Friday, August 30, 2013

Fairy Tale Fridays - A Little Mood Music by Sarah Bareilles

Love  Sarah Bareilles, love fairy tales and I just realized that she's written a song called "Fairytale." The lyrics are fun and the video is even more fun. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Odds by Stewart O'Nan

The Odds by Stewart O'Nan
Published January 2012 by Penguin Group
Source: this one belongs to me

Publisher's Summary:
Valentine's weekend, Art and Marion Fowler flee their Cleveland suburb for Niagara Falls, desperate to recoup their losses. Jobless, with their home approaching foreclosure and their marriage on the brink of collapse, Art and Marion liquidate their savings account and book a bridal suite at the Falls' ritziest casino for a second honeymoon. While they sightsee like tourists during the day, at night they risk it all at the roulette wheel to fix their finances-and save their marriage.  

My Thoughts:
Financially, Art and Marion got caught in a worst-case scenario, a scenario thousands found themselves in when the bottom fell out of an economy that had made them think anything was possible. In retrospect, certainly they made mistakes, bad, maybe even irresponsible, choices. But it's not the financial choices they made that have put their marriage on the rocks. Art's choice almost cost them their marriage years ago. Despite the fact that she didn't end the marriage years ago, Marion has made Art pay for that choice every day since. Still, it's hard to blame her and easy to imagine yourself feeling the same way if you've been married for a long time.

Set in one of the least "everyday" places on earth, O'Nan has dropped two people with surprisingly everyday problems. We all know people like Art and Marion, people who have experienced everything they have, who have said the kinds of things to each other that they have. Set in a different setting, written by a less skilled author, Art and Marion's story could have been routine. Instead it's a book that will makes it's reader's think, that slowly grows on its readers drawing them into caring about Art and Marion and routing for them to find happiness.
"You couldn't relive your life, skipping the awful parts, without losing what made it worthwhile."
Book clubs would find a lot to talk about with The Odds, touching on themes of love, fidelity, forgiveness and hope.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Life: It Goes On - August 25

After going to Kansas City this spring to catch a Royals game, we were excited to head back down again for another game this weekend. Once again, I thought six hours of driving would give me a lot of reading time. Once again, I underestimated that amount of talking The Big Guy would want to do. You'd think after over 30 years these kinds of things wouldn't surprise me!

I've never much minded reading hardcover books, despite them being heavier and harder to hold. Strangely, I do think that had something to do with why I didn't read more. We had the morning to lounge around before the game today but I just couldn't get comfortable with the book. I found myself really wishing I was reading it on my Nook. Yikes, it's already happening!

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: It's been a 90's/00's rock and roll week for me - Dave Matthews Band, Incubus, Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam.
Loved the seats we had this time!

Watching: Baseball and football mostly. I've never been much for watching baseball on tv but lately I've found it makes a great background while I'm accomplishing other things. Still, the real thing is much more fun!

Reading: Still listening to A Thousand Splendid Suns on audio. I'm enjoying it but not loving it. I started In Cold Blood on my nightstand this week; only a chapter in and so far I'm really liking Truman Capote's writing.

Making: It's been a lazy week in the kitchen again this week - pasta, salads for the most part. I did make some delicious three-cheese grilled sandwiches but somehow they just aren't the same without tomato soup and it's much too hot for soup right now!

Planning: Mini-him and I spent ten hours working on our basement this week and I'm loving what we got done. Most of it is now, finally, finished. But one area still needs a lot of work and I'm planning on using my half day this week and next weekend to try to put that area to rights. I've got a construction project for BG in that area that may not get done for a while but it won't impact my ability to finish the rest.

Grateful for: This guy. We have fun together and he takes good care of me.

Loving: Taking trips without the kids. I do miss having them with us some of the time and I'm always seeing things I wish they were there to see but the logistics of two versus five just make things much more relaxed!

Thinking: It's going to be entirely too hot this week - highs every day in the 90's!

Looking forward to: It's time to make some changes to the look of Lit and Life. I've set up a test blog to start experimenting.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Fairy Tale Fridays: The Fairest of Them All by Carolyn Turgeon

The Fairest of Them All by Carolyn Turgeon
Published August 2013 by Touchstone
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary: 
In an enchanted forest, the maiden Rapunzel’s beautiful voice captivates a young prince hunting nearby. Overcome, he climbs her long golden hair to her tower and they spend an afternoon of passion together, but by nightfall the prince must return to his kingdom, and his betrothed.

Now king, he weds his intended and the kingdom rejoices when a daughter named Snow White is born. Beyond the castle walls, Rapunzel waits in her crumbling tower, gathering news of her beloved from those who come to her seeking wisdom. She tries to mend her broken heart but her love lingers, pulsing in the magic tendrils of her hair.

The king, too, is haunted by his memories, but after his queen’s mysterious death, he is finally able to follow his heart into the darkness of the forest. But can Rapunzel trade the shadows of the forest for the castle and be the innocent beauty he remembers?

