Sunday, May 31, 2015

Life: It Goes On - May 31

Seriously? The end of May already? I can't remember the last time we got all of the way through May without even considering turning on the air conditioning. Come on summer!

This morning I got a call about 10 a.m. from Mini-him asking if I could run his spare car key over to him (the very fact that this call was made will tell you why WE still have the spare keys to the kids' cars). He'd gone off last night to a convention and lost his keys. Mind you, this was in Council Bluffs, not Omaha. Okay, Council Bluffs is just on the other side of the Missouri River from Omaha; but still, he was in a different town. And I was still in my pjs. Of course, I went; that's what moms do. But don't even think for a moment that I didn't take this opportunity to impart a life lesson. Not that you should be more responsible. No, my lesson was that this is precisely why he should never move very far away from me. In theory, I'm all for my kids spreading their wings and exploring the world. Just as long as they do it within easy driving distance. Sorry, kids!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: The Story of Beautiful Girl (mixed feelings about this book), the Slate Book Club discussion about The Girl On The Train (they all enjoyed it much less than I did), and an episode of This American Life which dealt with discipline in schools. That was really interesting and struck close to home with a segment about racism and discipline in preschool in a part of the greater Omaha metropolitan area.

Watching: Another movie marathon night with Miss H last night - we watched "Wild," with Reese Witherspoon (and I'm now, finally, ready to read the book and I was knocked out by Witherspoon's performance); "Tammy," with Melissa McCarthy and Susan Sarandon (it had some issues but it also made us laugh a lot); and "Into The Woods," with, oh, just about everyone in Hollywood who can sing. I'll talk more about that on Fairy Tale Friday.

Reading: Ripped through Nancy Bilyeau's latest Joanna Stafford book, The Tapestry. Coming so soon after watching "Wolf Hall" on PBS, this one really captured my attention. Tomorrow I start two readalongs: Misery by Stephen King (click on the link on the sidebar if you're interesting in joining the group that's reading this one) and Reading Lolita In Tehran by Azar Nafisi, which I'm reading with Lori of An Irreverent Escapade. If you're interested in joining us, just let me know!

Making: Me? Not much. The Big Guy's done most of the cooking this week. And if it wasn't quick and easy and could be eaten on the patio (on the days it wasn't raining right when we sat down to eat), it probably wasn't happening.

Planning: On finishing up getting the gardens in. The vegetables and herbs are all done, just need to finish up the flower pots and get my strawberry pot going. Spent a good chunk of Thursday afternoon weeding flower beds. Since I can't really kneel any more since my knee surgery, I had to lean over to do it all. Apologies to my neighbors for that unending shot of my rear. On the plus side, my leg muscles got quite a workout.

Grateful for: Some quiet time this morning. BG went camping with friends last night so, except for movie time, the television has not been on since he left. Love being able to hear the birds singing outside as I type this up.

Enjoying: Lots of time with Miss H this weekend. Friday I went to her house to continue our work on organizing her extremely tiny room. Two hours later, we called it a night but there is still work to be done. That girl has so much stuff! Yesterday we went out to lunch, went shopping all afternoon, had a dinner of cheesecake at The Cheesecake Factory, and ended the day with movies at home. This morning we watched another movie before she went off to work. Love having a daughter who is also my friend. Thanks, Mom, for letting me know that is possible!

Feeling: Content.

Looking forward to: Spending the day outside. Because, for a change, there is no rain in the forecast.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Canterbury Sisters by Kimberly Wright

The Canterbury Sisters by Kim Wright
Published May 2015 by Gallery Books
Source: NetGalley

Publisher's Summary:
In the vein of Jojo Moyes and Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, a warm and touching novel about a woman who embarks on a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral after losing her mother, sharing life lessons—in the best Chaucer tradition—with eight other women along the way.

Che Milan’s life is falling apart. Not only has her longtime lover abruptly dumped her, but her eccentric, demanding mother has recently died. When an urn of ashes arrives, along with a note reminding Che of a half-forgotten promise to take her mother to Canterbury, Che finds herself reluctantly undertaking a pilgrimage.

Within days she joins a group of women who are walking the sixty miles from London to the shrine of Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, reputed to be the site of miracles. In the best Chaucer tradition, the women swap stories as they walk, each vying to see who can best describe true love. Che, who is a perfectionist and workaholic, loses her cell phone at the first stop and is forced to slow down and really notice the world around her, perhaps for the first time in years.

Through her adventures along the trail, Che finds herself opening up to new possibilities in life and discovers that the miracles of Canterbury can take surprising forms.

My Thoughts:
I wouldn't normally include, in the publisher's summary, the publisher's comparison to other authors but in this case, I thought it was worth discussing both for the author's they mentioned and the author they didn't.

Cheryl Strayed loaded up a backpack and took off on a journey entirely on her own. The group of women Che joins is being lead by an experienced guide with a following van which carries most of their belongings and scheduled stops along the way at places to sleep and eat. It hardly seems like the same thing. For me, Moyes' greatest strengths are her strong characters and her ability to make her readers empathize with them. It's something easier done with a smaller cast of characters than Wright is wrangling in The Canterbury Sisters. Still, it can be done, which brings me to the author I would have chosen as a comparison, Erica Bauermeister. Bauermeister's books always pull together a group of diverse characters and then allows each of them time to tell their own stories, just as Wright has done here.

