Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Goodbye 2013; Hello 2014

Seriously? 2013 is over? Well, then I suppose it's time to think over the year that has been and start looking forward to the coming year.

2013 was a strange reading year for me filled with a lot of great books but also several spells of reading malaise. I met my Goodreads goal of 75 books for the year but that was a number I adjusted earlier this year when 80 started to look unreachable. I put a dent in my reading time when I started, for the first time in my life, working out regularly. So far I haven't been able to read and walk at the same time.

I did better on challenges this year than I have in the past. I completed the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge and Audio Books Reading Challenge months ago. I finished the Foodies Read 2013 Challenge, the Books-To-Movie Challenge and the War Through The Generations Challenge. I was one book short of completing the What's In A Name Challenge and probably could have raced to read that last book but opted not to do that. On the other hand, I fell far short of my goal in the Mount TBR Challenge (25 of 36 books) and bombed the Telling Tale Challenge (1 of 10) when I all but stopped reading fairy tales this year.

So, 2014, here you are right around the corner and, as usual, goals must be set and challenges issued.

For challenges, I'll once again be joining the Historical Fiction, Audio Books, Foodies Read, What's In A Name and War Through The Generations Challenges. I'm also adding the Women Challenge #2 and the Chunkster Challenge. You'll notice I've not signed up for any of the TBR challenges; not because I'm not planning on trying to read more books from my own shelves but because I'm going to try to go at that a different way this year. The Chunkster Challenge will take care of some of the TBR issue - I have a lot of big books I already own ready for this one. I also need to concentrate on the five-year Classics Challenge and all of the books on that list are books I already own.

My reading goals for 2014 are:

1. Limit the number of books I accept for review. This one's going to be hard; every day there are interesting books coming to my attention. But I'd like my reading to consist of no more than two books for review every month and I've already got quite a backlog to work through as it is.

2. Read at least 12 non-fiction books in 2014.

3. Read at least 15 books for the Classics Challenge.

4. Read at least 20 books written by authors from or set in countries other than the U.S.

5. Get back to my beloved fairy tales - Fairy Tale Fridays will return at least once a month.

6. Give myself permission to give up on books that aren't working for me.

The thing I'm most looking forward to in 2014 is making reading fun - after all, that's what made me a reader in the first place!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Dames and Daughters of Colonial Days by Geraldine Brooks

Dames and Daughters of Colonial Days by Geraldine Brooks
Published April 2005 by Kessinger Publishers
Source: the copy I read was loaned to me by my mom

Publisher's Summary:
These narrative sketches of certain dames and daughters of our colonial days are designed to illustrate the different types, epochs and sections that made up our early American history. Contents: Anne Hutchinson, of Boston, Founder of the First Woman's Club in America; Frances Mary Jacqueline La Tour, the Defender of Fort La Tour; Margaret Brent, the Woman Ruler of Maryland; Madam Sarah Knight, a Colonial Traveller; Eliza Lucas, of Charleston, afterwards Wife of Chief-Justice Charles Pinckney; Martha Washington, of Mount Vernon, Wife of General George Washington; Abigail Adams, Wife of John Adams and Mother of John Quincy Adams; Elizabeth Schuyler, of Albany, afterwards Wife of Alexander Hamilton; and Sarah Wister and Deborah Norris, Two Quaker Friends of Philadelphia.

My Thoughts:
Yes, that Geraldine Brooks. A lady who knows how to do historical research and tell a story. So, despite the less than interesting cover of this book, I was eager to find out which women Brooks had chosen to write about.

I read the Preface, really I did, which clearly states that these are narrative sketches and doesn't make any claim to having chosen women of particular merit. Yet, somehow, that's not what I expected once I started reading. Throughout the book, I was continually surprised by the storytelling writing style and kept waiting for Brooks to tell me what made this particular woman worth writing about. Because I didn't get what I was expecting, I must admit that I was disappointed by the book; if I'd been paying better attention, I'm certain I would have enjoyed it more.

There are absolutely women here whose place in history is notable: Anne Hutchinson who formed the  first women's club in the colonies (for which she was banished), Martha Washington, Abigail Adams (wife of one president and mother of another), and Elizabeth Schuyler (who married Alexander Hamilton). An equal number of women here are included specifically chosen because their lives represent a particular period of colonial development and are well documented through diaries and letters.

