Sunday, August 30, 2015

Life: It Goes On

And on, and on....I feel like a broken record when I talk about what's going on in my personal life. This week, work was just as crazy! Thank goodness I got some girlfriend time on Friday night to relax and laugh and catch up. If you leave around here, we went to Block 16 and would all highly recommend it!

Miss H is set to stay where she's at until the end of October so that buys me some time to get things done around here to make her move home easier. One of her roommates has moved out so we did move her from her very tiny room in her current house into the biggest room and she was a happy girl to finally have some breathing room there.

This Week I'm:
Mini-me (second from left) and
part of his cheering section

Listening To: Mini-me read some of his poetry at the 10th anniversary celebration at the College of Communications, Fine Arts and Media at the University. They selected one person or group to represent each area of study; we were so proud that he was selected to represent the English department.

Watching: Football, football, and baseball. Not much else except some HGTV reruns.

Reading: Just finished The Likeness today. That was a fun ride! Tonight I'm starting Randy Sue Meyer's Accidents of Marriage. Which I was supposed to have reviewed last Monday. Yeah, I'm definitely off my game right now!

Making: BLT salad, red velvet cake (yes, again), naked pasta with just picked tomato and basil, and sweet pickles.

Planning: The rearranging of the house will continue. My living room sofa has now been moved to my bedroom, my bedroom bookshelves were moved to another room, Mini-him's sofa is temporarily in set up in my living room but it's much too big there so it will, this week, get moved to our family room. Then we start rearranging tv's/entertainment centers. There is not enough alcohol in this house to keep me sedated.

Now what to do about that cedar
chest that's floating around in my
bedroom now?
Grateful for: A plan. There's still a lot of work to be done but at least I do have that plan I was craving last week!

Enjoying: A farewell dinner for my nephew who is moving to Dallas next weekend. Now I'll finally be able to convince The Big Guy to come to Dallas so I can meet some of my blogging friends!

Feeling: A little cranky. Miss H was talking about getting a punching bag when she moves back home and I might just encourage that. It would be so nice to just go down and punch out my stress!

Looking forward to: A three-day weekend. Trying to figure out if I should try to add an extra day onto it.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic - Great Last Lines

Much is made of the famous first lines in literary history - those lines that pull a reader in and perfectly set up the novel. But what about last lines? Those lines that you are left with, a line that might make or break a reader's opinion about all of the sentences that have proceeded it? Turns out, there are quite a lot of them and some are truly brilliant. And many of them are found in children's books. 

"Are there any questions?"
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaseless into the past."
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

"It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

"After all, tomorrow is another day."
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

"But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing."
The House At Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne

"Yes," I said. "Isn't it pretty to think so?"
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

"Max stepped into his private boat and waved goodbye and sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day and into the night of his very own room where he found his supper waiting for him - and it was still warm."
Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

"This is not a full circle. It's Life carrying on. It's the next book we all take. It's the choice we make to get on with it."
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller

"A LAST NOTE FROM YOUR NARRATOR. I am haunted by humans."
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

"The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but it was already impossible to say which was which."
Animal Farm by George Orwell

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Some Luck by Jane Smiley

Some Luck by Jane Smiley
Published October 2014 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: purchased this one for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
On their farm in Denby, Iowa, Rosanna and Walter Langdon abide by time-honored values that they pass on to their five wildly different children: from Frank, the handsome, willful first born, and Joe, whose love of animals and the land sustains him, to Claire, who earns a special place in her father’s heart.

Each chapter in Some Luck covers a single year, beginning in 1920, as American soldiers like Walter return home from World War I, and going up through the early 1950s, with the country on the cusp of enormous social and economic change. As the Langdons branch out from Iowa to both coasts of America, the personal and the historical merge seamlessly: one moment electricity is just beginning to power the farm, and the next a son is volunteering to fight the Nazis; later still, a girl you’d seen growing up now has a little girl of her own, and you discover that your laughter and your admiration for all these lives are mixing with tears.

My Thoughts:
This word came up the other night when my book club was talking about this book, "minutiae." Well, that pretty much sums it up. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Just a warning.

This is mostly a very quiet book, full of the details that make up a life and reveal it in depth. Which is unusual to find in a book that spans thirty years. If you're a person that gives up on a book after 50 pages, there's the very real chance that this one isn't for you. It's all about connecting with the Langdon family and given that a good chunk of the first part of the book is told from the point of view of infants with not much happening, it's hard to get into.

