Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Autobiography of Malcolm X As Told To Alex Haley

The Autobiography of Malcolm X As Told To Alex Haley
Published 1964
Source: I bought this one for book club

Publisher's Summary:
Raised in Lansing, Michigan, Malcolm Little journeyed on a road to fame as astonishing as it was unpredictable. Drifting from childhood poverty to petty crime, Malcolm found himself in jail. It was there that he came into contact with the teachings of a little-known Black Muslim leader renamed Elijah Muhammad. The newly renamed Malcolm X devoted himself body and soul to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad and the world of Islam, becoming the Nation’s foremost spokesman. When his conscience forced him to break with Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity to reach African Americans across the country with an inspiring message of pride, power, and self-determination.

My Thoughts:
The Omaha Bookworms selected The Autobiography of Malcolm X for our February selection for a couple of reasons - we were looking for something to read in honor of Black History month and Malcolm X (born Malcolm Little) was born in Omaha. This one was a tough read for us, and not just because we're all middle-aged suburban white women. Even though the actual book is less than 400 pages, with the forward, the introduction, and the epilogue, it's a long read. Too long, too much detail, especially in Malcolm's life before Islam helped him change his life. He said "To understand that of any person, his whole life, from birth, must be reviewed." Eh, not so much. I wasn't the only Bookworm to admit to skimming liberally.

One of the Bookworms accidentally read the wrong book about Malcolm X, a book that postulated that The Autobiography of Malcolm X was entirely a work of propaganda. Thinking back on it that way, it certainly had that feel. The book goes into great detail about Elijah Muhammad's teachings, makes Brother Malcolm's marriage seem much more like an ideal Muslim match than the PR move the biography claims it to have been.

I know Malcolm was trying to shock readers with all of his terrible early escapades but this, this is where it really got weird for me. According to Elijah Muhammad (at least I don't think this is the story as told by all of Islam), of the first humans, Original Man, were a black people which included twenty-four wise scientists. All was well until one of the scientists, whose head was unusually large, started causing trouble. He was known as "the big-headed scientist." Seriously. And this is what convinced a troubled young man to straighten out his life.

Still, there's no denying that Malcolm X lead an interesting, unusual life. He was a man who took advantage of his time in prison to educate himself, becoming a voracious reader. Using his natural charisma, intellect, deep faith and even deeper hatred of whites, he made himself a force to be reckoned with and a leader of the American civil rights movement. But he was also a man who made enemies, particularly when he broke with Elijah Muhammad after a trip to Africa. I wish the book had been a hundred pages shorter in the beginning because the last 200 pages was so much more fascinating.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Life: It Goes On - February 23

Goodness, what a busy, for me, weekend we had! We had ourselves another mini-staycation Saturday.  The original forecast left us thinking that once we checked into our downtown hotel, we'd hoof it to our various destinations. Then we actually went outside. Holy buckets has it been cold here the past few days!

My pick for the winning animated short
We started by going to a showing of all of the Oscar-nominated animated shorts. I seriously KNEW which one would be the winner. And then it lost. To Pixar. That hardly seems fair. Should any Disney film have to be in its own category?

After drinks at one spot and dinner at another, we decided to take advantage of the ridiculously big suite our points had earned us. It was the size of the condominiums we used to rent every year. So big, we decided to invite Mini-him and his girl to hang out with us and take advantage of all of that room. We tried to teach them pitch. We probably shouldn't have had so much to drink before we did that. But, hey, none of us were driving!

View from our suite - Omaha kinda looks like a real city!
This Week I'm:

Listening To: Catching up on podcasts this week.

Watching: Big Guy came home Thursday to find me in the midst of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Carousel." He does not share my love of musicals so I've decided to take advantage of my half-days by watching one every week.

Reading: I ripped through The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins. It may not be this year's Gone Girl but it was one heck of a ride. Now I've started Nina Sankovitch's Tolstoy And The Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading. 

Making: Taco soup, roasted chicken one night which lead to chicken and dumplings another night, and nachos. And another soup. Which I swear was tasty but I can't recall what it was at all.

