Sunday, June 28, 2015

Life: It Goes On - June 28

Feeling very lazy this morning - not quite sure what to do with myself. Usually on this day every year we are headed over to an annual family reunion. This year we are foregoing it for a number of reasons; but, it feels strange not to be rushing around, trying to put together the food to take and get out of the door to be there by noon. And also feels good to be having a weekend with very little on the calendar. I know my house is appreciating it!

Friday evening I spent at Miss H's, helping her, again, get her room cleaned up. Have I mentioned how absolutely minuscule it is? Not nearly big enough for a 20 year old girl with all of her makeup, nail polish, clothes, shoes, and crafting supplies. About the time we finally get it so that it really works for her, her lease will be up. But it's always fun to spend the time with her  so I don't really mind.

Last night was our next-door neighbors annual summer party, complete with a band, fireworks, wonderful food, and a margarita machine. Good thing we only had to walk a few feet to get home! 

This Week I'm:

Listening To: The last disc of The Book of Night Women by Marlon James. So, so good! I'm not sure I can launch into another book right away without being disappointed so I will probably catch up on podcasts.

Watching: Miss H and I watched the first three episodes of Orange Is The New Black on Thursday. Not sure when we'll have time to get back to it now that she'll be working regular people hours and we won't have Thursday afternoons. Yesterday I watched Meg Ryan and Andy Garcia in When A Man Loves a Woman. Love that movie!

Reading: We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas on my Nook. Really enjoying it so far; it continues the good reading streak I've got going right now. I finished Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven the other day and absolutely loved it - if I ever get around to updating my Goodreads page, it will be a five-star read. Review to come this week.

Making: Brownies, pastas, salads, steaks. Today we're grilling burgers, peaches and pineapple (thanks, Ti, for the peach idea!). Homemade ice cream will definitely be on the agenda for this week!

Planning: For the upcoming long holiday weekend. We have a neighborhood party Friday night with a potluck dinner then my folks are coming in Saturday so I'm working out a menu for that night. July decorating will get done this week in anticipation of the holiday and I will head off to pick up a few fireworks so my mom can have some fountains to watch, her favorite.

Grateful for: The largely calm response to this week's Supreme Court rulings. I feared it could get ugly on my social media pages but there has been no anger, at least none that I have had to face head on. Everyone is certainly entitled to their own opinion but there is never any reason to say hurtful things that could damage relationships with people you care about.

Enjoying: Book club - even if we really didn't talk much about the book. We've had a lot of new ladies join us in the past few months and are just getting back to the point where we are all really comfortable together (and chatty!) again.

Feeling: Hopeful.

Looking forward to: Getting a chance to talk to Mini-me about his week in Amherst. He got back early this morning but is off sleeping now and with our work schedules, I'm not sure when we'll get to see him.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

Mini-me is off to the Juniper Writer's Workshop this week. I'm proud of him for putting himself in a position to get this opportunity and even more proud of him stepping way out of his comfort zone and going off to do it.

University of Massachusetts
Amherst library
There's a reason I've nicknamed this one "Mini-me." Had I been given the opportunity to do something like this, I'm not sure I could have screwed up the courage to go. So many things that would need to be done that I'd never done before and there would be multiple people critiquing my work. He's much the same way but it's something I've encouraged him to work through and he's much more brave than I am!

He's been great about checking in (better than I would have expected), but he's been kept busy and even has "homework" when he's not in sessions so we haven't had much chance to talk. Can't wait for him to get back so I can get all of the details and read some of what he's been working on.

 During the day they are working on writing; in the evenings there are readings. The first night he was excited to hear James Tate, Pulitzer-prize winning poet, read and was impressed with Mitchell S. Jackson, who read from his book The Residue Years (so much so that he bought the book). I'm sure he'll come home with one or two more books tucked in his bag.

Have you ever done anything like this? The whole idea of taking a week to hone your writing skill has me giving NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) some consideration. I've got these idea percolating away in my brain...

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Misery by Stephen King

Misery by Stephen King
Published May 1990 by Penguin Group
Source: this one is mine

Publisher's Summary:
Overview Paul Sheldon. He’s a bestselling novelist who has finally met his biggest fan. Her name is Annie Wilkes and she is more than a rabid reader—she is Paul’s nurse, tending his shattered body after an automobile accident. But she is also his captor, keeping him prisoner in her isolated house.

Now Annie wants Paul to write his greatest work—just for her. She has a lot of ways to spur him on. One is a needle. Another is an ax. And if they don’t work, she can get really nasty.