I knew of Anne Hutchinson from reading Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates earlier this year and was interested to read more about this remarkable woman who was not afraid to speak her mind even when those she most respected turned against her. I discovered Margaret Brent who was the first woman so claim a woman's right to sit and vote in a legislative assembly. Perhaps the woman who most grabbed my attention as Madam Sarah Knight nee Kemble. Kemble is my maiden name, a name you'll rarely see any where. Of course this means that I'm now bound to try to learn more about Ms. Kemble Knight!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Life: It Goes On - December 29

Hoping that those of you who celebrate Christmas all enjoyed yours!

Ours was a bit unusual this year as we worked around the kids' schedules and had our first Christmas without The Big Guy's mom. But we managed to fit in everyone, had a lot of fun, and took some time to remember Grandma. We were well and truly spoiled (as usual!), including the cats who may have been most excited about a pile of tissue paper.

There were some moments which I particularly enjoyed: the candlelight portion of the Christmas Eve service at the church I grew up in (especially when one member sings a verse of "Silent Night" in the original German), the five of us gathered around the table enjoying a Christmas Day brunch, and the chance to watch my son teach the teacher how to use his new iPad. My kids have learned so much from their grandpa over the years; it was fun to see Mini-him get a chance to give back a little.

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: Nothing at the moment - the kids are a work and BG is off to run errands. It is blissfully quiet.

Watching: We watched very little television this week that wasn't football or Christmas programming.

Reading: Finally finished my book for the War Through The Generations challenge and now I'm reading/listening to I Am Madame X and should finish both it and The Secret Garden in the next couple of days.

Making: Homemade tomato soup and ham for BG's family Christmas and french toast casserole and egg casseroles for our Christmas day brunch.

Planning: On upping the workouts in January and rethinking (NOT dieting) my eating. A date has been set for my nephew's wedding and I've set a weight loss goal for that. I'll soon be begging for delicious, healthy recipes!

Grateful for: My mom and sister-in-law for hosting our family get-togethers. It's a lot of work for both of them and we are all grateful to have a place to be together where we feel so welcome.

Loving: Ssshhh - don't tell anyone but I'm kind of loving Christmas being over. It's all a little overwhelming leading up to those couple of days and I'm looking forward to getting back into a routine.

Feeling: Blessed to have families we love so much. We sometimes take for granted families who, by and large, get along so well and are fun to be around. Christmas is a good reminder that we are very fortunate.

Thinking: Today will be all about getting those New Years cards written. Yeah, I totally decided I was not even going to try to get cards out before Christmas.

Looking forward to: Another short work week, a lot of football, and, hopefully, a lot of down time with some good books in the next week. What are you looking forward to?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
Gave a lustre of midday to objects below,
When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blixen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"
As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the housetop the coursers they flew
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too—
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,

Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;

He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Good Year by Peter Mayle

A Good Year by Peter Mayle
Published June 2005 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: my audiobook purchased at my local library book sale
Narrated by Ben Chaplin

Publisher's Summary:
Max Skinner has recently lost his job at a London financial firm and just as recently learned that he has inherited his late uncle’s vineyard in Provence. On arrival he finds the climate delicious, the food even better, and two of the locals ravishing. Unfortunately, the wine produced on his new property is swill. Why then are so many people interested in it? Enter a beguiling Californian who knows more about wine than Max does–and may have a better claim to the estate.

Peter Mayle
My Thoughts:
I happened to catch the movie adaptation of this last year and was charmed enough by it that I watched it again this year when it happened to be on t.v. Still, despite having the same title as the movie, I didn't put this book and the movie together when I found the book. I just assumed it was another memoir and having enjoyed Mayle's A Year In Provence I imagined I'd enjoy it.

I wasn't far into the first disc before I realized what I was listening to. And this made me very happy. What made me even happier was actor Ben Chaplin's narrating - a British accent always goes a long way with me but he also did a fine job differentiating the voices and with the multiple female voices which is often tough for male narrators. Sadly, this appears to be the only book he's narrated.

Narrator Ben Chaplin
The book focuses much more on the wine produced on the vineyard and the intrigue surrounding it than the movie did which had its focus more an the sexual tension between Max and one of the local lovelies and his relationship with the Californian who showed up on the doorstep of the French property. Perhaps if I'd read the book first, I would have taken exception to the changes made in the movie, but in reverse order they seemed just fine. They probably made for a better movie but they would not necessarily have made for a good book whereas the book was more interesting with a bit of a crime caper as its focus. I recommend both the book and the movie for light fun.

