Sunday, June 30, 2013

Life: It Goes On - June 30

Can you believe half of the year has already gone by? Every time we come to a point like this, I swear to myself that I will be more productive with my time since it goes by so quickly. But then, a great book comes into my hands, a beautiful evening begs for me to spend it on the patio, or football season starts and that I'm off track again.

I had such fun yesterday going to watch my four-year-old great-niece play baseball. I'd forgotten how funny and adorable kids are playing sports at that age. Took her big sister to run errands afterward. That kid is always trying to work you to get something - reminds me of Mini-him at the same age.

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: I started listening to Henning Mankell's The Man From Beijing this week and I'm really enjoying it so far.

Watching: A couple of games of the College World Series and a lot of HGTV. You know, if you watch enough of that channel, you will convince yourself you can do almost any home remodeling job. I'm ready to do some tiling!

Reading: I've gotten a lot of reading done this week. I finished Together Tea by Marjan Kamali and The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chobski. I also finished listening to Tracy Chevalier's The Lady And The Unicorn. I'm going to spend the next few days trying to make a big dent in Under The Dome. I'm about a third of the way done right now.

Making: Not a darn thing; I've hardly spent any time in the kitchen at all this week.

Planning: On doing some babysitting this weekend. Our nephew is moving in a couple of weeks and I've volunteered to watch the kids one day. My next week "Thinking" will probably read something like "I'm too old to be chasing a nine-year-old, four-year-old, and one-year-old."

Grateful for: Motrin and ice packs right now. I took a tumble the other day, managing to injure my knee and shoulder. Luckily I've got a hard head and didn't do much damage to it!

Loving: Miss H's room now that I'm finally done tweaking and rearranging it. Now if only she'll keep it clean for a few days.

Thinking: She probably won't.

Looking forward to: A three-day work week and a long, lazy weekend.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Published: July 2012 by Random House Publishing
Source: I borrowed a copy from a member of the Omaha Bookworms

Publisher's Summary:
Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does, even down to how he butters his toast. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning the mail arrives, and within the stack of quotidian minutiae is a letter addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl from a woman he hasn’t seen or heard from in twenty years.

Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye. Harold pens a quick reply and, leaving Maureen to her chores, heads to the corner mailbox. But then, as happens in the very best works of fiction, Harold has a chance encounter, one that convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. Harold is determined to walk six hundred miles from Kingsbridge to the hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed because, he believes, as long as he walks, Queenie Hennessey will live.

Still in his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold embarks on his urgent quest across the countryside. Along the way he meets one fascinating character after another, each of whom unlocks his long-dormant spirit and sense of promise. Memories of his first dance with Maureen, his wedding day, his joy in fatherhood, come rushing back to him—allowing him to also reconcile the losses and the regrets. As for Maureen, she finds herself missing Harold for the first time in years. And then there is the unfinished business with Queenie Hennessy.  

My Thoughts: 
Oh Harold, how you toyed with my feelings. I wanted to applaud you for trying to help another person; I wanted to hug you when you lost faith; I wanted to shake you time and time again for refusing to do the things that would make your journey easier and for not having the courage to tell others "no" when it needed to be said. An author is always bound to win me over if he or she can make me care about the characters in the book and I certainly grew to care about Harold and Maureen. As frustrated as I sometimes got with Harold, I was quite sure I would never think of Maureen as anything other than a cold, cruel, sad woman. I was happy to see that Joyce allowed Harold's pilgrimage to allow both Harold and Maureen to reflect and grow. 

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a quiet little book that is as much about the people Harold meets with along his journey as it is about Harold and Maureen. Every person has a story to tell; every interaction has an influence. Through Harold and his journey, Joyce allows us to look for answers to life's questions: is it possible to forgive, can we start life over, is it possible to find peace? This is a charming, thoughtful book. I wish I had purchase it so I could pass it along. Everyone who has reached middle-age should read it and allow themselves to think about how to live their lives moving forward.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

The Burgess Brothers by Elizabeth Strout
Published March 2013 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for this review

Publisher's Summary:
Haunted by the freak accident that killed their father when they were children, Jim and Bob Burgess escaped from their Maine hometown of Shirley Falls for New York City as soon as they possibly could. Jim, a sleek, successful corporate lawyer, has belittled his bighearted brother their whole lives, and Bob, a Legal Aid attorney who idolizes Jim, has always taken it in stride. But their long-standing dynamic is upended when their sister, Susan—the Burgess sibling who stayed behind—urgently calls them home. Her lonely teenage son, Zach, has gotten himself into a world of trouble, and Susan desperately needs their help. And so the Burgess brothers return to the landscape of their childhood, where the long-buried tensions that have shaped and shadowed their relationship begin to surface in unexpected ways that will change them forever.  

