Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Reader by Bernard Schlink

The Reader by Bernard Schlink
Published July 1997 by Knopf DoubledayPublishing Group
Source: my paperbook and audio copy were both purchased
Narrated by Campbell Scott

Publisher's Summary:
Fifteen-year-old Michael Berg becomes ill on the way home from school. A woman takes care of him. Later, the boy arrives at her home with a bunch of flowers to thank her. And then comes back again. Hanna is the first woman he has ever desired. But there is something slightly off-key about her. His questions about her family and her life go unanswered.

One day Hanna simply disappears. Michael's life goes on, but he can't forget her. Years later, as a law student observing a trial in Germany, Michael is shocked to realize that the person in the dock is Hanna. The woman he had loved so passionately is a criminal. Much about her behavior during the trial makes no sense. But then, suddenly and terribly, it does — Hanna is not only obliged to answer for a horrible crime, she is also desperately concealing an even deeper secret. As the past erupts into the present — both Michael's past with Hanna, and the past of Germany itself — Michael must accept that he will never be free of either of them.

My Thoughts:
This book, despite its being little more than 200 pages, has sat on my bookshelf for years, scaring me off because I was certain it would be too heavy. Finally, I picked it up on audio at the library book sale and its length was just the selling ticket when I finally listened to it.

Just 218 pages - there is more packed into this book than there is in many books four times its size and yet it is not intimidating in the least. It is abundantly clear why a 15-year-old boy would fall in love with a woman twice his age and equally as clear why she would allow him to do that. It is really only later, as Michael thinks back on his affair with Hanna that both he and the reader think of the relationship as completely inappropriate and Hanna's actions as, perhaps, criminal. It's only through the lens of her wartime activities, her criminal actions then, that he begins to think of her as someone who has wronged him. Yet she will always occupy a place in his heart, as most first loves do, and he spends the rest of his life measuring all women against her and unable to entirely break ties.

Schlink does not pass judgment on Hanna's Nazi past. Apparently this has bothered some readers. I like a book where the author allows the reader to form their own opinion about the morality of his characters' actions. My thought is that he wanted readers to understand that there is not necessarily a black and white. Of course it was a terrible thing that Hanna was a guard in a concentration camp. But then, she was, when she was first offered the job, a woman looking for a job in a country which was telling her that there was nothing wrong in what she would be doing. The debate among Hanna's fellow defendants further makes it clear that the degree of guilt is not always clear in these situations. Are all parties involved equally guilty, regardless of the degree to which they made decisions? Can one's actions be mitigated by the degree to which they felt they had no choice?

Very little of what I've read of World War II and the Nazis has dealt with the aftermath in Germany. Through Michael, the reader is allowed to ponder the mixed feelings of the Germans after the war and the ways in which the first generation of Germans after the war felt about what their parents had done or not done and how they used that against them. I found it very interesting to consider. Certainly the world couldn't convict every person who was involved in the Nazi party after the war, but there was nothing to stop the German people and their children from punishing them.

In the end, this is much more than the story of a young man's illicit love affair with an older woman and well worth reading.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Ten-Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer

The Ten-Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer
Published March 2008 by Penguin Group
Source: this one was all mine

Publisher's Summary:
For a group of four New York friends the past decade has been defined largely by marriage and motherhood, but it wasn’t always that way. Growing up, they had been told that their generation would be different. And for a while this was true. They went to good colleges and began high-powered careers. But after marriage and babies, for a variety of reasons, they decided to stay home, temporarily, to raise their children. Now, ten years later, they are still at home, unsure how they came to inhabit lives so different from the ones they expected—until a new series of events begins to change the landscape of their lives yet again, in ways they couldn’t have predicted.

My Thoughts:
Okay, okay, I know she's something of a media darling but listening to this book almost made me want to take a ten-year nap. That is all.

What? You want to know why?

For one thing, I always take exception to authors who want to "bad mouth" women who choose to stay home to raise their children. Because I did. I never gave up a high-powered job; I didn't fall off the fast track in choosing to stay home. But it did hurt my job prospects when I tried to get back in the work force after almost ten years away from it.

Sure, there were times when I got tired of cutting other people's food, picking up toys twenty-four seven, and hearing the word "mom." And, oh, how I craved adult conversation! But I don't ever regret my decision. I know, in my heart, that it is one of the reasons my three are so close now and why they are so close to me. So when Wolitzer wants to make it seem like every woman who ever made the choice (or had that choice made for her), regrets it to at least some extent, my hackles get raised. What's more, I think it only serves to make the divide between working moms and "stay-at-home" moms wider.

The publisher called Wolitzer's writing "wickedly observant" and "knowing." Me, not so much. Although all of her characters had different backgrounds and families, they all felt a bit generic to me. And those four friends? Yeah, the book is about so many more women than those four friends; in fact, Wolitzer is still bringing new characters into the story nearly right up to the end of the book, pulling me away from that core story line as she tries to explain to her readers how these four friends, and all of the women of their generation squandered the advances the generation before them had made for women. That kind of guilt I don't need (I'm carrying quite enough of it around already, thank you very much).

