Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Banned Books Week - Teaching My Children To Think For Themselves

When I became a parent, I became someone who had to say "no" a lot. No hitting, no throwing food, no driving without a seatbelt, no putting a fork in the toaster. One thing I never said "no" about was reading. Anything.

My kids come from a long line of children who have read books that have since been banned for one reason or another: James and the Giant Peach, Harriet The Spy, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Outsiders, and A Wrinkle In Time. It really never even occurred to me to forbid my own children from reading something when they were young.

When the "Goosebumps" series became "the" thing to read for,  grade school kids, my eldest devoured them. He must have read thirty of them. My mother was appalled. But he was reading and I was thrilled by that. If they had influenced his behavior in any way, then we might have had to look at letting him read them. But they didn't. They gave him a fun escape and reinforced the idea that reading can be fun in a lot of ways.

So they read scandalizing books including Charlie and The Chocolate Factory (poor philosophy of life), The Lorax (it criminalized the foresting industry and would encourage children against logging), Where The Wild Things Are (promotes witchcraft and supernatural events), Harry Potter (promotes godless witchcraft), Strega Nona (magic), Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (because scary, of course), In The Night Kitchen (nudity), and The Adventures of Captain Underpants (apparently seeing characters in underwear is dangerous?).

Nebraska's a pretty conservative state but that never stopped my kids' teachers from including books in the curriculum that had been challenged in other places. In school my kids read The Giver, Bridge To Terabithia, The Chocolate War, Lord of The Flies, and The Call of The Wild. I may have been largely unaware of what had been challenged in other places, but you can be sure that school had to have known and used the books any way. I'm not saying that there haven't been books that have been challenged in our school district. But it has largely stood by the opinion that every parent must decide for themselves and have not forced one parent's opinion onto everyone. So Speak and Cut were available to my daughter, who needed them; A Light In The Attic helped encourage a love of poetry which is now one of my son's passions; and Ender's Game which fed my other son's love of sci-fi and fantasy.

All of that and not one of my kids has been drawn into witchcraft or chained themselves to a tree in protest (although I wouldn't really have a problem with that) or try to to school in nothing but their underwear and a cape. I doubt very much that they even really noticed that the little boy in In The Night Kitchen was naked and, quite frankly, they liked being scared by their books.

Not only have I never felt that my kids were harmed by anything they read, I have always felt like the learned something from everything they read. They learned that it's okay to be silly, to dream, that one individual can make a difference, that they should surround themselves with people who love and support them, that sometimes life is scary and sad, and that good things can happen when people stand up to evil. Most of all, they've learned to think for themselves and form their own opinions. All of the things that their dad and I have been teaching them all of their lives.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Here Comes The Dreamer by Carole Giangrande

Here Comes The Dreamer by Carole Giangrande
Published September 2015 by Inanna Publications
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Alastair Luce is a dreamer, one of three who tell this tale.

A Canadian expat in the 1950s, he lives in a New York City suburb with his wife, Nora, a passionate American who misses the excitement of wartime life and finds an outlet — and a lover — during the Red scare. Alastair’s an artist, a quiet man who paints houses for a living, fears atomic holocaust, drinks too much and worries about his suffering child Grace. Just before the accident that kills his daughter’s best friend Todd, he offers a ride to their teenage neighbour, Claire Bernard.

She continues the story as a witness to tragedy, a wry observer of suburban mores and a compassionate friend of Alastair, whose talent and politics she’d long admired. Yet in the era of Vietnam, she’s not prepared for his love or his anguish as she marries and leaves for Canada. In Toronto, it’s Alastair’s exiled daughter Grace who speaks, giving voice to her fury, an artist who works to “burn” the city down with brilliant colour, who resents Claire for hurting her dad, and still grieves the loss of young Todd. Yet Grace, Claire and Alastair are bound together by their history, and a crisis draws their painful stories to a climax. It’s then that Grace ventures homeward for the first time, into a startling vision of the unknown.

My Thoughts:
Here's proof that it's possible to tell a story full of depth and complex characters and not take 1000 pages to do it. Giangrande has managed to intertwine the story of these three characters' lives, spanning decades and covering a wealth of themes in just over 125 pages.
"In her was a sorrow he couldn't penetrate, a grievous story that he felt he must have written, but couldn't read. Like having lousy eyesight, like trying to read the letters on the chart while the doctor flips lens after lens - not this one; no, not that one. Nothing would help a man that close to blindness. Why couldn't he see? Perplexed, he'd blamed their confusions on the war that had hurled them together like flying debris from a bomb-blast of a ruined home. It had cracked the foundations of hope, made fissures in its sheltering walls, pinned them under its collapsing roof-beams."
Nora and Alastair should never have married. She was a woman who missed the excitement of the job she'd been allowed to do in the war, a woman who only a few decades later might have chosen a career over a marriage. She was also a woman in love with another man, a man who fell in love with his nurse during the war only to move back home right next door to Nora and Alastair. Alastair was a man who suffered from depression who was desperately searching for someone to love him. Nora was never meant to be that person. Their marriage was doomed from the start. What Giangrande gives readers is a glimpse into the fallout from a marriage like theirs. Forbidden love, infidelity, loss, anger, mental illness, loneliness, guilt, child abuse, misjudgment and miscommunication. And in Cold War-era America, that's all set in a climate of mistrust and fear. Further, Giangrande reminds readers that the shock waves don't necessarily have a stopping point, but can ripple out for decades. Grace, Claire and Alastair never fully recover but carry, to varying degrees, the scars of those years when Nora and Alastair fell apart and a terrible accident set things in motion.