My Thoughts:
Well, it was summer and clearly summer is the time for a Stephen King readalong so I couldn't resist when Care of Care's Online Book Club rallied the King Readalongers. Here's the thing with Stephen King - he can be very grisly and gruesome but he really is quite a good writer so I always know that it will be worth my time to join the gang.

I often say that I don't read horror books or watch horror movies because there is enough to be afraid of in the real world and I don't need any new ways to be frightened. There are all kinds of things to be afraid of in the world but in Misery King comes back to the idea that one individual can be the scariest thing. In Misery, Uncle Stevie hasn't given me a new thing to be afraid of; instead, he has hit on exactly the thing that I fear the most - people who are utterly lacking in a moral compass. The paranoids, the self-absorbed who care only about getting what they want regardless of the cost to others. That would be Annie Wilkes. She gives credence to the argument that some people are just born evil. Seriously, she is one screwed up lady who is undoubtedly mentally ill but, folks, this business with Paul is not her first trip to the rodeo.

Is it a stretch, sometimes, to buy into the idea that Paul could disappear for months and have left so little trail that no one even has idea where to start. Maybe. Is it a stretch to believer that Annie could have done what she's done in the past and still be free to go about her business? Maybe. But by the time that you might start to think "really???", it's too late. You are too sucked into needing to find out just how deranged Annie will get and whether or not Paul will survive. And, oh, how King plays with his readers, showing sympathetic glimpses of Annie and making Paul a rather unlikeable man it can be hard to care for.

In the end, although there's more than enough violence, Misery is a mind game. Can Paul keep his sanity long enough to free himself? Can he manage to outwit Annie or even figure her out well enough to keep her on an even keel? How, exactly, does she envision this playing out in her mind? I could have done with less gore but I do appreciate a psychological thriller and a book that makes me afraid to keep reading. On that score, King succeeds.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Life: It Goes On - June 21

Happy Father's Day to all of the dads out there and those who have served as father figures to the children who need them. The Big Guy asked only for the kids to help him with some yard work so they got out early this morning and got that done before it got to hot. We've just finished up his Father's Day "dinner" of BLT sandwiches (with fresh picked tomatoes, although sadly not from my own garden yet), macaroni salad, and strawberry shortcake. Heavy on the carbs but we were all in the mood for summer foods.

We were down one child - Mini-me left very early this morning for the Juniper Writer's Workshop in Amherst, Massachusetts. He'll spend a week there participating in workshops, craft sessions, and readings. I so wish I could be a fly on the wall! I'm so proud of him for being selected and excited for this adventure for him.

Happy Father's Day to my dad!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: More than half way through The Book of Night Women and absolutely loving it. Also catching up on Gretchen Rubin's "Happier" podcast. Every episode has one tip that listeners should try and one of the tips I listened to last week to make yourself happier was to quit reading books that aren't making you happy. Something I'm not good at but I'm going to try to remember that I need to do it to make myself happier.

Watching: We're catching up on "Game of Thrones" - BG and I had only seen the first episode of Season 5 and Mini-him hadn't seen any of them. BG, Miss H and I watched "Gone Girl" last night. BG is still fuming about the ending! I thought it was fairly well done, although I question a couple of the casting choices and I thought the ending was a little flat.

Reading: I finished Misery - grisly, to be sure, but also a terrific mind game. I started Emily St. John's
Station Eleven which I am really liking and will have a hard time not reading at the expense of housework.

Making: See above. Nothing much else exciting. I really have been uninspired in the kitchen of late.

Planning: We've got a couple of weekend trips in the works and I'm wanting to get my office painted so the rest of the decorating can get done. Miss H gave me a couple of jars that will be perfect for the scheme I have planned; they've inspired me to get back to it.

Grateful for: Air-conditioning - it has gotten hot here and this old girl does not tolerate the heat well any more.

TCU Horned Frogs versus Vanderbilt Commodores
Enjoying: Watching the College World Series - on television and in person. We were cheering for the TCU Horned Frogs but they are sadly out of the finale.

Feeling: Tired. I wish I had more to show for it!

Looking forward to: Didn't get to have book club last week so we'll try again this week.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Balm by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Balm by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Published May 2015 by Armistad
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Publisher's Summary:
The Civil War has ended, and Madge, Sadie, and Hemp have each come to Chicago in search of a new life.

Born with magical hands, Madge has the power to discern others’ suffering and ease it, but she cannot heal her own damaged heart. To mend herself and continue to help those in need, she must return to Tennessee to face the women healers who rejected her as a child.

