Monday, September 30, 2013

Autumn Tag

This meme is going around the blogosphere and I thought it's be fun to play along. I'm working hard to remind myself to enjoy fall again this year and not to focus on winter just ahead. I'm hoping this will help!

What is your favorite thing about autumn? The colors - the changing colors of the leaves, the colors of my sweaters, the changing quality of the sunlight.

What book reminds you of school? So many books remind me of school, from books my fifth-grade teacher read aloud to us, to Flowers for Algernon and The Outsiders in junior high, to The Heart of Darkness and The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam in college.

What is one of your favorite autumn-related book covers? Hmm, can't think of a particular one. Maybe the cover of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow that has John Quidor's The Headless Horseman on it.

What is your favorite horror or Halloween story? The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid Of Anything by Linda Williamson because my kids and I read it every fall for years. It was one of the first books each of them loved.

What are some of your favorite horror films? I'm not a big horror film fan. I hate the blood and gore, jump out at you kinds of movies. If I'm watching a horror film, I prefer to something more psychological. "Fallen" with Denzel Washington still scares me every time I watch it.

What is a book release you're looking forward to this autumn? This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett.

What is a film release you're looking forward to this autumn? The latest adaptation of Charles Dickens' "Great Expectations" starring Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham.

What are three books you want to read this autumn? Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister, and Alyssa Nutting's Tampa (hopefully before I see at the Omaha Lit Fest in October).

Consider yourself tagged - tell me about your favorite fall things!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sunday Salon - September 29

What a good weekend we've had! Friday night we got to attend the wedding of the daughter of some of our oldest friends. The ceremony was in a public garden which was surprisingly beautiful still considering the time of year. There are plants growing there I've never seen before. We enjoyed the band that played for the reception so much that when we found out they were playing in a local bar last night, we headed down with friends to hear them again.

Thursday I finally had time to go to the library sale again and picked up four books on CD. I was disappointed not to find more I was interested in but did pick up a nice variety. Of course, I had to pick up a few books in print while I was there including Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow.

Then yesterday I got an email that Barnes & Noble had 300 NOOK books for half price so now I have three new books ready on my NOOK including two that I just talked about on Wednesday, Enon and The System. Paris was available as well but I had to draw the line somewhere.

Lincoln's Sunken Garden

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: I'm listening to Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking and love the narrator on it.

Watching: "Person of Interest," "The Voice," and "Elementary" were all back this week.

Reading: Still working on Night Film but really need to get some reading in this week with two reviews coming up for next week that I haven't started yet..

Making: I bought a roasted chicken the other night and used it with black bean and roasted corn in burritos as well as making chicken salad. I really need to get in the habit of buying whole chickens and roasting them myself.

Planning: On starting Christmas presents this week.

Grateful for: My sister is now close enough that we've been able to start walking together as we both work toward losing some weight and getting healthy.

Loving: The incredible sunrises I'm getting so see on my way into work lately. I'm choosing to overlook the fact that I'm getting to see these because the days are growing shorter.

Thinking: That as much as I love football, I'm glad neither of my boys decided it was the sport for them as I've watched players getting injured game after game. It's a dangerous sport.

Looking forward to: A less crazy work week this week.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Pin It And Do It!

Trish, of Love, Laughter, and A Touch of Insanity is at it again, challenging us to actually do some of the things that we've been pinning on Pinterest in the past few months. This is one challenge I'm always up for and one I'm usually successful at because there are just so many things to choose from. As usual, I'm jumping in at the Pin Obsessed level and will be aiming to "do" 8 or more things I've pinned in the month of October.

As usual, my pins will be a combination of several things, including books that I'm planning on reading in October. I'm also planning on making a bench from barn wood my brother-in-law gave me and lots and lots of pumpkin yummies. I should probably get going on those Christmas presents, too, huh? And, there may just be some travel pins thrown in as well. I still have a couple of trips yet this fall and I'm hoping to squeeze in a staycation so will plan pins from those boards.

Are you a pinner? You should join us!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Place At The Table by Susan Rebecca White

A Place At The Table by Susan Rebecca White
Published June 2013 by Touchstone
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for this review

Publisher's Summary:
Celebrating the healing power of food and the magic of New York City, A Place at the Table tells the story of three richly nuanced people—Alice Stone, Bobby Banks, and Amelia Brighton—whose paths converge in a chic Manhattan café. What follows their meeting is just as revealing as everything leading up to that moment, as each seeker takes a different, winding path to embracing life and becoming whole.

In the prologue set in North Carolina in 1929, we meet Alice, a young African-American girl who will go on to become a chef. Her heritage is the basis for a renowned cookbook, yet her past is a mystery to everyone who knows her. Born two generations after Alice, Bobby is a young gay man from Georgia who has been ostracized by his family. Realizing he's no longer safe in his own home, he escapes to New York City, where he finds a job as a cook. Amelia, a wealthy Connecticut woman, finds her life upended when a family secret comes to light, and flees to her aunt’s Manhattan apartment to recuperate.

