Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron

I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts On Being a Woman by Nora Ephron
Published April 2008 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing
Source: purchased the audio book at my local library sale
Narrated by: Nora Ephron

Publisher's Summary: 
Overview With her disarming, intimate, completely accessible voice, and dry sense of humor, Nora Ephron shares with us her ups and downs in I Feel Bad About My Neck, a candid, hilarious look at women who are getting older and dealing with the tribulations of maintenance, menopause, empty nests, and life itself.

Ephron chronicles her life as an obsessed cook, passionate city dweller, and hapless parent. But mostly she speaks frankly and uproariously about life as a woman of a certain age.

My Thoughts:
All women of a certain age should read this book. You'll know if you're the right age if you have, in fact, ever felt bad about your neck. Or gone through menopause. Or become an empty nester.

If I were, instead of writing a book review, writing a movie review for this collection of essays, I'd write that trite bit "I laughed, I cried." Because really, I did. One minute I was that woman in the car next to you at the intersection laughing even though there's no one else in the car. The next, tears are streaming down my face. This last had to do with a piece dealing with mortality and the death of Ephron's dearest friend to cancer. It was sad taken by itself. But when you listen, aware that just a few  years later Ephron herself died of leukemia, it is all the more poignant.
“I want to talk to her. I want to have lunch with her. I want her to give me a book she just read and loved. She is my phantom limb, and I just can’t believe I’m here without her.”- on losing her best friend” “I want to talk to her. I want to have lunch with her. I want her to give me a book she just read and loved. She is my phantom limb, and I just can’t believe I’m here without her.”
Ephron doesn't just touch on the problems of aging as a woman, though. She talks about food, love, parenting, New York City, writing and reading.
“Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel like I've accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on. Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disorder medicates itself. Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it's a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it's a way of making contact with someone else's imagination after a day that's all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.”
“There is something called the rapture of the deep, and it refers to what happens when a deep-sea diver spends too much time at the bottom of the ocean and can't tell which way is up. When he surfaces, he's liable to have a condition called the bends, where the body can't adapt to the oxygen levels in the atmosphere. All of this happens to me when I surface from a great book.”
Some of the essays in this collection are pure fluff (there's an entire essay about purses, for example). Some of the essays are much weightier - like the one about Bill Clinton that starts out making you think its an essay about one of her husbands. Ephron never loses her wit while she is skewering someone or writing on lighter subjects.

I miss Nora Ephron. Hers are the movies I watch over and over. And now hers will be the book that I read again and again.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Warden by Anthony Trollope

The Warden by Anthony Trollope
First Published: 1855
Source: Librivox

Hiram's Hospital, a fifteenth century foundation attached to Barchester Cathedral, provided a home for twelve old men. Through the centuries the income of the foundation had greatly increased, and the Wardenship was a handsome sinecure for the Precentor of the Cathedral. The incumbent, the Rev. Septimus Harding a gentle, 'cello-playing old clergyman, lived near the Hospital, with his younger daughter, Eleanor.Hiram's Hospital, a fifteenth century foundation attached to Barchester Cathedral, provided a home for twelve old men. Through the centuries the income of the foundation had greatly increased, and the Wardenship was a handsome sinecure for the Precentor of the Cathedral. The incumbent, the Rev. Septimus Harding a gentle, 'cello-playing old clergyman, lived near the Hospital, with his younger daughter, Eleanor.

John Bold, a young surgeon of Barchester, although in love with Eleanor, became convinced that the financial affairs of the Foundation were mismanaged and demanded a public accounting. Mr. Harding's son-in-law Archdeacon Grantly, enraged at this assault on clerical prerogatives, fought the case bitterly until Bold, distressed by the uproar he had occasioned, withdrew his suit. Nevertheless the Warden resigned, and after Eleanor and John Bold were married left his post and became Rector of St. Cuthbert's, a small parish in the Cathedral Close.

My Thoughts:
Oh my goodness, why have I not read anything by Trollope sooner?! In this satire he skewers almost everyone in the book, from the church, to the newspapers, to the poor, to the general public and it is brilliant. And so thought provoking - it was hard to find a side to come down on because they all so clearly had their faults.

