Friday, May 31, 2013

Armchair BEA - Ethics and Non-Fiction

Wouldn't it be nice if the topic of ethics didn't even need to come up? Sadly, it seems that the subject of ethics is one that comes up all too frequently, thanks to our politicians, big business, the ease with which students can now cheat and even in blogging. It's really quite simple, people. If it ain't yours, don't take it; if it ain't true, don't say it; if you feel you have to justify it, you probably shouldn't do it. 'Nuff said.

Now, on to the genre of the day - non-fiction.

At some point I decided that I was not interested in reading non-fiction books. Apparently, my little brain had suddenly equated all non-fiction with books about economics and politics, or some such thing that I knew I would have no interest in reading about. Silly me - non-fiction is so much more than textbook kinds of writing and I knew that. I've known it, in fact, most of my life. I've loved biographies since I was quite young. Non-fiction. I loved Joseph Wambaugh's The Onion Field as a teen. Non-fiction. I love home decorating books, cookbooks, and travelogues as an adult. All non-fiction.

According to Merriam-Webster, non-fiction is simply: "literature or cinema that is not fictional."

Huzzah! It turns out I actually am quite interested in reading non-fiction and in the past couple of years, I've made a concerted effort to incorporate much more non-fiction into my regular reading. Of the eight book I have listed as favorites so far this year, half are non-fiction and every year, for the past three years, I've included non-fiction on my best-of lists. These great books included memoirs, historical accounts of war, true crime, and, gasp, writings about political issues. Non-fiction can be more work to read but it is certainly no less pleasurable.

Miss H's current read
Here's an even better reason for me to love non-fiction: my reluctant reader (and by reluctant, I mean did your heels in, dragged kicking an screaming to a book) actually likes to read non-fiction. She is especially fond of biographies and memoirs. Real people she finds fascinating, make-believe people not so much.

If you've got your own reluctant reader, I highly recommend looking into non-fiction. Got a sports fan? There are thousands of books about athletes and coaches, the history of sports, college programs. Got a gardener? There are books to be found about gardening in every climate, historical gardens, books that are nothing more than beautiful pictures of gardens. For Miss H, music is a passion and there are no end to books about musicians (from Bach to Bieber), the history of every type of music, books about instruments and how to play them.

The next time you're in a book store, go ahead, cross that invisible line between the fiction and the non-fiction departments. I guarantee you'll find at least one title to tempt you!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Armchair BEA - Literary Fiction

The genre of discussion today is general literary fiction.  Which works of art have changed your life?

I have spent most of my life loving literary fiction - I just didn't know what it was until I was much older. In the bedroom hallway of the house I grew up in, my dad introduced my siblings and I to the works of the likes of Mark Twain and James Fenimore Cooper. Did I know that my life was being changed then? Certainly not.

Did it stop me from reading such great things later in my life such as V.C. Andrews' Flowers In The Attic, Princess Daisy by Judith Krantz or Go Ask Alice (which, truth be told, I would have to say impacted my life despite the fact that it may not have been true after all). I also read plenty of genre fiction back in my teens and twenties - lots of Stephen King, John Grisham, and John Jakes.

But that reading start I got, and the man I babysat for as a teen who once asked me why I never read any classics, always stayed with me. So I read E.M. Forster, Henry James, and the Brontes and oh, how I love them. I love the characters, I love the settings, I love the descriptions that can go on for full pages.

The older I get, the more current literary fiction I read. I love that literary fiction makes me think, makes me look at things in a new light, show me the world. It peels back the shiny cover off every day life and makes us explore our own flaws and shortcomings. Yesterday I wrote that literary fiction is writing about ideas but I also think really great literary fiction hinges on characters. Like them or not, when done well, you can't help but what to know what's going to happen to the characters. Take Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteredge - Olive was not a nice woman, not good mother. But in Strout's hands, you began to understand what makes Olive tick, what makes her the way she was, and you did become interested in finding out what would happen to her.

But the term "literary fiction" is just that, a term. More and more, the lines are blurring between literary fiction and genre fiction. Which is making for some really great reading!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Armchair BEA - Genre Fiction

Today for Armchair BEA, we're discussing genre fiction. What draws you to a particular genre? Do you go for romance? Fantasy? Sci-fi?

Writer's Relief defines genre as: "a category of literature, a way to organize and define various types of fiction.Writing that does not fall into a strict genre may be considered literary (fiction of ideas) or mainstream fiction (driven by a mix of genre fiction and literary fiction techniques)."

Of genres, the one I read the most is women's fiction. Having fallen into most womanly roles during my lifetime (wife, mother, daughter, aunt, sister-in-law), there is nearly always something in women's fiction to which I can relate. The majority of the books I read fall into either this genre or literary fiction. I love to read books about ideas, books that make me think. Let's be clear about the literary fiction, though; I am not specifically looking for an "intellectual" read. I still want to be entertained.

Lately, I seem to be enjoying books that turn the definitions on their heads. Is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles a work of literary fiction (it is, after all, a fiction of ideas) or is it fantasy? Maybe Kim Wright, writing for The Millions, sheds some light on this when she asks, "Why are So Many Literary Writers Shifting to Genre?

