Wednesday, October 30, 2013

We Are Water by Wally Lamb

We Are Water by Wally Lamb
Published October 2013 by Harper
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Publisher's Summary:
In middle age, Anna Oh—wife, mother, outsider artist—has shaken her family to its core. After twenty-seven years of marriage and three children, Anna has fallen in love with Vivica, the wealthy, cultured, confident Manhattan art dealer who orchestrated her professional success.

Anna and Viveca plan to wed in the Oh family’s hometown of Three Rivers in Connecticut, where gay marriage has recently been legalized. But the impending wedding provokes some very mixed reactions and opens a Pandora’s Box of toxic secrets—dark and painful truths that have festered below the surface of the Ohs’ lives.

My Thoughts:
Wally Lamb is one of those authors people heap praise on, raving about his writing. He's also one of those writers who, because I'm just that stubborn, I've avoided. Because certainly he can't be that good.  He is. At least he is if We Are Water is a good example of what all of his writing is like.

Annie's marriage is the catalyst for Lamb's exploration of family, marriage, homosexuality, racism, violence, loss, abuse and truth. As Lambs moves from one narrator to another in the Oh family, he slowly reveals truths about each of them as they struggle to find their place in this new family dynamic.  That shifting perspective also allows Lamb show readers how the "truth" can shift and change.

Along the way, Lamb takes the reader into the past, a past Annie has kept hidden for decades. Although it's apparent early on that she's carrying emotional baggage as the reader begins to see its ripple effects, the truth is only slowly revealed. Readers will feel as though they are reading an emotional mystery that both pulls the reader along through its 500+ pages while at the same time making them want to slow down and savor the story of the Ohs.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. For other opinions, check out the full tour. Now I have to go get on the Barnes & Noble site and see what other Lamb books I can order for my Nook.

Wally Lamb is the author of four previous novels, including the New York Times and National Bestseller, The Hour I First Believed and Wishin’ and Hopin’, a bestselling Christmas novella. His first two works of fiction, She’s Come Undone and I Know This Much is True, were both number one New York Times bestsellers and selections of Oprah’s Book Club. Lamb edited Couldn’t Keep It to Myself and I’ll Fly Away, two volumes of essays from students in his writing workshop at York Correctional Institution, a women’s prison in Connecticut, where he has been a volunteer facilitator for fifteen years. He lives in Connecticut with his wife, Christine. The Lambs are the parents of three sons.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Pin It And Do It - It's A Wrap

Well, I didn't get done this month all of the things I was hoping to get done from what I've pinned but I did manage to, once again, be Pin Obsessed this month. Capped off the month with a three new recipes, a sloppy joe recipe, an Italian red wine pork roast,  and one for a Salted Caramel Bread Pudding.

The sloppy joe recipe actually calls for a Bisquick crust topping but I just wanted to eat it on buns. I didn't have tomato sauce so I used tomato soup and cut way back on the sugar and added a bit more spice. It was good and we'll try it again when we have tomato sauce. Maybe we'll even use the topping.

The bread pudding was so good I seriously considered eating it for breakfast. It's got bread, eggs, and milk. That makes it okay for breakfast, right? The recipe calls for croissants but I don't usually have croissants sitting around needing to be used up and the mixture of bread I had that needed to be used worked just fine.

I can't comment yet on how the roast turned out. I cooked it yesterday but we won't be eating it until tonight. The recipe calls for a 7-pound roast; I had a 2-pound roast so I had to tweak proportions quite a bit. I'm a bit concerned that I still may have too much seasoning on it. But there are only three of us that eat meat; no way am I going to be cooking a 7-pound roast unless I'm doing it for company and I like to try recipes first on the family before I spring them on guests. 

I do like pork roasts in the winter. Do you have any great recipes you'd recommend?
Finished the month with one last book from my Books To Read board by finishing Marlena De Blasi's A Thousand Days In Venice. This one was recommended to me by my Italian auntie and it was a great recommendation for my Fall Feasting reading.

Question for you pinners - does anyone know how to set up your boards so that they are alphabetized? I find it so frustrating to have to scroll through all of my board trying to find the one I want. My one complaint with Pinterest is that it isn't easier to find things once you've pinned them. Although Miss H helped me a lot when she showed me that I can do Shift F3 to open up a search box once I'm on a board. Did you know this trick?

Thanks, Trish, for once again inspiring and challenging us to make use of all of the pins. I love having that push to try new things. I need to keep up the momentum as we head into the holiday season!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Life: It Goes On - October 27

I am happy, this week, to report that my friend's son has been found and is safe. Thanks so all of you for sending thoughts and prayers their way. It meant so much to them to know so many people cared.

I've spent the weekend celebrating my upcoming birthday and BG's and my 31st anniversary. Great fun getting to spend time with friends - just the thing someone my age needs to make me feel better about turning *%. Yeah, I'm not giving that number up any more!

My kitty is doing much better; thanks to those who asked. Looks like she won't have to find a new home. She's been very snuggly this week; I think she's trying to make sure we love her too much to kick her out!

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: BG discovered a station on the t.v. called Sounds of the Season. I had no idea there were so many spooky, Halloweenish songs. Must be taken in small doses. Very small doses!