The twelve old men who lived in the hospital (the bedesmen) ought, clearly, to be in the right when they sign a petition to challenge the way the income of the foundation is being spent. Yet, they are already receiving in monies, housing, food, and care much more than they could ever have hoped to have before they were accepted into the hospital. In fact, they each receive in income more than they made while they were still working. Are they merely being greedy in wanting even more?

Is poor Mr. Harding, kind and gentle man that he is, to be pitied? After all, he gives the bedesmen money out of his own income over and above what the foundation sets aside for them and takes the best care of them he possibly can. On the other hand, he squanders every penny of the 800 pounds a year he earns and then some.

Perhaps John Bold is the hero? After all, he is championing the rights of the poor. But he sets in motion the entire affair without any real thought to what might be best for the bedesmen or for the feelings of people he cares about.

The Church of England is the villain! No, wait, the law is the villain. Or is it the newspaper which gets everything stirred up to the point that Mr. Harding feels he must resign?

See what I mean? So much to think about. How I do love a good satire! Like Charles Dickens, Trollope takes a good poke at his characters just by naming them: a strident young reformer named Bold, a lawyer named Haphazard, a newspaper man utterly full of himself named Towers. And the commentators who publish pamphlets about the affairs of the country? Dr. Pessimist Anticant and Mr. Popular Sentiment! Who, by the way, is actually a caricature of Dickens whose zeal for reform Mr. Trollope did not endorse.

Anthony Trollope wrote a series of book called the Chronicles of Barsetshire of which The Warden is the first book. Now I need to get my hands on the next book in the series. But first, somewhere in my house is one of Trollope's other books. Now where did I put that???

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Life: It Goes On - April 27

I am dragging today. Even though I didn't get up early to start and quit early, Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon wore me out. There's something about feeling like I have to read that makes it feel more like work and makes it more tiring for me. Two very important things I learned that slowed me down early on: it's hard to stay focused and awake if you're too warm AND I am going to have to start wearing my reading glasses if I'm not reading my Nook. Getting older sucks!

We are enjoying a very spring-like weekend. Friday night was absolutely perfect - warm enough for us to watch college baseball in short sleeves and eat on a patio after. Last night it started raining and we had wave after wave of thunderstorms roll through for the next few hours. Our yard and flower beds are loving it!

Here's What I'm:                                                                                                                                                                                                           
Listening To: Friday I started Laura Lippman's No Good Deeds, one in her Tess Monaghan series.

Watching: In keeping with a reading weekend, today I'm watching Princess Bride. I really need to get to the book one of these days soon.

Reading: I'm hoping to finish up Claire Cook's follow up to Must Love Dogs, New Leash On Life today. Then I'll start Nadia Hashimi's The Pearl That Broke Its Shell for an upcoming TLC Book Tour.

Making: One last batch of chili the other day when it was still cool out (with steak, yum!) and cornbread to go with it (inspired by Nora Ephron; it doesn't take much of a reference in a book to convince me to make something). Yesterday I cooked five pounds of chicken thighs three different ways to have on hand. I used some last night to make chicken enchiladas along with some bean and cheese enchiladas for my vegetarian.

Planning: When I got sick, I lost all momentum on 40 Bags In 40 Days so I'm planning on using the next week to try to knock out another 10-12 bags. I'm hoping to enlist the rest of the family.

Grateful: To be married to my best friend. It's easy to forget in the business of day-to-day life; date night was a good reminder!

Loving: Listening to the birds as they scurry about finding mates and building nests. When we moved in 18 years ago, there were no mature trees and no birds. Now we have such a nice variety.

Feeling: Hopeful that this week will be quieter at work; I'd like to have some energy left when I get home.

Thinking: I will get some posts up for the coming week and then I'm unplugging. I've already almost stopped using Twitter, haven't opened my Tumblr account in months, and yet I'm attached to my electronic devices entirely too much. I can't unplug entirely but I'll be limiting myself to one hour a day for everything.

Looking forward to: Remembering what I used to do in my free time because electronics ate my brain!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Readathon Update

Hour 11
The readathon's been in full swing for over 10 hours now and many people have been reading like crazy for all of that time. Me? Not so much. First of all, I was up late (and, if I'm being honest, I had a bit too much wine last night!) so I slept in and I've been easily distracted all day. Fortunately, my house is looking good so I have something to show for it!

Hour 18:
This is the readathon's 18th hour - clearly, when you see my numbers, not my 18th hour of reading! I am going to try to stay away for a couple more hours and make at least a good start on Claire Cook's Must Love Dogs: A New Leash On Life.