Sadie can commune with the dead, but until she makes peace with her father, she, too, cannot fully engage her gift.

Searching for his missing family, Hemp arrives in this northern city that shimmers with possibility. But redemption cannot be possible until he is reunited with those taken from him.

In the bitter aftermath of a terrible, bloody war, as a divided nation tries to come together once again, Madge, Sadie, and Hemp will be caught up in an unexpected battle for survival in a community desperate to lay the pain of the past to rest.

My Thoughts:
After reading Perkins-Valdez's 2010 Wench (my review here), I knew that I wouldn't hesitate to pick up whatever she wrote next. So I didn't when I was offered Balm for review and I was certainly not disappointed. Her writing is so beautiful, she pulls you in immediately as Madge first discovers a rapidly growing Chicago:
"Men behind wooden carts hawking fruits and vegetables in pitched voices. Hackneys, carriages, teams of horses flying madly by in all directions, leaving behind a cloud of dust so thick she could barely see. Signs advertising businesses who names she could not read. The Glance of a woman leaning out of a window. A grand building with wide stone steps leading up to some unimaginable heaven. A new word - opera...opera...opera - melting on her tongue. Tree-bordered boulevards. The South Side avenues. The soft glow of gas streetlights. Horsecars lined with narrow benches and shoving crowds, the bolts creaking so loudly she feared the animal would break free and leave the people in the contraption being. Five flags waving grandly from the top of a building. The crunch of grit between  her teeth, dust rising through her nostrils."
As with Wench, in Balm Perkins-Valdez creates memorable characters who are struggling to find their place in this new world, a world were former slaves are learning how to live with a freedom tempered by painful memories and ongoing prejudice, a world where there are so many families trying to make new lives with the void left by the thousands who died in the Civil War. Madge, Sadie, Hemp and Michael, a doctor who comes into their lives with his own pain, are all in need of their own healing balm. It is a painful journey filled with grief, guilt, and a deep need for forgiveness.

As one characters says to Madge near the end of the book, "It sure does take a lot of different ingredients to make a healing balm." "Ain't that the truth," Madge said. Perkins-Valdez has, in Balm, given readers a story of hope, healing and coming together of community, a story that resonates in the present day as we continue to struggle with racial divisions.

Thanks to the ladies of TLC Book Tours for including me in this tour. For other opinions, check out the full tour.

Dolen Perkins-Valdez is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel Wench. Her fiction has appeared in the Kenyon Review, StoryQuarterly, StorySouth, and elsewhere. In 2011 she was a finalist for two NAACP Image Awards and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for fiction. She was also awarded the First Novelist Award by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. She teaches in the Stonecoast MFA program in Maine. A graduate of Harvard and a former University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at UCLA, Dolen Perkins-Valdez lives in Washington, D.C., with her family.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon

The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon
Published May 2011 by Grand Central Publishing
Source: my paperback copy and audio copy were both bought and paid for

Publisher's Summary:
It is 1968. Lynnie, a young white woman with a developmental disability, and Homan, an African American deaf man, are locked away in an institution, the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded, and have been left to languish, forgotten. Deeply in love, they escape, and find refuge in the farmhouse of Martha, a retired schoolteacher and widow. But the couple is not alone-Lynnie has just given birth to a baby girl. When the authorities catch up to them that same night, Homan escapes into the darkness, and Lynnie is caught. But before she is forced back into the institution, she whispers two words to Martha: "Hide her." And so begins the 40-year epic journey of Lynnie, Homan, Martha, and baby Julia-lives divided by seemingly insurmountable obstacles, yet drawn together by a secret pact and extraordinary love

My Thoughts:
All of that happens within the first 20 pages of the book. I'm not sure I've ever read a summary that actually tells so little about what's going to happen going forward. After this point, the lives of Lynnie, Homan, and Martha veer apart for forty years and the book spends the next 320 pages following each of their separate journeys.

Lynnie, who is caught, is returned to a system which warehouses and abuses the people it is entrusted to care for. Lynnie is lucky enough to have an ally at the school in Kate, a woman who patiently and secretly sees to it that Lynnie is given a voice, both literally and through her art. Lynnie's way is made easier when first a reporter uncovers the problems at the school, thanks to a type from an anonymous source (Martha), and then she is reunited with the sister she hasn't seen in decades.