Interestingly, I turned on CBS Sunday Morning this week to discover that they had a story about wine scams amongst wine collectors which tied right in with this book. I had thought of it as simply a plot device but clearly Mayle based his story on fact. You just never know when you'll learn something new in your reading!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Life: It Goes On - December 22

Celebrating the second day of my five day weekend - love having these three days before the holidays to get things done without completely losing my mind trying to do it. This morning I'll finish up the last of the presents I'm making and then the wrapping will begin.

So hoping that all of you who are getting the terrible weather this weekend are staying safe and for those that celebrate Christmas, I hope you can get to where you need to be to spend time with those you love. We have just enough snow on the ground to give the feel of a white Christmas but the roads should be good and we're looking forward to being with our families.
Here's What I'm:

Listening To: Neal & Leandra's "Angels & Fools" - lovely Christmas music. Very upset that my other Neal & Leandra Christmas CD seems to have vanished. Must scour CD collection!

Watching: I do believe I have now watched all but a couple of versions of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." Thanks, TCM! Since I own the George C. Scott version, I'll be watching that one today.

Reading: Finishing up Dames & Daughters of Colonial Days this week for a challenge then I'll start The Girl Who Played With Fire, also for a challenge.

Making: Blankets! One for Miss H and three for our niece's children. But no ties this year! I about crippled my hand last year cutting those darn things on so many blankets. I doubt anyone will miss them.

Planning: On spending the next couple of days getting things wrapped up then I 'm looking forward to the next couple of weeks with minimal days of work and lots of time to enjoy family and relax.

Grateful for: Traditions - with flexibility. As much as we all look forward to the things that we do every year, I so appreciate my parents' understanding that this year things will just have to be a bit different since two of my kids have to cut short Christmas Eve to work.

Loving: The Big Guy and I drove around the other night to look at Christmas lights. So many pretty displays...and a two-story tall inflatable Santa!

Feeling: More relaxed than I have in years heading into this time of year.

Thinking: Of making homemade cat treats. Have I lost my mind or am I really turning into one of those crazy cat ladies?!

Looking forward to:  Family time!

Wishing all of you who celebrate it, a very merry Christmas!

Friday, December 20, 2013

2013 - A Year of Books In Review

It's that time of year again, time that finds us looking back on the year that's been.

While I haven't read as many books as I would like to have this year, I certainly have read a lot of books that have stayed with me. In fact, it's very difficult for me to narrow it down to just ten overall. So I won't. Instead, here are my favorite fiction, non-fiction and audiobooks for 2013. Some you will see under both fiction and audiobooks as they deserve a spot for both the writing and the reading.


The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield -
City of Women by David Gillham
A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash
The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein
The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Night Film by Marisha Peitl
Looking For Me by Beth Hoffman


Moranthology by Caitlin Moran
Prague Winter by Madeleine Albright
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen
Half The Sky by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn


The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
City of Women by David Gillham
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
A Good Year by Peter Mayle

I find I've done a lot of traveling through reading this year - quite of lot of time spent in England, France and Italy but I've also visited China, Japan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the former Yugoslavia, Germany, Russia, Belgium, Chile, Afghanistan, Holland, Australia, Czechoslovakia, and much of the African continent. One of my favorite things about reading is learning about other people and places and this has been a banner year.

My favorite fiction reads this year tended to be character driven, although plenty of plot-driven novels piqued my interest (Under The Dome, Gone Girl, and Night Film). I spent almost as much time in the past as I did in the present. My experience with audiobooks was mixed which I find had as much to do with the narrator as it did with the story.

I've had better luck with getting through challenges than usual although I'm still working on a couple of them as the year runs down.

As always happens when I'm looking back at a year, my thoughts start to stray to the coming year. More next week on what I'm looking forward to in 2014!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Perfect by Rachel Joyce

Perfect by Rachel Joyce
Published January 2014 by Random House
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Byron Hemmings wakes to a morning that looks like any other: his school uniform draped over his wooden desk chair, his sister arguing over the breakfast cereal, the click of his mother’s heels as she crosses the kitchen. But when the three of them leave home, driving into a dense summer fog, the morning takes an unmistakable turn. In one terrible moment, something happens, something completely unexpected and at odds with life as Byron understands it. While his mother seems not to have noticed, eleven-year-old Byron understands that from now on nothing can be the same.