In fact, if I hadn't been committed to reading it for book club, I'm not sure I would have stuck with it. In the end, I'm not sure how much I liked it. Smiley does do a wonderful job of taking her readers deeply into life on a Midwest farm in the first half of the last century. Seriously, I'm not sure what made women marry farmers then. Except that, of course, all of their family lived on farms nearby, as did both Rosanna's and Walter's families and that made for an interesting three-generation dynamic.

Two things that threw me: from the beginning, it seemed that the story was about the entire Langdon family and yet, very often, it felt like it was a book about Frank and the people around him. Which brought me to the second issue - when Frank went off to World War II, we went with him to Africa and then Italy where he served as a sniper. It seemed to me it would have been more in keeping with the rest of the book to have stayed with the family, to have seen how the war affected those left at home.

This is the first book of a planned trilogy. I'm not sure where Smiley will be going with the next book, if she'll be following Frank or one of his siblings or picking up with one of the other characters. I don't very much, though, that I'll read it even though I'd give this one a three star rating assuming I rated books here.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Life: It Goes On

Second verse, same as the first - Miss H has started moving things home this week. We're still not sure exactly when she will be completely moved back but she has filled my dining room twice this week with things that we had to sort and repack before they went back upstairs.

It's not so much the having them move back home that's the problem (although I am going to miss having a guest room!). It's the not knowing how long they're staying (so, not knowing how settled we need to get them). I NEED A PLAN, PEOPLE!!! Yeah, it might be starting to get to me.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Still On Beauty. Must say, now that we're shoulder deep into an infidelity story line, I'm not loving it as much.

Watching: The Big Guy's been out of town this past week so the television's been off quite a bit. Miss H has been around quite a lot so when the television's been on, we've watched baseball. Lots of baseball. Including the movie Fever Pitch with Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore. Of course, I'm also watching as much preseason football as I can.

Reading: Well, Bout of Books was a bust. I did finish Some Luck but have hardly made a dent in The Likeness. I thought it was going to be a quiet week with a lot of alone time. I was wrong.

Making: We kept it pretty simple this week since I was never sure how many I was cooking for any night - one, two, or three. Today, though, I took advantage of zucchini a coworker brought in to make a couple of loaves of zucchini bread and a batch of savory zucchini bars.

Planning: This week continue to be about putting things in order and doing some rearranging so we are ready when Miss H's furniture comes home. And trying to find a home for that sectional which is still piled up in my living room.

Grateful for: Good news for my mom this week, health wise. A girl worries about her mommy, you know?

Enjoying: Alcohol, not gonna lie. A glass of wine here, a bottle of beer there, a cocktail now and then. It's keeping me from going crazy with all of this upheaval!

Feeling: Like I need a girls night. Yeah, I know I just had book club this week but I need my besties - we haven't all been together in much too long.

Looking forward to: This! Thirteen days and counting!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

Some books creep up on you. They may take pages and pages to pull you in. It took Muriel Barberry more than 100 pages to draw me fully into The Elegance of The Hedgehog. It took Tana French just 2 pages. I wanted to share some of that with you today.
"Picture a summer stolen whole from some coming-of-age film set in small-town 1950's. This is none of Ireland's subtle seasons mixed for a connoisseur's palate, watercolor nuances within a pinch-sized range of cloud and soft rain; this is summer full0throated and extravagant in a hot pure silkscreen blue. This summer explodes on your tongue tasting of chewed blades of long grass, your own clean sweat. Marie biscuits with butter squirting through the holes and shaken bottles of red lemonade picnicked in tree houses. It tingles on your skin with BMX wind in your face, ladybug feet up your arm; it packs every breath full of mown grass and billowing wash lines; it chimes and fountains with birdcalls, bees, leaves and football-bounces and skipping-chants. One! two! three! This summer will never end. It starts every day with a shower of Mr. Whippy notes and your best friend's knock at the door, finishes it with long slow twilight and mothers silhouetted in doorways calling you to come in, through the bats shrilling among the black lace trees. This is Everysummer decked in all its best glory."
"Move closer, follow the three children scrambling over the thin membrane of brick and mortar that holds the wood back from the semi-ds. Their bodies have the perfect economy of latency: they are streamlined and unselfconscious, pared to light flying machines. White tattoos - lightning bolt, star, A-flash where they cut Band-Aids into shapes and let the sun brown around them. A flag of white-blond hair flies out; toehold, knee on the wall, up and over and gone.
The wood is all flicker and murmur and illusion. Its silence it a pointillist conspiracy of a million tiny noises - rustles, flurries, nameless truncated shrieks; its emptiness teems with secret life, scurrying just beyond the corner of your eye. Careful: bees zip in and out of cracks in the leaning oak; stop to turn any stone and strange larvae will write irritably, who an earnest three of ants twines up your ankle. In the ruined tower, someone's abandoned strongholds, nettles thick as your wrist seize between the stones, and at dawn rabbits bring their kittens out from the foundations to play on ancient graves.
These three children own the summer. They know the wood as surely as they know the micro landscapes of their own grazed knees; put them down blindfolded in any dell or clearing and they find their way out without putting a foot wrong. This is their territory, and they rule it wild and lordly as young animals; they scramble through its trees and hide-and-seek in its hollows all the endless day long, and all night in their dreams.
They are running into legend, into sleepover stories and nightmares parents never hear. Down the faint lost paths you would never find alone, skidding round the tumbled stone walls, they stream calls and shoelaces behind them like comet-trails. And who is it waiting on the riverbank with his hands in the willow branches, whose laughter tumbles swaying from a branch high above, whose face in the undergrowth in the corner of your eye, built of light and leaf-shadow, there and gone in a blink?
These children will not be coming of age, this or any other summer. This August will not ask them to find hidden reserves of strength and courage as they confront the complexity of the adult world and come away sadder and wiser and bonded for life. This summer has other requirements for them."
In two pages, just two, French manages to thoroughly immerse her readers in the book's setting and the darkness that will enfold them. Brilliant.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

