Friday, November 29, 2013

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

Goodness me, I found so many fun things the other night while I was having so much fun reading through the book section of the Huffington Post. Clearly I haven't been keeping up.

First up: Everything I Knew About Dating I Learned From 19th-Century Novels: Huge Mistake. You just know I'm going to like a list that includes two Jane Austen and a Charlotte Bronte reference. But this list might just have you keeping your teenaged daughter away from these novels.

Keeping in line with love in literature is These Are The Biggest Heartbreakers In Literature. There are some obvious choices (both Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler from Gone With The Wind) but the list also includes more current choices such as Yunior from Junot Diaz' This Is How You Lose Her.

I know all of you have come across characters in books you've wished were real just so you could slap them. Huffington Post has put together a list of 13 Famous Book Characters You Just Want To Slap. This one has a wide variety of characters including Amy March (Little Women - have to agree with this one!), Effie Trinket (the Hunger Games series) and Peter Rabbit. Of course, it's not always such a bad thing to have a character you want to slap in a book - many times that's just the reaction the author wants you to have. Who would you add to this list?

Catherine McKenzie, who's made it her mission in 2013 to read 52 books from the New York Times bestsellers list (are you a member of her Goodreads group?), has put together a list of books she thinks we should be asking for this Christmas or Hanukkah from the books she's read this year. Included are John Greene's The Fault In Our Stars, Cathy Marie Buchanan's The Painted Girls, and Stephen King's Joyland. What books have you read this year that you would recommend people put on their wish list? What books are on yours? I never make a list - I'm completely unable to convince anyone in my family that I need more books!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

By the President of the United States of America. 

A Proclamation. 

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed. Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

 By the President: Abraham Lincoln

 William H. Seward, Secretary of State

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini
Published September 2013 by Penguin Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for this review

Publisher's Summary:
In a life that spanned nearly a century and witnessed some of the most momentous events in American history, Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born a slave. A gifted seamstress, she earned her freedom by the skill of her needle, and won the friendship of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln by her devotion. A sweeping historical novel, Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker illuminates the extraordinary relationship the two women shared, beginning in the hallowed halls of the White House during the trials of the Civil War and enduring almost, but not quite, to the end of Mrs. Lincoln’s days.

My Thoughts: 
Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley
I started this book almost two weeks ago, an unheard of length of time for me to take to read a book of only 350 pages. I've been struggling trying to pinpoint just why that was. Perhaps because there is so much fact woven into this novel; I tend to read non-fiction much more slowly, trying to absorb it. In fact, there was even more fact in this novel than I first was aware - Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was a real person, this really is her story.

The book is well researched and I enjoyed the inside look at life in the White House during the Civil War and the Lincoln family. Mary Todd Lincoln was a complex woman and Chiaverini does an excellent job making her much more than the caricature she so often comes off as. The political backdrop of the story is well done as is Chiaverini's portrayal of life in Washington City for the slaves flooding into the city following the Emancipation Proclamation.

Mrs. Lincoln in a gown made by Elizabeth Keckley
Unfortunately, the story was uneven and were it fell flat for me was in Elizabeth's story. Too much detail about the dresses and sewing weighed the story down all too often. Perhaps the biggest disappointment may not have been Chiaverini's fault - Elizabeth was just so incredibly passive. For a woman who had the strength to earn her freedom, to start a new life in a new city and to build a business up, she seemed to be unable to ever say "no" to Mrs. Lincoln, allowing herself to be pulled from her life and business to attend to Mrs. Lincoln for months on end. Was this fact or fiction? If factual, then Chiaverini may have felt compelled to stick to the facts and even if fiction, she may have felt that the story had to revolve around Mrs. Lincoln's documented actions. Regardless, it made Elizabeth a much less interesting character than she might have been, to the detriment of the book.

Thanks to the ladies of TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. For other opinions on about Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, see the full tour.

Jennifer Chiaverini is the author of the New York Times bestselling Elm Creek Quilts series, as well as five collections of quilt projects inspired by the novels. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives with her husband and sons in Madison, Wisconsin.