Born and raised in the New York City area, Carole Giangrande is a Toronto-based novelist and author of eight books, including the award-winning novella, A Gardener On The Moon, the novels An Ordinary Star and A Forest Burning, a short story collection, Missing Persons and the novella, Midsummer. Her new novella, Here Comes The Dreamer, will be published in September. A former broadcast-journalist, she worked for CBC Radio (Canada’s public broadcaster) as co-host of the popular Radio Noon program. She’s read her fiction at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre, at the Banff Centre for the Arts (as an Artist-in-Residence), the University of Toronto, on radio and at numerous public venues. Her fiction, articles and reviews have appeared in Canada’s major journals and newspapers and her 50-part literary podcast Words to Go has been downloaded over 20,000 times in 30 countries. She is currently at work on a novel.

Visit Carole’s website at, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. I always find something of interest in books written by Canadian authors. For other impressions, check out the full tour.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Banned Books Week - I Like Banned Books And I Cannot Lie

As she has for the past several years, Sheila of Book Journey is hosting a celebration of banned books during Banned Books Week. Be sure to hop on over to her site to find links to a lot of posts from people who are passionate about fighting against censorship.

Right up until I was a teenager, I was a pretty easy kid to have around. About the time I became a teenager, I also developed a rebellious side. I may have outgrown a lot of the wild side of those years but there remains to this day some of that rebel in my soul. Also, I'm still not that wild about being told what to do...or what not to read.

I wasn't even aware of banned books when I started reading banned books. My dad was reading Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn to my brother, sister, and I when we were still in grade school. Middle school teachers had us reading 1984 and Animal Farm.

I don't recall anyone ever censoring my reading as I grew up. One of my favorite books as a teen was Go Ask Alice, a book filled with sex and drug use. Did it turn me into sex-starved, drug addict? Absolutely not. I was raised with too much respect for what my parents had taught me. They may have told me I couldn't do a lot of things, but they never told me I couldn't read something. Reading and learning were both too important in my parents' house.

Now telling me a book has been banned is like waving a red cape in my face. If it's banned, and it's not something I've already read or plan to read, it's a sure bet that it will be added to my tbr list. I'm always surprised to look at lists of books that have been banned or challenged and find so many that I have read, particularly when I can't even recall anything about them that I found especially controversial. On most lists, I'll find that I've read at least a third of the books. Does that just mean that I like books with sex, drugs, and violence? Books I've added to the tbr just because somebody said we should read them include The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, and Rabbit, Run by John Updike. Because don't tell me what to do!

Later this week, I'll focus on children's and YA books that have been challenged and which of them myself and my children have enjoyed.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Life: It Goes On: September 27, 2015

Well, I'm finally on board. I'm finally ready for fall. The house is fallified, I've pulled out the cardigans, and fall cooking has commenced. And I'm once again be reminded how much nicer it is to be outside when the temperatures and humidity are lower. And football. And the part of the baseball season when the games really matter.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I finished Finn last week and will start Room this week. My workout podcast this week as been all Gretchen Rubin's Happier. Now if I could just remember to do some of the "try this at home" tips they give in every episode!

Watching: It's that time of year when I just as well take this piece of the post off. New week, same answer. Miss H has been around a lot - she doesn't have a television at her place any more and she "needed" to watch the Royals as they clinched their division. That girl is baseball crazy!

Reading: Tiger Heart for an upcoming TLC Book Tours review. They had me at India.

Making: It's that time of year when the harvest and the fall feasting collide so on our table this week we've had everything from salad and BLT's to a new crockpot lasagna recipe and fried apples.

Planning: October. So much going on including Junkstock, the Omaha LitFest, and a long weekend trip to Missouri. Not to mention several birthdays and our 33rd anniversary.

Grateful for: Sunny days. We had so much rain this week. Again. I wish we could send you some of it, California!

Enjoying: Being able to throw open the windows and let the fresh air in again.

Feeling: A little claustrophobic. Need to get back on my decluttering and free up some air in my house.

Looking forward to: Reading Banned Book Week posts this week. I've got a couple of things ready for the week but I don't know that I'm going to get a book read with the commitments I have coming up. But I might just have to squeeze something in, just to be rebellious!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Fall of Princes by Robert Goolrick

The Fall of Princes by Robert Goolrick
Published August 2015 by Algonquin Books at Chapel Hill
Source: my Netgalley copy courtesy of the publisher

Publisher's Summary:
1980s Manhattan shimmers like the mirage it was, as money, power, and invincibility seduce a group of young Wall Street turks. Together they reach the pinnacle, achieving the kind of wealth that grants them access to anything--and anyone. Until, one by one, they fall.