In The Woods by Tana French

In The Woods (Dublin Murder Squad Series #1) by Tana French
Published May 2007 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: purchased this one at Target on May 26, 2009 - found the receipt still in the book!

Publisher's Summary:
As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.

Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a twelve-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox—his partner and closest friend—find themselves investigating a case chillingly similar to the previous unsolved mystery. Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past.

My Thoughts:
Tomorrow I'll share some of the first couple of pages of this book with you. Then, if I can't make you understand here, you'll understand why I was so impressed with this book. I've previously read Broken Harbor and The Secret Place (books 4 and 5 in the series) and been awed by French's writing but the level of writing in the debut novel really wow'd me.
"What I warn you to remember is that I am a detective. Our relationship with truth is fundamental but cracked, refracting confusingly like fragmented glass. It is the core of our careers, the endgame of every move we make, and we pursue it with strategies painstakingly constructed of lies and concealment and every variation on deception. The truth is the most desirable woman in the world ad we are the most jealous lovers, reflexively denying anyone else the slightest glimpse of her. We betray her routinely, spending hours and days stupor-deep in lies, and then turn back to her holding out the lover's ultimate Mobius strip: But I only did it because I love you so much."
And so it will go - a dance between the truth and lies.

Rob Ryan is a wonderfully flawed narrator, as much scarred by the aftermath of what happened to him in 1984 as by the events themselves. With no memory of what happened to him, both Rob and Cassie know that he is treading in dangerous waters as they investigate the murder of Katy Devlin.
"There was a time when I believed, with the police and the media and my stunned parents, that I was the redeemed one, the boy borne safely home on the ebb of whatever freak tide carried Peter and Jamie away. Not any more. In ways too dark and crucial to be called metaphorical, I never left that wood."
As memories begin to seep in, Ryan begins to self-destruct. It was fascinating to watch, as was the relationship between Rob and Cassie. French surrounds them an interesting cast of characters and weaves the two mysteries together seamlessly.

This being French, things are dark, the atmosphere is palpable, the dialogue is strong, and the characters are well-written. There is nothing here that says this is a starting point for French, now watch her grow. It was, perhaps, a bit too long and occasionally loses focus but that's a small complaint given how much I enjoyed the book.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: My Top Ten Auto-Buy Authors

This week the ladies over at The Broke and The Bookish are asking us for the top ten authors that we will automatically buy any time they publish a new book. Of course, this would be easier for me if Jane Austen and any of the Brontes could publish a new book, but I suppose that's too much to ask for. In no particular order, here are my top ten must-buy authors:

1. Ann Patchett - although I haven't actually read all of her books yet, anything I haven't read yet is definitely on my to-buy list.

Thrity Umrigar
2. Thrity Umrigar - if I haven't read it, it's already sitting on my bookshelves.

3. Timothy Shaffert - and not just because he does an awesome lit festival!

4. Emily St. John Mandel - I've liked her since her first novel and she's only improved since then.

Peter Geye
5. Peter Geye - two books, two impressive pieces of writing.

6. Cathy Marie Buchanan - she blends history and fiction marvelously.

7. Jojo Moyes - why, yes, I will be buying After as soon as it comes out.

8. Tana French - in fact, I have bought all five of her books. Three read, two to go.

Ami McKay
9. Ami McKay - history and fiction blended with a focus on women's issues.

10. ??? - I'm leaving this one open for one of the authors I've read and enjoyed to suck me in with a second book and convince me that I can't pass them up. Amor Towles? Rebecca Rotert? Mary Doria Russell?