While these characters—all exiles from different walks of life—find companionship and careers through cooking, they hunger for the deeper nourishment of communion. The narrative sweeps from a freed-slave settlement in 1920s North Carolina to Manhattan during the deadly AIDS epidemic of the 1980s to the well-heeled hamlet of contemporary Old Greenwich, Connecticut, as Alice, Bobby, and Amelia are asked to sacrifice everything they ever knew or cared about to find authenticity, fulfillment, and love.

My Thoughts:
I wish I had written my review of A Place At The Table sooner. I sometimes think that allow a book to percolate in my brain a while will allow me to write a truer review, to ponder the nuances of the book and leave behind the initial emotional response. The problem here is that I would love to be able to share with you the emotional impact this book had on me as I read it. Three books later, some of that has worn off.

In A Place At The Table, White manages to give readers the stories of three very diverse characters each hurt by those they loved the most, each hoping to find love and a place at the table. While all three of the primary characters (and most of the secondary characters, as well) are wonderfully developed, it was White's portrait of a young gay man most impressed me. It's hard to me to know how real it was, but it felt so true. My heart ached for Bobby as he experienced the pangs of first love, had first one and then the other of his parents turn their backs on him, and struggled to make find his place in New York City.

The three characters only rarely touch each other's lives until late in the book; White introduces the reader to first one character and then another. Bobby's story gets the lion's share of the book and I was disappointed when we left him behind to learn more about Alice and then Amelia. Yet White didn't disappoint me for long, as each of them had their own compelling story line. White brings their stories together in a way that is both unexpected and satisfying. No happily-ever-after ending here, just one that feels real.

A Place At The Table would make a wonderful book club selection, touching on religion, love, forgiveness, fidelity, sexuality and acceptance. With food playing a big part in each of the character's lives, there are plenty of options for clubs who like to tie their evening's food in with the book. It certainly made a wonderful start to my Fall Feasting and put me in the mood to start preparing the kinds of meals that satisfy more than just our need for food.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Lit: Books I'm Looking Forward To

I'm working up the nerve to tell my husband that I need to retire soon. I know it's fiscally irresponsible and it will mean he'll have to work extra hours to make up the difference. Still, it's the only way I'm ever going to make it through my every expanding list of books I want to read. Wish me luck.

Meanwhile, I'm adding more books to my wish list this week. For an industry that's supposedly dying, the publishing industry keeps putting out a lot of new product!

Just in time for football season (isn't it funny how that happens?) is The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian:

COLLEGE FOOTBALL has never been more popular—or more chaotic. Millions fill 100,000-seat stadiums every Saturday; tens of millions more watch on television every weekend. The 2013 Discover BCS National Championship game between Notre Dame and Alabama had a viewership of 26.4 million people, second only to the Super Bowl. Billions of dollars from television deals now flow into the game; the average budget for a top-ten team is $80 million; top coaches make more than $3 million a year; the highest paid, more than $5 million.

But behind this glittering success are darker truths: “athlete-students” working essentially full-time jobs with no share in the oceans of money; players who often don’t graduate and end their careers with broken bodies; “janitors” who clean up player misconduct; football “hostesses” willing to do whatever it takes to land a top recruit; seven-figure black box recruiting slush funds. And this: Despite the millions of dollars pouring into the game, 90 percent of major athletic departments still lose money. Yet schools remain caught up in an ever-escalating “arms race”—at the expense of academic scholarships, facilities and faculty. 

Because it's Paris and because someday I'm going there, Paris by Edward Rutherford: 

Moving back and forth in time across centuries, the story unfolds through intimate and vivid tales of self-discovery, divided loyalties , passion, and long-kept secrets of characters both fictional and real, all set against the backdrop of the glorious city—from the building of Notre Dame to the dangerous machinations of Cardinal Richlieu; from the glittering court of Versailles to the violence of the French Revolution and the Paris Commune; from the hedonism of the Belle Époque, the heyday of the impressionists, to the tragedy of the First World War; from the 1920s when the writers of the Lost Generation could be found drinking at Les Deux Magots to the Nazi occupation, the heroic efforts of the French Resistance, and the 1968 student revolt.  

Paul Harding won the Pulitzer Prize for his debut novel Tinkers which I will get around to reading soon. Of course, I might as well have his latest, Enon, waiting to follow that up.  

Here, in Enon, Harding follows a year in the life of Charlie Crosby as he tries to come to terms with a shattering personal tragedy. Grandson of George Crosby (the protagonist of Tinkers), Charlie inhabits the same dynamic landscape of New England, its seasons mirroring his turbulent emotional odyssey. Along the way, Charlie’s encounters are brought to life by his wit, his insights into history, and his yearning to understand the big questions. A stunning mosaic of human experience, Enon affirms Paul Harding as one of the most gifted and profound writers of his generation.
What have you added to your wish list lately?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen

Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen
Published February 1998
Narrated by Ruth Ann Phimister

Publisher's Summary:
For eighteen years, Fran Benedetto kept her secret. And hid her bruises. And stayed with Bobby because she wanted her son to have a father. And because, in spite of everything, she loved him. Then one night, when she saw the look on her ten-year-old son's face, Fran finally made a choice—and ran for both their lives.