What happened and who is to blame? Over the days and weeks that follow, Byron’s perfect world is shattered. Unable to trust his parents, he confides in his best friend, James, and together they concoct a plan. . . .

My Thoughts:
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was one of the surprise hits of 2012, charming and intimate, and thoughtful. With Perfect Rachel Joyce again brings her readers an intimate, thoughtful story but Perfect is more sad than charming and there is a much greater sense of tension underlying the story.

Joyce moves her story back and forth in time between the story of Byron, his mother and friend James and the story of Jim, an adult with severe mental illness thrown out of the institution he has called home for most of forty years when the government shuts it down. Both stories are full of interesting characters but it was somewhat difficult to become attached to many of them because they are hiding so much throughout the book some of which is never fully revealed. That may be intentional - we never truly do know everything about the people we know. I sometimes wanted to shake Diana, Byron and James who continued to misread situations and do the wrong thing but, again, this is probably much more realistic and certainly was integral to the story line.

Joyce's writing style clearly stakes her books in the England, full of descriptions of the land and mannerisms of speech that are unique to the area. She can get a bit wordy and I sometimes had to go back and reread passages because of the phrasing but, overall, I enjoy Joyce's writing, her ability to create characters who are at once interesting and common.

Perfect is a book that will make readers think - about the secrets we keep, about trying to fit in, about hidden motivations, about mental illness. This would make a good book for book club discussions. And any book that can make me think is a winner in my book. For more opinions about Perfect, check out the full TLC Book Tour.

Rachel Joyce is the author of the international bestseller The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. She is also the award-winning writer of more than twenty plays for BBC Radio 4. She started writing after a twenty-year acting career, in which she performed leading roles for the Royal Shakespeare Company and won multiple awards. Rachel Joyce lives with her family on a Gloucestershire farm.

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

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Life: It Goes On - December 15

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas! Just today put the final touches on the Christmas decorating. Every year I do things just a little differently which always means I spend a lot of time looking at what I've got and thinking about how I can use it to keep things fresh. That darn Pinterest isn't helping speed things up!

Yesterday I baked the first of the Christmas cookies and today made the first of the candies. Today I'll also bake the sugar cookies that we'll decorate as a family. The rest will have to wait until I get through all of the gift making. One more gift to buy and my shopping will be done although I'm bound to end up helping the kids with their shopping.

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: Peter Mayle's A Good Year which I was surprised to discover (despite the fact that the same name should have clued me in!) was the basis for the movie by the same name starring Russell Crowe which I watched earlier this year for Paris In July.

Also, I finally turned on the Christmas station on the radio and broke out the Christmas CD's at home. As much as I love the music, I get so tired of it by the time Christmas rolls around if I start listening to it too early.

Watching: We rented Life of Pi this week and have been calling our big male cat Richard Parker ever since. What a beautiful and thought provoking movie. I'm thinking I really need to get around to reading the book soon - maybe before the end of the year.

Reading: Rachel Joyce's Perfect for an upcoming TLC book tour. Her writing is as charming as it was in The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry but there is a much great tension in this one.

Making: I finished my secret project Friday night. Since it is something that had to be designed and then ordered, I don't know what the finished product looks like yet and it's making me a little twitchy. I got the material for fleece blankets last week but have yet to start making them.

Planning:  On finishing the books about their parents for the Big Guy's siblings this week.

Grateful for: All of the help BG's been giving me with the Christmas shopping this year.

Loving: The aroma in my house right now. I'm simmering a pan of apple slices, cinnamon, cloves, orange peel. Yum!

Photo rights - Nile Kemble
Feeling: Very excited for my nephew - he graduated yesterday from the University of Missouri but even more exciting is the fact that he proposed to his girlfriend Friday night. She is a real sweetie and we are all thrilled to welcome her, officially, into our family!

Thinking: Christmas is going to be very different this year with my kids' crazy work schedules. Do. Not. Like. I have five days off; a couple of them have little more than 24 hours.