"Once upon a time, genre was treated as almost a different industry from literary fiction, ignored by critics, sneered at by literary writers, relegated by publishers to imprint ghettos. But the dirty little and not-particularly-well-kept secret was that, thanks to the loyalty of their fans and the relatively rapid production of their authors, these genre books were the ones who kept the entire operation in business."
Wright goes on to say that as the book industry has changed, writers are being force to find new ways to make a living, including writing genre books. But publisher's are also marketing books as genre works which might traditionally been marketed as literary works.

Ursula LeGuin had this to say about genre in a 2012 article:

 "I propose an hypothesis: Literature is the extant body of written art. All novels belong to it. The value judgment concealed in distinguishing one novel as literature and another as genre vanishes with the distinction. Every readable novel can give true pleasure. Every novel read by choice is read because it gives true pleasure. Some of these categories are descriptive, some are maintained largely as marketing devices. Some are old, some new, some ephemeral. Genres exist, forms and types and kinds of fiction exist and need to be understood: but no genre is inherently, categorically superior or inferior." 

What kind of reader are you - do you favor literary fiction, genre fiction or something that blends both?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Armchair BEA - Introductions

It's that time of year again, the time of year when bloggers who aren't going to NYC to visit with publishers, meet authors, and get a sneak peek at all of the upcoming books (not to mention, shipping home boxes of them) are just a bit jealous. Fear not, the folks in charge of Armchair BEA have a way to keep those of us unable to attend feeling happier about being at home. First up, it's time for introductions. The organizers have ask we answer five questions about ourselves from a list. Here are the questions I picked and my answers:

1. Who are you?  I played around with this answer for a bit, trying to come up with something clever and different. I've been blogging for four years and after that long, it kind of feels like you all already know everything there is to know about me! For those that don't, I'm Lisa (you'll also see me as Mama Shepp); I'm a wife (30 years with my college sweetheart) and a mother to three young adults I'm very proud of.

2. Tell us one non-book-related thing that everyone reading your blog may not know about you. When I was growing up, my family used to take three-week vacations all over the country and into Canada...camping. We've seen oceans, waterfalls, mountains, great lakes, cities, battlefields, museums and national monuments. Looking back, I'm astonished by my parents' willingness to put up with three kids fighting in the backseat, long days of driving, stormy nights in a camper, and all of that planning.

TD Ameritrade Ball Park - Home of the College World Series
3. Where in the world are you blogging from? Tell a random fact or something special about your current location. I'm blogging from Omaha, Nebraska, home of the College World Series,  Henry Doorly Zoo (ranked the #2 zoo in the country), and the most restaurants per capita in the U.S. You want it, we've got it!

4. What is your favorite book you have read so far in 2013? My favorite book so far this year is City of Women by David Gillham, which I highly recommend on audio. It's very dark and very graphic so I don't necessarily recommend it for everyone.

Jane Austen

5. If you could eat dinner with any author or character, who would it be and why? Assuming said author could come back from the dead, I would pick Jane Austen. I'd love to learn more about what inspired her stories and bask in her amazing wit. If I have to stick to a living author, that would be Thrity Umrigar. My lunch "with" Ms.Umrigar just piqued my interest in her. I'd love to learn more about how she blends what she's learned from living with the United States with her upbringing in India.

How about you - where are you reading from? What's your favorite book so far this year?


Monday, May 27, 2013

In Memorial of All Who Have Served Our Country and Those We Have Loved and Lost

Remembering this year The Big Guy's uncle who, during World War II, crawled into no man's land and pulled three fellow soldiers to safety. Thanks to all how have served and the families who supported them.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Life It Goes On - May 26

Finally - a three-day holiday weekend! As usual, there will be rain this weekend; Memorial Day weekend always means at least some rain here, often storms. But yesterday gave me enough sunshine to get outside and finally finish my planting. Do you have big plans for the long weekend? My favorite part might be knowing that I follow this three-day weekend with a four-day weekend! 

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: I created a new station yesterday by starting with the 1990's alt rock group The Cranberries. Alanis Morissette, No Doubt, 10,000 Maniacs, The Verve, Radiohead - my kids grew up to this music and my house stayed clean because of the jolt of energy it gave me.

The Cranberries

Watching: Other than the Husker softball and baseball teams, not much. Reruns are starting so it's time to shut off the t.v. and read more!

Reading: I'll be finishing The Burgess Boys today although I'm still plugging away with Bunker Hill. I just can't get into a rhythm with it. On audio, I'm almost finished with The Thirteenth Tale. On my Nook, I've downloaded Under The Dome and Meg Clayton's The Wednesday Sisters. 

Making: Cherry bread pudding. Yum! I've also made some homemade cleaning products this week with mixed results. More on those later.

Time to paint these chairs
Planning: I'm working on some plans to tweak our outdoor spaces.

Grateful for: All of the men and women who have served our country.

Loving: Long, lazy dinners on the patio.

