Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Published originally 1847
Source: downloaded this one from Librivox

Summary From Goodreads:
Orphaned into the abusive household of her Aunt Reed at Gateshead, subject to the cruel regime at Lowood charity school, Jane Eyre nonetheless emerges unbroken in spirit and integrity. She takes up the post of governess at Thornfield, falls in love with Mr. Rochester, and discovers the impediment to their lawful marriage in a story that transcends melodrama to portray a woman's passionate search for a wider and richer life than Victorian society traditionally allowed.

My Thoughts:
The fact that this is my third (fourth?) reading of Jane Eyre is probably enough to let you know that I love this novel; it is one of my all-time favorite books. I loved it from the first time I read it, wrapped up as I was in empathy for Jane and the improbable romance. Rereading Jane Eyre has done nothing to dim my first impressions; instead it has served to convince me of the brilliance of Charlotte Bronte.

Jane has long been maligned as being too passive, the book of being nothing more than a Cinderella story. To some extent, that's true. Jane is an orphan, abused by the very person trusted to care for her, "saved" by a wealthy man who loves her despite the fact that she is below his station. She is a girl who understands that her poverty and lack of connections severely impaired her prospects in 18th-century England.
“Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal — as we are!”
Bur she is so much more than a patsy who spent her life under one person or another's thumb. When her cousins picked on her, she stood up to them; when her aunt verbally abused her, Jane told her aunt just what she thought of her. She didn't back down from Mr. Rochester any more than she had the head of the orphanage despite the fact that both might easily have made her life miserable. Truly, the only time when Jane lost herself entirely was when she was most overcome by her own morality, not so much that she fell under the spell of someone stronger.
“I can live alone, if self-respect, and circumstances require me so to do. I need not sell my soul to buy bliss. I have an inward treasure born with me, which can keep me alive if all extraneous delights should be withheld, or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give.”
When doing what her heart desired would have compromised her morals and integrity, Jane stood firm. Only when her path was clear, when she was able to find herself on equal footing, then was she able to make her way back to happiness.

Is it wordy? Yes it is. It's an eighteen-century novel; aren't they all? But this time, perhaps more than any of the other times I've read this one, I really appreciated every word that Bronte chose.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Life: It Goes On - March 29

Seriously? March is almost over? How did that happen?

It's been a busy parenting month around here, something I didn't necessarily think I'd be saying when all of my kids were grown adults. Miss H has had one malady after another these past few months and has needed more mothering than she did before she moved out including spending three nights with us this past week.

This week has been all about getting ready for Mini-him's ready to move today. We went through everything we've been storing the past couple of years and found some surprises, many of which found their way to the Goodwill or the garbage. Helped me reach my 40 Bags in 40 Days goal! Tonight we will officially, for the first time, be empty nesters. For now.

This Week I'm:
Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse
in Silk Stockings

Listening To: I finished Jane Eyre on audio Friday so will start a new audiobook tomorrow but I'll decide which one when I get in my car. I'm thinking Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close but I might want to wait for that one until I have time to do a read/listen combination.

Watching: The Big Guy was out of town most of the work so I got control of the t.v. and, for once, there were actually things on that I wanted to watch when that happened. On my half day, TCM showed movie musicals (Silk Stockings, Kiss Me Kate, High Society) - perfect backdrop for my projects.

Reading: I'm just about finished with Light In August. It's been slow going, especially when I didn't have a lot of time to devote to it this week. When I'm finished, I feel I'll need something light, perhaps Let's Pretend This Never Happened.

Making: Orange chicken stir-fry, chicken stroganoff (why doesn't spell check know this word??)...not much else. Two dinners at my parents' this weekend, one dinner out, and one night of leftovers made for an easy week in the kitchen.

Planning: Now that my basement's significantly emptier, I'm looking forward working down there for the next couple of weeks, rearranging, cleaning, and, as always, organizing.

Grateful for: Super Glue - I broke a piece of a family heirloom set yesterday.  Luckily it's something that is strictly decorative at this point and was reparable.  Still, much sadness.    
My dining room as of Friday
Enjoying: Spending time with my parents and my brother and his wife, enjoying her new cocktail which we dubbed "Columbia Curdled Cocktail." It really was quite tasty if you could get it just right! The guys enjoyed sunshine and baseball while we ladies hit up a couple of our favorite stores. Looking forward to finding homes of my new purchases.

Feeling: Eager to have today over with. I don't understand moving without knowing for sure if you and your roommate will need a sofa or not. I do not do moves without total planning well at all!

Looking forward to: Putting my house back in order. The other thing I don't do well at all? Having much of my house full of piles of boxes and half-packed bins.

What are you looking forward to this week?

Friday, March 27, 2015

A Day In The Life

A few weeks ago, Trish (Love, Laughter, and A Touch of Insanity) shared with her readers what both work days and days at home were like for her and now she's asking for fellow bloggers to share as well. You know, maybe all share that our lives can maybe be just a little bit crazy, a little bit less than perfect. I'll admit that I kind of forgot about doing it and probably should have done it last week which would have been a more "usual" day. Instead you get yesterday. Which had some less than normal things going on.

