Thursday, October 22, 2015

Life: It Goes On - October 22

Will you look at that? I started this post Sunday morning and completely forgot to finish it! Well, here's what was going on then:

We're finally finishing up the great move home today. We're headed off shortly to get her furniture and what's left of her things. Her "new" room here is ready but it will probably be another week before we have her really settled. So much of her stuff is still living in my office!

Very bummed not to have been able to participate in the Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon this weekend. It really always is one of my favorite things about blogging - planning a pile of books to choose from, choosing special snacks for the day, and all of the blogger interaction that's a part of the event. But yesterday was also the annual Omaha Lit Fest (more on that later) and I knew I could not be sleeping through today to make up for staying awake all night. Already planning to clear the calendar for the spring event!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Catching up with the NPR Books podcast, listening to an episode of RadioLab about American football, and this week I will listen to the Slate podcast discussion of All The Light We Cannot See as prep for this week's Omaha Bookworms discussion.

Watching: The Theory of Everything and Draft Day late into the night last night, thanks to free HBO. We liked both of them quite a lot and could definitely see why Eddie Redmayne won the Academy Award for his performance of Stephen Hawking.

Reading: I raced through Homer Hickam's Carrying Albert Home for an upcoming TLC Books book tour this week. Sneak peek - loved it! [Not much of a sneak peek when the review already posted, huh?] I will finish All The Light We Cannot See in the next couple of days for book club and then I'll get back to The Secret Chord.

Making: Snickerdoodle cookies, pasta salad, pork tenderloin, fried apples, and oven-dried tomatoes. The Big Guy has actually done most of the cooking lately; he gets home first and must be hungry when he hits the door.

Planning: A birthday weekend trip to one of my happy places - Les Bourgeois winery in Rochefort and Columbia, Missouri. We'll do a little shopping, have some Shakespeare's pizza, talk a lot, laugh even more and drink our fair share of wine.

Grateful: To be done with the actual moving. For now. You know, I'm sure that we'll be moving at least one of these kids again in the next six months. I can't wait. Can you sense the sarcasm?

Enjoying: Books! I've been reading so many good books lately.

Feeling: Tired. It's been busy around here lately with all of the packing and moving and other life things going on.

Looking forward to: Book club. Which as this posts actually happened two days ago. But still, on Sunday, I was really looking forward to talking  about All The Light You Cannot See with my ladies!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam

Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam
Published October 2015 by William Morrow
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Elsie Lavender and Homer Hickam Sr.—the future parents of Homer Hickam Jr.—were high school classmates in the West Virginia coalfields, graduating just as the Great Depression began. When Homer asked for her hand, Elsie instead headed to Orlando where she sparked with a dancing actor named Buddy Ebsen (yes, that Buddy Ebsen). But when Buddy headed for New York, Elsie’s dreams of a life with him were crushed and eventually she found herself back in the coalfields, married to Homer.

Unfulfilled as a miner’s wife, Elsie was reminded of her carefree days in Florida every day because of Buddy’s unusual wedding gift: an alligator named Albert who lived in the only bathroom in their little house. Eventually Homer gave Elsie an ultimatum: “Me or the alligator!” After giving it some thought, Elsie concluded there was only one thing to do—carry Albert home.

My Thoughts:
If you've ever read Daniel Wallace's Big Fish or seen the movie it inspired, you have some idea what you can expect with Carrying Albert Home. Quirky, a bit fantastical, and loaded with larger than life characters, Carrying Albert Home is the absolutely charming "somewhat true story of a man, his wife, and her alligator." It's also the story of how a woman learned to love her husband and make peace with the life she'd chosen. It is sweet and sad and, did I mention, charming.

