers will be going to the Final Four for the fourth year in a row.

Read: Yeah, well. Actual reading is almost at a standstill right now. Maybe I'll actually finish a book this week.

Made: A ramen soup comfort recipe from the New York Times, stir fry, chicken parmesan, scrambled eggs (because sometimes breakfast for dinner is just the thing!).

Enjoyed: Happy hour(s) with friends.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On finishing up the shopping this week and getting the Christmas cards mailed by weekend.

Thinking About: Starting the holiday baking.

Feeling: Like I might just be enjoying this holiday season more than I have in years. I've certainly enjoyed playing with decorating more this year than in a very long time. If you follow me on Instagram, you're probably sick of seeing the pictures! I've brought a lot of family into my decorating this year including runners from Mini-me and Ms. S's wedding, an ice cream maker barrel from The Big Guy's great aunt, dishes from the original Mama Shep and her Christmas carol book, books from my great-uncle, ornaments from my grandparents' and parents' trees, and pages from some of my mom's choral books. My original plan was to scale way back this year. Oh, well. At least, I'm also now in good shape for winter decor once the holidays are over.

Looking forward to: Three short work weeks in a row after I make it through this week.

Question of the week: How are you holding up this month?

Thursday, December 6, 2018

A Month of Faves: Popular Books Worth The Hype

Since I'm so often behind the curve with the popular books, I can't necessarily speak strictly to books published in 2018. But I have read quite a lot of books this year that have, in the year they were published at least, gotten a lot of hype. Here are the books I've read this year that were worth the hype:

1. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones 
2. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
3. Circe by Madeline Miller
4. Five Days At Memorial by Sheri Fink
5. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
6. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
7. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I thought I'd add a few books that had garnered a lot of hype I didn't think they deserved but I can't say that I read that many books this year that fit that category. Perhaps Exit West which appeared on a lot of "best of" lists. I liked it but I sure missed whatever made it one of the best books of the year.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Heirs of the Founders: The Epic Rivalry of Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster, the Second Generation of American Giants by H. W. Brands

Heirs of the Founders: The Epic Rivalry of Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster, the Second Generation of American Giants by H. W. Brands
Published November 2018 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: my ecopy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
In the early 1800s, three young men strode onto the national stage, elected to Congress at a moment when the Founding Fathers were beginning to retire to their farms. Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, a champion orator known for his eloquence, spoke for the North and its business class. Henry Clay of Kentucky, as dashing as he was ambitious, embodied the hopes of the rising West. South Carolina's John Calhoun, with piercing eyes and an even more piercing intellect, defended the South and slavery.

Together these heirs of Washington, Jefferson and Adams took the country to war, battled one another for the presidency and set themselves the task of finishing the work the Founders had left undone. Their rise was marked by dramatic duels, fierce debates, scandal and political betrayal. Yet each in his own way sought to remedy the two glaring flaws in the Constitution: its refusal to specify where authority ultimately rested, with the states or the nation, and its unwillingness to address the essential incompatibility of republicanism and slavery.

They wrestled with these issues for four decades, arguing bitterly and hammering out political compromises that held the Union together, but only just. Then, in 1850, when California moved to join the Union as a free state, "the immortal trio" had one last chance to save the country from the real risk of civil war. But, by that point, they had never been further apart.

My Thoughts:
So, I had all kinds of fantastic things highlighted in my ecopy of this book, things I really wanted to share with you. But when you are reading the book right up to the very last minute before the book archives, you don't have access to it to share things. Which is a shame because there was so much in this book that I wanted to share with you.

On the heels of listening to Lin Manuel Miranda's Hamilton, this was the right book at the right time for me. This second generation of American leaders is every bit as interesting as the first generation and certainly deserve their fair share of attention. They faced some of the same battles as that first generation - battles with Britain, battles of egos, and a battle to make a new country of a disparate collection of states. But they are also forced to deal with the unfinished business of that first generation. Is this group of states a confederacy or a union? How does this new country find its place in the world? And what to do about the question of slavery?

You can't write about Calhoun, Webster, and Clay without talking about the other key players of their generation: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, James Madison, James Monroe, and Chief Justice John Marshall. Which means that there are a lot of players to talk about and keep track of and Brands manages to do all of that without losing sight of who and what his book is about.

Unlike George Washington, who reluctantly accepted the presidency, Calhoun, Webster and Clay spent their entire political lives working to put themselves into that position. The maneuverings were fascinating as were the ensuing battles between these players. While all three rose to the heights of the young government, none of them ever reached the goal they so coveted.