6:05 My alarm goes off for the first time
6:15 My alarm goes off for the second time
6:20 My alarm goes off for the third time. The emergency "just in case I shut off the first two times without getting up" alarm. I finally, literally, roll out of bed.

6:22 I hit the kitchen: start the coffee, feed the cats their wet food, then sit down for a bowl of cereal and a little reading of Light In August while out of the corner of my eye I watch the local news
6:30 I have to take a break and feed the cats their dry food...because they're high maintenance that way
6:45 Time to get in the shower, dressed and the basic makeup on

7:10 Grab my coffee, lunch, book and I'm out the door. Why yes, my hair is still wet. The car heater and a hair brush will have to do today (surprisingly, it ends up looking quite good). The rest of my makeup gets put on at red lights. Yep, I'm that woman.

7:45 Start my work day
9:00 Team meeting - what happened to snacks at these meetings anyway?
2:00 Lunch time - I've already eaten my lunch at my desk but this is my chance to break away for a bit and do some more reading
2:45 Back to work
5:15 My desk is all tidy and I'm ready to leave for the day. I'm the only person on the team whose desk looks this neat at day's end. They are all convinced this is the way I live my life. Little do they know!

5:50 Snow flakes start appearing in the rain drops. Cursing is heard in my vehicle.

6:00 Because The Big Guy is out of town this week, I stop for dinner at Applebee's, where Miss H is bartending and we can chat while she works and I eat. I did not eat all of that food but I did drink that wine in the background.

7:15 Stop by the house to give Mini-him the food I picked up for him then we load a Goodwill delivery in my Pilot. How can we have this much stuff to get rid of every few months?
7:45 Dropped off 8 bags and then we head to Lowe's looking for a rug Mini-him's bedroom in the house he's moving into this weekend. Ten minutes later, we leave empty handed.
8:10 We're going to take a twenty minute break and watch some Sweet Sixteen basketball.

9:00 Game over, we finally get to work. He works on computer stuff; I start packing his room, do three loads of laundry, move boxes into our dining room staging area and put together a plan for today.
12:20 Remember that I still have to type up this post. And that I never got the vacuuming done. I am essentially wearing cat hair slippers by the time I head up the stairs for bed. At 1 a.m.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Published 1930
Source: I bought my "copy" for my Nook

As I Lay Dying is Faulkner's harrowing account of the Bundren family's odyssey across the Mississippi countryside to bury Addie, their wife and mother. Told in turns by each of the family members—including Addie herself—the novel ranges in mood from dark comedy to the deepest pathos.

My Thoughts:
Admission - I read this book by mistake. A couple of months ago, a fellow blogger and I agreed that we would, once again, attempt a readalong, this time of Faulkner. As the first of March rolled around, I found myself busy with books I "had" to read and didn't get started right away. Then, somewhere along the way, I switched the book we'd agreed to read in my brain. By the time I realized my mistake, I was almost a third of the way done with this one and decided to finish it (it was only about 190 pages so I wasn't making a huge commitment).

Faulkner has a reputation for being tough to read. As I Lay Dying is told from the perspective of 15 different narrators. 15. One of them dead. One of them not even present for the parts he is narrating. Several by neighbors who only play a small part in the story but who offer a glimpse into the family. Almost all of them unreliable. So,  yeah. A bit tough to read. Particularly since some if really isn't even meant to make sense; it's simply what is going on in a given character's mind. But it doesn't require a college English professor to explain it to you. Although there is this:
"In a strange room you must empty yourself for sleep. And before you are emptied for sleep, what are you. And when you are emptied for sleep, you are not. And when you are filled with sleep, you never were. I dont* know what I am, I dont know if I am or not. Jewel knows he is, because he does not know that he does not know whether he is or not. He cannot empty himself for sleep because he is not what he is and he is what he is not."
Despite death, arson, a hazardous river crossing, and an arrest, the focus of As I Lay Dying is squarely on Faulkner's characters. In death, Addie Bundren finally wields the power she never had over her family while living, taking her revenge on a family which failed, in her lifetime, to help her overcome her loneliness.
"She lived, a lonely woman, lonely with her pride, trying to make folks believe different, hiding the fact that they just suffered her, because she was not cold in the coffin before they were carting her forty miles away to bury her, flouting the will of God to do it. Refusing to let her lie in the same earth with those Burdens."
The Bundrens do dysfunctional families one better - there is almost no feel of them being a family, more a group of people who were thrown together and by necessity live on together.