Now she is starting over in a city far from home, far from Bobby. And in this place she uses a name that isn't hers, and cradles her son in her arms, and tries to forget. For the woman who now calls herself Beth, every day is a chance to heal, to put together the pieces of her shattered self. And every day she waits for Bobby to catch up to her. Because Bobby always said he would never let her go. And despite the flawlessness of her escape, Fran Benedetto is certain of one thing: It is only a matter of time.

My Thoughts: 
A good book about spousal abuse should make the reader feel ill at ease. I suppose this book is a success in that I spent the entire book waiting for something terrible to happen. You might also expect it to be heartbreaking. I did but it wasn't. 

Some of the reason has to do with "reading" this one on audio, particularly with the narrator. Phimister is a very competent reader but there was something very matter-of-fact about her approach to this story. Given that it's told from the first person point of view,  I found her "voice" to be very cold and detached. But it's also very difficult to become emotionally invested when it's difficult to dwell on the details that make the story powerful. Here it's the details that show that while Fran's physical manifestations of abuse may have healed, emotionally she is still black and blue.

The other issue has to do with the way Quindlen chose to tell the story; nearly all of the abuse is relayed to the reader by Fran as she works to build a new life as Elizabeth Crenshaw. To her credit, this approach avoid the trap of being emotionally manipulative. And it may work better on paper; my friend Mari of MP: Living Reading Running tells me it does. Certainly Quindlen knows the subject of domestic abuse; she wrote about it extensively as a writer for The New York Times. I do believe it's a book that will keep me thinking and wondering how many women I know may be hiding a terrible secret.

On the outside I looked fine: the job, the house, the kid, the husband, the smile. Nobody got to see the hitting, which was really the humiliation, which turned into the hatred. Not just hating Bobby, but hating myself, too, the cringing self that was afraid to pick up the remote control from the coffee table in case it was just the thing that set him off...I stayed because I wanted my son to have a father and I wanted a home. For a long time I stayed because I loved Bobby Benedetto, because no one had ever gotten to me the way he did. I think he knew that. He made me his accomplice in what he did, and I made Robert mine. Until that last time, when I knew I had to go, when I knew that if I told my son I'd broken my nose, blacked my eyes, split my lip, by walking into the dining-room door in the dark, that I would have gone past some point of no return. The secret was killing the kid in him and the woman in me, what was left of er. I had to save him, and myself.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Bloggiesta - It's A Wrap!

It's that time again - time for bloggers worldwide to spend a weekend working on their blogs, helping each other, and challenging each other. I'm coming late to the game (as usual) an I'm not sure how much time I'll be able to spend. But, as always, I've got big plans!

My Bloggiesta Plan Wish List:
Clean Up My Email
Clean Up My Reader
Write Two Book Reviews
 Write One Lit Post
 Create New Header
 Write Shell Reviews For Scheduled Reviews
 Finish Two Challenges

As you can see, I get more done than I didn't. The email and reader both took hours and hours - far more than I anticipated. I did get posts written that take me well into next week so I'll use the blogging time that frees up to work on the new header (and a new look) and to get the shell reviews written. Although I didn't have the time to participate in any of the Bloggiesta Twitter chats or even do any of the challenges, I appreciated the kick in the butt Bloggiesta always gives me!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Life: It Goes On - September 22

Well, we're happy in our house today after the Husker's big win yesterday. It's been a tough week for Husker Nation as we licked our wounds from last week's game and dealt with the fallout of a leaked tape of our coach speaking ill of fans who had booed the team and left a game early two years ago. It was a brouhaha that stirred up emotions but I'm hoping we have put it to bed now.

After what was probably our last hot day of the year, we've had lovely cool weather the past couple of days. It's the kind of weather that made sitting around the fire the other night with friends perfect.

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: Cole Porter at home but the kind of rock music in my car that has other drivers taking up a collection to get me some audio books to sooth the savage beast. I may be just a bit more aggressive under the influence of the kind of music I like to listen to when I'm driving.

Watching: De-Lovely about Cole Porter, starring Kevin Kline. Hence the music.

Reading: I've started Night Film on my Nook and continue to read A Thousand Days In Venice. I'm enjoying it so much that I'm not taking my other reads upstairs at night any more to read in bed.

Making: Crescent rolls filled with homemade pumpkin pie creme cheese and some made with Nutella for breakfast yesterday. Both so yummy!

Planning: On switching over to fall decor this week. It's been too nice to switch over until just now.

Grateful for: The hour I unexpectedly got to have with all three of my kids home at the same time last night. With their schedules, it rarely happens any more with out some planning.