About midway through this one, my friend Mari reminded me that neither of us had liked Wolitzer's The Uncoupling very much. I should have given that more thought and moved on. Because even though I was trapped in the car anyway, I could certainly have been listening to something I enjoyed a lot more.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Life: It Goes On - April 26

All of my non-bloggers won't entirely get this and non-readers certainly wouldn't, but one of the things book bloggers most look forward to is the now twice annual Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon, a 24-hour period where readers from all over the world sit down to read "together." There are fun activities to participate in, cheerleaders, and prizes. Readers amass piles of books to choose from and put together an eating plan the likes of which we are unlikely to consider eating in any other 24-hour period. This weekend more than 1700 readers joined in the fun. And I managed to eek out a mere 7 hours, interrupted by the wedding of a daughter of dear friends of ours. Of course, I would never have considered missing the wedding but there better not be anything that comes between me and the fall event!

On the plus side, I didn't come close to eating all of those goodies so I have them to look forward to for some time to come. And I did finish two books, including one that was on my TBR Challenge list, so that was good.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: As far as audio books, I finished The Reader and started Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close which I will "read" (as you may notice from the sidebar) as a read and listen combination. Today I've been listening to classical cello pieces, as referenced in The Silver Swan.

Watching: The Bruce Jenner interview with Diane Sawyer. I thought ABC did a terrific job of dealing with the subject of being transgender and thought it was incredibly brave of Jenner to tell his story.

Reading: Today I'll finish Hearts West which I started yesterday but just couldn't stay focused on. My mom reviewed this one for me in 2009 and I've been meaning to read it since then. Some interesting correlations between the advertising for marriage partners in the late 19th century and present day Internet dating sites.

Making: Must not have been a very exciting week in the kitchen - the only thing I really remember making is rice pudding. Which I made as if five people still live in my house.

Planning: With nothing on the calendar this week and the house clean, I'm thinking this week will be filled with reading and decorating projects.

Grateful for: Decades-long friendships. Yesterday's wedding brought together a group of guys who've been friends for more than forty years. I'm not sure they realize how special that is; I'm lucky to be among the wives of these guys, who have also forged lasting friendships.

Enjoying: Watching Mini-me flourish as a writer! Wednesday we got to watch him do a reading of his poetry at a local bookstore and today he told us he's been accepted to a prestigious writer's workshop this summer. Guess if I can't be a writer, I'm thrilled that one of my children is one!

Feeling: Lazy this afternoon.  Good thing Mini-me and his girl came for lunch today so I got the first floor cleaned this morning.

Looking forward to: A free weekend - the only one we've got in a seven-week span this spring. Although I'm sure we'll find some way to fill it! What are you looking forward to this week?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

It's Dewey's Readathon Time!

Good morning, all! I'm so excited that it's time, again, for an excuse to sit all day and read. Well, not so much all day, for me, because I have a wedding smack dab in the middle of the whole thing that will takes hours out of my reading time and, more than likely, leave me coming home ready for bed. It would be wrong for me to come down with a migraine just as it was time to leave, wouldn't it? Yeah, you're probably right.

I always feel like I start off slow on the readathon, most of the time only just waking up when it's time to start reading. This morning, though, I actually woke up before my alarm was set to go off - my brain clearly wanted to maximize the time I have for reading today!

And now for the opening meme!

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? Coming to you from rainy Omaha, Nebraska, USA (how I love that it is necessary to add that last bit, with readers joining in world wide!)

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? Silver Bay by Jojo Moyes

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? Biscoff - although I've never tried it. I blame Jen (Relentless Reader) and peer pressure.

 4) Tell us a little something about yourself! I've been an empty-nester for all of, what, three weeks after raising three kids and I'm still adjusting to that. I read, I garden, I cook and bake. I try to keep my husband in line. And I'm counting down the days until (American) football starts again.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to? I can't remember how many of these I've done now but every time I tweak things a little. This time I got up earlier so I can take better advantage of the early quiet time. If I don't drink too much wine at the wedding reception, I'll take just a nap when I get home then get started again so I can read through the night. I've never done naps before and I find there's no way I can get through a full 24 hours without it.

BOOKS READ: A Room With A View


FOOD CONSUMED: Bagel with peach cream cheese and two cups of coffee; a little snack of jelly beans and another cup of coffee

FUN STUFF: Opening meme and The Casting Couch, hosted by My Little Pocketbooks

Hour 1: 50 pages of A Room With A View under my belt. I'll finish it up as soon as I get back to reading and then I'm thinking I'll pick up something in my pile that's on my TBR Challenge list.

Hour 6: It's been a challenge between fighting to stay awake, my hubby talking and an unplanned visit from Miss H! Still, it's more reading than I would normally get done on a Saturday morning!