According to Faulkner, he wrote the book between midnight and 4 a.m. while working at a power plant and said that he never changed a word of it. Which may explain while sometimes it felt a bit rambly but would also explain while the stream of consciousness style feels so organic. You've got to hand it to Faulkner, given that this book is consistently rated as one of the great books of the twentieth century, when he called this work a "tour de force" it wasn't just vanity. Because there is also this:
"Before us the thick dark current runs. It talks up to us in a murmur become ceaseless and myriad, the yellow surface dimpled monstrously into fading swirls traveling along the surface for an instant, silent, impermanent and profoundly significant, as though just beneath the surface something huge and alive waked for a moment of lazy alertness out of and into light slumber again."
And that is why I so enjoyed this book - Faulkner made me see every thing along the journey, feel his character's pain, understand their motives. Even while I was trying to understand what the heck he was talking about.

*as Faulkner wrote it

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Life: It Goes On - March 22

Happy Sunday! It's been a gorgeous weekend here and I hope that those of you who ushered in spring with a snowfall will soon be the recipients of some of this warmth. What a treat to have an early spring! We've eaten quite a lot of meals on the patio in the past week and will again today, with the daylilies and iris coming up around us.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: So, after I watched Les Miserable on tv last week, I listened to the music the next day and I cannot get it out of my head. Seriously. It's been the soundtrack of my week. Finally had to crank up some Radiohead, Foo Fighters, and Violent Femmes on my way home from work on Friday to drive something new into my brain. Have you ever had an earworm like that?

Watching: March Madness, baby! We don't have a horse in the race but it's still great fun to watch.

Reading: So my friend, Lori, and I agreed to read some Faulkner starting March 1. Some how, I got into my head that we were reading As I Lay Dying and I was well into it before we were talking and she said "Aren't we reading Light In August?" Why, yes, we are. But I was far enough into As I Lay Dying by then that I went ahead and finished it and, finally, this week started Light In August. Which is reminding me why I loved Faulkner so much when I was younger. And making me wonder why in the world it took me so long to pick him up again.

I swear the corned beef was not that pink!
 Making: Reuben sandwiches, twice, as our version of corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick's Day. The Big Guy isn't a big fan of sauerkraut so he made them one night with slaw instead. Which was fine. But it wasn't a real reuben so I had to make them again with sauerkraut before Mini-him and I were sated.

Planning: On doing taxes this week. And packing Mini-him, who will be moving out next weekend. Again.

Grateful for: Lots of time with my kiddos this week. Miss H has been around much of the weekend and, even as I type, Mini-me has arrived for the afternoon and my boys are chatting behind me.

Two of my brother's
photographs that I just
ordered and can't
wait to hang!
Enjoying: Making plans for some major rearranging and painting. How much will depend on how far on board I can get The Big Guy and how much furniture Mini-him takes with him.

Also, BG got a new toy that will transfer our old VHS tapes onto our computer and it has been so much fun to watch them again. We're getting to see footage of those we've loved and lost and watch the kids when they were little. I can't tell you how often I've been heard to say "Ohhhhhhh" in the past few days!

Feeling: Remarkably at peace.

Looking forward to: More of the same this week. Time to read, time to play with the house, time with family. My brother and sister-in-law will be in town next weekend and I can't wait to spend time with them.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The List - Books and Movies

Books or movies? Movies or books? Sometimes I'm not sure which I love more. Books, yes, it's books. But movies are a close second. I'd far rather sit down and watch a movie than television (if I had my druthers and that's an argument I've long ago given up on!).

Here are some lists that combine the two:

My favorite movies adapted from books I've read:
1. "My Fair Lady" adapted from George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. Hands down my favorite. Okay, granted, it's a play and not a novel. Still. Audrey Hepburn and all of those great costumes!

2. Franco Zefferelli's 1968 adaptation of William Shakespeare's play "Romeo and Juliet." Actual young people playing the leads. Beautiful young people, great costumes, tragic love story. Are you getting tired of me talking about this movie yet?

3. "Little Women" adapted from Louisa May Alcott's book of the same name, the 1984 version starring Winona Ryder. I want to love the 1949 version starring Elizabeth Taylor and the 1933 version starring Katherine Hepburn but the actors just look too old. These are supposed to be very young girls, after all.

4.  "The Age of Innocence" adapted from the Edith Wharton book of the same name. It's very much a toss up which I like better, the book or the movie. The movie brings the book to life with the best background narration I've ever heard in a movie.

Whoopi Goldberg as Celie in
The Color Purple
5. "The Color Purple" adapted from Alice Hoffman's book by the same name. Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey were surprisingly good and the movie did a wonderful job of staying true to the book.

6. "To Kill A Mockingbird" adapted from Harper Lee's iconic novel. Because Gregory Peck. And a really wonderful job of bringing the book to life.

7. "Fried Green Tomatoes" adapted from Fannie Flagg's Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistle Stop Cafe. I can never decide which is my favorite character. All I know is that some days, you just need to yell "Tawanda!"

My favorite movies adapted from books I want to read:
1. "The Princess Bride", book by William Goldman. Oh god, how I love this movie! I now have the book in print and on my Nook and, by golly, I'm going to read it soon. And then I'm going to pick up Cary Elwes' book about the making of the movie, As You Wish".

