Saturday, June 30, 2012

Paris In July 2012

Knowing full well that I didn't want to add any more "required" reading to my July schedule, I haven't paid much attention to the posts about Paris in July 2012 posted by several of the bloggers I follow. But when Jane (Reading, Writing, Working, Playing) posted about it, I noticed that you don't actually have to read a book; you can post about anything French. Well, heck, I can do that!

Paris in July 2012 is hosted by Tamara (Thyme for Tea) and Karen (BookBath). This is the 3rd year for Paris in July and here are the "rules:"

There will be no rules or targets in terms of how much you need to do or complete in order to be a part of Paris in July - just blog about anything French and you can join in. Some ideas for the month might include:

- Reading a French book - fiction or non-fiction

- Watching a French movie

- Listening to French music

- Cooking French food

- Experiencing French art, architecture or travel (or remembering travel experiences)

- Or anything else French inspired you can think of...

I've been on such a Pinterest kick lately, I wonder what I can find there that will inspire me for this? Surely some lovely desserts?!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Fairy Tale Fridays - Snow White And The Fear of Aging

Way laid once again by an inability to stay on track, my fairy tale reading turned into fairy tale research this week. It all started with this great article in The New Yorker, which is both a review of "Snow White and the Huntsman" and an exploration of a theme I've overlooked - the fear of aging. I like to think that I'm a fairly smart person and that I'm pretty good at picking up on the themes in books and stories but, boy, did I miss this one. You may remember me talking about how many fairy tales include wicked stepmothers. I've long wondered why and I'm sure there are a number of reasons, including a need to sanitize the stories even hundreds of years ago, replacing mothers in the story with stepmothers.
The New Yorker article points to one theory - Snow White's evil stepmother is clearly a woman terrified of aging. She is obsessed with the idea of being the fairest of them all, constantly turning to her magic mirror to reassure her that she is still beautiful and desirable. When Snow White grows into a beauty in her own right, the wicked Queen must kill the younger, more beautiful girl. After all, what power is left to an aging woman when she loses her beauty?

Clearly the Queen is right to be concerned. After all, Snow White's looks are exactly what save her when she comes to the home of the seven dwarfs. To scare the reader even further, the Queen is at her most evil when she disguises herself as an ugly old woman.

Hundreds of years after the tale of Snow White was first recorded by the Brothers Grimm (and even longer since the first versions of the story were told) it seems we haven't learned much. We are, if anything, more obsessed with youth and beauty than ever - the cosmetic surgery business alone is a billion dollar industry and whole stores are devoted to cosmetic sales. Entertainment Weekly devotes an issue every year to the up-and-coming actors and actresses but I've never seen them do an issue on the actors and actresses who are making bank in their golden years.

Why do you suppose we haven't learned anything about appreciating people as they age? Perhaps Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm are to blame. After all, didn't we grow up watching the beautiful Snow White triumph over her older rival?

Cat Thursday

Every year we go to a family reunion in the same town that my mom grew up in and every year one of the ladies, who lives on a farm, brings a box of kittens for the kids to play with. They are tinier than these and so darn cute that it's a battle not to bring one home - at least one of my kids falls in love with one of the kitties and has to have it. I never thought of Kris as a crazy cat lady but now I'm beginning to wonder! Cat Thursday is hosted by Michelle of The True Book Addict.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My Dear I Wanted To Tell You by Louisa Young

My Dear I Wanted To Tell You by Louisa Young
Published June 2012 by HarperCollins
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Riley Purefoy, working-class boy who has spent most of his life bettering himself, and Nadine Waveney have been inseparable since the day they meant but they only just discovered that they love each other when disapproving parents and World War I interfere. Despite the distance, the two cannot be kept apart...until a terrible wound threatens the happiness they were so close to having.

Despite his artistic interests, Riley is a very good soldier, two things that endear him to his commanding officer, Peter Locke. Peter has left behind his beautiful wife Julia who can find nothing more to do for the war effort than keep herself and her home ready for Peter's return. But the Peter who returns to her on leaves is not the same man who left her and Julia is at a loss as to how to hang onto a man who prefers the bottle to his wife and son.

The two couples lives become intertwined with Peter's sister, Rose, a war nurse, playing a pivotal role in trying to help the couples save their love.

Why I read it: I'm always game for historical fiction and this one fit right in with the War Through The Generations challenge.

What I liked about it: Young is British and it comes across in her writing, which I loved. She is equally good at writing about the angst and passion of love and the horrors of war. She is, in fact, so good at writing about war, I sometimes had to take a break from the book. The characters, although they are not particularly unique (if you've read Atonement they will be familiar to you), quickly become three-dimensional. Young doesn't spare her characters, they are all flawed but in a way that makes them feel human. Young touches on the themes of class, love, war, and the importance of appearance, both literally and figuratively. The was perfect for me with closure but no tidy endings.