Thinking: It's time to get back into my basement and, once again, reorganize. We still haven't had the time to really find homes for the things we brought home from The Big Guy's mom's home. Although that will have to wait for rainy days!

Looking forward to: Celebrating my parents' 55th wedding anniversary this weekend with my siblings and at least some of their eight grandchildren.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Lit: A Summer Readalong and A Great Bookish Quote

I was driving to work this morning, listening to The Thirteenth Tale, when I heard this marvelous quote about books. Luckily, I have a paper copy of the book and was able to find the quote!
"All morning I struggled with the sensation of stray wisps of one world seeping through the cracks of another. Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes - characters even - caught in the fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you."

Yes, I do know that feeling! Don't you feel sorry for people who have never experienced this?

One evening, a few months ago, a commercial aired announcing the summer mini-series adaptation of Stephen King's Under The Dome. I tweeted to those who had just finished readalongs of King's It and The Shining that I sensed another readalong getting ready to happen. Fizzy Jill, Fizzy Thoughts, immediately got everyone talking about doing just that. Then we all kind of forgot about it until recently. Luckily, Natalie, Coffee And A Book Chick, took the lead and has organized a summer readalong. So far there are a dozen of us signed up for the fun. I utterly failed at the Les Miserables readalong but had great fun with The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle readalong so I'm ready to give this one a go. I haven't read any King in more than 20 years; sure, why not pick him back up with this 1000-page book? Game on, Uncle Stevie!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

DNF - And Then I Found You by Patti Callahan Henry

And Then I Found You by Patti Callahan Henry
Published April 2013 by St. Martin's Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest opinion of the book

Publisher's Summary:
Kate Vaughan is no stranger to tough choices. She’s made them before. Now it’s time to do it again. Kate has a secret, something tucked away in her past. And she’s getting on with her life. Her business is thriving. She has a strong relationship with her family, and a devoted boyfriend whom she wants to love with all her heart. If Kate had ever made a list, Rowan would fill the imagined boxes of a perfect mate. But she wants more than the perfect on paper relationship; she wants a real and imperfect love. That's why, when Kate discovers the small velvet box hidden in Rowan's drawer, she panics. It always happens this way. Just when Kate thinks she can love, just when she believes she can conquer the fear, she’s filled with dread. And she wants more than anything to make this feeling go away. But how? When the mistakes have been made and the running is over, it’s time to face the truth. Kate knows this. She understands that a woman can never undo what can never be undone. Yet, for the first time in her life she also knows that she won’t fully love until she confronts those from her past. It’s time to act. Can she do it? Can she travel to the place where it all began, to the one who shares her secret? Can the lost ever become found?  

My Thoughts:
If you've followed this blog for long, you know that I very rarely give up on a book. I wish I could say that's because I'm so very good at picking the books I read. That's not it. I'm just terrible at giving up on a book once I start it. I always think that I'm going to reach a point in the book where it suddenly works for me.

Lately, though, I've been thinking more and more about the number of books I want to read, the number of commitments I have. I've found a couple of bloggers who are working to reduce their own backlogs of review books by making a decision to stop reading a book by a certain page if they aren't enjoying it. I don't know that I can set a specific page count or make a conscious decision to work through books that way. But I can make the decision to be willing to let go of books that just aren't working for me.

And Then I Found You was one of those books. Henry greets her readers up front with the story of how she was inspired to write this book. I was convinced that with that kind of emotion behind the story, I would really be pulled into the book.Unfortunately, I wasn't.

The personal experience that was the impetus for the book almost seems to play a backseat to a lost love story line. One of those "love that can never be gotten over" stories I can rarely buy into. Then there was my inability to connect to any of the characters. Kate never seemed able to come to terms with any of the decisions she made and seemed unable to ever acknowledge that sometimes you just can't have it all.

I seem to be in the minority in my opinion about this book. Perhaps if I were willing to take the time to keep reading, my opinion would change. But after 120 pages, I was unwilling to do that.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Published June 2012 by Crown Publishing Group
Source: this one is mine - I bought it at Dragonfly Books in Decorah, Iowa

From The Publisher:
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick Dunne’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River.  

My Thoughts:
I picked this one up last summer, thinking I was going to read it immediately during the height of its frenzy. And then I didn't. I don't know why. When one of the Omaha Bookworms suggested it as a book club suggestion, I knew it was time to pick it up. The best part of waiting? I will actually be able to discuss it with other people.

This book has so many twists and turns to it, so many surprises, that it is all but impossible to give you any more of a description than what I've given you without starting to give away little clues. That made it impossible to discuss on a blog or Twitter. If you're old enough to remember the movie The Crying Game, this book is that movie's book equivalent. No one talked. Which was great going into the book. But I really, really want to talk to someone about it now!

My only real quibble with Gone Girl (and, I suppose, it's a pretty big quibble) is that I had to work pretty hard at times to buy into some of the plot details and I was frustrated by the ending. But the ride to get there was just so much fun that I had to get over it. If you're going to enjoy the book, you'll have to be able to do that. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Pin It And Do It - May Edition

I've knocked off a few more pins this past week, working my way toward trying to get to at least eight things done. There's really no point in pinning all of those great ideas if you're never going to do anything about them, is there?

