Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Published January 2013 by Penguin Group
Source: I bought this one to read with the Omaha Bookworms for discussion with the author

Publisher's Summary:
1878 Paris. Following their father’s sudden death, the van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without his wages, and with the small amount their laundress mother earns disappearing into the absinthe bottle, eviction from their lodgings seems imminent. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opéra, where for a scant seventeen francs a week, she will be trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir.
Dancer At Rest by Edgar Degas*

Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modeling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. There she meets a wealthy male patron of the ballet, but might the assistance he offers come with strings attached? Meanwhile Antoinette, derailed by her love for the dangerous Émile Abadie, must choose between honest labor and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde.

Set at a moment of profound artistic, cultural, and societal change, The Painted Girls is a tale of two remarkable sisters rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of “civilized society.” In the end, each will come to realize that her salvation, if not survival, lies with the other.

My Thoughts:

As she did with The Day The Falls Stood Still, Buchanan took her inspiration (in this case, from a BBC documentary about Degas' famous sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen Years) and delved into the background of an obscure figure in history, blending historical fact with very believable fiction.

The novel develops around Marie and Antoinette, building a their story around other historical facts and figures. Buchanan is masterful at weaving her story around history without playing fast and loose with the facts. Here she has merged what is known about the van Goethem sisters, Degas, and a man named Emile Abadie into a work of fiction. Clearly Buchanan has done her research but the book never feels as though she is working to teach the reader every thing she learned..

Emile Abadie (left) as painted by Edgar Degas

While Marie struggles with the realities of making a living in the world of ballet, it is Antoinette who finds herself in deeper and deeper trouble as her relationship with Abadie becomes all consuming. Buchanan ties the stories of the sisters, Abadie, and Degas together using the then popular study of physiognomy (the supposed art of using facial features to determine a person's character) to explore deeper moral questions. Is Marie bound to end badly because of her bone structure? Or does poverty play a bigger role in determining what lengths a person may go to? Is there ever any justification for "immoral" behavior?

At it's heart, though, The Painted Girls is the story of family, of the bond between sisters. You can't help but grow to care about the characters in this book, even some who may not deserve your concern, and that is where Buchanan truly shines.

Little Dancer Aged Fourteen Years by Edgar Degas*

*Marie van Goethem was the model for both of these works.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday

This week on Top Ten Tuesday, the ladies at The Broke and The Bookish have asked us to list our "Top Ten Authors That I'd Put On My Auto-Buy List" (basically an auto-buy list is no questions love this author so much that no matter what they wrote next you'd buy regardless of genre or subject matter). Ah, now THIS one is definitely an easy one for me!

Assuming these cannot be authors who've come back from the dead (because that would change things up for me quite a lot), my top ten auto-buy authors are:

Thrity Umrigar

1. Thrity Umrigar - In 2010, two of my top ten books were written by Umrigar (The Weight of Heaven and The Space Between Us). In 2012, The World We Found found it's way to my top ten. Is the woman even capable of writing a less than extremely interesting book?

2. Peter Geye - Safe From The Sea was by far and away my favorite book of 2011 and is a book I always recommend to both men and women. Geye followed that up with The Lighthouse Road which was also incredible. Two for two? Can't wait to see what he's working on now.

3. Ann Patchett - even when Patchett writes a book I don't absolutely love, I know it will still be a book that will challenge me and make me think (State of Wonder). And there is always that hope that one day she will give me another book I love as much as Bel Canto, one of my top five all-time favorite books.

4. Ami McKay - Like Geye, I've read two books by McKay (The Birth House and The Virgin Cure) and both have been incredible blends of historical fact and fiction. The Birth House is a book I always recommend to book clubs.
Alexandra Fuller

5. Alexandra Fuller - I'm sure that one day Fuller will run out of amazing memories of growing up in Africa, but so far she hasn't. Besides, she writes so beautifully, I'm sure that whatever she writes about will be well worth reading.

6. E. L. Doctorow - Even when he's pretentious, his writing is amazing. Ragtime remains one of my all-time favorite books 25 years after I first read it.

7. Jess Walter - Yep, another writer who's two for two for me. I quite enjoyed The Financial Lives of the Poets and was even more impressed by last year's Beautiful Ruins.

8. Ron Rash - First Serena and then The Cove - Rash impressed me as much for his ability to write memorable female characters as for his portrayal of life in the Appalachians.