Hour 21:
I made it into the 21st hour of reading but this is going to be it for me. Reading is supposed to be fun and by 3 a.m. it's losing its appeal!

Pages Read: 384

Books Finished: The Kings and Queens of Roam by Daniel Wallace and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles. 


Katie, at The Book Monsters, challenged us in this hour to post a picture of our TBR shelves, a Shelfie! Since I have quite a few TBR book shelves  and I didn't feel like hiking upstairs, this is one of the shelves in my family room. It's a mixture of old books, review books, and other books I'm sure I'll be reading soon!

Stacy of Stacy's Books shared her TBR mountain with us (I don't think I'm going out on a limb in calling it a mountain; it's so much more than a pile!) and had lots of fun ways for people to win prizes. Thanks for making me feel better about what I own and have yet to read, Stacy!

Friday, April 25, 2014

It's Dewey's Time!

It's time again for one of my very favorite things about blogging - Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon! I'm not even going to pretend that I'll be reading for all 24 of those hours. The forecast is for only one nice day this weekend which is, of course, readathon day. Things must be done on this one nice day, things that are not reading. I am so sad about this. My goal will be to get 12 hours of reading in which means that my "pile" of books is more than a little ambitious but a girl's gotta have options.

I'll be mixing up books on my Nook with real books and I've very carefully picked books that are short and should be fairly week reads. I'm about half done already with The Kings and Queens of Roam so I'll plan to finish that first. Also on my pile are Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, Goodnight June by Sarah Jio, and Must Love Dogs: new leash on life by Claire Cook.

I suppose the family will expect meals but snacks are always a must for any readathon so there will definitely be coffee, popcorn and chocolate involved in my they always are for readathons!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Casebook by Mona Simpson

Casebook by Mona Simpson
Published April 2014 by Random House
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Miles Adler-Hart starts eavesdropping to find out what his mother is planning for his life. When he learns instead that his parents are separating, his investigation deepens, and he enlists his best friend, Hector, to help. Both boys are in thrall to Miles’s unsuspecting mother, Irene, who is “pretty for a mathematician.” They rifle through her dresser drawers, bug her telephone lines, and strip-mine her computer, only to find that all clues lead them to her bedroom, and put them on the trail of a mysterious stranger from Washington, D.C.

Their amateur detective work starts innocently but quickly takes them to the far reaches of adult privacy as they acquire knowledge that will affect the family’s well-being, prosperity, and sanity. Burdened with this powerful information, the boys struggle to deal with the existence of evil and concoct modes of revenge on their villains that are both hilarious and na├»ve. Eventually, haltingly, they learn to offer animal comfort to those harmed and to create an imaginative path to their own salvation.

My Thoughts:
Let's just get the bad out of the way right off the bat, shall we? The book spans a number of years but I was never sure whether or not I was looking back on those years or traveling through them with Miles. If the later, his "voice" never seemed to change. And the nicknames - Miles calls his mom "the Mims" and his twin sisters "Boop One" and "Boop Two" for reasons that are never made clear to the reader - it started to grate on me that he never once called them by name. I have nicknames for everyone in my house but I don't use them exclusively.

That being said, I really enjoyed this book. It's a quick, easy read but with surprising depth, tenderness and honesty. In the beginning of the book, poor Miles is just a boy trying to find out what's in store for him only to be dropped right into matters that are beyond his comprehension. Matters that the adults never attempt to help him understand. He struggles to lay blame for his parents, first finding fault with one and then the other. He struggles to get a grasp on how everything that is happening will effect him as, once again, things begin happening to Miles and his sisters that no one bothers to explain. Miles is often surprisingly mature, often times much more so than his parents whose selfishness frequently leaves the kids handling things on their own. I can't say how real all of this is, fortunately never having suffered through a divorce in my family, but it feels real. I don't imagine most kids would become spies to get to the bottom of things but Miles reactions to the things that were happening around him certainly felt believable.
"Afraid to get divorced? Was it still possible they wouldn't? I had a queasy feeling: I remembered the boy to whom those words would have fallen like the deepest balm. The gold of recovery. I could almost reach his feelings, but not quite: I was no longer that boy. I wasn't sure I wanted my parents back together. I was used to things the way they were now. I'd already begun to be the man I would become. Halfhearted. About my parents getting back together...And the other side of halfheartedness was greed for experience, even contradicting experiences."
Periodically the writing felt a bit jarring but some of that may have been because I was reading from a galley of the book and not a finished copy. Mostly, though I fell into Simpson's writing, scooping up the gems she had dropped throughout the book... and you know how much I love to find gems in books.
"She looked out the window, mad and proud. A tiny queen."
"More than separation, this seems the end of my good life. She was selling the house that smelled like excitement."
"We come into the world whole, all of us, but we don't know that, don't know that ice will be taking large chunks out of us, forever."
"What was so-called romance? It seemed a lot like friendship, but with a fleck of sparkle. What was that sparkle? Hope, maybe. But hope for what? A better life. Some future." 
Any time  in this book that my attention started to wander, Simpson would plop one of the beauties into the story and grab me again. I only hope that all of these made their way into the finished book.