Watching: The World Series. We're cheering for the Cardinals as much because people we love love the Cards as because we like them. Also, because Miss H insists we cheer against the Red Sox (her beloved Yankees' archenemies). And, of course, The Voice, football, Elementary and Person of Interest.

Reading:Wally Lamb's We Are Water for review this week. Francis Hodge Burnett's The Secret Garden is on my nightstand; it's on my Classics Club list and is, amazingly, a book I missed as a kid even though Burnett's The Little Princess is one of my all-time favorite books.

Making: I tried a new sloppy joe recipe the other night, made an Australian pavlova for book club, baked a batch of cookie bars for work treats, and used up the old bread in the fridge by making Salted Caramel Bread Pudding. All new recipes - only the pavlova was not a keeper and only because I have a better pavlova recipe already.

Planning: Christmas gifts. It's time to get cracking; Miss H and I have big plans to make a lot of gifts this year.

Grateful for: Fleece. Dang, it's gotten too cold here, too early.

Loving: The colors of the season.

Feeling: Stoked about my walking. I'm starting to see some payoff for my efforts.

Thinking: I'm getting old and cranky - I really don't like Halloween night any more. I've got nothing against giving the neighbor kids candy. I just wish they'd all come at the same time and I could be done with it instead of having to answer the door 50 times in two hours. But there's no way I'm going to be "that" house!

Looking Forward To:  Celebrating my mom's birthday this weekend with my siblings, parents, aunt and uncle, and cousins.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

House of Earth by Woody Guthrie - A Guest Review

House of Earth by Woody Guthrie
Published October 2013 by Harper Perennial
Source: our copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Once again, I'm pleased to have The Big Guy on board for a review. He jumped at the chance to read and review this one - although I'm not so sure he was so happy about once he started reading! You'll see what I mean.

Publisher's Summary: Finished in 1947, House of Earth is Woody Guthrie’s only fully realized novel—a powerful portrait of Dust Bowl America, filled with the homespun lyricism and authenticity that have made his songs a part of our national consciousness.

Tike and Ella May Hamlin struggle to plant roots in the arid land of the Texas Panhandle. The husband and wife live in a precarious wooden farm shack, but Tike yearns for a sturdy house that will protect them from the treacherous elements. Thanks to a five-cent government pamphlet, Tike has the know-how to build a simple adobe dwelling, a structure made from the land itself—fireproof, windproof, Dust Bowl–proof. A house of earth.

Though they are one with the farm and with each other, the land on which Tike and Ella May live and work is not theirs. Due to larger forces beyond their control—including ranching conglomerates and banks—their adobe house remains painfully out of reach. A story of rural realism, and in many ways a companion piece to Guthrie’s folk anthem “This Land Is Your Land,” House of Earth is a searing portrait of hardship and hope set against a ravaged landscape.

The Big Guy's Thoughts:
I really like Woody Guthrie's music and he is obviously an American icon for the downtrodden. He continues the theme here in House of Earth with Tike, one of the two main characters (along with Ella May, his wife) going on at length about their position in life, being controlled by the bad bankers, land owners and Ella May's father, another land opportunist (no doubt true around the depression). This theme may have more relevancy in light of the most recent recession, the middle class gap and the Occupy Wall Street protests.

The other main theme of the book  was, of course, a house made of earth and was started by a USDA flier Tike picked up. He went on ad nauseum about living in a house that is easy to make, from local materials that are wind, cold, heat and critter resistant and is inexpensive to make. These were modeled after adobe houses in the southwest United States. This also proves to be a relevant theme in years to come with limited energy resources, possible global warming and the desire to have affordable and efficient shelter for the new lower-middle class.

While I found the themes interesting, and a great match to Woody's music, I was annoyed by the 'red neck' speak of the main characters and especially wanted to slap Tike regularly for being a moron. There is a 'love' scene that is fairly pornographic that was discussed in the Forward to the book as being pretty racy for the 1930s and 40's. It's cited as a main reason why it might not have been published at that time.

I do appreciate Woody's ability to write in what might be called an Okie style and keep it consistent, probably not an easy feat. A real interesting slice of Americana, but glad he stuck more to music where he had a special influence on American folk music and the labor movement.

Thanks, Big Guy! Sorry you didn't like the book better; maybe you hit on the real reasons the book wasn't published at the time it was written.

Woodrow Wilson “Woody” Guthrie (1912-1967) was an American folk balladeer whose best-known song is “This Land Is Your Land.” His musical legacy includes more than three thousand songs, covering an exhaustive repertoire of historical, political, cultural, topical, spiritual, narrative, and children’s themes. Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including us on this tour. For other opinions about this book, check out the full tour.

PBS's American Masters series has an excellent documentary on Guthrie's life and music. If you'd like to learn more about the man, I'd highly recommend it.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Pin It And Do It Update

 Check, check and check - three more pins done for October's Pin It And Do It challenge. Pinning books I want to read has been a great visual reminder of what I want to accept for review books and what I want to have the Omaha Bookworms read...and it makes reaching that pin obsessed goal ever so much easier when I can count books I've read!

Since my last update, I finished Louise Erdrich's The Round House for a TLC review. I see I've got at least one more Erdrich book on my Books To Read board so she just may show up again during another challenge.

I also finished The Light Between Oceans this week which was the Omaha Bookworms October selection. My mom read it months ago and really enjoyed it so I added it to the Bookworms schedule. It was quite a hit; good recommendation, Mom!