My Thoughts: 
Elizabeth Strout has an uncanny ability to make readers care about characters that aren't terribly likable. The Burgess boys and their sister, Susan, are none of them people I can imagine wanting to spend any time with; even changes in them throughout the book can't change that. Still, by slowly revealing their histories and delving deeper into their psyches, Strout makes each of them, as well as Zach and Jim's wife, Helen, people readers can understand and care about. And by "care about," I don't necessarily mean that you'll hope for the best for them.

Young Zach has gotten himself into that world of trouble by rolling a pig's head into the local mosque, spiritual home to Shirley Falls' immigrant population of Somali. The indigenous population of Shirley Falls has not been very welcoming to their new neighbors yet are quick to judge Zach and his mother. Strout uses this scenario to explore the immigrant issue and our own hypocrisy but does it with care, making sure to fully explore all sides of the issue.

Several years ago, the Omaha Bookworms read Strout's Olive Kitteredge and I was impressed by her ability to convey emotion and mood. Here, once again, she impresses:

"He sat with just his eyes moving about the room. The drawn blinds were the color of hard-boiled eggs. The wallpaper was a similar color, with a series of swooping long-beaked birds that were thin and blue. There was a wooden hutch that had Reader's Digest Condensed Books along its top shelf. There was a wing chair in the corner with its arms worn so the upholstery had rips. Nothing in the room seemed designed for comfort, and he felt comfortless."

"The nurse who handed her Zachary must have assumed that Susan was weeping with joy, but Susan was weeping at the sight of him: skinny, wet, blotchy, his eyes closed. He was not her little girl. She panicked at the thought she might never forgive him for this."

It was five years between Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteredge and The Burgess Boys. It was worth the wait. I only hope it doesn't take five years for Strout to write her next novel!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Lit: Summer Reading

I'm seeing a lot of summer reading posts and articles lately. I'm never quite sure what to make of these lists. What makes a book a summer read? Does the list maker intend that we should read every book on the list? Still, they're always fun to read.

O Magazine has compiled a list of 47 books for their Summer Reading Guide. While they're all fairly recent books, they are not necessarily just coming out and I always appreciate that. I have just added both The Light Between Oceans and Where'd You Go, Bernadette? to the Omaha Bookworms schedule so those two were already on my summer reading "plan."

NPR has a list that their critics are updating with new categories regularly. People, I haven't even heard of most of these books! As if I didn't already have a long enough list of books to read!

Reader's Digest has a surprisingly interesting list they recommend for summer reading, including Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins which shows up on a lot of lists. You don't suppose it has something to do with the cover, do you? Is it wrong that thinking of Reader's Digest reminded me that AARP also has a remarkable good list of books for summer 2013.

Over at the TED blog, they've compiled a list of 200 books on their summer reading list, with contributions from more than a dozen diverse TED speakers or participants including Rainn Wilson (of The Office - his list will definitely surprise you) and Chris Kluwe (punter for the Oakland Raiders). Their lists are heavy on non-fiction if you're looking for books to sink your teeth into over the summer but radio veteran Guy Raz has included Taro Gomi's Everyone Poops on his list. So it's not all high brow stuff!

Last but not least, The Huffington Post has a Teen Summer Reading List actually created by teens. I'm pretty excited to see that these teens are reading, that they are reading young adult books that bloggers I respect rave about, and that they are reading and recommending classics such as The Great Gatsby and "anything by Jane Austen." One of the contributors has recommended Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park, which I've been wanting to pick up (if for no other reason than that she has already sent her fourth book to the publisher - I need to get caught up!).

What about you - do you make a summer reading list? Do you reading habits change in the summer?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Life: It Goes On - June 23

Holy smokes - summer is here with a vengeance. We had April weather in May and July weather in June - we've lost two of the best months of the year!

It's been a busy week at Casa Shepp. Tuesday and Wednesday the roofers were here to replace the roof damaged in this spring's hail storm. Thursday the Omaha Bookworms met to discuss The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and were lucky enough to have the hostess' husband join in our discussion. Saturday we interred The Big Guy's mother's remains in the small town she grew up in then joined family that lives nearby for lunch. Last night dessert and drinks on the deck with friends - the perfect way to relax after a long day.