Last fall, when I put together a Missouri board in advance of our anniversary trip, I pinned Kauffman stadium, home of the Kansas City Royals. It was too late for baseball but I haven't been to a game there in years and thought it would be fun to go again. In April, we got lucky and The Big Guy won four tickets to a Royals game (with reserved parking which was great!). Since I haven't been to any other stadiums in 15 years, I can't say how this stadium fares against others but with it's trademark water feature and recently revamped concourse, it was a fun place to be even if you aren't interested in baseball.

Today I tried a new recipe...for bronzer. Made with cinnamon, nutmeg, cocoa powder and cornstarch, I liked the idea that it was all natural and that the color could be tweaked by adding more or less of each ingredient. 

My finished product
 The problem came in that there are absolutely NO directions other than a list of the ingredients and what to add to get more of one effect or another. I started with far too much cornstarch and had to add quite a lot of the other ingredients to try to get an effect that didn't look like a kabuki mask. Eventually I got a nice soft color that blended easily and looked natural. Although, I did smell a bit like a baked good!

Pin photo

Yesterday I tried an easy fix for damaged woodwork. Mix 1/4 cup canola or olive oil and 3/4 cup vinegar. Dip a cloth in the well-blended mixture and rub on the woodwork. The vinegar allows the oil to spread then evaporates. The windows in our kitchen nook need to have the woodwork refinished after 17 years of sun and moisture but for now this was a quick, easy and cheap fix.

Next up, I'm back into the kitchen...or the garden. I've found some great ideas to pin for gardening lately!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Life: It Goes On - May 19

What a week - Sunday evening my heater kicked on, Tuesday we had to turn on the air conditioner. Had to. It reached 100 degrees, setting a record. Twelve days ago it snowed.

Mother's Day = plant shopping in our house so we've spent a  fair amount of time this week getting flowers and herbs into pots and vegetables into the garden beds. I'm already dreaming of freshly picked tomatoes!

I finally got around to writing another article for Got my writing mojo back a few months ago but didn't find the inspiration for my next article until I read an article recently about the demise of the actual book.

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: Alternative 80's on Pandora - think Tears for Fears, Flock of Seagulls, and Depeche Mode.

Watching:Yesterday I watched "Rick Steve's Europe" as they visited Bath, England. Fun to see the town that I've so often read about. Tonight we'll watch the final episode of "Mr. Selfridge" on PBS.

Reading: In my car, I'm about half done with The Thirteenth Tale. I'm really enjoying this one. I've been a little ADD in my actually book reading. I'm still working on Bunker Hill but find I can only read so much of it at a time so I'm also reading Patti Callahan Henry's and then i found you.

Making: I made a pasta salad the other night. I love to do this in the summer and just use whatever meat and vegetables I have on hand. I try to make a big enough batch that we can use it as a side dish or for lunches later in the week.

Enjoying: Baseball - or rather the experience of sitting at the ballpark. Friday night we went downtown and watched the Creighton Blue Jays play. Creighton is a university that sits on the edge of downtown Omaha and plays its home games in the stadium that was built for the College World Series. What a great night it was to sit outside at the ball park!

My little red wagon of herbs
Grateful for: My husband's willingness to humor me. Every year the list of herbs I want to try grows and he just makes sure I have more pots for them. Likewise, he didn't even roll his eyes when I came home the other night with even more annuals after we were "done" buying them. But I found these beautiful purple flowers that made me think of his mom so I had to have them and he could hardly argue with that!

Loving: Getting my hands in the dirt, something you will rarely hear me say. I do not, as a general rule, like to get my hands dirty.

Thinking: You should definitely check out this post from Trish of Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity, especially if you ever get to feeling like everyone else is doing it all while you're floundering.

Looking forward to: Book club this week and a lot of meals on the patio.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein

The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein
Published March 2013 by W. W. Norton and Company
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for this review

Publisher's Summary:
In this evocative and thrilling epic novel, fifteen-year-old Yoshi Kobayashi, child of Japan’s New Empire, daughter of an ardent expansionist and a mother with a haunting past, is on her way home on a March night when American bombers shower her city with napalm—an attack that leaves one hundred thousand dead within hours and half the city in ashen ruins. In the days that follow, Yoshi’s old life will blur beyond recognition, leading her to a new world marked by destruction and shaped by those considered the enemy: Cam, a downed bomber pilot taken prisoner by the Imperial Japanese Army; Anton, a gifted architect who helped modernize Tokyo’s prewar skyline but is now charged with destroying it; and Billy, an Occupation soldier who arrives in the blackened city with a dark secret of his own. Directly or indirectly, each will shape Yoshi’s journey as she seeks safety, love, and redemption.

My Thoughts:
When I picked this book to read for review, I didn't know much about it; I didn't read the publisher's summary. In all honesty, I can't recall now what piqued my interest. More and more I'm finding I like to pick up a book this way. Clearly there was something that intrigued me about it originally so I have some idea I might like it but otherwise, I have no preconceived notions.