My Thoughts:
"When you strike a match, it burns brighter in the first nanosecond than it will ever burn again. That first incandescence. That instantaneous and brilliant flash. The year was 1980, and I was the match, and that was the year I struck into blinding flame."
This is my second book by Robert Goolrick. I own his second book, Heading Out To Wonderful, which I have yet to read. It has a lovely, bright cover and a lovely, bright title and would appear to be a book about lovely, bright people. But I doubt it. It's been my experience that Robert Goolrick writes books filled with exceedingly unlikeable characters. Which is alright because Goolrick is exceedingly good at creating unlikeable characters who suck readers in.

Micheal Douglas & Charlie Sheen
"Wall Street"
Rooney and his band of brothers are those guys they made the movie "Wall Street" about, young bucks who worked for The Firm (read Salomon Brothers) when rules were broken, morals were loose, and drugs were rampant.
"We were the people people wrote about when they wrote about the evils of contemporary society. We made too much money. We spent too much money. We didn't do a single thing to help the less fortunate, which included most of the people on the planet...We felt not one once of remorse."
Thirty years later, after his fall from glory, Rooney looks back with both regret and nostalgia. He is as honest about his sins as he is about how much he misses the lifestyle they afforded. The chapters read as short stories chronicle Rooney's life and those who impacted it: Louis Paterson Trotmeier whose fling with a Madonna-like diva irrevocably changed his life, Harrison Wheaton Seacroft IV who threw himself from a 17th story window when he got the call that meant the world was soon to find out he was a homosexual, and Guilia de Bosset who served as something of a mascot for the boys one summer before she committed suicide.

As much as this is a book about the excesses of the 80's, it's also a book about sexual orientation, the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, and the way that life changed in its wake and the fear the rippled out gay communities and across the United States. If you were of a certain age in the 1980's, you'll remember that fear and the way it changed so many things. Goolrick is eloquent in bringing the story back down to an individual level and to the communities who suffered the most.

Did I like the book? I'm still trying to decide. It sometimes seemed to wallow in itself. But there's no denying that the writing is otherwise beautifully done and that it's a book that will leave the reader thinking.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Miss Emily by Nuala O'Connor

Miss Emily by Nuala O'Connor
Published July 2015 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my Netgalley copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Eighteen-year-old Ada Concannon has just been hired by the respected but eccentric Dickinson family of Amherst, Massachusetts. Despite their difference in age and the upstairs-downstairs divide, Ada strikes up a deep friendship with Miss Emily, the gifted elder daughter living a spinster’s life at home. But Emily’s passion for words begins to dominate her life. She will wear only white and avoids the world outside the Dickinson homestead. When Ada’s safety and reputation are threatened, however, Emily must face down her own demons in order to help her friend, with shocking consequences.

My Thoughts:
Years ago (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth), I first encountered the poems of Emily Dickinson but only then knew that she had been a recluse and have learned little more of her since that time. It has always struck me as remarkable that she was able to write such insightful poems about life when she lived such a sheltered one.

In Miss Emily, Nuala O'Connor creates an explanation as to why Emily became a recluse through the story of an imagined friendship between Emily and Ada. As told, alternatively, from both women's point of view, O'Connor does a fine job of giving both of them their own voice.

While the book may be title Miss Emily it is, perhaps, even more Ada's story and the story of all of the servant-class women of the time. From the time she rose before the family to have their breakfast ready to the time she could finally collapse at the end of the day, Ada (and all of those women like her) were completely at the whim and mercy of the people for whom they worked. Having been raised to believe such is her lot in live, Ada never balks when she's reminded that she isn't being paid to chat, even when it is with Emily. It was rare for them to find in their masters a friend and ally, such as Ada found in Emily.

Their friendship makes an interesting tool for O'Connor to explore what lay behind Emily Dickinson's greater and greater seclusion from the world. After reading the book, I did, as I so often do after reading fictionalized accounts of a real person's life, research on Dickinson. I found that O'Connor has clearly done her own research and thoroughly grounded her story of Emily on the known facts and theories...of Emily's relationship with her parents, her brother and sister-in-law and her relationship with words. O'Connor touches on Mrs. Dickinson's "bouts of repressed spirits and illness," Mr. Dickinson's hovering over Emily's health "like a nervy physician," and how her once beloved brother, Austin has "hardened; levity has been leached from his very blood." In Emily's relationship with Austin's wife, Sue, O'Connor dares to suggest that Emily and Sue may have been more than just friends - "She makes me thin of the biggest things, the best things, and it is my hope that we will lie together in the churchyard at the end. She may be Austin's truly, but she is also mine." As much as I enjoyed Ada's story, it was Emily's voice that really spoke to me.
" is not only words that keep me here, I know that. It is a fact that if I do not leave the house, I cannot lose myself; I am better contained in my home, looking inward; this is where I best function."
It was also in Emily's voice that I really felt O'Connor's own poetic voice come alive.
"From now on I shall be candle-white. Dove-, bread-, swan-, shroud-, ice-, extraordinary-white. I shall be blanched, bleached and bloodless to look at; my very whiteness will be my mark. But inside, of course, I will roar and soar and flash with color."