What was, perhaps, most interesting about this book for me about this book was how much what is happening in our country currently echoes what was happening in the first half of the nineteenth century. The politicians battled each other endlessly. At least, our current politicians only battle each other with words and not with pistols in duels. The country was hopelessly divided - the South, the West, New England. They battled over the Constitution and states' rights. They battled over taxes. Sound familiar? It all started to feel like we were reliving history right now.

As someone who grew up with the study of the U. S. Civil War as a part of regular life, it's always interesting to me to read accounts of the events that led up to the war. The only problem with reading books like this turns out to be my dad's problem because I'm bound to put the book into his hands to get his opinion on it. This book is no exception. I hope he enjoys it as much as I did and can learn some new things to add to his knowledge of these captivating men. I definitely recommend it for all fans of U.S. history, particular politics.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

A Month of Faves: 2018 Favorites Edition

It's December which means it's time for A Month of Faves again! I'm terrible about keeping up with the schedule (I mean, this topic was supposed to post yesterday) but I do love to play along so I'll do my best. Join hosts  GirlxoxoTraveling with T and Estella's Revenge for the annual #AMonthofFaves blog event – a fun way to recap the year that was.

In addition to talking about some of my favorite things from 2018, I thought it would be fun to go back and see how my faves from the past couple of years of fared. 

From 2016:

Fave scent: Dolce and Gabanna's Light Blue. Still my go-to scent. Besides still really liking it, having only one real perfume on hand makes life just a little bit easier. 

Fave cream for my feet: Gold Bond Ultimate Softening Foot Cream is still my favorite. The Big Guy bought me a giant bottle of something else he'd read was supposed to be great and I do like it for my foot but for my heels, it's still the Gold Bond that works best. 

Fave t.v. show: This is Us is still right at the top although I'm sort of over the ads for the show. I swear they tell us that every episode is "a very special" episode. 

From 2017: 

Fave game: Two Dots finally was usurped from the top by Word Connect this year but even that has lost its luster for me already. At the moment, I'm not playing any games, finding other things to do with my time on my phone.

Fave t.v. show: Grace and Frankie is still one of my faves but I need them to hurry up and get the next season released!

For 2018:

My parents and their kids
Favorite Celebration: We did a lot of celebrating this year (Mini-him and Ms. S both turned 30, we had several friends who children got married, and, of course, The Prince arrived in July) but my favorite was the wedding of my nephew in Dallas. The wedding was beautiful and so much fun but what made the long weekend even more fun was getting to visit a new city (well, technically, I'd been in Dallas before but only for a couple of hours on a bus trip to Mexico 40 years ago), getting to spend so much time with my family, and, most of all, having all six of my family together for the first time in almost a year. 

Favorite Bookish Event: Seeing Ron Chernow in September. He is a lively, entertaining speaker who proves that history can be a lot of fun. He spoke a lot about working with Lin Manuel-Miranda since his book, Alexander Hamilton, was the basis for the musical Hamilton and he even rapped. 

Favorite Trip: With apologies to my siblings (we very much enjoyed trips to see both of them and their families), we most enjoyed a trip to see Mini-me and Ms. S in their new home in Rochester. It's not Milwaukee (which we loved), nor their cool place there, but it's a nice town with everything you really need and their place is perfect for them. Plus, they are only about an hour and a half from the Twin Cities when they need a city fix and a couple of hours from my sister and less than that from BG's brother so we are happy to have been able to see both of them while we've been up north. 

Favorite New Snack: Sensible Portions' Garden Veggie Straws with sea salt. Anyone who knows me will find that fact that my new fave snack has the word "veggie" in it will be stunned. But, honestly, these don't really taste like veggies. They are just a nice light, salty, crunchy snack. I love the irony of the brand name, given that I buy them at Costco in a giant bag!

Favorite Cocktail: I'm on a bourbon kick right now so my current favorite is a French 95. I can make them at home but I do love to find them in a bar where they have all kinds of bourbons I can choose from.

What are some of your favorite things from 2018?

Monday, December 3, 2018

A Highland Christmas by M. C. Beaton

A Highland Christmas: A Hamish Macbeth Mystery by M. C. Beaton
Narrated by Graeme Malcolm
Published November 1999 by Grand Central Publishing
Source: my audiobook copy checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
In the dark, wintry highlands of Lochdubh, Scotland, the spirit of Old St. Nick is about as welcome as a flat tire on a deserted road. The Calvinist element in Lochdubh has always resisted what they view as the secular trimmings of the holiday, so for most of the townspeople, there's no pudding, carols, banquets, gifts, or even whisky for Christmas.

Nor is crime taking a holiday, as Hamish soon finds himself looking for a missing cat belonging to a lonely spinster. Confrontational and curt, the unfriendly woman insists her pet was stolen. Looking into her eyes behind her heavily bolted door, Hamish can see her true problem-she lives in great fear...but what is she afraid of?