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: I've got two CDs left of Tracy Chevalier's The Lady and The Unicorn. Next up is Henning Mankell's The Man From Beijing...I think. I like to really switch things up when I change audiobooks and that seems about as diverse as I can get.

Watching: Baseball - as much of the College World Series as I can catch.

Reading: I started Marjan Kamali's Together Tea this weekend for a TLC Book Tour. So far it's feeling a little like Persian chick lit but I'm not too far in yet.

Making: Apple dumplings - we had them yesterday at a family gathering and they are so good and easy! For those of you who follow me on Pinterest, I pinned the recipe I'm using.

Planning: On one of the home decor blogs I follow, the blogger is in the midst of a month without clutter. She has cleared off everything that's non-essential on all of her flat services, floors and furniture. I had to take everything off the walls while the roofers were here this week and it's got me thinking about doing the same thing now that's I've had that much of a clean palate. So I think what I'm planning this week is to try that. We'll see.

Grateful for: I feel like I'm a broken record here but once again, I've got to say family.  I thought the interment would just be the siblings and a few of the grand kids but his paternal aunt, three of her kids, their wives and kids all came out to be with us at the service and then hosted us for a lunch. They are wonderful people we really should try to see more of.

Loving: My brother's new website. He's a photographer as a hobby and so good at it. We've been telling him for a long time that he could sell his photographs and he finally listened! I don't know that he's got all of the kinks worked out on the website yet but as soon as I'm sure he does, I'll give you the address. I'd love for you to see what he does.

Thinking: My anxiety is starting to get the best of me. I'm really looking forward to my upcoming four-day weekend but I can't decide if I should plan to be really productive for four days or try to make myself chill for four days. There I go, anxious about how to handle my anxiety. You see how this is a vicious cycle?!

Looking forward to: A little quiet this week; The Big Guy will be out of town for a few days. Love my Big Guy but there's constant noise with that man!

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Published: September 2006 by Simon and Schuster Audio
Source: my audiobook copy was bought at my local library sale

Publisher's Summary: Margaret Lea works in her father's antiquarian bookshop where her fascination for the biographies of the long-dead has led her to write them herself. She gets a letter from one of the most famous authors of the day, the mysterious Vida Winter, whose popularity as a writer has been in no way diminished by her reclusiveness. Until now, Vida has toyed with journalists who interview her, creating outlandish life histories for herself - all of them invention. Now she is old and ailing, and at last she wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. Her letter to Margaret is a summons.

Somewhat anxiously, the equally reclusive Margaret travels to Yorkshire to meet her subject - and Vida starts to recount her tale. It is one of gothic strangeness featuring the March family; the fascinating, devious and wilful Isabelle and the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline.

Margaret is captivated by the power of Vida's storytelling. But as a biographer she deals in fact not fiction, and she doesn't entirely trust Vida's account. She goes to check up on the family, visiting their old home and piecing together their story in her own way. What she discovers on her journey to the truth is for Margaret a chilling and transforming experience.

My Thoughts: The Omaha Bookworms read this one a few years ago and none of them ever particularly gushed about it so, although I've had the book for some time, I didn't get around to "reading" it until I picked up the audiobook. Maybe the Bookworms should have listened to this one because the audio version is one I will definitely be recommending.

Biana Amato and Jill Tanner take on the reading duties in this one, one reading the parts set in the present time as Margaret Lea's voice and one reading the parts set in the past as Vida Winter tells her story. They are both remarkable good, helped, for me, by their British accents. I'm a sucker for a proper British accent!

The story itself was a little uneven for me. I was definitely more interested in Vida Winter's story and this was were nearly all of the action and tension in the book happened. Without Margaret's story as well, though, the book would not have had the balance it needed. Things slowed down in the middle of the book where a greater part of the story was Margaret's, but all of that was necessary later in the story. I had, to an extent, figured out the big secret of the book fairly early on but that didn't dampen my enthusiasm for the wild ride to the finish.