My Thoughts:
We're all familiar with both the stories of Rapunzel and Snow White but what if the two weren't mutually exclusive? What if the Brothers Grimm got it wrong? In The Fairest of Them All, Turgeon imagines they did and the result is a fairy tale mashup that stays true to the darkness of the original tales while adding a depth they lack in the versions that have been handed down. 

The Fairest of Them All is much more than a retelling of fairy tales. Fantasy lovers will enjoy the magic, mystery lovers will find plenty of twists and turns to keep them interested, and those who enjoy action in their books will find bandits, murder and war. But The Fairest of Them All is really the story of three women and the ways love changes them. Turgeon weaves together good and evil, love and loss, obsession and betrayal, and, ultimately, redemption.

Last year I read and reviewed Turgeon's Mermaid: A Twist On The Classic Tale. I enjoyed it a lot but had some minor quibbles. Fairest retains everything I liked in Mermaid without any of the things that bothers me in it. Turgeon has quickly become my go-to author for modern takes on classic fairy tales. Not only that, I think she may just have convinced me that magic, in a book, can be a good thing!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Published April 2013 by Little, Brown and Company
Source: I purchased this on my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom. Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette's intensifying allergy to Seattle—and people in general—has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic. To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence—creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's role in an absurd world  

My Thoughts: 
Snarky, sarcastic, biting commentary on society - just the thing to make this girl laugh. And laugh. And laugh. From the opening sentence ("Galer Street School is a place where compassion, academics and global connectitude join together to create civic-minded citizens of a sustainable and diverse planet.") Semple made it clear that she was going after the kind of people who might just think a little too highly of themselves. Semple fills her story with hilarious scenes, vivid imagery, and memorable characters in a format that is utterly unique.

At it's heart, Where'd You Go, Bernadette is  the story of Bernadette and Bee and their deep bond. By normal standards Bernadette is a terrible parent - she almost never leaves the house, she never cooks, and she's a terrible housekeeper. But Bee adores her and in Bee, Bernadette has raised a wonderful young woman, smart, compassionate, and giving. In fact, she's a far better kid than those raised by the self-proclaimed "perfect" parents. Despite her flaws, I liked Bernadette from the beginning and only grew to care more about her as the story evolved.

Three years ago I reviewed Semple's This One is Mine. While I didn't care for (or about) the characters in it, I find a lot to like about the book. Enough to make me say:
"Semple's writing holds great promise; there were frequently passages and pieces that I thought were spot on. Those little gems have me holding out hope that Semple will keep writing and that her next effort will feature more of them."
Where'd You Go, Bernadette is filled with those gems and more than lives up to the promise I saw in that earlier book.  While it was the snark that hooked me, it was the sweetness of the family story that made this novel one I won't forget soon.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

And The Winner Is:

Thanks to everyone who left a comment celebrating my 1000th post!

Amy, of The House of the Seven Tails, is the winner of a $20 Barnes and Noble
e-gift card. Congratulations, Amy!

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton

The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton
Published May 2009 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: both of the copies I read are mine - a paperback and a Nook book

Publisher's Summary:
When five young mothers—Frankie, Linda, Kath, Ally, and Brett—first meet in a neighborhood park in the late 1960s, their conversations center on marriage, raising children, and a shared love of books. Then one evening, as they gather to watch the Miss America Pageant, Linda admits that she aspires to write a novel herself, and the Wednesday Sisters Writing Society is born.

The five women slowly, and often reluctantly, start filling journals, sliding pages into typewriters, and sharing their work. In the process, they explore the changing world around them: the Vietnam War, the race to the moon, and a women’s movement that challenges everything they believe about themselves. At the same time, the friends carry one another through more personal changes—ones brought about by infidelity, longing, illness, failure, and success. With one another’s support and encouragement, the Wednesday Sisters begin to embrace who they are and what they hope to become, welcoming readers to experience, along with them, the power of dreaming big.  

My Thoughts: 
Two years ago I read Waite Clayton's The Four Ms. Bradwells about a group of who come together by chance and form a lasting friendship despite their differences. I didn't realize then that two years earlier, she had written another book based on the very same premise. Again Waite Clayton gives each woman her own set of troubles to deal with and, once again, she addresses women's rights.

My review of The Four Ms. Bradwells is far more glowing than I remember feeling about the book in retrospect and I must say that I enjoyed The Wednesday Sisters more. I found it much more plausible that these women would come together and have a basis in maintaining a friendship over the years with their shared interests in writing and motherhood.

I never could quite get over the idea that the chance that five women who all have some aspiration as writers might chance to meet each other in the neighborhood park and that more than one of them might actually have the talent it takes to be published. I was far more interested in watching the women deal with the issues of fidelity, fertility, racism, and women's rights. The Wednesday Sisters is a kind of coming-of-age story, not in the traditional sense of teens growing up, but of women pushing the boundaries of their place in a male-dominated society. Can they hope to be something more than just wives and mothers? Is it right for women who are starting to believe that they are capable of so much more to, by watching it, endorse beauty pageants? Should they stay with wayward husbands for the sake of the family?