Then some thieves make off with a Christmas tree and lights in nearby Cnothan and Hamish must investigate. As if that isn't enough on his holiday plate, Hamish's romance of the new schoolteacher is going fine, until she mentions a perfect little girl whose family abhors Christmas...and whose behavior has recently become very imperfect.

Now it's up to Hamish to make things right. He has to protect an unhappy girl, unlock the secrets of a frightened old woman, and retrieve some stolen holiday goods. And he had better do it quickly, for the church bells will soon toll, and all of Lochdubh will be forced to face another dreary winter without the warm embrace of A Highland Christmas.

My Thoughts: 
This being a Christmas tale, this is even more of a cozy mystery than usual - no dead bodies, no concerns for danger. I mean, a stolen kitten and some missing Christmas lights are hardly as exciting as a dead body on the moors. It's a bit boring, honestly; but at only two hours listening time, it went by quickly enough.

But it's Hamish, so you know I liked it, right? He can be cranky and a little self-centered, but he's right where he belongs and he's happy there. As ever, he's surrounded by the usual kinds of people: a boss who doesn't appreciate him, a cranky old woman, some uptight wealthy people, some colorful locals, and a woman who has the hots for him. And, of course, you know that he's going to solve the mysteries. This time, though, Hamish gets to do some real good - making people happy, pulling people together, and bringing Christmas to Lochdubh.

Graeme Malcolm is perfect as the narrator, as always, adding an extra layer of warmth to the story.

Fans of Hamish will probably like this one, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it for someone who isn't already invested in Hamish's life.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Life: It Goes On - December 2

Happy December! Hope this finds you all...oh heck, I hope this finds you all. I've been so lax on my blogging lately that I'll be really surprised if there are any of you still out there reading.

I am hunkered down for the day. We got a few inches of heavy snow last night, after a whole day of rain, sleet, and slush and I have no reason to venture out into it other than to have been out to scoop the driveway. Besides, I was hardly at home yesterday so this girl needs some quiet home time.

Also, it's time for me to finally finish the Christmas decorating. If you follow me on Instagram, you'll know I've spent a ridiculous amount of time thinking about, playing with, and re-doing just the mantle. I'm working on a less busy look this year and I have several new pieces to work into that so it means rethinking everything I've done before. Maybe next year it will actually be easier to put up?

November came to an end, as did my attempts to write my first novel during National Novel Writing Month. The goal was 50,000 words. My final total? About 15,000. It's a fail in every way other than that I did do some writing; I have a start and can move forward from there if I so chose.

The end of November also meant the end of Nonfiction November. I always look forward to this month and it's always another thing I just can't seem to do right. I did read a lot of nonfiction last month and got up quite a few reviews. But I didn't manage to do any of the posts associated with the event. Ah well, we can't do everything, right?

Last Week I:

Listened To: As much of The Woman's Hour as I could get listened to before my loan was up with my library. I've got it back on hold and hope that next time it doesn't become available when I still have ten hours left of another book! On Friday I started Chloe Benjamin's The Immortalists, and I must say, I'm quite enjoying listening to fiction after several nonfiction books in a row.

Watched: Last night we went to see Widows with friends. I think I liked it better than the rest of our crew. I appreciated the fact that director Steve McQueen was able to make an action film that isn't gratuitously violent and the way he turned an action film into a film about people.

Read: Like I said, not much. I'm having a hard time focusing on books right now. I do have several books I need to get read in the next month so I need to find my reading mojo again soon.

Made: Homemade mac 'n' cheese, chicken noodle casserole, beef stew. It's been cold and it's time for comfort food!

Enjoyed: A couple of parties yesterday.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On finishing up most of my Christmas shopping this week. I'm mostly finished but need to get Mini-me's and Ms. S's gifts off in the mail to them; the first year they weren't here I waited too long and it cost me $95 to get their gifts to them on time! Never again.

Thinking About: Christmas cards. I need to get them ordered today so that they can go out in the mail by the end of the week.

Feeling: Lazy. Not a good thing with so much to get done today.

Looking forward to: I don't think we have anything on the calendar this week. Which means I'm probably forgetting something!

Question of the week: How do you decorate for the holidays? What is the one thing that you absolutely have to put out to make things feel festive?

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Five Days At Memorial by Sheri Fink

Five Days At Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink
Read by Kirsten Potter
Published March 2014 by Gale Group
Source: my audiobook copy checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
In the tradition of the best investigative journalism, physician and reporter Sheri Fink reconstructs 5 days at Memorial Medical Center and draws the reader into the lives of those who struggled mightily to survive and maintain life amid chaos.