Setterfield's writing is mesmerizing and atmospheric, reminding me of Charlotte Bronte (clearly intentional as Bronte's Jane Eyre appears repeatedly in the story) and Sarah Waters. It's not just the stories of Margaret and Vida that made me so fond of this book, it was Setterfield's love of books that shone through frequently. In a passage about how a book stays with you after you finish it, in an chapter where Vida makes Margaret imagine what she might do to save the books she loves from being forever destroyed, and in this paragraph where Vida explains what it means to be a writer, Setterfield lures her readers into not just this book, but all books.

" For nearly sixty years I have eavesdropped with impunity on the lives of people who do not exist. I have peeped shamelessly into hearts and bathroom closets. I have leaned over shoulders to follow the movements of quills as they write love letters, wills and confessions. I have watched as lovers love, murderers murder, and children play their make-believe. Prisons and brothels have opened their doors to me; galleons and camel trains have transported me across sea and sand; centuries and continents have fallen away at my bidding. I have spied upon the misdeeds of the mighty and witnessed the nobility of the meek. I have bent so low over sleepers in their beds that they might have felt my breath on their faces. I have seen their dreams." 

I've waited a long time to read this book. I'm glad about that for two reasons. It allowed me the time to come across the audio version and, now that I have discovered I want to read something more by Setterfield, it means I don't have nearly as long to wait as others have had to wait.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

She Rises by Kate Worsley

She Rises by Kate Worsley
Published June 2013 by Bloomsbury USA
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for this review

Publisher's Summary:
It is 1740 and Louise Fletcher, a young maid, has been warned of the lure of the sea for as long as she can remember—after all, it stole away her father and brother. But when she is offered work in the bustling naval port of Harwich serving a wealthy captain’s daughter, she leaps at the chance to see more of the world. There she meets Rebecca, her haughty and fascinating mistress. Intertwined with Louise’s story is that of fifteen-year-old Luke, who is beaten and press ganged, sent to sea against his will on board the warship Essex in the service of His Majesty’s Navy. He must learn fast and choose his friends well if he is to survive the brutal hardships of a sailor’s life and its many dangers, both up high in the rigging and in the dark decks down below  

My Thoughts:
In this debut work of historical fiction, Worsley displays a knack for awakening the senses. The sights, sounds, smells of a 17th-century British seaport and a ship at sea are so vivid I found myself easily drawn into the world Worsley had created. 

Dual narratives are always tricky; finding the proper balance to keep the reader interested in both stories can be problematic. Here Worsley struggled a bit. I was much more drawn into Louise's story, perhaps because there was the capability to do more in a less confined space. Too, the stories both lingered too long on certain aspects of their story line - too much time spent on the politics of the ship, too much time spent exploring the relationship between Rebecca and Louise.

But Worsley also manages to give both story lines a tension that kept pulling me along through the book, slowly building to the point where I finally began to see where she might be headed, where I might finally see how these two stories might tie into each other. Even when I thought I knew what was going to happen, Worsley still managed to surprise me.

As a debut, there are some rough edges, but Worsley's knowledge of her subject and writing style are impressive. I'm definitely eager to see what her future holds.

A warning: Worsley never pushes into gory, the brutality of life on a ship at the time is realistic. There are also a fair number of detailed sex scenes but, again, Worsley never lets the story become salacious.

For other reviews, check out the full schedule for the tour. Kate Worsley was born in Preston, Lancashire, and studied English at University College London. She has worked variously as a journalist, a massage practitioner, and spotlight operator, and has a master’s in creative writing (novels) from City University London. She now lives on the Essex coast.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Gods In Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson

Gods In Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson
Published: April 2005 by Grand Central Publishing
Source: this audio book is mine, bought at my local library book sale

Publisher's Summary:
When Arlene Fleet headed off to college in Chicago, she made three promises to God: She would never again lie, never fornicate outside of marriage, and never, ever go back to her tiny hometown of Possett, Alabama (the "fourth rack of Hell"). All God had to do in exchange was to make sure the body of high school quarterback Jim Beverly was never found. Ten years later, Arlene has kept her promises, but an old schoolmate has recently turned up asking questions. And now Arlene’s African American beau has given her a tough ultimatum: introduce him to her family, or he’s gone. As she prepares to confront guilt, discrimination, and a decade of deception, Arlene is about to discover just how far she will go to find redemption--and love.

There are Gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel's, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus. I left one back there myself, back in Possett. I kicked it under the kudzu and left it to the roaches. 
My Thoughts: 
I know Jackson is a huge favorite of many readers so even though I didn't love Jackson's Backseat Saints (although looking back at my review, it's kind of hard to tell how ambivalent I was about it), I decided to give her another chance when I found a copy of Gods In Alabama. That opening paragraph held promise and, throughout the book, Jackson's writing brings the South alive.

