Thursday, April 28, 2016

The List - Nebraska Authors

Nebraska is a small state, population-wise, the majority of it living in the two biggest cities, Omaha and Lincoln. We're proud to be the birthplace and/or home of many famous people (okay, maybe not so proud of some of them). Some of those people we're so proud of are authors. Maybe you know some of these folks?

1. Ron Hansen - author of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (made into a movie starring Brad Pitt)

2. Roxane Gay - born in Nebraska, Gay is best known as the author of Bad Feminist and An Untamed State

3. Mignon Eberhart - at one time Eberhart was the leading female crime novelist in the U.S. and one of the highest paid female crime novelists in the world.

Willa Cather
4. L. Ron Hubbard (yeah, this is one we're not so proud of) - Hubbard wrote prolifically for pulp fiction magazines, mostly fantasy and science fiction works, before founding the Church of Scientology for which he is best known.

5. Nicholas Sparks - yes, THAT Nicholas Sparks, was born in Omaha and for a time lived in Grand Island, Nebraska, which is not in any way, shape, or form and island.

6. Richard Patrick Dooling - Dooling is the author of White Man's Grave which was a finalist in 1994 for the National Book Award in fiction.

7. Willa Cather - author of O, Pioneers and My Antonia, Cather is a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Timothy Shaffert
8. Alex Kava - best known for her Maggie O'Dell series, Kava has written 15 novels and been a contributor to a number of short story collections.

9. Timothy Schaffert - I've talked about Schaffert a lot on this blog as he is the driving force behind the Omaha Lit Fest and the author of several books, most recently The Swan Gondola.

10. Rainbow Rowell - Rowell started writing in Omaha as a columnist for the paper but gave that up to begin writing novels. As much as I enjoyed her column, I'm mighty glad she gave it up to write Eleanor and Park among others.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson
Published July 2009 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: borrowed from my parents
Narrated by: Simon Vance

Publisher's Summary:
Mikael Blomkvist, crusading journalist and publisher of the magazine Millennium, has decided to run a story that will expose an extensive sex trafficking operation between Eastern Europe and Sweden, implicating well-known and highly placed members of Swedish society, business, and government. But he has no idea just how explosive the story will be until, on the eve of publication, the two investigating reporters are murdered. And even more shocking for Blomkvist: the fingerprints found on the murder weapon belong to Lisbeth Salander - the troubled, wise-beyond-her-years genius hacker who previously came to his aid, and who becomes the focus and fierce heart of the current situation. As Blomkvist, alone in his belief in Salander's innocence, plunges into an investigation of the slayings, Salander herself is drawn into a murderous hunt in which she is the prey, and which compels her to revisit her dark past in an effort to settle with it once and for all.

My Thoughts:
Okay, you all were right. Simon Vance is amazing. Except...he really cannot do a convincing Swedish accent, particularly a Swedish woman. Shouldn't even have tried. Lisbeth Salander became a Cockney girl, and not a particularly tough one.

Why, yes, this is the bed Lisbeth bought
If that were the worst thing to be said about this book, it would be a minor quibble I could have gotten over. It isn't. I have no idea where Stieg Larsson's editor was when this book was being published. Perhaps they were, like Dickens, both being paid by the word. One could actually furnish their apartment with exactly the same furniture that Lisbeth bought from Ikea, right down to the lamps and bedding. Every shop anyone went into is named, every kind of food Lisbeth ate. And don't even get me started on the street names. I do believe I could navigate through Stockholm and surrounding environs.

It's a shame to burden the story with all of this nonsense. It's a complicated story and readers need to be able to stay focused. There are a lot of names and relationships to remember. If I'd been reading, rather than listening, I might well have made notes as I started. Eventually, I got it all straight in my head and was able to go along for the ride. It really is a great ride, if you can get over the fact that it would appear a good half of the men in Sweden are chauvinist pigs. Because Lisbeth Salander is just so damn interesting.

