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)