Frankie, Linda, Kath, Ally, and Brett are not strident feminists and activists (okay, well, Linda is) but gradually their eyes are opened to the world around them in ways that only strengthen their bonds. The journey is not without its bumps - the ladies often say the wrong things, anger each other, push each other too hard. It's these bumps that make the book feel more realistic.

I grew up in the 1960's, closer to these ladies' children's ages than to the characters', but it's a time period that remains vivid in my mind and I enjoyed reading about the events that helped shape the world and these characters' lives.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Life: It Goes On - August 18

Even in my house, filled as it is with only college-aged young people, we are winding down summer. The boys head back to school next week and Miss H the week after that. The temperatures are going to be back up to normal this week which will help it feel like summer again. I don't love it when it gets too hot, but dang, we'll get enough days in the 60's before long. Bring on the sun!

I made the tough decision yesterday to pull out of most of the groups I've been a member of on Goodreads, one of them for over four years. I haven't been very active in Goodreads the past couple of years, rarely joining in with the groups for readalongs or posting to any threads. Still, it was tough to admit to myself that it was never going to change. I made some great friends through one of the groups, people who were so supportive of me when I started this blog. But they are all people I still stay in touch with in various other ways so I'm not giving up on those friendships.

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: I've been using YouTube to listen to whole albums while I've been out reading in the evenings including the Eagles' Hotel California.

Watching: We have, shockingly, hardly had the television on this week. So, other than some baseball and football, I really haven't watched anything except CBS Sunday Morning. Today they had a story about Cassandra Clare (link will be updated later today), author of The Mortal Instruments young adult series which started with City of Bones.

Reading: I'm finishing up The Astronaut Wives Club today and will also be finishing up The Odds by Stewart O'Nan. I'll get to start two new books this week but I haven't decided yet what they'll be. I'm thinking a review book for my regular book and a classic for my nightstand. I'm continuing A Thousand Splendid Suns on audio.

Making: Using-what-you've-got-on-hand lasagna. Mini-him requested lasagna Thursday; not having exactly what I usually use on hand, I had to get creative. I used home canned tomatoes for make a puree and V-8 instead of tomato sauce. Lots of fresh herbs later, it was pretty tasty!

Planning: More decluttering.It's a never ending battle.

Grateful for: Giant coffee mugs - I need one this morning!

Loving: Spending time on the patio reading, eating, watching the cats chase whatever critters they can find in the yard.

Thinking: I really should start cooking more again.I've been so lazy in the kitchen lately.

Looking forward to: A couple of weekend trips we've got planned coming up soon.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

It's Readathon Time!

This weekend is The Dog Days of Summer Readathon, hosted by The Estella Society. It just so happens I have nothing on the calendar this weekend so I'm going to jump in (albeit a bit late) and join the fun, a.k.a. any excuse to spend as much time as I want reading for the next two days. I started The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel yesterday and would love to finish it this weekend so I can pass it along to another book club member on Tuesday. If I get through that, then the plan is to finish up Stewart O'Nan's The Odds which I've had on my nightstand for a couple of months. Already I could recommend it for book clubs, interesting look at a marriage. I only hope my family doesn't plan on me cooking this weekend...or cleaning, or doing laundry...

Friday, August 16, 2013

Fairy Tale Fridays - Upcoming Movies

Fairy tales continue to pique the interest of Hollywood and the television industry with a spate of new movies coming up and a spin-off of ABC's Once Upon A Time set in Wonderland scheduled to start this fall. While I've enjoyed the television shows, the movies have, largely, been a disappointment (Snow White and The Huntsman, any one?).

Disney is currently at work on four new movies including live-action adaptations of "Into The Woods," "Cinderella," and a Sleeping Beauty spin-off, "Maleficent," as well as introducing a new animated princess.

Rob Marshall's production of Stephen Sondheim's "Into The Woods" is well on its way to being fully cast and is already in rehearsals. Johnny Depp, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blount and Meryl Streep are signed on to star. Fans of the movie adaptation "Les Miserables" will be happy to see that Daniel Huttlestone (Gavroche) is slated to play Jack (of the beanstalk fame).

Marshall is probably best known for "Chicago" which was a wonderful adaptation of the Broadway show but his last adaptation, "Nine" was much less successful. In his defense, how many people even knew that musical? Well, me, because I saw it on my honeymoon and I did really enjoy the movie. This being Disney, the question is how much will they sanitize the show? How does Disney deal with the attempted rape of a young girl?

"Cinderella" will be an adaptation of Disney's own 1950 classic animated tale but some twists and more of Cinderella's background. I must say, I have high hopes for this one. Kenneth Branagh is directing and I've got great respect for this work (well, except for "Dead Again"). Cate Blanchette is set to play Lady Tremaine, the wicked stepmother and Helena Bonham Carter is to play the Fairy Godmother. Cinderella herself will be played by Lily James who is best known to American audiences as cousin Rose in "Downtown Abbey."