I'd be ready to jump right into the next book if I could just get over the idea that it's bound to be three discs longer than it should be.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Behind The Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Behind The Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
Published February 2012 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: all mine

Publisher's Summary:
Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and as India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a reflective and enterprising Muslim teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a childhood in rural poverty, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. With a little luck, her sensitive, beautiful daughter—Annawadi’s “most-everything girl”—will soon become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, a fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to the good lives and good times they call “the full enjoy.”

But then Abdul the garbage sorter is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and a global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power and economic envy turn brutal. As the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths, the true contours of a competitive age are revealed. And so, too, are the imaginations and courage of the people of Annawadi.

My Thoughts:
I feel like I've been wanting to read this book for longer than it has existed. I knew it was going to be a tough read but something I "should" read. I blame Thrity Umrigar, who taught me about the slums of India in The Space Between Us, and Aravind Adiga, who taught me how political and corrupt the system is in The White Tiger.

Whatever veil was still over my eyes after those books, has been shredded away by Boo.
""The big people think that because we are poor we don't understand much," she said to her children. Asha understood plenty. She was a chit in a national game of make-believe, in which many of India's old problems - poverty, disease, illiteracy, child labor - were being aggressively addressed. Meanwhile the other old problem, corruption and exploitation of the weak by the less weak, continued with minimal interference."
Boo spent three years talking to the residents of the Annawadi slum, getting them to trust and confide in her, finding the right story to center her book around. In Abdul's family she found the perfect story to highlight all of the ills of the Annawadians, of all of those living in Mumbai slums - a shortage of work, religious conflicts, corruption down to the lowest level, political chicanery, abuse of power by the police, and an ineffective judicial system. They are pawns in a game they don't even know is being played, busy as they are just trying to stay alive, and the first to suffer when the world economy collapsed in 2008.
"Every country has its myths, and one that successful Indians liked to indulge was a romance of instability and adaptation - the idea that their country's rapid rise derived in part from the chaotic unpredictability of daily life. In America and Europe, it was said, people know what is going to happen when the turn on the water tap or flick the light switch. In India, a land of few safe assumptions, chronic uncertainty was said to have helped produce a nation of quick-witted, creative problem-solvers.  
Among the poor, there was no doubt that instability fostered ingenuity, but over time the lack of a link between effort and result could become debilitating."
I cannot stress enough how important this book is if you want to understand what it is to live as a poor person in India today and how such a person can feel hope for a better future.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Life: It Goes On - April 24

Surprised to see me this early? Yeah, me too.

Somewhere around midnight last night, I knew I probably shouldn't try to make it through the entire night reading. If I'd really been rocking the reading, I might have said the heck with all of that and read on. But with graduations, a kid moving, and a house guest all arriving in less than three weeks, I have too much to get done around here to spend all of one weekend day reading and the next day sleeping. And then there was that 8 a.m. phone call from one of my kids to wake me up. I can't imagine my reaction to that phone call if I'd only just gotten to bed two hours earlier!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'll finish Muriel Sparks' The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie on the drive into work tomorrow (or today, if I run errands by myself). I've enjoyed it. I think John Boyne's The Absolutist is up next.

Watching: The Voice, some baseball, but not really much else. We're kind of off on a lot of the series we'd been watching so The Big Guy's been doing a lot of channel surfing instead of watching. He actually went all of Friday night without turning the television on!

Reading: Think I covered this one with yesterday's long readathon post. I'll finish The Edge of Reason in the next couple of days then it's on to When The Moon Is Low for an upcoming TLC Book Tour.

Making: Hmmm, must have been a dull weekend in the kitchen because I can't remember a thing I actually made. Except Friday night when I used a roasted chicken from Costco to make a delicious chicken salad. So delicious, we made it again yesterday for lunch.

Planning: The graduation party planning continues and now, it seems, Mini-him will be moving out right around that same time. So we'll need to get him packed up again and ready to go. We'll be hosting Miss S's (Mini-me's girl) mom for several days when she is here for Miss S's graduation and the party so I've got to turn Mini-him's bedroom into a guest room even as I pack him out of it.