In The Canterbury Sisters, Wright appears to be less interested in pulling the reader into the lives of each of the women Che travels with than in using each of their tales as a way for Che to learn and grow. I often found myself forgetting who was who in the group, in fact, despite the fact that I really enjoyed many of their stories. And Che? I gotta say that there were times I thought she was a catty, judgmental bitch. Then there were times I really felt for her as she struggled with finding herself alone at nearly fifty years old, still living under the shadow of her larger-than-life mother and addict father. This being the kind of story it is, I don't think I'm spoiling anything for anyone when I say that it takes the entirety of the journey for Che to learn to appreciate each of the women for who they are and to sympathize with them for what they have been through and for her to understand what she needs to do to move forward with her life.

The Canterbury Sisters is not the kind of story I'd generally pick up but Wright comes highly recommended. Know I know why. There were so many places where I really thought the writing was remarkable, where it really spoke to me and those passages alone would have made the book worth reading.
"I hadn't counted on there being so much difference between going and gone. Going is busy. Going has tasks involved with it - meeting with doctors and social workers, snaking your way through the system to find an empty bed in a decent place, cashing out mutual funds, and putting furniture in storage. Going demands many visits and at times, during them, you begin to think these Judas thoughts. You think that it would be better for everyone if she weren't still here, so trapped and suffering, and you imagine that when you get that final call, it will be a relief.
And it is, at least at first. But after a week or so, life goes back to what people call normal, and only then do you start to realize that going was easier than gone. It's only then that you face the final silent emptiness that's at the heart of every human death, and it's not just a matter of the extra hours that suddenly appear in the day, strangely difficult to fill, it's also that there's nowhere to put the mental energy that circles around the space your mother once occupied."
"Most families have their official stories, I'd imagine, and they tell them to each other over and over, each repetition reassuring both the speaker and the listeners that the world is an understandable place. I suppose you could even argue that the very act of telling a story is an act of faith, for it advances the belief that life truly has a beginning, middle and end. The belief that we're all headed somewhere, that the seemingly random events of our lives mean something, that tomorrow will be more than just a repeat of yesterday, all over again."
"I've always thought the greatest skill a wife can possess is the ability to judiciously forget certain things, to just delete them right out of her brain at will. Because that's what we've been talking about this whole time, haven't we? The difficulties women have in understanding we never really see them, really know them, even after years of love and marriage?"
Perhaps the most unique part of Wright's writing was her ability to acknowledge when she was falling back on the stereotypes:
"No doubt you're way ahead of me on all of this. No doubt you've seen what was coming form the minute you learned that the letter was sent from an office."
And, of course, most readers will have. But Wright's willingness to admit to it makes it is a rarity.
I enjoyed the literary references Wright included throughout the novel, from the expected Chaucer tales to the myth of Psyche and Eros, the tale of Sleeping Beauty and the story of Romeo and Juliet. Throw in a little history of Canterbury and history of the pilgrims to the cathedral for added interest. Wright says, in the acknowledgments, that she actually traveled the Canterbury trail and it shows in the details she has included.

Although the set up of the book is nothing new, there is plenty here to recommend the book and I enjoyed it.

**The quotes I've included come from an unfinished copy of the book and may not appear the same in the finished book.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Where Women Are Kings by Christie Watson

Where Women Are Kings by Christie Watson
Published April 2015 by Other Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Elijah, seven years old, is covered in scars and has a history of disruptive behavior. Taken away from his birth mother, a Nigerian immigrant in England, Elijah is moved from one foster parent to the next before finding a home with Nikki and her husband, Obi.

Nikki believes that she and Obi are strong enough to accept Elijah’s difficulties—and that being white will not affect her ability to raise a black son. They care deeply for Elijah and, in spite of his demons, he begins to settle into this loving family. But as Nikki and Obi learn more about their child’s tragic past, they face challenges that threaten to rock the fragile peace they’ve established, challenges that could prove disastrous.

My Thoughts:
"Being dead is like living inside a dream: only some things are real, but you don't know which ones, It is so dark when I wake up that I feel dead again. I have to move my fingers and toes to know I am still alive. I died once, the first night I'd been away from Mama. I was so dead then that I couldn't move anything. Not even one toe."
Little Elijah as been through so much in his seven years, things that are slowly reveled through his time with Nikki and Obi and through letters written by his birth mother. As Elijah slowly begins to relax into his life with Nikki and Obi (helped by his new cousin who is also his first real friend and Obi's father who is also Nigerian), Nikki and Obi must resolve lingering issues that begin to threaten the stability Elijah so desperately needs.

Watson fills her second novel with love and even some humor as she explores family, race, mental health, cultural differences, and the child protective system. She writes knowingly about the ways in which that system has both cared for and harmed Elijah further and the difficulties in taking on a child burdened with an abusive history.
"There are three places where women are kings. One is in that moment after birth, when generations of women stir up inside woman's body and the whole world shakes and nature reminds us who is king. The second place is Nigeria, where - you remember - a woman, a prostitute even, was so respected she was made king. And in heaven women must be kings, for in heaven all the wrongs of earth are righted."
For Elijah, one would certainly hope so.