The End: Well, my "the end" - returned from the wedding exhausted and having had a few glasses of wine but determined to finish the 105 pages I had left in Tbe Silver Swan by Elena Delgado and try to get my second wind. I fell asleep after only 50 pages.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Fairy Tale Fridays

Hey, will you look at that? Two weeks in a row! Although I still haven't picked up any of my fairy tale books recently. Maybe for the few hours I'll find to read tomorrow?

Anyhoosie...some news on the fairy tale movie front:

Disney is in talks with Vince Gilligan (yes, Breaking Bad Vince Gilligan if you can imagine) for a revisionist telling of the Jack In The Beanstalk tale. He's written a treatment; the actually writing will be done by one of Breaking Bad's writers. So, yeah, I'm pretty sure this won't be your childhood Jack. Although it is Disney and we all know how they like to soften things up.

Live-action Mulan
Not entirely a fairy tale related Disney movie piece of news but did you know that Disney is also in the midst of filming a live action adaptation of "Mulan?" The things you learn from your blogging friends! At my house it was, surprisingly, my boys who loved the animated version; they still watch it and we even gave it to Mini-me for Christmas. I'll let them be the judges of the new version when it comes out.

Also in the works, also by Disney, is a live action adaptation of "Beauty and the Beast." Now that's one I'm really looking forward to! Emma Watson, of "Harry Potter" fame, will star as Belle and "Downtown Abbey" fans will be interested to see Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley) as the Beast. The rest of the cast is killer: Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Kline, Ian McKellan and Audra McDonald. No release date yet for this one.

Looks like Disney is really banking on these live-action adaptations - one wonders what will happen if they don't succeed?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

When my children were born, there were a lot of things I wanted for them and much I could imagine them doing when they grew up. Strangely enough, for someone who loves to read as much as I do, I never dreamed that any of them would grow up to be writers. I'm still not sure that will happen, but for Mini-me, a door has been opened.

Mini-me has had an interest in writing for some time. As he scheduled classes in college, he found himself drawn more and more to the writing classes (when he graduates, he'll have a minor in English). Last semester he took a poetry class. And loved it. And earned high praise from his professor. So, of course, he took another class this semester.

Last night he was among only four students from two universities invited to be part of a Writer's Workshop reading. The event is held once a year and one of Mini-me's professors told me that spots are generally reserved for students with more experience under their belts. In much the same way that I never knew the kid could sing (he never sang around the house but fronted a band for a few months), I had no idea he had that kind of talent. We were so proud that he was selected and so impressed with his work. He pours a lot of thought and emotion into his work and it really was stuff I could see getting published. How giddy would that make a mom?!

Oh, also, Mini-me had the biggest cheering section including his parents, his brother, his aunt and several of his friends. Because he's just that cool, as you can tell by the beard, the glasses, and the paisley shirt!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Life: It Goes On - April 19

Look, Ma - pink! If you know me at all, you know that I am most decidedly not a pink girl. But the blooms on the crabapple tree in my front yard have the most beautiful pink to them so it seemed natural to use pink lettering on a picture of it. This is one of the few times of year that I actually like that tree - it is beautiful right now but just finished dropping its berries from last year all over my driveway and front sidewalk, effectively dying both as feet and tires crushed them. Spring will make a girl forgive a lot of things. Like winter.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: The Reader by Bernard Schink after finally finishing The Ten-Year Nap. Truth be told, I finally started skipping whole tracks because I was hell bent to finish it but what a yawner.

On Pandora, I've been listening to the Cat Steven's station. Lots of James Taylor, Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, and Elton John - the music of my early teens.

Watching: Movies - Miss H and I had movie night Friday night and watched Trouble With The Curve and 10 Things I Hate About You; last night was a Sandra Bullock double header with Two Weeks Notice and The Proposal. Sundays are all about PBS right now with Selfridge and Wolf Hall. Have you caught Wolf Hall? I have yet to read the book but this adaptation is really quite good and Mark Rylant, who plays Thomas Cromwell, is superb.

Reading: I finished Last Night at the Blue Angel this week. Loved it; I hope the TLC book tour I was a part of will help get this wonderful book more attention. Also, finishing up I Know This Much Is True for book club. We made it a two month read and it had been three weeks since I had picked it up before I started it again last week. It wasn't hard for me to recall the book but harder for me to get back into the feel of it. I was getting a bit bored with it but it has picked up again for me and I'm looking forward to finishing it.

Making: Chicken nachos, bacon avocado burgers, chicken tex-mex salad, fried potatoes - the Big Guy was out of town for a couple of nights so Miss H and Mini-him came over to keep me company for a couple of dinners and we had fun with food!

Planning: With just BG and I in the house now, my focus for the coming couple of weeks will be in making the best use of the space upstairs. We're going to be working to turn Mini-him's room into a second guest room after we finally get all of the things he's left behind sorted and hidden away. I can't tell you how happy I am to have the "kids" bathroom stay clean after all of these years! Definitely looking forward to a mini-remodel in there soon.