Thinking About: See above. Not much time to think about other things.

Enjoying: Patio time! It's the perfect time of year - the birds are singing like crazy, it's not too hot, and the neighbors' pool heater has been turned on yet so we don't have to listen to that whenever we're outside.

Feeling: Like the rest of my family needs to get on board the spring cleaning/party prep train.

Looking forward to: A quiet week, commitment-wise.

Question of the week: What special things do you do when you have house guests?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Dewey's Time!

Well, I'm off to a terrible start! Stayed up much too late last night and, consequently, slept right through my 6 a.m. alarm. What? It's 8:15 a.m. already? Yeah, that's how I'm rolling today.

Grabbed my coffee, a bowl of cereal and my iPad to get this readathon started. Of course, life has already interfered so I've gotten all of about 1 hour of reading done as we head into hour five of this 24 hour funfest. But, I've cleared the calendar and the family will largely be out of the house today so I'm hoping to still get in a lot of reading today.

Hour 1 Mini-Challenge: Opening Meme

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
Sunny, soon to be very hot, Omaha, Nebraska - right smack dab in the middle of the U.S.
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
I'm very excited to be back to Chris Cleave's Everyone Brave Is Forgiven. Hope to finish it before I break for lunch. 
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
All of them? Because, really, readathon is the only day we give ourselves permission to eat all of the snacks in one day. 
4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
I'm a mom of three who, at this point, should be an empty nester. For a few months I was. Then two of my birdies flew back home. And I'm okay with that most of the time because being a mom is my very favorite thing. Sorry, books. 
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?
Stay out of the room where someone is insisting on watching t.v. I prefer to read curled up in a corner of the sofa but that's in the room where everyone else will end up. With my comfy sofa in my living room for the time being, I'll be able to stay away from the noise as much as possible.

Well, I've been waylaid by lunch (made some chicken salad - protein for the energy, don't you know!) and a long search for an elusive peace symbol flag which took more than a half hour. Miss H is about to get home from work and the peace and quiet that just befell my house is about to be disrupted. Still, I will try to read on!

HOUR 13:
Mid-Event Survey

1. What are you reading right now?

Finally finishing up Everyone Brave Is Forgiven. In an hour, I'll finally be able to start my second book.

2 . How many books have you read so far?

See question #1.

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?

I'm having a change of heart about what I'm reading next. Was going to finish Why We Write About Ourselves but I'm thinking I need something I can really sink my teeth into now that I finally have the house to myself. Also, thinking I need to go with a "real" book which rules out the third book I had planned to work on. So my next book will be whatever strikes my fancy on my bookshelves.

4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?

Endless interruptions, including my eldest coming by for a couple of hours unexpectedly. I always try to soldier on but next readathon, I may just take to my room for the duration. I should have done this:

5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?

How fast the daylight hours go by. Which is actually something that surprises me every readathon for some reason!

HOUR 15:
Well, as much as I loved Everyone Brave Is Forgiven, it was oh so sad. I've had a terrible time settling on something new. Finally, I decided I need something completely different and funny. So begins Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, which is, at least, one of my #owndamnbooks.

HOUR 17:
So, I may have snuck a nap in during hour 16. I was rudely awakened when I thought I heard the garage door open when no one was supposed to be coming home. False alarm. You'd have thought that nap and startling wake up would have brought me back to reading life. Not so much. Don't know how much longer I'm going to make it, folks.

HOUR 19:
Woohoo! I'm still at it! I got a second wind and have been killing it with the reading.

HOUR 21:
Well that's it for me! Did more mini-challenges than I usually manage to work in and read enough to have finished a good length book start to finish. But this girl's got to get something done tomorrow so I've got to get some sleep. Good luck to those of you are are going the distance!
Hours Reading: 12            
Books Finished: 1 1/2 
Mini-challenges: 6
Pages Read: 427


1. Which hour was most daunting for you?

Curiously, the seventeenth. I'd had a bit of a nap, I'm always still awake at that hour, and I'd just started a book which was light and brought back characters I was already familiar with. 
2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?