Planning: Continuing with 40 Bags In 40 Days. I've been working upstairs this week, although, truth be told, I'm doing more organizing than tossing.

Enjoying: Last night's annual Oscar party at Ms. C's house. She really spoils us - so much yummy food, fun cocktails, great laughs with friends old and new, and prizes. Did you watch this year? What'd you think of Neil Patrick Harris? We were underwhelmed. Lady Gaga's tribute to "The Sound of Music" left us all a little speechless. Wow, just wow. And could John Travolta have been any more creepy?

Feeling: Lethargic. Cold does that to me even though I know I'll be warmer if I just get up and move.

Looking forward to: Miss H's 20th birthday this weekend. Which may be a bit subdued with an entire weekend of snowfall in the forecast. If March comes in like a lion, it'll go out like a lamb, right? What are you looking forward to this week?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic - Alex Kava

Timing being everything, this month's book club meeting was being held on the same night author Alex Kava was speaking at our local Barnes and Noble. Five of us met there to "meet" Kava and hear her talk about her latest book, Breaking Creed. Kava is probably best known for her character Maggie O'Dell and fans will be happy to know that O'Dell appears in this book. But the star this time is Ryder Creed, who trains search-and-rescue dogs. Taking a page from author Tana French, Kava pulled Creed from an earlier novel where he played a minor role and he'll now be featured in his own series. Kava says she's just finished the edits for the second novel, Silent Creed. It was so fresh in her mind that she confessed to having a little trouble remembering the details of Breaking Creed!

When asked if anything she had ever written about had actually happened, Kava admitted that several things had, although none of the murders, thank heavens. In one book she wanted to write about a hurricane and after some research settled on the name Isaac which hadn't been used. The next hurricane season, though, the "I" hurricane was named Isaac. The scandal with Catholic priests became national news shortly after Kava had written a novel about a murderous priest.

Kava said when writing a book, she writes feverishly for weeks until she's got a book well done but is not an author who writes everyday. She prefers to write her novels out by hand but when pressed for time, she'll often end up typing out the last of a book. She said the writing feels different between the two and can even tell, when reading her own books, which chapters were written each way.

Asked about her own reading habits, Kava said she reads the work of a lot of other writers of thrillers including Lisa Gardner, James Rollins, and Erica Spindler. Like so many authors, Kava said much of her reading time is devoted to research for books which she enjoys because it allows her to learn about so many different things. For Breaking Creed, it meant learning not just about search-and-rescue dogs but dogs in general. Her current research has her learning about North Carolina and spiders.

When teased about having a twisted mind, Kava was quick to point out that she never writes an actual murder, just writes up to the edge of it and leaves it to readers' minds to imagine the rest. She feels confident her readers will come up with something far more twisted than she could.

Omaha fans will have another chance to see Kava when she appears at the College of St. Mary's annual author luncheon in April.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Last Good Paradise by Tatjana Soli

The Last Good Paradise by Tatjana Soli
Published February 2015 by St. Martin's Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
On a small, unnamed coral atoll in the South Pacific, a group of troubled dreamers must face the possibility that the hopes they’ve labored after so single-mindedly might not lead them to the happiness they feel they were promised.

Ann and Richard, an aspiring, Los Angeles power couple, are already sensing the cracks in their version of the American dream when their life unexpectedly implodes, leading them to brashly run away from home to a Robinson Crusoe idyll. Dex Cooper, lead singer of the rock band, Prospero, is facing his own slide from greatness, experimenting with artistic asceticism while accompanied by his sexy, young, and increasingly entrepreneurial muse, Wende. Loren, the French owner of the resort sauvage, has made his own Gauguin-like retreat from the world years before, only to find that the modern world has become impossible to disconnect from. Titi, descendant of Tahitian royalty, worker, and eventual inheritor of the resort, must fashion a vision of the island’s future that includes its indigenous people, while her partner, Cooked, is torn between anarchy and lust.

My Thoughts: 
In 2010, I read and loved Soli's The Lotus Eaters. So when I say I wanted to love this book, it's not just a cliche. Like that book, The Last Good Paradise brings together a large cast of characters in magnificent setting rife with historical drama.