9. Cathy Marie Buchanan - The woman is simply incredible at blending historical fact and fiction. Both The Day The Falls Stood Still and The Painted Girls are wonderful books that make excellent book club choices.

10 Jennie Nash - If you weren't wondering what took me so long to get to Nash, you haven't been reading this blog for very long. Nash creates characters that speak to me, who say things I can imagine myself saying. I'm always impressed, too, by the amazing amount of research she does.

Now if, by some miracle Charlotte Bronte, Edith Wharton and Jane Austen were to come back to life and start writing again, they would have to be added to the list.

What authors do you automatically buy every time they write a book?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Midnight In Peking by Paul French

Midnight In Peking by Paul French
Published April 2012 by Penguin Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for this review

Publisher's Summary:
Chronicling an incredible unsolved murder, Midnight in Peking captures the aftermath of the brutal killing of a British schoolgirl in January 1937. The mutilated body of Pamela Werner was found at the base of the Fox Tower, which, according to local superstition, is home to the maliciously seductive fox spirits. As British detective Dennis and Chinese detective Han investigate, the mystery only deepens and, in a city on the verge of invasion, rumor and superstition run rampant. Based on seven years of research by historian and China expert Paul French, this true-crime thriller presents readers with a rare and unique portrait of the last days of colonial Peking.

My Thoughts:
So much to learn in the book about a part of world history I knew absolutely nothing about beyond knowing that Japan had invaded China just prior to World War II. This book is as much about a time and place as it is about the murder of Pamela Werner. French does an admirable job of explaining how China's political turmoil set it up for not only the invasion by the Japanese but also the rise of communism. Through all of this, much of the international community, which almost exclusively lived in the walled Legation Quarter, went about life as if nothing had changed.

Pamela Werner's murder was never officially solved for a number of reasons: corruption, corruption and sloppy police work being among them. The principal reason seems to have been the refusal of the British diplomatic corp and British government to do anything that might put Britain in a bad light or ruffle the feathers of the Chinese government. To say that the people responsible for Pamela's death were beasts is not an understatement (it truly is one of the most awful crimes I have ever heard about), but the British come off looking almost as evil.

I did find myself scrambling to try to keep track of all of the historical background and there are a lot of names to keep track of as well. I can't imagine trying to listen to this book on audio. The book, although not long, did lag a bit for me in the middle but picked up steam again toward the end. French did a great job of bringing closure to the key players lives without dragging things out too long. He has also included a number of photos in the book which I appreciate when reading non-fiction. The publisher calls this book "riveting." I'm not sure I would agree, but it is definitely a solid read about an horrific crime and a unique time and place. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sunday Salon - February 24

Can you believe this is the last Sunday in February? I find myself wondering if this winter has flown by because I'm getting older or because I've refused to let it get me down as it so often does. People, we are only a few weeks from spring!

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: Not The Enchantress of Florence. Seriously, I've reached the point with this one where I'm not turning it on at all some days. So much going back and forth in time, so many characters - I'm not sure I really even know what's going on any more!

Watching: The Nebraska state swim championships this weekend. I don't have kids swimming at the high school any more but I still like to cheer for the team and I do love to watch swim meets.

Johnny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes

Also, Elementary which I love and which has not disappointed me unlike a certain British program which killed off a second major character last week. I'm looking at you, Downtown Abbey! I swear I watch Elementary because it's a great show and not just to look at Johnny Lee Miller...although it's definitely one of the reasons!

Reading: Half The Sky  - this one is a tough read but also so uplifting. I'm counting my blessings with every story.

Found this week:
On Flavorwire this week I found a great link to bookish buildings. Hmm, wondering if I could get The Big Guy to repaint the house? Probably wouldn't get it by the neighborhood association, I suppose?

Making: White chili, steel cut oats, crock pot pork chops with mashed potatoes, and meatloaf. It's been a productive week in my kitchen...for a change!

Planning: A major reorganization of my books, starting with a purge. This is going to be tough.

Grateful for: Road crews who worked through the night to make sure that the 8" of snow that fell Thursday was largely off the roads by Friday morning. Now we are just left with a lovely blanket of snow on our lawns.

Loving: that my husband and his three siblings got to spend last weekend together - the first time they've all been together in two years.

Thinking: Three plus hour happy hours spent with great friends are just the way to end the week.