I always suck at this question because I usually haven't read very many books during readathon. I guess I'd suggest the Bridget Jones books because they are quick, light reads, although Edge Of Reason is not particularly short.

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next season?

Nope. It was great as usual! I didn't cheer this year because I was hoping to really knock out a lot of reading. I wish I would have because, seriously, 76 cheerleaders for 2000 readers?

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?

I didn't ask to be cheered because I knew it would be a few people trying to hit up a lot of people but I really liked the idea of doing it by Twitter. So, so much easier to do all the cheering at one place instead of trying to go to all of the blogs individually.

5. How many books did you read?

One and a half. Had so hoped to knock out a couple. One of these years I'm going to head into readathon without so many upcoming reading commitments!

6. What were the names of the books you read?

Everyone Brave Is Forgiven and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason

7. Which book did you enjoy most?

Enjoyed them both.

8. Which did you enjoy least?

See above.

9. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?

I will definitely readathon again; I love, love the idea of reading along with 2000 other people all over the world. I would, as I said, definitely cheer again. Something more? Maybe.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

I tend to look at Facebook on my phone, during lunch or in the evenings when my husband is using the computer or while I'm waiting in the car for some reason. While I'm browsing, I tend to save things to look at later and then I forget to actually look at them, other than to occasionally remember to use one of the many recipes that has piqued my interest. 

As part of my recent 40 Bags In 40 Days, my "bags" included cleaning up some computer things, including my Facebook saves. Turned out, there were some pretty interesting things there, among them a lot of bookish saves.

In December 2014, Buzzfeed published a list of 51 Of The Most Beautiful Sentences in Literature.  

From comes a list of The 21st Century's 12 Greatest Novels.

In March last year, Polka Cafe showcased Top Indian Women Authors Whose Books Should Be On Your Summer Reading List. You all know how much I love books by Indian authors so I was very happy to rediscover this list.

Again from Buzzfeed, here is a list of 53 Books You Won't Be Able To Put Down.

If you're looking for some foodie, nonfiction reads, here are a few from Book Riot.

Jane Smiley

Check out The Writer's Room, courtesy of The New York Times. I'm always interested in seeing the environments that result in creativity.

Speaking of authors, check out these movies about authors, courtesy of Book Riot.

Finally, also from Buzz Feed, comes a list of 20 Incredible Books From The Past Year That You Need To Read.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Mennonite In A Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

Mennonite In A Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen
Published 2009 by Henry Holt and Company
Source: borrowed from my mom

Publisher's Summary:
Not long after Rhoda Janzen turned forty, her world turned upside down. It was bad enough that her husband of fifteen years left her for Bob, a guy he met on, but that same week a car accident left her injured. Needing a place to rest and pick up the pieces of her life, Rhoda packed her bags, crossed the country, and returned to her quirky Mennonite family's home, where she was welcomed back with open arms and offbeat advice. (Rhoda's good-natured mother suggested she get over her heartbreak by dating her first cousin—he owned a tractor, see.)

My Thoughts:
Rhoda Janzen was raised a Mennonite then married an atheist after she broke away. She spent 15 years with a husband who suffered from bipolar disorder, never held a job for long, didn't let her put up family pictures in their home, and frequently became verbally and physically abusive. But that wasn't the stuff that really hurt. It was having him leave her for another man with a mortgage she couldn't afford. And, oh yeah, that terrible car accident. Sounds like some serious drama stuff, doesn't it? Obviously it was. At the time. But Janzen is living proof that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Also, as Dorothy said, there's no place like home. Better yet, looking back, she is also able to find a lot of humor in her survival, thanks in no small part to her upbringing.