What I didn't like about the book: The war details were necessary and I could deal with those. But the gruesome descriptions of war injuries and the surgeries to repair them were overly detailed and long and distracted from the story line for me. That being said, if the details were facts, I learned a tremendous amount about how reconstructive surgery progressed and how it is greatly aided by war.

I highly recommend this book, particularly for fans of historical fiction. It is a exceptional blend of character and plot. Check out the other reviews on the tour for other opinions. Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour.

Louisa Young grew up in London, England, in the house in which Peter Pan was written, and she studied modern history at Cambridge. She was a freelance journalist and has written ten books, including the Orange Prize–longlisted Baby Love. She is the co-author of the bestselling Lionboy trilogy, which has been published in thirty-six languages. She lives in London and Italy with her daughter and the composer Robert Lockhart.

I've posted the cover from the copy of the book I received and the copy as seen on Which do you prefer? I think the one at the top better suits the story.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Giveaway - Rules of Civility

One of my favorite books of the year, Rules of Civility, is coming out today in paperback. To celebrate, I'm excited to announce that Viking/Penguin is offering two readers of Lit and Life the opportunity to win a copy of the book. The drawing is open to residents of the U.S. only (sorry!) and the winners will be picked on Saturday, June 30th. Please leave a comment with your email.

Penguin Paperbacks also has a drawing on Facebook to win a Rules of Civility gift set, featuring "items evocative of 1930's New York Golden Age" including a copy of the book. There are two of the grand prizes, worth $500 up for grabs and 25 other winners will receive a copy of the book.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sunday Salon - June 24

Can it really be the last week of June already? I haven't gotten to a lake, river, or even a swimming pool yet! It was too hot the first part of the week to even be outside but the past few days have been great for sitting out on the patio reading.

I found this great bookshelf on Pinterest the other day and I must say I love the idea of combining two of my favorite things. I doubt I can convince The Big Guy to hang a gutted baby grand piano on the wall, though. It did make me wonder what I might be able to do with an old upright. Hmmm...

I started Peter Geye's The Lighthouse Road this weekend. You may recall that Geye's Safe From The Sea was one of my favorite books of 2011 so I've got high hopes for this one. Leif Enger, of Peace Like A River, has this to say about it:

 The Lighthouse Road is a cinematic thundercloud gusting across the northern landscape Peter Geye so clearly loves.
With its conflicted heroes and their seafaring, bootlegging, lumber-camp agonies,
this book understands hard work and heartbreak -- it takes no shortcuts but delivers its cargo in generous style,
a tale wrapped in blizzards and viewed through the glass eye of history.

Geye has his work cut out for him with this one. Not only does he have his first book to live up to, I started it on the heels of Laura Moriarty's The Chaperone, which I loved. It's been a while since I can say I really loved a book. I almost didn't start The Lighthouse Road just yet until I could put a book I wasn't hoping to love in between these two. 

This week I'll be reviewing Louise Young's My Dear I Wanted To Tell You and The Chaperone. I'm not sure what Fairy Tale Fridays will bring this week - I've been distracted from my plans the past couple of weeks so I may just wing it.

What are you reading this week?

**I have no idea what is happening with the bottom half of this post! I'm going to have to stop using copy and paste - I end up fighting with my posts every time!**

Friday, June 22, 2012

Fairy Tale Friday - Perhaps You Grew Up With The Fractured Version?

I have the draft of a very serious post about the marketing of fairy tale princesses that I was going to polish for this week's post. But when I decided to search Pinterest to see what kind of fairy tale images I could find there, I came across this:

I was completely sidetracked. While I may have grown up reading Andersen, Grimm Brothers and Perrault fairy tales, I also grew up with The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. One of my favorite things about the show was Fractured Fairy Tales. All of the episodes was written by A.J. Jacobs and narrated by Edward Everett Horton. Jacobs took classic fairy tales and turned them into parables with a satirical twist. You can watch several of the episodes on YouTube, buy DVD's of them, and, I have just discovered, you can even buy a book of the stories with illustrations of the animation from Random House. Ssshhh - don't tell The Big Guy but I think I just found one of his Christmas presents! If you never watched the show, or if you'd like to take a trip down memory lane, here's a little treat for you.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Cat Thursday

I don't have a cat; in fact, I'm allergic to cats. But if I could find one that was this sassy, I'd start getting allergy shots so I could have a cat again! Cat Thursday is hosted by Michelle of The True Book Addict.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Cook Book Love

For those of you who don't use Twitter, I can understand why you would think that it's largely a time suck of people posting the minutiae of their lives. But not using it means you don't get to have great conversations with friends, like the one I had this weekend with Trish (@trinicapini) and JoAnn (@lakesidemusing). Trish was talking about using her mother's old Betty Crocker cookbook to try recipes for cream puffs and cobbler. It got the three of us to talking about the old cookbooks our moms have or that we've inherited and eventually prompted me to pull mine off the shelf.