My sixth pin this month is one I've been meaning to do for a while. As I rearranged my closet to bring the winter clothing front and center, I hung everything backwards. The idea is that once you wear something, you hang it back up the right way. At the end of the season, if the hanger is still backward, that means you never wore the item. Assuming we've had a fairly normal winter, if I haven't worn it all winter, it's out of my house. I anticipate breaking a few hangers along the way as I grab things out but it will be worth it! And it took almost no time at all!

This, by the way, is not my closet - I would break out in hives if all my hangers weren't the same color and my clothes were hanging that closely together. I'm a bit of a freak when it comes to my closet!

Pin #7 is a homemade version of a Mary Kay scrub that I love for my hands but haven't bought in years. And it couldn't be more simple - just mix some dishwashing soap with sugar to form a paste. You could use any color, any scent but I'd definitely recommend something that's gentle on your hands. I tried it it worked great. Then The Big Guy tried it when he was washing paint off his hands and liked it for getting his hands cleaned quickly. There's a good chance I'll be making some little jars of this to use as Christmas gifts tucked in with some hand lotion. But don't tell anyone I exchange gifts with!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Life: It Goes On - October 20

It's been a tough week mentally. A friend's son has been missing for over a week and I found myself thinking of her and her son a lot. They have had some sightings and the last they knew, he is still in Omaha. As I go through my days, I always have at the back of my mind that I need to keep an eye out for Andrew. Being a parent is the most rewarding but most difficult job in the world; my heart is with my friend and her husband as they deal with this.

I've been looking forward to this fall's Omaha Lit Fest for a year, since I ended up missing last year's event. Friday evening The Big Guy and I went downtown to enjoy the opening party. BG was excited to get to meet Owen King, son of Stephen King and author of Double Feature which we now own a signed copy of but which has been tucked away until Christmas for BG. BG surprised me by having his palm read something I would never have imagine and which I would have been sure he would have put no faith in...until she told him something he rather liked hearing! Sadly, I had some asthma problems yesterday and wasn't able to get down to the panels and didn't get to see Alyssa Nutting!

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: Julia Glass's The Whole World Over. I'm on the fourth disc right now and not loving it. I've read her Three Junes which I only just liked and I See You Everywhere which I wasn't wild about so it may just be that Glass and I don't mesh. Not entirely sure I'll finish this one.

Watching: Oh, this is just silly - I'm watching the same things I watch every week.

Reading: I'm finishing The Light Between Oceans for book club right now then I really need to start my next review book, the latest Wally Lamb book, We Are Water. I've never read anything by Lamb before. Thoughts on his writing?

Making: More pumpkin dump cake on demand and  a chicken pot pie with puff pastry crust (lovely!).

Planning: On pulling out the garden later this week, always so sad to do it. We pick the last of the tomatoes and let them ripen wrapped in newspaper, cut down the basil plants and let them dry and bring in the pots of parsley and oregano.

Grateful for: All of the support I've been getting for my efforts to get myself into a regular exercise routine. My sister and I work out twice a week together and both The Big Guy and Mini-him have also joined him at the YMCA. I'm reminded that I'm kind of competitive at heart and love to try to do just a little bit more, a little bit faster every time I get on the treadmill.

Loving: Having the house decorated for fall.

Thinking: Cats may be more trouble than they are worth. Also, vets need to be open the day after you discover that your cat has taken to peeing on everything in the house. Miss Sookie (yes, she's named after Sookie Stackhouse) is now doing better and I just might let her stay.

Looking forward to: Book club this week - had to move it. Which reminds me, I need to go get cleaning since I'm hosting this month.

What are you looking forward to this week?

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Round House - Take 2

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Let's recap, shall we? I posted a "review" of The Round House for a TLC Book Tour last Wednesday. Except that I hadn't finished the book yet because I was unwilling to race through it to finish it in time for the scheduled review.

So very glad I took that extra couple of days to savor Erdrich's story. There is so much going on in this book, so much I'm still thinking about days later. The Round House is a coming-of-age story, a crime novel, and a lesson in American Indian history.

When thirteen-year-old Joe Coutt's Native American mother is raped he is forced to grow up quickly while he and his three buddies continue to do the kinds of things that all boys there age do. Well, as a parent, I would hope that my kids weren't drinking and smoking at that age but it seems perfectly logical for boys growing up on a reservation. This is Joe's story, told by a grown up Joe, but Erdrich surrounds him with memorable characters. Grandfather, Mooshum, brings both humor and the traditional stories to the novel; Father Travis, a former special services officer who brings a new kind of toughness to the Catholic church as well as a new understanding; and Linda a white woman abandoned at birth because of her physical deformities and raised by an Indian family and accepted by the community.

Erdrich mixes plenty of humor into the book to leaven the very serious themes she addresses. I'm not sure where I expected the story to go but I certainly was not prepared for what happened...and then what happened next. Wow. And somewhere along the way, Erdrich managed to make me believe that sometimes vigilante justice may be the only way to deal with evil spirits.

I haven't read many books that address the lives of modern American Indians and the effect of years of legal rulings by white men. The justice system along boggles the mind. Did you know that if a white man commits a crime on a reservation, the tribal authorities have no ability to prosecute them? Commodity foods, poverty and alcoholism are all addressed.