Looking forward to: Celebrating Mini-me's birthday tomorrow. After the scare with had this year, it's an extra special day. He and I will meet to go shopping then all five of us with have lunch together and frost Christmas cookies. It's going to be a good day!

What are you looking forward to this week?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Under The Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

Under The Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
Published September 1996 by Chronicle Books
Source: audiobook purchased at my local library book sale
Narrated by: Frances Mayes

Publisher's Summary:
Buying a villa in the spectacular Italian countryside is a wonderful fantasy -- even if 17 rooms and a garden in need of immediate loving care are included in the asking price. Frances Mayes -- gourmet cook, widely published travel writer, and poet -- changed her life by doing just that. Sprinkled liberally with delicious recipes for inspired Italian dishes, amusing anecdotes about the risks of being your own contractor, and a savvy traveler's reminiscences, Under the Tuscan Sun is Mayes's enchanting account of her love affair with Tuscany: of scouring the neighborhood for the perfect panettone and the perfect plumber; of mornings spent cultivating her garden, and afternoons spent enjoying its fruits in leisurely lunches on the terrace; of jaunts through the hill towns in search of renowned wines; and the renewal not only of a house, but also of the spirit.

My Thoughts: 
First off, Under The Tuscan Sun the book is definitely not Under The Tuscan Sun the movie. It took me the better part of the first CD of this audiobook to get over that. True, the movie is no great masterpiece but it has a charm I enjoy. Plus, it's what I was expecting with the exception of a few changes they had made that annoyed the heck out of the people who read the book before they watched the movie. The truth of the matter is that no matter which order you took these two in, you were in for a shock. There was almost nothing left of the book by the time they made the movie. An American woman buys a house in a small Tuscan village that needs a tremendous amount of work. Polish workers, an owl in a storm, a man that leaves flowers every day at a shrine in the wall around her property - that's about as much as the movie and the book have in common. No ugly divorce, no Italian lover, no lesbian friend who shows up pregnant.

Instead Mayes and her husband bought the house and fixed it up over a number of years, the better part of which they spend in San Francisco where they both have jobs. Over the next few years, they will learn that things operate just a little differently in a country where three hour naps in the middle of the day are the norm, that it's still possible to celebrate a Christmas is more spiritual than commercial, and that living off the land will reap rewards that far exceed the work involved. The Mayes' loved Italy before they ever bought Bramasole; in Under The Tuscan Sun Mayes' reveals how the wine, the land, the people, the history, and the food made them fall in love with the village of Cortona.

I've become convinced, over time, that authors make the best narrators for their books. After all, who would know better just how the writer was hearing the words as he or she wrote them? Mayes certainly would as well; unfortunately, she isn't the best person to read them, at least not for me. There was something jarring about hearing a Southern voice talk about Italy I suppose and Mayes' voice is not the soothing Southern voice that can lull me into loosing track of time. Her style of reading is surprisingly hard, in fact. I seriously thought about just picking up the book and giving up on the audiobook. But I had time in the car to "read" the book; not as easy to find that time when not driving so I soldiered on and I got more used to Mayes' reading. I would, however, recommend reading her books rather than listening to them.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen
Published April 2013 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: my copy purchased for book club

Publisher's Summary:
In this irresistible memoir, Anna Quindlen writes about a woman’s life, from childhood memories to manic motherhood to middle age, using the events of her life to illuminate ours. Considering—and celebrating—everything from marriage, girlfriends, our mothers, parenting, faith, loss, to all the stuff in our closets, and more, Quindlen says for us here what we may wish we could have said ourselves. As she did in her beloved New York Times columns, and in A Short Guide to a Happy Life, Quindlen uses her past, present, and future to explore what matters most to women at different ages. Quindlen talks about:

Marriage: “A safety net of small white lies can be the bedrock of a successful marriage. You wouldn’t believe how cheaply I can do a kitchen renovation.”

Girlfriends: “Ask any woman how she makes it through the day, and she may mention her calendar, her to-do lists, her babysitter. But if you push her on how she really makes it through her day, she will mention her girlfriends. ”

Our bodies: “I’ve finally recognized my body for what it is: a personality-delivery system, designed expressly to carry my character from place to place, now and in the years to come.”

Parenting: “Being a parent is not transactional. We do not get what we give. It is the ultimate pay-it-forward endeavor: We are good parents not so they will be loving enough to stay with us but so they will be strong enough to leave us.”