Thanks to Lisa at TLC Book Tours for introducing me to this book...and to Mona Simpson. For other opinions about this book, check out the full tour.

Mona Simpson is the author of Anywhere But Here, The Lost Father, A Regular Guy, Off Keck Road, and My Hollywood. Off Keck Road was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and won the Heartland Prize of the Chicago Tribune. She has received a Whiting Writer’s Award, a Guggenheim grant, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, and, recently an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Life: It Goes On - April 20

Happy Easter to those of you who celebrate it! We'll have a family brunch with the kids then dinner with my parents, my sister's family and her in-laws at her house. Sadly we've outgrown Easter egg hunts at our house but we're never giving up on Easter baskets!

Do you ever feel like you're spinning your wheels around the house? I spent my half day doing laundry and cleaning floors and yesterday it all had to be done again. No wonder we like to escape into books and forget about dirty bathrooms, dusting and ironing for a few hours!

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: I started Nora Ephron's I Feel Bad About My Neck on Friday. It's only three discs so I'll finish that this week. Ephron narrates which I'm loving. I'm so sad that she's gone - what a funny lady!

Watching: Yesterday I watched "Two Weeks Notice" with Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant for the, maybe, hundredth time? Clearly I love this movie but part of the attraction is that it always reminds me of the times Mini-him and I used to have movie nights when The Big Guy was out of town and the other two kids had gone to bed. We had so much fun together and forged a bond I cherish.

Reading: I started Mona Simpson's Casebook yesterday for a TLC Book Tours Review this week.

Making: I made a batch of cinnamon roll monkey bread this week with homemade bread dough. For today I'm taking rolls and caramelized carrots - I definitely got the easy contributions to this meal! Friday BG made pizza with asparagus; surprisingly yummy!

Planning: On working on some landscaping projects around the yard, prepping the gardens, and, sadly, cutting down a small tree which didn't survive the brutal winter.

Grateful for: The ladies in my book club who are both friends and therapists!

Loving: The forecast for the coming week; we may finally be past the freezing cold temperatures which means that flower shopping may be in my near future.

Feeling: Sore. I can't believe how much ground I lost when I couldn't work out while I was sick.

Thinking: My friend, Cheryl, and I may be banned from going to the theater together. We are always certain to be the loudest laughers in the audience.

Looking forward to: Dinners on the patio this week!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Fairy Tale Fridays - Frozen

Disney's latest blockbuster, "Frozen," is the most recent fairy tale adaptation to make it big. And by "adaptation," I mean "loosely based on." "Frozen" takes Hans Christian Andersen's "Snow Queen" as its source material and, I suppose, any chance for people to discover new fairy tales is a good thing. "The Snow Queen" was first published in 1845 and is considered by many to be Andersen's best story. It's also his longest, so I'm not going to share it with you here but I highly recommend you read it. At it's heart "Snow Queen" is a tale of redemption and, despite all of the other changes made to the story for the movie, so is "Frozen."

Disney being Disney, every thing's a bit softer in their adaptation...and cuter. You can be sure there are never talking, comic sidekicks that are animals in fairy tales. And the title character in the source material is evil, whereas her movie descendant is merely frightened and confused. But this particular adaptation has some things going for it that other adaptations didn't - it doesn't take the love of a man to save the girl, it takes the love of a sister.