Janzen writes both lovingly and honestly about life growing up as a Mennonite. It wasn't easy. Beside the fact that they always had to bring their lunches from home (in lunch bags that were not the cool latest cartoon characters favorites of all of the other kids), were never allowed to wear jeans, and were almost friendless outside of the Mennonite community, the Janzen kids also had one of the leaders of the Mennonite community as their father.
"Dad is one of those people to whom everybody listens. No matter who you are, you do not snooze through this man's sermons. Even if you are an atheist, you find yourself nodding and thinking, Preach it, mister! 
Well, not nodding. Maybe you imagine you're nodding. But in this scenario you are in a Mennonite church, which means you sit very still and worship Jesus with all your heart, mind, and soul, only as if a snake had bitten you, and you are now in the last stages of paralysis."

But when she went to stay with her parents after her accident, Janzen discovered that some of the very things that had been hard to take as a child brought her comfort as an adult. Homemade Mennonite foods for school lunches? The worst. No one would ever trade. But, as an adult, cooking and eating those foods brought Janzen comfort. The very fact that cooking was so ingrained in her being brought her a sense of pride. Homemade clothes in high school? Embarrassing. Being able to make your own clothes as an adult? Pretty damn handy.

Did I mention humor? Periodically this book reminded me of Jennie Lawson's Let's Pretend This Never Happened, although certainly not as filled with the bizarre and with none of the cursing. Because Mennonites don't do that.
"The lunchbox that would have set my metaphoric pants on fire was Josie and the Pussycats. It is extremely unlikely that a Josie and the Pussycats lunchbox could have rescued me from the pit of unloosens into which I had already sunk, but at age eight I begged to differ. I figured that Josie and the Pussycats would magically make up for the knee-length homemade skirts or the blonde trials traded with neurotic precision, like Heidi on crack."
Janzen's extended visit brought her a sense of peace with her culture and an appreciation for her heritage. A heritage based on hard work, peaceful existence, and a love of their God above themselves. I doubt, though, that's she's taken to wearing one of the little hats you so often see on the women or her skirts to her mid-calf.

2016 Nonfiction Reading Challenge
Woman Challenge #4
Read Books That Others Have Loaned Me

Yep, this one checked off a lot of the boxes!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
Published April 2016 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary:
This version of the Bennet family—and Mr. Darcy—is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help—and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray.

Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master’s degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won’t discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane’s fortieth birthday fast approaches.

Enter Chip Bingley, a handsome new-in-town doctor who recently appeared on the juggernaut reality TV dating show Eligible. At a Fourth of July barbecue, Chip takes an immediate interest in Jane, but Chip’s friend neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy reveals himself to Liz to be much less charming. . . .

And yet, first impressions can be deceiving.

My Thoughts:
While I was reading Eligible, I was enjoying a lot about the book. I was impressed with Sittenfeld's ability to find ways to try to update a 200-year-old novel, her ability to retain each of the characters' essential attributes, and the jabs she takes at so many of the things we take so seriously these days. I had a lot of fun with much of the book and was willing to overlook a lot, particularly in the beginning of the book. I appreciated Sittenfeld taking some liberties, acknowledging that the world is a bigger place than it was for Austen's characters.


(Doesn't it seem like I'm using that word a lot in my reviews lately?)

For me, the more I've thought about this book, the more I'm feeling that Eligible lacked both the bite and the warmth of its source material, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. For example, the relationship between Liz and Mr. Bennett didn't have closeness that Elizabeth and Mr. Bennett shared.

It also felt like Sittenfeld may have tried to put in too many modern updates. Honestly, I think Sittenfeld could have largely stuck to Austen's version of Wickham's previous transgression (here in the character of Jasper Wick) but went with something that wasn't nearly as shocking or nearly as likely to have inspired so much discord between Wick and Darcy. I don't want to spoil the shocking bit of Lydia's elopement but it wasn't because the man she was running off with was, at heart, a bad man. Instead it was for a reason that seemed to have been chosen simply to bring in a more modern issue, a reason that hardly justified Darcy riding in to save the day, which was one of the turning points of P and P.