This little baby was published in 1951 and it is both a wealth of knowledge and and a source of amusement. It's a five-ring binder, divided into sections which sometimes baffle me; I often find that recipes are in sections where I wouldn't expect to find them.

I'm impressed with the fact that the very first section is one on nutrition. It has a table for the recommended daily allowances, broken down by men, women, pregnancy, children, male adolescents, female adolescents. Would you like to know what they figured as the average weight of the men and women they were calculating caloric intake for? For men, 154 pounds; for women, 123 pounds. Yikes! I know we're taller than people were in 1951 but for a society so obsessed  with body image and healthy lifestyles, we really have let ourselves go! And these were people for whom Better Homes & Gardens recommended "butter and other spreads" be eaten every day for their vitamins. By the way, American cheese slices are listed under desserts on the calorie chart.

The next section is one for meal planning. It really does have some very practical tips but when it launches into some suggested meals, things get interesting, if for no other reason than the number of courses they seemed to think people would serve. All meals included: meat, fish poultry; appetizer; starchy food; vegetable; bread; salad; dessert; and something labeled "nice to serve." Here's a sample meal you will not be seeing on my table any time soon: veal birds (what is a veal bird?), tomato juice, paprika potatoes, fried onions, Parker House rolls, head lettuce with french dressing, apricot whip and for your "nice to serve" item, bacon.

Just as I did with the first two sections, I found the section labeled "Special Helps" to be both helpful and ridiculous. There is actually a page titled "Gay garnishes." Apparently you're meant to surprise your baked ham with a new garnish - pineapple and cloves. The spice list has about half of the spices shown that I use in my kitchen and the recommended list for things needed to start a kitchen includes only one spoon for cooking. ''Cut your cooking corners" includes a tip on getting onion juice (have you ever seen a recipe that calls for onion juice?) and a suggestion to "spank that cooky with a fork."

I was surprised that there weren't fewer "strange" recipes. When I tried to find images for the recipes that I did find strange, quite a lot of them are were recent pictures. Evidently they aren't as strange as I think they are. Clearly in places like Estonia, for example, aspics are still quite popular. I was surprised to find "foreign cookery" making an appearance already in 1951.The book is loaded with recipes and tips that we may all need to fall back on as a way to stretch our grocery dollars (an entire chapter on canning and freezing, for example). I'm definitely going to be trying the recipe for what is essentially homemade Bisquik.

I have a lot of cook books but, to be honest, I've never really "read" them. I pull them out when I'm looking for recipes. That changes as of yesterday - I have a couple of dozen books in my kitchen that are begging to be read and discovered! Do you read cook books?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Equal of the Sun: A Novel by Anita Amirrezvani

Equal of the Sun: A Novel by Anita Amirrezvani
Published June 2012 by Scribner
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours

I've found myself drawn to books set in the Middle East in the past few years so when TLC Book Tours approached me about reviewing a work of historical fiction based in Iran, I jumped at the chance to learn more about the history of this region.

When the Shah of Iran dies in 1576 without naming an heir, his court is thrown into chaos and two camps quickly emerge. One camp favors Haydar, a son who immediately steps up and claims the position. The other favors Isma'il, the son who was sent to prison more than twenty years ago by his father. Among his supports is his sister, Princess Pari, their father's protege. Pari knows more about the workings of the court and, though she is not allowed to serve as shah, she quickly steps up and works to instill order in the court and to bring Isma'il to power. But resentment and anger build within the court toward Pari. It will take all of the secrets and information that Pari, and her closest advisor, the eunuch Javaher, possess to keep them safe. But Pari's temper and sense of what is owed her and Javaher's quest to find the killer of his father make it harder and harder to escape the killings that surround them.

What I Liked About It:  Amirrezvani has clearly done her research and learning about life in Iran in the 16th century and the inner workings of the royal court. It was certainly a different court than the English court we are so used to reading about. Javaher, the eunuch who narrates the story, is certainly the most interesting character - when his father was murdered for treason, Javaher submitted to becoming a eunuch in order to prove his loyalty to the Shah. It allows him to become part of the court in order to work to find out what happened to his father, but it was his relationship with Pari that made him such an interesting character.

What I Didn't Like About It:  The lush and descriptive writing that initially impressed me started to grow old around the middle of the book. While details about the clothing and food can make a story come alive, I began to tire of reading the specifics of what each of the women was wearing. I think the side story about Javaher's hunt for the killer could almost have been left out of the story other than the need to have a reason why this man was so willing to do whatever it took to be in the court. The real story was always the struggle to find a shah and stay in favor. I felt, throughout the book, that different editing would have enhanced my appreciation of this book. Almost from the start, this story was nonstop action but, for me, the tension was not consistent and I felt that there was quite a lot of repetition.