Ms. Chiaverini is well known for her Elm Creek novels about quilts. Ms. Keckley did make a quilt out of the remnants from the dresses she made for Mrs. Lincoln and Ms. Chiaverini has included the details of this quilt in the novel It's one of the details of the book that was all the more interesting for being true.

Quilt made by Elizabeth Keckley 

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank

The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank
First Published 1947
Source: this copy was purchased for my daughter

Publisher's Summary:
Discovered in the attic in which she spent the last years of her life, Anne Frank's remarkable diary has since become a world classic—a powerful reminder of the horrors of war and an eloquent testament to the human spirit. In 1942, with Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, they and another family lived cloistered in the "Secret Annex" of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death. In her diary Anne Frank recorded vivid impressions of her experiences during this period. By turns thoughtful, moving, and amusing, her account offers a fascinating commentary on human courage and frailty and a compelling self-portrait of a sensitive and spirited young woman whose promise was tragically cut short.

The journal of a Jewish girl in her early teens describes both the joys and torments of daily life, as well as typical adolescent thoughts, throughout two years spent in hiding with her family during the Nazi occupation of Holland.

My Thoughts:
I first read this book when I was about the age Anne was when she was writing it. It made a lasting impression on me then. It made an even more profound impression on my this time.

Anne Frank repeatedly wrote about there being two Annes. She was referring to the public Anne, the Anne who is ever cheerful and uncomplaining, and the private Anne, the Anne who is quiet and battles depression. But the reader sees two different Annes as well.

There are entries in  The Diary of A Young Girl that read exactly like the diary entries of any thirteen- or fourteen-year-old girl. She writes about love, boys, and crushes. She has issues with her father and can't get along with her mother at all.

Other entries left me momentarily wondering if this could actually have been written by such a young girl. Anne Frank was an extremely bright young lady and surprisingly self aware.
"As I need comforting often, I frequently feel weak, and dissatisfied with myself; my shortcomings are to great. I know this, and everyday I try to improve myself, again and again."
Adults always like to say that children want parents, not friends. Anne confirms that. Her mother admits that she looks upon Anne and her sister more as friends than daughters. But, Anne says, "a friend can't take a mother's place. I need a mother as an example I can follow, I want to be able to respect her." Like most girls her age, Anne also wants her parents to treat her like a grownup.

Most impressive were Anne's thoughts about religion, war, and corruption. She is certainly learning a lot by being in such close proximity to adults in such a trying time and by listening to nightly radio broadcasts. She is clearly, however, not parroting what she is hearing. Anne listened, processed, formed her own impressions, and tries to work out what is happening in the world around her.

"Who has inflicted this upon us? Who has made us Jews different from all other people? Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up till now? It is God that has made us as we are, but it will be God, too, who will raise us up again."
Anne wanted to be a writer, to have an impact on the world. In her death, she achieved her life's dream. She asked "Who besides me will ever read these letters?" More than thirty million people have read some version of her words (there have been several editions, with differing diary entries included).

"I want to go on living even after my death. And therefore I am grateful to God for giving me this gift, this possibility of developing myself and of writing, of expressing all that is in me." 
If you have never read this book, I highly recommend it. As a window into the world of a young girl, and of a Jew during the Nazi occupation of Holland, and as an insight into both the ordinary and extraordinary of life in hiding, it is well worth reading.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Life: It Goes On - November 24

It is well and truly winter here now. Our first sleet, our first snow, our first day to use our scrapers after work. Once again I'm asking myself "why do we live here?" Oh yeah, family.

We got an early Christmas present this week. My computer has been on its last legs for years. I haven't had a word processing program since the last time we had to clean it off and I couldn't use the program I needed to be able to download NetGalley books onto my Nook. I think dust was holding my computer together! Given that we have our own Apple genius living on premises, we decided to get a Mac. Mac users, what's your favorite thing about your computer?

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: I'll finish Anna Quindlen's Rise and Shine this week but, with the holiday, I'm not sure I'll start a new audiobook. We'll be doing some driving over the long weekend but I can't convince The Big Guy that he needs to suck it up and just let me listen.

Watching: Will and Grace reruns. I'd forgotten how funny that show was.

Reading: Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker for an upcoming TLC review. I'm really enjoying the history included with the story. I had no idea when I started the book that Elizabeth Keckley, the title character, was a real person.