The Round House is, for me, the perfect mix of story, character and lesson.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Lit: Books I'm Looking Forward To and Bookish Stuff

It's award season in book land. It generally doesn't matter to me whether or not a book has won an award or not when I pick it up; I read what I want. The awards often bring books to my attention that I really haven't heard much about before, such as the 2013 Man Book winner Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (who is, by the way, the youngest winner ever of the award). The finalists for the  National Book Award were announced today. There are books on both of the short-lists that I'm already interested in and their inclusion may well make me read them sooner rather than later. This is particularly true when I see the same book appearing on lists again and again. Does winning an award make you want to read a book?

I've added to more books to the list of books I want to read but will never in this lifetime be able to read. These two could not be more different.

THE BULLY PULPIT by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The gap between rich and poor has never been wider . . . legislative stalemate paralyzes the country . . . corporations resist federal regulations . . . spectacular mergers produce giant companies . . . the influence of money in politics deepens . . . bombs explode in crowded streets . . . small wars proliferate far from our shores . . . a dizzying array of inventions speeds the pace of daily life. 

These unnervingly familiar headlines serve as the backdrop for Doris Kearns Goodwin’s highly anticipated The Bully Pulpit—a dynamic history of the first decade of the Progressive era, that tumultuous time when the nation was coming unseamed and reform was in the air. 

The story is told through the intense friendship of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft—a close relationship that strengthens both men before it ruptures in 1912, when they engage in a brutal fight for the presidential nomination that divides their wives, their children, and their closest friends, while crippling the progressive wing of the Republican Party, causing Democrat Woodrow Wilson to be elected, and changing the country’s history. 

The Bully Pulpit is also the story of the muckraking press, which arouses the spirit of reform that helps Roosevelt push the government to shed its laissez-faire attitude toward robber barons, corrupt politicians, and corporate exploiters of our natural resources. The muckrakers are portrayed through the greatest group of journalists ever assembled at one magazine—Ida Tarbell, Ray Stannard Baker, Lincoln Steffens, and William Allen White—teamed under the mercurial genius of publisher S. S. 

Well, it's Kearns Goodwin - what more is there to say? 

SEVEN DEADLIES: A Cautionary Tale by Gigi Levangie
Dear Bennington College Admissions Officer:
I’m probably not your average applicant from Beverly Hills, CA. And I’m not one to brag, but I’m pretty much the smartest girl in my class at Mark Frost Academy. My grades are excellent. My motivation is high. I don’t drink or do drugs or hang out with the bad kids. I’m pretty much all business. My life is not going to end here, in this part of Los Angeles.
I’m going places.
Which brings me to my latest venture: babysitting teenagers.
A few of the moms talked to my mother. You should see them. They gather around her like Bieber fans. She’s barely five feet tall, beautiful and regal, a Latina queen.
Their diamond bracelets shimmer. I look at those bracelets and want to eat them.
Where did they go wrong?
Can Perry help out this weekend? I have to go to New York for fashion week. I have to go to a premiere. My daughter needs help with biology . . . and staying out of my medicine cabinet.
I get paid forty an hour. I have business cards.
My name is Perry Gonzales. The stories you are about to read are true. The names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent. By the time you’re finished, I think you’ll appreciate how desperately I need to get out of here.

I read Levangie's last book, The After Wife, and thoroughly enjoyed its light-hearted fun.

What books have you added to your wish list lately?


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
Published March 2009 by Penguin Group, audio January 2010 by Naxos Audiobooks
Source: my audio copy from my local library sale
Narrator: Gareth Armstrong

Publisher's Summary: 
Sarajevo, in the 1990s, is a hellish place. The ongoing war devours human life, tears families apart and transforms even banal routines, such as acquiring water, into life-threatening expeditions. Day after day, a cellist stations himself in the midst of the devastation, defying the ever-present snipers to play tributes to victims of a massacre. A true story of a cellist's resistance helps to form this pivotal event in Steven Galloway's extraordinary novel. Against this, the author touchingly describes three ordinary townspeople and their efforts to retain their humanity, sanity and autonomy as war takes hold of their lives.  

Sarajevo before the siege
My Thoughts:
The siege of Sarajevo was the longest siege of a capital city in history, longer than the siege of Stalingrad, longer than the siege of Leningrad.

Sarajevo during the siege
Family man Kenan must make the trip twice a week across the city to the city's brewery which is the only  source of fresh water. Dragan travels daily to the bakery he works at to ensure that his sister's family will have bread; it is the price he must pay to feel he can continue to seek refuge in her home now that his wife and son have fled the city. And Arrow, a young woman who has become a sniper for the besieged forces who fights hard to be allowed to work on her own terms. Both Kenan and Dragan struggle with their lack of courage, particularly in the face of the snipers they must deal with on a regular basis. Arrow struggles to avoid a blanket hatred of the men on the hills. All three fight to hold onto their own humanity, surrounded by death. The cellist's courage and the power of the music he plays allow parties on all sides to have hope.

Galloway does a fine job of bringing these three characters' struggles, and the struggles of all people living through war, to life. No fresh water, intermittent (at best) electricity, a black market that thrives while the general population starves, the inability to ever feel truly safe.