Anita Amirrezvani
In the end, I liked this book and I certainly appreciate what it taught me. For lovers of historical fiction, you will find much to enjoy here. If you look at other reviews on the tour, you'll find that reviewers are loving this book. This is Amirrezvani's second book. Her first, The Blood of Flowers, was longlisted for the Orange Prize.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sunday Salon - June 17

I had a whole post ready for today and then decided to move it to Tuesday so I'm just going to apologize up front for what is likely to be a rambling post of bits and pieces.

I went to see Laura Moriarty (The Chaperone) at The Bookworm bookstore Tuesday night. I was really disappointed with the turnout but so happy that I had taken the time to go see her. She really is great that she inspired me to start writing again. This weekend my first article in over a year was posted at . Next up, it's time to finally get my writing center set up in our guest room.

Speaking of writing, I got an email this week about the 8th annual Write A Dear Reader contest. I don't recall see this before; have any of you heard of it or participated? The toughest thing about this contest may be that submissions can't be any longer than 650 words; that's not much time to tell a story.

I also got an email this week that writer Tess Gerritson will be coming to Omaha in October to speak at the 22nd Women & Health Lecture. Gerritson, who was a doctor before she became a writer will be speaking about her career transition, "From Physician To Fiction."
I haven't read any of her books but never fail to learn something interesting every time I listen to an author speak so I'm planning on attending. Have you read any of her books or watched the TNT series Rizzoli & Isles which was inspired by a series of her books?

This month's Omaha Bookworms selection, Generation A by Douglas Coupland, has really pushed me way out of my comfort zone. It's a short book but I've been struggling to keep myself reading. I had hoped to be done with it by yesterday but just couldn't make myself sit down and read. Now that hardly ever happens!

When I finish it I'm not sure what I'll pick up unscheduled review book, something for one of my challenges? Oh, who are we kidding? I'm going to read The Chaperone. Which I happen to have two copies of after forgetting that I already had an ARC for review when I bought a copy the other night to have signed. What are you reading this week?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Fairy Tale Fridays -

“O, to be sure, we laugh less and play less and wear uncomfortable disguises like adults, but beneath the costume is the child we always are, whose needs are simple, whose daily life is still best described by fairy tales.” – Leo Rosten

Last week, Care of Care's Online Book Club sent me this quote which was the quote of the day on Goodreads. First of all, can I just say how happy it made me that she saw it and immediately thought of me and Fairy Tale Fridays? Then I wondered, "who is Leo Rosten and why does anyone care what he says?"

Leo Rosten had nothing to do with fairy tales. He was an immigrant to this country in 1911 from what is now Poland and a successful author, screenwriter and humorist. It was Rosten who said of W.C. Fields "any man who hates dogs and babies can't be all bad." But he never wrote fairy tales. Which made me wonder (of course it did), what other people felt the pull and importance of fairy tales long after they had, theoretically, outgrown them.
Marie Curie, the first person to be awarded two Nobel Prizes, had this to say about fairy tales:

"I am among those who think that science has great beauty. A scientist in his laboratory is not only a technician: he is also a child placed before natural phenomena which impress him like a fairy tale."

The brilliant Albert Einstein said this:

 "If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales."

Marie Curie
If you search for quotes about fairy tales, you will find authors from every generation have had something to say, from Dickens to Danielle Steele. They have clearly had a deep and profound effect on people who write. But to find that scientists also fall back to fairy tales as a basis for intelligence and the desire to learn speaks volumes to me. Perhaps it's time we quite worrying quite so much about sanitizing the things we read to our children and go back to fairy tales the way they were meant to be read; they have so much to teach us. Alfred Hitchcock said this about what we can learn from fairy tales:

  "Fear isn't so difficult to understand. After all, weren't we all frightened as children? Nothing has changed since Little Red Riding Hood faced the big bad wolf. What frightens us today is exactly the same thing that frightened us yesterday. It's just a different wolf. This fright complex is rooted in every individual."

Jack Zipes, retired professor of German from the University of Minnesota who has published and lectured on the topic of fairy tales, said this:

"Fairy tales since the beginning of recorded time, and perhaps earlier, have been "a means to conquer the terrors of mankind through metaphor."

If, by reading fairy tales, we teach our children how to deal with fear, isn't that one of the greatest gifts we can give them? And if, by immersing them in fairy tales, they find a way to turn their creative minds into a living, what could be better?