After Katrina struck and the floodwaters rose, the power failed, and the heat climbed, exhausted caregivers chose to designate certain patients last for rescue. Months later, several of those caregivers faced criminal allegations that they deliberately injected numerous patients with drugs to hasten their deaths.

Five Days at Memorial, the culmination of six years of reporting, unspools the mystery of what happened in those days, bringing the reader into a hospital fighting for its life and into a conversation about the most terrifying form of health care rationing.

In a voice at once involving and fair, masterful and intimate, Fink exposes the hidden dilemmas of end-of-life care and reveals just how ill-prepared we are for the impact of large-scale disasters—and how we can do better. A remarkable book, engrossing from start to finish, Five Days at Memorial radically transforms your understanding of human nature in crisis.

My Thoughts:
Do you ever watch Dateline? If you do, you're familiar with the way they present a story in such a way that you are absolutely certain you know what happened and who the bad guy is...and then they present the contradictory evidence and you have no idea what the truth is.

I got that same feeling as I listened to Five Days At Memorial.

Fink begins by bringing readers up to speed with New Orlean's history of flooding and the measures that could have been, but weren't, put in place to prevent future disasters. And then she brings on the disaster. Fink wants readers to know the people who were trapped in Memorial Hospital when Katrina came ashore; more importantly, she wants us to care. Which makes it all the more appalling when the generators stop working. When communications with possible rescuers go to hell. When it becomes so hot inside the building that employees and families (who took shelter at the hospital) are forced to use furniture to break out windows. Medications ran low. Moving patients to the helipad or the parking garage ramp that became a boat rescue landing space was exhausting; and because patients had to be ready to go when rescue arrived, they often spent hours outside. Family members were called into action to help carry patients to rescue and fan those who were bed ridden. Stairwells were dark, floors became slick with the humidity. Difficult decisions had to be made as to who would be rescued first; then, as the situation changed, those decisions were changed. Patients died. And administrators, doctors, and nurses talked about easing patients' pain.

On the fifth day, some medical professionals gave nine patients high doses of medication to relieve their suffering. All nine of those patients died.

When I'd heard about those patients all those years ago, I felt certain that if the choice had been made to euthanize patients, it was the right choice given the dire circumstances and the patients' conditions. By the time those patients died in the book, I wasn't so sure. After all, on day five, even as the patients were being given the medications, mass evacuation was beginning. In the second half of the book, Fink explores the aftermath of the disaster at Memorial that culminated in the arrest of Dr. Anna Pou and two nurses for second degree murder. And here is where your mind really becomes muddled. The investigators, coroners, and prosecutors make valid cases for charging some of the caregivers with murder. But their motives are suspect and their handling of the cases are mangled. Public opinion among the medical community and those who went through Katrina was decidedly biased.

There's no question that there is plenty of blame to go around for all of the deaths that happened with Katrina. The government had known for eighty years that there were things that could, and should, be done to shore up the levee system. Tenet  Healthcare, owner of Memorial Hospital, did not have a proper emergency plan, hadn't moved generators to higher ground, and hadn't even insured that their helipad was safe for landing. The evacuation of the areas impacted was badly mishandled and communication was horrific.

In the end, Fink wants readers to understand that the measures in place when Katrina struck were woefully lacking, from the levees to the power supply to the evacuation procedures to the plan for how to allocate limited supplies in the event of a major crisis. What's more, in the Epilogue Fink details time she spent in Bellevue Hospital in New York when Super Storm Sandy flooding New York City and finds that some of the same problems still existed years later.

As much as I really enjoyed Potter's reading, I often wished that I had been reading this one in print so I could keep track of the players better and so I could highlight the heck out of it. I saw Fink talking about what happened at Memorial a few years ago and knew I was going to love her writing. I was right. This book brings up important questions, it made me think. It made me think that I may need to buy a copy of this book to read again. It was that good.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Life: It Goes On - November 25

I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving and are getting to enjoy a four-day weekend. Ours has been fun; but, like all weekends, I could use one more day!

It's a good thing I had been reading voraciously up until this week so I had some reviews to post because this week I have done very little reading. I don't anticipate doing much today, either. It's not even that I'm not enjoying the books I'm reading and listening to; I am. It's just that my focus has been everywhere else. And I do mean everywhere. Which means that nothing has gotten my full attention. My novel for NaNoWriMo? I'm about 29,000 words behind. I've spent a fair amount of time considering how I will decorate for winter/Christmas but only yesterday did I take down the fall/Thanksgiving decor and pull up the Christmas bins.