It's a difficult book to read but so beautifully written and so incredibly emotional. I could not put it down but then I did not want it to end. Where Women Are Kings will stay with me for a long time.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Life: It Goes On - May 24

Part of the walk up from the
dock to the house last
Happy Memorial Day weekend! Everyone loving the idea of this not being the last day of your weekend? I know I am! Spent yesterday on all things graduation party - between going to parties and baking/frosting cupcakes for my niece's party, my day was full. Today we'll be heading off to the very tiny town where The Big Guy's parents are are buried to put flowers on graves then working in some stops along the way for visits with cousins and friends. As much fun as the weekend has been, I'll be happy to have another day to put my feet up for a bit to do some reading!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Mostly podcasts - some RadioLab, Slate's Book Club and new-to-me Nerdettes (thanks, Heather of Capricious Reader!). Friday I finally got back to The Story of Beautiful Girl and finished a disc of that. I think I'm going to try to work in podcasts on a regular basis from now on
- so many great ones but I don't want to give up books, either!

Watching: Honestly, I can't really remember much of what we watched. The finale of The Voice (disappointed with that result) but I did not stay up to watch Letterman's final show. I never have been much of a fan.

Reading: I'm finishing up The Canterbury Sisters by Kim Wright today then I'm pondering Game of Thrones or something nonfiction. Or maybe something that is actually on my reading plan for the summer. Lucky it's a flexible plan because I'm not sure what my mood will be tomorrow!

Not sure why the gold
ones look so lumpy!
Making: Did I mention cupcakes? A double batch of red velvet cupcakes and then white cupcakes frosted in the three colors of my niece's sorority. I may have overdone it. Anyone want to come pick up a container cupcakes? I have a few left over.

Planning: Some fun with my girlfriends this weekend - our guys are going camping and they actually trust us to behave!

Grateful for: Two long weekends in a row. It's been a great way to recharge the battery. I'm going to have the hardest time when I have to work five days in a row again.

The birthday boy
Enjoying: Thinking about last weekend - we had so much fun being with my whole family at a house on the Lake of the Ozarks celebrating my dad's 80th birthday. Boat rides, tubing, time in the sun, hours of talking and laughter, too much fun and perhaps a bit too much alcohol. As close as my family is, the cousins haven't really had this much time together in a long time and really had the chance to forge deeper bonds which was fun to see.

Feeling: A bit exhausted.

Looking forward to: Sunshine? Surely we'll have a string of sunny days again sometime. I am so over wearing sweaters to the end of the school year! While carrying an umbrella. Seriously. Over it.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Hearts West - A Mini Review

Hearts West: True Stories of Mail-Order Brides on the Frontier by Chris Enns
Published February 2005 by TwoDot
Source: this is my mom's copy

Publisher's Summary:
Complete with actual advertisements from both women seeking husbands and males seeking brides, New York Times bestselling book Hearts West includes twelve stories of courageous mail order brides and their exploits. Some were fortunate enough to marry good men and live happily ever after; still others found themselves in desperate situations that robbed them of their youth and sometimes their lives.

Desperate to strike it rich during the Gold Rush, men sacrificed many creature comforts. Only after they arrived did some of them realize how much they missed female companionship.

One way for men living on the frontier to meet women was through subscriptions to heart-and-hand clubs. The men received newspapers with information, and sometimes photographs, about women, with whom they corresponded. Eventually, a man might convince a woman to join him in the West, and in matrimony. Social status, political connections, money, companionship, or security were often considered more than love in these arrangements.

My Thoughts:
My mom read and reviewed this one for me in 2009. At the time I wrote "I know this one will be coming home with me..." Five years later, I finally got around to reading it as part of the Dewey's Readathon. It was a perfect choice for that - short to begin with and something I could read a chapter or two of then split off and read something different for a while.

I won't get into too much detail because it's already been reviewed on this blog but I wanted to point out a couple of things I found interesting about the stories in this book as they relate to present day relationships.

First there was this notice, warning men of the seductive powers of women and advising them that any marriage entered into based on misrepresentation by the woman would be null and void if the man so desired. Goodness, gracious! If men were warned off of any woman who has false hair (extensions, coloring), cosmetics paints, and artificial bosoms (padded bras, implants), were would most of the women of today be?!

About clubs and the newspapers in the summary - there were entire newspapers then (as there still are today) where men and women alike put notices hoping to find a mate. Think modern day eharmony or, heaven help us, Tinder. Isn't it interesting to think that 150 years later, people still have
trouble finding a mate? Although most of eharmony's clients probably aren't looking at making a 3000 mile journey around the cape of South America, so desperate are they to escape their current circumstances.

And they were desperate back in the late 19th-century. In the west there were almost no women and in the east women were eager for a chance to escape poverty or widowhood. There were plenty of stories in the book about couples who, after all of the travel, were so disappointed with the reality of their chosen partners that they didn't even get married or whose marriages didn't last. But, according to the book, the National Archive Department in Washington believes that mail-order brides produced a high percentage of permanent marriages. Enns says the reason cited is that "the advertisements were candid and direct in their explanations of exactly what was wanted and expected from a prospective spouse."
"I am fat, fair, and 48, 5 feet high. Am a No. 1 lady, well fixed with no encumbrance: am in business in city, but want a partner who lives in the West. Want an energetic man that has some means, not under 40 years of age and weight not less than 180. Of good habits. A Christian gentlemen preferred."
Well, there you go - can't get much more direct than that! Maybe those folks seeking a mate today should heed that advice!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Room With A View by E. M. Forster

A Room With A View by E. M. Forster
Published 1908
Source: Bought this one

Publisher's Summary:
A charming tale of the battle between bourgeois repression and radical romanticism, E. M. Forster’s third novel has long been the most popular of his early works. A young girl, Lucy Honeychurch, and her chaperon—products of proper Edwardian England—visit a tempestuous, passionate Italy. Their “room with a view” allows them to look into a world far different from their own, a world unconcerned with convention, unfettered by social rituals, and unafraid of emotion. Soon Lucy finds herself bound to an obviously “unsuitable” man, the melancholic George Emerson, whose improper advances she dare not publicize. Back home, her friend and mentor Charlotte Bartlett and her mother, try to manipulate her into marriage with the more “appropriate” but smotheringly dull Cecil Vyse, whose surname suggests the imprisoning effect he would have on Lucy’s spirit.