When Homer Hickam Sr. agrees to travel to Florida to carry Albert home, he imagined a two-week trip from West Virginia - straight there, straight home. He was, after all, a miner with a home and the only job he could imagine ever having. Elsie, on the other hand, sees this as her chance to get out of West Virginia for good, with or without Homer. She has never gotten over Buddy and spending the rest of her life in a coal town is not in her plans. Along the way they pick up a rooster who befriends Albert, get caught up with union strikers, become movie actors, become a nurse and a baseball player, fly an airplane, get caught in a hurricane, and meet John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway. At least, those are the stories his parents told Homer over the years. Homer never knew whether or not they were true, but those stories taught him more about his parents and their relationship than all the years of watching them together ever had.

Thanks so much to the ladies of TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. For other opinions about Carrying Albert Home, check out the full tour at TLC Book Tours.

Homer Hickam (also known as Homer H. Hickam Jr.) is the bestselling and award-winning author of many books, including the #1New York Times memoir Rocket Boys, which was adapted into the popular film October Sky. A writer since grade school, he is also a Vietnam veteran, a former coal miner, a scuba instructor, an avid amateur paleontologist, and a retired engineer. He lives in Alabama and the Virgin Islands. Find out more about Homer at his website, and connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

I highly recommend the movie October Sky, if you haven't seen it. I'm certainly hoping  Hickam has more personal history he'll share with readers soon!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Pin It and Do It

Y'all know how much I love when Trish (Love, Laughter, and A Touch of Insanity) hosts the Pin It and Do It challenge! She hasn't done it for quite a while (it being a lot of work for a working mom with two littles) so I was excited to see that she had decided to bring it back again this fall and it prompted me to open up my boards to see what I could get to this fall.

Books To Read: I will have knocked off several books from my Books To Read board before the end of this month, including Jojo Moyes' After You, Geraldine Brooks' The Secret Chord, Stewart O'Nan's Last Night At The Lobster and Margaret Atwood's The Heart Goes Last. It would probably be unfair to say that the challenge prompted me to read any of these since I was already planning on reading them this fall. Still...they were all pinned!

Fall/Holidays: A simple thing - I just filled a vase with a candle and yellow popping corn and tied my candle with some raffia. I actually had this pinned in several variations. I guess I must have liked the idea!

Drinks: It being fall, it was time to buy some apple cider. Since I already have caramel vodka, we made some hot cider with caramel vodka one night. I also used the caramel vodka in lieu of caramel sauce to make to make both salted caramel hot cocoa the night I watched the lunar eclipse and caramel apple sangria, both of which I had also pinned.


  • Texas Roadhouse Butter was a bust but one we will try again with some changes. The recipe called for sticks of butter but if you've had Texas Roadhouse butter, you know that it is fluffy. So when we retry it, I'll be using whipped butter as my base as well as reducing the honey by about a third. Hot caprese dip was a total fail. The cheese did not melt at all the way the recipe said it would. Maybe a different brand of fresh mozzarella would have worked better but I'd rather just turn it into salad which I know we all love.

  • Crockpot lasagna soup would probably have been just fine if I had read the recipe through before I started or if I had even been thinking. The recipe calls for all of the ingredients to be cooked for 4-5 hours on high and then adding the noodles. Yeah, I just threw it all in at once, including the noodles. To say they were mush would be an understatement.  It's definitely a recipe I will do again. 

  • Texas Trash dip, on the other hand, was a huge success. It did make a full 9" x 13" pan so I'd probably cut the recipe in half if I make it again and have a lot of other things with it. The plus side of the huge batch was that we nibbled it all through Sunday football games and I even took some for lunch on Monday. Good thing we liked it! 

  • Caramel Apple Cake was another recipe that I will tweak but will make again. It called for a can of caramel frosting but that seemed to be too sugary. I'd either top it with caramel ice cream topping or make my own caramel frosting the next time. 
  • Refrigerator Sweet Pickles was another hit. It turned out exactly the way the recipe said it would and everyone in my family liked them. I could chop them up to make pickle relish, we put them on sandwiches and ate them all by themselves.  I would like to figure out a way to reduce the number of seeds in them (grow seedless cucumbers, maybe?), otherwise, this is one we'll definitely do again next summer. Best part of the recipe is that you can keep adding new cucumber slices to the brine as you use pickles up so you can constantly have a full batch.
All in all, a successful Pin It and Do It challenge, I'd say! Thanks, Trish, for pushing us, again, to not just think about what we'd like to do but to actually do it.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

After I finished "reading" Room the other day, I wasn't in the mood to start a new audio book so I decided to try to catch up on some podcasts.