Which authors are on your must-buy list, the authors who never disappoint?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Bout of Books

Jumping in to Bout of Books Read-a-Thon at the last minute. The Big Guy is out of town this week and I deserve the chance to relax and read a lot this week! I'll knock off this month's book club selection today then I'm on to Tana French's The Likeness. The question after that will be if I should move onto French's third book Faithful Place or join the readalong for The Snow Child which I might not get to this month otherwise.

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 17th and runs through Sunday, August 23rd in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 14 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Published September 2013 by St. Martin's Press
Source: bought this one at HalfPrice Books

Publisher's Summary:
Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan is her life--and she's really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it's what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath's sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can't let go. She doesn't want to. Now that they're going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn't want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She's got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can't stop worrying about her dad, who's loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

My Thoughts:
Y'all know how much I love Rainbow Rowell, right? I've had this one for a while but have been saving it, knowing that she didn't have another book coming out for a while.

When I listened to Rowell speak last August, she said this was the book she was most proud of, the book she feels is her best. She feels it is her most complex and I would have to agree with her. In it, she's had to create a fantasy fiction series (think "Harry Potter"), fan fiction based on that series and a story about a girl who writes that fan fiction (hence, the title).

This may be Rowell's favorite of her books; it wasn't mine. Perhaps if I were a fan of the kind of fiction this book is centered around, I would have enjoyed it more, the "quotes" from the original material, the passages of fanfic Cath wrote. For me, there was just too much of all of that. I would far have preferred that the story stay focused on Cath - her relationship with Wren and her father and her adjustment to college. Because when Rowell is focused there, the story is strong.

Cath is a girl who is both young for her age and wise beyond her years. She and Wren have had to survive the pain of having their mother leave them when they were very young and the reality of living with a father who suffers from bipolar disorder. But without Wren, Cath might fold entirely into herself. So when Wren decides it's time for her to become her own person, Cath is left feeling betrayed and alone. Anyone who's ever been off to college, away from their parents for the first time, knows how adrift you can feel...and how free you can feel. For Cath, then loneliness is almost more than she can bear. For Wren, the freedom is almost more than she can handle.

As always, Rowell's strength is in her dialogue and the interactions between her characters. When Rowell veers away from that, when she introduces long passages of Cath's writing, I lost my focus. That's not to say that some of that wasn't an integral part of the story - it was, after all, a key bond between Wren and Cath and the way by which Cath first attracts the boy. Less of it would have worked fine, I think. I found myself completely skipping over these parts and losing out on some of what Rowell was saying about relationships. Also? The ending does not work when you haven't paid attention to Cath's writing up to that point.

Fans of the fanfic piece of this novel, will be happy to know that Rowell's latest novel is actually the novel that Cath was writing in this one. As for me, I'll be waiting for Rowell to return to reality. Although with a couple of graphic novels on her horizon as well, I don't think she'll be returning there any time soon.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Life: It Goes On - August 16

Woe is me - today is the last day of my mini-vacation which I thought would be full of "me" projects. Yeah, not so much.

Two evenings, one whole day, and part of yesterday were spent moving Mini-him home and getting things settled here. Part of a another day was  spent moving furniture here around so that his stuff would fit back in his room.  And are we done moving yet? No. There is still a sectional sofa stacked in my living room because it wouldn't fit down the stairs. Still working on a solution for that. Then last night Miss H told me she may be moving back sooner than previously thought. As in maybe by the end of this month. Just when I had decided that I really liked being an empty nester!

I swear we just moved him in and now he's out - and piled up in my living room!
This Week I'm:

Listening To: Continuing with Zadie Smith's On Beauty and very much enjoying it.

Watching: Oh, you know, my Housewives (much to The Big Guy's chagrin) and a lot of home decorating shows. New to me this week, on HGTV, is "Saving America" which just debuted today. Not that I can institute any of the ideas I'm seeing now, what with all of the extra furniture around and no time to do anything.

Reading: I finished In The Woods the other day. Now I'm racing to finish Jane Smiley's Some Luck for book club. That one is making me work - I feel a bit like I'm reading the 1930's Facebook page of an Iowa housewife...often as seen through the eyes of her children. Move along already! Once that gets knocked off, I'm back to Tana French with The Likeness.

Making: Um, nothing? Being so busy this week, we've kept it simple, some grilling, some corn on the cob. I did roast corn to use on a lot of things during the week and there was the great roasted beet/rhubarb experiment (more on that later).