Making: Chili, peanut butter cups, toffee bars, peanut soup. It's all about comfort food this week.

Planning: On skipping Black Friday this year. Well, sort of. I refuse to shop on Thanksgiving day and I'm kind of tired of getting up early to fight crowds and stand in long lines. I may be doing a lot more of my shopping online for the deals.
Grateful: To Abraham Lincoln, who, in the middle of the Civil War, still found enough to be thankful for that he proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving. Prior to 1863, states scheduled their own days of Thanksgiving. Thanks, too, to Sarah Josepha Hale, who wrote to Lincoln suggesting the idea.

Loving: Scarves. It's so cold in my office that I've been wearing a scarf almost every day trying to stay warm.

Feeling: I'm trying to feel relaxed, trying to go with an "if it gets done, it gets done" attitude about the holidays and reduce the stress. Of course, that's easier to do now, not as easy to do the closer to Christmas we get!

Thinking: Of taking some computer classes at the community college. I'd love to be able to write code.

Looking Forward To: Being with our families this week!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic - November 21

Years ago, when our little people were still little people (instead of all taller than I am), we cancelled HBO so they wouldn't "accidentally" watch something they shouldn't. We've lived without it just fine since then, rarely regretting adding yet more expense to our monthly cable bill. But HBO is getting ready to film a mini-series of Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge starring Frances McDormand as Olive, Richard Jenkins as Olive's husband, and Bill Murray as Frank Kennison. I'm pretty sure I   need to be able to watch this when it comes out. I'm already trying to work out how to convince The Big Guy of that.

Speaking of Bill Murray, he's just wrapped work on the George Clooney-directed The Monument Men based on the book of the same title by Robert Edsel. The film also stars Clooney, Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett. This book has been on my radar since it came out; now I need to make sure I read it before the movie comes out!

Congratulations to last night's National Book Award winners: Mary Syzbist (poetry - Incarnedine), George Packer (nonfiction - The Unwinding), Cynthia Kadohata (young people's literature - The Thing About Luck) and James McBride (fiction - The Good Lord Bird).

In a recent interview with NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday, McBride talked about finding Little Onion's narrative voice: "I love the language of, you know, the old, black, country man with a blues guitar and ... boots and the quick banter. ... I just love that voice and I wanted this character to be an old man looking back on his life and then telling a, just a grand whopper." (NPR)

I've been working on a reading plan for the rest of the year. With only two scheduled reviews left for 2013, I've put together a pile of books to work on to satisfy challenges. Given that I have 16 books left to read for the Mount TBR Challenge, I think I can safely say that one is going to be a "fail." But I should be able to finish all of the others 2013 if my Christmas obligations don't get in the way.

In the past couple of months I've really found my reading preferences changing; most of my favorite books of late have been nonfiction. Two of the three audiobooks I picked up last week were nonfiction and I'm hoping to get through both of them by the end of the year. Do you ever find your reading preferences shifting or a particular genre or subject matter calling out to you?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Year In Provence by Peter Mayle

A Year In Provence by Peter Mayle
Published: 1991 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: my copy purchased at the library book sale

Publisher's Summary:
In this witty and warm-hearted account, Peter Mayle tells what it is like to realize a long-cherished dream and actually move into a 200-year-old stone farmhouse in the remote country of the Lubéron with his wife and two large dogs. He endures January's frosty mistral as it comes howling down the Rhône Valley, discovers the secrets of goat racing through the middle of town, and delights in the glorious regional cuisine. A Year in Provence transports us into all the earthy pleasures of Provençal life and lets us live vicariously at a tempo governed by seasons, not by days.

My Thoughts:
Is it enough just to tell you that when I was last at the library book sale, just after I finished this book, I picked up Mayle's A Good Year on audio?

In A Year In Provence, Mayle immerses his readers in the culture, food, customs, and land of Provence in a way that truly is witty and warm-hearted. Divided into the twelve months of his first year in France, Mayle takes advantage of the changing seasons to share the things he and his wife learned.