I don't get to listen to nearly as much NPR as I used to so I download the podcast for NPR Books to catch up on all of their bookish news. Which probably isn't news any more by the time I listen to it but it's still interesting. Periodically I do have to go through and delete some of them or the sheer number of podcasts I have to listen to overwhelms me but I make sure to keep those that are about books I've read, books I'm interested in reading, or award discussions. Many of them are no more than 4-10 mins which means I can knock off quite a few in one day, especially an errand day, like yesterday, which means a lot of time in the car. It also means I have to spend a lot of time moving from one episode to another which might be a little dangerous for the drivers around me. Sorry, guys!

Yesterday, I listened to Paula McLain talk about Circling The Sun, Ruth Reichl talk about writing about cooking, Andy Weir give his thoughts on the movie adaptation of The Martian (he loved it), and Marlon James talk about winning the Man Booker Award as well as Maureen Corrigan's review of Lauren Groff's Fates and Furies (she had mixed feelings).

I'm in the midst of listening to a Terri Gross interview of Mary Karr. Karr has written a new book about writing memoirs (she has written three and teaches a course about writing memoir). Karr has me both fired up to try my hand at it. I think of my life as quite ordinary most of the time but  everyone has their own trials and adventures and my life is no exception.

With National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) coming up, I've been thinking a lot about writing lately. Every November I think I'll give NaNoWriMo a shot and then every November I remember that there is already so much going on during the month. I have no idea where I would find that kind of time. With two kids back home there is more cooking to be done, more laundry to be done, more interruptions in my day. And there are books to read and the holidays to get ready for. Still...I have always wanted to be a writer and there are all of these ideas percolating in my head. Maybe everyone on my shopping list will just get a first draft of my first novel for Christmas. Hmmm. This could work!

If you're a podcast listener, what's your favorite bookish podcast that I should add to my playlist?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Determined Heart by Antoinette May

The Determined Heart by Antoniette May
Published September 2015 by Lake Union Publishing
Source: my ebook copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary:
The daughter of political philosopher William Godwin and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley had an unconventional childhood populated with the most talented and eccentric personalities of the time. After losing her mother at an early age, she finds herself in constant conflict with a resentful stepmother and a jealous stepsister. When she meets the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, she falls deeply in love, and they elope with disastrous consequences. Soon she finds herself destitute and embroiled in a torturous love triangle as Percy takes Mary’s stepsister as a lover. Over the next several years, Mary struggles to write while she and Percy face ostracism, constant debt, and the heartbreaking deaths of three children. Ultimately, she achieves great acclaim for Frankenstein, but at what cost?

My Thoughts:
Mary Shelley lost her mother only days after she was born. It was not the recollection of her mother that shaped Mary's life but rather the shadow of who her mother had been that influenced Mary's life in ways both good and bad. It drew some people to Mary and her family and caused others to shun them. William Godwin's radical writings had much the same effect on the family. Her parentage resulted in an extremely bright young woman, with radical ideas and a strong will.