Human spends the next forty years finding a place where he can safely live his life, despite his inability to communicate with those around him. Homan hasn't used his voice in years, can't read either lips or print, and uses a sign language no one else understands. He spends forty years alone, saving money for a reason he doesn't even understand, and slowly forgetting Beatiful Girl and Little One (Lynnie and Julia).

Martha, convinced that the only way she can protect the baby entrusted to her care is to run, relies on the students she has stayed in touch with since her retirement. Only Eva, a former student who now runs a store with her husband, will know the full truth. Over the next decade Martha and Julia will travel from place to place, student to student, telling each a different story for how she comes to have a small child with her and moving on when she begins to feel unsafe or it is no longer possible to stay.

When Kate discovers that Lynnie has had a child while she was free, she is determined to find the child. When this leads her to Eva, she and Eva make a pact to tell Lynnie or Martha what is happening to the other only in case of an emergency. Kate is convinced that something terrible will happen to the baby if she is discovered and both feel the baby is safe with Martha's hands. It is the only thread that connects any of the characters during most of the rest of the book. And that was my problem with the book.

While each of the stories was, in and of itself, compelling, the focus often stayed so long on one character that I lost track (and feeling for) the other characters. I'm not sure how the book could have been structured differently and ended with the impact it did (and, despite my trouble having deep feelings throughout the book, it did have an impact), I only wish it had been done differently. I think I would have felt less emotionally manipulated and more emotionally attached to the characters.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Life: It Goes On - June 14

I am coming to you all kinds of rested and relaxed after making this a three-day weekend. Friday was fun day, Saturday was helping Miss H shop (more on that later) and getting stuff done around the house, and today is all about reading, resting and only doing what I feel like doing.

Lots of fun stuff going on in Omaha this weekend. My goal this summer is to make sure we take advantage of at least one free event every week this summer and Friday it was the Opening Ceremonies for the College World Series. It's an absolute carnival atmosphere for blocks around the stadium throughout the series with free concerts, dozens of restaurants and bars with tents nearby, more clothing vendors than I can count, and lots of activities for kids and families. This is the second year in a row we've gone to the opening ceremonies and I think my favorite part is watching those young men walk out onto the field and take in the atmosphere. Starting yesterday, it became about winning ballgames again but Friday it was about having fun and they were definitely doing that. As were we!

Dave Winfield speaking to the teams
This weekend was also Junkstock which was one of the reasons I took off on Friday. I was disappointed that there weren't more of what I would call "raw" materials this time, not many salvage vendors. But I did get some great ideas for things I can create myself and came home with some goodies. That armadillo, by the way, was $300. Are stuffed armadillos going to be the next big thing?

This Week I'm:

Listening To: The Book of Night Women by Marlon James - great narration, really enjoying this one.

Watching: With The Big Guy out of town this week, I got to watch whatever I wanted to watch for three days but then I didn't even turn on the television most of the time he was gone.

Reading: I put aside Misery this week to let others catch up on the readalong and picked up Balm by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. Her writing is so good!

Making: See "Watching" - not much for most of the week!

Planning: This weekend's been spent planning a new work wardrobe for Miss H. Friday she accepted a job with a bank so no more restaurant "uniforms." Time for a big girl wardrobe to match a big girl job. We've picked up quite a few new pieces - now to work them in with what she already owns. Fun!

Grateful for: My kids all being in good places right now, happy and moving forward with their lives.

Enjoying: Friday traded in my Nook. I didn't necessarily need a new one but with it not holding a charge as long as it used to and the chargers being all but impossible to find (and that $50 credit I got for trading it in!), it was time to bring home a new baby. I've been having a lot of fun playing with my new model - much faster, lighter, and more gadgets. I only wish it didn't still pick up glare. But with the credit for the trade in and a gift certificate I got for Mother's Day, it was only $80 and you can't pass that up!

Feeling: I think I answered this in the first sentence - rested and relaxed!

Looking forward to: Book club this week - we'll be discussing The Rosie Project.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Fairy Tale Fridays - "Maleficent"

History is always told from the point of view of the victor, a point of view which can't always be trusted to tell the whole truth. Likewise, we can't always trust that we are getting true story from any narrator. What if the person we've been taught is the good guy has actually done a really horrible thing? What if the bad guy has a reason to be pissed off (sorry, Mom, I know how you hate that word)? What if the story you've been told all of your life is a lie?