Grateful for: Rain! We've been living the "April showers..." part of the saying the last couple of weeks. Trees are budding and blooming, the lawn has had to be mowed twice already, and my perennials are well on their way.

Enjoying: Roasted vegetables; this week I've roasted cauliflower twice, broccoli, and asparagus. I may never steam vegetables again!

Feeling: Happy about the longer hours of sunshine and warmer temps. Dinners on the patio have started and s'mores can't be far behind.

Looking forward to: Book club on Tuesday and Wednesday I'm thrilled to be going to hear Mini-me read several of his poems at Omaha's biggest indie bookstore. It's being done through the university; he'll be reading his poetry and another student will be reading his non-fiction narrative.

What are you looking forward to this week?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Fairy Tale Friday

You may have noticed that the post title is simply "Fairy Tale Friday" rather than "Fairy Tale Fridays." You may also have noticed that there haven't been very many fairy tales on Fridays again this year. Hence, I hesitate to insinuate in the title that there may be more coming. Although I hope there will be. If I can only make myself reach the point where I am making fewer commitments and freeing up more time to free range read.
Remember this beloved Disney animated adaptation of a fairy tale classic? Me either. That's not entirely true; I do remember parts and my kids did have it growing up. But for some reason, Pinocchio was never a favorite of theirs or mine. Some one must have enjoyed it immensely (or Disney just can't be bothered to come up with adaptations of previously unmined fairy tales), because things are in the works at the Disney studios for a live-action adaptation. Another one.

What's that you say? You don't remember Disney having previously tried and failed with this one? Then you were lucky enough to have missed the 2000 made-for-tv adaptation starring Drew Carrey and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Geppetto. A musical. Stephen Schwartz actually wrote the music but wrote it with a rematching of Mary Poppins stars Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke in mind. Andrews was having throat surgery at the time and was unable to do it but how you went from that cast to were they ended up I can't imagine.

Yeah, that's not at all scary
The script is in the works and said to be a "loose adaptation." That probably goes without saying since it's unlikely that Disney would stick to the original story. Wouldn't want to scar the children. Although mine often watch the movies of their childhood and figure if Disney had gone as far as it did (I'm looking at you Skeleton Ursula!), they might as well have gone all in. Although, in the case of The Little Mermaid, it's probably best they didn't.

On a much more serious note, Kristin of Tales of Faerie, has a thought-provoking post, Mother's Who Kill Their Children, about a book by the same title by Cheryl L. Meyer and Michelle Oberman. She uses the book as a basis to explore abuse in fairy tales and those ties to real life, as well as the subject of feminism in fairy tales. She discusses the ways in which we have, throughout history, been quick to blame the victim as well as the abuser (a subject which has been a hot button lately with the release of the new Cinderella movie which has people again saying that Cinderella, as a character, was too passive). Very powerful stuff which I highly recommend reading.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Giveaway Time! Win A Copy of Jojo Moyes' One Plus One!

You all know how much I enjoy Jojo Moyes' books so it won't surprise you to know how eager I was when offered the chance to put a copy of her latest, One Plus One into one of someones hands.

One Plus One just came out in paperback the end of last month and Penguin Books is offering one of my readers the opportunity to read this wonderful book. To enter, just leave a comment with your email address. For an extra entry, leave me the name of your favorite book from 2014. I'll draw the winner on Sunday.

Suppose your life sucks—a lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied, and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. If you’re Jess Thomas, you do what you always do—make it work.

Jess and her family (including their giant, smelly dog Norman) begin their doomed-from-the-start adventure stranded on the side of the road next to a dilapidated Rolls Royce—sans license, sans insurance—having just been pulled over by the police for a missing headlight. And the unexpected knight in shining armor who rescues them? Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home Jess happens to clean. With big problems of his own, Ed, in perhaps his first ever unselfish act, offers to drive Jess and her dysfunctional brood to the Maths Olympiad and a prize that could turn everything around for Jess’s family.

This unlikely cast of characters is easy to fall for: Nicky, Jess’s stepson, wears mascara, doesn’t fit in at school, but is fiercely protective of Tanzie, Jess’s precocious math prodigy daughter; Jess and Ed are the kind of opposites you love to watch attract; and pungent Norman, the immovable mascot of the back seat, is the best guard dog you’ll ever find drooling on your shoulder.

“Bridget Jones meets Little Miss Sunshine in this witty British romp from bestseller Moyes… Wryly romantic and surprisingly suspenseful.” —People

 “ONE PLUS ONE adds up to a delightful summer read… Moyes is masterful at creating characters … You don’t need to be a math whiz to figure out this book is one worth adding to your summer reading list.” —USA Today

 “A funny and engaging road-trip…ONE PLUS ONE shimmers with both unyielding warmth and canny incisiveness.”—The Boston Globe

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Last Night At The Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert

Last Night At The Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert
Published  July 2014 by HarperCollins; paperback release April 2015 by William Morrow Paperbacks
Source: I bought my copy at the Omaha Lit Fest and had it autographed!