Candid, funny, and moving, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake is filled with the sharp insights and revealing observations that have long confirmed Quindlen’s status as America’s laureate of real life.

My Thoughts:
I cannot wait to discuss this book with the Omaha Bookworms tonight and I am so hoping that we'll get a good turnout. For us a good turnout will mean us we'll have ladies any where from their mid-thirties to sixty and I'm eager to see what ladies of different ages think about it. I am just eight years younger than Quindlen so most of what she has to say resonants with me. I'm sure that the ladies that are closer to Quindlen's age are even more likely to be able to relate to what she has to say, particularly when she writes about aging and mortality.

When she writes about parenting, Quindlen writes about not only what it's like to be a parent but how parenting has changed and how her own perceptions about her mother and grandmother have changed over time. It can't help but make readers revisit the say they felt about their mothers growing up, especially if you grew up in the time when mothers stayed home and raised their children. It didn't take reading Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake for me to appreciate all that my mom did for me, including letting me have much more freedom than I thought I had. But Quindlen did make me stop and consider what my mom gave up when she had children.

Quindlen also writes about her faith, solitude, and the stuff we all have. All of it comes off as if you were having a conversation with a friend over a cup of coffee.
"Perhaps only when we've made our peace with our own shelves can we really be the kind of friends who listen, advise, but don't judge, or not too harshly."
Ms. Quindlen seems to have made peace with herself. In Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, she is becoming a friend to all women, sharing what she has learned with all of us.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Life: It Goes On - December 8

Every year I set myself a schedule of things I need to get done in December before the holidays. I never build in a couple of days to be sick and yet every year I seem to get catch a cold that knocks me out for a few crucial days. You'd think I'd learn to just plan on that happening! Woke up with a cold Friday and the very productive weekend I'd planned has been completely tossed on its head. I have gotten quite a bit of reading done, though!

I have stuffed tissue up my nose (sorry for that visual!) and plugged away on the decorating. I've done some new things this year which is always fun but makes the whole process take longer. Everything is up now but I still need to decorate the tree. Honestly, it's my least favorite job, although I think this is largely my own fault because it has to be just so and therefore takes much longer to do than it should!

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: I continue to listen to Under The Tuscan Sun and, although I'm still not enjoying the narration, I've gotten over the fact that it's not like the movie and am enjoying it for what it is.

Watching: It's definitely winter - our movie rentals have resumed and we're catching up on all of the Oscar nominated movies from last year we never saw. This week we've seen Lincoln (incredible acting), Django Unchained (interesting story but if you don't like blood, pass on it), and Life of Pi (cinematically amazing).

Reading: This week I read Anna Quindlen's Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake which I'll review this week and can't wait to discuss with the Bookworms this week. It's a book I would recommend to all women of a certain age. I've started Rachel Joyce's Perfect for an upcoming TLC book tour. With Christmas gifts to make, though, I'm not sure how much more reading I'll get done this year when I'm done with that one.

Making: This week I'll start making fleece blankets for the great-nieces and nephews...again. Apparently they were such a big hit last year that the kids want more. Which warms an auntie's heart but definitely means my reading time will take a hit. Also have another project to work on but it will have to stay top secret until after the holidays.

Planning: On getting started this week with Christmas baking. The kids love to help with most of it so it requires some planning to find times that work for all of us.

Grateful for: Kleenex Ultra Soft.

Loving: That Miss H has finally started college. She was not excited to start but did it for us. We are so proud of her for the effort she's putting out so far. We just want to make sure she has options in life.

Feeling: Overwhelmed - I can't believe there are only two weekends between now and Christmas!

Thinking: With help like this, I may never get much done on the computer! Twenty-pound cats really do not belong on desks but there's no convincing Iroh of that.

Looking forward to: Spring. Is it bad that I'm already so over winter and we haven't even had a real snowfall yet? On the plus side, before long, the days will soon start getting longer.