As with Stephen Schwartz' musical "Wicked," in "Maleficent" we are introduced to a familiar wicked woman in a new way, taken back to her much younger, kinder self. Here Maleficent is a good fairy who rules the Moors, a kingdom of fairies and other fantastical creatures. She protests the lands from the neighboring kingdom of humans. When a young boy sneaks into the Moors, Maleficent befriends him and they eventually fall in love. But the boy, Stefan, grows into a man whose ambition causes him to not only betray Maleficent but to burn off her wings. As he rises to become King of the human kingdom, is it any wonder that she becomes consumed with anger and hatred?

Back to the story we know, when King Stefan and his wife introduce their baby daughter, Aurora, to the court, Maleficent smolders in and places a curse on the young princess that can never be removed. When the queen begs for mercy, Maleficent does allow for the ending for the curse if the sleeping Aurora receives true love's kiss. So off Aurora goes with the three fairies who had just bequeathed her with the gifts of beauty and grace. These three are even more bumbling than in the animated adaptation and Maleficent finds that she must step in to protect the child so that the hapless fairies do not kill the little girl before the curse can be enacted. Soon the sweetness and innocence of Aurora begin to soften Maleficent's heart and Aurora grows up thinking of Maleficent as her fairy godmother, trusting her completely.

King Stefan, on the other hand, spends the years fuming about the curse, trying to find ways to get to Maleficent to destroy her. He grows more and more mad (and by "mad," I mean out-of-his-mind mad). When, despite Maleficent's last minute attempt to reverse the curse, Aurora falls into that deep sleep, Stefan is more consumes with killing his enemy than in saving his daughter. And then there is the scene that made Miss H say "Damn! Plot twist!" Cause, yeah, it was great and changed everything.

Some reviewers have praised the movie for its feminist touch - a lead actress who hold all of the power; others have panned it for not being feminist enough - a woman is is so consumes by the betrayal of a man that she allows it to consume her. Who cares? I was looking for a new take on an old story and I got it, one with a fantastic performance by a woman who dominated the screen in every sense. To be honest, Jolie does overshadow all other characters, including Elle Fanning as Aurora, but this is clearly her movie and both Miss H and I enjoyed it and recommend it. Though, not for very young children, certainly no one under about age ten.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Tapestry by Nancy Bilyeau

The Tapestry by Nancy Bilyeau
Published March 2015 by Touchstone
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
After her priory in Dartford is closed—collateral damage in tyrannical King Henry VIII’s quest to overthrow the Catholic Church—Joanna Stafford resolves to live a quiet and honorable life weaving tapestries, shunning dangerous quests and conspiracies. Until she is summoned to Whitehall Palace, where her tapestry weaving has drawn the King’s attention.

Joanna is uncomfortable serving the King whom she has twice attempted to overthrow—unbeknownst to him. She fears for her life in a court bursting with hidden agendas and a casual disregard for the virtues she holds dear. And her suspicions are confirmed when an assassin attempts to kill her moments after arriving at Whitehall.

Struggling to stay ahead of her most formidable enemy yet, an unknown one, she becomes entangled in dangerous court politics. Her dear friend Catherine Howard is rumored to be one of the King’s mistresses. Joanna is determined to protect young, beautiful, na├»ve Catherine from becoming the King’s next wife and possibly, victim.

Set in a world of royal banquets and feasts, tournament jousts, ship voyages, and Tower Hill executions, this thrilling tale finds Joanna in her most dangerous situation yet, as she attempts to decide the life she wants to live: nun or wife, spy or subject, rebel or courtier. Joanna must finally choose her fate.

My Thoughts:
This is the third book in a series featuring former Dominican nun Joanna Stafford. You've noticed I don't read a lot of book series, as much due to the fact that I'm terrible at remembering to pick them up as much as for any lack of interest in the series. But when the publisher keeps offering the next book in a series I've enjoyed, I can't pass it up.

We were first introduced to Joanna (and many of the supporting characters in this book) in The Crown  when Henry VIII's and Thomas Cromwell's forces moved across England destroying the Catholic church and again went to battle with her in The Chalice when she was wrapped up in a conspiracy to murder King Henry. Having made numerous enemies, she is happy to have retired to life in the village of Dartford, weaving tapestries and avoiding danger.

It would appear that even when she tries to live a quiet life, others have something different in mind for her. This time she is drawn more deeply than ever into life in Henry Tudor's royal court - it's intrigues, mysteries, and machinations. Because of an early attempt on her life, and because she feels compelled to try to save her cousin, Catherine Howard, from Henry's bed, Joanna becomes embroiled in the politics of the kingdom.

Having just finished watching PBS's excellent (if massively condensed) adaptation of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, I found myself even more involved in this book than the previous books. Speaking of which, although Bilyeau spends a lot of time trying to bring the reader up to speed here, this really is not a stand alone book and it would have flowed better without the attempt to make it one.