Publisher's Summary:
It is the early 1960s, and Chicago is teeming with the tensions of the day—segregation, sexual experimentation, the Cold War, and Vietnam—but it is also home to some of the country's most influential jazz. Naomi Hill, a singer at the Blue Angel club, has been poised on the brink of stardom for nearly ten years. But when her big break, the cover of Look magazine, finally arrives, it carries with it an enormous personal cost. Sensual and magnetic, Naomi is a fiercely ambitious yet self-destructive woman whose charms tend to hurt those around her, and no one knows this better than her daughter, Sophia.

As the only child of a single mother growing up in an adult world, Sophia is wise beyond her years, a casualty of her mother's desperate struggle for fame and adoration. Her only constant is the colorful and unconventional family that surrounds them, particularly the photographer Jim who is Sophia's best friend, surrogate father, and protector—but Jim is also deeply in love with Naomi.

My Thoughts:
"Mother is a singer. I live in her dark margins."
Do you remember the scene from the movie "Jerry Maguire" when Renee Zellweger's character says to Tom Cruise's character "You had me at hello?" That's the way I felt when I read those first two sentences of Chapter 1. Rotert's debut is beautifully written, filled with characters who will stay with me for a long time.

Told through a dual narrative, Rotert uses Sophia's voice to tell the story of their life in early 1960's Chicago while Naomi's past is seen through Sophie's eyes. It goes a long way to helping readers understand Naomi, not to look at her as an abusive parent, a woman who raises her daughter in a run-down apartment building, keeps her up late into the night, brings strangers home to spend the night and who is utterly absorbed in herself and her career. Instead we come to understand her need to desire to rise above the poverty of her youth, her need for love and her inability to accept it.
"I love David or perhaps I just found a way to matter to him, to be noticed. He has made me feel small and I hate him for that but I also long for him. I'm embarrassed."
Sophia adores Naomi, craves her attention, treasures the rare moments her mother notices her. She is what might be called "precocious," except so often means a child who is overly confident in her own abilities, exceptional in every way. But while Sophie is deeply perceptive, she is also very real - she struggles with math, worries about having friends, and carries around a notebook where she keeps a list of all of the things she will need to know how to make in case of nuclear disaster. Fortunately, she is surrounded by people who love her and try to make sure she gets what she needs. My favorite relationship was the one between Sophie and Jim, a man deeply in love with Naomi who acted as a pseudo-father for Sophia. Naomi may be the star on stage but Sophie is the heart and soul of this book.

I've owned this book since last fall; I bought it with the intention of reading it immediately but, as so often happens, it got set aside. Then the ladies at TLC asked me if I'd like to be on a tour for the book. "I'd love to and I already own the book," I eagerly replied! Thanks to them for giving me the push to pick up the book; I simply loved it. It's hard to believe it is Rotert's debut novel. Last fall Rotert said she writes what haunts her. After reading Last Night At The Blue Angel, it will haunt me as well. For other opinions on the book, check out the full tour.

In speaking about music in this book, last fall at the Omaha Lit Fest, Rotert said that she was raised on the American songbook so had Naomi raised this way as well so that she could use the music to show generational tensions. She said that authors have to choose what not to give their characters as well as what to give them. She chose not to give Naomi the chance to have her own voice, the ability to express herself only in song. Naomi was then left to express herself only through others which made her a less healthy person intentionally. Rotert said that in using music in her book, it was about trusting the reader to understand that the references advance the story even if they don't know the music. Despite all of the music in the book, Rotert said she writes in quiet.

Rebecca Rotert received an M.A. in literature from Hollins College, where she was the recipient of the Academy of American Poets prize. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times and other publications. She’s also an experienced singer and songwriter, who has performed with several bands, and a teacher with the Nebraska Writers Collective. She lives in Omaha, Nebraska.

I'm a little giddy about the kind of writing talent Omaha is turning out these days: Timothy Shaffert, Rainbow Rowell, and now Rebecca Rotert are all writers I'm delighted to share this city with. Maybe there's something in the water. Perhaps it's time to consider writing that novel?!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess)
Published 2012 by G. P. Putnam's Sons
Source: bought this at my local library sale

Publisher's Summary:
When Jenny Lawson was little, all she ever wanted was to fit in. That dream was cut short by her fantastically unbalanced father and a morbidly eccentric childhood. It did, however, open up an opportunity for Lawson to find the humor in the strange shame-spiral that is her life, and we are all the better for it.

In the irreverent Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Lawson’s long-suffering husband and sweet daughter help her uncover the surprising discovery that the most terribly human moments—the ones we want to pretend never happened—are the very same moments that make us the people we are today. For every intellectual misfit who thought they were the only ones to think the things that Lawson dares to say out loud, this is a poignant and hysterical look at the dark, disturbing, yet wonderful moments of our lives.