Loving: Getting to wear shorts and sweaters in the same day.

Thinking: It's lovely to be able to sleep with the windows open at last.

Looking forward to: Ushering at the community playhouse in Lincoln this afternoon for "Spamalot."

What are you looking forward to this week?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Bloggiesta - OLE!

It's that time again - time for bloggers worldwide to spend a weekend working on their blogs, helping each other, and challenging each other. I'm coming late to the game (as usual) an I'm not sure how much time I'll be able to spend. But, as always, I've got big plans!

My Bloggiesta Plan Wish List:
Clean Up My Email
Clean Up My Reader
Write Two Book Reviews
 Write One Lit Post
 Create New Header
 Write Shell Reviews For Scheduled Reviews
 Finish Two Challenges

As you can see, I get more done than I didn't. The email and reader both took hours and hours - far more than I anticipated. I did get posts written that take me well into next week so I'll use the blogging time that frees up to work on the new header (and a new look) and to get the shell reviews written. Although I didn't have the time to participate in any of the Bloggiesta Twitter chats or even do any of the challenges, I appreciated the kick in the butt Bloggiesta always gives me!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel

The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel
Published June 2013 by Grand Central Publishing
Source: I bought this one to read with The Omaha Bookworms

Publisher's Summary:
As America's Mercury Seven astronauts were launched on death-defying missions, television cameras focused on the brave smiles of their young wives. Overnight, these women were transformed from military spouses into American royalty. They had tea with Jackie Kennedy, appeared on the cover of Life magazine, and quickly grew into fashion icons.

Annie Glenn, with her picture-perfect marriage, was the envy of the other wives; platinum-blonde Rene Carpenter was proclaimed JFK's favorite; and licensed pilot Trudy Cooper arrived on base with a secret. Together with the other wives they formed the Astronaut Wives Club, meeting regularly to provide support and friendship. Many became next-door neighbors and helped to raise each other's children by day, while going to glam parties at night as the country raced to land a man on the Moon.

As their celebrity rose-and as divorce and tragic death began to touch their lives-they continued to rally together, and the wives have now been friends for more than fifty years. THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB tells the real story of the women who stood beside some of the biggest heroes in American history.

My Thoughts:
This is one of those books that you know from the moment you first hear of it, you will read it, not that you just want to read it. One of my most vivid childhood memories is sitting in front of a console television set at the home of family friends to watch men land on the moon. One of my all-time favorite books is Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff and I adore the movie it was adapted into. I knew the names of the wives of the first Mercury astronauts and was eager to learn more about their side of the story.

Neighbors peering into the home of Jim Lovell, Apollo 13
That's one of the things I liked about The Astronaut Wives Club: I liked learning about those ladies I was familiar with and the ladies whose husbands I was familiar with. I liked learning about how these women dealt with their husbands' absences, infidelities, and deaths. I was interested in reading about how the ladies got sucked into their husbands' competitive natures, how they rallied around each other in time of need, and how they dealt with fame. Given their unique positions, and the title of the book, I imagined that as each new group of astronauts was added, the wives with welcome them into the fold. Not so; it took a long time for the ladies to even begin to warm to the new wives.

All of that being said, there are a number of problems with The Astronaut Wives Club. There are a lot of astronaut families and while it may not be fair to say so, not all of them are equally interesting. Neither was the minutiae of the families' lives. It was enough to know that these people lived good lives thanks to the money they received from LIFE magazine and all of the other perks they received. It was interesting to learn how the "important" people wanted to welcome them into their lives but readers don't need the details of every event. A tighter focus would have made for a better book.

Scott Carpenter and daughter
Something that's been gnawing at me since I finished the book was the astronauts themselves. These guys were not, for the most part, the best husbands. Buzz Aldrin, for example, was a terribly cold man. Most of them cheated on their wives to some extent. Their careers came ahead of the families. Koppel would have readers believe that these men had very few redeeming characteristics. There must have been something that drew the wives to these men, that made them put up with the absences, the infidelities and the stress. Most of the marriages did end up breaking up (something like only 3 or 4 of the astronaut marriages survived) so maybe what Koppel got from these ladies didn't reflect that. It seems she might have dug a little deep for a fuller portrayal.

When it came time to choose a book for the Omaha Bookworms now annual multi-generational selection, I picked this one for the group thinking it would be interesting to get the opinion of those who might remember those heady days of the space race better. My parents were among those who read this book with us.

My dad says he well remembers "how squeaky clean those first astronauts and their wives looked and sounded when they were presented to us more than half a century ago." He was interested, as was I, to learn "how NASA and LIFE magazine crafted that image out of whole cloth." He added it was "comforting to know what I should have suspected all along - that they were human beings just like the rest of us, with many of the same fears, weaknesses, jealousy, and pettiness that motivate most of us." Very true, and I'm sure more so for readers who remember this time in history.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Originally published January 1966 by Random House
Source: this one is mine

Publisher's Summary:
On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.