2. "Silver Linings Playbook" book by Matthew Quick. I wonder if the book really could be as good as Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Goodwin were in the movie adaptation?

3. "Breakfast At Tiffany's" book by Truman Capote although I'm aware that this collection of stories is quite different from the movie. And, of course, no Audrey Hepburn in the book.

4. "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" book by Jonathan Safran Froer. This has been on my nightstand but I know it's going to make me cry so I just haven't been able to make myself pick it up. I just bought the audiobook. Picture me sobbing throughout my daily commute.

5. "The Descendents" book by Kaui Hart Hemmings. If the book is half as good as the movie at blending humor, sadness, and anger, I'll be a very happy girl.

6. "The Blind Side" by Michael Lewis. A happily-ever-after movie about a family who saves a young man who grows up to play football. You all know how much I love family and football!

My favorite books that have been adapted into movies I still need to see:
1. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. I'm told the movie isn't as good as the book and I did wonder about some of the casting but this book has stuck with me and I really want to see what they made of it.

2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I had every intention of seeing this as soon as it came out. It doesn't seem to have done well in the theaters but I'm still anxious to see it.

3. We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Oh, this book. I'm literally frightened to see this movie.

4. Serena by Ron Rash. The movie re-pairs Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Goodwin; not necessarily who I would have chosen but I think they are both very capable of handling the leads. Can. Not. Wait!

5. Still Alice by Lisa Genova. Have any of you seen this yet? I'm not sure it could quite capture the gut checks that  I had while reading the book but Julianna Moore won the Oscar for it so there's that.

Books that are better than the movie:

Most readers will agree that the book is almost always better than the movie but these particularly stand out for me. I've included only one Stephen King book adaptation but almost any of the movie adaptations of his work could be included.

1. The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events) by Lemony Snicket. The movie makers were stupid. It's a series of books that could easily have been made into a series of movies. But they lumped several into one movie and then put Jim Carrey in the lead role, effectively killing a potential movie franchise.

2. Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil by John Berendt. The movie was okay but the characters (and they were characters in every sense of the word) were mostly flat. These are real people that Berendt made jump off the page.

3. Cujo by Stephen King. You'd think seeing a giant rabid dog terrifying a woman and her child would be scarier than reading about it. You'd be very wrong. This book had me so on edge that my neighbors' dogs barking made me so jittery I had to stop reading. Of course, most of King's books are better read than watched.

4. Beloved by Toni Morrison. Morrison's writing is just so incredible that there's almost no way to adapt any of her books into movies and do it well. Even Oprah Winfrey couldn't make this movie work.

Now my question for you is this: which books that you've loved do you think might make great movies?

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Boy Who Loved Rain by Gerard Kelly

The Boy Who Loved Rain by Gerard Kelly
Published January 2015 by Lion Fiction
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Publisher's Summary:
Colom had the perfect childhood, the much-loved only child of a church pastor. Yet he wakes screaming from dreams in which his sister is drowning and he can’t save her.

Fiona turns to her husband, desperate to help their son. But David will not acknowledge that help is needed—and certainly not help from beyond the church.

Then they find the suicide pledge.

Fiona, in panic, takes Colom and flees… but when will she acknowledge that the unnamed demons Colom faces might be of her and David’s own creation?

My Thoughts:
I feel this book may not be getting a fair shake from me so I want to be clear about that up front. I got myself in a bit of a bind the first of February with books I "had" to read then spent the last couple of weeks loving being able to choose what I wanted to read. Then I had to stop and read this one for this review and I was, I'll admit, a little resentful about having to read this particular book at this particular time.

Gerard Kelly has written quite a lot of books but this is his first foray into the work of fiction. His other writings are collections of poetry and books about religion. It shows in his writing here, with writing that is often poetic and the theme of religious belief running throughout the book. Unfortunately, these were also two areas of the writing that I had problems with.
"The deepest waves were breaking early, crashing against the harbour wall itself. Some bounced back out to collide with those still heading shorewards, spewing foam and spray. The sea was boiling."
Kelly's descriptions of the French landscape were lovely. For me, though, there was too much of it. Too many times that the story got bogged down with it, particularly when the story moved to France.

From the publisher's summary, and the first eighty pages of the book, I believed that David's church was going to play a bigger part in the story. His insistence that Colom's problem could not be disclosed outside of the church gave me the impression that the church itself was controlling their lives. That wasn't the case, although David's particular strength and focus made their problem something that he would not have wanted to be made public. Even though it wasn't a bad thing that the direction the book turned wasn't what I was expecting, it did leave a major piece of those first eighty pages dangling.

Kelly spends a significant portion of the book exploring the spirituality of his characters. Given, though, that the focus of the book was the battle to uncover what was troubling Colom, it seemed ti me that more time should have been given to conversations which happened behind scenes and less on whether or not Kelly's characters can resolve their issues with God.