Percy Shelley was four years older than Mary and married when they first met but two years later, when she was just sixteen, they became lovers and eloped to France and then Switzerland to be together. Young Mary, one would think, imagined that their life would be a dream but from the beginning things went awry. Percy consented to allow Mary's stepsister, Claire, to accompany them; they ran out of money long before they reached Switzerland and were forced to walk much of the way; and, eventually, the trio was forced to return to England where they were ostracized by their families. Those first few months symbolized Percy's and Mary's lives together. They often lived with high hopes and, once Percy's grandfather died and he came into his inheritance, money was much less an issue. But Mary, who professed to believe in "free love," only ever truly loved Percy and his constant affairs with other women wore heavy on her heart. Her battles with depression after the lose of four of their five children were unbearable for Percy and tended to drive him away. They lost both Mary's sister and Percy's wife to suicide and were never able to mend things with Percy's father. On the other hand, they lived life largely on their own terms, surrounded by the top literary figures of their time, including Lord Byron.

Mary Shelley is most famous for working arduously to bring acclaim to Percy's poetry after he died and for her novel Frankenstein; or a Modern Prometheus but she was actually a prolific author in her own right and had much more success during her life that did her husband. It's true that Frankenstein was the result of a prompt by Lord Byron on a rainy evening when their group was shut inside but the story was one that came about as the result of a number of previous inspirations, as imagined by Ms. May at any rate. It was Mary's first novel and brought her fame, after it eventually came out that she as the author (the book was originally published as having an anonymous writer as it was felt that the public would not accept a scientifically based book written by a woman).

There were times when the book felt repetitive and others when it felt like May had included to much detail. Perhaps a tighter editing of the book would have worked better for me. Still, I enjoyed learning so much about the writers of the time, not just the Shelleys and my heart broke for the little woman whose own darkness was reflected in her most famous work.

As with all novels based on fact, as soon as I finished this book, I started researching Mary Shelley to see how much of the novel was based on fact and was surprisingly pleased to find that May had done an excellent job of sticking to the facts as they were known.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Finn by Jon Clinch

Finn by Jon Clinch
Published February 2007 by Random House
Source: both my print and audiobook copies were purchased
Narrator: Mel Foster

Publisher's Summary:
Jon Clinch takes us on a journey into the history and heart of one of American literature’s most brutal and mysterious figures: Huckleberry Finn’s father. The result is a deeply original tour de force that springs from Twain’s classic novel but takes on a fully realized life of its own.

Finn sets a tragic figure loose in a landscape at once familiar and mythic. It begins and ends with a lifeless body–flayed and stripped of all identifying marks–drifting down the Mississippi. The circumstances of the murder, and the secret of the victim’s identity, shape Finn’s story as they will shape his life and his death.

Along the way Clinch introduces a cast of unforgettable characters: Finn’s terrifying father, known only as the Judge; his sickly, sycophantic brother, Will; blind Bliss, a secretive moonshiner; the strong and quick-witted Mary, a stolen slave who becomes Finn’s mistress; and of course young Huck himself. In daring to re-create Huck for a new generation, Clinch gives us a living boy in all his human complexity–not an icon, not a myth, but a real child facing vast possibilities in a world alternately dangerous and bright.

My Thoughts:
Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn is one of the most memorable characters in American literature. His father, Pap, plays a minor but significant role in Twain's book; in a bit of fan fic, Clinch has imagined here a fuller life for the man. A much darker one than Twain might have written.

Clinch does a great job of taking the details about Finn that Twain provided, incorporating other characters from that book, and giving Finn a full history, as well as providing a fuller background for Huck. It has less of the tongue-in-cheek humor of Twain but retains the colloquialisms and essential tone of the source material. For me, this was helped immensely by the fact that Mel Foster sounds so much like Hal Holbrook (who played Twain for years).

Where Clinch really veers away from Twain, though, is in the almost Cormac McCarthyesque brutality of the novel. Finn is not just a man made angry by his drinking and his circumstances, as envisioned by Clinch. He is a brutal, amoral, murderous alcoholic, although he is not one-dimensional. Clinch envisions him as a boy who was, as they say, a handful, a boy they found hard to love but who also seemed not to need them as much as his brother did, a boy who would grow up to be a man constantly seeking his father's approval. Which makes it hard to thoroughly hate Finn despite his heinous actions and which makes him a man worth reading about.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Life: It Goes On - October 11

Seems like I just did one of these. Oh, wait, I did! Can't say there's a lot to report since then but just to get back on track, I'll play again.