"Frozen" will introduce Disney's latest princess, Anna, the Ice Princess. It's scheduled to be release November 2013 and is the epic journey of Anna as she searches for her sister who has unintentionally trapped a kingdom in ice. The story is Nordic inspired but I'm unable to find a basis for the tale in traditional fairy tales.

Finally, Angelina Jolie will take on the title role in "Maleficent,"  a spin-off of Disney's 1959 animated version of the Sleeping Beauty tale. Here's well get the story from Maleficent's point of view and find out just what made her so angry that she wanted to kill poor little Princess Aurora. Elle Fanning will star as the grown-up Aurora but Jolie's own daughter, Vivienne, will star as a toddler version of our heroine. The movie is scheduled for release in March 2014.

“Maleficent” is the untold story of Disney’s most iconic villain from the 1959 classic “Sleeping Beauty.” A beautiful, pure-hearted young woman, Maleficent has an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom, until one day when an invading army threatens the harmony of the land. Maleficent rises to be the land’s fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal—an act that begins to turn her pure heart to stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces an epic battle with the invading king’s successor and, as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Maleficent realizes that Aurora holds the key to peace in the kingdom—and perhaps to Maleficent’s true happiness as well."

Clearly, the powers that be have decided the American public is no where near finished with fairy tales and my hope is that they've finally figured out the right way to bring the stories to the big screen.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta

The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta
Published October 2007 by St. Martin's Press
Source: I bought this one both in hardcover and on audio

Publisher's Summary:
Stonewood Heights is the perfect place to raise children: it’s got good schools, solid values and a healthy real estate market. Parents in the town are involved in their children’s lives, and often in other children’s lives, too—coaching sports, driving carpool, focusing on enriching experiences.

Ruth Ramsey is the high school human sexuality teacher whose openness is not appreciated by all her students—or their parents. Her daughter’s soccer coach is Tim Mason, a former stoner and rocker whose response to hitting rock bottom was to reach out and be saved. Tim’s introduction of Christianity on the playing field horrifies Ruth, while his evangelical church sees a useful target in the loose-lipped sex ed teacher. But when these two adversaries in a small-town culture war actually talk to each other, a surprising friendship begins to develop.  

My Thoughts:
Stonewood Heights could be the Omaha school district where we lived and raised our children, a place where we like to think that we're giving our kids one of the best educations public school dollars can buy. But woe be unto the teacher who might cross a line that he or she can't even see. Heaven forbid we be honest with our young people and ourselves. We see it again and again across the country in banned books, the removal of evolution from curriculum, administrations kowtowing to parents who refuse to admit that their little angels might not be lily white.
"Some people enjoy it. 
That was all Ruth had said. Even now, when she'd had months to come to terms with the fallout from this remark, she still marveled at the power of those four words, which she'd uttered without premeditation and without any sense of treading on forbidden ground."
When Ruth uttered those four words, she stirred up the wrath of members of a new fundamentalist church in town, a church whose leader understands, as does Perrotta, that the louder you are, the more attention you'll get. When word reaches Pastor Dennis' ears that the sex education teacher in the local high school has actually said to the ninth-graders that some people enjoy oral sex, he spearheads a campaign that results in months of trouble for Ruth, who believes that young people should be armed with the truth and a all of the information they need to make an informed decision. The result is that the school district adopts a new program of sex education which preaches abstinence as the only form of birth control.

The idea for The Abstinence Teacher came to Perrotta after he watched the far right mightily impact the 2004 elections.  Perrotta took that idea and looked at it in a smaller context, in the suburbia he's known for writing about. There's nothing flashy about Perrotta's style, it's clean and real and believable. He doesn't pass judgment here, although I think it's pretty obvious which side Perrotta would come down on if made to choose. After all, Pastor Dennis is like Big Brother and the leader of the abstinence program is about as obnoxious a woman as you'll meet. But Perrotta challenges his readers to make their own choices. Has Ruth gone too far? Would more young people choose abstinence if it had a better image? Should it be the only option taught to young people? Should religious groups have a say in public school matters? How far can you push the middle before they take a stand?

The Abstinence Teacher would make an excellent choice for book clubs - but only if your book club is able to discuss religion without stirring up trouble. I listened to this one, narrated by actor Campbell Scott with mixed feelings and I'm not sure I'd recommend the experience. Pick up the book instead and enjoy Perrotta's subtle satire of the life so many of us live.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Did You See Marisha Pessl On CBS Sunday Morning?

In my younger, wilder years (a.k.a. before children), I used to stay out late and sleep in late. Not so much any more. Part of the reason is so that I can be up in time each Sunday to catch CBS Sunday Morning. There are stories every week that catch my eye, that make me think, that make me laugh. This past week they had a piece about a grilled cheese competition (guess what we had for dinner Sunday?!) and this, a piece about author Marisha Pessl and her latest book Night Film.