Unfortunately, also almost from the start, I was put off by the narration. Catherine Taber reads well enough and is Southern. The story switches between 1997 and 1985 and Taber's voice seemed much better suited to 1985 16-year-old Arlene than to 28-year-old Lena who has spent the last ten years living in Chicago.

My bigger problem with the book was the question of what Jackson was trying to show her readers. In Arlene, Jackson wants us to see that people should be forgiven for past sins and that people can change. But the entire story is built around a murder committed and a rape. We're meant to believe that the murder can be forgiven because it was justified but that the rape could not be and that the rapist would never have changed. Before you get your feminist panties in a bunch, believe me, I'm the first person to say that if someone raped my daughter, it's entirely possible I could become a murderer. And the emotional side of me would say it was entirely justified but the rational side of me would say that the murder doesn't erase the rape. I get it, I get it - it's Southern Gothic. It's meant to be dark. I can handle dark in my books. What I can't accept is a book that tries to convince me that one sin can be forgiven if it's done in the name of love.

There were elements of the book I did appreciate, the discussion of race relations in the South, the discussion of what makes a family, and the effects of mental illness. So, Jackson may yet get another shot to win me over. But perhaps not on audio.

**June Is Audiobook Month**


Monday, June 17, 2013

June Is Audio Book Month!

Hey, guess what? I finally figured out who hosts June Is Audiobook Month - the Audiobook Publisher's Association (who'da thunk it?). 

Do you listen to audiobooks?

I first started listening to audiobooks about five years ago. I felt like my brain was turning to putty at work. To try to keep my brain alive, I brought in an old boom box and started listening to music and NPR. Soon I decided if I could focus well enough on that programming to get something out of it without having it impact my work, I might as well try books. I spent the next year plugged into audiobooks until I finally changed positions. In a sense, audiobooks saved my sanity.

Not long after I started listening to books on CD, I began blogging. Of the 23 books I reviewed in the first month I was blogging, ten were audiobooks. I was hooked, despite mixed experiences. If it weren't for my inability to give up on books, there's no way I would have finished Andre Dubus III's The Garden Of Last Days despite an very interesting story. On the other hand, Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union was so good, I would be willing to pick up anything Peter Reigert narrated. The reader can make or break a book, no matter how well written it is. Do you have particular narrators you would recommend?

I've also enjoyed using and, both great sources of free classic literature. I was able to listen to Austen, Twain, Chopin, Voltaire and Wharton right off my computer while I worked but any of the books could be downloaded. One of these days, I'm going to have to figure out how to do that with my new phone! I know a lot of you use; what other sites are available to audio downloads?

I can't listen to books at work any more but I've always got a supply of books in my car to listen to while I'm driving. What are you doing while you're listening to books?

Later this week I want to talk favorites!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Life: It Goes On - June 16

It's College World Series time and Omaha has, once again, gone baseball crazy. Every year there's one team that really wins the heart of the fans here, but we're known for supporting all of the teams that make it to Omaha and making their fans feel welcome.

The Big Guy is spending most of the weekend in his hometown celebrating his 35th high school reunion. He grew up in a fairly small town and had a particularly close class and they get together every five years. Works out as a great Father's Day gift - we let him go off and do his thing all weekend with our blessing. The bonus for us? It's ever so quiet here!

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: I'm starting The Lady And The Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier this week for drive time. I think it's be a nice change of pace from what I've been listening to lately. Plus, when I'm done, that will be a book I can move off my bookshelf.

Watching: Miss H and I watched Pitch Perfect Friday and Silver Linings Playbook yesterday and enjoyed both of them. I'll definitely be picking up the book Silver Linings Playbook.

Reading: Oh so many things - my reading ADD has gotten a firm hold on me. I'm trying to sneak in a couple of books before I pick up my next book for review as well as continuing to read Under The Dome.  Right now I'm reading Lulu In Hollywood by Louise Brooks which my parents gave me for Christmas. Those of you who read The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty will recognize Brooks' name.

Making: More granola - we raced through a couple of batches in less than a week and a Key Lime cheesecake for the special dads in my life.