Speaking of "Frozen' and adaptations, have you finally been able to get the song "Let It Go" unstuck from your brain? Good - here's an adaptation of another "Frozen" song, "Love's An Open Door." If this doesn't make you smile, your heart just might be frozen!

By the way, moms and dads, I don't know if this is good news or not but a sequel to "Frozen" is in the talking phase. Given that it's now become the most successful animated movie ever, you've got to think it's going to happen. From a lover a fairy tales, I'm keeping my fingers crossed for even more material from the original tale to make its way onto the big screen.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

Congratulations to Donna Tartt on winning the Pulitzer Prize for The Goldfinch. The Omaha Bookworms just finished The Goldfinch for discussion on Tuesday. We split it up into two months and had two great discussions about it. My parents even phoned in to join in the discussion this week as both of them have read it. Even those who didn't love the book had an appreciation for Tartt's skill as a writer.

"Soon I knew, the night sky would turn dark blue; the first tender, chilly gleam of April daylight would steal into the room. Garbage trucks would roar and grumble down the street; spring songbirds would start singing in the park; alarm clocks would be join go off in bedrooms all over the city. Guys hanging off the backs of trucks would toss fat whacking bundles of the Times and the Daily News to the sidewalks outside the newsstand. Mothers and dads all over the city would be shuffling around wild-haired in underwear and bathrobes, putting on the coffee, plugging in the toaster, waking their kids up for school."

I don't suppose it would be possible to convince Tartt after this win that maybe a few dozen pages worth of the book could have been cut without losing anything. Still, it's well worth reading. I meant to get my review up this week but, seriously, I'm still mulling it over.

Have any of you heard of Paperblog or perhaps you've been approached to contribute? I'm trying to figure out exactly what the benefits/drawbacks would be of contributing and who reads it. Is it meant to be something akin to Flipboard or Reddit? 

Nobel-prize winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez died today at age 87. I suppose it's time to forgive him for Love In The Time Of Cholera. Although, I suppose John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale should share in the blame for obsessing over it in the movie "Serendipity" and convincing me I had to read it. Have you read any of his books? I suppose I should give Marquez another chance and read One Hundred Years of Solitude.

I see that Julia Glass has a new book out (And The Dark Sacred Night). Please don't everyone start raving about and convince me to give Glass yet another chance. Because you know I'm a sucker for a book everyone is raving about but Glass' books just never work for me.

In discussing our book selection for next month, the Bookworms toyed with reading Grapes of Wrath in honor of its 75th anniversary. Almost everyone had previously read it but most were up for a reread. I have, amazingly, never read it. Have you? I have loved the Steinbeck I have read (no, I take that back, I most certainly did not enjoy The Pearl) but I won't be reading Grapes of Wrath with the Bookworms because one member begged us please to not make her read it again. We are nothing if not accommodating.

I finally got back to the library book sale today and picked up seven "new" audio books, as well as an M. C. Beaton book and Kim Wright's Love In Mid Air (on Mari's recommendation). I raced to finish The Warden on the way home today so I can start a new book tomorrow. But so many choices - mystery, literary, magical realism, nonfiction - I don't know where to start. After so many classics in a row, I'm definitely looking forward to reading something more recent!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Life: It Goes On - April 13

It's cold and rainy today, the perfect day to curl up in a corner of the sofa and read all day. Too bad I played all day yesterday and need to accomplish something today!

Yesterday was Nebraska's spring football game and The Big Guy and I headed into Lincoln so he could go with some of the other guys from my family. My mom, sister-in-law and I spent the afternoon shopping at all new-to-me shops. Such a fun afternoon!

Miss H introduced me to a new game this week, Ruzzle. Have you played it? It's ridiculously addictive and definitely bringing out my competitive nature.

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: I'm really enjoying Anthony Trollope's The Warden; a simple enough premise but wonderfully written. Like Dickens, Trollope used some great names for his characters including Abraham Haphazard for a lawyer.

Watching: The telecast of the spring game, just so I could see some of the fun things they did including coach Bo Pelini bringing a cat out. There's a twitter account for "Fake Bo Pelini" and the picture is Pelini's head on one of those awful Christmas card pictures with a cat. Real Bo said he was fine with the account but he wanted his cat back. The crowd went crazy when he came out yesterday with a cat - and then Fake Bo Pelini tweeted "Fine, you can keep her."