In fact, the publisher's summary is a little misleading. Epstein has crafted a novel that moves back and forth between multiple third-person narratives. Throughout, she keeps the book moving forward in time as she shifts settings, from 1935 Hamburg, New York to 1962 Los Angeles and gradually begins to intertwine her characters.

I suppose the novel could be called "sweeping" moving as it does through time and back and forth across the Pacific. Curiously, I never felt like I was being swept up in a massive story; Epstein makes the novel very much the intimate stories of the people caught up in the war between Japan and the United States. Without casting judgment, Epstein uses her characters along with many real-life characters to explore the atrocities of war. Having just read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, I was surprised to find myself back in Manchuria during the Japanese occupation but it also made me not ready to read about the torture of soldiers, a direction I was certain, at one point, the book was headed in. Instead, Epstein gives the reader only what is necessary at that point then moves on, only to smack me down later with the horror of the firebombing of Tokyo.
"Yoshi's last sight of her was like something she'd seen once in an  old painting in a temple; something their teacher had called a "Hell Scroll." Entitled The Goods of Heavenly Punishment, it showed a huge fiery demon consuming tiny people limb by limb, surrounded by more flames and staggering, fire-limned figures."

The Gods of Heavenly Punishment is just the kind of historical fiction book I love - a new look at a time in history you might have thought had already been covered from every angle with an interesting blend of characters and a solid foundation in the facts. 

For other opinions, check out the rest of the tour. Jennifer Cody Epstein is the author of The Gods of Heavenly Punishment and the international bestseller The Painter from Shanghai. She has written for The Wall Street Journal, The Asian Wall Street Journal, Self, Mademoiselle and NBC, and has worked in Hong Kong, Japan and Bangkok, Thailand. Jennifer lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, two daughters and especially needy Springer Spaniel.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
Published October 1997 by Knopf Publishing Group
Source: paid to download this one to my Nook

Ti of Book Chatter has been raving about Haruki Murakami as long as I've been following her blog (years now). Recently she twisted a bunch of arms suggested a readalong of Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and more than 70 people jumped on board. Murakami is not for the faint of heart. If you prefer a book with an easily understood message, something light, or a book that ties everything up in the end with a tidy bow, this one is definitely not for you.

Publisher's Summary:
Japan's most highly regarded novelist now vaults into the first ranks of international fiction writers with this heroically imaginative novel, which is at once a detective story, an account of a disintegrating marriage, and an excavation of the buried secrets of World War II.

 In a Tokyo suburb a young man named Toru Okada searches for his wife's missing cat. Soon he finds himself looking for his wife as well in a netherworld that lies beneath the placid surface of Tokyo. As these searches intersect, Okada encounters a bizarre group of allies and antagonists: a psychic prostitute; a malevolent yet mediagenic politician; a cheerfully morbid sixteen-year-old-girl; and an aging war veteran who has been permanently changed by the hideous things he witnessed during Japan's forgotten campaign in Manchuria.  

My Thoughts: 
I'd like to tell you that at the end of over 600 pages, I at least had a concrete idea of what I thought happened even if it had not been what Murakami had in mind. I'm not sure even Murakami knows what happened. As Ti has pointed out, Murakami has admitted that he never knows where a story will end when he begins it. In The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, he seems to have developed several roads he could take his story down and leaves it up to the reader to figure out how each of them plays into the meaning of the book.

I'm left with as many, more questions...than answers a week after finishing the book. Here's the strange thing. I'm okay with that. What happens in the well? How do the two different well scenarios tie together? What, exactly, happened to Kumiko, Toru's wife? Why does Murakami insert the war stories into the novel? What's real and what is fantasy?

I'm somewhat settled on an explanation that there are dual realities, certain characters being present in both present times with the ability to move back and forth between them. At the same time, I believe there's a time twist to this as well, allowing certain characters to embody the evil from different times and places, for example.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is that Murakami is able to make his readers care about a protagonist who is mired in ennui, intentionally unemployed and blind to what is going on in his marriage.  Well, that and the fact that I really, really liked this book even if I had no idea what was going on a good deal of the time and had to skim some really awful war scenes.

Thanks, Ti, for pulling me way out of my comfort zone and hosting a readalong that really got people thinking and talking!

Monday, May 13, 2013

18th Century English Literature Event

About a year and a half ago I signed up for The Classics Club and accepted the challenge to read 50 classics in five years. Piece of cake, I thought. I read a lot of classics and my list contains only books I have in my house. Ten books a year; not even one book a month. How could I fail? Yet here I am, 16 months into the challenge and I've read four books. Just four. So when I found out that Delaisse was hosting the 18th Century English Literature event, I knew I needed to join to give me a little push.