My Thoughts:
I have been meaning to read this book for almost 30 years, since I saw, and loved, the 1986 movie adaptation (more on that later). I'm almost certain that I would not enjoyed this book in the same way if I had read it when I was 25 years old so in that regard, it may be a good thing I waited so long to read it. It is a marvelous satire; my copy is loaded with stick notes where Forster has made a particularly biting comment that I adored.
" the end there was presented to the girl the complete picture of a cheerless, loveless world in which the young rush to destruction until they learn better - a shamefaced world of precautions and barriers which may avert evil, but which do not seem to bring good, if we may judge form those who have used them most."
Forster goes right at the bourgeoisie - that class of people who are neither rich, nor working class, who look down their noses at both the working class and the intellectuals, who have little ambition and little tolerance for those who do.
"I have no profession," said Cecil. "It is another example of my decadence. My attitude - quite an indefensible one - is that so long as I am no trouble to any one I have a right to do as I like. I know I ought to be getting money out of people, or devoting myself to things I can't care a straw about, but somehow, I've not been able to begin."
Young Lucy is just beginning to strain at the confines when she and Charlotte travel to Italy. Had Charlotte been any better at her job she might well have been able to steer Lucy down the right and proper path. But Charlotte is so painfully obvious in her efforts, her snobbery, and her woe-is-me attitude that Lucy finds herself more and more questioning what is right. Once back in England, though, Lucy becomes convinced that her behavior in Italy was wrong and at long last accepts the proposal of the pompous Cecil. Seriously, if you don't want to punch this guy in the nose, I don't know what's wrong with you.
"Of course, he despised the world as a whole; every thoughtful man should; it is almost a test of refinement."
One can't help but cheer when the very people who threw Lucy into a state of confusion show up back in her life. I was glad that I couldn't remember how the movie ended so I could enjoy seeing what would become of Lucy, torn in two directions.
"George will work in your thoughts till you die. It isn't possible to love and to part. You will wish that it was. You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. I know by experience that the poets are right: love is eternal."
If this had not been my nightstand book, I'm certain I would not have been able to put it down. As it was, I'm happy to have been able to absorb it in little bites. It's really quite delightful, filled not just with those bits of sarcasm but also with really lovely thoughts.

Maggie Smith and Helena Bonham-Carter in "A Room With A View"
Now, about that movie - if I say "Merchant and Ivory" those of you who are of a certain age and have enjoyed movies of a certain type, will immediately know what to expect of this movie. Wonderful scenery, spot on costumes and sets, a fantastic cast. The 1986 adaptation starred Helena Bonham Carter as Lucy (pre-crazy lady roles, back when she was an ingenue), Maggie Smith, Judy Dench, Denholm Elliot, Rupert Graves, Julian Sands and an almost unrecognizable Daniel Day-Lewis when he was still just a supporting actor. If you are a fan of period pieces and have not see this one, I highly recommend it.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Inspiration on Mondays - Gallery Walls

An inspiration wall
Once again, Trish of Love, Laughter, and A Touch of Insanity has come up with a way to bring bloggers together, this time with a chance to show what we are being inspired by or creating.

One thing I'm always playing with around here are gallery walls that incorporate more than just one type of wall hanging. Between Pinterest and the home decor blogs I follow, there are no end to inspirational ideas. I love the mix of shapes and textures and the odd pieces that shouldn't blend in but do somehow.

My dining room gallery wall
In my dining room, I used to have a print hanging in the middle of one wall that seemed lost. Soon some plates made their way to the sides of it. But I had this wonderful piece of wood work that needed to be showcased and this wall seemed like just the place. Still, I love my china pieces so this evolving gallery began. It's a mix of family pieces, pieces I've picked up in antique stores, some I've picked up at garage sales. Strangely, it looks more full in real life than it does in the picture. If I ever remember to pick up more plates hangers, there are a few more pieces to be added.

My bedroom gallery wall*
In my bedroom is a gallery wall that started four antique dress prints I inherited from my great-uncle and great-aunt. They have found themselves in many configurations in my room (along with a sister print to the large gold framed print). When my mom gave me the necklace that had been my grandmother's, I wanted to put it somewhere I could look at it and this gallery wall was born. The small purse was a gift and the smaller prints came from my parents. This wall is a work in progress, with another purse that will be added when I find the right pieces to add with it.

My powder room gallery 
The home decorating bloggers will tell you to start your gallery wall with a plan, to map out the wall and gather all of your materials before you start. These are the same people, though, that tell you that their own homes are always a work in progress. So it is with my powder room. After I painted it just before Miss H's graduation, I struggled to find just the thing to hang on the walls. Somehow what had been there didn't work. The framed watercolor print went up but it seemed lonely. My mom gave me the print on the wall above the towel rack and then the smaller framed print and suddenly, I had another gallery wall in the works. This one will wrap around the corner when it's done but it's slower going.

I love having these constantly evolving spaces in my home! Do you have gallery walls in your home?