Reading: I'm finishing up The Goldfinch for discussion with my book club this week. Oh so much to discuss with this one!

Making: I used the chicken I made last Saturday and made stir fry one night and tostado casserole another night.

Planning: I was still working on getting over my cold this week, not much energy, so this week the plan is just to get caught up on things around the house.

Good Things - one of the great stores we hit up on Saturday
Grateful for: Family time - we are so blessed.

Loving: This morning's thunderstorm.

Feeling: A bit frustrated - BG appears to have brought home yet another cold.

Thinking: It felt great to get back to an exercise routine this week, slowly but surely. Never thought I'd hear myself say that!

Looking forward to: Book club this week made even more fun by my parents joining us. They've both read The Goldfinch.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggins

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin
First Published 1903 by Houghton Mifflin

Rebecca Rowena Randall leaves her beloved home at Sunnybrook to journey to faraway Riverboro, where she will live with two elderly and staunchly disciplined aunts. Though it was Rebecca's dependable sister, Hannah, who was truly invited, Rebecca's mother sends her instead, much to her aunts' chagrin. But eventually the charming Rebecca wins them over, along with her classmates, teachers, and the mysterious young businessman she calls "Mr. Aladdin." And though her adventures take her through Riverboro and beyond, Rebecca's heart remains at Sunnybrook.

My Thoughts: 
First off, Librivox largely redeemed itself with this one - fewer narrators, better quality sound, better reading. So right off the bat, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm had that going for it. I'm quite sure I would have enjoyed this book quite a lot if I had read it when I was in grade school. Wait...I practically did. Coming so closely on the heels of listening to Daddy Long Legs, I was struck by how much this book had in common with that book. Check it out, I think there must have been a check list for authors of that time to follow!

Book Plucky Hero(ine) Dead Parent(s) Sent to Live With Others Some Type of School Is Involved  Our Hero(ine) Is Beloved By Most Impulsive Crotchety Caretaker Older Benefactor (+1 if he’s also a trustee of the school)
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
The Little Princess

Daddy Long Legs
Anne of Green Gables

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is a charming novel, clearly of a certain time, but one I'd definitely recommend moms share with their daughters.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday - Ten Most Unique Books

What are the top ten unique books you've ever read? That's what the ladies at The Broke and The Bookish are asking us this week. I like to think that I'm a pretty eclectic reader but, let's face it, I really do tend to stick to my go-to genres. On the other hand, in all of the course of my reading years, through all of my reading phases, there have been a lot of books that really were unique for me at the time I read them.

1. City of Thieves by David Benioff (yes, Game of Thrones fans, that David Benioff) - Me? A story about survival during a siege? Not only did I read it, I loved it.

2. Interview With The Vampire by Anne Rice - It was unique for me when I read it; it would be unique for me if I read it now. I'm just not a reader of monster books.

3. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami - Ti (Book Chatter) convinced me to go waayyy out of my comfort zone with this one and I'm so glad she did. Even if I'm still not sure what it meant.

4. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot - I never learned to love science when I was growing up. It's something I certainly never thought I'd enjoy reading about as an adult. Skloot showed me that science can be just as interesting to read about it is to listen to on Radio Lab.

5. Night Film by Marisha Pessl - On the Nook this was a truly interactive experience. Any way you read it, it was mind blowing.

6. Only Milo by Barry Smith - Unique story, unique typography, unique writing style. Dark comedy fun.

7. Animal Farm by George Orwell - Well, duh, it's animals and communism.

8. The Imposter's Daughter by Laurie Sandell - my first graphic novel.

9. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid - The entire book is an unnamed narrator having a conversation with the reader, who plays the role of an American stranger.

10.  Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders by Neil Gaiman - Filled with stories of magic and the unexplainable, this collection was so far out of my wheel house that it literally made me uncomfortable to read it.

What books would you put on a list of your unique reads?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Published March 2013 by Simon and Schuster
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for this fair review

Publisher's Summary:
Orphaned at birth, seventeen-year-old Korobi Roy is the scion of a distinguished Kolkata family and has enjoyed a privileged, sheltered childhood with her adoring grandparents. But she is troubled by the silence that surrounds her parents’ death and clings fiercely to her only inheritance from them: the love note she found hidden in her mother's book of poetry. Korobi dreams of one day finding a love as powerful as her parents’, and it seems her wish has come true when she meets the charming Rajat, the only son of a high-profile business family.