He touches only briefly on the humanity of those "men on the hill" and the horrific actions of the defending the city who use their own people in a propaganda campaign to draw attention to their plight. Some might have a problem with the book not giving a more complete look at all sides of the siege or a problem with the book not being factually accurate. I don't look to a work of fiction for the full story, I look to it for a window into a full story. And good work will, like this one did, encourage me to learn more on my own.

Vedan Smailovic
The Truth Behind The Story:
In the afterword of The Cellist of Sarajevo, Steven Galloway writes:
" At four o'clock in the afternoon on May 27, 1992, during the Siege of Sarajevo, several mortar shells struck a group of people waiting to buy bread behind the market on Vase Miskina. Twenty-two people were killed and at least seventy were wounded. For the next twenty-two days Vedran Smailovic, a renowned local cellist, played Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor at the site in honor of the dead. His actions inspired this novel."

Which isn't entirely true.

Accounts vary with the dead numbering either 16 or 22 and the time of day was morning, not afternoon. According to UN peacekeepers was not the work of Bosnian Serbs who had laid siege to the city but a "command-detonated explosion" set by the Muslims in charge in the city in an effort to to gain support for the city.

Vedran Smailovic did play at the site of the market attack but he did not play everyday there at the same time. "I am not stupid. I wasn't looking to get shot by snipers so I varied my routine." Further, Smailovic did not limit his musical protest to that particular site. He played at ruins throughout the city and a funerals which were often targeted for attack.

Steven Galloway
When Smailovic found out about Galloway's book, he was angry. Galloway initially said the cellist was not based on a particular cellist but to Smailovic, as to anyone who knows the story, it is clearly based on Smailovic. "I'm not interested in his bloody fiction. I'm interested in reality." In response to calls that Smailovic should have been compensated for the use of his story in the book, Galloway said, "I don't see how fiction writers can start paying their sources of inspiration." He added "...that's an extremely public act. I can't ignore that as an artist."

Have I mentioned before how much I love a book that makes me want to learn more? Even if I had not enjoyed this book, I would have appreciated the fact that it had me wanting to learn more about Vedran Smailovic and the siege of Sarajevo.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Night Film by Marisha Pessl
Published August 2013 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: bought this one for my NOOK

Publisher's Summary:
On a damp October night, beautiful young Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Though her death is ruled a suicide, veteran investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. As he probes the strange circumstances surrounding Ashley’s life and death, McGrath comes face-to-face with the legacy of her father: the legendary, reclusive cult-horror-film director Stanislas Cordova—a man who hasn’t been seen in public for more than thirty years.

For McGrath, another death connected to this seemingly cursed family dynasty seems more than just a coincidence. Though much has been written about Cordova’s dark and unsettling films, very little is known about the man himself. Driven by revenge, curiosity, and a need for the truth, McGrath, with the aid of two strangers, is drawn deeper and deeper into Cordova’s eerie, hypnotic world.The last time he got close to exposing the director, McGrath lost his marriage and his career. This time he might lose even more.

My Thoughts:
Like Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, the last book I read that messed with readers this much, Night Film requires its readers to be able to suspend disbelief. It also requires its readers to overlook a lack of character development, tolerate an often choppy flow and forgive Pessl the overuse of italics. All of that and I still could not put the book down. And when I did, I had to sit for a while trying to figure out what had just happened.

It's best not to dwell too long afterwards on some points, lest your enjoyment of the book be altered. Had I written my review right after I finished, this would have been an entirely different review. The longer I thought about the book,  the more I focused on the problems I had with it. Pessl leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Some are the good kind, the kind that make readers think. Others felt more like oversights or things Pessl just couldn't be bothered to explain. My biggest problem, even as I was reading, were Cordova's films. This brilliant director made films that couldn't be released by studios because they were so dark but when Pessl begins discussing the films, I was unclear as to what made them so much more terrible than other films of their ilk.

Pessl's addition of pieces that appear to be actual magazine pieces and internet sites may bother some readers but I felt contributed to pulling the reader into feeling the story was real. On the NOOK, however, these pieces were not full-paged and these old eyes often had trouble reading them.

Yet, in the moment, as I was reading, I was utterly caught up in the story. Pessl keeps readers guessing throughout the book. Is black magic involved? Is McGrath being played by Cordova? What is the real connection between Hopper, a young man McGrath discovered at the site where Ashley died, and Ashley? Was Ashley mentally unstable or were there family secrets she was running from? I love a book that keeps me guessing which is probably why, despite the flaws of this book, I enjoyed it a lot. Pessl pulled me in early and kept me involved throughout.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Life: It Goes On - October 13

Ahhh, I am in full relaxation mode tonight after a very fun, long weekend. The Big Guy and I headed south to help my brother celebrate his birthday and got to enjoy a some shopping, hiking, and a lot of time with the whole family. We discovered a new band who are just getting ready to record their first album and we'll be first in line to buy it, found a new store to love, and I found out I quite like venison. What I didn't do is read very much; driving time was spent being a good co-pilot.

Le Bourgeois Winery - as seen by The Big Guy

I was sad to miss the annual fall incarnation of Dewey's Read-a-Thon. Did you spend the 24 hours of Saturday reading?

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: I'll finish The Cellist of Sarajevo this week. I'm not sure what I'll pop in next; I have several books still to choose from.

Watching:  The usual football, baseball, and our handful of regular favorite t.v. shows. We haven't seen a movie in ages. What should we absolutely make sure we go see in the theater?