My plans are to read Daniel DeFoe's (pictured above in the badge I'll be using) Moll Flanders and Voltaire's Candide. Neither is too long so it shouldn't be too hard to get through both of them easily. Although I did get about half way through Candide a couple of years ago and couldn't finish it. If I'm really feeling it, I'll add Henry Fielding's The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling. We'll see how many bright and shiny new books distract me in June. I do seem to be easily distracted these days!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Life: It Goes On - May 12

Happy Mother's Day! It's a beautiful, sunny and warm day here and I'm looking forward to getting out into the yard today to get annuals planted. Of course, first I have to go pick them up. I love imagining the possibilities as I stand there surrounded by all of those young plants.

We've had a very busy, very fun weekend. We ran down to Kansas City Friday to watch the Royals play the New York Yankees. We haven't been to a major league baseball game in years but had so much fun, we're already planning to go again this year. We were back in Omaha long enough yesterday to go to a graduation party, change clothes and then head off to Lincoln to celebrate Mother's Day and to usher at the playhouse. Once again, we were amazed by the talent Lincoln has to offer - so many great voices!

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: After watching them perform Les Miserables last night, we've been listening to my Pandora Les Mis station. My audio book now is Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale which I'm really enjoying.

Watching: The Voice - my girl Sarah Simmons is doing great but they have so much incredible talent this year it's going to be tough to win.

Reading: I finished The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and I'm still wrapping my head around that one. I'm working away at Bunker Hill but it's slow going. I've also started Jennifer Cody Epstein's The Gods of Heavenly Punishment which I'll be reviewing on Thursday.

Making: I'm pinning and doing - I've tried a couple of new recipes which I'll post about later this week.

Planning: It's going to be warm here this week - my plans for this week are to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air.

Grateful for: The opportunity to be with my daughter the first time she got to see her beloved Yankees play. Miss H is an emotional girl so let's just say that there were tears involved!

Loving: Sad Cat Diary on YouTube. So funny, especially if you have ever had a cat.

Thinking: The Big Guy and I need to hit the road more often. I'd forgotten how much fun (and more relaxing it is!) to travel without kids, even grown up ones.

Looking forward to: More graduation parties, a wedding receptions and my parents' 55th wedding anniversary coming up in a few weeks. Lots to celebrate!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan

Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan
Published: October 2008 by Penguin Group
Source: bought this on audio at my local library book sale
Narrated by: Emily Janice Card

Publisher's Summary:
In the small town of Kingsville, Ohio, 18-year-old Kim Larsen-popular and bound for college in the fall-disappears on her way to work one afternoon. Not until the next morning do her parents, Ed and Fran, and 15-year-old sister, Lindsay, realize Kim is missing. The lead detective on the case tells the Larsens that since Kim is an adult, she could, if the police find her, ask that the police not disclose her location to her parents. When Kim's car later turns up in nearby Sandusky, Ed, desperate to help, joins the official search. Meanwhile, Fran stays home putting all her energy into community fund-raisers, and Lindsay struggles to maintain a normal life.  

My Thoughts: 

We are so accustomed to reading or watching stories like this that give us the big picture. O'Nan looks at the disappearance of Kim from a kind of behind-the-scenes point of view. We're used to seeing the posters go up all over a city but someone had to decide what should go onto the poster, get the posters printed, organize the people needed to put them up. Someone has to organize the volunteers who come out to help in the search for the missing. Someone has to contact the media then decide who should speak for a family, what they should say, and, more importantly, how they should say it. Looking at a disappearance from this angle makes for a unique story that has a much more real feel to it.

Fran is one of those women who seem to become someone new when faced with the worst becoming the driving force behind the search for Kim and the public face. Ed does what you would imagine most fathers would do - he takes on finding his daughter as his job, something he needs to fix, something that is, ultimately, his responsibility. While O'Nan does touch on the distance that develops between Ed and Fran, I would have liked to see him delve more into how Kim's disappearance affected their relationship. I can't help but think that there would be more tension.

O'Nan does a fine job of telling his story in "real" time, emphasizing the passage of time as the family searches for answers. I appreciated the way the story evolved and the way O'Nan showed how life moves on even as this awful thing is never far from the foreground, never too deep in each family member's mind. Perhaps the greatest strength of Songs for the Missing is that O'Nan has not made the Larsen's the picture-perfect, All-American family. Kim is not particularly likable, the family has money issues Ed has been hiding, Fran and Kim didn't really communicate, and Lindsay had conflicted feelings about the sister whose shadow she had grown up in.

By now, you're probably getting tired of me saying that I think I may have liked a book better if I had read it, rather than listened to it. Yet, here we go again. This time I do think it was the narration itself that caused some of the problem. Card does a perfectly acceptable job, particularly in reading the teenagers' dialogue,  except that some times I just didn't feel that her tone was right, the exact way in which she was telling the story. It felt as though the emphasis was off in some places. At least if O'Nan was trying to make the points I felt like he was trying to make.