January, for example, turned out to be much colder in Provence than expected...made all the more unpleasant by the fact that there was no central heat in their new home. As things work in Provence, only a party for the workers in December convinced the those workers to get the heating system ready in time for the next winter. They definitely go at their own pace in Provence. They are also, apparently, terrible drivers, avid hunters, and slaves to governmental paperwork.

 And, of course, there's the food:
"The cheese was from Banon, moist in its wrapping of vine leaves, and then came the triple flavors and textures of the desserts - lemon sorbet, chocolate tart, and creme anglaise all sharing a plate. Coffee. A glass of marc from Gigondas. A sigh of contentment. Where else in the world, our friends wondered, could you eat so well in such unfussy and relaxed surroundings?"

You might find yourself thinking you'd like to visit Provence. Heaven knows that everyone the Mayles ever met thought nothing of imposing on them all through the warm weather. The natives don't necessarily want your company, though. Sure they understand that their economy relies on the business but they can't wait to get their restaurants back to themselves where they can resume their regular spots and they don't have to listen to tourists complaining about the restroom facilities. Don't ask; you don't want to know.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Kingdom of Ohio by Matthew Flaming

The Kingdom of Ohio by Matthew Flaming, Narrated by Todd McLaren
Published December 2009 by Penguin Group
Source: this is my audio copy

Publisher's Summary: 
After discovering an old photograph, an elderly antiques dealer living in present-day Los Angeles is forced to revisit the history he has spent years trying to deny. The photograph depicts a man and a woman. The man is Peter Force, a young frontier adventurer who comes to New York City in 1901 and quickly finds a job digging the first subway tunnels beneath the metropolis. The woman is Cheri-Anne Toledo, a beautiful mathematical prodigy whose memories appear to come from another world. The two meet seemingly by chance, and at first Peter dismisses her tales about a vanished Kingdom of Ohio as pure fantasy - but as events progress, he begins to suspect that nothing happens by accident. When the two are drawn into a tangle of overlapping intrigues involving some of the most famous figures of the era, Peter is forced to reexamine Cheri-Anne's fantastic story, and to confront the possibility that the woman he is falling in love with has discovered the dangerous secret to changing the fabric of the past. Against the electric, mazelike streets and tunnels of New York City at the beginning of the mechanical age, Peter and Cheri-Anne find themselves wrestling with the nature of history, technology, and the unfolding of time itself.

My Thoughts:
I have a pretty big "comfort" zone and I'm never afraid to step out of it. Even so, books about time travel are generally so far out of my time zone, I rarely pick one up.

I'm rarely disappointed by a book that's brought to my attention by NPR.  This one disappointed me. It was all over the place. We learn about Peter's past, we learn about Cheri-Anne's past and the entire history of of her family and the mythical Kingdom of Ohio, we move forward to meet the antiques dealer. But we rarely actually have characters moving back-and-forth in time. Which was, I believe, the point of the story. Maybe I would have enjoyed the story more if it had focused on that and on the battle between Thomas Edison (and his financial backer, J. P. Morgan) and Nicolas Tesla.

I don't think I can even adequately put into words how much I disliked the narration when it came to Cheri-Anne's voice. McLaren is fine with most of the rest of the book but a female voice with an accent was beyond his capabilities.

The love story between Peter and Cheri-Anne is truly meant to be at the heart of the story but there again, Flaming's story fell short for me. It may have had something to do with the narration. I, of course, found her voice so annoying it was hard to imagine anyone wanting to be in the same room, let alone fall in love with her.

Undoubtedly, if I had read this book in print, I never would have finished it. I almost gave it up anyway. In the end, I wish I would have.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Life: It Goes On - November 17

Yesterday it was nearly 70 degrees in Omaha. It's not unheard of in the  middle of November but it's definitely not the norm and we appreciate days like it. It was great to be able to sit on the patio and read!

Earlier I enjoyed the first Saturday morning #bloggiesta chat on Twitter. It was good to get other people's perspectives on blogging and the future of blogging. I think the consensus was that bloggers really need to find what works for them and not get wrapped up in expectations.

I had the chance to pick up the audiobook for Outlander the other day for $2 but passed. It's 28 discs long and I wasn't sure that I would be able to keep track of the story if I stretched it out for so long (since I only listen when I'm driving, about an hour a day). Diana Gabaldon fans, what do you think? Should I pick it up if it's still there next time I'm at the library sale?