Reading: I finished The Round House and have moved A Thousand Days in Venice off my nightstand to read more regularly. I've added Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden to my nightstand which is one of the books on my list of classics to read for the Classics Club.

Making: Does it tell you something about my weekend that I can't remember what I made to eat last week?!

Planning: On playing catch up this week. The drawback of a weekend away is that no one is home doing the cleaning I usually get done over the weekend.

Grateful for: Our nephews and nieces being so willing to spend so much time with us this weekend. What fun to get to get to know them better as adults.

Loving: The gorgeous weather we had this weekend and Shakespeare's Pizza (a must have every trip to Columbia, Missouri!).

Thinking: I really need to figure out what I want to do about putting books on  my phone now that I'm committed to a walking regimen.

Looking forward to: The Omaha Lit Fest next weekend, organized by Timothy Schaffert (The Coffins of Little Hope). Alissa Nutting (Tampa), Carolyn Turgeon (The Fairest of Them All and Mermaid), and Kelly Braffet (Save Yourself). I cannot wait! I'm hoping I can find some bookies to join me; it's always so interesting.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Pin It And Do It Update

And I'm off and pinning! With the changing of the seasons, I'm fired up to try a bunch of new recipes. I kicked off my pins Sunday when I pulled out a can of pumpkin to give a little to my cats (apparently it's good for them?) and just had to find something to use the rest of the can in. Literally, the first recipe that came up on my Pinterest dessert board using pumpkin is the one we made - pumpkin dump cake. Dump cake is nothing new for us; my boys were both in Boy Scouts and brought home the idea of dump cakes years ago. This definitely takes the can of pie filling as the base up a notch.

Pumpkin Dump Cake
This is not my picture for two reasons. Miss H decided the cake mix should be pressed down which left us without such pretty layers AND we didn't have any yellow cake mix so used Funfetti cake mix. Tastes good but did leave us with kind of funny spots. Regardless, it was very tasty, especially once it completely cooled. By then we had, of course, already eaten half of the pan. Extra yummy with whipped cream!

That same night we were grilling steaks and I wanted a carb to go with them. We had potatoes and I remembered that I had pinned a recipe for Hasselback potatoes I thought I'd try. Again, this is not my picture (heck it's not even for the recipe I used!). I tweaked the recipe I used a bit, stuffing the potatoes with thin slices of sweet onion rather than garlic. I'm on a bit of a salt kick lately, so I used pink Himalayan sea salt which made a great crust.

Two of the books I've read this month, Jamie Ford's Songs of Willow Frost and Louise Erdrich's Round House, were both pinned to my Books To Read board prior to accepting the books for review this month. My review for Ford's book posted Tuesday and for Erdrich's on Wednesday. I also listened to Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking is month which I had on my Books To Read board.

Five down, three to go to reach my Pin Obsessed level goal but I'm sure that I'll be getting more than that done with more books planned from the Books To Read board and fall decorating that still needs to get finished up.  And I haven't even started on my bench yet!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Published September 2013 by Harper Perennial
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Publisher's Summary:
One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface because Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe’s life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared.

While his father, a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own. Their quest takes them first to the Round House, a sacred space and place of worship for the Ojibwe. And this is only the beginning.

My Summary:
Six months ago I listened to Erdrich's The Plague of Doves and was underwhelmed. Still I didn't hesitate when The Round House was offered to me for review, strictly on her name alone. I knew I wanted to give Erdrich another chance; she just had too good a reputation for me not to try her writing again.  

Here's where I make a confession for which I think I'll be forgiven on account of the gushing I'll be doing. I gave myself only two days to read this book. Not on purpose; the date for this review just kind of snuck up on me. That's doable with a book of just over 300 pages if I really clear the decks and that's just what I was prepared to do. Until I started reading The Round House. This is a book that begs to be read slowly. Hence, I have not yet finished it.

The Round House grabbed me from the beginning in part of a compelling story, in part because I was delighted to find some of my favorite characters from The Plague of Doves reappearing here, and in part because Erdrich's wonderful writing.
"Women don't realize how much store men set on the regularity of their habits. We absorb their comings and goings into our bodies, their rhythms into our bones. Our pulse is set to theirs, and as always on a weekend afternoon we were waiting for my mother to start us ticking away on our evening."
I'll check back in later with my final review. In the meantime, please check other opinions on the full tour.  
Louise Erdrich is the author of fourteen novels, volumes of poetry, children’s books, and a memoir of early motherhood. She lives in Minnesota and is the owner of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford

Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford
Published September 2013 by Ballantine Books
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Publisher's Summary:
Twelve-year-old William Eng, a Chinese American boy, has lived at Seattle’s Sacred Heart Orphanage ever since his mother’s listless body was carried away from their small apartment five years ago. On his birthday—or rather, the day the nuns designate as his birthday—William and the other orphans are taken to the historical Moore Theatre, where William glimpses an actress on the silver screen who goes by the name of Willow Frost. Struck by her features, William is convinced that the movie star is his mother, Liu Song.

Determined to find Willow and prove that his mother is still alive, William escapes from Sacred Heart with his friend Charlotte. The pair navigate the streets of Seattle, where they must not only survive but confront the mysteries of William’s past and his connection to the exotic film star. The story of Willow Frost, however, is far more complicated than the Hollywood fantasy William sees onscreen.