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Life: It Goes On - September 20

Didn't mean to go missing at the end of last week and I can't even say it was because I was busy or even reading a lot. Just regular old life.

I was hoping to join in the Dog Days of Summer readathon this weekend. Then I remembered two things: The Big Guy would want to do something on Friday night and football. I am prone to spend most of fall Saturdays watching college football, not just my Huskers. Ditto the reason I didn't participate in Bloggiesta this weekend even though I really need to get some work done on the blog.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Still Finn by Jon Clinch and really enjoying it a lot. Ed Sala does a terrific job narrating. In fact, even though my dad has already read the book, I may pass the audiobook along to him because I think it would enjoy it all over again as read by Sala.

Watching: Lots of football, some baseball and the finale of "American's Got Talent," a show that BG enjoys quite a lot, although I'm often perplexed by what constitutes talent and the voters' choices.

Reading: I've not done a lot of reading this week. I started Annie Hawes' Extra Virgin for Fall Feasting reading. I do always enjoy a book about tourists in foreign lands finding themselves falling in love and making a new home.

Making: It must be fall - I'm in the mood to be in the kitchen! Yesterday I made both chicken and vegetarian risotto, peach/blueberry crisp and lasagna. BG made a wonderful sandwich the other night - rare roast beef, fresh picked tomato and lots of creamy avocado - to go with our other standby this time of year, BLT's.

Planning: We don't have much on the calendar this week so the plan is to get down to the basement and put it back in order and make it usable for Mini-him to hang out in with friends again.

Grateful for: Kids who love their grandparents so much and so hope to see them stay in their home as long as possible that they will give up most of a Sunday to go help them with things they need done around the place. Some fun may have been had as well!

Enjoying: Celebrating one of my fav people's getting to start the next phase of her life.

Feeling: Tired but satisfied with a very productive weekend.

Looking forward to: Omaha Lit Fest. It's a month away yet but I've already had to break the news to BG that we can't go on a trip that weekend because I will not miss it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

On Beauty by Zadie Smith

On Beauty by Zadie Smith
Published January 2005 by Penguin Publishing
Source: both my print and audio copies purchased from my local library book sale

Publisher's Summary:
Howard Belsey, a Rembrandt scholar who doesn't like Rembrandt, is an Englishman abroad and a long-suffering professor at Wellington, a liberal New England arts college. He has been married for thirty years to Kiki, an American woman who no longer resembles the sexy activist she once was. Their three children passionately pursue their own paths: Levi quests after authentic blackness, Zora believes that intellectuals can redeem everybody, and Jerome struggles to be a believer in a family of strict atheists. Faced with the oppressive enthusiasms of his children, Howard feels that the first two acts of his life are over and he has no clear plans for the finale. Or the encore.

Then Jerome, Howard's older son, falls for Victoria, the stunning daughter of the right-wing icon Monty Kipps, and the two families find themselves thrown together in a beautiful corner of America, enacting a cultural and personal war against the background of real wars that they barely register. An infidelity, a death, and a legacy set in motion a chain of events that sees all parties forced to examine the unarticulated assumptions which underpin their lives. How do you choose the work on which to spend your life? Why do you love the people you love? Do you really believe what you claim to? And what is the beautiful thing, and how far will you go to get it?

My Thoughts:
You know that old adage "write what you know?" Here Smith has done just that then dropped it into her own version of E. M. Forster's Howard"s End. Drawing on her biracial heritage, Smith effortlessly blends British, island, and American sensibilities and quirks into her story.
“A carefully preserved English accent also upped the fear factor.” 
That same heritage also allows Smith to explore racial issues in a way that only biracial writers can safely get away with that, a way that allows her to not only educate both sides but to highlight the places in where our sensitivities can in our way. And, yeah, to poke fun at both sides. Like Forster. But in a very modern setting Forster could never have imagined.

It's something of a hallmark of this book that Smith is able to blend both the serious and the absurd about a number of themes including marriage, intellectualism, youth, family, passion, aging, gender and the ways we communicate with each other.
“Stop worrying about your identity and concern yourself with the people you care about, ideas that matter to you, beliefs you can stand by, tickets you can run on. Intelligent humans make those choices with their brain and hearts and they make them alone. The world does not deliver meaning to you. You have to make it meaningful...and decide what you want and need and must do. It’s a tough, unimaginably lonely and complicated way to be in the world. But that’s the deal: you have to live; you can’t live by slogans, dead ideas, clich├ęs, or national flags. Finding an identity is easy. It’s the easy way out.”
Occasionally it seemed to get mired down in its sex scenes and sometimes I got frustrated with the narration on my audio book (I really have a problem with men trying to voice women and, to be fair, there was a large cast of characters with a very wide range of voices). Overall, though, I was really impressed with what Smith had to say about life and by her writing.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin
Published August 2015 by Random House Publishing
Source: my ebook courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
As a sixteen-year-old, Tessa Cartwright was found in a Texas field, barely alive amid a scattering of bones, with only fragments of memory as to how she got there. Ever since, the press has pursued her as the lone surviving “Black-Eyed Susan,” the nickname given to the murder victims because of the yellow carpet of wildflowers that flourished above their shared grave. Tessa’s testimony about those tragic hours put a man on death row.