That all being said, Kelly's storyline was certainly compelling, more so than I can even tell you without giving away the key to the story. What happens when we hold on too tightly to secrets?  Is telling the truth always the best choice? I think I could have really liked this book a lot had it been edited a little differently, a little more tightly, some pieces brought more to the fore. Things came together much better for me as the book went on and I enjoyed the ending.

I think you'll find that most of the others on the tour enjoyed the book more than I did and I recommend you check out the full tour for other opinions. Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Life: It Goes On - March 15

My dad and Mini-him -
two of my favorite smile!
It's been a fun weekend here. Friday night the Big Guy and I joined friends to attend the Omaha Film Festival followed by drinks and noms. It's really a wonderful festival, movies from all over the world and I've never been disappointed.

Friday was also my dad's 80th birthday - he doesn't look 80, does he?! Later today we'll have a birthday dinner for him at my sister's house. He loves pies so I spent a good part of yesterday, Pi Day, baking pies. Plans have been in the works for months behind his back for a big family gathering later this spring. Looking forward to continuing the celebration when the entire clan can be together. Did I ever mention that we actually descend from a Scottish clan? Our clan even has a castle. That's a bucket list trip!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: The Natalie Merchant station on Pandora, the Punch brothers, and Jane Eyre on audio. A little more than half done with the book. It's well read, particularly considering it's a Librivox recording.

Watching: I've been enjoying some musicals this week, including Les Miserable and Oliver. Poor BG got stuck watching the later and he was, once again, somewhat startled how well I knew the songs. Not so much how well I sang them even though I was, of course, singing along.

Reading: I'm at the half-way point of Wally Lamb's I Know This Much Is True which was as far as we were to read this month for book club. It was hard to put it down but I know how hard it is to not let out any spoilers if I read ahead. I started As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner which I'm reading with a blogging friend. Faulkner's writing is just so amazing!
That chocolate looks kinda pink, huh?
Making: Chicken, gravy and new potatoes; tacos; chicken and broccoli pasta bake; and pies! Today we'll be having cherry, sour cream raisin and chocolate French silk pies. The French silk is Ree Drummond's (The Pioneer Woman) recipe. From licking the beaters, I'd say it's a winner!

Planning: a pseudo St. Patrick's day feast for book club Tuesday. I don't think any of us particular cares for green beer but we'll work some Irish into the noshes.

Grateful for: Fifty-four years with my dad. I know how many are not as fortunate and I've got a especially wonderful one who's also the best grandpa my kids could have.

Enjoying: The weather! Doors and windows open, flip flops, no need for coats, several meals on the patio this week. I'm sure it won't be quite this nice clear through spring (winter has a nasty way of rearing its ugly head one last time in March) but it is so nice to be done with socks for the season!

Eddie Redmayne as
Lili Elbe
Feeling: Excited about the making of David Ebershoff's The Danish Girl (my review of the book) into a movie starring Eddie Redmayne. Can you believe what a striking woman he makes? The Danish Girl was:

"Inspired by the true story of Danish painter Einar Wegener and his California-born wife, this tender portrait of a marriage asks: What do you do when someone you love wants to change? It starts with a question, a simple favor asked of a husband by his wife on an afternoon chilled by the Baltic wind while both are painting in their studio. Her portrait model has canceled, and would he mind slipping into a pair of women's shoes and stockings for a few moments so she can finish the painting on time. "Of course," he answers. "Anything at all." With that, one of the most passionate and unusual love stories of the twentieth century begins."

Looking forward to: Birthday dinner today and book club on Tuesday. What are you looking forward to this week?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year Of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year In Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch
Published June 2012 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: I bought this one

Publisher's Summary:
Caught up in grief after the death of her sister, Nina Sankovitch decided to stop running and start reading. For once in her life she would put all other obligations on hold and devote herself to reading a book a day: one year of magical reading in which she found joy, healing, and wisdom.

My Thoughts:
Three years after her sister died of cancer, Sankovitch realized that the merry-go-round she was on as she tried to crammed as much life as she could into living, caring for everyone left behind by her sister's death, wasn't healing her pain. She knew she had to do something different so she turned to books, something she had turned to throughout her life, something her family had longed shared a passion for, something she and her sister had shared as a way to make her sister's final months better.

In an effort to keep herself accountable for reading a book a day once she had set the goal, and yet not make the goal unachievable, Sankovitch set some parameters for her year of reading.  Her rules for her books:

1. No author could be read more than once,
2. No rereads,
3. She had to write a review about every book she read,
4. She would read new books and new authors and old books from favorite authors,
5. All of the books had to be books she would have shared with her sister.