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: I started Anna Quindlen's Rise and Shine this week and I'm really enjoying it so far. Frankly, it was a relief to get back to my comfort zone after listening to a book about time travel.

Watching: Whatever The Big Guy wanted to watch this week (it's been a recuperation week for him) so the t.v.'s been tuned to a lot of manly things. Which means I haven't actually been watching much this week!

Reading: Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker for an upcoming TLC Book Tours tour.

Making: Soups - baked potato and creamy tomato basil, fried potato casserole, and hamburgers with eggs. Have you ever tried putting a sunny-side-up egg on top of a hamburger? We saw it on t.v. and decided to give it a try. So good!

Planning: On using today to do some cooking for the coming week.

Grateful for: Carmex lip balm. Seriously, it's only November and I already need it. It could be a long winter!

Loving: How much healthier my skin is looking since I started working out. What a nice surprise.

Feeling: The urge to rearrange furniture around the house. My trusty tape measure and I are starting to make The Big Guy very nervous!

Thinking: The people who drove from Alaska to be here when the new outlet mall near us opened are crazy.

Looking forward to: A quiet, hopefully productive, week.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

I recently found an article by Patrick Ness, author of The Knife of Never Letting Go, published at The Guardian listing his top 10 "unsuitable" books for teenagers. I was a little appalled when I first saw the title but that title is firmly tongue-in-cheek. Ness makes the point that some so-called adult novels are best read, at least for the first time, as a teenager (The Virgin Suicides), some are really best appreciated by teenagers (A Catcher In The Rye, for example, tends to make adults want to slap Holden Caulfield), and that some will convince young readers that reading adult books can be fun. His list includes Middlemarch, The Stand, and Dracula.

NPR recently highlighted a new book by Johann Sebastian Bach by John Eliot Gardiner,Bach: Music In The Castle of Heaven. For a girl who grew up with classical music, who played Bach during my years of piano lessons, and who turns to Bach for just the right music for a mood, this one is right up my alley! Gardiner spent 12 years writing this book - can you even conceive of spending that long working on something? It seems that only writers and scientists have that kind of devotion to their work.

In non-book related reading, have you discovered Flipboard?  It's a magazine article collection site that you can customize with your own interests. Every time I open it, it's like falling down the rabbit hole. I'm not sure whether or not to thank Mini-him for introducing me to Flipboard or to send him to his room without dinner.

Flavorwire posted a list of "Our Favorite Pop Culture Librarians" including video. From Katharine Hepburn in Desk Set to Parker Posey in Party Girl, from movies to t.v. to a Weird Al spoof, these librarians run that gamut of pop culture sources. If you know how much I love musicals, it won't surprise you to find out that my favorite is Shirley Jones as Marian Paroo (Marion the Librarian) form Meredith Wilson's The Music Man.

 Can you think of any pop culture librarians they've missed?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry

Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry
Published April 2011 by Simon & Schuster
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for this review

Publisher's Summary: 
After the unexpected death of her parents, painfully shy and sheltered 26-year-old Ginny Selvaggio seeks comfort in cooking from family recipes. But the rich, peppery scent of her Nonna’s soup draws an unexpected visitor into the kitchen: the ghost of Nonna herself, dead for twenty years, who appears with a cryptic warning (“do no let her…”) before vanishing like steam from a cooling dish.

A haunted kitchen isn’t Ginny’s only challenge. Her domineering sister, Amanda, (aka “Demanda”) insists on selling their parents’ house, the only home Ginny has ever known. As she packs up her parents’ belongings, Ginny finds evidence of family secrets she isn’t sure how to unravel. She knows how to turn milk into cheese and cream into butter, but she doesn’t know why her mother hid a letter in the bedroom chimney, or the identity of the woman in her father’s photographs. The more she learns, the more she realizes the keys to these riddles lie with the dead, and there’s only one way to get answers: cook from dead people’s recipes, raise their ghosts, and ask them.