Songs for the Missing does make for an easy book to listen to, there are no particularly complicated twists and turns, it's short enough that you don't lose track of whats happened or who certain characters are and how they fit into the story.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

a beautiful mess by Ali Berlinski

a beautiful mess by Ali Berlinski
Published May 2013 by Pubslush Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for this review

Publisher's Summary: 
Biracial and bicoastal, Berlinski spent her childhood flying between the families of her divorced parents, without ever feeling like she fit in anywhere. Fortunately, she never lost her sense of humor, which is apparent on every page of her first book, a riotous and revealing look at the consequences of divorce, too much air travel, cultural diversity and conflicting and conflicted parents. With an open heart and an honest soul, she recounts her somewhat misspent youth and a wildly exciting (though equally torturous) love affair with the guy of her dreams. She loves, she loses and she packs it in, leaving behind the guy, two dysfunctional families, and a comfortable life to move to a foreign country and start all over again.

She’s Carrie Bradshaw reimagined as a third grade teacher in Brooklyn with zero interest in Manolo Blahniks. She’s a tough New Yorker with a tender twist of California sunshine in her blood that knows when to fight and when to surrender. Her journey will be oddly familiar and utterly unique to anyone who’s ever believed that love would save them—if not with this guy, then maybe with the next.

As her grandfather once said, “Well, it may not be the party you hoped for, but since we’re here, we might as well dance.” So now she lives in Spain and, despite everything, Berlinski keeps on dancing.

My Thoughts: 
When I was pitched this book and read this summary, I expected to be reading a book that had me, at the very least, chuckling regularly. Heck, "riotous" makes me think guffawing may even break out. While Berlinski certainly includes a fair amount of  humor in her stories,  it never felt to me like she was getting as much out of her stories as she could have. After reading the book, I read her blog and the wit and dark humor that I saw in the book come alive on the blog.

It wasn't just when it came to the humor that I felt this way. I wanted more from Berlinski - more about the ways in which her relationship with her mother reached the point where Berlinski felt she had to sever the relationship, more of the way in which each of her ethnic backgrounds made her feel out of place in the other setting, more of how the things that make her unique made her life unique.

Less a memoir than a series of essays about her life, reading a beautiful mess could get confusing as it moved back and forth in time and people I thought were out of Berlinski's life suddenly reappeared. It also made for an abrupt ending for the book.

All of this makes it sound like I didn't like this book which is not the case; I just didn't like it as much as I wanted to, as much I as think I might have. My copy was an advanced reader copy and there were quite a lot of errors in it ("passed" instead of "past," "finance" instead of "fiance") that I hope will get corrected before this goes to print.

Oh, yeah, and before you pitch your book to bloggers to drum up some buzz for it, you should probably remember that at one point, you've taken a swipe at bloggers. When her mother posts some things on Facebook that upset Berlinski, she writes "On-line name calling? Come on, what are we? Bloggers?"

About Pubslush: 
Pubslush is "a publishing platform for authors to raise funds and gauge the audience for new book ideas, and for trendsetting readers to pledge their financial support to bring books to life. Through a publishing imprint, powered by readers, Pubslush acquires high potential books from the platform, and for every book sold, donates a children's book to a child in need."

I like this idea a lot - readers become empowered to choose the books they'd like to see in print, authors have a chance that might never have otherwise, and books get put into the hands of children. I'd call that a win all of the way around. I'd definitely encourage you to take a look at what Pubslush has to offer.

Plus, they sent me this book bag with my book and tied my book up with a pretty ribbon. I love that!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Life: It Goes On - May 5

Apparently not only does life go on, but so does winter. Several inches of snow and freezing temps this last week came on the heels of four days with temps in the 80's. We went from eating dinner on the patio several nights in a row to wearing winter coats again. I am so ready for spring!

 Did you know that Omaha has three rivers nearby? It sits right on the Missouri; the Elkhorn and Platte Rivers run just west of Omaha. Mini-me was recently camping where the Elkhorn joins the Platte. Just south of Omaha, the Platte merges into the Missouri. The bridge in this picture is a walking bridge that spans the Platte.

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: Brandi Carlile - love her voice. Like so many of the musicians I've "discovered," I first heard Carlile on Austin City Limits.

Watching: Some Kansas City Royals baseball - we're headed down to K.C. soon to catch a game and the only player I'm familiar with on the team is former Nebraska player Alex Gordon. When they're hawking programs, yelling "can't tell the players without a scorecard," I'm going to be the person they're talking to.

Reading: I read Ali Berlinski's A Beautiful Mess this week and finished listening to Stewart O'Nan's Songs for the Missing. I'm going to focus this week on finishing The Windup Bird Chronicle. I'm not sure what I'll pop in next in my car - we'll see what strikes my fancy when I get in the car tomorrow.

Making: I did start Pin It And Do It again this past week and already made a salad as part of that. This week I'll be looking for other recipes I've pinned to try out. I recently pinned several salted caramel recipes so I think I'll be trying at least one of those.

Planning: All weather indications to the contrary, it is spring and I'm planning on making some changes to my patio to perk things up. A little paint, a few new accessories, and some new cushions - it's going to be all about adding some color outdoors.

Grateful for: My daughter's amazing strength. Two years strong, my love - you are an inspiration!

Loving: Kleenex. Sad, but true, Kleenex has been my favorite product this week. Curse you spring cold!