My Thoughts:
Having just read back-to-back Faulkners and being in the middle of I Know This Much Is True for book club, I knew I needed something light to break things up. Oh my lordy, was this book ever the "right book at the right time!"

Let's Pretend This Never Happened is, literally, laugh out loud funny.  Read-whole-passages-to-your-spouse funny. Luckily for my spouse, it was humor that was right up his alley and he (mostly) always at least chuckled when I read passages to him. He did point out, Mom, that this is not a book for you. Too much talking about vaginas, he said. I agree but I think my mom would mostly not enjoy it because there is a generous use of the "F" word. So, if you have a problem with either of those things in a book, you've been warned. Also, if you're not a fan of taxidermy. There's a lot of that, too.

To say that Lawson's childhood was unconventional would be a massive understatement. Thanks largely to her father, though, her childhood was hysterical to read about. Because her father was prone to bring home inappropriate animals (both living and dead), Lawson and her sister invented "The Dangerous Thesaurus of My Father."

  "It's not going to hurt you." = "I hope you like Bactine."
  "It's very excited." = "It has rabies."
  "Now, don't get too attached." = "I got this monkey for free because it has a virus."
  "It likes you!" = "This wild boar is now your responsibility."
  "Now, this is really interesting." = "You'll still have nightmares about this when you're thirty."
  "Don't scream or you'll scare it." = "You should really be running now."
  "It just wants to give you a kiss." = "It's probably going to eat your face off."

This is man who thought using a dead squirrel as a hand puppet and waking his daughters up in the middle of the night to surprise them with it was a good idea. Between their father, a mother who was the school lunch lady, and being poor, growing up was tough and most people would have probably written this as a tragedy or a "how I overcame great obstacles and succeeded in life" memoir. Lawson grew up to find the humor in it all, but also to appreciate the fact that she didn't have a cookie cutter upbringing.

As funny as I found this book (the conversations between Lawson and her husband, Victor, are a riot), what made it such a good book was the honest way Lawson talked about more serious subjects. She doesn't shy away from talking about the sorrow of multiple miscarriages, the difficulty of dealing with a chronic medical issue, or her ongoing battle with mental illness (she suffers from OCD and crippling anxiety disorder). Beneath that wild woman who grew up thinking that there was such a thing as water squirrels (until she was told later in life that those squirrels she had once upon a time been swimming with were actually squirrels that had drowned in a flash flood), there is a woman who appreciates all that life has thrown at her.
"Because you are defined not by life's imperfect moments, but by your reaction to them. And because there is joy in embracing - rather than running screaming from them - the utter absurdity of life. I thank my family for teaching me that lesson. In spades."
I thank Lawson for reminding me of that. And for reminding me that there's nothing wrong with a marriage where people bicker as long as they love and understand each other. And for making me laugh. I needed that!

*Bloggers, there is an entire chapter about a trip Lawson went on with a group of bloggers that cracked me up but also reminded me why I love my blogging friends so much!
"Women scare me enough, but bloggers can be even more frightening to deal with. Most bloggers are emotionally unstable and are often awkward in social situations, which is why so many of us turned to blogging in the first place. Also, they are always looking for something to write about, so you f*&% something up it will be blogged, Facebooked, and retweeted until your death."
**Why doesn't Blogger's dictionary recognize the word "blogger??"

***This is what Neil Gaiman had to say about the book:
"The Bloggess writes stuff that actually is laugh-out-loud, but you know that really you shouldn't be laughing and probably you'll got to hell for laughing, so maybe you should read it. That would be safer and wiser."
At least that's what they say on the book that Gaiman said. But there is also a quote for Jesus (who appears numerous times in the book) which I'm pretty sure is not a real quote, so who knows.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Life: It Goes On - April 12

My windshield Thursday
when I left work
It's definitely April in Nebraska - there was more than a half inch of heavy, wet snow on my car when I left work Thursday and by Saturday shorts and short-sleeves were the order of the day.

It's been a quiet week here with nothing more than a trip to the vet (cat now has to have antibiotics shoved down her throat daily - that's fun) and a one a.m. call from a sick kid (grabbed my shoes and purse and ran to bring her home). You'd think that would mean I got a lot read during the week, but you'd be wrong. Malaise struck me down. Four days of grey skies and drizzle will do that to a girl.

I spent yesterday being lazy productive. No such thing, you say? I beg to differ. I hardly left my desk but wrote three posts, finalized taxes, cleaned out my desk, and made a huge dent in my blog reader. It was just the day I needed!
This Week I'm:

Listening To: Sia - after watching her video for "Big Girls Cry," featuring 12-year-old dancer Maddie Ziegler, I decided to check out some of her older stuff and have a relisten to her latest, 1000 Forms of Fear. On YouTube there's a great piano version of "Chandelier" which I'm loving.