Now, almost two decades later, Tessa is an artist and single mother. In the desolate cold of February, she is shocked to discover a freshly planted patch of black-eyed susans—a summertime bloom—just outside her bedroom window. Terrified at the implications—that she sent the wrong man to prison and the real killer remains at large—Tessa turns to the lawyers working to exonerate the man awaiting execution. But the flowers alone are not proof enough, and the forensic investigation of the still-unidentified bones is progressing too slowly. An innocent life hangs in the balance. The legal team appeals to Tessa to undergo hypnosis to retrieve lost memories—and to share the drawings she produced as part of an experimental therapy shortly after her rescue.

What they don’t know is that Tessa and the scared, fragile girl she was have built a fortress of secrets. As the clock ticks toward the execution, Tessa fears for her sanity, but even more for the safety of her teenaged daughter. Is a serial killer still roaming free, taunting Tessa with a trail of clues? She has no choice but to confront old ghosts and lingering nightmares to finally discover what really happened that night.

My Thoughts:
Remember a few months ago when I said I was really getting tired of stories with dual narratives told in both the past and the present? I'm cured. Turns out if you tell the story from one person's point of view, where that person is something of two different people, and it's done well, I will not be able to put the book down. Heaberlin does it well.
"I am the Cartwright girl, umped once upon a time with a strangled college student and a stack of human bones out past Highway 10, in an abandoned patch of field near the Jenkins property. I am the star of screaming tabloid headlines and campfire ghost stories. I am one of the four Black-Eyed Susans. The lucky one."
For the better part of the book, Heaberlin moves the story back and forth between post-abduction Tessie as she goes through therapy prior to the trial of the man arrested for attacking her and grown up Tessa who has built a new life for herself and her daughter but who can't escape the ghosts of her past or her monster. Tessie's a marvelously unreliable narrator and Tessa is just the kind of person you'd imagine she would be given what she's been through.

Some interesting supporting characters, some science, a few red herrings, little clues along the way but only a glimpse of the actual attack and nothing about the murders themselves all worked to keep me on edge. Although the tension built throughout the book and I did not entirely see the ending coming, it was a bit of a let down. Overall, though, a good start to R. I. P. X.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Life: It Goes On - September 13

It's been a blessedly quiet week around Casa Sheep. Nobody moving in, nobody moving out. The entertainment center piece of the puzzle was all settled on Monday so I got to watch the start of the NFL season on Mini-him's big, big television. Bliss!

Much cooler temps have moved in so even I have to concede that summer is over. I spent part of yesterday pulling out the fall decor and using some of my pins from Pinterest to add some fall color. My brother-in-law will be baffled, once again, to find out that food will be used as decor. He couldn't understand why my sister and I used it for Easter!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I finished On Beauty last week and will start Jon Clinch's Finn. I've owned the book for years (and even loaned it to my dad who really enjoyed it) but have never gotten to it. Looking forward to it. I did squeeze in some podcasts last week including episodes from "Happier," "Stuff You Missed In History Class," and "NPR Books."

Watching: Football, of course - had people over to watch our Huskers last night. "Arthur and George" and PBS (thanks, Cheryl, for accidentally introducing us to this one). "Mean Girls" - because it's one of those movies I am legally required to watch every time it's on. "Arthur and George" is based on a book by Julian Barnes so you know I'll be adding that to my list.

Reading: I found a lot of time for reading last week and finished Julia Heaberlin's Black-Eyed Susans and will finish Nuala O'Connor's Miss Emily today. I'm not sure what I'll pick up next - something for Fall Feasting, another R.I.P. selection, or one of the books I've downloaded from Netgalley. I've got the newest Margaret Atwood, Robert Goolrick, and Geraldine Brooks books waiting for me there.

Making: Texas Trash dip, hot caprese dip, caramel apple cake, and caramel apple cocktails for our football party. BG made another batch of salsa with our garden bounty and all of those tomatoes mean we've had BLT's again this week and more pasta with tomato and basil.

Planning: Now that we'll need to make use of the basement again and some furniture's been moved down there, it's time to get back down there are reorganize this week.

Grateful for: On Grandparents' Day, I'm grateful for the wonderful grandparents my children are blessed with. There has never been any doubt in their lives that they are loved unconditionally by these special people. Missing the two that are gone every day, but especially today.

library garden
Enjoying: A trip to my local library book sale. The hunt is always fun and this time of year it's fun to see their gardens.

Feeling: Relaxed. Bet you were wondering if you'd ever hear me say that again! Although, even as I relax, I can't help but think of all of the things I should be doing.

Looking forward to: Book club this week. We'll be talking about Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven. I'm eager to hear what everyone thought of it - it's definitely outside of our usual reading.