Thinking: I should never have set foot in the Home Goods store. That place is dangerous!

Looking forward to: Watching Miss H's face this weekend when she gets to see her beloved Yankees in the flesh for the first time. Technically not her first MLB game but she can't remember going to see Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa play in St. Louis when she was a wee little girl. Tears will, I'm sure, be involved.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Pin It And Do It - May 2013

Woohoo - Trish from Love, Laughter and A Touch of Insanity is once again challenging us to actually use all of those ideas we've been pinning on Pinterest. It's been a year since Trish started hosting these challenges; in fact, the first challenge came just in time for me to try all kinds of things for Miss H's graduation party. Since then I've used the challenge to remind myself to read certain books, planned trips, watched favorite movies. This time I'm going to try to get back to the kitchen. With summer coming, I'm looking for new ways to use the grill and all of the wonderful fresh produce we'll be enjoying.

I kicked off the challenge tonight with a new salad. We had some green beans that needed to be used, not enough for a full meal, but I didn't want them to go to waste. This salad is a take off the old standby layered salad. Ours wasn't nearly as pretty as the picture from Pinterest so I'll so you that one instead!

The recipe calls for water chestnuts, which we were out of unfortunately. We liked the recipe but would tweak it some if we make it again. The recipe makes more dressing that what it shows and we would have liked less. If we added some protein, this would could make a meal which would be nice for summer.

Next up, I'm thinking it's time to try one of my dessert recipes!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Lit: It's In The News

 Clearly I'm not one to turn to my local newspaper for all of my book news. Still, I've been disappointed in the ever shrinking coverage they offer. There will never be a review of a book by a local columnist unless it's a local author but it's still interesting to see what reviews they've pulled from other papers.

This week the paper featured a St. Louis Post-Dispatch review of Ron Rash's latest collection of short stories, Nothing Gold Can Stay. I've read and loved Rash's novels Serena and The Cove but I've never read any of his short stories. Reviewer Amanda St. Amand called Rash's writing "elegant" and said he has a "muscular way with words." I I know Rash can write books set in the past and North Carolina is always a strong character in his novels. Here his stories span eras and places and I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do in other times and locations.

" Whether it’s a tale of a woman’s dowry or the fallout from a young girl’s drowning, the author creates a slice of life so authentic you can hear the rushing water and see the falling tears."

Any Don DeLillo fans out there? Apparently he was awarded the first Library of Congress Award for American September. Back in the day, it might not be that surprising that literary news was making it's way to Nebraska months after it happened. But in this day and age? Surely they could have found a way to work that into the paper in year that it happened? Congrats to DeLillo and to the Library of Congress for creating this award.

Far away from home, The Guardian today posted this interview with Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl.  I was particularly interested in reading her response to charges that her writing shows "a deep animosity towards women." Flynn says:
" Isn't it time to acknowledge the ugly side? I've grown quite weary of the spunky heroines, brave rape victims, soul-searching fashionistas that stock so many books. I particularly mourn the lack of female villains."
Have you read any of Flynn's books? More than one? What do you think of her portrayal of women?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Mama Shepp's Family Recommends - Seriously...I'm Kidding by Ellen DeGeners

I never, ever thought I'd be saying this...this recommendation comes from Miss H! She loves Ellen DeGeneres so when she saw this one at Half-Price Books (she was there under protest) she told me she'd like to read it. Really? If I buy it for you, you'll read it? Done - it's yours.

Publisher's Summary (courtesy of the author)
I've experienced a whole lot the last few years and I have a lot to share. So I hope that you'll take a moment to sit back, relax and enjoy the words I've put together for you in this book. I think you'll find I've left no stone unturned, no door unopened, no window unbroken, no rug unvacuumed, no ivories untickled. What I'm saying is, let us begin, shall we?  

Why Miss H Would Recommend This Book: 
If you like Ellen, you'll like this collection of stories. Her voice, the "Ellen-ness" of her, comes through in every story. If you're Attention Deficit, you'll like it even more. There is no through thread here, just a random collection of stories and observations, many of them personal. And for those of you who are a little obsessive compulsive and cannot put a book down until you reach the end of a chapter, you're in luck. Most of the stories in Seriously...I'm Kidding are no more than a few pages long, some much shorter than that. All of which makes this book right up Miss H's alley. Here's a little of Ellen for you (from the chapter titled "Boredom," Ellen provides a list of things you might try):

1. Clean my house.
2. Look at your pets. If you look at them long enough, you can almost figure out what they're thinking. Usually it's "Why has she been looking at me for so long? She must be really bored." 
3. Cut up fruit.
4. Sext.
5. Make a smoothie.
6. Volunteer.
7. Volunteer opinions to strangers.
8. Hitchhike
9. Photograph geese.
10. Put on a blazer and pretend to be a docent at your local museum.
Did you notice what Ellen did there? Right in the middle of all of that nonsense, she dropped in a bit of seriousness. Which  pretty much sums up what DeGeneres has done throughout the book. If you're looking for something light and quick to read but which might make you think a little bit, this might be just the book for you.