Iroh enjoying the stack of sectional pieces!
Planning: Spending the next week rearranging furniture, trying to make room for that sectional and to find a place for Miss H to come home to - remember, she doesn't have a room here any more since I took her room for my office!

Grateful for: Friday Mini-me's girlfriend and I went to Lincoln to help my parents do some work around their house. How great is a girlfriend who will spend one of her few days between summer classes and fall practicals helping my parents? The trip might not have been in my plans, but I'm always happy to get to spend time with my parents and pay them back even a tiny bit for all they've done for us.

Enjoying: Getting a lot of one-on-one time with Mini-him. And sleeping in for the past five days! All days should start at 8:30 a.m. - with several cups of coffee and a book!

Feeling: A bit overwhelmed. I'm going to take today "off" and then make a plan. Because I love plans  and everything will be better once there's a plan.

Looking forward to: Book club this week - I need some time with my ladies!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell

Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell
Published March 2012 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my audiobook copy purchased at my local library sale

Publisher's Summary:
Of all the countries the United States invaded or colonized in 1898, Sarah Vowell considers the story of the Americanization of Hawaii to be the most intriguing. From the arrival of the New England missionaries in 1820, who came to Christianize the local heathens, to the coup d'├ętat led by the missionaries' sons in 1893, overthrowing the Hawaiian queen, the events leading up to American annexation feature a cast of beguiling, if often appalling or tragic, characters. Whalers who fire cannons at the Bible-thumpers denying them their god-given right to whores; an incestuous princess pulled between her new god and her brother-husband; sugar barons, con men, Theodore Roosevelt, and the last Hawaiian queen, a songwriter whose sentimental ode "Aloha 'Oe" serenaded the first Hawaiian-born president of the United States during his 2009 inaugural parade.

With her trademark wry insights and reporting, Vowell sets out to discover the odd, emblematic, and exceptional history of the fiftieth state. In examining the place where Manifest Destiny got a sunburn, she finds America again, warts and all.

My Thoughts:
If you've never read history as explored by Sarah Vowell, you're missing out on history as seen through the eyes of someone who presents a thoroughly researched exploration of the facts with a sense of humor and irony.
“For Americans, Acts 16:9 is the high-fructose corn syrup of Bible verses--an all-purpose ingredient we'll stir into everything from the ink on the Marshall Plan to canisters of Agent Orange. Our greatest goodness and our worst impulses come out of this missionary zeal, contributing to our overbearing (yet not entirely unwarranted) sense of our country as an inherently helpful force in the world. And, as with the apostle Paul, the notion that strangers want our help is sometimes a delusion.” 
I listened to this one which might have been a fine choice if I hadn't been driving. It's really hard to absorb all the information Vowell packs into a book while trying to avoid construction cones and people who are more focused on their telephone conversation than on their driving. It's also hard to focus when there is not a unifying theme (other than the obvious, Hawaii) and when the author has a tendency to go off track. Fortunately, Vowell also packs her books with so many "hey, listen to this" moments that there are bound to be things that stick even in those circumstances.

For example, did you know that the reason the Hawaiian flag includes the Union Jack is because once upon a time a Royal Navy captain brokered a deal with Hawaiian king Kamehameha to make Hawaii a British protectorate. Which, apparently, the British government never acknowledged. Says Vowell,
"That's how stuck up the British were. Whole archipelagoes were handed to them and they were too busy ruining continents to notice."
Vowell makes no bones about not being a fan organized religion and those missionaries take a hit in her version of things, to be sure. More than the missionaries themselves, she takes aim at the organization who shipped these people to a land they had no concept of to save them from themselves against their wills. Vowell also pulls no punches when talking about the Hawaiian royals, the American politicians, and the sailers on the whaling ships that raised hell in the Hawaiian ports during the height of the whaling industry.

I would have liked a more focused work but any time you get Vowell narrating her own work, with guest stars reading from various cited works, it's going to be a fun "read." After all, what other historian would both start and end their book using plate lunches as a symbol for the complicated, mixed history of Hawaii?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Circling The Sun by Paula McLain

Circling The Sun by Paula McLain
Published July 2015 by Ballantine Books
Source: the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Brought to Kenya from England as a child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by both her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who share his estate. Her unconventional upbringing transforms Beryl into a bold young woman with a fierce love of all things wild and an inherent understanding of nature’s delicate balance. But even the wild child must grow up, and when everything Beryl knows and trusts dissolves, she is catapulted into a string of disastrous relationships.

Beryl forges her own path as a horse trainer, and her uncommon style attracts the eye of the Happy Valley set, a decadent, bohemian community of European expats who also live and love by their own set of rules. But it’s the ruggedly charismatic Denys Finch Hatton who ultimately helps Beryl navigate the uncharted territory of her own heart. The intensity of their love reveals Beryl’s truest self and her fate: to fly.