What are you looking forward to this week? As the season changes, what changes do you make in your life?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic - Randomness

Because sometimes my brain just wanders off on its own when it gets tired of thinking about all of the things it should be thinking about, I've had all of these random bookish thoughts of late. Which, of course, I will now foist off on you. Because you're there. And maybe, by sharing, I can get them to stop rattling around in my head.

* As much as I hated the job I had for years that had become so mindless, I kind of miss it in a way because I used to be able to listen to books while I was working. Hours of listening to books guilt free! Now it can take me a month to finish listening to a book as opposed to the one week I listened to all 38 hours of Edgar Sawtelle.

* I was twelve, yes only twelve, pages into Black-Eyed Susans the other night when I knew that it was going to be a book I was not able to read in bed lest I have nightmares. Yep, that's how susceptible I am to being frightened by a book. Are you a scary book reader? If so, how do you keep from having dreams about them?

* I wish Goodreads made it possible to print off a copy of my to-read shelf so I could keep that with me when I'm in bookstores. Or is there a way and I just haven't figured it out yet?

* Speaking of Goodreads, I hardly use it any more other than as a way to track the number of books I've read. Which is kind of a shame given that it was one of my favorite sites for a long time and how I met so many of you. But, there's only so much time in a day and Amazon. Y'all know how much I'm not a fan of Amazon.

This shelf, at least, has been
* Half-Price Books may be my best ally in keeping my bookshelves culled. No, really. Every time I'm going to take books there to sell, I make a quick pass over my shelves to see if there's anything that I'm just not going to get to and add that to my box. Last time I went I took 20 books in and only came home with two new ones. Win, win. What's your best trick for keeping your book inventory under control?

* I keep thinking that I'm going to do a thorough reorganization and culling of our books but the fact that there are books on all three floors of my house is a major stumbling block. That's a serious workout I've got to be committed to before I can even do the mental work involved. All of this rearranging in my house lately has meant some shelves got a going over but not nearly everything. Do you keep all of your books in one place?

*Sometimes I go to my local library sale and don't come away with much. Although, to be honest, I'm really only looking at the audiobooks and latest releases. If I let myself go, I could easily come home with a wagon load every week. I like to stick to books that are already on my wish list and really like to find audiobooks which will allow me to get to a book that's already on my physical bookshelves.

This week I feel like I really did well. I found A Visit From The Goon Squad and Finn (which are both on my bookshelves), as well as Cry, The Beloved Country which I've been wanting to read for a long time. I found Revenge Wears Prada on the new release shelf for $2.50 but my big score was Haruki Murakami's Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage. I must admit I got a little swoon to find Murakami!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Last Night At The Lobster by Stewart O'Nan

Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan
Published January 2007 by Penguin Group
Source: bought it - not sure where or when

Publisher's Summary:
The Red Lobster perched in the far corner of a run-down New England mall hasn't been making its numbers and headquarters has pulled the plug. But manager Manny DeLeon still needs to navigate a tricky last shift with a near-mutinous staff. All the while, he's wondering how to handle the waitress he's still in love with, what to do about his pregnant girlfriend, and where to find the present that will make everything better.

My Thoughts:
My kids have all worked in restaurants but it was Miss H's experience working at an Applebee's that immediately connected  me to this book. From rolling silverware to food prep, from line work to no-show employees, from bad tips to unexpected big parties, poorly behaved children, and conflicts between employees, it's all included in this novella. Sound ordinary? Not in O'Nan's skilled hands.

Stewart O'Nan has a way of crawling into the routine lives of the struggling masses and unearthing the pieces of them that speak to readers.
"Mall traffic on a gray winter's day, stalled."
The opening line here fairly sums up Manny's life. Thirty-five years old and he has spent nearly all of his adult life working at the Red Lobster which has now been arbitrarily shut down. As a blizzard bears down them, Manny struggles to deal with betrayal, disappointment, and unrequited love while trying to treat the day as he would any other day. Why does he care so much about a job that the public values so little, which has him kowtowing to rude people, cleaning up vomit and bathrooms, and trying to placate a dysfunctional family of employees? Is it because Manny is one of the good guys (not withstanding the affair he had with a coworker who has a boyfriend)? Or is it because Manny knows that this is as close as he will ever get to the American dream?

From the beginning, as Manny pulls into the parking lot in "a white shitbox of a Buick, the kind a grandmother might have" to Manny's farewells to those who have been loyal to him and those he has loved, this is the story of everyman.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Autumn Pin It and Do It - It's Back!

Y'all know how much fun I had a couple of years when Trish (Love, Laughter, and A Little Insanity) was hosting Pin It and Do It challenges. Well, she's doing it again this fall and I'm a little bit giddy because I was just looking at my Pinterest boards the other day and thinking I really needed a kick in the butt to get working on some of them. Here are the "rules:"

What – The premise is simple–choose at least one thing that you have pinned and do it! This could be cooking that recipe, experimenting with photos, trying a new styled outfit, doing all those leg squats, reading that book–however you use Pinterest, you can make this challenge work for you. If you have any questions about whether something might work, just ask!

Where – Sharing what you’ve done is best done on your blog, but tumblr or instagram could absolutely work as well. Please use #PinItDoIt on social media to keep in touch.