Playing catch up this weekend - instead of my usual chores on Thursday, I went and played with my newly retired friend. So fun to have someone to hang out with in the middle of the week. We hit up the outlet mall and happy hour and laughed a lot. Good for the soul. Not so much for the carpet that needed to be vacuumed!

Miss H has been around all weekend so we've had a lot of girl time. She brought a load of stuff back home on Friday so a good chunk of time has been spent find all of that a new home. It sure can't go back where it came from since her room is my office now! I'm already missing having a guest bedroom and bathroom. Good thing I like these kids.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'll finish up Room tomorrow. Did you know that it's been made into a movie? I just found that out the other day. I'll be interested to see how they manage that since the book is told from a 5-year-old's point of view.

Watching: Yep, you guessed it - baseball and football.  And The Voice.

Reading: Plugging away at The Determined Heart. I'm learning a lot (that Lord Byron - boy, is there a guy who lived by his own rules!) but I'm having a hard time really getting pulled into the book. I think it could have been a little tighter and I would be enjoying it more. I'm going to try to get it finished today because I have a couple of big books I need to read in the next week.

Making: I've been far more productive in the kitchen the past few days: rhubarb pie, monster cookies, short ribs, fettuccine alfredo. I even took all of the bread crusts and loaf ends I've been saving and made bread crumbs. Managed, while doing that, to fling bread crumbs and chunks all over the kitchen, down my shirt, into my hair. No one in the room to laugh at me so I had to laugh at myself.

Planning: On fully turning my guest room into Miss H's room this week. She'll be back in just a couple more weeks so I need to move some furniture out to make room, clear out that closet and move stuff from the closet in her old room into her new room. I will just get the house fully settled back to having the two kids back in it and they will both move out again. This is my life!

Grateful for:  The beautiful fall days we've been having - cool in the mornings, warm enough later to eat outside. Basically, it's the season when we were shorts and sweaters in the same day.

Enjoying:  Lots of time with friends and family (including brunch today to see my niece who's been out of town for a couple of months and headed back off today) this week, blended with just enough quiet time to keep this introvert content.

Feeling: Sore. I keep my stress level during Husker football games down by working around the house. Let's just say, yesterday was a very productive day around here so I should be happy about that. I would rather have had a win.

Looking forward to: Omaha Lit Fest next weekend! Emily St. John Mandel, Jennie Shortridge, Joy Castro and whisky tastings - gonna be a good time!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

After You by Jojo Moyes

After You by Jojo Moyes
Published September 29, 2015 by Penguin Publisher Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
How do you move on after losing the person you loved?

How do you build a life worth living? Louisa Clark is no longer just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. After the transformative six months spent with Will Traynor, she is struggling without him. When an extraordinary accident forces Lou to return home to her family, she can’t help but feel she’s right back where she started.

 Her body heals, but Lou herself knows that she needs to be kick-started back to life. Which is how she ends up in a church basement with the members of the Moving On support group, who share insights, laughter, frustrations, and terrible cookies. They will also lead her to the strong, capable Sam Fielding—the paramedic, whose business is life and death, and the one man who might be able to understand her. Then a figure from Will’s past appears and hijacks all her plans, propelling her into a very different future. . . .

 For Lou Clark, life after Will Traynor means learning to fall in love again, with all the risks that brings. But here Jojo Moyes gives us two families, as real as our own, whose joys and sorrows will touch you deeply, and where both changes and surprises await.

My Thoughts:
Last year Moyes' Me Before You was one of my favorite books of the year. Which made it a given that I would read After You. Me Before You made readers feel all of the feelings. And tears, oh my goodness were there a lot of tears shed. It was going to be a tough book to live up to for Moyes.