Looking forward to: Miss H's 18th birthday this week! Eighteen years since pink clothes, those beautiful brown eyes, and all of that sass came into our lives. We are so proud of the person she's become!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Fairy Tale Fridays - Into The Woods

Y'all know I'm a big fan of musicals (not sure where I picked up the Southern twang, sorry) so it seems only fitting that I should feature the fairy tale musical on Fairy Tale Fridays. The problem is that I have never seen Stephen Sondheim's Into The Woods. I know it's come to Omaha many times in the past 17 years but, I'll be honest, it really hasn't interested me much. I didn't know the the music and all I really knew about it was that the Broadway show starred Bernadette Peters. Whose voice I really don't care for. Yeah, I know, it seems kind of silly to disregard all stagings of a musical because of that but there you have it.

Recently however, thanks to Pandora, I've become acquainted with the music. While it won't crack into my top ten of musicals for the music, it is still Sondheim and definitely worth a listen. Which, in turn, got me more interested in the story.

James Lapine's book weaves together several fairy tales into a new story. Into The Woods combines the stories of "Jack and the Beanstalk," "Cinderella," "Little Red Riding Hood," and "Rapunzel." Even the more original piece of the story, that of a baker and his wife, draws heavily from the world of fairy tales, evoking the story of the Gingerbread boy. Just to make things even more interesting, Lapine throws in a witch.

Original Broadway cast of Into The Woods
That's a lot of characters and there is a lot going on in this book, with all of the characters interacting with each other. There's so much going on in this musical, I'm quite sure that if it ever does come to Omaha again, I won't be taking The Big Guy to a matinee. Because he naps at matinees. I don't want to spend the entire second act explaining to him that even though it seemed like everyone was going to live happily ever after at the end of Act I, things aren't quite as rosy as they seem. Which, as it happens, if pretty much how life works, isn't it?

Have you seen this musical? What did you think of the story? The music?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Pin It And Do It - Update

So far, so good on Pinning and Doing in February. Winter is always a big time for movies in our house and I've used my movie board to remind me of several movies to watch. In the past couple of weeks, I've watched:
 "Auntie Mame" starring Rosaline Russell

"Rebecca" starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine

"Two Weeks Notice" starring Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock

"Singing In The Rain" starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor

"Music And Lyrics" starring Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant

and "The Princess Bride" starring Robin Wright and Cary Elwes

I always feel a little bit like I've cheated when I count movies for Pin It and Do It; I'm not really "doing" anything, after all. But, in my house, getting the t.v. to myself so that I can watch a movie does take some effort so I won't feel too guilty.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Cash Out by Greg Bardsley - Guest Review

Cash Out by Greg Bardsley
Published October 2012 by HarperCollins
Source: our copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for this review

When the pitch for this one hit my inbox, I knew right away it was the kind of book that The Big Guy would enjoy. Sure enough, as soon as it arrived, he picked it up and asked what it was about and if I thought he'd like it. Funny thing, I said...

Publisher's Summary:
It's 2008. In three days, family man and Silicon Valley speechwriter Dan Jordan will see his start-up stock vest. He'll cash out with $1.1 million, turn in his frenetic Valley life in for a slower one on the beach with his wife and two children, and finally live the life he's supposed to live. Or so he thinks. Before he can collect his cash and get outta Dodge, all hell breaks loose. Dan is kidnapped by a gang of tiny IT nerds who threaten to get him fired before the options can vest, stalked by a potentially murderous corporate security muscle man, and confronted with the possible disintegration of his marriage, all while his sociopath neighbor, Crazy Larry, threatens to ruin everything. . . .

The Big Guy's Thoughts:

 A rollicking good time of high tech and silicon valley meets Get Shorty.  It reminds me of a high tech version of a Confederacy of Dunces. 

A quick fun read with some good characters.  In particular I like Dan's friends and neighbors. At times the story gets almost too busy with one cluster after another and nearly wears you out.  You think Dan is never going to get out from under his troubles, but his associates and his wife Kate bail him out time after time. Our misguided hero Dan does not die, but I was glad to see it was not a real happy ending. 

More of a dude book with all of the action and some of the scenes and language, but most women would enjoy that Kate is the stronger voice of reason, even if she is maybe a little too forgiving.  A fun lively read to offset something droll you might have just read like Dickens.