She took over a room, moved in a desk and a purple chair and cleared away space on a bookshelf for the books she would be reading. She read books recommended by others and books she found at the library. Nothing could be more than 300 pages if she were to finish it in one day with time for the review and all of the other things in her life. Her boys and husband had to make changes in their lives to accommodate this change in hers. At times I found myself longing to do the very same thing. Other times I thought it was terribly selfish. It was meant to be her job, the thing she did in the hours while her family was away but somehow that didn't always work and her reading crept into her family time.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is much less about the books Sankovitch read an much more about her history with books and the ways the books she read helped her heal.
"...all the great books I was reading - were about the complexity and entirety of the human experience. About the things we wish to forget and how we wish we could react. Books are experience, the words of authors proving the solace of love, the fulfillment of family, the torment of war, and the wisdom of memory. Joy and tears, please and pain: everything came to me while I read in my purple chair. I had never sat so still, and yet experienced so much."
More than once I found myself thinking "I'm not reading thoughtfully enough" as Sankovitch recounted what she'd learned from certain books. Sometimes that I'm not reading deliberately enough. But then, it's not my reading is not my job.

In the end, Sankovitch found peace and healing from her year of reading and her book is a testament to the power and beauty of books.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

All Things In Common

I read for many reasons, to lose myself for some time, for pure entertainment, to feel all of the emotions, and to learn. It seems to be this last reason that so often finds me seeing commonalities in the books I read.

Not long ago, I reviewed Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies, the first in his Opium Wars trilogy. I'd heard of the opium wars but never had the least clue what it was about and part of my enjoyment of this book was in learning about this part of history. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy to learn more. Imagine my surprise, though, when reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X, the story of a black man who rose to prominence in the United States civil rights movement, to find the opium wars come up.

 Malcolm X was writing about all the wrong and damage white men have done in other countries, to other peoples (can hardly argue with him there).
"When the white man professes ignorance about why the Chinese hate him so, my mind can't help flashing back to what I read, there in prison, about how the blood forebears of this same white man raped China at a time when China was trusting and helpless. Those original white "Christian traders" sent into China millions of pounds of opium. By 1839, so many of the Chinese were addicts that China's desperate government destroyed twenty thousand chests of opium. The first Opium War was promptly declared by the white man. Imagine! Declaring war upon someone who objects to being narcotized! The Chinese were severely beaten, with Chinese-invented gunpowder."
Now, if I had not recently read Sea of Poppies I might well have thought that Malcolm X was, perhaps, making things sound worse than they were. He wasn't. Great Britain found itself in much the same position then that the U.S. finds itself now where China is concerned; they were buried under a terrific trade imbalance. Opium was their way to try to even the scales and when China threatened to stop importing opium, Great Britain was hearing none of it.

Malcolm X also addressed what the white man had done in India and across the African continent. Here I was not as clueless  as I was about the opium wars; I'd been better educated on the history of these areas in my schooling. Certainly it would come as no surprise to anyone that tremendous damage was done to Africa due to the slave trade. But its in my own reading that I have really developed a fuller knowledge of the situation in India and the "chess game of naked exploitation and power from Cape Horn to Cairo" [Malcolm X], thanks to authors like Thrity Umrigar, Barbara Kingsolver, Alexandra Fuller, Elaine Neill Orr, and Henning Mankell. It's not a pretty picture but one I'm always interested in learning more about. It explains so much about what is happening now in the world. And understanding the world through reading is one of the great reasons to read.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Published October 2013 by Simon and Schuster
Source: downloaded this book for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
MEET DON TILLMAN, a brilliant yet socially challenged professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. And so, in the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers.

Rosie Jarman is all these things. She also is strangely beguiling, fiery, and intelligent. And while Don quickly disqualifies her as a candidate for the Wife Project, as a DNA expert Don is particularly suited to help Rosie on her own quest: identifying her biological father. When an unlikely relationship develops as they collaborate on the Father Project, Don is forced to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that, despite your best scientific efforts, you don’t find love, it finds you.

My Thoughts:
The cord for my Nook died shortly after I downloaded this book. For all of the months while the Nook sat ideal, waiting for me to track down a power cord, I kept thinking about all of the books I had waiting for me. But this book is the one that was always foremost in my mind. Funny thing is, now that I've read it, it will stay in my mind for some time.

Don's life is ruled by efficiency in all things: time, money, and mental energy. Ninety-four minutes exactly to clean his bathroom,  the same seven meals every week, and entire wardrobe that would fit in my purse. He takes that old romantic comedy trope, the bachelor set in his ways whose life is about to get turned on end, and turns that dial way up. And then, of course, along comes Rosie to turn Don's life on end.

Don's put together a very specific questionnaire for potential mates with very specific acceptable answers. The ideal candidate will not wear jewelry or makeup, is not late, and will occasionally eat kidneys. It is clear from the start that Rosie is not an acceptable candidate, someone Don should not be wasting time on. But he does; of course he does. He should be no more interested in Rosie than she is in him but you know they will be. Because that's the way these story lines go. Which should make the book dull.