But readers clamored to find out what happened to Lou after Will's death. More precisely, readers clamored to know that Lou was going to be okay after Will died. And therein lies the problem. One of the great things about Me Before You was that Moyes' didn't feel compelled to wrap everything up with a tidy ribbon and deliver a happy ending. She left us with just enough to know that it was going to be tough for Lou to move on but that her time with Will had given her what she would need to live her life to the fullest.

But if you're going to revisit Lou, you can't come back to her and find that every thing's just peachy. So Moyes gives us a Lou who is struggling. In fact, she may well be in worse shape than she was in when Will came into her life. She can't settle into the home that Will's money paid for, her job is terrible, and she's estranged from her family. And she can't move on from Will's death.

Enter that link to Will's past, a new man to fall in love with, and more family drama and you've got a lot going on here. Too much. The support group could have been left out entirely and very little would have been lost. And that link to Will's past? Let's just say, some parts of that story line were unnecessary and others were a bit tough for me to buy into.

But this is Moyes so After You is a solid read with charm, some really well-written characters, and enough depth to help readers get involved in the story. It's not Me Before You but I enjoyed it. And I'm looking forward to the next chapter in Louisa's life. Because it seems apparent that there will be one.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Life: It Goes On - October 7

Oops! This is exactly why I cannot try to monetize this blog. I all too often lose track of it when real life gets busy.

Miss H, The Big Guy and I made a run to Kansas City this weekend - just an excuse to get out of town and a chance for Miss H to connect with some friends. We did some shopping, ate at our fav pizza place in town, and discovered that it's really hard to find a place to buy alcohol along the Interstate system. Some lesser folks might have given up, but we needed those drinks after our poor Huskers lost again!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'm about 3/4 of the way through Room and am really impressed with it. The beauty of waiting to read a book until the buzz dies down is that I couldn't really remember anything more about it other than that it was about a mom and her son held captive in a room. Did not know that they would be rescued less than half way through the book and that the bulk of the book would be about adjusting to life outside of room.

Watching: Miss H has no cable or satellite at her rental any more so she's been spending a lot of time with us. Which means we've been watching a lot of baseball. This has resulted in a lot of battles between our baseball lover and those that prefer football. Because heaven forbid someone watch their game on a tv that's not half the size of a wall.

Reading: I raced through Jojo Moyes' sequel to Me Before You, After You. Review tomorrow. Today I started Antoinette May's The Determined Heart: The Tale of Mary Shelley and Her Frankenstein.

Making: Irish nachos, some new cocktails, sweet potato soup, mini-pizzas. It's been a weird week in our kitchen.

Planning: I have a lovely list of plans for this week and I've managed to get almost nothing on it done. Because books. It's the FrightFall readathon, hosted by Michelle at Seasons of Reading, and I'm grabbing that excuse to spend a good chunk of the evenings with a book.

Grateful for: A husband who's a road warrior - he's always willing to hit the road for a trip and does almost all of the driving. I navigate, now with the help of Siri. This invariably results in a least one heated battle when someone doesn't think he needs to follow the directions he's being given. But we always arrive safely.

Enjoying: Some warmer temps again after having to turn on our heat earlier this week. Dinners on the patio are my bliss.

Feeling: Anxious. I need to start planning for Miss H's return in a couple of weeks and as much as I'm looking forward to having her here again, all of that stuff coming with her is making me a bit twitchy.

Looking forward to: Junkstock this weekend. Nothing I need but it's always fun to get ideas, pick up a few new pieces, and find some new curiosities, like last spring's stuffed armadillo.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Emma by Jane Austen - 200th-Anniversary Annotated Edition

Emma by Jane Austen
First published December 1815
200th-Anniversary Annotated Edition published 9/29/2015 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Beautiful, clever, rich—and single—Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she ignores the warnings of her good friend Mr. Knightley and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protégée, Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected.

My Thoughts: 
This is my third reading, a third copy of Emma but there's no such thing as too much Jane Austen. Besides, look at that beautiful cover! How could I possible pass that up?! Also, I have never had a annotated copy of this novel and I was eager to see what the publisher would add to this beloved classic.