One of the things I'm thankful for this Thanksgiving is that we have this extra week between now and the next holidays. I need it!

Last Week I:

Listened To: I'll finally be finishing Five Days At Memorial today. It's very well read and an incredible piece of journalism.

Watched: Football, volleyball, John Oliver's Last Week Tonight, more football, and, last night I stayed up late watching My Cousin Vinny. I'm always blown away by Marisa Tomei's performance in that movie.

Read: Still working my way through Heirs of the Founders and What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape.

Made: Two of the best looking pumpkin pies I've ever made, gingerbread with golden raisins, and chocolate chip cookies. I'm sure I made something healthy and wholesome for actual meals but I can't remember what that might have been.

Enjoyed: Spending time with family, especially The Princess, who kept us all entertained. Thursday she "helped" her grandma by picking up the potato peels Grandma was putting on the table and putting them into a pan. You know, the pan Grandma would have been putting the peels into if The Princess wasn't there "helping!" She was so proud of herself.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On getting the Christmas/winter decorations put up this week.

Thinking About: Traditions. We had a much smaller group for Thanksgiving this year, just 11 adults. But we still carried on the traditions. The guys went off Thursday afternoon (which was gorgeous, btw) to kick field goals and the ladies went off and did some damage on Black Friday. It wasn't quite the same but it still feels good to keep things going.

Feeling: Like I should set aside that novel - there's no way I'm getting to 50,000 words in the next week and I've already written more than I've ever written before so it seems pointless to continue on with it. NaNoWriMo is a great idea but it would work a lot better for me if it were in, say, February, when there's not so much going on.

Looking forward to: A quiet week.

Question of the week: I've been looking at ways lately to lighten up and one of the ways is to do less decorating for the holidays, a trend I've seen on blogs and Instagram. I'm going to try it this year but I'm a little afraid it won't feel so much like Christmas. Are you part of that less-is-fine camp or are  you still looking forward to getting your full festive on?

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Whiskey In A Teacup: What Growing Up in the South Taught Me about Life, Love, and Baking Biscuits by Reese Witherspoon

Whiskey In A Teacup: What Growing Up in the South Taught Me about Life, Love, and Baking Biscuits by Reese Witherspoon
Narrated by Reese Witherspoon
Published September 2018 by Touchstone
Source: audiobook checked out through my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Reese Witherspoon’s grandmother Dorothea always said that a combination of beauty and strength made southern women “whiskey in a teacup.” We may be delicate and ornamental on the outside, she said, but inside we’re strong and fiery.

Reese’s southern heritage informs her whole life, and she loves sharing the joys of southern living with practically everyone she meets. She takes the South wherever she goes with bluegrass, big holiday parties, and plenty of Dorothea’s fried chicken. It’s reflected in how she entertains, decorates her home, and makes holidays special for her kids—not to mention how she talks, dances, and does her hair (in these pages, you will learn Reese’s fail-proof, only slightly insane hot-roller technique). Reese loves sharing Dorothea’s most delicious recipes as well as her favorite southern traditions, from midnight barn parties to backyard bridal showers, magical Christmas mornings to rollicking honky-tonks.

It’s easy to bring a little bit of Reese’s world into your home, no matter where you live. After all, there’s a southern side to every place in the world, right?

My Thoughts:
Guys, do not check out the audiobook copy of this book from your local library. Nothing against Witherspoon's narration (well, sort of, but more on that later); but you're missing all of the recipes, tips, and pictures. There is a pdf that includes all of these things if you've bought the audiobook, but I didn't and I think it took away from the book. I really don't even know why the library carries the book on audio, given how much you lose by listening.

Now, back to that narration. I love, love Reese Witherspoon. She's a woman who has managed to have a successful acting career for almost 30 years, she's an entrepreneur, and she's huge book lover who has done a lot to promote books. And I've always thought her voice was charming and sweet. But, I'm sorry to say, it really started to grate on my nerves as the book went on. Now I'm a little worried that the next time I see her in a movie, I'm going to have this experience coloring my impression of her performance.

I'm sorry to say that's not my only beef with this book.

The book is, of course, Witherspoon's take on her life growing up in the South. But throughout the book, she seems to imply that all Southern women mind their manners, love hot rollers, and wallpaper and monogram everything. The thing is, Witherspoon's experience is as a privileged, white woman. I've been to the South and can vouch that not every woman in that part of the country wears pearls to the grocery story and minds her manners in public. Again, Witherspoon is writing from her own experience, but in trying to wrap her lily-white arms around all women, she's largely ignoring a huge population of Southern women. She does periodically talk about "strong black women" and civil rights activism, but those pieces felt compulsory and not as heart-felt as the rest of the book.