My Thoughts:
I'm not sure how I first became aware of Beryl Markham; I added her autobiography West With The Night to my Goodreads TBR list in June 2011. Four years later when I became aware of Paula McLain's fictionalized account of Markham's life, I went straight to Netgalley to see if I could get a copy of it. Having recently read and enjoyed McLain's The Paris Wife, I definitely went into this book with high expectations.

What I hadn't realized going into the book was that Markham's true love was Finch Hatton, who was also the lover of Karen Blixen (a.k.a. Isak Dineson) who wrote Out Of Africa, a book I enjoyed which became a movie I loved. Circling The Sun threw me, once again, into that time in Africa, when Britain oversaw what was then called British East Africa, when the wild life was still wild and the British were still working to "civilize" the country.
"Before Kenya was Kenya, when it was millions of years old and yet still somehow new, the name belonged only to our most magnificent mountain."
Beryl Markham was a woman who was made for life in that time and that place. When her mother left her, Beryl was left largely to her own devices. She had only a very brief formal education - instead she learned about the land from the natives who lived nearby and from her father as he raised and trained racing horses. She knew, even as a young girl, that the traditional roles of women (both native and British) were not for her and that she would have to learn to be tough.
"Softness and helplessness got you nothing in this place. Tears only emptied you out."
Before she was even 18, Markham's father approved of her marriage to a much older man when he could no longer take care of her. Almost immediately, Markham realized it was the wrong choice but it was only the first in a series of bad personal choices she would make; she was a headstrong young woman without a mother figure to lean on or learn from and only her heart to follow in a land where gossip was a very dangerous thing.
"A lion is more cautious on equal footing, but even then he won't back down. He has no fear, you see, not as we understand it. He can only be exactly what he is, what his nature dictates, and nothing else."
Eventually Markham met Finch Hatton, and, through him, the author Karen Blixen. The three became close friends.
"I was...surprised at how very much I liked these two. There wasn't anything simple about them, and I preferred that, and trusted it. My life wasn't simple either."
The relationship between the three would not be simple, either, when Finch Hatton and Markham became lovers even while he was still living with Blixen. Eventually, it would drive Markham into the arms of another man and a second marriage that would end acrimoniously in just a few years.

Through it all, Markham found a way to survive, going back time and again to the one thing she knew - horse training. To support not only herself, but her dearest friend and his family, she persevered until she became the first woman to be a licensed horse trainer. When that was longer an option, she became one of the first female pilots, the first to fly solo across the Atlantic.
"Lakwet [the name Markham had given herself as a young girl when her mother left] was only a name after all. I had forged her myself, out of broken, learning to love wildness instead of fearing it. To thrive on the exhilaration of the hunt, charging headlong into the world even - or especially - when it hurt to do it."
Markham's live was never easy but it was a full life full of passion and reward. McLain does a wonderful job of bringing it all to life and show readers what it means to be a survivor against all odds.

Monday, August 10, 2015

2015 Big Book Summer Challenge

You know how August is almost half over - and, for some of you, summer is all but done? Yeah, well, I just remembered to tell you all about this challenge I've been participating in again this summer, the Big Book Summer Challenge hosted by Sue of Book by Book. I've been killing this one, if I do say so myself!

Over the summer I've read these books over 400 pages:
The Book of Night Women - 417 pages
We Are Not Ourselves - 620 pages
Big Little Lies - 460 pages
Fangirl - 445 pages

That may be all of the big books I get finished for the summer with the books I have planned for August but I'm happy with that if it ends up being my final production. Have you settled into any big books this summer?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Life: It Goes On - August 9

Just finished updating my Goodreads page for the first time in months and find that I have now read 45 books this year which is below what I've often read by this time but only 5 books away from reaching my goal for the year. I set a lower goal this year because I wanted to make sure I wasn't reading just to reach a particular number and to make sure that I allowed myself time for big books. Even so, I've often felt like I was jammed up with books I had to race through which has pushed up that number. And yet, I just signed up for a scheduled review each of the next three months - as that old song says, "I'm just a girl who cain't say no!" Bloggers, how do you balance it all?

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I finished Sarah Vowell's Unfamiliar Fishes on Friday and started Zadie Smith's On Beauty. While I was familiar with the title when I picked this one up, I find that I had no idea what it was about until I started listening.

Watching: The final episode of "The Daily Show." Gonna miss Jon Stewart's take on the world! What we did not watch? The Republican debate. We had family over and that was not the thing to turn on with people of differing opinions present.