Plus, you know, Emma Woodhouse, one of my all-time favorite characters.

Emma is a typical (even by today's definition) wealthy, spoiled twenty-one year old who is very concerned with propriety and social standing and who believes she knows more than those who try to advise her, particularly when it comes to matters of the heart. She's a big fish in a very small pond. But Emma is can also be charming, devoted to her father, and a good friend to those she cares about. Sure she's a snob, but she's self-aware enough to know that she needs to try harder to be a better person. And the joy of the book, of course, is that, eventually, she will be.

Along the way, readers are treated to Austen's always wonderful satire, social commentary, witty dialogue. As always, Austen gives her heroine a bounty of colorful characters including Miss Bates who cannot stop talking, Emma's father with his constant worrying, deceitful Frank Churchill, the annoying Eltons. And let us not forget the steady, endlessly patient Mr. Knightley.  Characters I always enjoy revisiting. A book I never tire of rereading.

About the annotations:
Editor Juliette Wells calls this a reader's edition, not a scholarly one. "In other words, the information you'll find here is intended to support your understanding and appreciation of Emma rather than to instruct you in literary terms, theoretical perspectives, or critical debates." She has included an introduction about Austen and her writing, a spelling help page, a glossary and several contextual essays as well a photos of early editions of Emma. It's an edition that will not only aid first-time readers but offers something more to the story for people like me who already consider the book an old friend.

Wells says:
"Emma is special because it’s the capstone of Austen’s career as an author. She had already published three novels (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park), and she was at the very top of her game as a writer. She didn’t know it, of course, but Emma would be the last book she saw through to publication. When Austen died in July 1817, she left two essentially completed novels (Northanger Abbey and Persuasion), which her brother published at the end of that year. So Emma is the last Austen novel that was published in the exact form that she herself approved.

Emma is also special because it’s the most perfect example of Austen’s particular genius as an author, which is (I think) to create a recognizable, engaging fictional world from the slenderest of materials. She writes about everyday life and ordinary people—you won’t find kings and queens in her novels, or ghosts or vampires. Her effects are wonderfully subtle."

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Tiger Heart by Katrell Christie and Shannon McCaffrey

Tiger Heart: My Unexpected Adventures To Make A Difference In Darjeeling, and What I Learned About Fate, Fortitude, and Finding Family...Half A World Away by Katrell Christie and Shannon McCaffrey
Published October 2015 by HCI
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Katrell Christie never intended to visit India. In fact, her ideal vacation was a tropical beach where she could relax with a margarita in her hand. But when this former art student turned roller-derby rebel met three teenage girls at a crowded Buddhist orphanage in Darjeeling, she knew she had to help. What started as a trip made on a whim would prove to be a life-altering experience that would change the fate of these lost girls.

Katrell tells her remarkable story – from her quirky Atlanta tea shop to her fight for her young scholars halfway around the globe. Two scholars in the program are set to graduate from college and move on to pursue advanced degrees.

Most of the girls Katrell met in India faced grim futures as laborers or domestic servants. Some might have been relegated to lives of sexual exploitation. For them, she founded The Learning Tea, which has offered scholarships to 15 young women in Darjeeling, providing them with tuition, housing, clothing and medical care.

Katrell has us sipping tea with her at roadside tea huts, tasting hot samosas, dodging feral monkeys, and roaming the chaotic streets of Mumbai. The smells of small villages waft from the pages as we accompany her on her riveting and sometimes hilarious adventures across the globe in her mission to empower the young women who have become a part of her family.