Planning: On finishing up a revamp of Miss H's room this week. She had some new things to hang on her wall. Of course, that meant that we had to rearrange, paint some frames, replace some furniture. You know, all of the things you have to do before you can hang a new picture. Well, in our world anyway.
Grateful: Mini-me was able to go back to his own place on Wednesday.

Loving: The rain. Friday evening we had torrential rains and Saturday morning we had a lovely relaxing rain. Either way, I love to watch it and listen.

Thinking: That puttering around the house, changing things up, putting a coat of paint on something, makes me ridiculously happy.

Looking forward to: Spending time with The Big Guy's siblings and cousins this weekend and a family reunion on my mom's side as well.

Happy Father's Day!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Lit: June Is Audio Month

June is audio month, or at least that's what I read all over the blogoverse. I can't seem to find any group that wants to claim credit for naming it thus or any official site. Still, I've been so enjoying listening to books this past year I wanted to play along.

I popped in the last disk of Gods In Alabama today, excited to be nearing the end. Then I realized I only had one more audio book in my car. What if it isn't what I'm in the mood to listen to tomorrow? Would I, gasp, have to listen to the radio? Ok, that may be a bit dramatic - you all know how much I love NPR, it's definitely not the end of the world if I have to turn that on! Still...

Suddenly that little cartoon light bulb went on over my head. Today is Thursday, the weekly book sale at the library. An hour after I got off of work, I walked out of the library with five new (to me) audio books. Three I actually have in paper form but just haven't read yet. It seems wasteful to pay twice for a book but it seems to be the only way I'll get to some books. Here's what I picked up today:

Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
The Lady and The Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier
The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrota
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

I tried very hard to stay away from actual books but you know I spent a good half hour browsing those shelves. I was very good and only picked up two books: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (all your fault, too many of you had raved about it) and No Time To Wave Goodbye by Jacquelyn Mitchard (The Deep End of The Ocean is one of my all-time favorite books so I had to have this follow up).

In the next couple of weeks, I'll be posting reviews of the audio books I've been listening to for the past couple of months. I'm interested in hearing your thoughts about audio books as well so next week I'd like to have that discussion with you as well. Can't wait to hear about your favorite narrators, when you listen, and what kinds of books are your favorites on audio!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Our Held Animal Breath by Kathryn Kirkpatrick

Our Held Animal Breath by Kathryn Kirkpatrick
Published: September 2012 by WordTech Communications
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for this review

Publisher's Summary: 
Our Held Animal Breath is a collection of poems grappling with the failure of human political and social structures to effectively address the dilemmas of our crucial historical moment. Registering an eco-feminist consciousness, the narrators of these poems expose the intertwined vulnerabilities of women, animals, and the land to masculinist agendas of mastering nature for profit.  

My Thoughts:
During last years' Bloggiesta, I had the pleasure of interviewing Serena of Savvy Wit and Verse Serena is the host of the Dive Into Poetry Challenge and the Virtual Poetry Circle. Talking with her reminded me of how much I used to enjoy poetry and pointed up how little of it I pick up these days. So when I was offered the chance to read and review Our Held Animal Breath, I didn't hesitate in saying "yes."

In Our Held Animal Breath, Kirkpatrick's poems are divided into three sections. In the first section, Kirkpatrick uses her poetry to skewer mankind for crimes against nature, animals and women. In the second section, Kirkpatrick takes a more personal turn, primarily dealing with loss and friendship. Finally, Kirkpatrick offers some hope, an out if you will, for mankind.

I often forget, when I haven't read any poetry for a while, how deeply personal it can be. By the end of  the first section, Kirkpatrick has made her opinions about war, the environment, the treatment of animals being raised for consumption and the misuse of our natural resources abundantly clear. "At The Turkey Farm" is quite difficult to read:

"When we eat them do we take in their longing 
for the unentered meadow, their sadness
for the sky they cannot fly into?
Perhaps we become them, soldered to brutal
twilight as their suffered bodies enter our own."
In "How To Lose A Democracy" Kirkpatrick addresses the effects of commercialism and human self-centeredness.

"First, believe you can have
whatever you want,
whenever you want it."
I enjoyed the variety of styles in Our Held Animal Breath and the range of emotions. It is certainly a thought-provoking collection and, quite against my usual rule against such a thing, I've made notes on almost half of the poems. I'm not sure that I would pick up another collection of Kirkpatrick's poems; while these certainly made me think, they didn't speak to me in the way that other poetry does.