Once in a while, too, I got the impression that Witherspoon was a woman who had never much been out of the South, which is obviously not true. How else, then, to account for the fact that she seems to think that some sayings, some behaviors, are strictly Southern? For example, more than once she talked about how friendly the people are in the South. But I'm told on a regular basis, by people who've come to Nebraska from other places, that the Midwest has the nicest people. I'm not saying we're the only nice people in the country; I'm just saying Witherspoon should be aware that Southerners are either.

These are all things that might not have been as noticeable to me if I had been looking at this book, eager to turn the shiny pages and see the next beautiful image.

All of that being said, I did like this book (and I'm sure it will be hugely successful despite its flaws). Witherspoon's personality shines throughout the book as she shares family stories, the ways her upbringing formed her, and lots of humor. I mean, who else is going to give you a two-page spread about how to hot-roller your hair (that includes telling you to leave the house with the rollers still in your hair!)?

I did learn some things about the South that do make it unique. That Easter scene in the movie Steel Magnolias? Apparently, that's common in the South. Of course, they can probably count on warmer temps in Tennessee at Easter than we can count on in Nebraska. I think my favorite parts of the book were when Witherspoon got personal. In one story, Witherspoon tells about how, on the day of her wedding to her current husband, her best friend reminded her that "You only get married for the second time once,"making Reese crack up laughing and easing the tension. I sort of love her best friend!

I will be checking out the print copy of this book as soon as it's available because I have to get my hands on some of the recipes Witherspoon includes in the book. She talks a lot about food in this book and it's only through tremendous willpower that I didn't find myself regularly driving off to find some comfort food (although even Witherspoon couldn't talk me into trying black-eyed peas again).

I'd also like to be able to get a copy of all of the books she recommends here in both the book club section and a section where she talks about Southern novels she loves.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Life: It Goes On: November 18

Ugh. More snow yesterday. Not enough to get out and play in (not that I do that, but you know what I mean); just enough to make the roads slippery and dangerous. I'm not sure what I'm complaining about. This meant I got to come home from errands yesterday afternoon and stay home the rest of the day without having to make up excuses. And you all know what a homebody I am.

Speaking of home, I find myself being drawn more and more to home blogs and Instagram accounts about home decor. I used to be really into that kind of thing, lots of magazine subscriptions and inspiration books; but that went by the wayside when my time and attention got sidetracked by things (like a ridiculous amount of volunteering in the kids' schools). Consequently, things have gotten more than a little stagnant around here. No big changes for now, because I'm all about Christmas right now. But come the first of the year...I think I'm likely to make my hubby crazy!

Last Week I:

Listened To: Reese Witherspoon's Whiskey In A Teacup and now I'm back to Five Days At Memorial which I should be able to finally finish.

Watched: David Grann (The Lost City of Z, Killers of The Flower Moon) speak about his latest book The White Darkness. He's a fabulous speaker; I'd definitely recommend catching him if he comes to your local library. A signed copy may just be found under our tree come Christmas.

Read: I'm making my way through Heirs of the Founders: The Epic Rivalry of Henry Clay, John Calhoun, and Daniel Webster, the Second Generation of Great Americans. I am enjoying it so much and I'm wishing I had it print so that I could pass it on to my dad. Oh, wait! I can probably buy it to give to him, right?!

Look how square
top piece was!
Made: A mess of my backyard when I put together my new flocked tree. Yep, I did it. Put up a Christmas tree before Thanksgiving. I hope this doesn't bring bad luck or anything. In my defense, I knew it was going to make a mess so I wanted to get it done on a warm day when I could do it outside. And I haven't actually decorated it yet. So I hope I haven't angered any Thanksgiving gods.

Enjoyed: Book club although I'm not sure we talked about the books ten minutes total. And we even liked the book!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: To get food ready for Thanksgiving at my parents' then, hopefully, three days of decorating for Christmas, working on NaNoWriMo (I'm way behind but still working on it), and reading.

Thinking About: How much I hate winter. It hasn't even started yet, officially, and I'm already tired of being cold and having snow impact my driving. It's going to be a long four months.

Feeling: Excited for my great-nephew who verbally committed yesterday to play football for the University of Michigan. So proud of all of his hard work and we can't wait to see him play at the next level. Even if it means he's playing for a Husker rival.

Looking forward to: The upcoming four-day weekend, duh!

Question of the week: How will you be spending Thanksgiving?

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay

Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay
Read by Bahni Tupin
Published August 2014 by Harper Collins
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
A collection of essays spanning politics, criticism, and feminism from one of the most-watched young cultural observers of her generation, Roxane Gay.