My Thoughts:
Okay, you know, if you've read this blog for long, that I'm not much of one for ghosts in books. So you know that I had to give myself a work around AND that McHenry had her work cut out for her if she was going to keep me reading.

McHenry met the challenge through the character of Ginny, a young woman with undiagnosed Asperger's syndrome.

Amanda is not pushing to sell the house because she wants the money: she is pushing to sell the house because she is convinced that Ginny, who has been sheltered all of her life by her mother, won't be able to care for herself. Amanda is dealing with her own grief, has a young family to care for and has every reason to believe that someone who deals with stress by hiding in closets with her hands her parents' shoes might not be able to survive on her own. McHenry arms Ginny with an amazing self-awareness and terrific tenacity. Paired with help from old friends and new (and those ghosts), Ginny discovers she really does have the skills to not only survive but to thrive.

McHenry is guilty of some emotional manipulation and Amanda not as well fleshed out as I would have liked. But McHenry does a fine job of balancing a number of themes, particularly grief. And, oh my goodness, all that talk about food - wonderful descriptions and recipes, people, recipes!

I'm by no means an expert on Asperger's so I can't be certain that McHenry has portrayed the syndrome realistically. It certainly feels realistic and  she has portrayed it with sensitivity and Ginny's growth never feels unnatural or contrived. Instead The Kitchen Daughter will make readers feel just the way that Ginny does - she doesn't need a label and she is every bit as "normal" as you and I.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman
Published July 2012 by Scribner
Source: I borrowed my mom's copy

Publisher's Summary:
After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.

Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.

My Thoughts:
There is so much to love about this debut novel. Stedman weaves together an incredible setting; flawed, real characters; and complex themes beautifully and with amazing insight.
"You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day. You have to keep remembering all the bad things."
Life on Janus Rock could not be more isolated yet Stedman makes it feel rich and full. The lighthouse rock feel expansive and uncomplicated, particularly in comparison to existence on shore which feels almost claustrophobic at times and prejudices, expectations, and lingering grief make life complicated.

At it's heart The Light Between Oceans is a multi-faceted love story. Stedman asks readers to consider what would you do for love and at what cost. Tom can never quite forgive himself for giving into Isabel's desire to keep Lucy and when he sees what his choice has done to other people it begins to eat away at his relationship with Isabel. When the truth is reveled, the impact ripples through the community, a community which, like so many, was quick to cast judgment and slow to take blame. The truth is not always pretty and it's not always easy to say what is right and what is wrong.
"Sometimes life turns out hard, Isabel. Sometimes it just bites right through you. And sometimes, just when you think it's done its worst, it comes back and takes another chunk."
There are no easy answers in The Light Between Oceans but much to think about. And readers will continue to think about this one long after they've finished reading it.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans Day

To All Of Those Who Have Served Our Country, Thank You

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Life: It Goes On - November 10

It feels like I just wrote one  of these...oh wait, I did! We've had something of a wonky week but it has afforded lots of quiet time. Lots of time to read, lots of time to get things done around the house and the beautiful weather we're having this weekend has allowed us to have lots of time out in the sunshine.

I looked over the list of challenges I signed up for at the beginning of the year and find I've done really well on some but I'm way behind on others. With only a couple of books scheduled for reviews before the end of the year, I have plenty of time to read books that will satisfy those requirements. Not sure I'll succeed at all of the challenges (as usual!) but I can certainly finish up a few more of them.
Here's What I'm:

Listening To: I'll finish up Matthew Flaming's The Kingdom of Ohio this week. I didn't get over to pick up more audio books this week so I'll plan to look for some Thursday. So hoping I can find some that make me want to drive around the block a few times because they are so good.

Watching: Husker sports - men's and women's basketball, women's soccer, volleyball and football. Soccer and volleyball again today!

Reading: Peter Mayle's A Year In Provence. Not sure what I'll pick up next - something for the

Making: Vanilla Cream Cheese bundt cake with raspberry sauce (still Pinning and Doing!) and five-cheese macaroni and cheese, one of my all-time favorite comfort foods.

Planning: No plans whatsoever on the calendar for this week so it's time to work on some projects for the holidays.

Grateful for: Insurance.

Loving: The beautiful fall weather - no coat required.

Feeling: Inspired. Time to get creative!