Five years, four months and twenty-nine days later, on April 14, 1965, Richard Eugene Hickock, aged thirty-three, and Perry Edward Smith, aged thirty-six, were hanged for the crime on a gallows in a warehouse in the Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing, Kansas.

History of the Book:
When The New York Times published a piece about the murders in November, 1959, Capote was interested enough to investigate the murders. Capote brought his  friend Harper Lee ( To Kill a Mockingbird) to help gain the confidence of the locals in Kansas. After the criminals were found, tried, and convicted, Capote conducted personal interviews with both Smith and Hickock.

In Cold Blood was first published as a four-part serial in The New Yorker before it was published as a novel. Capote insisted throughout his life that every word of the book was fact but, over the years, many people have disputed this. Capote may not have been the first to write a non-fiction novel but it certainly seems to have changed the way we think about them.

My Thoughts:
In Cold Blood is Omaha's 2013 selection for a community read. It's a book that's been on my nightstand for a long time, a book I felt like I "should" read. For some reason, though, it just never seemed to be the right time to pick it up. Until everyone else was reading it. Now I'm looking forward to discussing it with others, Capote's writing style, the way he portrayed two cold-blooded killers as complex humans, the veracity of the details.

I'm not hung up with whether or not every bit of what Capote wrote as fact is, actually, fact. But then, I'm not reading it in 1966 believing it to be a complete work of nonfiction. I'm far more interested in the way Capote portrayed Holcomb, Kansas, its denizens and their reactions to the crime.
'The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call "out there." Some seventy miles east of the Colorado border, the countryside, with its hard blue skies and desert-clear air, has an atmosphere that is rather more Far West than Middle West. The local accent is barbed with a prairie twang, a ranch-hand nasalness, and the men, many of them, wear narrow frontier trousers, Stetsons, and high-heeled boots with pointed toes. The land is flat and the views are awesomely extensive; horses, herds of cattle, a white cluster of grain elevators rising as gracefully as Greek temples are visible long before a traveler reaches them."
I'm more interested in the relationship between the two killers, their relationships with their families and the impact those relationships had on both men, and the way Capote takes the reader deep into Smith's and Hickok's minds. Smith, in particularly, comes off as both a sympathetic and heartless person who, despite his hard-scrabble life, might still have made something of himself but chose not to, preferring instead to play the victim. It's rare to read a book, fiction or nonfiction, where the "bad guys" are so nuanced.

Richard "Dick" Hickok and Perry Smith
These days we have grown hardened to crime; it takes a lot to shock us collectively. If the Clutter murders occurred in 2013, it would make the national news for about one day and then disappear in the wake of a more heinous crime. But it would still stun and terrify a community as small and isolated as Holcomb and that may be one of the reasons this story still resonates with so many readers more than fifty years after it happened.

Banned Books:
The book was banned for a time in Savannah, Georgia when a parent complained about the sex, violence and profanity but the ban was reversed when other parents complained. In 2011, when a Los Angeles-area Advanced Placement English teacher tried to add the book to her curriculum, it was again challenged for the same reasons but the school board ultimately approved its use.

I had planned to read this one a little more slowly but when Sheila of Book Journey had to move up her annual Banned Book Week coverage, I decided to read this one sooner so I could help start to get the word out early about banned books. The official Banned Book Week is next week but to get yourself fired about to read a book for that week, check out more of the posts at Book Journey!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Life: It Goes On - September 15

 It's grey, it's cool, and it's rainy here this morning - woohoo! Just the kind of day to curl up and read. I had such a productive day yesterday that I'm going to take some time today to do just that.

It's a sad day in Husker Nation. Unless you're like me and a) are able to get over the football game when the game is done and/or b) cheer for all Husker teams in which case you're happy because the volleyball team won it's third match in as many days last night. Go ladies! We are a particularly superstitious lot here, though, and next week there will be some tweaking of Husker gnome placement and a change in which Husker gear we're wearing. Because, yes, we really can influence the outcome of the game!

Here's What I'm:
Arcangelo Corelli

Listening To: Arcangelo Corelli's 12 Concerti Grossi Opus 6 this morning. My dad raised us on classical music, particularly on Sunday mornings.

Watching: Sports and not much more.

Reading: I'll finish Truman Capote's In Cold Blood by tomorrow then I'll start Marisha Pessl's Night Film on my Nook.

Making: Pasta sauce with herbs and tomatoes from the garden to freeze, breakfast burritos which I wrapped and tossed in the fridge for quick breakfasts, and variations on the traditional S'more. Those were a big hit with the young people that were at my house for a fire the other night! I'm still looking for a good alternative to graham crackers but we found quite a lot of good alternatives to plain chocolate bars.

Planning: I've got some furniture I want to get painted today if the weather cooperates. If not, I'm going to start working on Christmas gifts.

Grateful for: The rain; it's been so dry here the past few weeks.