"at the center of every fairy tale lay a truth that gave the story its power." Susan Wiggs, The You I Never Knew

"Mother didn't understand that children aren't frightened by stories; that their lives are full of far more frightening things than those contained in fairy tales." Kate Morton, The Forgotten Garden

"In a utilitarian age, of all other times, it is a matter of grave importance that fiary tales should be respected." Charles Dickens

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Dead Beautiful by Melanie Dugan

Dead Beautiful by Melanie Dugan
Published May 2012 by UpStart Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the author and TLC Book Tours

In the traditional version of the myth, Persephone – the daughter of Demeter, Goddess of agriculture and fertility, and Zeus, the top god on Olympus – is abducted by Hades, God of the Underworld. Demeter, devastated by the loss of her daughter, refuses to do her job until her daughter is returned to her. No crops grow, cold settles on the earth. It turns out that while in Hades, Persephone has eaten six pomegranate seeds. As a result, for six months of the year, she must live with Hades; this is when it is fall and winter on earth. For six months she lives with her mother – then we have spring and summer. Dugan asks the question: what if Persephone wasn't kidnapped at all - what if she chose to go with Hades?

In Dugan's modern retelling of the tale, Persephone is a headstrong teenager who is disenchanted with the idea of life on Olympus, tired of the drama of the other girls her age, and completely smitten with Hades. So smitten that she begins plotting ways to win him over.

Why I Picked This Book: I couldn't resist the opportunity to read a modern take on a well-known myth.

What I Liked About The Book: I liked the idea of the book much more than I liked anything about the finished product. It was interesting to see the ways that Dugan dropped the story into a more current time period. But I was very happy that this was a short book and a quick read.

The Writing:  The story is told from multiple first-person points of view: Persephone, Demeter, Hades, Zeus. It was interesting to see events from multiple points of view but there were just too many points of view for me to enjoy them. I got confused, too, by what time period Dugan was trying to drop the story into - sometimes the gods and their cohorts were clearly in our time period but then there were numerous references to Jesus and how he was stirring things up. One character was a plumber and the methods were certainly hundreds of years old yet the young girls talked like some of the girls my daughter knows. I was never sure what audience Dugan was aiming for either. It felt like a YA novel...sometimes.

What I Didn't Like: I was certain, as I was reading the book, that I was reading a first novel, perhaps by someone who has only just graduated from college. Imagine my surprise to discover that Dugan' is a journalist and this is her third novel. There were grammatical errors, the characters lacked depth, the various voices didn't really sound different to me.

If you check out the full blog tour, you'll discover that I'm pretty much alone in my opinion of this book. Most of the other blogs appear to read and review a lot of YA and maybe that's why, maybe this really is a YA novel. If you're a fan of YA, particularly if you're also a fan of mythology, this might just be a book you'll enjoy.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
Originally published in 1905
Source: my copy bought at my local library's book sale

The House of Mirth is the story of Lily Bart, a young woman who battling her desire to live a life of luxury and her hope of a marriage built on love. Lily's mother raised her to believe that nothing but the best was good enough, that she belongs among the elite. But when Lily's father died when she was just 19, it left her relying on family, friends, and her own incomparable beauty to help her make her way in life in the manner in which she was raised.

Having already passed up a number of chances for marriage, Lily has finally come to accept that it is time for her to settle for dull Percy Gryce. Lily has been raised to believe that money will buy you happiness and that her beauty and persona will bring the money to her. But Lily, who tells a friend that all of the dinners, the parties, the clothing are part of the "business," seems incapable of making the choices that will keep her in business.
"But the luxury of others was not what she wanted. A few years ago it had sufficed her; she had taken her daily meed of pleasure without caring who provided it. Now she was beginning to chafe at the obligations it imposed, to feel herself a mere pensioner on the splendour which had once seemed to belong to her."

Lily presents at the beginning of The House of Mirth as a young woman with a strong self-knowledge. But as the book progresses, it becomes apparent that Lily is a woman torn between the things she believes will bring her happiness. She desperately wants to be wealthy, yet she scorns the wealthy. She often believes she will give it all up to marry the man she loves but she cannot help herself from pushing him away. Almost from the start it becomes apparent that Lily is self-destructive, money her drug of choice. Lily is unwilling to make the choices that will allow her to regain her place among her former friends and unable to make the choices which will allow her to live happily in altered circumstance. Time and again Lily finds herself caught in situations she cannot control, where she has not grasped the ramifications of her choices, and her social status plunges as one by one her so-called friends abandon her.
"Sometimes," she [friend Mrs. Fisher] added, "I think it's just flightiness - and sometimes I think it's because, at heart, she despises the things she's trying for. And it's the difficulty of deciding that makes her such an interesting study."
Edith Wharton is known for her ability to shine a bright light the very society in which she lived. Wharton, who made a socially acceptable but ultimately unhappy union, may have used that experience as a jumping off point for The House of Mirth, exploring what might happen if a young woman had the option to choose between society and love. In Lily Bart Wharton has created a character who could just as easily be dropped into a contemporary novel. Certainly there are women to this day who face the same choices that Lily faced.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sunday Salon - June 10

The Big Guy was out of town all last week. Even with Armchair BEA going on, you would have thought that would have left me plenty of free time to read and that I'd have lots of great bookish things to talk about today. You'd be wrong. For some reason, Miss H decided that while Dad was gone, we two girls should spend all of my non-working hours hanging out. I'm never going to turn down the chance to hang out with one of my kids when they want to spend time with me. I know I'm very lucky that we are so close - they are all three interesting, loving and fun people to be around. Dang, we done good!