Like the tapestries that play a key role in the book, the novel has numerous story lines woven together. Like the previous novels, Bilyeau doesn't try to tie up all of the threads in a matter of days but stretches the novel over a period of year, which feels more realistic. Things never lag along the way, though, not even when Joanna spends months imprisoned. Joanna isn't a particularly skilled detective; more of than not, she is unable to avoid bad things happening and is forced to resort to her knowledge to extricate herself. Which is a great thing about Joanna - she's a very smart, fiercely independent  woman in a time when that was rare.

Bilyeau does a fine job of working to create three-dimensional characters, even those persons we have come to have such a fixed opinion of over time. It's a moment of softness in Cromwell, that allows Joanna to come to terms with him. A shared love of tapestries with Henry that causes Joanna to momentarily consider him as a person rather than the monster she becomes convinced that he is.

My one real quibble with the book (as with the previous books) is what feels, to me, to be Bilyeau's opinion that the Catholic Church itself was blameless in the events that unfolded in England and throughout Europe when Henry broke from the church and Martin Luther's teachings became wide spread. It's the only time in the books where it feels like Bilyeau is inserting an opinion, rather than telling a story.

Still, would I read a fourth book? Absolutely!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Published April 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Source: I purchased both the paperback and audio copies of this book
Narrated by: Jeff Woodman, Richard Ferrone, Barbara Caruso

Publisher's Summary:
Meet Oskar Schell, an inventor, Francophile, tambourine player, Shakespearean actor, jeweler, pacifist, correspondent with Stephen Hawking and Ringo Starr. He is nine years old. And he is on an urgent, secret search through the five boroughs of New York. His mission is to find the lock that fits a mysterious key belonging to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11.

An inspired innocent, Oskar is alternately endearing, exasperating, and hilarious as he careens from Central Park to Coney Island to Harlem on his search. Along the way he is always dreaming up inventions to keep those he loves safe from harm. What about a birdseed shirt to let you fly away? What if you could actually hear everyone's heartbeat? His goal is hopeful, but the past speaks a loud warning in stories of those who've lost loved ones before. As Oskar roams New York, he encounters a motley assortment of humanity who are all survivors in their own way. He befriends a 103-year-old war reporter, a tour guide who never leaves the Empire State Building, and lovers enraptured or scorned. Ultimately, Oskar ends his journey where it began, at his father's grave. But now he is accompanied by the silent stranger who has been renting the spare room of his grandmother's apartment. They are there to dig up his father's empty coffin.

My Thoughts: 
I have had my paperback copy of this book since I saw the movie adaptation, starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, which I loved. And which made me cry several times. So why in the world did I think listening to the book while I drove was a good idea? It wasn't; not only did I tear up more than once, I was often so engrossed as to be something of a hazard on the roads.

Thanks to Trish (Love, Laughter, and A Touch of Insanity - yeah, her again!), I made this book a read/listen combination. She was so right to encourage me to pick the book. While the narrators did a extremely good job and book is incredibly visual and should not be missed. Ha! You see what I did there? It's what Foer does throughout the book - not overkill but enough that your ear really starts to pick it up when listening to it.

In the movie, Oskar's storyline takes center stage. His grandparents are involved but their own stories are largely left out. In the book, Foer uses all three as first-person narrators with Oskar's grandparents telling their stories through letters (his grandmother through letters she writes to Oskar, his grandfather to Oskar's dad, the son he never met). All three are buried under their own grief - Oskar as he tries to come to terms with the death of his father and his grandparents by the loss of their son but also by the loss of their families during the bombing of Dresden during World War II.

The New York Times reviewer was particularly impressed with this book, calling it "precious and forced" and, essentially, derivative. Since I'm not familiar with most of the books that reviewer referenced, I don't get that from the book. And while I sometimes wondered if I even understood what the heck Foer was trying to say, I was willing to attribute it to the mental state of the characters. I was quite taken with the the unusual additions to the book and very fond of Oskar (although I'm certain a real version of him would wear thin on me in no time).  I loved the conversations between the characters, as I did much of the writing, and this is a book that I will keep on my shelves. And you know how rarely I do that!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Life: It Goes On - June 7

I just realized that The Big Guy has a coupon on my desk for fireworks. It must really be summer at last. We have even, finally, turned on the air conditioner. Which doesn't mean it's stopped raining; it just means that now it's raining and it's hot and it's getting humid. What fun!