Thinking: I need to get off the computer and load up the car to make runs to Half-Price Books and the Goodwill. Time to clear some stuff out of here to make room for the holidays.

Looking forward to: Making some soups this week. I'm thinking tomato basil and potato for starters.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Thousand Days In Venice by Marlena De Blasi

A Thousand Days In Venice by Marlena De Blasi
Published June 2003 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: this copy belongs to me

Publisher's Summary:
He saw her across the Piazza San Marco and fell in love from afar. When he sees her again in a Venice café a year later, he knows it is fate. He knows little English; and she, a divorced American chef, speaks only food-based Italian. Marlena thinks she is incapable of intimacy, that her heart has lost its capacity for romantic love. But within months of their first meeting, she has packed up her house in St. Louis to marry Fernando—“the stranger,” as she calls him—and live in that achingly lovely city in which they met.

Vibrant but vaguely baffled by this bold move, Marlena is overwhelmed by the sheer foreignness of her new home, its rituals and customs. But there are delicious moments when Venice opens up its arms to Marlena. She cooks an American feast of Mississippi caviar, cornbread, and fried onions for the locals . . . and takes the tango she learned in the Poughkeepsie middle school gym to a candlelit trattoría near the Rialto Bridge. All the while, she and Fernando, two disparate souls, build an extraordinary life of passion and possibility.  

My Thoughts:
This book was recommended to me years ago by my Italian auntie, before I was clever enough to keep a listing of books I wanted to read someday and just trusted my memory to recall the title one day. Luckily it did one day when I was scanning the shelves at my local library book sale. A Thousand Days in Venice charmed me, made me want to hop a plan, fly to Venice, and wander the streets until I met the man of my dreams (don't tell The Big Guy!).

"Terror, illness, deceit, delusion, marriage, divorce, loneliness had all come to visit early enough in my life, interfering with the peace. Some of the demons just passed through, while others of them pitched tents outside my back door. And they stayed. One by one they went away, each leaving some impression of the visit that made me stronger, better."

Imagine that you have your life settled - you've created a beautiful home, have a successful business, get to travel to Europe for a job and have raised two children. Then one day a mysterious man tells you that the two of you are fated to be together...and you believe him. You turn your life upside down despite the objections of family and friends. You sell your belongings and your business and move across an ocean to live with a man who've only known a short time, in an apartment you've never seen. It's no wonder that De Blasi spends the rest of the book calling her beloved "the stranger."

Marlena De Blasi
De Blasi writes honestly about not just the wonder of finding herself swept away by love in middle age but also the difficulties of adjusting to life in a new country with a man she hardly knows. DeBlasi barely speaks the language and knows no one in Venice beside Fernando. She misses having friends, being understood, and cooking.
"Perhaps no one ever gets to know Venice as much as they remember her, recall her from an episode in some other dream. Venice is all our fantasies. Water, light, color, perfume, escape, disguise, license are gold spun and stitched into the skirts she trails across her stones by day and spreads out over her lagoon in the never-quite-blackness of her nights."
It's difficult to make Venice dull so it's not a surprise that Venice comes off as a lovely place to begin anew. In De Blasi's more than capable hands, though, Venice comes alive, not just as a beautiful city but as a city people actually live and work in. And oh the food - from shopping for the ingredients, to preparing the meals, to the flavors and smells - it all comes alive. De Blasi doesn't make you want to head out to the kitchen and start cooking; she makes you want to head out to a kitchen with a chef who can show you the right way to feed your soul through food. 

Most of all, De Blasi makes you want to take a chance and to look for passion in your life. What more can you ask? 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Life: It Goes On - November 6

Oh my goodness - I am chasing my tail this week playing catch up! We had such a great weekend celebrating my mom's 80th birthday. So, so many laughs, a thrilling Husker come-from-behind victory, a fantastic new-to-us museum, and a mom who was still basking in the glow late Sunday evening.

Last night it was time for a belated birthday celebration with my MOMS. This group has been friends for years, since our kids were swimming together in high school. A friend told me birthdays should be celebrated for a week - guess I took advantage of that!