*My mom has given me two more pieces since I originally wrote this post and took the picture. Once I get everything hung, this wall will be officially done. I think.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Life: It Goes On - May 17

I'm largely unplugged this weekend - except for the reading I'm doing on either my Nook or the iPad. We're celebrating my dad with a family vacation which means you won't see me around Facebook or Twitter for a couple more days. I'll have stories to tell by next week, I'm sure. With between 15-17 of us in the house at any time, there are certain to be lots of laughs, lots of love and at least one or two things that will become family lore.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'm continuing to listen to The Story of Beautiful Girl. It was recommended to me as a book club choice but my crew thought we had enough sadness in our line up. It would make an excellent choice, though.

I've also been listening to podcasts, catching up on some old favorites and discovering some new ones. Have you read Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project? She and her sister have a podcast called "Happier" which I'm really enjoying and picking up some great tips from. For example, Rubin recommends setting an alarm to remind yourself to go to bed at the time you should since most of us don't get enough sleep.

Watching: "The Voice" - next week is the finals but I'm not sure America has moved the best voices into it. "Elementary" - do you watch it? What did you think of that ending?

Reading: I finished Silver Bay and Where Women Are King this week and I've started The Canterbury Sisters and Calling Me Home, which is this month's book club selection.

Making: Egg casseroles, taco soup, popcorn snack mix, pizza, and pancakes for dinner.

Planning: Mostly, I'm planning on using the coming week to recover from the weekend.

Grateful for: My family, of course!

Enjoying: Tell you what I'm not enjoying - rain. Enough already! It's May already - time for sunshine and warm days.

Feeling: Relaxed. I was definitely ready for a few days away from housework and real work.

Looking forward to: A weekend with nothing on the calendar - which will not be any time soon. This is how summer disappears on a person.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb

I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb
Published March 2009 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: my copy courtesy of my public library's book club service

Publisher's Summary:
On the afternoon of October 12, 1990, my twin brother, Thomas, entered the Three Rivers, Connecticut, public library, retreated to one of the rear study carrels, and prayed to God the sacrifice he was about to commit would be deemed acceptable. . . .

My Thoughts:
Okay, first of all, what kind of summary is that for a 900-page novel? That's a teaser, not a summary. Oh well, guess it's up to me.
"Because Ray was a bully, I showed him as often as possible that Thomas was the weaker brother. Fed him Thomas to save myself."
Dominick and Thomas are identical twins, raised by their painfully shy (thanks in no small part to a harelip) mother and abusive stepfather, in the shadow of their dead grandfather whom their mother seems to have idolized and in whose home they now live. The boys long to know who their father was but the more pressing matter, even through their college years, was surviving Ray. That is until the most pressing matter becomes Thomas' schizophrenia. For all of their lives, the boys desperately fought to become their own person even as they needed each other to be whole.

On their mother's deathbed, Dominick promises her that he will take care of Thomas after she is gone. But taking care of Thomas is a heavy burden, particularly after the delusional, paranoid Thomas cuts off his own hand as a statement against the Gulf War. And Dominick is already carrying a heavy burden that includes anger he can't control and tremendous guilt. In trying to save Thomas, though, Dominick is finally able to save himself.

As a first person narrator, Dominick is a hard person to care about. Certainly, he has much to be angry about - his abusive childhood, the loss of his baby daughter, and the weight around his neck that is Thomas. But Dominick brings much of what befalls him on himself. He stays in a relationship he knows is bad, for no apparent reason, and he spends much of his time feeling so sorry for himself that he is then unable to keep up with his commitments because of it. Still, ultimately, I had to cheer for him and enjoyed his journey to understanding that his museum of insults and injuries is the pain he has to release in order to heal.
"I am not a smart man, particularly, but one day, at long last, I stumbled from the dark woods of my own, and my family's, and my country's past, holding in my hands these truths: that love grows from the rich loam of forgiveness; that mongrels make good dogs; that the evidence of God exists in the roundness of things. This much, at least, I've figured out. I know this much is true."
I read I Know This Much Is True with my book club and I wasn't alone in thinking that Lamb has just tried to do too much here. While he doesn't exactly hit his readers over the head with all of his themes, there are just so many of them. No one is spared; there's not a character in this book that doesn't carry tremendous baggage from Dominick's ex-wife, Dessa, to his former schoolmate and coworker Ralph Drinkwater. Racial tension, war, suicide, SIDS and the loss of a child, physical and mental abuse, mental illness, AIDS, sex, religion, incest, child pornography, abusive authority figures, and forgiveness. Have I missed any hot buttons here? I'm not sure that Lamb did. While I found much of it interesting, it was hard to develop a deep feeling for any of it as one theme piled up on another.

My biggest problem with this book, though, was the memoir of the twins' grandfather that was squeezed into an already over full novel. Although Lamb tied its elements into Dominick's story, it still was an enormous distraction and there was just entirely too much of it. Just there is too much of the book. I think I might have really loved this book had it been 200 or so pages shorter, without so much baggage. Although I'm still struggling with how I felt about the ending.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Bone Tree by Greg Iles - A Guest Review

The Bone Tree by Greg Iles
Published April 2015 by William Morrow
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Former prosecutor Penn Cage and his fiancĂ©e, reporter and publisher Caitlin Masters, have barely escaped with their lives after being attacked by wealthy businessman Brody Royal and his Double Eagles, a KKK sect with ties to some of Mississippi’s most powerful men. But the real danger has only begun as FBI Special Agent John Kaiser warns Penn that Brody wasn’t the true leader of the Double Eagles. The puppeteer who actually controls the terrorist group is a man far more fearsome: the chief of the state police’s Criminal Investigations Bureau, Forrest Knox.