How are you handling the holidays this year? Are you finding the time to get it all done or have you made changes to make your life easier this time of year?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

This Is The Story of A Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
Published November 2013 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: my copy is courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for this review

Publisher's Summary:
This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage is both wide-ranging and deeply personal, overflowing with close observation and emotional wisdom. Stretching from her tumultuous childhood, from a disastrous early marriage and a later happy one, she charts the hard work and joy of writing, and the unexpected thrill of opening a bookstore. Patchett shares stories of the people, places, ideals, and art to which she has remained indelibly committed. Brimming with thoughtful advice and emotional wisdom, this collection brings into focus the large experiences and small moments that have shaped her as a daughter, wife, writer, and friend. An irresistible blend of literature and memoir, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage is a unique examination of the heart, mind, and soul of one of our most revered and gifted writers.

My Thoughts:
I've been a fan of Patchett's since I read Bel Canto in 2006. It remains one of my all-time favorites and based on that book alone, I would happily pick up anything Patchett writes. So I didn't hesitate to accept this book for review even knowing it would take me out of my comfort zone. As so often happens, it turns out that it's good to step out of your comfort zone periodically.Imagine my delight to discover an entirely new type of book! It's not really an entirely new type of book, just new to me. Of course, now that I've discovered essays I'm kicking myself for ignoring them all of these years. Perhaps if I'd just thought of them long ago as non-fiction short stories, I would have given them a chance sooner. Maybe it just took Ann Patchett to convince me.

Patchett opens the book explaining how she came to be a novelist and how writing for magazines allowed her to support herself and gave her the time to write fiction. This Is The Story of A Happy Marriage is a collection of essays she wrote for those publications. The voice I've enjoyed in Patchett's novels shines through in her essays as does her sense of humor and her honesty. She writes about her childhood home which was so poorly built that mushrooms grew in the carpet, about how the Rodney King beating affected her father's legacy as a Los Angeles policeman, about her book Truth and Beauty which stirred up a controversy when it was chosen as required reading for Clemson University's incoming freshmen, and about love in its many forms.

My favorite essay is titled Love Sustained a story about the relationship between Patchett and her grandmother and the time they had together in her grandmother's later years. It's a lovely story about the bond the two of them had and I was touched by the care Patchett gave her grandmother in her latter years. The depth of her love was astonishing.
"I felt certain that this had been one of the great loves of my life, and I crawled into the bed and held her in my arms and told her so.  Her eyes were open, and she touched her finger to her lip. I was crying and then that was that."

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. For other impressions of this book, check out the full tour.

Ann Patchett is the author of six novels: the New York Times bestselling State of Wonder and Run; The Patron Saint of Liars, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; Taft, which won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize; The Magician’s Assistant; and Bel Canto, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Orange Prize, the BookSense Book of the Year, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is also the author of two works of nonfiction: the New York Times bestselling Truth & Beauty and What now? Patchett has written for many publications, including the Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s Magazine, Gourmet, the New York Times, Vogue, and the Washington Post. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

Find out more about Ann on her website and follow her bookstore, Parnassus Books, on Twitter.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen

Rise And Shine by Anna Quindlen
Published 2006 by Random House Publishing
Source: this audio book is mine
Narrator: Carol Monda

Publisher's Summary:
It's an otherwise ordinary Monday when Meghan Fitzmaurice's perfect life hits a wall. A household name as the host of Rise and Shine, the country's highest-rated morning television talk show, Meghan cuts to a commercial break - but not before she does something that, in an instant, marks the end of an era, not only for Meghan, who is unaccustomed to dealing with adversity, but also for her younger sister, Bridget. A social worker in the Bronx, Bridget has always lived in Meghan's long shadow. The impact of Meghan's on-air truth telling reverberates through both their lives, affecting Meghan's son, husband, friends, and fans, as well as Bridget's perception of her sister, their complex childhood, and herself. What follows is a story about how, in very different ways, the Fitzmaurice women adapt, survive, and manage to bring the whole teeming world of New York to heel by dint of their smart mouths, quick wits, and the powerful connection between them that even the worst tragedy cannot shatter.

My Thoughts:
It's not great literature; it's not even the best book by Quindlen I've read. But I liked Rise And Shine. I liked the interaction between the sisters - the older sister who grew up feeling that she had to take care of her little sister, the little sister who grew up without a real recollection of her parents and in her sister's shadow. I liked the juxtaposition of life amongst the uber wealthy versus life among the desperately poor and Quindlen's no-holds-barred approach to both. Most of all, I liked Bridget and watching her, at forty-three, finally finding her own voice and place in life.