Thanks, BG! I think he's out of review books he's picked up to read so he's off the hook ... for a while. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Mythology Monday - The Art of Maxfield Parrish

"Circes' Palace" by Maxfield Parrish
Because you can never get too much of a good thing, I thought you might like to see more of Maxfield Parrish's illustrations, these from the tales of mythology. Also, I'm working my way, gently, back into getting Mythology Monday and Fairy Tales Friday back into my regular schedule.

"Pan" by Maxfield Parrish

"Pandora" by Maxfield Parrish

Again you can see the way Parrish plays with light in these. I'm also impressed with the depth of his works.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sunday Salon - February 17

Wishing my sister-in-law a very happy birthday today!

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: The Enchantress of Florence by Salmon Rushdie. I've got the paperback as well and I've found a combination of reading and listening is necessary on this one at times.In music, I've been listening to Fitz and the Tantrums, Michael Kiwanuki, and The Sheepdogs, all of which are new to me this week.

Jim Carter, center, in Brassed Off
Watching: "Brassed Off" yesterday, starring Ewan McGregor and Pete Postlethwaite. Funny, sad, heartwarming and, Downton Abbey fans, Mr. Carson is even in it! Then Miss H and I had a girls' movie night. First we watched "Music and Lyrics" with Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore then "2 Week's Notice" with Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant. Lots of laughs but, unfortunately, we both now have "Pop Goes My Heart" stuck in our heads.

Illustration by Kyle Bean

Reading: Midnight In Peking by Paul French and I'm back to Les Mis finally. I wish I didn't know that there was a long passage about the sewers of Paris coming up! I also read this interesting article in Fast Times magazine which The Big Guy found about the future of reading. I found hope in the fact that there were more books published in 2011 than in any previous year.

Making: progress on a kitchen reorganization project I started this week. These kinds of projects make me so happy! Here's what happens in my house when you empty a cupboard:

Planning: On working on my dining room this week as part of Project: The Things That Feed My Soul. There are so many things in this room that I love, including the glasses The Big Guy and I toasted with on our wedding day.

Grateful: that my brother-in-law and nephew came to visit from Colorado. It's the first time The Big Guy and all three of his siblings have been together in two years and the first time my nephew's been here in ten years. I know having them all with her brightened my mother-in-law's weekend.

Loving: Nivea Extended Moisture Hand Cream which has kept my fingers from cracking this winter.

Thinking: The things that happen to us (even, maybe especially, the tough times) help us become better able to help others.

Cathy Marie Buchanan
Looking forward to: book club this week. We're talking to Cathy Marie Buchanan about The Painted Girls! Thanks, Mari, for lining this up for us! Have you read this book? Is there anything you'd like to ask Cathy?

I'm also starting to think about my gardens and what changes I want to make this year and when I need to start my heirloom tomato seeds.

What are you looking forward to this week?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Fairy Tale Fridays - The Art of Maxfield Parrish

Enchanted Prince by Maxfield Parrish

As a struggling artist trying to make a living as he was working to make a name for himself, Maxfield Parrish turned to illustrating children's books. Fortunately, many of these included fairy tales. Parrish would later become known for a particular style of painting he developed famous for its luminosity and also for the detail in the works. Looking at his earlier work, it's obvious he had long been found of detail and the play of light in his work. Aren't they lovely?

Cinderella by Maxfield Parrish

Sleeping Beauty by Maxfield Parrish

Puss In Boots by Maxfield Parrish

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Project: The Things The Feed My Soul

When we first started thinking about moving my mother-in-law to a smaller place, one decision was easy - what to take to hang on her walls. My brother-in-law is an artist and the walls of my mother-in-law's apartment are covered in his paintings.
My brother's photography; paintings by The Big Guy's nephew and brother
Our situation would be largely the same. In fact, our families are loaded with artistic skill. The Big Guy's brother, nephew, and niece are all artists as was my great-grandmother. My brother is a skilled photographer and Mini-me is majoring in Studio Art so you can imagine that, even in a smaller place, most of the artwork I'd take along would be works by our family members.
Paintings by my great-grandmother
Even in the scenario where we only have an hour to save as much as we can, these treasures would be grabbed from the walls to be saved. My great-grandmother's paintings, in particular, are irreplaceable.

"The Angelus" by Jean Francois Millet
Drawing that line, though, is where things get tough. My grandparents had a print of Jean-Francois Millet's "The Angelus" that hung in their house all of my life. It's a fairly common print, not technically irreplaceable. Yet the copy I have hanging in my dining room now, the one that makes me think of my grandparents every time I see it, seems irreplaceable to me.