This weekend was Omaha's Summer Arts Festival. The library system always has a big tent with books for sale. Usually these are the same as the regular weekly prices - $1.50 for hardcover and trade paperbacks. On Sunday at the festival, it's half price day but even at that price, we didn't necessarily want to haul books around the festival and heaven knows we didn't need any more books. Then a lady came around with a deal we couldn't refuse. If you bought a library bag for $1, that was your cost for as many books as you could fit in the bag. Well, of course we couldn't pass that up! We each picked up four books. I got Angela Carter's Wise Children, A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book, P.D. James' Death In Holy Borders and E.L. Doctorow's Billy Bathgate. The Big Guy added two more E.L. Doctorow books to our collection, The Waterworks and The City of God, as well as Glenn Meade's Brandenburg and Elmore Leonard's Road. Now I just have to convince The Big Guy that we need to turn the t.v. off and read, read, read!

What are you reading this week? Have you added any new books to your shelves this week?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Armchair BEA - Asking The Experts

Thanks to all of the organizers of Armchair BEA - what a tremendous job they've done! I've added some new blogs to my reader (as if I could keep up with it as it was). For you non-bloggers, starting Sunday I'll return to normal programming but for this last day of Armchair BEA it's our chance to ask the experts or offer tips. Even though I've been blogging for over three years now, I certainly don't consider myself an expert. I still have so much I want to learn about working with the blog itself. So I'm going to take this opportunity to ask a question:

I've been toying with the idea of moving to WordPress. Realistically how hard is that to do with limited HTML knowledge and is it worth it? I have a fear I could end up spending the entire summer trying to do this and then find myself just dealing with new problems instead of making my life easier.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Armchair BEA - Beyond The Blog

Today the organizers of Armchair BEA have asked us to share our top tips for getting beyond our blogs. Sadly, I have none. Two years ago, I kind of stumbled across the opportunity to write for a local news/human interest/events website. I was writing more or less monthly columns about reading and the local book community. And then last year happened. It was the year from hell and I found that I not only didn't have the time to write the column, I had no inspiration to do it. I miss it - and one of these days I'm going to make myself take the time to write again. If you're interested in writing, you might look for a local website like mine ( and see if they're looking for writers. It's a great opportunity to spread your writing wings.

One of the topics that came up in this discussion of things "beyond the blog" is monetizing our blogs. There are some excellent blogs out there that have advertising or are sponsored by businesses. I've had the opportunity to monetize my blog in that way; it would be wonderful to earn money for something I'm doing anyway. But. Once someone is paying me, I would feel obligated to produce content on a regular basis and to really work to pump up my numbers. I just don't want to do that. For now, this blog is mine. If I don't want to or don't have time to post more than twice in a week well then, I don't. I don't worry that I'm letting anyone down. 

What I'd most like to find the time to do again is write for me, to journal, to write short stories, to get back to the novel I was working on a few years back. I don't know that I have what it takes to be published. The more I read, the less confidence I have in my own writing; on the other hand, the more I read, the more I think that there is room out there for great stories and I think I can do that.Who knows, maybe one day I'll be reading reviews of my own book on book blogs!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

So Much For That by Lionel Shriver

So Much For That by Lionel Shriver
Published March 2011 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: Bought this one for book club

Shep Knacker has been saving for all of his married life for The Afterlife, a time when he and his family will just pack up and move onto a life somewhere else, some place where they won't have to work at jobs they don't like, some place far away from the life they have led. And he doesn't want to wait until normal retirement, he wants to do it while he's still young enough to enjoy it. The family has never gone on vacations, they've gone on research trips and Shep has amassed a wealth of knowledge about all of the places they've investigated. To prepare for The Afterlife, Shep and his wife, Glynnis, have sold their home and he has sold his business and for seven years Shep has been waiting and planning for the day to arrive when they will leave. But Glynnis has never fully signed on to the plan, something that has annoyed Shep but has never stopped him from planning. Just when Shep has decided he is leaving for the island he has finally settled on, with or without Glynnis and their son, Glynnis announces that she has mesothelioma, an extremely rare and extremely deadly form of cancer.

Despite his obsession with The Afterlife, Shep has always been the one that did the right thing, that made sure everyone was taken care of, particularly financially. So he is not about to leave Glynnis to fight this battle on her own. Particularly now that she needs him to keep working for the schmuck that bought his company so she can have the health insurance she so desperately needs.

I am sorry to say that I foisted this one off on the Omaha Bookworms. When another member and I couldn't talk them into reading Shriver's We Need To Talk About Kevin because the subject matter frightened them off, I suggested with we at least try another Shriver novel. I owe them all an apology. This book is too long, it has too many subplots, Shriver tries too hard to make the reader angry (okay, on this she succeeds) and I'd be surprised to find anyone who cared about any of the characters.