Reading: Loving Tana French's In The Woods. It's particularly impressive considering it was her debut novel.

Making: Hey, I finally did the beets and rhubarb. More on that another time but let's just say that Martha Stewart led me astray. For our family dinner the other night, I did fare a little better - I made the broccoli/raisin salad, cucumber dip, and a killer (if I do say so myself) roasted corn and black bean salsa. Our tomatoes are coming in so, yeah, we may have had BLT's twice this week!

Planning: A move for Mini-him this week. He's still working to find a new place with some different friends so it looks like he'll be moving home for a short bit this week. Cuz who wouldn't want to move someone twice in a couple of weeks?

Grateful for: Time with my family - nothing better than sitting around the dinner table with my parents, a couple of my kids, my sister, my sister-in-law, and my nephew sharing good food and laughs. Actually, the one thing better would have been to have the whole family there!

Enjoying: Finally getting to meet on of the first people I befriended when I discovered bookish people on the internet! Lori (An Irreverent Escapade) and I "met" seven years ago as part of a Goodreads group. Friday night we got to meet in person (gotta love that her new guy is from Nebraska and brought her to me!)! Summer. Made!

Friday night's Balloon & Wine Festival
Feeling: Blessed. I am surrounded by a wonderful family and great friends. What more does a girl need?

Looking forward to: Three days off this week, just because. It will make the moving easier and allow me time to head to my parents' (with Mini-me's girlfriend who volunteered to go in to help them around the house - before she even knew I had time to join her!). Two day work week? I think I can handle that!

What are you looking forward to this week?

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

Book reviews? What book reviews? I do have reviews to write but I've been reading too much to take time to write the reviews. Is there actually such a thing as too much uniquely portable magic?

I finally finished Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell which has been on my nightstand for a couple of months. I moved Tana French's In The Woods onto the nightstand for exactly one night. Seriously killer opening pages. I can't just read a few pages a day. So when I finished Paula McLain's Circling The Sun, In The Woods became my main read. Instead, Jane Austen's Love and Friendship got moved to the nightstand. It will be great for little bits of reading at a time.

Which puts me right in line for a couple of readalongs that I haven't exactly officially signed up for in August but which I'm going to try to at least do on my own because they are all books I own and have been wanting to read. After In The Woods, it's on to Eowyn Evey's The Snow Child, also part of a readalong, and then back to the French readalong. That group is reading the first three books in the Dublin Murder Squad series in August.

Now, if I'm really reading up a storm, Circling The Sun  has me inspired to read Beryl Markham's West With The Night and to reread Isak Dineson's Out of Africa. Or maybe just watch the movie? I don't know what I love more about that movie - the scenery, the characters, that house, or the music.

So, yeah, maybe the house will just have to take care of itself the rest of August. This girl's got a lot of great reading to take care of instead! Maybe I'll actually getting around to writing a few reviews while I'm at it.

What books are you looking forward to reading this month?

Monday, August 3, 2015

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee
Published July 2015 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: loaned to me by a friend

Publisher's Summary:
Go Set a Watchman features many of the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird some twenty years later. Returning home to Maycomb to visit her father, Jean Louise Finch—Scout—struggles with issues both personal and political, involving Atticus, society, and the small Alabama town that shaped her.

My Thoughts:
I wasn't going to read this one - I'm still vehemently opposed to the way it came to be published at all and the way that HarperCollins has marketed it. But when a friend offered to loan me her copy, I didn't hesitate. If I might, ultimately, be convinced to read it, I might as well read it now while everyone's talking about it and be able to form my own opinion.

Go Set A Watchman is neither a prequel to To Kill A Mockingbird (although it was written first), nor is it a sequel (although it is set later). Instead, it's a first draft of a what would become a beloved classic. It was rejected by the publisher when it was first presented to them. Had TKAM not become so popular, had Lee written more than one book, this book would likely never have seen the light of day. I can't help but think that Lee must have, at some point in her life, considered writing a sequel to TKAM. If she has wanted it to be this, I would think she would have reworked it and published it. She didn't do that and I don't believe that she truly wanted this published.

I didn't first read To Kill A Mockingbird until a couple of years ago, so I don't have a decades-long love of it that was going to be shattered by reading this (unlike when I discovered what a terrible father Bronson Alcott was, which has forever tainted my believed Little Women). Still, knowing that I was going to be meeting a racist Atticus Finch in GSAW was disconcerting. Oh, yes, I know, it's more realistic to that time and place. And, yes, I know that Atticus comes off as yet another white savior in TKAM. And that there will always be something missing in a book that deals with racism from a white person's point of view.