My Thoughts:
"Write what you know," they tell aspiring writers. It's advice Jamie Ford clearly took to heart. Fortunately for readers, Ford's upbringing in Seattle and Chinese-American heritage have given him a wealth of personal knowledge to draw from. As he did in Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet, Ford again sets his story in the rich history of Seattle's Chinatown, this time in the period between the first World War and the Great Depression.

When things go from bad to worse in a book, I generally start to lose interest. So often it feels contrived and manipulative in a novel. For the most part, Jamie Ford manages to avoid that in Songs of Willow Frost. It is utterly conceivable that an entire family could be wiped out by the Spanish flu, completely believable that an unwed mother in the early 1920's would have a difficult life. The difficulties of being the American-born daughter of Chinese parents in that same time who doesn't always feel that she fits in either Chinese or American society ring true and the result is a story that is heart-breakingly sad.

Anna May Wong on whom Willow Frost is modeled
In this story of love, forgiveness, hope, and family, William and Willow are both searching for the one thing all humans seek - a place to belong and be loved. William, who has spent the past five years in an orphanage and Liu Song who has remade herself as Willow Frost and fled into the booming movie industry to escape her past are memorable characters set in a vivid world that drew me and made it easy to spend a day doing nothing more than reading.

There is much for book clubs to discuss in Song of Willow Frost including racism, commitment, poverty. For lovers of historical fiction, I definitely recommend Songs of Willow Frost. 

Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour! For more opinions, check out the full tour. The son of a Chinese American father, Jamie Ford is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, which won the Asian-Pacific American Award for Literature. Having grown up in Seattle, he now lives in Montana with his wife and children.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Published October 1959 by Penguin Group
Source: this one is mine

Publisher's Summary (edited): 
First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly mansion called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a "haunting"; Theodora, a lighthearted guest chosen by Dr. Montague for her possible psychic abilities; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman who may have had previous experience with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers-and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

My Thoughts:
Do you remember the movie "Signs?" How scary that movie was right up until the point in the movie where you actually saw the alien? It's not that the aliens weren't scary, it was just that what your mind was imagining was so much scarier.

Shirley Jackson understood that in 1959. Not once, in The Haunting of Hill House, does a ghost make an appearance; not once do the characters even see what is making the sounds they hear. Is the house evil? Is there a logical explanation for the things that are happening? Are the characters only imagining the things they think they are seeing and hearing?
""I think we are only afraid of ourselves," the doctor said slowly.
"No," Luke said., "Of seeing ourselves clearly and without disguise.""

Jackson perfectly balances light and dark. Whereas Stephen King set The Shining in the winter, just in time to snow his characters into their haunted dwelling, Jackson sets The Haunting of Hill House at the beginning of the summer when days are long and the light is sharp.Nearly as much time is spent out of doors in the sunshine as in the house. And Jackson mixes in plenty of humor to lighten the mood. Yet it is clear from the start that there is something not right about the house from it's history of suicides and death to its not-quite-true architecture to the fact that doors, curtains and windows mysteriously close not matter how well the inhabitants have braced them open.

Eleanor, central to the story, is also central to the battle between light and dark. She is the is a naive, sheltered young woman, prone to daydreams not nightmares when she arrives at Hill House. Arriving at Hill House, Eleanor is eager to find a home and friendship and thrilled to believe that she has found both despite her awareness that the closer she got to Hill House, the darker the atmosphere became. Almost immediately, her impressions begin to shift. Jackson leaves the reader to figure out if there is something evil about Hill House that has infiltrated Eleanor's mind or if her history has left her vulnerable to her own thoughts and the actions and words of others.
"I will never be able to sleep again with all this noise coming from inside my head; how can these others hear the noise when it is coming from inside my head? I am disappearing inch by inch into this house, I am going apart a little bit at a time..."
Forty years ago, I read Jackson's short story "The Lottery" and loved it. I don't know why it took me so long to read more of her work. It will certainly not be another forty years. Not only does Jackson know how to get into readers' minds, the lady writes brilliantly with lovely gems tucked into the story.
"She stopped for lunch after she had driven a hundred miles and a mile."
This book was read as part of  R.I.P. VIII and FrightFall Read-a-Thon.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Life: It Goes On - October 6

I know I should be complaining about the weather, what with people to the north and west of us buried in snow and others having been hit by tornadoes. But the kids and I were all set to make our annual trek to the apple orchards today and with temps in the 50's and drizzle, I'm disappointed to have to call it off. At least this weekend. I'm off to the farmer's market shortly, hoping to find someone with fresh-picked apples. I was all fired up to hit Pinterest and try some new apple recipes!

Instead, I'll spend today finishing up making the house over for fall. The seashells are boxed up, the candles are switched over to fall colors, and I've gathered up all of the pine cones that have fallen.

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: I started Steven Galloway's The Cellist of Sarajevo this week. Remember a couple of weeks ago when I talked about Albinoni's Adagio? It's featured in the book so I'm very excited to be listening to this one and getting to hear snippets of the music.

Watching: Why yes I did stay up way past my bedtime the other night so Miss H and I could watch "10 Things I Hate About You." Which we own and could watch any time. But how could we possibly shut off beautiful Heath Ledger and an incredibly young Joseph Gordon-Levitt?