If you're looking for a book with a strong plot, skip this book. This book is, as they say, character driven. There is the kerfuffle at the beginning of the book and some action at the end of the book but in between, there's a lot of talking and thinking and deep looks at life in New York City. Quindlen talks about living a life of poverty in the city but skirts the grittier issues which is fine here given the nature of her story. Some readers may be annoyed, though, that even as she throws the rich under the bus, Quindlen's characters rely on money to make their lives easier.

The story is told first person from Bridget's point of view and Carol Monda did a very good job with it. She's a reader I will look for again. I wished, as I was listening to this book, that she had read the last Quindlen book I read, Black and Blue. I think she would have added the vulnerability I was looking for in that book's protagonist.

Rise And Shine has plenty for book clubs to discuss   - sibling relationships, motherhood, class differences, marriage - without anything that would offend any reader.                                                                              

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Life: It Goes On - December 1

Hoping all of my friends in the U.S. had a lovely Thanksgiving weekend and that those of you who hit Black Friday sales survived and got lots of great deals.

We enjoyed time with both sides of our family including shopping with my sisters and nieces on Friday AFTER the crowds had thinned. and a nice long walk without so much as a jacket with the Shepp side yesterday when temps were in the 60's.

Today I've gotten all of the fall/Thanksgiving decor down and after I get a good cleaning done, it will be time to put up the Christmas decorations.

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: I started Frances Mayes' Under The Tuscan Sun Friday and I must say I am not enjoying it at all. The narration is, frankly, awful. I'm not sure I'll keep listening; it's enough to adjust to the fact that the book is nothing like the movie. I have the book so may just read it in print.

Watching: We used to watch The Mentalist regularly but when it moved to Sunday nights it couldn't compete with football and Downtown Abbey and we lost track of it. But with the series winding down, we've been watching the past couple of weeks again. I'm not sure I like the way things are wrapping up. Do you watch it? What are your thoughts?

Reading: Ann Patchett's This Is The Story of A Happy Marriage which is a book of essays and may just have convinced me that I need to read more essays. I'm enjoying it a lot.

Making: I looks like I'll be making more blankets for Christmas gifts this year; two of the kids I made blankets for last year told me yesterday that they'd love to have another blanket.  Looks like a trip to the fabric store is in my future this week.

Planning: Oh you know, all of the Christmas things - shopping, baking, and, hopefully, Christmas cards this year!

Grateful for: Time with our families - love them all so much!

Loving: Having a four-day weekend. It's been very relaxing.

Feeling: Recharged and ready to head into the busiest time of the year!

Thinking: People need to learn to get over it. If you've got a problem with someone, talk about it over and move on.

Looking forward to: Playing with some new decorating ideas for the holidays thanks to some new pieces and Pinterest. What are you looking forward to this week?

Friday, November 29, 2013

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

Goodness me, I found so many fun things the other night while I was having so much fun reading through the book section of the Huffington Post. Clearly I haven't been keeping up.

First up: Everything I Knew About Dating I Learned From 19th-Century Novels: Huge Mistake. You just know I'm going to like a list that includes two Jane Austen and a Charlotte Bronte reference. But this list might just have you keeping your teenaged daughter away from these novels.

Keeping in line with love in literature is These Are The Biggest Heartbreakers In Literature. There are some obvious choices (both Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler from Gone With The Wind) but the list also includes more current choices such as Yunior from Junot Diaz' This Is How You Lose Her.

I know all of you have come across characters in books you've wished were real just so you could slap them. Huffington Post has put together a list of 13 Famous Book Characters You Just Want To Slap. This one has a wide variety of characters including Amy March (Little Women - have to agree with this one!), Effie Trinket (the Hunger Games series) and Peter Rabbit. Of course, it's not always such a bad thing to have a character you want to slap in a book - many times that's just the reaction the author wants you to have. Who would you add to this list?

Catherine McKenzie, who's made it her mission in 2013 to read 52 books from the New York Times bestsellers list (are you a member of her Goodreads group?), has put together a list of books she thinks we should be asking for this Christmas or Hanukkah from the books she's read this year. Included are John Greene's The Fault In Our Stars, Cathy Marie Buchanan's The Painted Girls, and Stephen King's Joyland. What books have you read this year that you would recommend people put on their wish list? What books are on yours? I never make a list - I'm completely unable to convince anyone in my family that I need more books!