But shortly after their engagement, a heart attack kills Korobi’s grandfather, revealing serious financial problems and a devastating secret about Korobi's past. Shattered by this discovery and by her grandparents’ betrayal, Korobi undertakes a courageous search across post-9/11 America to find her true identity. Her dramatic, often startling journey will, ultimately, thrust her into the most difficult decision of her life.

My Thoughts:
In Divakaruni's One Amazing Thing, she took a cast of characters and built a story for each that was developed independently and told one by one. In Oleander Girl, Divakaruni has also taken a cast of characters and built a plot line  for each but here they are all interwoven into a cohesive story.

You know by now how much I love books set in India and in that respect this book definitely satisfies. Divakaruni explores class, caste, and religion while comparing modern India to its rich history and traditions. Against this backdrop, Korobi represents a prize for Rajat's family; as nouveau riche, they are in need of the power of tradition the Roy family holds. Korobi's journey to America is only one of the problems they will face trying to hold onto their wealth and power.

Divakaruni attempts to do a lot in Oleander Girl and, unfortunately, it didn't entirely succeed for me. She might have been better served to split up her story lines; it would have allowed her to better develop Korobi's journey in search of her father. I was far more interested in learning what would happen in Kolkata to Rajat, his family, and the people around them. Divakaruni touches only so deeply into the darker aspects of the story and I would have liked to see that developed further. Still, I enjoyed the book and raced through it.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Life: It Goes On - April 6

Greetings from Omaha, where spring is still fighting to make an  appearance. Snow on Tuesday, temperatures in the sixties this weekend. I have spent the past week not caring much one way or the other; it's been all I could do to go to work each day. Finally this weekend I have regained some energy and have been catching up on sleep.

I hadn't been to walk in two weeks until today. Couldn't do what I've worked up to but it's a start and I think will help my lungs finally heal up. With nice weather in the forecast this week, I think I'll try to get out and get some walking in every day.

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: I finished Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm  on Friday and will start my first Anthony Trollope, The Warden tomorrow. It's entirely possible the review for Rebecca will be in graph form.

Watching: Free HBO this weekend means that I've done most of the housework while I've also watched all three seasons of GAME OF THRONES. Dang, people, I can see why so many of you love the books and the series. My April reading plan may have just gone up in smoke; I'm seriously considering starting the series.

Reading: I finished Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's (One Amazing Thing) Oleander Girl; I'll have a review this week. The Omaha Bookworms will meet to discuss the second half of The Goldfinch next week so I'm back to reading that and enjoying it.

Making: Yesterday I made something I'm calling cheeseburger cups which were a huge hit. Now I just have to try to remember the proportions I used! I also cooked a crockpot of chicken breasts for this week, a batch of peach steel cut oats for breakfast this morning and three loaves of banana bread today.

Planning: My goal this week is just to try to catch up and continue to finish up some small projects I did have the energy to start last week including a major reorganization of paperwork inspired by 40 Bags In 40 Days.

Grateful for: Modern medicine and The Big Guy who has taken very good care of me the past couple of weeks.

Loving: Signs of spring, including the tulip plant BG brought home the other day to brighten my day.

Feeling: Antsy. I'm ready to be back to full energy!

Thinking: Of unplugging for a week, although I'm not clear in my mind yet exactly what that will entail. I know myself better than to think that I could go a whole week without ANY internet communication.

Looking forward to: Time with friends this week and time with my mom and sister-in-law on Saturday - lots of girl time!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic - Looking Forward To...

It's a bad thing to put more books on your wish list than you finish in a week. Yet, here I am adding three more books to my wish list. This week I'm adding:

1. Under Magnolia by Frances Mayes -
The author of three beloved books about her life in Italy, including UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN and EVERY DAY IN TUSCANY, Frances Mayes revisits the turning points that defined her early years in Fitzgerald, Georgia. With her signature style and grace, Mayes explores the power of landscape, the idea of home, and the lasting force of a chaotic and loving family.

2. That Night by Chevy Stevens - Toni Murphy is finally leaving prison after fifteen years. Jailed for a crime she didn't commit, the murder of her sister, she just wants to get on with her life. But her ex-boyfriend Ryan, who was also set up for the murder, is determined to clear their name and get revenge on those who wronged them.