I've been wanting to read Night Film ever since Ti of Book Chatter raved about it. I almost bought it for my Nook a few days ago but decided I really didn't need any more books. But, hey, when Charles Osgood and gang give you a sign, you've got to pay attention. Night Film has now been preordered for my Nook. I can't wait!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Looking For Me by Beth Hoffman

Looking For Me by Beth Hoffman
Published May 2013 by Pamela Dorman Books
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for this honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Teddi Overman found her life’s passion for furniture in a broken-down chair left on the side of the road in rural Kentucky. She learns to turn other people’s castoffs into beautifully restored antiques, and eventually finds a way to open her own shop in Charleston. There, Teddi builds a life for herself as unexpected and quirky as the customers who visit her shop. Though Teddi is surrounded by remarkable friends and finds love in the most surprising way, nothing can alleviate the haunting uncertainty she’s felt in the years since her brother Josh’s mysterious disappearance. When signs emerge that Josh might still be alive, Teddi is drawn home to Kentucky. It’s a journey that could help her come to terms with her shattered family—and to find herself at last. But first she must decide what to let go of and what to keep.  

My Thoughts:
Looking For Me has much to recommend it, not the least of which is that this was simply the right book at the right time. I've been struggling lately with my reading; I'd pick up a book, read ten minutes and put it back down. It wasn't even that they weren't good books. They just weren't books that made me forget the laundry, errands, and meals. Looking For Me did that thanks to Hoffman's ability to make her readers care deeply for her characters.

When I reviewed Hoffman's debut, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, I wrote that that Hoffman had failed to deliver a real punch with the tension she built up. Looking For Me taught me that Hoffman isn't about delivering a punch. Instead she shows her readers the ugly side of life while saying to them "it's going to be alright, there is more good in this world than bad." It's a very Southern way of storytelling. Like all great Southern storytelling, Hoffman also knows how to make her setting as much a part of the story as any of the people. The Kentucky mountains are painted so vividly it is clear that they hold a special place in Hoffman's heart.  
"When we reached the top of the mountain and stepped off the platform, I led Olivia along a rugged path where nature offered gift upon gift: bulging tree roots with giant knuckles that formed steps over hazardous terrain, the echo of a pileated woodpecker hammering out its home, the fecund perfume of damp earth and moss."
Looking For Me is, in fact, filled with Hoffman's passions from animals to antiques to family farms but she never allows them to overpower Teddy's story. It's a story of love, loss, and family, of learning when to let go and what to hold on to. Despite all she loses, Teddy is never alone but one of the things I loved about this book is that Hoffman did not make Teddy's strength or happiness come from a man. It came from family, friends and it came from within, an  inner strength Teddy doesn't always know she has and that doubt makes her feel all the more realistic.

I hate to feel that an author is steering my feelings but when a book is written well, as Looking For Me is, it's easy to forget that you've been set up. Even when you find yourself with tears streaming down your face, as I did more than once as I came near the end of Looking For Me.   It's a lovely, comfort read that envelops its readers in hope.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Life: It Goes On - August 11

Woohoo - this is my 1,000th post! When I started Lit and Life a little more than four years ago, I didn't necessarily consider that I wouldn't still be blogging in in 2013 but I certainly couldn't imagine reaching 1,000 posts. Since I've neglected to celebrate the last three anniversaries of the blog, it would seem I'm due for a celebration.

Here's what we'll do: leave me a comment naming one of the books I reviewed in 2009 and a way to contact you. The catch is that you can't give me a title that someone else has already used! Next Sunday I'll announce the winner of a $20 Barnes and Noble e-gift card. Thanks to everyone who has supported Lit and Life in the past four years!

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: Abbey Road thanks to Where'd You Go, Bernadette. Bernadette and her daughter had a great bonding moment with the Beatles.

Watching: Football. I'm a happy girl!

Reading: I'm finishing Where'd You Go, Bernadette today (I can't wait to discuss this with the Bookworms - they better have read it!). Up next, I think, is Carolyn Turgeon's The Fairest of Them All 

Making: BLT dip for food day at work and turkey meatballs to add some protein to our staple pasta and fresh-picked tomato summer main course. I've got a lot of parsley so I think it's time to bust out the homemade manicotti this week.

Planning: On painting my bedroom soon. The question remains "what color?" Color cards are all over my bedroom; this week I'll try to narrow it down and pick up some samples.

Grateful for: The cooler temperatures we've had of late. So uncharacteristic of Nebraska in August.

Loving: Some of the changes I've been making around the house. They're not all big but some have made a big impact.

Thinking: I need a week off of work with the house to myself. I could get so much done!

Looking forward to: More evenings on the patio this week and BLT's with fresh-picked tomatoes!

What are you grateful for this week?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Hungry by Darlene Barnes

Hungry: What Eighty Ravenous Guys Taught Me About Life, Love, & The Power of Good Food by Darlene Barnes
Published August 2013 by Hyperion
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for this review

Publisher's Summary:
Newly arrived in Seattle, Darlene Barnes stumbles on a job ad for a cook at the Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity on the University of Washington, Seattle, campus, a prospect most serious food professionals would automatically reject. But Barnes envisions something other than kegs and corn dogs; she sees an opportunity to bring fresh, real food to an audience accustomed to “Asian Surprise” and other unidentifiable casseroles dropped by a catering service. And she sees a chance to reinvent herself, by turning a maligned job into meaningful work of her own creation: “I was the new girl and didn’t know or care about the rules.”  