In The Lotus Eaters, the setting (Vietnam) and its history played a pivotal role in the story. Here, while the Polynesian history was at the heart of the story, it seemed muddled by the large cast of characters. In fact, it was sometimes hard to figure out who was to be the center of the book. It never seemed to become entirely clear to me.

What's worse, was that I could never make myself care about any of the characters, except Titi. She was the only person whose situation was not of her own making and who remained true to her character throughout the book without compromising. The others? Perhaps Soli was trying to make the point of the scorpion - it is their nature. Nothing that happened to most of the characters truly changed them despite frequent indications that it might. But if that's not going to happen, why go to the bother of giving us so much of their back story?

There's no doubt that Soli can spin a great yarn, can create nuanced characters who readers will care about despite their flaws. It just didn't happen for me here. I have yet to read her second novel, The Forgetting Tree, but I may pull that off my shelf soon to see if it happened there.

For other opinions about The Last Good Paradise, check out the full TLC tour.

TATJANA SOLI is a novelist and short story writer. Her New York Times bestselling debut novel, The Lotus Eaters, was the winner of the James Tait Black Prize, a New York Times Notable Book, and a finalist for the LA Times Book Award. Her critically acclaimed second novel The Forgetting Tree was also a New York Times Notable book . Her stories have appeared in Zyzzyva, Boulevard, and The Sun, and have been listed in Best American Short Stories. She lives with her husband in Southern California.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Life: It Goes On - February 15

Moving a little slowly this morning - much, too much fun with a group of dear friends last night. Our hosts suggested that we all tell the stories about how we met - first one spouse and then the other gave their version and couldn't be interrupted - and it was so fun to learn so much about each other. What a fun way to spend Valentine's Day!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'll be finishing Life After Life tomorrow and it's bound to end up as one of my favorite books of the year. I'm even tempted to listen to it again at some point. I'll take a couple of days to catch up with podcasts before I start a new book.

Watching: "Fixer Upper" and "Rehab Addict" on HGTV. Every time I watch them, I want to start knocking down walls, adding crown molding in every room, and lightening things up.

Reading: I read Tatjana Soli's The Last Good Paradise this week for an upcoming TLC Book Tours review and I'm working my way through The Autobiography of Malcolm X, my book club's selection for this month. I've been racing through books the past couple of weeks and I'm so looking forward to picking up that just suits my mood later this week.

Making: BLT salad, black bean lasagna and beef lasagna (Mini-me was with us so I tried something new to make a vegetarian version), honey mustard roasted new potatoes...I'm at a loss as to what we ate the rest of the week. Must not have been too memorable!

Planning: 40 Bags In 40 Days starts again which is my big incentive to kick it into high gear with the decluttering and also to be a bit more ruthless in my decision making. I've decided to focus first on the bedrooms and my office; there are always clothes to be gotten rid of!

Grateful for: Time this week with friends and family.

Enjoying: A lazy day. There's much I should be doing but I'm giving myself permission today not to do it. Except, of course, for that bag I need to get filled today.

Looking forward to: A busy week including a book event and book club. What are you looking forward to this week?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Those Rosy Hours At Mazandaran by Marion Grace Woolley

Those Rosy Hours At Mazandaran by Marion Grace Woolley
Published February 2015 by Ghostwoods Books
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary: It begins with a rumour, an exciting whisper. Anything to break the tedium of the harem for the Shah’s eldest daughter. People speak of a man with a face so vile it would make a hangman faint, but a voice as sweet as an angel’s kiss. A master of illusion and stealth. A masked performer, known only as Vachon. For once, the truth will outshine the tales.

On her eleventh birthday, Afsar’s uncle tries to molest her, and her father, the Shah, gifts her a circus. With the circus comes a man who will change everything. Inspired by Gaston LeRoux’s The Phantom of the Opera, Marion Grace Woolley takes us on forbidden adventures through a time that has been written out of history books.