Do you have things like this, things that spark memories that make them feel irreplaceable? Are there things hanging on your walls that you absolutely would have to save?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Comfort of Lies by Randy Susan Meyers

The Comfort of Lies by Randy Susan Meyers
Published February 2013 by Atria Books
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for this review

Publisher's Summary:
A little girl’s birthday triggers a collision course for three women—the woman who gave birth to her, the woman whose husband fathered her, and the woman who adopted her—forcing them to face the damages of infidelity and make decisions about marriage, motherhood, and their careers. The Comfort of Lies, a novel about the collateral damage of infidelity, reveals the darkest and most private thoughts of three women.

Three Mothers. Two Fathers. One Child.

Five years ago, Tia fell into obsessive love with a man she could never have. Married, and the father of two boys, Nathan was unavailable in every way. When she became pregnant, he disappeared, and she gave up her baby for adoption. Now, she’s trying to connect with her lost daughter and former lover.

Five years ago, Caroline, a dedicated pathologist, reluctantly adopted a baby to please her husband. She prayed her misgivings would disappear; instead, she’s questioning whether she’s cut out for the role of wife and mother.

Five years ago, Juliette considered her life ideal: she had a loving family, a solid marriage, and a thriving business. Then she discovered Nathan’s affair. He’d promised he’d never stray again and she trusted him. But that was before she knew about the baby. Now, when Juliette intercepts a letter containing photos meant for Nathan, her world crumbles again. How could Nathan deny his daughter? And if he’s kept this a secret from her, what else is he hiding? Desperate for the truth, Juliette goes in search of the little girl. Her quest leads to Caroline and Tia and before long, the women are on a collision course with consequences that none of them could have predicted.

My Thoughts:
A couple of years ago, I read Meyers' The Murderer's Daughters, and very much enjoyed it. I looked forward to reading more of Meyers' writing, learning more of what she might teach me about the relationship between women in difficult situations.

This novel is about much more than just the lie of an affair. Everyone of these women is living with lies in one way or another. Tia has lied to herself for years about the truth of her relationship with Nathan, Caroline has been lying to her husband about how she feels about being a mother, and Juliette's lies set in motion the collision course that will bring all three of the women together.

Unfortunately, I just couldn't buy into these characters. They were meant to feel real but, for me, they simply felt like stereotypes and I largely found them to be annoying. The backgrounds of the ladies, intended to explain them more fully, felt forced. I never connected with any of the characters and without that connection, it was hard for me to care what happened to them, one way or another. I truly felt sorry that poor Savannah (the child at the heart of all of this) had any of these people involved in her life.

It's an interesting concept for a story (certainly this type of thing happens) and there are bound to be readers who will find the story interesting enough to enjoy the book. For other opinions about the book, check out the full TLC tour.  To learn more about Meyers, her background and her writing, visit her website. You can also follow her on Twitter and at The Huffington Post.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me in this tour. While this book didn't work for me as a novel, it did give me plenty to think about and would make a good choice for book clubs with its themes of love, fidelity, honesty, and the question of what really makes someone a parent.


Monday, February 11, 2013

City of Women by David Gillham

City of Women by David Gillham
Published: August 2012 by Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam
        Audio: Penguin Group
Source: Thanks, JoAnn of Lakeside Musing, who sent me her audiobook

Publisher's Summary:
It is 1943—the height of the Second World War. With the men taken by the army, Berlin has become a city of women. And while her husband fights on the Eastern Front, Sigrid Schröder is, for all intents and purposes, the model soldier’s wife: She goes to work every day, does as much with her rations as she can, and dutifully cares for her meddling mother-in-law, all the while ignoring the horrific immoralities of the regime.

 But behind this façade is an entirely different Sigrid, a woman who dreams of her former Jewish lover, who is now lost in the chaos of the war.

Sigrid’s tedious existence is turned upside down when she finds herself hiding a mother and her two young daughters—whom she believes might be her lover’s family—and she must make terrifying choices that could cost her everything.  

My Thoughts: 
If you follow me on Twitter, you may already be tired of hearing my thoughts about this book. At least once a day I tweeted about how amazing this book is. I'm not sure yet which impressed me more, Gillham's writing or Suzanne Bertish's narration (perhaps the best I have ever heard). In theory, I'd wait to write this review until I could be less gushy, but I don't see that happening any time soon so gushy is what you'll get.