Reading: I'm racing through Songs of Willow Frost this weekend for a review this week and then I'll have to race through Round House. I don't know why I do this to myself; I would much prefer to be able to take more time with these books.

Making: Several casseroles (I made a crockpot of chicken early in the week) including bean, cheese and rice enchiladas.This morning we enjoyed steel cut oats for the first time in months.

Planning: On taking Christmas card pictures this week. Maybe if I get started earlier this year I'll actually get the cards sent!

Grateful for: My new walking shoes. It's a silly thing, but they really are inspiring me to get out and move.

Loving: Adding the fall colors to my house. Isn't it funny how we're so ready to embrace them this time of year and so over them before long?

Thinking: Of staining the vanity in the kids' bathroom. A friend is using gel stain to do all of the cupboards in her kitchen and they look great. I'm so ready for a change!

Looking forward to: Heading south again this weekend. Hoping the kids remember to lock up at night while we're gone and that their aunt lives close enough now to check up on them while we're gone!

What are you watching lately? Are any of the new shows catching your attention?

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

The Year Of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Published October 2005 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: bought this one on audio from the public library sale
Narrator: Barbara Caruso

From Barnes and Noble:
During the Christmas holidays in 2003, novelist Joan Didion began a month of hell. Just a few days before Christmas, Didion and her husband of 40 years, John Gregory Dunne, watched helplessly as their newly married daughter, Quintana, came down with what seemed to be the flu, then contracted pneumonia, which led, within days, to complete septic shock and system breakdown. A week later, as Quintana hovered close to death, Dunne collapsed and died. Didion plunged into a mad state of "magical thinking." Her response was unfathomable: "We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and might need his shoes." A mourning no one could ever imagine.

My Thoughts:

I have read about people's reactions to loss; I have experienced loss in my own life. But I have never thought to read nonfiction  books on the subject of grief and certainly never thought to read about any particular person's experiences. If you would have told me I would have found it mesmerizing before I began, I would not have believed you. Yet I found myself fascinated by both the ways that grief bore Didion down but also by her thoughts on grieving and what she learned in the year following her husband's death. For instance, Didion talks about the difference between grief and mourning. She writes about self-pity in the wake of loss, about needing to have answers, about her inability to accept that her husband was never coming back, and about the traps that lay all about her drawing her into the past. Didion's draws the reader in with intimate and honest stories about her marriage, being a parent, and their very unusual life.

Didion's own experiences are, of course, unique (as they are for each of us), her grieving process made even more difficult by her daughter's illness which began before John Dunne died and lasted for months afterward. Drawing on research into the science of illness and the study of grief, Didion coped, in part, by learning all she could about Quintana's illness and about dealing with loss."Information was control," she says.

I had only a couple of little quibbles with the book. Didion drops names throughout the book, some I knew, some I'm sure I was supposed to know. Where she might simply have said "our friend" she said, instead "our friend Mr. Bigshot." Occasionally, too, where Didion shared what she had learned, the book got dragged down by the details.

The book was greatly enhanced for me by Barbara Caruso's narration; in voice and reading style, Caruso makes the listener believe it is her story. The only drawback to listening to this one rather than reading it? A book version would have been filled with post-it notes of things I wanted to share with you or read again. In fact, at the very end of the book, I finally just recorded a piece that I wanted to share.
"I know why we try to keep the dead alive. We try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us. I also know that if we are to live ourselves, there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead, let them become the photograph on the table, the name on the trust accounts, let go of them in the water. Knowing this does not make it any easier to let go of them in the water."

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Lit: Link Love

I've found some interesting book-related articles, thanks to Twitter, recently that made me laugh, think, and want to pick up new books.

Koren Zailckas wrote a fun (well, if you call books about evil characters "fun") article for Publisher's Weekly titled "11 Most Evil Characters In Books." Perhaps the thing I enjoyed the most about her list was the range of baddies she included, from the obvious (Lucifer - Dante's Inferno) to a children's book antagonist (Cruella De Vil - Dodie Smith's The Hundred And One Dalmations).

Cruella De Vil as envisioned by Disney

While it pains to me to have to agree with Jonathan Franzen about Jeffrey Bezos (and I do think that calling Bezos the anti-christ may be a slight exaggeration no matter how much I dislike Amazon's business practices). I do believe, however, he's just insulted me and thousands of other bloggers and folks who use Twitter to talk about books in this article in The Guardian. Is a man who sits alone every day for his job really qualified to pass judgement on the social engagement of the rest of us? And is he actually suggesting that bloggers and Twitter users are utter puppets who can be manipulated to only write about certain books? Remind me if I ever read a book by Franzen (and I'm probably bound to at some time), not to bother to post a thing about it. After all, what does a "yakker" like me know?

This article on The Millions, by author Sarah McCoy, captured my interest. Who would have thought to compare reality television to literature? Not only that, McCoy has a take away for each comparison for use in her daily writings. Seriously, would you ever have thought to compare The Bachelor with Hans Christian Andersen's beloved The Little Mermaid? Life lesson? "A pretty face will only get you so far. Never underestimate the power of your unique voice."

Oh Twitter, sometimes I think I will just have to break it off with you, you can be suck a time suck and there's so much out there that just clutters up the Internet. But then I'd miss so much great stuff (and so many great conversations with friends!).