Loving: Miss H finally having her driver's license. Except for the fact that now I have one more thing to worry about when I hear sirens nearby!

Thinking: I might just break out a can of pumpkin this week. Pinterest, you evil creation, you've broken me down with all of your pumpkin recipes!

Looking forward to: Book club this week with our extra guests as we discuss Lily Koppel's The Astronaut Wives Club. It's going to be a good discussion - my mom and I have already been talking about the writing.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Lit: What To Listen To?

Every Thursday, over the lunch hour, the library close to my office has their book sale. I make it a point to stop by once every couple of months to drop off books to donate and to see what I can pick up for $20. Generally, I try to pick up five new audio books; at just $2 a book, even when I'm paying for a book I already own in print, it's a bargain. This generally results in me driving around with several books in my car at a time. Until yesterday. Thursday. The day I could have stopped by the sale but didn't. Today I put in the last disc of the last book I've got in my car.

Now the question is do I do what I always used to do, listen to the news or music while I drive until next Thursday? I always enjoyed that and I must say I felt much more in the loop about what's going on in the world when I did that. Plus, the books at the library are, after all, only two bucks and I'm supporting a great cause.

Or do I load books onto my phone and start listening that way? And if I do that, where do I get my books from? I can get classics from Librivox for free but to get more current books, who should I pay? Who do you use? I'd like to use iTunes (since I do have a resident Apple genius to help!) but, dang, they are not cheap!

If I'm paying real prices for books, I definitely won't be paying a second time for books I already have on my shelves. So what do I want to pay for? I'm very tempted by Mary Russell's The Sparrow (as so marvelously sold to me by Andy of Estella's Revenge yesterday) or Cathleen Schine's Fin And Lady which I've been looking forward to for months. Do you have any recommendations for great books on audio that are well worth the price?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Published November 2008 by Penguin Group
Narrated by Atossa Leoni
Source: I bought both of the copies of this one that I own - once again, I have it in both print and audio

Publisher's Summary:
Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are two women brought jarringly together by war, by loss and by fate. As they endure the ever escalating dangers around them—in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul—they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation.  

My Thoughts:
Mariam is forced, as an fifteen-year-old, to marry forty-year-old Rasheed. It seems at first that life will be better than expected until Rasheed gradually begins to show his true colors, first by insisting that Mariam wear a burka when they're out in public. When she is unable to give him a son, the beatings begin and eighteen years after they marry, Rasheed takes another young wife. Laila has her own reasons for accepting Rasheed's offer of marriage. Even so, she is much less willing to take Rasheed's abuse than Mariam has been and Mariam slowly begins to come back to herself.

I really wanted to be emotionally caught up in this book; I really should have been caught up emotionally in this book. Mariam's and Laila's stories are heartbreaking, as is the story of what has happened to Afghanistan in the past three decades. War, abuse, constant fear - this should have been a book that kept me on edge but it just didn't. Perhaps it was the experience of listening to it (although the narration is really quite good and I think having the authentic voice added a lot to the story) while driving and not being able to be totally immersed. Still, if for no other reason than to learn a tremendous amount about life, particularly life as a woman, in a part of the world that never ceases to interest me, A Thousand Splendid Suns is a book worth reading.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
Published April 2007 by Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Narrator: Satya Bhabha
Source: I bought this one on audio

Publisher's Summary: 
At a café table in Lahore, a bearded Pakistani man converses with a suspicious, and possibly armed, American stranger. As dusk deepens to night, he begins the tale that has brought them to this fateful meeting. . .

Changez is living an immigrant’s dream of America. At the top of his class at Princeton, he is snapped up by Underwood Samson, an elite firm that specializes in the “valuation” of companies ripe for acquisition. He thrives on the energy of New York and the intensity of his work, and his infatuation with regal Erica promises entrée into Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by his own family back in Lahore.

For a time, it seems as though nothing will stand in the way of Changez’s meteoric rise to personal and professional success. But in the wake of September 11, he finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned, and his budding relationship with Erica eclipsed by the reawakened ghosts of her past. And Changez’s own identity is in seismic shift as well, unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power, and perhaps even love.  

My Thoughts:
There's been a nagging thought in the back of my mind lately, "I swear I finished a book I haven't written a review for yet." But there was no book sitting on my desk waiting for me to write its review so I pushed the thought aside. Suddenly, I remembered; I had yet to review this one, which I had already put into a bag to be donated back to my library. So frustrating because this one really impressed me and I don't even have a paper copy of the book to go back to refresh my mind.

If the book were a movie, it would be said that Hamid has torn down the fourth wall with his narration - the reader appears to be the unidentified American to whom Changez is telling his story. This could have been nothing more than a gimmick; instead it's a unique way to draw readers into the story and the tension Hamid is building to. It's particularly effective on audio.