“Pink is my favorite color. I used to say my favorite color was black to be cool, but it is pink—all shades of pink. If I have an accessory, it is probably pink. I read Vogue, and I’m not doing it ironically, though it might seem that way. I once live-tweeted the September issue.”

In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman (Sweet Valley High) of color (The Help) while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years (Girls, Django in Chains) and commenting on the state of feminism today (abortion, Chris Brown). The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.

My Thoughts:
If you are not made uncomfortable by this collection of essays, I want to meet you, I think. You are either the most culturally aware, well-educated and understanding person I have heard of, in which case I need to pick your brain. Or, you really don't get it and you are just the kind of person that will cause me to bang my head on the table in frustration.

I thought I was getting a book of essays about feminism, which, as you can see from the summary is not all this collection includes. I was a little disappointed that I didn't get what I wanted, in that regard. On the other hand, Gay certainly gives readers a lot to think about with this collection, in which she takes aim at everyone - men, women, whites, blacks, Quentin Tarantino, Chris Brown, Charlie Sheen, and Tyler Perry. And Caitlin Moran. You know how much I love Moran and how much I loved her book, How To Be A Woman so you can imagine how my hackles were raised when Gay questioned some of the statements Moran made in that book. I can't deny that Gay raises legitimate points, though.

Many of the essays were remarkably eye-opening for this white woman who is trying hard to understand what life is like for black people in this country. I'm feeling pretty damn guilty now for enjoying both the book The Help and the movie adaptation of it. I'm almost afraid to go read my review of that book now. Gay doesn't just want white people to face up to the racism we don't even see. She is definitely not a fan of Tyler Perry, seeming to feel that he has built a career on stereotypes of race and sex. In The Racism We All Carry, Gay talks about the rules of racism and the fact that everyone carries some degree of racism even if we largely keep it hidden from the world.

Other essays made this liberal, feminist lady cheer, especially The Alienable Rights of Women, which talks about the right of women to control their own bodies, and Bad Feminist Take Two, which talks about the struggle women have with being feminists (is it ok to like fashion if we truly want to be considered a feminist?).

Yet others broke my heart. Tragedy. Call. Compassion. Response. talks about our response to the world's tragedies, both large and small, including the massacre in Norway and the death of Amy Winehouse. The Careless Language of Sexual Violence is both heartbreaking and infuriating.

If you're ready to be pushed out of your comfort zone, if you're ready to think about uncomfortable subjects, I can definitely recommend this collection. And now I have to go rethink a lot of what I've said and done.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Traveling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
Published October 2018 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
With his crooked tail--a sign of good fortune--and adventurous spirit, Nana is the perfect companion for the man who took him in as a stray. And as they travel in a silver van across Japan, with its ever-changing scenery and seasons, they will learn the true meaning of courage and gratitude, of loyalty and love.

My Thoughts: 
Normally I wouldn't review a book I haven't finished. It seems a little unfair to the book and how much can I really say about a book I haven't given a full chance to impress me. This one seems different to me, for some reason. Maybe because it's, apparently, an international bestseller that's been made into a movie. Maybe because I really am a cat lover so this one should be right in my wheelhouse. I'm not writing the review to bash the book, although I am going to tell you my problems with it. Instead I'm writing to make you aware of it. Because, even if it is an international bestseller, I'd never heard about it before. Maybe you haven't either. And maybe you're someone who really likes books with a cat for a narrator. Maybe you're a fan of books written by Japanese authors, which have been translated into English and happen to feature a cat.

What a minute! I'm a person who likes books written by a Japanese author who regularly includes cats in his books. Here's the thing, though: Haruki Murakami may have his cats talk, even; but they are not the narrators of the books. That seems to have been my biggest problem with the book. Arikawa uses Nana as a pretense to take readers from one story about Saturi and a friend of his to another. Those stories interested me; I liked the way Arikawa was able to fully develop each new character, from the time he met Saturi to his adult self. It wasn't an altogether off-putting idea to use a cat as the narrator to tie the stories together. I mean, I do always wonder what my cat's thinking. But after twenty pages or so, it started to feel a bit like a childish to me, perhaps a little to gimmicky.

It's a short book, only about 150 pages; once I was half way in, I sort of felt like I might as well finish. But I have a lot of books I want to get to by the end of the year. I began to realize that I don't have time, or the desire, to read a book I'm not thoroughly enjoying. So I set this one aside. It wasn't for me, at least not at this time. Maybe if I were looking for something that was completely different from what I'd been reading, this one might have worked better for me. Which is why I wanted to bring it to your attention; this might just be the right book for you.