For other opinions, check out the full tour. About Kathryn Kirkpatrick: Raised in the nomadic subculture of the U.S. military, Kathryn Kirkpatrick was born in Columbia, South Carolina, and grew up in the Phillipines, Germany, Texas and the Carolinas. Today she lives with her husband, Will, and their two shelties in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, and she currently holds a dual appointment at Appalachian State University as a Professor in the English Department and the Sustainable Development Program. She has a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies from Emory University, where she received an Academy of American Poets poetry prize. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

When She Was Gone by Gwendolen Gross

When She Was Gone by Gwendolen Gross
Published March 2013 by Gallery Books
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for this review

Publisher's Summary:
What happened to Linsey Hart? When the Cornell-bound teenager disappears into the steamy blue of a late-summer morning, her quiet neighborhood is left to pick apart the threads of their own lives and assumptions. Linsey’s neighbors are just ordinary people—but even ordinary people can keep terrible secrets hidden close. There’s Linsey’s mother, Abigail, whose door-to-door searching makes her social-outcast status painfully obvious; Mr. Leonard, the quiet, retired piano teacher with insomnia, who saw Linsey leave; Reeva, the queen bee of a clique of mothers, now obsessed with a secret interest; Timmy, Linsey’s lovelorn ex-boyfriend; and George, an eleven-year-old loner who is determined to find out what happened to his missing neighbor.  

My Thoughts:
That first sentence of the publisher's summary will make you think this book is about Linsey Hart and finding out what has happened to her. But read further and really pay attention to the title of the book and you'll find that the book is less about Linsey than it is about what happens in her neighborhood in the time she is gone.

Gross peeks into the windows of several houses in Linsey Hart's neighborhood and tells the stories of their inhabitants, exposing dirty little secrets including bullying, illicit affairs, and teenaged rebellion. Those who don't live in the suburbs like to portray them as homogeneous, every resident fitting into a tidy little stereotypes. But Gross knows better. She knows that beyond those manicured lawns live real people, with real problems that are at once unique and universal. Gross treats her characters with affection even as she exposes their flaws.

I flew through When She Was Gone, enjoying the alternating points of view as Gross moved from household to household, from character to character. Book clubs will find plenty to discuss here including questions of fidelity, faith, and loss.  

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Life: It Goes On - June 9

Thank you all so much for your kind words and encouragement last week (and on Facebook and Twitter!). We sprung Mini-me from the hospital on Thursday. He is staying at home until he gets his strength back so I get to mama him for a couple more days.He is otherwise completely recovered.

My house and I are still playing catch up after a week largely away from home. I've hardly left the house all weekend and it's felt great - plenty of cleaning, organizing, cooking, and reading.

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: Nature. Friday night I spent the evening sitting on my patio, reading, enjoying a glass (or two!) of wine and enjoying the songs of the birds. Yesterday, it rained much of the day but we were able to leave the doors open so we could listen to it.

Watching: Hospital monitors for much of the week still. Most of the time, Mini-me didn't want the t.v. on which was fine with me. When he did, Cartoon Network was about as focused as he could be.

Reading: Too many things at once. I'm enjoying everything I'm reading right now but it's hard to keep up with everything. I'll finish The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry this week, which I'm reading for book club, then I'll start She Rises for a TLC book tour review. The Under The Dome readalong continues into July.

Making: I have been having fun in my kitchen this weekend. Yesterday I made broiled corn (so easy and so delicious) and steak salad, two kinds of granola using a new base recipe, and steel-cut oats. Today I'm making a chocolate bundt cake.

Planning:Yet another reorganization of my books. I reorganized the non-book stuff on the bookcase in my bedroom yesterday which freed up some room. Of course, that half a shelf means that my entire book collection needs to be rearranged!

Grateful: For all of the support and love our family has gotten this week. As much as I know modern medicine saved Mini-me, what kept me going, doing what I needed to do, were your thoughts and prayers.

Loving: Having pots of herbs right outside of my kitchen again.

Thinking: It's about time to have a party.

Looking forward to: A nice quiet week!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic: Pride & Prejudice, a Read-a-Thon, and First Sentences

Greg (of The New Dork Review of Books) had a great review of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice this week. He makes excellent points on why the book is one men should read but anyone who hasn't read the book yet should take a look at Greg's review. Then you should definitely pick up the book and give it a chance (psst...don't tell anyone I say this but you have my permission to skip over any of the long descriptive sections).