I assumed that Changez was going to be turned to fundamentalism after having abuse heaped on him by angry Americans following the September 11 attacks. Instead Hamid makes Changez change much more gradual, less the result of an overt action than a culmination of the collapse of his relationship with Erica, disillusion with his work, and a loyalty to Pakistan. It's thought provoking; I often found myself wishing that I had a paper copy of the book so that I could take notes of especially interesting points and finding myself looking at things from a different point of view.

Hamid packs a lot into this short book including an ending that, literally, left me with my mouth hanging open as I was driving down the road. I highly recommend The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Life: It Goes On - September 8, 2013

Greetings from Omaha, where summer, apparently, is using the lunar calendar to determine it's end date this year. Holy buckets has it been hot the past few days! It's doing wonders for my tomatoes but I'll bet they're not selling many pumpkins spice lattes around here.

I'm actually coming to you this morning from Missouri, where we've had rollicking good fun this weekend helping my sister-in-law cope with turning 50 next week. Y'all know how much I love my trips to Missouri, especially when I get to spend time at a winery!

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: Fleetwood Mac's Rumors - takes me right back to high school!

Watching: Football and Paul Bettany movies: Wimbledon,.Master & Commander, and A Knight's Tale. It just happens that they were all on tv this week and I do like looking at him!

Reading: On audio, I'm still listening to Anna Quindlen's Black and Blue. I'm not loving it; I don't know if it's the narrator or the story. I want to feel an emotion punch from Quindlen like I did with Every Last One. I'll finish A Place At The Table this weekend and quite like it. I think I'll move In Cold Blood to my regular read next to make sure I finish it before I attend one of the Omaha Reads events for it.

Making: My sister and I made a really cute (if I do say so myself - and I can because it was entirely my sister's idea) candy bouquet for my sister-in-law's birthday with 50 pieces of candy.Sadly, no picture.

Planning: On catching up this week. Being gone on a weekend always puts me behind.

Grateful for: Being close enough to my family to be able to share special events.

Loving: My new haircut - had five inches cut off the other day.

Thinking: There are some really ridiculous t.v. shows - and BG has watched all of them for at least 5 minutes.

Looking forward to: I'm trying not to look forward - I'm trying to enjoy each day as it arrives. It's easier to pretend that winter's not just a couple of months away that way!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Elizabeth The First Wife by Lian Dolan

Elizabeth The First Wife by Lian Dolan
Published May 2013 by Prospect Park Books
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Elizabeth Lancaster, an English professor at Pasadena City College, finds her perfectly dull but perfectly orchestrated life upended one summer by three men: her movie-star ex-husband, a charming political operative, and William Shakespeare. Until now, she’d been content living in the shadow of her high-profile and highly accomplished family. Then her college boyfriend and one-time husband of seventeen months, A-list action star FX Fahey, shows up with a job offer that she can’t resist, and Elizabeth’s life suddenly gets a whole lot more interesting. She’s off to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for the summer to make sure FX doesn’t humiliate himself in an avant-garde production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.  

My Thoughts: 
Lian Dolan writes chick lit with a brain. Rarely will you learn as much from a chick lit book as you will from Elizabeth The First Wife chock full as it is with references to Shakespeare and, surprisingly, quantum physics. While Dolan gets snarky, it's a  gentle snarkiness blended with a clear love of her setting and its denizens. Her voice rings out throughout the book; the sense of humor so many have enjoyed for years listening to her on the Chaos Chronicles apparent in her writing.

Dolan draws on stereotypes for some of her characters but they are such fun, with just enough depth to make them feel like real people, that readers will mostly forgive her. Elizabeth can come of a little Bridget Jones-y at times, finding herself repeatedly in the center of trouble, but more because of her trusting nature than her own poor choices a la Jones.

It was fun to see characters from Dolan's first novel, Helen of Pasadena (also, obviously, set in Pasadena), reappear in Elizabeth The First Wife. 

One of the things I enjoyed most about Elizabeth The First Wife are the magazine-like sidebars that start every chapter which look at Shakespearean power couples and characters through a pop-culture filter. For example, one is titled "The MacBeths" and includes the bit "Who They Remind You Of: The Reagans, the Clintons, the Eminems, the Jolie-Pitts." Another is titled "3 Guys Your Mom Will Love" and lists three of Shakespeare's characters and lists "Who He Reminds Us Of," "Why Mom Would Love Him," and "Major Drawback." One of my favorites of these is a two-page comparison of Romeo Montague, Hamlet and Edward Cullen (of Twilight fame). Dolan compares personality traits, hobbies, and hangups (Hamlet's is, of course, his mother). I know I'm not doing these pieces justice here; trust me, much chuckling was involved in the reading!

Elizabeth The First Wife was my last "summer" read before launching into all of the fall events and it was the perfect way to end the season.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes

The Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes
Published August 2013 by Pamela Dorman Books
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
France, 1916: Artist Edouard Lefevre leaves his young wife, Sophie, to fight at the front. When their small town falls to the Germans in the midst of World War I, Edouard’s portrait of Sophie draws the eye of the new Kommandant. As the officer’s dangerous obsession deepens, Sophie will risk everything—her family, her reputation, and her life—to see her husband again.