My Thoughts:
Like Barnes, I have two boys, boys with big appetites. More importantly, Mini-him and his friends spent most of their high school years hanging out at our house, eating in our kitchen. It's not the same as cooking for a whole fraternity but it certainly gave me an idea for what it means to cook for a lot of hungry young men. Add to that the six years that The Big Guy's mom spent as a sorority house mom and I thought I would have a good appreciation for what Barnes was facing when she first took the job at the Alpha Sig fraternity.

A few big differences here: cooking for those boys was not my job, the most I ever had at my table was twenty, and I wasn't trying to teach them a new way of eating. Also, the enormous, well-stocked, fully-equipped kitchen we prepared many holiday meals in at that sorority house was vastly different that what Barnes had to work in.

Barnes had her hands more than full - a kitchen that might, at best, be called inadequate; a houseful of young men who treated their house just the way you would imagine 50-80 college-aged boys would; and food suppliers who had no idea how to give her what she needed. Barnes' attitude didn't always help her either. She flew off the handle with the boys and her suppliers alike, alienating some, merely amusing others.

To be honest, I was a little put off by Barnes in the beginning of the book. The more I learned about her background, the better I "got to know" her, the more I liked her. She is as honest about her personal shortcomings as she is about her failures in the kitchen. She was often overly ambitious, downright frightening to some of the young men, and left at the end of every school year with the intention of never returning.

Along the way, though, Barnes fond herself more and more attached to those boys, as they were to her. I could very much relate to her interactions with those young men - her annoyance when they disappointed her and made her job more difficult, her delight in the boys that made it a point to brighten her day, and her need to make things right for them when they needed her most.

Every year she returned reinvigorated and armed with new ideas. And every year those suppliers began to come around, seeing that Barnes wasn't alone in wanting to find food that was healthier, locally grown, and made from scratch. And guess what? Barnes even shares recipes in the book! You know how I love recipes in my memoirs (not my cozy mysteries, though) and these are all recipes I can actually see myself using. You know, if I keep reading enough books by authors spreading this message, I may just see the light yet!

By the way, Darlene knows she made an impression on me. One day I tweeted about feeling guilty for eating chips because I thought she'd be disappointed in me even if she didn't know me. And she responded! From now on, I'm only tweeting about the great homegrown tomatoes I picked from my own garden and the dressing I've just made instead of buying bottled. But I'm not killing my own chickens, Darlene; you can't talk me into that!

For other thoughts about Hungry, check out the full tour. Thanks to Lisa at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour.

Darlene Barnes has been food and word passionate all her life, cooking professionally for the last eleven years. Born in the New Orleans area, she spent most of her precollege years in London, eventually moving to Canada with her husband and graduating from Queen's University with a BA in English. From 2006 to 2013, she cooked for the men of Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity on the University of Washington campus in Seattle, offering fresh food and largely unsolicited advice to her college-age customers. She blogged about the experience at and continues the teaching, learning, and connecting through food at Barnes lives with her husband in Seattle, where her two grown sons also reside.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Survival Guide for Life by Bear Grylls - A Guest Review

A Survival Guide for Life: How to Achieve Your Goals, Thrive in Adversity, and Grown in Character by Bear Grylls
Published July 2013 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: our copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for this review

We've been watching Bear Grylls in our house for years (and by "we" I mean The Big Guy and the boys) so when this book came up on a tour, I knew it would be one The Big Guy would enjoy reading. Thanks, BG, for sharing your thoughts on this one!

Publisher's Summary:
Life in the outdoors teaches us invaluable lessons. Encountering the wild forces us to plan and execute goals, face danger, push our "limits," and sharpen our instincts. But our most important adventures don't always happen in nature's extremes. Living a purpose-driven, meaningful life can often be an even greater challenge. . . . In A Survival Guide for Life, Bear Grylls, globally renowned adventurer and television host, shares the hard-earned wisdom he's gained in the harshest environments on earth, from the summit of Mt. Everest to the boot camps of the British Special Forces: What are the most important skills to learn if you really want to achieve your maximum potential? How do you keep going when all the odds are stacked against you? How can you motivate a team to follow you in spite of apparent risks? Filled with exclusive, never-before-told tales from Bear's globe-trekking expeditions, A Survival Guide for Life teaches every reader—no matter your age or experience—that we're all capable of living life more boldly, of achieving our most daring dreams, and of having more fun along the way. Here's to your own great adventure!  

My Thoughts:

I have liked Bear from the time his show first came to in America some years ago. He shows us how to survive in the wild from extreme cold in the Arctic, rugged mountains and in remote swamps.  In this book he applies the character traits and skills he has learned from these expeditions on his show, his ascent of Everest and his UK Special Forces work and pulls in wisdom from various people from Winston Churchill to his parents. 