My Thoughts:
Historical Iran - right up my alley, right? That's what I thought. Unfortunately, I just could not connect with this book. As much as I hate to give up on any book, particularly a book I'm reading for review, after 100 pages, I had to call it quits with this one. Perhaps the "master of illusion" should have been a clue for me. You'll have noticed, if you're a regularly reader of this blog, that I'm not much for anything that smacks of magic in my reading. Perhaps its just a matter of wrong timing; I've overloaded this months with books I need to read and don't feel like I can push through until I get hooked. But I think what it came down to was that I just didn't like Afsar, the eldest daughter and I think it's key that readers be able to understand her in order to enjoy the book.

As always, the good news about being part of a tour, is that you can get a lot of other opinions about this book and don't have to take my word about it. If this sounds like something you'd enjoy, check out the full tour or learn more about it at the Ghostwoods Books site.

Marion Grace Woolley is the author of three previous novels and a collection of short stories. In 2009, she was shortlisted for the Luke Bitmead Bursary for New Writers. She balances her creative impulses with a career in International Development; she has worked and traveled across Africa, Australia, Armenia, and a few other places beginning with ‘A’. She is an associate member of the Society of Authors, and is currently at work on her fifth novel.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Girl Runner by Carrie Snyder

Girl Runner by Carrie Snyder
Published February 2015 by Harper
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
As a young runner, Aganetha Smart defied everyone’s expectations to win a gold medal for Canada in the 1928 Olympics. It was a revolutionary victory, because these were the first Games in which women could compete in track events—and they did so despite opposition. But now Aganetha is in a nursing home, and nobody realizes that the frail centenarian was once a bold pioneer.

When two young strangers appear asking to interview Aganetha for their documentary about female athletes, she readily agrees. Despite her frailty, she yearns for adventure and escape, and though her achievement may have been forgotten by history, her memories of chasing gold in Amsterdam remain sharp. But that triumph is only one thread in the rich tapestry of her life. Her remarkable story is colored by tragedy as well as joy, and as much as Aganetha tries, she cannot outrun her past.

My Thoughts:
Sometimes your very favorite author will disappoint you. Other times a book you have no particular expectations of turns out to be a gem. When Trish, from TLC Book Tours, wrote me about Girl Runner, she said she couldn't say exactly why but she had a feeling I'd like it. She was so right!

Aganetha Smart is a girl who spends her whole life running - on the track she runs her way to the first Olympic gold medal won by a woman in a long distance race but in her own life she can't seem to run far enough or fast enough to outrun the secrets and sadness she carries with her always. When the two strangers come to interview Aggie, they take her down for a ride - both literally and figuratively, down memory lane. Snyder does a terrific job of moving from the present into Aggie's past. As memories do, Aggie's don't come chronologically, giving readers glimpses into the past at both key and mundane points in Aggie's life that allow Snyder to deliver an ending that is both surprising and poignant.
"Here's something I'll learn: when you're dead, you don't get to choose who's telling your story. The friends and children and wives willing to be interviewed are not necessarily those most intimate with the deceased; sometimes they are those who wished to have been intimate, or who think themselves more intimate than they actually were, or who suffer from regret, or denial. Getting the honest truth about a person from those left behind is a conjuring act. There exist simple questions, the answers to which build a kind of structure, a skeleton, which can be clothed in a few telling or humorous details. How is a life shaped? By parentage, siblings, class and religion, by schooling, vocational choices, by friends, partnerships, children, by place and time, by illness and accident, and sometimes, but most rarely, by surprising choice. 
Surprising choice proves hardest to come by. Most choices, even the disastrous ones, are predictable."
Aggie is allowed to tell her own story, looking back over her more than one hundred years, leaving behind the honest truth of the ways in which her life was shaped. She is not a woman I will soon forget.

Thanks to Trish for thinking of me for this book. I'll be eagerly awaiting Snyder's next effort! For more thoughts about Girl Runner, check out the full tour.