But it's not dull. It's charming. Because Simsion is clearly very fond of his leading man. Don is a man who falls somewhere on the autism scale but he is also a man who is acutely aware of his inability to read social cues, to understand sarcasm, to handle emotion. Into his very rigid schedule, he has even made time to try to understand the world around him better. A big part of the fun of The Rosie Project is watching him succeed at that, finding new things to enjoy, making new friends, and learning to lighten up. Which is exactly what Simsion has done - taken some topics that can be heavy and handling them with a light touch. Which makes for a charming (did I mention that?) read about two very memorable characters.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Life: It Goes On - March 8

I have a confession to make - since Christmas my mantel (and all of the other surfaces which normally get decorated with snowmen after Christmas) has sat empty. I just could not make myself put snowmen out. Yesterday I decided I might as well just go straight to Easter decorations. Then I realized that my family has outgrown my Easter decorations. When your baby is twenty, stuffed bunnies and plastic eggs don't cut it. What with the forecast for the coming week, I guess it's just time to pull out the spring things.

This Week I'm:
Listening To: Still Jane Eyre, downloaded from Librivox. It's well read and I'm enjoying it. But after I bought four new audiobooks at the library sale the other day, I've been sorely tempted to pop in something I haven't already "read." All of the audiobooks I bought are books I already own in print but I'm far more likely to get to them on audio.

Watching: "The Voice," "Elementary," and "Funny Girl" Friday night while I stayed up waiting for my own funny girl to come to spend the night. Love that she is close enough to do that and still wants her mommy when she doesn't feel good!

Reading: With an empty house Friday night, the timing of #flashreadathon could not have been better. I used my time Friday night and Saturday morning to finish The Boy Who Loved Rain by Gerard Kelly. Last night I started Wally Lamb's I Know This Much Is True which the Omaha Bookworms are reading for the next two months. Hoping I can sneak in a few more hours of reading this afternoon but I've been pretty lazy around the house this week so I suppose I should clean.

Making: A cheeseburger casserole but not a whole lot else. We ate manicotti several times after making it for last Sunday's and Monday's birthday celebrations and sneaked in a few meals out. Including my first ever experience eating out in a real restaurant by myself.

Planning: On eating on the patio on Thursday evening! It is supposed to be 70 degrees and, with Daylight Savings Time, will be plenty light out. Okay, it may be a bit chilly to sit out there too long but after four months of being cooped up, I can't wait.

Grateful for: Quiet time. I love him, but The Big Guy must have noise of some kind going all of the time. He was off with family Friday night and Mini-him was out so I read for a long time without the t.v. on or any music playing. I sometimes forget how much that can recharge my battery.

Enjoying: Talking books with my family yesterday. My dad has just finished a book he really enjoyed, The Cowboy and The Cossack, and BG's sister-in-law was raving about Reconstructing Amelia. Don't be surprised to see more about both of those pop up on an edition of Mama Shep's Family Recommends" or even a review (hint, hint, Dad!). Sister-in-law was also about 50 pages from finishing The Girl On The Train so we had fun talking about that one although I so wished she were finished so I didn't have to worry about giving anything away!

Feeling: A little morose. Mini-him is moving out the end of the month. It will be our first time being empty nesters and I'm not really looking forward to it. Although, I am already thinking about what we can do with his room. Luckily, he works close enough that he can still pop over for dinners once in a while.

Looking forward to: Getting back on the 40 Bags In 40 Days bandwagon and working on my photo organizing project. That's a slow process - so many trips down memory lane! Every trip involves so many side trips, too. Here I am with Mini-him the day we brought him home from the hospital. Sitting on our pink sofa (it was the 80's, people!), the first piece of new furniture we ever bought together.

What are you looking forward to this week? I know a lot of you are still in the throes of winter; I'll try to wish some warm air your way this week!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins
Published January 2015 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: purchased this one for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

My Thoughts:
"She's buried beneath a silver birch tree, down towards the old train tracks, her grave marked with a cairn. Not more than a little pile of stones, really. I didn't want to draw attention to her resting place, but I couldn't leave her without remembrance. She'll sleep peacefully there, no on dot disturb her, no sounds but birdsong and the rumble of passing trains."
So begins The Girl On The Train which many are calling The Girl On The Train this year's Gone Girl. Both Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) and Hawkins set their readers on a journey of suspense, with unreliable narrators and more than one surprise. But while Flynn landed a couple of big power punches, Hawkins has crafted a much more evenly paced read. Which is not to say that there are no surprises here; there is no end to the surprises in this book.

So often thrillers' focus is entirely on the action and the mystery forsaking character development. Narrated alternatively by Rachel, Megan (known to Rachel as Jess), and Anna (Rachel's ex-husband's new wife), The Girl On The Train gives readers complex characters who may, or may not, be telling the truth. Who may or may not even know the truth.

The Girl On The Train kept me guessing from the beginning right up to the end with tension that never let up. Hawkins' debut is definitely impressive!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday, er Wednesday

The lovely ladies at The Broke and The Bookish challenged us this week to list the top ten books we've read in the past three or five years that we would add to our all-time favorite books list. I'm going with five years because this just happens to be the number of years I've been tracking my favorite books of the year.