In Sittenfeld's defense, much of what makes P and P so great just cannot be updated too literally. In trying to stay fairly true to the original story, Sittenfeld is hampered by the fact that the story just doesn't ring true in 2016. A mother might be disappointed to have five adult unmarried daughters but she's unlikely to be desperate to get them all married off and in most parts of the world a family is not likely to risk losing their home because there's not a male heir to inherit the property.

Eligible is a fun enough romp and if the reader doesn't find themselves constantly comparing the book to Pride and Prejudice, I suspect they will actually enjoy the more than those who can't help but do so.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Life: It Goes On - April 17

Huzzah - spring has definitely arrived! All temps for the foreseeable future in at least the 60's the flowering trees are all doing their thing and, most importantly, the annual Red/White spring game has now been played. Ohio State may have set a record for the most people every at a spring game but Nebraska was the first school that had game-sized crowds pay to watch a scrimmage. The Big Guy, Mini-me, and Miss H joined a half dozen other family members in attending and enjoyed the festive atmosphere before and after. It's the kick off for spring and for the countdown to football season! My mom, SIL, and I spent our day contributing to the local economy which has become a fun tradition for us.

Thanks to everyone for the well wishes for my brother-in-law. He is home form the hospital and started on the long road to recovery. Working on trying to keep spirits up in their house by taking over some meals and I might have tucked a bottle of wine in for my sis as well!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'm on the last disc of The Girl Who Played With Fire and while I'm enjoying it I cannot for the life of me understand why an editor didn't tell Stieg Larsson that he didn't need to name every street his characters traveled down or the brand of every item they purchased. The man listed every item of furniture Lisbeth Salander purchased out of the IKEA catalog for an apartment. Dude, that doesn't help me picture the look of that apartment any better than if you'd just said she bought a sofa, some chairs, some beds, and a desk.

"42" with Harrison Ford (right)
Watching: "42" with Miss H and BG Friday night on National Jackie Robinson Day. BG and I had never seen it and were really impressed with Harrison Ford's performance as Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers general manager who signed Jackie Robinson as the first black player in Major League Baseball. Miss H and her grandpa had gone to the movie three years ago when it first opened, an outing she will always cherish.

Reading: Behind The Beautiful Forevers for book club. Really fascinating and I can't wait to discuss it.

Making: Balsamic and rosemary grilled chicken, sauteed new potatoes with peppers and purple onions, beef fajitas (using a recipe from Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman, which I highly recommend), grilled chicken legs, and a couple of salads. 

Planning: Plans are all kind of on the shelf for this coming week as we see what needs to be done to support my sister and her family. 

Thinking About:  How much more difficult it is to format a post since I reformatted the blog. I am constantly having to preview each post to make sure things don't look all janky. 

Enjoying: The smell of the blossoms on the crabapple trees. They are all over the neighborhood and smell so lovely when we are out on walks or just out in our own yard. 

Feeling: Tired. It's very early Sunday morning as I type this so it's been a long day which is the end to a hard week at work and a tough week emotionally. Perhaps I should have gone to bed by now, am I right?

Looking forward to: Book club and readathon this week.

Question of the week: What's your favorite thing

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Illustrated by Tasha Tudor
Originally published in 1905
Source: our copy belongs to Miss H

Set in 19th century London, a little girl goes from riches to rags and back again. Sara Crewe is delivered by her wealthy, doting father to a boarding school for young ladies in London. Raised in tropical India, she finds London a strange place. And Miss Minchin, the owner of the school, is cold and meanspirited. Sara, who is kindhearted and intelligent as well as fabulously wealthy, quickly becomes the reigning "princess" of the school. When her father suddenly dies penniless back in India, Miss Minchin forces her to work as a servant. Despite being treated cruelly, Sara retains her dignity and her kind ways, showing herself to be a true princess.

My Thoughts:
This isn't the first time I've talked about this book, it was one of my favorite books as a young girl and it will always hold a special place in my heart. In fact, when Miss H was born, it was one of the first books we gave her because she was, after all, our very own princess the minute she arrived. 