Miss H and I were shopping yesterday and I found some really cute Fourth of July serving pieces I was certain I needed. But I should probably have some plan to entertain on the Fourth before I buy them, right? I might just have to put those plans into action. Add one more thing to the calendar which is filling up despite the fact that we have no kid activities to tie up our summers any more. What is your summer calendar looking like?

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I finished up The Story of Beautiful Girl - still working out how I felt about this one in the end. Also caught up with a couple of episodes to Gretchen Rubin's podcast "Happier." I listened to a segment about Abundance Lovers versus Simplicity Lovers which really struck home.

Watching: I know the television's been on every night but I really can't think of a thing I've actually paid attention to, other than "Aquarius," starring David Duchovny. Really enjoying this one, although I'm a little confused by their time line.

Reading: Both Misery and Reading Lolita In Tehran for readalongs. I'll finish Misery soon, although I'm more than a little afraid to keep reading, having some idea what's coming up. Then I'll start Dolan Perkins-Valdez' (Wench) latest, Balm, for an upcoming TLC Book Tour.

Making: Once again, not much of anything that I can remember other than linguine with lobster and taco salad. I have just not had any interested in being in the kitchen of late. What have you been making? I need some inspiration!

Planning: Nothing big in the works. I need to get back to some of the smaller projects I have to do around the house but things keep coming up that knock those projects off the agenda. We'll see.

Grateful for: Miss H's advice (and her often strong "no") when I've been shopping lately. She's steered me away from boring and into getting some new things that really are making me happy.

Chubbie Carrier & The Bayou Swamp Band
Enjoying: The Omaha Summer Arts Festival. We took some friends down and met Mini-me and his girlfriend and roamed the booths, ate some overpriced but yummy festival food, and enjoyed the zydeco music of Chubby Carrier and The Bayou Swamp Band. Having a couple of artists along gives you a whole new perspective on the art. I even picked up a few Christmas presents!

Feeling: Tired. I forget how into a regular routine I am until a week goes by when I'm completely out of my routine. Definitely throws me off kilter.

Looking forward to: The College World Series - opening ceremonies start Friday and we'll be heading down with some friends again. Such a great atmosphere and I'm so proud of the great job Omaha does hosting this every year.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Fairy Tale Fridays - "Into The Woods"

I finally saw Disney's Into The Woods last weekend! Based on the Broadway musical with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, it blends the tales of Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, and the Baker and his Wife from The Gingerbread Boy. You've gotta admire Sondheim and writer James Lapin for putting together all of these stories and making it work, including the very memorable songbook (seriously, those songs are still playing in my head almost a week later - someone please make it stop!). It's iconic at this point, so kudos to Disney for even attempting an adaptation.

I'm only recently familiar with the music from Into The Woods (shocking, I know), and I'd never seen the play performed (although I have since watched the original Broadway production on YouTube with Bernadette Peters). So my feelings about the movie are bound to differ from those of die-hard fans. I know there are songs that were cut (which is a real problem for some fans) and there is no designated narrator.

Clearly this adaptation has been softened, "Disneyfied," as it were. Still, Cinderella's stepsisters cut off bits of their feet to try to fit into the slipper, the Baker's Wife still commits adultery (although it's more implied than obvious), and a lot of people die. So, still very dark and maybe not something you'll want to watch with small children.

The movie lacks much of the humor of the play (without an audience to play to) even when it stays true to the play, taking itself much more seriously. Except for when it doesn't:

Emily Blount and James Corden as the Baker and his Wife
The cast is loaded with big names and they mostly do not disappoint (although I was happy that we don't have to see much of Johnny Depp - can't say that I'm a fan of his singing abilities). I was especially impressed with the two young actors' voices and James Corden, who I really only know as Craig Ferguson's replacement on the Late, Late Show.

The songs are marvelous - witty and multilayered with repeating musical themes that help tie the entire story together. It's a musical loaded with themes and lessons, depth you don't always see in the genre. Sondheim himself says it is largely about parents and children, and, in the end, viewers are left with the idea that family is what you make of it. Also, the lessons that actions have consequences and that sometime what you think will make you happy won't necessarily end with happily-ever-after. It's best to stay true to yourself and make your own happiness.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler

Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler
Published January 2014 by St. Martin's Press
Source: my copy courtesy of my local library's book club bag

Publisher's Summary:
Eighty-nine-year-old Isabelle McAllister has a favor to ask her hairdresser Dorrie Curtis. It's a big one. Isabelle wants Dorrie, a black single mom in her thirties, to drop everything to drive Isabelle from her home in Arlington, Texas, to a funeral in Cincinnati. With no clear explanation why. Tomorrow.