Monday, November 12, 2018

A Ladder To The Sky by John Boyne

A Ladder To The Sky by John Boyne
Published November 2018 by Hogarth Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Maurice Swift is handsome, charming, and hungry for success. The one thing he doesn't have is talent - but he's not about to let a detail like that stand in his way. After all, a would-be writer can find stories anywhere. They don't need to be his own. Working as a waiter in a West Berlin hotel in 1988, Maurice engineers the perfect opportunity: a chance encounter with celebrated novelist Erich Ackermann. He quickly ingratiates himself with the powerful - but desperately lonely - older man, teasing out of Erich a terrible, long-held secret about his activities during the war. Perfect material for Maurice's first novel.

Once Maurice has had a taste of literary fame, he knows he can stop at nothing in pursuit of that high. Moving from the Amalfi Coast, where he matches wits with Gore Vidal, to Manhattan and London, Maurice hones his talent for deceit and manipulation, preying on the talented and vulnerable in his cold-blooded climb to the top. But the higher he climbs, the further he has to fall...

My Thoughts:
As I was scanning through upcoming books some weeks ago, I saw that John Boyne had a new book coming out this fall. That's as far as I read before I requested this book. I went into the book having absolutely no idea what this collection of closely connected short stories was about.

Because of that, as I was reading the first story, I almost set the book aside. I thought this was going to be about Erich Ackermann, an aging author who had only ever had mediocre success and then won a prize. It was too close to Andrew Sean Greer's Less, which was still fairly fresh in my mind. I'd enjoyed that book quite a bit but I wasn't ready to read another one so similar.

Fortunately, Boyne's writing is so wonderful that I wasn't ready to give up on the book after the first story. This is a long quote, but well worth the time it will take you to read it:
"I found myself drinking a glass of rose outside a bar in Montmartre, a chestnut tree shading me from the late summer sunlight, while I observed the closing moments of a marriage. A woman in her late forties, very beautiful, with short black hair and expensive sunglasses, had been sitting alone since my arrival with a large glass of white wine and an envelope on the table before her. She had already smoked three cigarettes and was lighting a fourth when a man appeared, perhaps a little older thinner but dressed just as smartly, holding his hands in the air in apology for his tardiness, and she stood to allow him to kiss her on both cheeks. The waitress brought a second glass and she poured some wine for him as he reached into his bag and removed a similar envelope to hers. They spoke for some time and at one point he laughed and put an arm around her shoulders before they picked up the envelopes and took out two lengthy documents. Turning to the last page of each they allowed their pens to hover over the paper for only a moment before signing simultaneously, then passed each one to the other, whereupon they signed again. Finally, the man returned both forms to his bag and the couple removed their wedding rings, dropping each one into their glasses before standing up, kissing on the kips and walking off in opposite directions, their hands drifting out behind them, their fingers touching momentarily before they disappeared from my sight an, presumably, from each other's lives."
I just love the way Boyne has told an entire story in one paragraph and the way I am able to so clearly see this scene playing out before me.

As you'll have noticed in the summary, this isn't, after all, Erich Ackermann's story. It's Maurice's story but told through the eyes of several different people as Maurice's life progresses, including one story written in first person by Maurice's wife with a twist I definitely didn't see coming.

Maurice is not without talent; he can write well. But he has no creativity and is incapable of coming up with fresh new ideas for books. And therein lies his moral dilemma. From the minute he takes Erich's life story and turns it into a best-selling novel, the line between right and wrong blurs for Maurice.
"You've written a novel that features Erich Ackermann as a character?" asked Howard.
"I suppose that's a reasonable way of putting it, yes."
"And does he mind?"
"He hasn't said one way or the other."
"Did you have to ask his permission?"
"Isn't there some sort of moral conflict there then?" asked Howard.
"None whatsoever,"said Dash. "There can be no discussion of morality when it comes to art. A writer must tell the story that captures his soul."
Dash goes on here to point out that many authors write about the lives of other people, tell their stories, and no one questions their right to do so. The historical fiction genre is loaded with books that rely on the stories of real people to create their story around. When have you crossed the line? When you take other people's story ideas when their lack of skill will never allow that story to see the light of day? Or must you steal an entire book and pass it off as your own?
"And you've heard the old proverb about ambition, haven't you?"He shook his head."That it's like setting a ladder to the sky. A pointless waste of energy."
Maurice is so driving to succeed as a writer that he never entertains the possibility that he won't succeed, never sees it as a pointless waste of energy. Even when he is caught out, he has so convinced himself that he has done nothing wrong, that he is almost able to justify to the reader as well.

I haven't read a book with this unlikable a character in a long while but Boyne just proves that point that characters need not be likable to make you appreciate them as a character, to make their story worth reading. And Maurice's story is definitely one worth reading.