From 2010:
1. The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar
2. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
3. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

From 2011:
4. Safe From The Sea by Peter Geye
5. Cocktail Hour Under The Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller
6. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

From 2013:
7. City of Women by David Gilliam
                                            8. Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen

From 2014:
9. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
10. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
11. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Sorry 2012, you had some great books but just not great enough to make the top ten (okay, top eleven). I could easily have added five or eight more to this list but these are definitely the books I find myself recommending again and again, the books that have really stuck with me over time.

Which of the books you've read in the last few years have you added to your all-time favorites list?

Monday, March 2, 2015

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Published April 2013 by Little, Brown and Company
Source: purchased my copy of the audiobook
Narrator: Fenella Woolgar

Publisher's Summary:
What if you could live again and again, until you got it right? On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war.

Does Ursula's apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny? And if she can -- will she?

My Thoughts:
Found on many "best of" lists in 2013, for some reason I just couldn't make myself pick it up. I hardly even read reviews of it. You know that movie "Groundhog's Day?" That's what I kept imagining. And while I sort of love that movie, I had no interest in reading a book with a similar premise. And then I read a review of it (oh how I wish I could remember which one of you lovely people wrote that review!) which convinced me to give it a chance. When last I made the journey to my local Half Price Bookstore, I chanced to find an audio copy of it and swooped it up.

I loved this book. Except, perhaps, for a tiny bit of disappointment in the ending. Still, it was my first five-star book of the year (my Goodreads rating). The narration was superb and played a big part in my enjoyment of the book but, as I wrote on Goodreads, my ranking there would have been the same, I believe, if I had read it in print. While the idea of getting more than one chance to live your life is not a unique idea where books are concerned, Atkinson's approach seems to stand alone.

Poor Ursula dies at birth, survives at birth only thanks to quick thinking, and is born healthy and vital. She dies as a young girl. She dies as a result of abuse. She dies in London during a German bombing raid. Terrible things happen to her and those she loves throughout her life but then don't happen in the next version of her life thanks to some  small change in Ursula's own behavior. It can be very confusing and more than once I was certain I had put the wrong disc in as a scene plays in a new life nearly exactly has it did in a previous life. I'm certain I would have been flipping back and forth in the book if I had read it in print.

What truly makes Ursula unique in the world of those who've lived their lives again and again is that she has some memory of the previous lives. It's not a clear memory, just some faint hint that makes her, for example, try again and again to prevent the Spanish flu from coming into her family's life. It's clear to her parents that somethings not quite right, ending Ursula up in counseling with a man who might just know what she's going through.

So, so many things to think about with Life After Life. I rarely reread a book and have never "reread" an audiobook. Life After Life will be the first.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Life: It Goes On - March 1

A few days ago the forecast for today was right in line with that old saying, "March comes in like a lion..." Today, though, it's sunny, warmish (which is all we can ask for right now), and calm. So hoping that March coming in like a lamb doesn't mean that it will then go out like a lion.

Mini-me's girl, one of Mama Shep's
boys, Mini-me, and Miss H
We're spending this first day of March celebrating birthdays: Mini-me's girlfriend and Miss H share a birthday. Unfortunately, Miss H had to work today so she didn't get to join us for dinner but we all bipped into her work to say Happy Birthday and we'll celebrate more tomorrow. So weird to not have any teenagers after 14 years of having one in the family!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I didn't get to the library this week for a new book so I've downloaded Jane Eyre from Librivox for a re-read. I never tire of it. For music, I'm listening to the Pixies station on Pandora.
Getting ready for birthday dinner #1

Watching: "Peaky Blinders" on Netflix, "Downton Abbey," and "Hacking The System" on the National Geographic channel. I now know how to survive for days without any power even if I haven't stocked up on water and other provisions ahead of time.

Reading: This week I read Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch and started The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion which I hope to finish today. Then it's time for some book club reading and review book reading. Good books but I've really enjoyed being able to just pick up whatever suited my mood!

Making: Taco Bowls in the crockpot (not sure why it's called that, there's no bowl to it but it was delicious), cheese manicotti with homemade noodles, hamburgers with avocado and fried egg, and both chocolate and coffee cupcakes.

Planning: On continuing my photo project. I spent several hours on it this week but there is still much to be done. Next up is to pull all of the photos out of photo albums and get them sorted and into boxes. Eventually the goals is to get all of the old photos scanned but that's a project for another time. How do you store all of your photos? How many photos have you printed since your camera went digital?

Grateful for: A very fun weekend; perfect for recharging my soul!

Enjoying: Being able to be there when Mini-me won a top prize at the opening of the annual student art show. I don't claim to understand much of what he does (although he will be happy to explain it to you and he always has a clear vision) but I've always known he had talent and it's fun to see others recognize it.

Feeling: Happy - got to spend lots of time with all of my kiddos this week. Miss H even spent the night here two nights.

Looking forward to: Birthday dinner number 2 tomorrow night with Miss H!

What are you looking forward to this week?