This book is a quick read and you could plow through in one night, but I believe it is best enjoyed in 20-30 minute segments to soak in the wisdom. While each of the 75 segments are short they are each very diverse from each other and I felt the need to take some time to enjoy them in small quantities. 

The titles of these chapters or segments are things like "Have a Dream, Never Give Up, Pack Light, Failure Isn't Failure, Storms Make You Stronger, Scouting Principals to Live By, Two Ears One Mouth, Don't Dwell on Mistakes, Crisis = Danger + Opportunity" and many others. 

The title of the book pretty well sums up what it is all about "A Survival Guide for Life - How to achieve your goals, thrive in adversity and grow in character"  I really plan to use this is a reference to read periodically as a pick me up or to just remind myself to push myself a little harder.  My boys having been in Boy Scouts growing up so I plan to encourage them to give it a read. 

Even though Bear is an expert in survival and special forces, he brings forth concepts, stories and guidance that are useful for anyone whether young, old, male, female, CEO or entry level employee. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman

The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman
Published April 2005 by Little, Brown, and Company
Source: this one belongs to me

Publisher's Summary:
Be careful what you wish for. A small town librarian lives a quiet life without much excitement. One day, she mutters and idle wish and, while standing in her house, is struck by lightning. But instead of ending her life, this cataclysmic event sparks it into a new beginning. She goes in search of Lazarus Jones, a fellow survivor who was struck dead, then simply got up and walked away. Perhaps this stranger who has seen death face to face can teach her to live without fear. When she finds him he is opposite, a burning man whose breath can boil water and whose touch scorches.  

My Thoughts:
My goodness but that summary hardly scratches the surface of what this book is about. One would think, by reading it, that the nameless narrator (I strangely did not even notice until I sat down to write this review that we never know her name) is a perfectly ordinary person until the day she makes that wish. Other synopses say that after the lightening strike, it is as though our narrator is made of ice. But it's really only that she suddenly shows the physical manifestation of a condition she has internalized since she was a young girl and her mother was killed in a traffic accident. An accident she blames on herself because of another wish that she made. An accident that will turn the book's narrator into someone who never opens herself up to others. It's just as well for them; she is a cold person, preoccupied with death and unable to allow anyone to get close to her.

I've known about Alice Hoffman's writing since I first saw the film "Practical Magic" adapted from Hoffman's book of the same name. As much as I enjoy that movie, along the years, I've picked up several of her books but have never gotten around to reading them. Perhaps it was because I knew, or assumed I knew, that her books were bound to deal with the same magical realism found in "Practical Magic." Except of Isabel Allende's books, I have a problem with magical realism in my books. The Ice Queen has elements that stretch credulity but would hardly be considered magical. In fact it has much more the feel of a modern day fairy tale something Hoffman plays up as our narrator goes back again and again to the Grimm Brothers' fairy tales.

At just over 200 pages, the story is fast-paced covering more than thirty years of the narrator's life. I disliked her so much for a good chunk of that 200 pages that I couldn't imagine any way that Hoffman could make me care about what happened to her. Suddenly, I realized that gradually, without my even noticing it, I had started to care as little by little our narrator had started to thaw. Oh my goodness, how I love the ending of this book, so beautiful and something readers can't begin to seeing coming most of the book.

This is not a book for everyone with it's unsympathetic narrator, a far amount of sex, and a good deal unconventional elements. For a good while, I wasn't sure it was a book for me. Then, suddenly, I couldn't put it down.

A word about the covers of this book: The cover shown at top is the cover for the hardcover edition. The second cover is from the paperback edition. They hardly seem to be covers that could belong to the same book, do they? Yet, they are both perfectly symbolic of this book.  You must know you've made it as an author when your name starts appearing in larger type than the name of the book on covers.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Life: It Goes On - August 4

I walked into my family room yesterday morning and was hit with the thought that I was tired of everything about it. That's never a good thing for my family - it means the rest of the week the house will be a mess as I rearrange, tweak and paint to give the place a face lift. More and more I'm about lightening things up.

Work was crazy this week; with people on vacation and another one sick for a couple of days, my workload almost doubled. Reading kept me sane. I finished one book and most of another one trying to put my brain back in a good place.

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: I created an Arcangelo Corelli station on Pandora (Baroque classical music) and I'm loving it. Perfect for listening to while reading. This piece, credited to Tomaso Albinoni, is truly one of the saddest pieces of music I've ever heard. Maybe because deep in my brain I still remember it from the movie Gallipoli? Talk about sad!

Watching: Movies based on books: "Pride & Prejudice," "Vanity Fair," and  "Under The Tuscan Sun" starring Dianne Ladd. It's one of those movies I always watch when it's on and it always makes me happy. It also makes me want to get around to reading the book on which it's based, a memoir by Frances Mayes.