Carrie Snyder’s Girl Runner is shortlisted for the 2014 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Her previous book, The Juliet Stories, was shortlisted for the prestigious Governor General’s Literary Award and named one of the Globe and Mail‘s Top 100 Books of the Year. Her first book, the short story collection Hair Hat, was shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed Award for Short Fiction. A mother of four, Carrie lives with her family in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

Find out more about Carrie at her website, and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Life: It Goes On - February 8

Last Sunday we had a blizzard. Tuesday we got several more inches of snow right at rush hour. Yesterday we had the back door standing open all afternoon. If you've gotta have winter, this is the way to do it!

This has kind of been Miss H week. I took Monday off to hang with her - we spent the day watching movies and enjoying some just-the-two-of-us time. Then I got lucky and she wanted to hang out again this weekend - we had her here for almost 24 hours! More movies, pizza, and a bowl of cookie dough. Health food! And four loads of her laundry. Somehow she just doesn't seem to find time to do laundry at her place!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Still listening to Life After Life and still loving it. I'm half tempted to just drive around for a few hours to get in some more listening time!

Watching: "P. S. I Love You" (Miss H had never seen it), "Anastasia" (the animated movie - we can both sing along to the entire movie still), and "Frozen" (I had never seen it!) with Miss H and "Box Trolls" and "Infamous" with The Big Guy. It's winter - time to catch up on movies!

Reading: My Christmas present from Mini-him finally arrived - a new Nook charger! I can't tell you excited I was to see all of the books I have waiting for me on it. I have too many commitments just now to read any of them right now, though.

Have you read any books already this year that you think will still be on your "best of" list at the end of the year?

Making: Cookies, grilled cheese, tuna casserole and ham and beans. We went old school last week.

Planning: A night away from home. We've got a free hotel night that needs to be used soon so we're trying to decide if we should just do a stay-cation night in Omaha or head out of town. It's always nice to get out of town but as long as I'm out of the house I can relax.

Grateful for: Much as I disliked driving in it, I'm grateful for the snow. It's beautiful, we need the moisture, and it makes us appreciate days like today that much more.

Enjoying: Traveling to Boulder vicariously through Mini-me who headed there this weekend with his friend. First inkling I had that he was going was when he sent me this picture with the caption "Guess where I'm at" as they hit the foothills of the Rockies. Yesterday he went snowshoeing for the first time.

Feeling: Lazy. I swear I got almost nothing done around the house last week. After taking Monday off, I decided I didn't want to take vacation time if I didn't need to so I spent the rest of the week making up the time. Didn't leave much energy to do anything when I got home. Makes for a busy Sunday!

Looking forward to: Valentine's dinner with a group of friends we met when our kids were all swimming together in high school. It's gotten to be a tradition; we always meet at one of our houses so we don't have to fight the restaurant crowds and everyone pitches in. Always great food!

What are you looking forward to this week?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Death Comes To Pemberley by P. D. James

Death Comes To Pemberley by P. D. James
Published December 2011 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing
Source: thanks for loaning me this one, Linda!

Publisher's Summary:
In their six years of marriage, Elizabeth and Darcy have forged a peaceful, happy life for their family at Pemberley, Darcy’s impressive estate. Her father is a regular visitor; her sister Jane and her husband, Bingley, live nearby; the marriage prospects for Darcy’s sister, Georgiana, are favorable. And preparations for their annual autumn ball are proceeding apace. But on the eve of the ball, chaos descends. Lydia Wickham, Elizabeth’s disgraced sister who, with her husband, has been barred from the estate, arrives in a hysterical state—shrieking that Wickham has been murdered. Plunged into frightening mystery and a lurid murder trial, the lives of Pemberley’s owners and servants alike may never be the same.

My Thoughts:

"Frightening mystery?" Not so much. "Lurid murder trial?" Evidently I was reading about another murder trial; not much lurid to the big trial I read.

Plus, I rarely like someone to mess with my beloved Darcy and Elizabeth. James did a fine job of bringing readers of Death Comes To Pemberley up to speed on the source material (although why you would have chosen it without knowing about Pemberley I have no idea). And then she started playing with the characters from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and what readers of that book know of them. The problem for me was that she flattened them. Took away the witty banter, killed the romance, added a story line between two characters that gave me the heeby-jeebies.