I read it to her when she was a little girl but then the movie came along and the details of the book got lost in the details of the movie adaptation that came out the same year she was born. It really is a wonderful movie but, as movies do, it left out some things that were important in the book while shifting the focus to other things. Seriously, if you have a little girl, watch it. But read the book, too. 

When I was making my list for the Classics Club Challenge in 2012, I included A Little Princess because I wanted to reacquaint myself with the details of the book I grew up loving. You know what? I still love it. I love the story, I love the writing, and I love Sara Crewe. Most of all, I love the lessons it teaches young girls - it's okay to be smart, attitude is everything, dreams make life better, be grateful for what you have, and, above all, always behave as if you are a princess. Not in an entitled, everyone-should-do-what-I-want way. For Sara, being a princess means being proud not haughty, being at all times civil, being polite not rude or malicious no matter what those around you do or say. Sara never let her circumstances drag her down to the level of those who would belittle or demean her and she never forgot that there were others who were worse off than she was. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday - Ten Classic Books Every Parent Should Read To Their Young Child

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the ladies at The Broke and The Bookish who this week asked us to name our "Top Ten Books Every____ Should Read." I've chosen to expand on that idea a bit and also to explain why I've chosen each of the classic books on the list.

  1. Harold And The Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson // Why? Because it encourages creativity, thinking outside the box, and problem solving.
  2. The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid Of Anything by Linda Williams // Why? Because it teaches bravery, standing up for yourself, and it's a book that encourages interactive action.
  3. Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak // Why? Because it's probably the first time your child will really understand that you will love them even if they do something bad and that they always have a home to come home to, no matter how far they roam.
  4. The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf // Why? Because it teaches children that you don't have to fight and that you should be true to your own characters. Also, because Hitler and Franco hated it and Mahatma Gandhi said it was his favorite children's book.
  5. Yertle The Turtle and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss // Why? Because, in it's titular story,  it teaches children that even the smallest of us should stand up for him/herself against those that would abuse them ("And turtles, of course ... all the turtles are free / As turtles, and maybe, all creatures should be."). In "Gertrude McFuzz, Seuss teaches children to be happy with what they have and not be envious of others and in "The Big Brag" he teaches them, obviously, not to brag. 
  6. The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper // Why? Because it teaches children that you can do anything if you put your mind to it.
  7. Winnie The Pooh by A. A. Milne // Why? Don't just watch the movies and television shows, actually read the books. They teach children about friendship and that everyone has something to offer.
  8. The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton // Why? Because it teaches children about surviving change and finding your own place.
  9. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle // Why? Because it teaches numbers, days of the week, and how things can grow and change. Plus, the artwork is so eye catching. 
  10. Little Golden Books: The Little Red Hen // Why? Because it teaches children about a roundabout way!

What books would you add to this list?

Monday, April 11, 2016

At The Edge Of The Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

At The Edge Of The Orchard by Tracy Chevalier
Published by Penguin Publishing Group March 2016
Source: the publisher through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary:
1838: James and Sadie Goodenough have settled where their wagon got stuck – in the muddy, stagnant swamps of northwest Ohio. They and their five children work relentlessly to tame their patch of land, buying saplings from a local tree man known as John Appleseed so they can cultivate the fifty apple trees required to stake their claim on the property. But the orchard they plant sows the seeds of a long battle. James loves the apples, reminders of an easier life back in Connecticut; while Sadie prefers the applejack they make, an alcoholic refuge from brutal frontier life.

1853: Their youngest child Robert is wandering through Gold Rush California. Restless and haunted by the broken family he left behind, he has made his way alone across the country. In the redwood and giant sequoia groves he finds some solace, collecting seeds for a naturalist who sells plants from the new world to the gardeners of England. But you can run only so far, even in America, and when Robert’s past makes an unexpected appearance he must decide whether to strike out again or stake his own claim to a home at last.