Almost a century later, Sophie’s portrait is given to Liv Halston by her young husband shortly before his sudden death. A chance encounter reveals the painting’s true worth, and a battle begins for who its legitimate owner is—putting Liv’s belief in what is right to the ultimate test.  

My Thoughts: 
Last year, JoJo Moyes' Me Before You was one of the breakout hits of the year. I passed on it for review. Yeah, I know, still kicking myself for that one. Needless to say, I wasn't passing on this one.

The Girl You Left Behind is not just the name of a painting - it is Sophie whose husband has gone off war leaving her to take care of an entire village, it is Liv whose husband died leaving her filled with guilt and an emptiness she can't find a way to fill. Neither Sophie nor Liv will remain left behind; they are both stronger than they know. Sophie's tremendous courage and willingness to do whatever it takes to save her husband, Liv's incredible  grief and inability to let go - Moyes made me care about what happened to these women.

It's not uncommon to use two different stories, set in two different time periods in one book. What is unusual is to have both stories carry equal weight, both in the story line and the emotional aspect of the story. Moyes does just that, fully immersing the reader in first Sophie's story and then Liv's before starting to move back and forth more frequently. Authors utilizing this story telling method often tie their two stories together by the most tenuous of threads or the connection does not become obvious until you are nearly done with the book. In The Girl You Left Behind, seven pages into the modern story line, the connection becomes clear and Sophie's story plays a prominent role in Liv's story. Never once did I find myself racing through one part just to get past it and on to the other story line - a rare thing indeed.

Moyes is a gifted storyteller, able to handle complex plots and create nuanced characters. I look forward to reading more of her work.

Fall Feasting!

It's that time of year again, time for me to celebrate the change of seasons by celebrating food! For the next three months, I'll be reading a number of both fiction and non-fiction books centered around food. This year, it's also going to help me knock off one of the challenges I signed up for this year, The Foodies Read Challenge.

On my pile of books to choose from this fall are:
A Thousand Days In Venice by Marlena De Blasi
Harvest by Richard Horan
Under The Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister
The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry
A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
Chef by Jaspreet Singh
Extra Virgin by Annie Hawes
                                          Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris

Which of these have you read? Are there any I simply must get to this fall (because let's be real here, there's no way I'm getting through all of these no matter how good my intentions!)?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Life: It Goes On - Sept 1

Ahhhh, I feel so much better now - it's finally REAL football season! It's also that time of year when my head is in a funny place. I've got great loads of tomatoes coming off the vine right now and it's been scorching hot, so it's summer, right? But pumpkin beer is on the shelf, football's on the t.v. and the Halloween candy is out so it's fall, right?

I do know my reading is already starting to change as I turn the page on the calendar. I'm finishing one last true summer read (Lian Dolan's fun Elizabeth the First Wife) and then I'm starting my annual Fall Feasting reading (more on this tomorrow). Today starts R.I.P. VIII (Readers Imbibing in Peril) hosted by Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings and at the end of the month Michelle of Seasons of Reading will again host the Fright-fall Readathon. I may not be ready to spend all of my time cozy in my corner of the sofa but I'll definitely be doing a lot of reading out on the patio while it's still warm enough.

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: Podcasts this week - I've been catching up with the Chaos Chronicles (Lian Dolan broadcasting from her closet!) and Book Club Girl On Air.

Watching: Love Actually (I know, I know, it's not December but I love this movie!) and Say Anything. How can you not  love that scene with John Cusack holding a boombox over his head serenading Iona Skye with Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes?"

Reading: This week I'll start listening to Anna Quindlen's Black And Blue on my commute and I've still got In Cold Blood on my nightstand (can I just say, once again, how impressed I am with this one?). I'll finish Elizabeth the First Wife in by tomorrow and then I'll pick up something foodie for Fall Feasting, probably A Place At The Table by Susan Rebecca White.

Making: Oh lordy, have I been domestic this week! I got a box of peaches Monday and every day I did something new with them - I froze six quarts of slices, make six pints of freezer jam, and baked a peach custard pie and peach crisp. One evening I threw together a corn & black bean salsa and a ham and pasta salad another. Yesterday I roasted cherry tomatoes to freeze. Mama Shepp's boys were over last night to watch football so I put on a spread for them including bacon-wrapped stuffed banana peppers which I'd never tried before. This all probably means I won't cook a thing this week!

Planning: On getting more work done in the basement this week in anticipation of a trip to the Goodwill.

Grateful for: A house full of "my boys," laughing, watching football and snarfing down food. I miss having them around all of the time!

Loving: I already said "college football," right?

Thinking: My holiday weekend should be filled with chores but I just might spend a good chunk of the next couple of days reading.

Looking forward to: A trip this weekend to help celebrate a 50th birthday party!

Question: Are you still caught in summer or looking forward to fall?