The Knackers have a best friend who is just angry about everything - he is forever ranting about one thing or another. In fact, there is hardly a subject of interest when it comes to public interest that Shriver doesn't have Jackson raving about. So I'm certain that her intent is to fire up her reader. But I just found him ridiculous, just as he wife, his friends and his coworkers did. If it's that bad, do something to try to change it.

I also couldn't figure out if Shriver had just not done a very good job researching health insurance or if she had deliberately chosen to give the Knackers the worst possible health insurance on the planet. I've been working in insurance for more than a dozen years as well as having dealt with that many different health plans over the years personally; and I have never encountered a plan where you could eat through half a million dollars in a year. Never. First of all, the providers wouldn't expect it to all be paid that quickly. Secondly, I have never seen a plan without an out-of-pocket maximum, which would limit the liability of the insured. If you actually had a group plan as bad as the one the Knackers had, there was no point in holding onto a job just for the insurance.

I had to force myself through this one and only did that so I would be able to discuss it with my group. Skip this one - read We Need To Talk About Kevin instead. It is painful in a way that will stick with you and make you want to talk about it with everyone who reads it. This one was painful in a way that just made me want to forget about it.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Armchair BEA - The Best of 2012

Today for Armchair BEA we're highlighting our favorite books from 2012 and those that are being promoted at BEA that we're hoping will become favorites. If you look above, you'll see that I've got a tab for my favorites - unfortunately I notice that it hasn't been updated in some time. True, I haven't finished a lot of books in the past couple of months but I have just added a couple of books to the list. Hands down, my favorite book of the year was Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. The biggest surprise for me this year was Whatever You Love which I didn't know a lot about going in but couldn't put down (well, except for that part where I threw the book across the room!). My favorites for this year are a good indication of the mix of reading I do; the ten books listed include three non-fiction books, two classics, and a mix of current fiction and historical fiction. Of course, looking at the books I've got coming up to read yet this year, this list is bound to change.

Looking forward, I'm definitely seeing some titles from BEA that look like they have the potential to make my list:

Chanel Bonfire: A Memoir by Wendy Lawless
NW: A Novel by Zadie Smith
City of Women by David Gillman
Marmee and Louisa by Eve LaPlante
Killing The Poormaster by Holly Metz
The Caliph's Splendor by Benson Bobrick
The Inventor and The Tycoon by Edward Ball
The Bronte Sisters by Catherine Reef
Custer by Larry McMurtry
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

Looking forward to seven more months of great reading! What are you looking forward to?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Armchair BEA - Introductions

It's that time of year again - when bloggers nationwide start buzzing about Book Expo America being held this week in New York City. Much as we'd all love to be there (maybe next year!), most of us won't be. Thanks to some amazing bloggers, we'll still get to share in some of the fun with Armchair BEA. Hopefully I won't bore all of those who aren't bloggers but I'm going to get out my pictures of New York City from my honeymoon and pretend like I'm there this week learning about all of the upcoming books and listening to authors, publishers and other bloggers take books!

The organizers of Armchair BEA have asked us to share a little about ourselves to kick off the week:

I'm a wife, mom, reader, and lazy gardener who loves movies, music, and entertaining. I got into blogging as a way to record my thoughts on books, interact with other readers and to learn something new. I can't believe I've been blogging for three years already!

One of my favorite features on my blog is Fairy Tale Fridays. It's been largely missing for a few months recently due to a Bleak House readalong and other life events but it's making a comeback next week. It was inspired by the Omaha LitFest a couple of years ago and might focus on new books or movies, fairy tale authors or illustrators, or it may be a review of new or classic fairy tales...or both. I can't wait to pull out my books again!

My reading tastes have not necessarily changed since I started blogging but they have certainly expanded and I push myself to read more of the things that used to be on the fringe of my reading. I definitely read more nonfiction, although that has as much to do with having had more time to listen to NPR in the past few years. Blogging certainly has opened my eyes to books from all over the world as I've been exposed to new books and "met" new people from all over the world.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Published in the U.S. September 2008 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing
Source: my copy courtesy of my parents

Carl Mikeal Blomkvist, a journalist facing prison time after an article he wrote for his magazine gets him convicted of libeling a wealthy businessman, has just been offered a most unusual job. Under the guise of writing a novel about his family, Henrick Vanger has hired Blomkvist to find the killer of his beloved niece. There are a few problems with the assignment - it means Blomkvist has to go live on the Swedish island most of the older members of the Vanger clan call home, no body was ever found, the girl went missing 30 years ago, and most of the family doesn't want the old man's obsession humored.

Lisbeth Salander is a 24-year-old computer hacker/private investigator who is hired by Vanger's lawyer to investigate Blomvkist before he is hired and who soon finds herself drawn into the case as well as into Blomvkist's life.