When – Link-ups for your progress will be September 21st and October 19th. Feel free to participate in just one month or both and you can post any time and as many times as you’d like. If you want an email reminder, let me know and I promise to only bug you once.

Why – Because sometimes we all just need a group challenge or a kick in the pants to get stuff done.

I'm planning on using some of the fall decorating ideas I've pinned, reading a couple of the books on my "books to read" board, trying some new recipes for food and drink, and getting a start on Christmas presents. I can't wait to get started!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Life: It Goes On - September 6

Hey, guess what! I don't have a sectional stacked in my living room any more! We played sofa swap this week and every sofa in my house found a new home - the living room sofa's in my bedroom now, the family room sofa's in the living room, and Mini-him's sectional is in my family room. Of course, not one of those changes could happen without other furniture having to find a new home. Today we'll finally swap out the televisions and entertainment centers and we're done...until Miss H moves home in November. Or Mini-him moves back out. Whichever comes first. This is my life now.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I broke up my audiobook listening this week with some podcasts. I'll finish On Beauty this week and probably spend the rest of the week listening to podcasts before I start a new book. I added Book Riot's "All The Books!" to my podcast listening along with "Best of the Left," Cheryl Strayed's "Dear Sugar," NPR's "StoryCorps" and "Invisibilia," "The Moth," and How Stuff Works' "Stuff You Missed In History Class." I'm loving listening to podcasts while I work out.
Showing our loyalties

Watching: Old movies: "How To Marry A Millionaire" with Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe and "Funny Face" with Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn. And, of course, football! My beloved Huskers lost a heartbreaker yesterday but I'm a happy girl with college football back.

Reading: I finished and reviewed Accidents of Marriage this week and just this morning finished Stewart O'Nan's Last Night at the Lobster to kick off my Fall Feasting reading. Today I'll start Julia Heaberlin's Black-Eyed Susans which, as it happens, will work for R.I.P. X.
Making: Working like crazy to keep up with the tomato and banana pepper harvest so I've made a couple of batches of caprese salad, salsa, and we've had every kind of meal we could throw tomatoes on this week.

Planning: On making something with rhubarb this week. Pie?

Grateful for: Parents who taught me to love garden fresh produce, how to make use of it, and how to grow it. There is almost nothing I like to eat more than ripe tomato straight off the vine.

Enjoying: An art walk on Friday night with Mini-me and his girl and dinner at a taco truck. We saw some really interesting stuff and some really "starving artist" stuff. It's always interesting to check out art with someone who really knows something about it. Also got to watch our great-nephew play football the other day as he starts his high school sports career.

Feeling: Happy to have a three-day weekend. We're finding a perfect mix of productivity, fun, and relaxing.

Looking forward to: The return of Benedict Cumberbatch and "Sherlock" on PBS tonight and "Longmire" on Netflix later this week.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Accidents of Marriage by Randy Sue Meyers

Accidents of Marriage by Randy Sue Meyers
Published September 2014, released in paperback June 2015 by Washington Square Press
Source: ebook courtesy of the publisher, author and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

**First, an apology - I was meant to have reviewed this book on August 24. I completely lost track of time and hadn't even started it by then. Thanks, Trish, for not reaching through the interwebs and smacking me upside the head!

Publisher's Summary:
For Madeline Illica, the love of her husband Ben was her greatest blessing and biggest curse. Brilliant and charming, Ben could turn into a raging bull when crossed—and despite her training as a social worker Maddy never knew what would cross him. When Ben was in a conciliatory mood, they worked on techniques for communication and anger management, but on the day of the accident, nothing seemed to help.

My Thoughts:
This is the third novel by Randy Sue Meyers I've read (The Comfort of Lies and The Murderer's Daughters). I just couldn't connect with the former after having been impressed with the later. Still, I was interested in giving Meyers another chance because she always writes about women in very difficult situations and I wanted to see where she would go this time. In fact, I didn't even read the summary of this one when I asked to be included on the tour. Which worked out really well for me. In fact, if you decide this is one you might be interested in, I recommend you immediately start forgetting what it's about. The unfolding of the story is so interesting that way.

What I went into the novel expecting was strictly the story of a marriage (although I should have known it would be more than that coming from Meyers) and, in the beginning, that's what Meyers set up - a husband with a terrible anger problem, a wife so cowed by him that she medicates herself to deal with it even as she counsels other women stuff in abusive relationships. Then the foreshadowing begins and the reader knows something very bad is going to happen.

And here's where you'll really just want to skip to the end if you want to go into this one entirely blind. Ben's temper is the underlying, but not ultimate, cause of a traffic accident the result of which is Maddy suffering from a traumatic brain injury. Meyers has done her research on traumatic brain injury and the slow recovery from it. The struggle to help Maddy recover feels very real with family and friends all trying to help but not always being helpful, with children trying to come to terms with the new person that used to be their mom, and with the tremendous amount of work it takes to keep a household running while caring for someone who can't care for themselves. It takes a toll on everyone involved. Let's be honest, no one really knows how much a mom does to keep the household running (even one like Maddy who isn't the greatest at keeping things running smoothly) until she can't do it and it's easy to relate to what might happen then.