The only way Penn can save his father, Dr. Tom Cage—who is fleeing a murder charge as well as corrupt cops bent on killing him—is either to make a devil’s bargain with Knox or destroy him. While Penn desperately pursues both options, Caitlin uncovers the real story behind a series of unsolved civil rights murders that may hold the key to the Double Eagles’ downfall. The trail leads her deep into the past, into the black backwaters of the Mississippi River, to a secret killing ground used by slave owners and the Klan for over two hundred years . . . a place of terrifying evil known only as “the bone tree.”

**My parents are fans of Greg Iles and particularly enjoyed the first book in this trilogy, Natchez Burning. When I got the email from the ladies at TLC Book Tours announcing that this book was available for review, I knew just the person to read and review it. I almost accepted it without even asking my mom! Here, for another of her wonderful reviews, are Mama Shepp's Mama's thoughts. Thanks, Mom!

My Mom's Thoughts:
Almost anyone can related to the joy of getting to meet up with dear friends after time has elapsed. Thus it was with me when I discovered Greg Iles new book THE BONE TREE at my house and I knew that I could return to Mississippi and catch up with my friends in Natchez and surrounding areas.

Because I had so enjoyed NATCHEZ BURNING, I was very eager to get into the new book and see what tales of intrigue were awaiting me. And I was not disappointed. The book contains not only romance but mystery, family life, racial tensions, Kennedy assassinations, Fidel Castro, tales of the swamp with its unfriendly creastures, and immense concentrations of devotion and friendships that run very deep–both for good and evil..

Iles does a good job in his prologue of setting the stage for this new book and relating the reader to what has transpired in NATCHEZ BURNING. Does the reader need to read Natchez? It would certainly help (and the reader would enjoy book 1) but it is not a necessity*. It might help if the new reader made a list of the characters as they are introduced (including those that are deceased) and their relationships Or post-it-notes for reference might be a helpful aid.

The book continues with the story of Dr. Tom Cage who has been accused of killing his former nurse Viola, a black lady who was more than just a nurse. Tom has run from the law along with his former Texas Ranger friend Walt and Tom’s adventures are the theme for much of the events that occur in the book. Tom’s son Penn is again our hero and his finance Caitlin Masters, newspaper editor and sleuth, pair up to solve the case and to encourage Tom to turn himself in–he is wanted also for another killing. The Double Eagles play a major role in the happenings, adding a disdain for human life and deep disregard for the black race. Their control of much of the state patrol and local police adds depth and more layers to an already complex story. And throughout the book we are led again and again to this tree known as the bone tree–we are not even always sure it really exists. We are not always encouraged to think Tom Cage has done the right things, and we are witnesses of crimes that cause us to cringe and back away.

In the end–well, I will not tell what happens in the end. This is, after all, a mystery; and the reader must discover the end results. But I will tell you that enough ends are left hanging to cause us to hope that Iles is ready to continue the saga in a third book. Not all of the characters will return–is that a broad enough hint to what might happen in this continuation?

There were only a few things that caused me to question the book. In places I felt too much detail had been added. I withheld judgment to see if the details were needed, but I felt they were not. I also felt the ending stretched credulity and might have been handled in a more realistic way. I would have liked a map of the area showing where each of the cities were in relationship to each other and the swamp. I got lost in proximity and distance.

But all in all, it was an extremely interesting book that captured my attention and caused me to lose sleep and contact with real life. I am eager to see if a third book will come and how all the issues will be resolved. Write fast, Mr. Iles!

My dad is now reading the book and it's his opinion that you really should read Natchez Burning before this book. 

Greg Iles spent most of his youth in Natchez, Mississippi, and studied the American novel under acclaimed southern writer Willie Morris at the University of Mississippi. His first novel, Spandau Phoenix, was the first of thirteen New York Times bestsellers, and his new trilogy continues the story of Penn Cage, protagonist of The Quiet Game, Turning Angel, and #1 New York Times bestseller The Devil’s Punchbowl. Iles’s novels have been made into films and published in more than thirty-five countries. He is a member of the lit-rock group “The Rock Bottom Remainders” and lives in Natchez with his two teenaged children.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Life: It Goes On - May 10

Oh my goodness, what a week! Wednesday we had major storms move through - tornadoes and huge amounts of rain. After hours of sucking water up, furniture moving, and some roof work, my parents will need to have the carpet pad in their basement replaced. My sister and I, Miss H and the Big
Guy and my niece's friend spent quite a lot of time getting things settled but they were luckier than many and for that we are grateful.

Miss H and my niece
We got to celebrate two graduates yesterday - one of the young men we consider a son and my niece. So proud of both them; they both graduated with honors. He graduated with a degree in a field he might not have entered without having seen my dad give a presentation when the young man was in fifth grade. Plus I've edited quite a few of his papers so I feel our family had quite a bit invested in his success!

We left there and went straight to a wedding - the son of friends of ours got married and we partied with them well into the night. Goodness, I haven't danced that much in years! Once again I was reminded of how lucky we are to have such dear friends and to be close enough to share in their joy.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I started The Story of Beautiful Girl on Friday, a book recommended by a book club friend and I'm really enjoying it so far.