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: The Kingdom of Ohio by Matthew Flaming. I must say, if it were a print book, I would have put it down. I'm not having great luck with audio books lately! Time to look for some new audio books tomorrow!

Watching: Nothing different to report on this front.

Reading: The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry for the What's In A Name challenge and Fall Feasting. I'm very distracted by Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake which just arrived on my doorstep today, though.
Why, yes, that shield did used to be a sled!

Making: A Captain America costume. For my nerd who was attending the Nebraska version of ComicCon. That boy never fails to underestimate the amount of time and energy a costume will take to put together and overestimate my abilities to sew them. I must say, though, for the time and money we spent, he looked great.

Planning: On a very quiet weekend. Between birthdays, anniversary, travel and costume making, my poor house has been sadly neglected.

Grateful for: The doctors who gave my mom 21 more years than we thought she might have when she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. She has defied the odds and astonished her doctors. Today she got the great news that her heart continues to grow stronger the older she gets!
The birthday girl and my dad toasting 80 years!

Loving: Thai jasmine rice. Thanks to Mini-him for buying us a rice steamer and our friend, Evelyn, for introducing us to jasmine rice. I'm making big batches of this to have for lunches.

Feeling: A little overwhelmed. I need a few hours of down time to regroup and put a plan together. I'm no good without a plan!

Thinking: There really need to be at least 30 hours in every day. Maybe then I'd even get enough sleep.

Looking forward to: Not much. You?

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Whole World Over by Julia Glass

The Whole World Over by Julia Glass
Published June 2007 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: my personal copy

Publisher's Summary:
Greenie Duquette lavishes most of her passionate energy on her Greenwich Village bakery and her young son. Her husband, Alan, seems to have fallen into a midlife depression, while Walter, her closest professional ally, is nursing a broken heart. At Walter’s restaurant, the visiting governor of New Mexico tastes Greenie’s coconut cake and decides to woo her away to be his chef. For reasons both ambitious and desperate, she accepts–heading west without her husband. This impulsive decision, along with events beyond Greenie’s control, will change the course of several lives around her.  

My Thoughts:
This is my third Julia Glass novel. It's actually quite rare for me to read three books by any one author - Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Stephen King among the exceptions. What do they all have in common? I liked their books. It would stand to reason then, wouldn't it, that I like Julia Glass' books? Yeah, well, I don't. The Whole World Over convinced me of that. After I See You Everywhere I thought I should give Glass another chance. After all, The Three Junes is an award-winning novel. And it was better but I didn't love it.

The only reason I picked up The Whole World Over was because if was $2 on audio at my local library sale and I wondered if listening to Glass might make me enjoy her books more. Instead, just the opposite proved true.Greenie Duquette lives in New York City. Her family is from the east coast. She is wooed away to New Mexico by the man who is the governor of that state. Yet, curiously, narrator Denis O'Hare decided that several of the characters should have Southern accents. It was like nails on a chalkboard for me to hear those characters speak. Greenie and Alan have a precocious son, smart beyond his years. But between O'Hare's narration and Glass' characterization, I found this kid to be ridiculously annoying.

Glass, from my experience, writes all of her novels from multiple points of view. I generally don't have a problem with that, not even when it isn't always apparent at first how the stories tie together. In The Whole World Over the connection between the characters is quite clear. What's less clear is why the stories are relevant to each other. The publisher's summary says that Greenie's decision will change the course of several lives around her. Yet, that didn't entirely seem to be true. Because she had left her husband, Alan, behind, he did end up meeting Saga, someone he probably would not have met otherwise. But she didn't really seem to have any great impact on his life and her story line added nothing to the rest of the novel.

And that name, Saga? Yeah, that grated on my nerves, too. I know that not every characters can be named Jane, or Mary, or Emily. Oh what, that actually IS Saga's real name. There's a silly little story to explain how she came to have that nickname that really didn't seem adequate. Alan's sister's name is Joya. And Greenie's name isn't even Greenie. It's just one of the many nicknames she's had in her life.

The publisher says Glass is at her best yet with The Whole World Over. If this is the best she's got, and after having been disappointed by all three of her novels, I have definitely read my last novel by Glass. She just doesn't work for me; it just feels like she's trying too hard to do too much.