Along the way, Meyers touches on infidelity, drug use, and the love of power. Throughout it all, though, Meyers keeps the focus on the relationship between Ben and Maddy, a relationship that shifts and changes throughout Maddy's recovery. The love, the miscommunication, the abuse, the hate, the reliance, the need - it's all there and Meyer's does a terrific job of taking readers along for the journey.

For more opinions about this book, check out the full tour at TLC Book Tours. Thanks to Trish, at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour and, again, for her understanding!

The drama of Randy Susan Meyers’ novels is informed by her work with families impacted by emotional and family violence.

Her newest novel, Accidents of Marriage, examines the slippery definitions of emotional abuse and explores tragic circumstances forcing a family to challenge the dynamics that have long-defined them.

Randy is a founding member of Beyond The Margins, a site dedicated to the craft of writing and the business of publishing, and coauthored the guide, What To Do Before Your Book Launch, with writer M.J. Rose. She lives in Boston with her husband, where she teaches at Grub Street Writer’s Center.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Fall Feasting

Okay, okay - summer's over (although, not officially yet for a couple more weeks!) and it's time to start thinking about cold weather eating. For me, that also means it's time for reading about food. I've been chipping away at my stash of foodie books the past few years without picking up a whole lot of new ones so my choices at this point are somewhat limited. I still have on hand to choose from:

Harvest by Richard Horan

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Extra Virgin by Annie Hawes

So, all nonfiction. I'm thinking I need to mix in something fun. Maybe a graphic novel - perhaps something by Lucy Knisley? What do you fun, foodie book would you recommend?

Dry Bones: A Longmire Mystery by Craig Johnson - A Guest Review

Dry Bones: A Longmire Mystery by Craig Johnson
Published May 2015 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: this copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

I've talked before about our love for the television series "Longmire" (previously on A and E, soon to begin again on Netflix) which we weren't even aware, in the beginning, were based on a series of books by Craig Johnson. When I was offered the chance to read and review Johnson's latest book about Walt Longmire and his cohorts, I knew the person who should do it would be The Big Guy. So, without further ado, here's his review of a book that he raced through.

The Big Guy's Thoughts:

I've been a big fan of the Longmire TV show since nearly the beginning when my brother turned me on to it, so I was really looking forward to reading the book.  Of course, like Harry Potter,  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and other books recently that have become block busters, you are always comparing.

I thought Walt, as written, was pretty close to as played in the show, as was Henry Standing Bear.  The rest of the characters are definitely different and many in the show are not in the book.  Vic is tougher and has a filthier mouth than Vic in the show, but I like her in the book as well, if not better.  She has edgy comedic timing.

What I think could have been improved in the book is more depth of character development.  Vic, Henry and Walt were pretty complete, but there were a lot of characters introduced that come in and out and I would prefer fewer characters being more involved.  I also tired of Walt being out in the 'outback' around the dig site getting caught in storms and washed down the draws and gully like a turd being flushed.  Maybe vary the action for more variety of situations.

However, the book was a fun read and as I mentioned I really liked the three main characters. The book definitely keeps your attention and keeps you wanting to come back for more. The premise around the dinosaur find and conflict created by the various parties at war over it, with a mix of mystery and murder, made it interesting.   Mr. Johnson's writing style is engaging and fits like Walt's old animal skin coat.  I think it can be enjoyed by men and women both and I would certainly recommend it for a good relaxing summer read.

Thanks, Big Guy! Now if we can just hang in there until September 10th, when Season Four of the television series starts on Netflix. In the meantime, we might just have to pick up a couple more books from the series.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril X

It's that time of year again - time for spookie-ookie, horrifying, supernatural reading with a whole bunch of other like minded people. In other words, it's time, starting today, for R.I.P. - Readers Imbibing Peril. This is the challenges tenth year! While Carl (of Stainless Steel Droppings whose brainchild R.I.P. was) will still be around, for this year he's turned the challenge over to the ladies of The Estella Society.

As always, there are a number of levels you can jump in at, including a level for short stories, screen, and a group readalong. Any mystery, suspense, thriller, horror, supernatural, dark fantasy, or gothic novel will work. 

Given that I've just read a couple of mysteries in a row, I'm feeling a little bit like it's time to get to something different but I can't resist so I'm jumping in for Peril The Third which means I only have to read one book to succeed. My plan for this year is Sarah Water's Fingersmith which I've been saving for a while. I can't wait!

Peril of The Short Story is going to allow me to know off something off my Classics Club Challenge list - a reread of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. IF I am really feeling it, I'll know off a second challenge read and pick up The Fall of The House of Usher. 'Cause you really out to read some Poe this time of year, right?

Although I'm not a big scary movie watcher, it's practically a given that I'll catch one of the scary movies that will be on nonstop in October so I'm throwing this one in as well. Although, I'm thinking I'll be trying to find some Dark Shadows on Netflix and relive my youth. Don't tell my mom I used to watch this, though!

Are you going to be joining us? If so, what books are you considering? If not, do you find yourself getting wrapped up in the Halloween spirit with your reading?