1975 Omaha tornado path
Watching: "The Royals" on E; a special about the F4 tornado that devastated a part of Omaha 40 years ago (not a good idea for someone who is a tornado scaredy cat to watch during storm season) and "Wolf Hall." How's that for variety?

Reading: I finished my read/listen combo of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close on Thursday. I was almost finished Wednesday and could have finished it on page but just could not decide which was the best way to finish it. So I listened then read it both. I'm hoping to finish Silver Bay today.

Making: Fettucine alfredo, taco soup, tuna salad, grilled chicken salad. Can you tell the weather's been all over the place lately?

Planning: A couple of trips - a weekend to celebrate my dad's 80th birthday with my entire family and a trip to my aunt's and uncle's.

Grateful for: This text message: "Yeah, we're fine, just had to get a tow out of it." This after having received a text message from Mini-me that the car he and his girlfriend were driving in slid off the road in a snowstorm while on a trip to the Black Hills. It's May, people! I shouldn't have to worry about my kids driving on snowy roads in May!

Enjoying: A relatively quiet day even though there are so many things that I should be getting done. Sometimes you just need to recharge.

Feeling: Loved.

Looking forward to: Some time off work, time to enjoy my family, relax and laugh.

What are you looking forward to this week?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

I tend not to plan my reading out too much, other than reviews that have deadlines and book club commitments. But I've got a trip coming up so, of course, I need to plan on what I'm going to take to read and I've got some NetGalley books I need to make sure I read soon, not to mention all of the ARC's that have been piling up. So a plan needs to be made...mind you, it's a flexible plan. I'm trying to be better about reading what I want and I quite like it so if my plan doesn't suit my mood, it will change. But I really am looking forward to everything on this list!

For May:
Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler for book club
Where Woman Are Kings by Christie Watson
The Canterbury Sisters by Kim Wright
Circling The Sun by Paula McLain

For June:
Misery by Stephen King for a read along hosted by Care of Care's Online Book Club
Reading Lolita In Tehran by Azar Nafisi for a read along with Lori of Irreverent Escapades*
Balm by Dolan Perkins-Valdez for a TLC Book Tour

For July:
The Festival of Insignificance by Milan Kundera for a TLC Book Tour
The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop for a TLC Book Tour
Some Luck by Jane Smiley for book club

For August:
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty by book club
The first three books in Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series

For The Summer:
The Sound of Glass by Karen White
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
The Tapestry by Nancy Bilyeau
Natchez Burning by Greg Iles
The Book of Night Women by Marlon James

* If you are one of the few people who haven't yet read Reading Lolita In Tehran and would like to join us, let me know and I'll shoot you our reading schedule. The more the merrier!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Trail of Broken Wings by Sejal Badani

Trail of Broken Wings by Sejal Badani
Published May 2015 by Lake Union Publishing
Source: my ecopy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
When her father falls into a coma, Indian American photographer Sonya reluctantly returns to the family she’d fled years before. Since she left home, Sonya has lived on the run, free of any ties, while her soft-spoken sister, Trisha, has created a perfect suburban life, and her ambitious sister, Marin, has built her own successful career. But as these women come together, their various methods of coping with a terrifying history can no longer hold their memories at bay.

Buried secrets rise to the surface as their father—the victim of humiliating racism and perpetrator of horrible violence—remains unconscious. As his condition worsens, the daughters and their mother wrestle with private hopes for his survival or death, as well as their own demons and buried secrets.

My Thoughts:
If you've been reading this blog for long, you know how much I love novels set in India or about Indian families who have emigrated. I'm surprised the ladies at TLC Book Tours don't just pencil me in for tours when they have a book on tour that falls into this criteria. I can't say exactly what it is about the Indian people that so fascinates me but I know that the books I read never fail to revel something new to me about the culture, the country and its people. Trail of Broken Wings is no exception.
"A family has requested  puja - often commissioned for auspicious occasions - to celebrate the building of their new house. In a puja, the gurus spend an entire day in prayer and then call friends and loved ones of the family to join in to bless the occasion."
I have often seen in books and movies, the gathering of Indians, particularly amongst the immigrant population, but I don't know that I was ever aware that there was a special name for the occasions. Nor was I aware of the belief that prevented those same communities from largely shunning one of their own.
"A common belief among Indians is that if you spend too much time around someone experiencing bad luck, their energy can transfer to you...It was why Ranee never revealed her truth to any of them - if they knew her misfortune, they would cease to be her friends."
Sonya, Trisha, Marin, and their mother, Ranee have spent decades living with the pain and nightmares inflicted on them by the family patriarch, Brent. Each of them has learned to deal with his violence in their own way - Sonja by fleeing and shutting down emotionally; Trisha by forgetting and molding herself to the traditional role for women; Marin by constantly striving to be the best, to be perfect; and Ranee by resigning herself to a life of overwhelming guilt and smoldering anger. When Brent falls into a coma, things begin to unravel for each of the women as they are forced to confront their feelings for the man who abused them and the next generation of abuse.

So often when an author tries to create different conflicts for a number of characters it feels forced, sometimes as if the author has tried to take on too much. In Trail of Broken Wings, Badani gives each of the women their own stories but because each of the stories directly relates to their reaction to their history of abuse, avoiding that forced feeling.