Watching: "The Real Housewives of New York" are back! I'd call the Real Housewives series' my guilty pleasure but I don't feel guilty at all about watching the shows.

Reading: I finished Let's Pretend This Never Happened and, lordy, did that book make me laugh! My review will post Tuesday. Let's just say, it's possible I will keep this one to reread. Then yesterday I started reading Rebecca Rotert's Last Night At The Blue Angel for an upcoming review and I'm so impressed with the writing in it. It's gonna be hard for me not to do nothing but read until it's finished.

Making: Bacon avocado burgers, spaghetti pie, pork chops and wild rice, chicken and stuffing. We're still working on how to cook for two so one meal's been lasting a couple of days; at least we don't have to cook as much!

Planning: Do you remember all of those things I was planning to get done last week? Still haven't done most of them. So, yeah, I still need to finish up the spring decorating, clean Mini-him's bedroom, and get back into my office. I've got some major rearranging and painting I'd like to do but I'm not going to let myself do any of it until I get these other things done.

Grateful for: Sunshine!
My dad, Miss H, and
the Big Guy

Enjoying: Football. Yesterday was the annual spring scrimmage game and it's just what I need to tide me over until the season begins. Nebraska has the biggest turnout for their spring game of any college team - this year almost 77,000 people attended, including a good chunk of my family.

Feeling: I'm going to have a lot of time to myself this week and I'm hopeful that I'll make good use of it.

Looking forward to: Fingers crossed, a week with more energy.

What are you looking forward to this week?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

Love having readers in my family, especially when they email me about interesting things in the book world and even more when they can connect a personal story to it.

My uncle sent me a link to an article in The New Yorker about poet Jorie Graham's new book called From The New World: Poems 1976-2014. Graham has won every major literary award, including the Pulitzer Prize. Y'all know that I have difficult relationship with poetry, never quite sure I'm "getting" it. Frankly, the article itself is a bit esoteric. does make me curious about Graham's work and I'd wager to say I'll be looking to pick up one of her collections.

When my aunt and uncle moved to Iowa, many years ago, Jorie Graham was on the faculty of the University of Iowa. One evening when they were out to eat in Iowa City, they watched Graham holding court with a table of admirers. My uncle says the lady definitely has a presence and held their attention as well. Sounds like Jorie Graham might have been the Dorothy Parker of Iowa City in her time there!

I've been shopping NetGalley this week. It's a very dangerous thing to do! I've added a few titles to my reader but really tried to use restraint. As I was browsing, though, I got to thinking about the saying "you can't judge a book by its cover."

 I like to believe that but as I looked through those books, I realized it's not entirely true. And publishers are quite eager for us to judge their books by the covers. Why else would they go to so much bother with the cover? The covers are meant to give prospective readers an idea of what the book is about, after all. A couple embracing? Probably a romance. A skull or dripping blood? Probably a thriller. An anime image? Graphic novel. The problem, of course, is that if we entirely dismiss books with covers from genres we don't normally read, we miss some great books. I'm forever grateful that I was convinced to read Persepolis, a book I would never have picked off a shelf.

I've long been meaning to read Beryl Markham's West With The Night so I was excited to find that Paula McLain's (The Paris Wife) latest book is about Markham. Needless to say, it's one that I've downloaded. Circling The Sun is the story of Markham's life from childhood through her relationship with Denys Finch Hatton and her rivalry with Karen Blixen who is best known for Out of Africa. I've long been interested in Blixen since I first saw the movie adaptation of Out of Africa so this one seems like a win-win for me.

What books have you added to your wish list lately?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Giveaway: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Sue Monk Kidd's The Invention of Wings is coming out in paperback on May 5 and the publisher, Penguin, would like to offer you the chance to win a copy! To enter the drawing, just leave a comment below letting me know either which book made for the best discussion your book club ever had or which book you would recommend for book clubs. I'll announce the winner on Monday, April 13th.

The Omaha Bookworms read this one last year and can vouch for it making an excellent book club selection and now Penguin has put together an online book club kit to help other book clubs get the most out of their discussion. It's a really great kit, with a lot of interesting information about the book even if you're not reading it as part of a book club.

Also, check out this clip from the audiobook:

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Life: It Goes On - April 5

Happy Easter!

Wanna know what happens when your daughter dumps a glasss of water on your keyboard? You end up typing up your post on your iPad. Which does not want like to play well with Blogger, at least not when it comes to loading images. Hence, no images today. [Thanks to new keyboard, this can now be corrected!] Looks like Miss H will be buying me a new keyboard!


LISTENING TO: Meg Wolitzer's The Ten-Year Nap. On the fourth disc and I'm not sure where this one is going. So far we're just meeting several women, learning that not many of them seem terribly thrilled about the lives they've chosen. I have a feeling Wolitzer is going to raise my ire eventually; the title seems to imply that the lead character's time as a stay-at-home mom has been largely a waste of time and talent. As a former SAH mom, I'm always sensitive about this issue.