3. In Paradise by Peter Mattiessen -
In the winter of 1996, more than a hundred individuals gather at the site of a former concentration camp for a weeklong retreat during which they will offer prayer and witness at the crematoria and meditate in all weathers on the selection platform, while eating and sleeping in the quarters of the Nazi officers who sent more than a million Jews to their deaths. Clements Olin, an American academic of Polish descent, is forced to abandon his observer’s role and embrace a history his family has long suppressed.

I'm adding a couple to my dad's wish list as well this week (he's an avid reader of Civil War books): The Smoke At Dawn by Jeff Shaara and Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee by Michael Korda.

And for all of you Outlander fans who aren't bloggers and already know when the next book in the series is coming out, mark your calendars for June 10 for the arrival of Written In My Own Heart's Blood.

Have you added any new books to your wish list this week?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Paganini's Ghost by Paul Adam

Paganini's Ghost by Paul Adam
Published 2010 by Minotaur Books
Source: my copy courtesy of my parents

Publisher's Summary:
Paganini – showman, womanizer, dazzling virtuoso – is one of the most charismatic characters in the history of classical music. His violin, il Cannone (the Cannon), is now kept in Genoa, Italy, where it is played only once every two years in a sold-out concert by the winner of an international competition.

This year, though, a Parisian art dealer is found dead in his hotel room the day after the concert. In his wallet is a scrap of sheet music, torn from a page that belongs to the competition’s winner. But how did the dead man get hold of it? And why?

Detective Antonio Guastafeste asks violin maker Gianni Castiglione to help him navigate the curious world of classical musicians, their priceless instruments, and the unsavory dealers who prey upon them. Together, Antonio and Gianni must unravel another mystery that has gone unanswered for over a century, one that may hold the answer to the modern-day murder.

My Thoughts: 
This book was first recommended to me by my aunt and uncle in Rhode Island (I passed it along to you in May of 2010).  I can see why they enjoyed it as it is set almost entirely in Italy. My aunt is of Italian descent and my uncle spent time in Italy when he was in the service. Add to that the fact that Adam doesn't just have his characters eat a meal, he makes you want to join them, even if it's just cheese and crackers (because, of course, it's Italian cheese, you know it's delicious!). And if all of that weren't enough, Paganini's Ghost is choke full of classical music references; in fact, that world is the key to solving a murder mystery. Which, I'm sure, is one of the reasons my parents enjoyed the book.

It was also one of the reasons I liked this book. I wonder if it might not be too much for some readers, although I suppose it's not much different than any other back story essential for a book's development. And in all of that classical music background are many of the clues readers have the opportunity to pick up on if they're reading carefully (evidently I wasn't reading carefully enough, I needed Antonio and Gianni to point them out for me).

Adam pulls his story in and out of history, in and out of Italy, as he draws you into his characters' lives and builds on the mysteries behind the murders. I enjoyed it so much I'm planning on reading the first book in the series, The Rainaldi Quartet, soon (which I have, don't ask me why I read them out of order).

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten "Gateway" Books/Authors In My Reading Journey

This week for Top Ten Tuesday, the ladies at The Broke and the Bookish are asking us to list those books and/or authors who introduced us to a genre, who got us into reading or who brought us back to reading. I thought it would be hard to find books to fit this category. Instead, it was hard to narrow down my choices.

1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott was not only my gateway to chapter books I read by myself, it was also my gateway book falling in love with characters.

2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain was my gateway book to the ways in which a book can blend humor and heavier subjects wonderfully.

3. Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes was my first introduction to mental disability in a novel.

4. A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle was my gateway into science fiction, introduced to me by a fifth-grade teacher who read it to our class.

5. The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende introduced me to magical realism. It doesn't always work for me, but, thanks to Allende, I know it can and I keep giving it a shot.

6. The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry was my gateway to the power of short stories

7. Stephen King was my gateway to epic chunksters. Oh sure, I'd read big books before but nothing on the epic scale of King's books.

8. Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss was my gateway into the interactive quality of books, especially children's books - act them out, people!

9. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner introduced me to the idea that really complex, really difficult books are well worth the time they take...also to great Southern literature.

10. Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow was my introduction to books that combine real people and real events with fiction. It's a combination I adore now!

What are some of your "gateway" books or authors?