Sigrid is liberated, modern woman who has settled into a life that doesn't satisfy her. With war raging, Sigrid is also a woman who has stuck her head in the sand, finding it easier to ignore what is really happening around her, and safer.
“You avert your eyes enough times and you finally go blind.”
When Sigrid finds herself drawn into a friendship with Ericha, a duty year girl helping a neighbor in Sigrid's building, she also finds herself being challenged and her eyes being opened, not only to what is happening around her but to the true nature of the people in her life.

I'm always hesitant to read books about women written by men. It so often doesn't work. From the beginning, it was obvious that Gillham knows how to make it work. In a book filled with women, not one of them feels like a stereotype or one-dimensional. Sigrid's mother-in-law, for example, is a woman who does not, in the least, like her daughter-in-law and who worships her son. She so easily could simply have been a woman readers are meant to dislike and nothing more. But in Gillham's skilled hands, she is also a woman who is terribly lonely and desperate to hold on to the only family she has left, eliciting a measure of sympathy.

The book is not a train speeding to the final stop; it is a slow ride back and forth in time as Gillham builds up his characters and the tension in the book. At disc nine, I was tempted to drive a few miles out of my way so that I could keep listening and I couldn't wait to leave for work the next morning so I could start listening again. At disc eleven, I found myself incredibly sad to be at the end of this mesmerizing book. And that was before I knew that I was going to cry for the last twenty minutes of the book. 

I would highly recommend this book with the proviso that it is not for everyone. There are some very graphic sex scenes and some very blunt language which may offend some readers. There is a lot here for book clubs to talk about: love, trust, morality, family, and patriotism.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sunday Salon - February 10

Hope this Sunday finds those of you hit by the nor'easter (I refuse to use the names that The Weather Channel has decided to give storms) all well and safe. I know some of you (I'm lookin' at you, Mari!) have enjoyed the snowfall and I hope the rest of you have been able to use it as an excuse to read and relax.

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: Covers - the local indie music station plays covers on Fridays and I've been making a list for a couple of years but never got around to getting them put somewhere I could listen to them. Finally found most of them on Pandora and I'm really enjoying them.

Meryl Streep and Robert Redford in "Out Of Africa"
Watching: As part of February's Pin It/Do It (once again hosted by Trish of Love, Laughter and A Touch of Insanity), I've been watching some old favorite movies I've pinned. I haven't been able to focus as well on reading of late and I've needed the mental break the movies have provided.

Reading: I finished two books on Thursday, City of Women on audio (I drove all of the way home from work crying while listening) and The Painted Girls, which I'm looking forward to discussing with the Omaha Bookworms and Cathy Marie Buchanan this month. I'll be finishing up Randy Susan Meyer's The Comfort of Lies for review this week. I'm listening to Salmon Rushdie's The Enchantress of Florence.

Making: Yesterday I made vegetable broth for my vegetarians. Today I'm going to work on making some breakfasts for the coming week. I'm just fed up with paying what they want for a box of dry cereal but I don't always feel like making hot breakfasts on the weekdays. We'll have some muffins, some oatmeal, homemade pop-tarts (thanks Pinterest!) and perhaps an egg casserole.

Planning: I'm working on plans for a very special surprise but I can't say anything about it here for now.

Grateful: That we live close to our families. We've been making a lot of trips into spend time with The Big Guy's mom and being close also meant that I got to babysit my two great-nieces and my great-nephew the other night. They worked wonders on raising my mood! What do you think of my new nickname - Auntie Ick?

Loving: My sister and her family just bought a new house. We have no desire to do that but it really has gotten The Big Guy fired up to make some long-needed changes around here. We've already been updating hardware and that will get finished, some new light fixtures are in the works, some changes in furniture and even (gasp!) some painting. Hope we can get everything done before this whim passes over!

Thinking: There need to be more wireless computer components. I finally pulled out my desk and tried to make some sense of all of the wires running back there. Clearly I 'm going to have to start being the person who hooks up the components as we replace things - I found a cord tangled in with everything else for a printer we haven't even had in three years! And our families wonder why we feel like we have to do everything.

Looking forward to: Continuing to work on the projects I've got going including getting my mother-in-laws photos into organized albums and Project: The Things That Feed My Soul. Here's a hint on what I'm thinking about for that now:

Original artwork by The Big Guy's brother and nephew
What are you looking forward to this week? Any great books on your nightstand?