Blomkvist certainly has some moral-compass issues, sleeping his way through the book. Surprisingly, this didn't really seem to bother me as much as it probably should have. On the other hand, here is a guy who is greatly concerned with uncovering corruption and he does genuinely seem to have a soft spot for the women he is involved with.

Lizbeth Salander is one of the most profoundly damaged characters I've found in a book. Truly horrible things have happened to her all of her life so she may be forgiven for being a person who is utterly incapable of connecting with others and who has a major anger control problem.

Strangely, both of these characters managed to make me truly care about them. This despite, or maybe because, I'd already seen the Swedish adaptations of the books and knew more about these characters than someone who has just picked up the books knows as they are reading.

There were some very strange things about the writing of this book that made me think "whaaaa." Very detailed descriptions of particular computer models, an actual website address. These were things that had no purpose in the book and, frankly, will date the book in no time. There are so many characters in the book that someone (Larsson? his editor? the publisher?) thought a family tree at the front of the book was needed. Even then I had to make my own so that I could make notes about the characters and be able to track who was who without having to flip back and forth. Sure, the more characters, the greater the mystery. But did we really need to know about the Vanger family four or five generations back? A less compelling story line might not have survived being burdened with all of this. Fortunately for Larrson, he was able to craft a compelling plot with enough mystery to keep the reader guessing.

Larsson definitely created a unique set of characters to set up this series and I definitely got wrapped up in the story but I'm not sure that I "got" what made this book an international sensation over other books about serial killers. That being said, I'm eager to move onto the next book in the series.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sunday Salon - June 3

What a lovely weekend we've had after a week that was cool enough it found me pulling out a turtleneck to wear to work on Friday. I would love to have had time yesterday to sit out on the patio yesterday and read - may yet find time for that today. We're hoping to get my great-nieces over to play this afternoon and if that happens, there will be no reading time for me!

Speaking of little people, check out these book-based cakes! When my kids were younger, I used to pride myself on making great birthday cakes but none of them held a candle to these! Of course, these are all made by bakeries - where they have all the great tools right at hand and no toddlers under foot.

We were cleaning Miss H's room yesterday (who knew, she has a floor and a walk-in closet!) and discovered her babysitting bag full of great kids books. She hasn't done any babysitting for a while so I suppose it would make sense to get rid of those books but I have such a hard time getting rid of beloved children's book. Much harder for me to do that than to part with the books I've read.

Here's a new children's book by Daniel Pinkwater I just discovered called Mrs. Noodlekugel. It's just the kind  of book I would have loved for my kids. I'm thinking maybe Christmas gifts - I love to give books to the little kids. Found this one on Boing Boing, reviewed by Cory Doctorow. He does a lot of reviews and other articles there. If you're into largely unusual kinds of reads and interesting nerdy things, Boing Boing is a great site with very good writing.

I'm reading Equal of the Sun this week for a TLC Book Tour and I'm hoping to get started on this month's Omaha Bookworms selection as well. What are you reading this week?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Summer Reading Plan

I've been seeing summer reading lists popping up all over the internet and thought it might be a good idea to put one together to keep myself on track. Oh sure, I have  a calendar with all of my reading commitments on it but it would be so easy to become distracted on a beautiful summer evening!

I've got three books to read this summer for the Omaha Bookworms Book Club. First up is Douglas Coupland's Generation A. This one is certainly out of my usual comfort zone but that's part of the beauty of being in a book club. For July we're reading Lucy Ferriss' The Lost Daughter which was recommended by Mari of Bookworm With A View. We finish up the summer with Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove, which one of our members has been raving about for years. Again, this one is not something I would usually pick up but who knows, maybe I'll discover a new genre I love.

The books I need to review this summer include:
Dead Beautiful by Melanie Dugan (reviewing June 13)
Equal of the Sun by Anita Amirrezvani (reviewing June 18)
My Dear I Wanted To Tell You by Louisa Young (reviewing June 27)
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (reviewing July 5) - author of The Financial Lives of the Poets
The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay (reviewing July 17) - author of The Birth House
The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey (reviewing July 19)
The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar (reviewing August 6) - author of The Space Between Us
The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy (reviewing August 27)

I'm thinking I also need to read one book that screams "summer read" in the next three months. I think that will be J. Courtney Sullivan's Maine which I had hoped to read last summer but never got to. I'd also like to work on a couple of books for challenges. Perhaps a re-read of Jane Eyre which will count toward the Gilmore Girls Challenge as well as being a great accompaniment to The Flight of Gemma Hardy. I think something light to fill out the schedule as well, perhaps a re-read of The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood for the Gilmore Girls Challenge. That looks like a ridiculous lot of reading for a person that has almost no vacation time yet. Hmm, we'll just have to see how willing I am to abandon housework this summer!