READING: I did it! I finished two Faulkners in a row! Great as they were, I can hardly express how nice it is to be reading something that makes me laugh. Let's Pretend This Never Happened is literally making me LOL. The Big Guy is reading Jim Gaffigan's Food and finding it equally as amusing. We are often interrupting each other's reading to read aloud particularly amusing stories.

WATCHING: NCAA men's basketball, Fixer Upper on HGTV, and Ken Burn's "Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies" on PBS. It was heartbreaking, horrifying, and uplifting all at once. I am so ready to read the book!

 GRATEFUL FOR: Family time! My cousin and her husband stopped through for brunch while on a trip, some of BG's family came for dinner last night, and today we had Easter at my sister's.

FEELING: Like there are not enough days in the weekend. I need time to see people and still get things accomplished!

MAKING: Peach custard pie, lemon bites, hamburger and onion pizza, egg casserole, cherry steel-cut oats, garlic chicken Parmesan, chef's salad. It's been a good week in the kitchen.

ENJOYING: Girl time with Miss H - lunch, shopping, gossip and laughs. I am blessed to have a daughter I so enjoy spending time with.

LOOKING FORWARD TO: Finishing some things this week. I have too many projects in the works. Mini-him's room has not been touched since he moved out, neither has the basement. And my photo project has gone too long with being touched.

What are you looking forward to this week?

Friday, April 3, 2015

Light In August by William Faulkner

Light In August by William Faulkner
Published originally in 1932
Source: one of us bought this in college, it's clearly a college edition but neither of us recalls reading it even remotely possible that whoever was supposed to have read this managed to b.s. their way through it?

Goodreads Summary:
Light in August, a novel about hopeful perseverance in the face of mortality, features some of Faulkner’s most memorable characters: guileless, dauntless Lena Grove, in search of the father of her unborn child; Reverend Gail Hightower, who is plagued by visions of Confederate horsemen; and Joe Christmas, a desperate, enigmatic drifter consumed by his mixed ancestry.

My Thoughts:
I long ago decided to stop struggling with writing summaries for my reviews; it took much too long for something I was almost certain that most of you wouldn't read. But then I read a classic and there is no publisher's summary to copy and paste and the other summaries available are too long and I'm left casting about for something simple.

 So I grabbed this from Goodreads and it tells almost nothing. It doesn't mention the story's setting, a small town in 1920's Mississippi, or Byron Bunch, who plays key roles in each of the other characters' lives. There is so much more to the story than that one sentence (although, given the length of Faulkner's sentences, it is kind of perfect in that regard).
"The have thundered past now and crashed silently on into the dusk; night has fully come. Yet he still sits at the study window, the room still dark behind him. The street lamp at the corner flickers and glares, so that the bitten shadows of the unwinded maples seem to toss faintly upon the August darkness. From a distance, quite faint though quite clear, he can hear the sonorous waves of massed abject and proud, swelling and falling in the quiet summer darkness like a harmonic tide."
This is the book I was meant to read with my friend, Lori, when I accidentally picked up As I Lay Dying. I could have decided I wasn't meant to read it. I could have chalked this up as another failure in our long line of attempted readalongs. But I couldn't let that happen again and, oh my, am I glad I couldn't.

Light In August is not an easy read; Faulkner is never an easy read. It is long (my edition was nearly 500 pages long), there are long passages where I wasn't entirely sure I understood what I was reading (thanks to Sparknotes, I found out I did),  and Faulkner makes up his own words (seriously, he is constantly putting two words together that were never meant to be together) and plays with his narrative. But that is part of what makes this book great and it's what made this book first stand out in the literary world.

Light In August just like life - very often life is slow moving, often building to inevitable conclusions; sometimes things get crazy, even shockingly so; there are times of profound beauty and times of deep sadness. In the end violence begets violence, people will follow blindly, some people will come out with lessons learned but most will not.

In Light In August Faulkner addresses religion, sexuality, class inequality, obsession, all of which revolve around the central theme of race and how it defines and divides us. Joe Christmas is a man unsure of his race (the summary indicates he is of mixed ancestry; that is never clear in the book), leaving him a man unable to find his place in a society that, particularly in the American South, defined a man by the color of his skin.
"He was sick after that. he did not know until then that there were white women who would take a man with a black skin. He stayed sick for two years. Sometimes he would remember how he had once tricked or teased white men into calling him a negro in order to fight them, to beat them, or be beaten; now he fought the negro who called him white."
Christmas' battle with his racial heritage colors his entire life, he wields it like a weapon but it is a weapon that can easily be turned on him. In the wrong hands, at the wrong time, in the wrong place, it will be his undoing, setting in motion the events that drive this incredible novel.

The only question I have now is this: which challenging novel will Lori talk me into reading next?