My Thoughts:
By now you know what a sucker I am for books about India...and so do that ladies at TLC Book Tours! Of course, they knew it was a given that I would give this one a shot.
"People always ask me to describe India. Picture a large group of men dressed in orange dancing through the streets behind a blaring speaker in the back of a dump truck. A wild mother pig and her piglets come trotting down a busy street-with a monkey riding on her back. You drive through the desert and stumble upon a man sitting alone on a box with a sign that says "fax" and there sits a typewriter, connected to nothing. 
India is gorgeous and tragic and humbling all blended into one, and I can't get enough of its surprises. I have sat on my bed in India at different times on different trips and rationed out my Q-tips. I'm exhausted by the idea that I might have to haul ass over a herd of goats; nine naked, sleeping babies; six piles of cow poo; forty dogs; a basket of live chickens; and hashed-out snake-charming soothsayers so that I can jump a moving train that either came a day late or left three minutes early."
Co-author McCaffrey talks about Katrell's conditions before writing the book: she wanted to show her mistakes, she wanted to protect the young women in her project, and she wanted to make sure she didn't exaggerate her role in any way. This is partly because that's the kind of person Christie appears to be. But I'm sure some of it has to do with Greg Mortensen who wrote (Three Cups of Tea) about and won wide acclaim for his project to build schools for girl in Afghanistan only to be later discredited.

Mortensen made much about the danger he faced in his project. Christie tends to downplay the danger (although there has been danger - she faced the wrong end of a gun or a knife more than once), instead focusing on the difficulties of trying to change the lives of just a few low-caste girls in a country that won't allow women to sign for property, where nails and hammers are not sold in the same stores, and where the con is a game she had to learn to play.

The book focuses not just on what was involved in trying to get the project off the ground but on what it has taken to sustain and grow it, each of the chapters in the book focusing on one aspect of that journey. From finding the right girls for the project, to fundraising and the pitfalls in doing that, to learning how to travel to and in India, to what it takes to keep things going on both ends, Christie is honest and open about what she has learned and experienced. She writes about what it took to wrap her head around even starting a project that she knew could help so few of those in need.
"I've always wondered about the South. How could people who thought of themselves as good, who went to church on Sundays and supposedly followed their Ten Commandments, how had they talked about or acted when they encountered slavery? I always imagined either someone horsewhipping a slave or the country grandma who builds a relationship with one of her servants. 
It's the in between that I have never been able to imagine, until now. It means eating with people starving or dying outside the restaurant window. It's walking down the street with your kid while you're stepping over an old, crippled woman on her deathbed, shaking a can. It's the person who lives under the stairs and only comes out with a tray of tea when called upon. It's the four-year-olds who rush onto a train at the stops on their hands and knees to wipe down people's shoes for a penny.  
And then it's the upper caste, who don't even seem to notice this is going on and can keep the cricket conversation going in a taxi with little kids banging on the window for food. It's like two completely different worlds, living in the same space, mere inches from each other. I had thought about this many times over my life, about the in between."
Once Christie made the decision that she was going to help as many girls as she could, without seeking help from major donors, she threw herself into it entirely. She once talked to a man from India who then lived in San Francisco and was surprised to find that he wasn't thrilled to be living in the Bay City. He told her "You have to decide whether you want a good life or a good lifestyle." Clearly Christie chose the later. Despite the difficulties, the danger, and the long hours, Christie has chosen the good life, both for herself and for a group of girls who would have had no kind of life without her.

To learn more about The Learning Tea, or to find out how you can make a difference, check out their website. Just a couple of days ago they hosted their biggest fundraising, an annual Indian dinner, held right in the tea shop at a cost of just $20 per person. I love that the cost to help is so little when you see so many fundraisers that price out the average Joe from being able to help. You can also make cash donations or purchase Darjeeling tea.

Katrell Christie is the founder and owner of The Learning Tea, a project which provides schooling and a safe haven for impoverished young women in India. Through her efforts with The Learning Tea, Ms. Christie has changed the lives of many women living in Darjeeling, India. Visit for more information. Shannon McCaffrey is an award-winning reporter focusing on investigative stories for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.She is an avid reader, a mother, and a runner.

Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for putting this book in my hands! For other opinions about the book, check out the full tour.