Curious whether she can unlock the secrets of Isabelle's guarded past, she agrees, not knowing it will be a journey that changes both their lives.

Over the years, Dorrie and Isabelle have developed more than just a business relationship. They are friends. But Dorrie, fretting over the new man in her life and her teenage son's irresponsible choices, still wonders why Isabelle chose her.

Isabelle confesses that, as a willful teen in 1930s Kentucky, she fell deeply in love with Robert Prewitt, a would-be doctor and the black son of her family's housekeeper--in a town where blacks weren't allowed after dark. The tale of their forbidden relationship and its tragic consequences makes it clear Dorrie and Isabelle are headed for a gathering of the utmost importance and that the history of Isabelle's first and greatest love just might help Dorrie find her own way.

My Thoughts:
Based on the recommendations of many fellow bloggers, the Omaha Bookworms read Calling Me Home as our May selection. It made a great book club choice with readers both loving and not-so-much-feeling-the-love. I feel somewhere in between.

As is so often the case in a dual narrative, one story worked much better for me. Isabelle's story pulled me in from the start - I loved her spunk and her determination (even though, as a young girl, it led to so much trouble). Dorrie's story didn't work as well for me. I didn't feel like she was as solid, as though Kibler could not decide if she wanted Dorrie to be strong or not.

I understand Kibler's choice to try to explore issues from the a past and a present point of view, hence the choice to use Dorrie as a foil to Isabelle's story. Even had the stories felt more balanced, though, I would have still had issues with Dorrie's story. I'm certain I've expressed before how tired I'm getting of dual narratives with stories in both the past and present. So that's a strike any book would have to overcome from the beginning. Then there's the fact that I would much rather have been reading Robert's side of the story, or even his sister Nell's, rather than what Isabelle, looking back in time, felt had been his side of the story.

Most reviewers on Goodreads have given Calling Me Home five stars. They have almost unanimously cited a deep emotional attachment to the book. I didn't feel that, at least not throughout the book. I think moving back and forth between the two women's stories pulled me out of the emotional connection I had with Isabelle's life...the tension, the sadness, the pain. Because it was there. It's the reason so many people love this book, why so many people cried.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Silver Bay by Jojo Moyes

Silver Bay by Jojo Moyes
Published: 2007 originally, August 2014 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Liza McCullen will never fully escape her past. But the unspoiled beaches and tight-knit community of Silver Bay offer the freedom and safety she craves—if not for herself, then for her young daughter, Hannah. That is, until Mike Dormer arrives as a guest in her aunt’s hotel.

The mild-mannered Englishman with his too-smart clothes and distracting eyes could destroy everything Liza has worked so hard to protect: not only the family business and the bay that harbors her beloved whales, but also her conviction that she will never love—never deserve to love—again.

For his part, Mike Dormer is expecting just another business deal—an easy job kick-starting a resort in a small seaside town ripe for development. But he finds that he doesn’t quite know what to make of the eccentric inhabitants of the ramshackle Silver Bay Hotel, especially not enigmatic Liza McCullen, and their claim to the surrounding waters. As the development begins to take on a momentum of its own, Mike’s and Liza’s worlds collide.

My Thoughts:
It's no secret that I'm a fan of Jojo Moyes' writing and I'm not alone. She couldn't possibly write new books fast enough to keep her now legion of fans happy so Penguin Publishing Group has now released some of her earlier works for the first time in the U.S.

This one is clearly an earlier work - much more a romance novel, less emphasis on the quirky, not as witty. Which is not to say it's a bad book. It's just obvious that Moyes' was still working to find her own style. She relies more, here, on standard tropes (big business vs. the little guy, the uptight city guy vs. the nature crowd) and stock actors (the crusty old woman with a heart, the tough younger woman with a secret past) and her story line isn't as tight as I'm used to seeing from her. It's not a spoiler, either, to say there was very little suspense - you know all would end well. Still, there's enough surprises to keep it entertaining and sometimes a girl just needs a little romance. It's a quick read, with just enough depth to keep it from being too light, and, overall, I enjoyed it. Because it is, after all, Jojo Moyes. And that's never a bad thing.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Happy Anniversary!

Happy 57th anniversary to my mom and dad, the people 
who taught me all I needed to know about making a 
marriage work and last! They are truly an
inspiration for their children and 

The couple that reads together, stays together!