Maybe if I was one of those people who needed to be brought up to speed with the characters and their back story, I would actually have liked the book better. But not much. Because there wasn't much that surprised me in the end and it hardly seemed possible that so many supposedly intelligent people could have so easily missed so much.

Have you read this one? Have you read other books by P. D. James? I have a couple other books by her but right now I'm just not feeling any urge to read them. But it hardly seems possible that a writer that was so popular wouldn't have better books out there.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Completely Off The Topic of Books (Mostly)...

In addition to all of the book blogs I follow (and by "follow" I mean get the updates in my reader and then try to find time to scan them with the occasional comment), I also follow some home decorating blogs. Today there was a post on one of them about styling coffee tables that got me thinking.

I often look at coffee tables on these blogs and in magazines and think how much I like the look of them but then the practical me comes out. The part of me, for example, that thinks "just what I need, more stuff to dust."

Today I found myself wondering, though, exactly what is the purpose of a table that is so covered in decorative items that it can't be used? Where, for example, would you set down the book you're currently reading on this table? Or put your feet up if you wanted to stretch out?

And what is the point of a table that is so low and far away that you can't even reach it to set down a drink? If you had company over, they'd all have to be perched on the edge of the sofa so they could reach their beverage. Assuming they weren't sitting on the end where there is no room to set down a beverage.

I have tried styling our coffee table before but it never lasts long. Right now this is what our coffee table looks like. It's actually a blanket chest made by my great-grandfather and I'm kind of embarrassed to show you that I have rested my feet on it so much that the finish is coming off. All of our current reads are collected in a basket with the none-too-decorative box of Kleenex. That basket gets moved around - a laptop needs to be set up on the coffee table at one end or I'm folding laundry at the other end or it needs to be taken off entirely so I can spread out snacks for book club. Which is all to say that we live in our family room and our coffee table has to work for us.

Do you have a coffee table? Is it something you use or something you have beautifully decorated? And does anyone actually use their coffee table as a place to serve coffee any more? These are the things I think about that keep me from getting the things done that need to be done.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Life: It Goes On - February 1

View from my kitchen window
this morning
Greetings from Omaha where we are in the grips of our first real snow storm of the season. There are a lot of people around these parts very excited about it. I'm not one of them. I liked snow a lot more when I didn't have so many people to worry about and I didn't have to be out on the roads.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Life After Life which I am absolutely loving. The narrator is marvelous (but then I'm always a sucker for a British accent!).

Watching: The series finale of "Parenthood." Maybe the best series finale I've ever seen, a great blend of sad and happy and they left us knowing how the lives of our beloved Braverman family would go on.

Tonight, of course, we'll be watching the Super Bowl. I'll be rooting for the Patriots because I despise Pete Carroll (although Bill Belichek isn't such a great guy, either).

BG's birthday cake
Reading: Finishing up Death Comes To Pemberley today. I didn't get as much reading down as I had hoped this weekend, almost none yesterday and scooping and trying to keep everyone warm and dry today is biting into my reading time today.

Making: Chocolate pound cake for The Big Guy's birthday and a new hot chocolate recipe today which is a big hit (thanks, Paula Dean!).

Planning: On continuing the work in the dining room. I have an enormous buffet we inherited from BG's grandmother and it is jam packed full. All I got through this week was the drawers; I still have the scary part to work on!

Grateful for: Buried power lines (there are parts of the city where the heavy snow has pulled down the power lines), snowblowers and good tires.

Enjoying: My first hockey game in twenty years last night with  my sister and her big guy. I still don't get all of the rules and find it a little boring in the long periods where nothing much is happening but some of it is very exciting and the crowd was a lot of fun.

Feeling: Excited about my new wheels. I haven't liked the color of the Pilot I've had since I got it (never buy a vehicle after dark when you can't see the colors clearly!) but I loved it otherwise so we got another one but this one has some fun stuff on it I need to learn how to use.

Looking forward to: A quiet week but hopefully more productive than last week. My allergies got the better of me for a couple of days and I was almost useless.

Will you be watching the Super Bowl tonight? Or are you just in it for the party and the commercials? We'll be having a quiet night, just the two of us but we'll still be having party food. Because you have to, right?