Reading: Hungry: A Memoir by Darlene Barnes for an upcoming TLC tour, The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton on my Nook, and this week I'll finish Tom Perrota's The Abstinence Teacher on audio. I'm thinking next up on audio will be Mohsin Hamad's The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Making: Nothing - The Big Guy's been out of town this week and the kids have been working or busy so the kitchen's been mostly closed.

Planning: A couple of upcoming staycations. There is so much to do nearby that we just don't get around to doing. We may be staying local, but we will not be staying at home. Those free hotel nights are getting put to use!

Grateful for: The glorious rainfall we had Thursday evening; the kind of rainfall where you can leave the windows open to enjoy the breeze and the wonderful fresh aroma. I spent an hour reading my Nook next to an open window.

Loving: Just picked strawberries. So yummy! I can't believe I've never grown them before.

Thinking: There are a lot of stupid, rude, unethical people out there. Can you tell it's been a stressful week at work?!

Looking forward to: August. When your kids are all in college, you still get to have the third month of summer. So stop with all of the fall/Halloween stuff in the stores and on Pinterest already!

What are you looking reading this week? Any last of the summer plans?

Friday, August 2, 2013

Fairy Tale Fridays - Getting Excited Again

You've probably notice a dearth of Fairy Tale Friday posts of late. There are, basically, two reasons for that. I'm not burned out on blogging but I'm unwilling, right now at least, to put in the kind of time required to be posting as many times a week as I used to post. As much as I love it, there are just so many other things that I either need or want to spend time doing.

Then, too, I really haven't been reading very many fairy tales recently. Okay, none. For some reason I just haven't been interested in them of late. Maybe it had gotten to be too much of a job for a while. This week I've gotten excited about fairy tales again thanks to Alice Hoffman and Carolyn Turgeon.

Hoffman is best known for her books containing magical realism (Practical Magic, which was turned into a movie starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman, being, perhaps, her best known), not as a writer of fairy tales. But in The Ice Queen which I recently finished, fairy tales played a big role. Hoffman's protagonist often referred to the Grimm Brother's fairy tales, preferring them to Hans Christian Andersen's because she:

"preferred tales in which selfish girls who lost their way needed to hack through brambles in order to reach home, and thoughtless, heedless brothers were turned into donkeys and swans, fleas itching like made under their skin..."
Hoffman wrote "Fairy-tale logic can be intractable or fluid, and the hero never know which it is. Especially if the hero is a rational man." I was, once again, reminded of part of the reason I love fairy tales, both old and new.

The very day I finished The Ice Queen, fired up to begin reading fairy tales again, Carolyn Turgeon's latest modern retelling of a classic tale arrived in my mailbox. Turgeon is becoming well known her takes on fairy tales and is the author of Godmother and Mermaid. I got to her talk about her writing two years ago at the Omaha Lit Fest. In The Fairest of Them All, Turgeon takes on the tales of both Rapunzel and Snow White. I can't wait to get to this one and to revisit my beloved fairy tale collections!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

All Things In Common - Tapestries

Tapestries - something I can't recall ever having played a significant role in any book I've ever read. That is until I read Tracy Chevelier's The Lady and The Unicorn a book entirely created around a series of six tapestries woven in Flanders in the late fifteenth century. In my review of the book, I suggested that I might actually be able to weave a tapestry, Chevelier had included so much detail.

Then I picked up Nancy Bilyeau's The Crown in which the nuns at a priory are known throughout England for their magnificent tapestries. Bilyeau didn't include nearly as much detail about the process but I didn't need it to picture the process, the materials used, the time involved. Suddenly I was grateful to Chevelier for giving me the information to make other books more enjoyable.

According to Wikipedia:
Tapestry is a form of textile art, traditionally woven on a vertical loom. However, it can also be woven on a floor loom as well. It is composed of two sets of interlaced threads, those running parallel to the length (called the warp) and those parallel to the width (called the weft); the warp threads are set up under tension on a loom, and the weft thread is passed back and forth across part or all of the warps. Tapestry is weft-faced weaving, in which all the warp threads are hidden in the completed work, unlike cloth weaving where both the warp and the weft threads may be visible. In tapestry weaving, weft yarns are typically discontinuous; the artisan interlaces each coloured weft back and forth in its own small pattern area. It is a plain weft-faced weave having weft threads of different colours worked over portions of the warp to form the design

Tapestries were not only decorative, they were practical as well. Being portable, those who could afford them and had multiple homes were able to take their artwork from home to home. More importantly, the tapestries served as insulation. Images included biblical, mythological, and hunting scenes as well as recreating important events such as battles or coronations. Threads might have been wool, cotton, silk, gold and silver. As you can well imagine, a large tapestry might take as long as a year to create. The series referenced in The Lady and The Unicorn took two years to create. Conditions at the time the series was created would have been difficult at best, the rooms where the weaving was done could not be heated as there couldn't be any fire in the room and the weaving could only be done in daylight hours. In Brussels, unions were formed to control the hours weavers could work, to prevent women from becoming weavers and they were allowed final approval of work before it was released to the buyer. And I thought being an artist these days was difficult!