Trail of Broken Wings is a powerfully emotional look at what happens when families weighed down with secrets overcome the stigma and begin the healing process. Although it sometimes got overly wordy, overall Badani kept things moving as she shifted points of view and moved seamlessly from the past to the present. Each of the women is given equal weight and readers will come to care about each of them and hope that they will find their way to a happier life. Perhaps the greatest feat, though, is making Brent something more than just a monster. Although she makes it clear that every attack on his family was a choice he made, Badani shows him as a man who lost control over himself when his American dream failed to materialize but who, once upon a time, knew how to love.
"Finding what he was searching for, he picked up a small rock, no larger than a pebble. Laying it between them on the tabletop, he pushed it toward her without touching her. "I hope to give you the world," Brent explained. "This rock is a small piece of it. One day I will present you with more." Every year after that, until he fell into his coma, Brent would present her with a rock on their anniversary. Each larger than the original one...Ranee never knew how he found them, but each year he would present it to her with a grand display and say, "I'm going to give you the world, Ranee." She  always wanted to say, "If you could stop hitting us, that would be enough." But she never did and he never stopped."

Thanks to the ladies of TLC for including me on this tour. For other opinions about the book, check out the full tour.

Sejal Badani is a former attorney. She currently lives on the West Coast with her family and their two dogs. Trail of Broken Wings is an impressive debut. I look forward to her next novel.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Silver Swan by Elena Delbanco

The Silver Swan by Elena Delbanco
Published May 2015 by Other Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Alexander Feldmann is a revered and sought-after performer whose prodigious talent, striking good looks and worldly charm prove irresistible to all who hear and encounter him. After years of searching, he acquires a glorious cello, the Silver Swan, a rare Stradivarius masterpiece long lost to the world of music.

Mariana is Alexander’s only child and the maestro has large ambitions for her. By the age of nineteen she emerges as a star cellist in her own right, and is seen as the inheritor of her father's genius. There are whispers that her career might well outpace his. Mariana believes the Silver Swan will one day be hers, until a stunning secret from her father’s past entwines her fate and that of the Silver Swan in ways she could never have imagined.

My Thoughts:
It's a world of classical music and I love classical music so I was immediately drawn to this book. Delbanco does a fine job of imagining what it would be like to grow up in the shadow of a renowned maestro, someone idolized by the world, someone whose ego has grown even larger than his immense talent. Mariana's mother was crushed by the weight of being married to such a man; Mariana yearned to live up to his expectations, to be loved by a father who only seemed to find merit in a child who might also be a virtuoso. It was not a happy life; imagine loving someone who loved his cello more than anything.
"Her mother's anger washed over Mariana, the bystander, and scared her. She tried to understand how her mother could love her father so passionately and protectively, craving his attention and devoting her life to him, while at the same time resenting his success and raging at his absence."
Just as her star was reaching its zenith as a solo performing, coming out from behind her father's shadow, Mariana quit performing by herself. It was something her father could never forgive her, even though it meant that in his declining years, it freed her up to be his caregiver. Mariana felt it was worth it, felt her father finally had come to appreciate her. After he died, though, she receives the ultimate betrayal at his hands. I couldn't help but understand why she made some of the bad choices she made, why she felt the way she did, and hope for her to find peace. Except that...the key relationship that drives events after Alexander's will is read just seemed to happen too quickly for me and I had a hard time buying into the depth of Mariana's feelings.

There's a big twist to this book, one that I saw coming then thought maybe Delbanco wasn't going to use after all, that involves that relationship. Let's just say it kind of made my skin crawl. And I was never certain it was fully resolved. So I was left, at the end of this book, both happy and a little creeped out.

Best part of the book for me? All of the references to particular pieces of music which I had to immediately find performances of on YouTube. Let's just say that any book that comes with its own great soundtrack is a winner for me!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Life: It Goes On - May 3

Rain, rain, rain - there's been a chance of it every day for the past two weeks but my goodness is it green and beautiful here and finally getting warm enough that dinners on the patio are happening more often than not.

It's been a quiet week here - nothing at all on the calendar this weekend which allowed for time to movie night with Miss H, dinner with friends and lunch today with Mini-me. Just the thing this girl needs to recharge her batteries.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Vintage Postmodern Jukebox - covers of everything from Madonna to Guns 'N' Roses to the Game of Thrones theme song in totally different musical styles. Loving them!

Watching: The NFL draft, because, you know, we love our football.

Reading: I'm a little over half way through Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. So glad I'm doing this as a listen/read combination because the book has so many visuals that really contribute to the story. This week I'll also finish and review Trail of Broken Wings for a TLC book tour and Jojo Moyes' Silver Bay.

Making: Chicken fajitas, grilled steaks, grilled burgers, nachos and s'mores. It's been all about easy and eating outside.

Planning: A family trip to the Ozarks to celebrate my dad's 80th birthday. The biggest trick will be trying to figure out how we'll fit five people and their luggage plus food for four days into my vehicle!

Grateful for: Farmer's markets which opened here this weekend. The Big Guy came home yesterday with a tomato plant that is already three feet tall. We'll be having fresh picked tomatoes earlier than ever. Cannot. Wait.

Enjoying: A clean house. That stays clean. Being an empty nester might not be so bad after all.

Feeling: Like May is going to fly by too quickly - we have something on the calendar every weekend.

Looking forward to: Two graduations and a wedding on Saturday and Mother's Day on Sunday. Also known as the official day to start gardening. My herb pots (I managed to keep parsley, oregano, and rosemary alive all winter) are already back on the patio.

What are you looking forward to this week? Are you a gardner looking forward to getting back in the dirt?