June's question, over at The Classics Club, is "What is your favorite opening sentence from a classic novel (and why)?" Now I know you're going to expect me to say this:

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." - Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

But I'm not going to, as much as I love that sentence. Even though I've never read Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, I think it's opening line is my favorite, conveying all of the possibility of life, the broad spectrum of humanity. It seems more apt today than ever as our country seems to be so torn.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was an age of wisdom, it was an age of foolishness, it was an epoch of belief, it was an epoch of incredulity, it was a season of Light, it was a season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair."   

It's been a stressful week at Chez Shepp, so when I saw this upcoming readathon on Andi's blog (Estella's Revenge) just as The Big Guy switched the channel to "Grease," I knew it was just the thing I needed to have to look forward to. Hosted by  Readathon Central and Reviewing Wonderland, the Summer Lovin' Read-a-Thon is the first week of July. This girl has a four-day weekend that week and nothing major on the agenda so I'm looking forward to a relaxing week with plenty of time for reading!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Life: It Goes On - June 5

Saturday I wasn't so sure life would go on. Following a relatively routine surgical procedure, the antibiotics Mini-me was taking prior to surgery turned on him, wracking havoc with his body, causing him to become life-threateningly dehydrated. He could not give his birth date; in the emergency room they were almost entirely unable to find a vein to put i.v.'s in.

All of the times I have said "this is the scariest thing that has ever happened to me" put together do not come close to the terror I felt at the thought of losing one of my kids. Of all of the things I am, being a mom truly is the thing I am most proud of. How would I define myself without all of them? Four days later, Mini-me was finally released from the ICU. We still don't know when he will come home.

8 bags, 4 i.v. lines - scary stuff!
I will probably be away from the blog and commenting on other blogs for the rest of the week. Between work and hospital, I'm rarely at home. I'll use my Nook to keep up with blogs but I hate trying to leave comments on it.

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: Gods of Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson. Just getting started but I'm not sure I'm going to enjoy the narration.

Watching: That monitor on the left. I learned a lot about all of those numbers that show up and what they should be this weekend.

Reading: Under The Dome by Stephen King. Dang, King kicks the action off early and often in this one!

Making: Nothing. Thank heavens for my sister and a dear friend who have kept my family in meals the past few days.

Planning: Once again, we are living a fluid life with no plans.

Grateful for: Amazing technology and great medicines but mostly incredible, caring nurses.

Loving: Our wonderful support team of family and friends. It's times like these that remind me how very blessed we are.

Thinking: Life will go on but we will never again be the same after seeing how quickly everything can change.

Looking forward to: Bringing Mini-me home!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Pin It And Do It - May Wrap Up

It's a wrap - Pin It and Do It May 2013 has come to an end and once again, thanks to Trish of Love, Laughter and a Touch of Insanity, I've been inspired to use the things I've pinned to a number of boards on Pinterest. This month I pulled things off a travel board, my cleaning board, my book board and even my music board. Of course, every time I go on Pinterest to see what I want to try, I end up pinning even more things. Oh well, there's always another challenge month coming up!

This week, thanks to my cats (don't ask), I tried this cleaning idea. On the plus side, it only calls for things I always have on hand anyway and is relatively safe. On the other hand, it, of course, was not nearly as magical as it sounds and I did need to use quite a lot of clean water to get the soap back out of my carpet. Still, it did work and for a lot less than the store-bought products.

My pin of The Cranberries inspired me to create a new station on Pandora, which I mentioned last Sunday. I'm still enjoying it a lot.

On my book board, I managed to finish two books and got a good start on a third that I had pinned. I finished The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout and The Thirteenth Tale by Dianne Setterfield; I'm still working on Bunker Hill but hope to finish it shortly.

Maybe the best thing about the challenge this time was that it really inspired me to reorganize my boards. When I started pinning  a year and a half ago, I had no idea that I would soon have over 500 food-related pins. Finding anything had gotten to be so time consuming, it hardly seemed worth the effort; easier just to do a search for a recipe. Now, instead of having one board labelled "food," I have separate boards for drinks, desserts, appetizers and breakfasts. Much easier to use. I've also broken up my book board so that I now have three boards: Books Read, Books To Read, and Book Love. After all, if I'm going to pin it and do it, I have to be able to find it!

Do you pin? What great things have you pinned and actually done? I'm always looking for new things to try!