I went into Go Set A Watchman trying to think of it as an entirely different book that just happened to have some of the same characters. Which might have worked better if Lee had thrown Atticus' racism at readers right from the get go. Instead, as seen through Jean Louise's eyes, we see the saintly Atticus we're familiar with until almost half way through the book. Suddenly we get an entirely different man. Now how, I wondered, could this have come as such a surprise to twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise? Surely at some point in her life hints would have been dropped, at least. Lee explained it this way:
"Did she see it in stark relief because she had been away from it? Had it percolated gradually through the years until now? Had it always been under her nose for her to see if she had only looked. No, not the last."
But, of course, it would have to have been the last, at least to some extent, for Jean Louise and readers of TKAM. We are prone to see our heroes with halos over their heads.
" you, Miss, born with your own conscience, somewhere along the line fastened it like a barnacle onto your father's. As you grew up, when you were grown, totally unknown to yourself, you confused your father with a God. You never saw him as a man with a man's heart, and see, he makes so few mistakes, but he makes 'em like all of us."
The first part of the book plays like a traditional ode to the glorious South where life was slow, small towns flourished with populations who had lived there for generations. Jean Louise has come home for a holiday from New York to a place she has never felt she belonged. She battles an aunt who wants her to become a proper Southern woman, a lowborn beau who would have her settle in Maycomb, and her own memories of an idyllic youth and her beloved brother. And then everything changes.

The second part of the book is, in fact, nearly entirely debates between Jean Louise and her uncle and father. The two men try to explain to her the Southern liberal point of view in the 1950's - they must protect a minority that has not yet become civilized enough to care for itself and the Federal government and NAACP have no business butting in. We also get an entirely new view of why the Civil War was fought.

Go Set A Watchman may well be more true to what would have been the norm at that time. It certainly feels that it must have been truer to Lee's own beliefs. But a book that couldn't be published in the 1950's certainly won't work sixty years later.
"For thus hath the Lord said unto me,
Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth."

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Life: It Goes On - August 2

So - August. Back in the day, August meant one more month of summer and vacations. Then for 18 years it meant hurry up and get everything we want to do during the summer done quickly because school's starting in a couple of weeks. I think I was the only mom I knew who wasn't ready for the kids to go back to school!

Now we can relax again and not worry about summer ending soon. I may not even watch the news for the next couple of weeks so I can avoid all of the back-to-school news and ads and keep my mind in a summer zen state.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'm about halfway through Sarah Vowell's Unfamiliar Fishes and learning a lot. Although, I must say that sometimes, her voice can get kind of annoying. And she can really get off topic.

Watching: Last night we went to see Ian McKellen in "Mr Holmes." We both enjoyed it quite a lot - there's humor, sadness, little tugs at the heart strings (yeah, yeah - I know we're being manipulated but I didn't care) and McKellen is just superb. It's based on the book A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin; you know that's been added to my ridiculously long list of books to read.

Reading: I finished Go Set A Watchman the other day and started Paula McLain's Circling The Sun which I'm about a third of the way through already. Also finished Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl. Mixed feelings about that one.

Making: Oh have I been busy in the kitchen this week! Just because we had all kinds of fresh fruit that needed to be used up, I made a fruit pizza Sunday. For Mini-him's birthday dinner on Monday, I made Asian chicken salad, red velvet cake and stuffed hot banana peppers. Tuesday we made a pork tenderloin which lead to Cuban sandwiches on Wednesday. Thursday was peanut satay chicken stir fry - sounded delicious but the sauce was so bland. Will not be repeating that one. Yesterday we went to the farmer's market and brought home all kinds of goodies so I'm looking forward to working with those ingredients this week. I'm going way out of my comfort zone in working with beets - will actually be trying a recipe that included them with rhubarb.

Planning: On finally getting my office decorated. Paint colors finalized, some furniture moved out with different pieces ready to come in once the painting is done, and a rug picked out.

Grateful for: Ibuprofen - and even it hasn't entirely been able to tame the headache I've had since Friday. All those peanuts in that picture above? Too many for a person who has something of a peanut allergy. Boy, is my body making me pay for that one!

Enjoying: Farmer's markets - two in one weekend! Although, I tend to get a little cranky with people who can't seem to understand they need to use some crowd etiquette.

Feeling: A bit anxious - two of our kids are going to have to be moving shortly and we're not quite sure what that will entail. Perhaps back with us, maybe short term, maybe longer. Just when I'd gotten used to us having the house to ourselves!

Looking forward to: Some time off work soon - although how that will be spent, I'm not sure yet. Perhaps a quick trip to Colorado, perhaps a few days at home to get some projects done. The debate wages on!

What are you looking forward to this week? What's the best book you've read so far this summer?