My Thoughts:
I've had mixed feelings about the other Tracy Chevalier book I've read, so you'd think I'd have stopped reading them by now. I often come away feeling like I may have learned far more about a subject than I really needed to know. But then, I have learned a lot about a subject I didn't know much about that I was clearly interested in or I wouldn't have read the book so that can't be bad, right? Plus, there's bound to be interesting historical details and even more interesting characters. So when I had a chance to read her latest, I didn't hesitate.

And could I now graft two trees into one? Possibly. There's no lack of detail about trees in this book, including all of ways pioneering folk would have used the apple harvest from their trees. I may have skimmed over some of that.


I really loved the unusual structure of this book. The first part of the book is alternating parts with James' point of view told from the third-person and Sadie's told from a first-person point of view. There are two sections that are collections of letters. There is a section that is a flashback and then we are back to Robert's present told from the third-person point of view. It worked well to reveal the details of the story from a number of viewpoints and to move the story along quickly in time.

Despite all of the talk of trees (and did you know that redwoods and sequoias are not the same tree?), the focus of At The Edge of The Orchard is its characters - Sadie  and Molly both with their destructive desperation, James with his single-minded passion, Martha with her quiet resignation, and Robert whose pain is palpable.

If your a fan of Chevalier's work, you'll enjoy At The Edge of The Orchard and I definitely think book clubs would find a lot to discuss here.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Life: It Goes On - April 10

Once again, I'm finding the title of this weekly post to be particularly apt this week. My sister's husband found out Wednesday that he was in need of quadruple bypass (at only 51 years of age), which was done on Thursday. As my family does, we have circled the wagons since. I'm happy to be so nearby that we are here to be able to support them along the long road ahead. We're once again reminded about how blessed we are to be surrounded by so many people who care. It's a good walk up call for the rest of us to start to eat healthier and exercise more.The PSA here? If it doesn't feel right, insist on getting an answer.

My sis and her hubby back in the
day. Love this big guy!
You'd think sitting in a hospital waiting room for six hours on Thursday would have afforded me a lot of reading time. Not with sixteen people around to talk with, a gift shop, and a book I'm struggling with. I've been reading Tampa on and off for a few weeks and it's an extremely uncomfortable read that I can only handle a little bit at a time. It may be another couple of weeks before I finally finish it.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Two-thirds of the way through The Girl Who Played With Fire. Honestly, it's a bit slow going; an interesting story bogged down with a lot of unnecessary details and a fair amount of repetition.

And did listen to a couple of Happier podcast episodes while I worked out this week, too. But I'm way behind on my podcast listening - I didn't even know that the new season of Nerdette had started in February. Clearly, I'll have plenty to listen to as I start the new, more vigorous exercise routine aforementioned.

Watching: Baseball because, apparently, Miss H has turned us all into fans.

Reading: I finished Tracy Chevalier's At The Edge of The Orchard this weekend (review tomorrow) and today will start Curtis Sittenfeld's Eligible which is billed as a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice. Very much looking forward to this one!

Making: Mexican stuffed potato skins, Spicy Smoked Sausage Alfredo Bake, grilled burgers, and strawberry shortcake. Trish (Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity) wrote the other day about following recipes.  I linked the recipe for the Alfredo bake but must admit to having made some  (okay, several) alterations - we only had garlic and onion polish sausage on hand and no mozzarella cheese so I substituted Irish cheese. Also, I was unable to throw it in and actually bake it as the Big Guy had already put broccoli in the oven to roast. It was delicious with the substitutions although I wish I had put in more sausage and baked it. When you cook, do you always stick the recipe?

Planning: My reading list for next weekend's Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon. Anyway, I was planning my list until Mini-him noticed that we get free HBO next weekend which also usually means a Game of Thrones marathon. Perhaps my readathon reading will finally be to read A Game of Thrones while I watch?

Miss H and
Thinking About: Healthier ways to make the foods we love without sacrificing flavor. I'll be culling my cookbooks, recipe collections, and Pinterest. I'm not giving up the foods I love; I have no interest in spending the rest of my life eating food I don't enjoy and I do not do fat-free dairy products so it will be a challenge to be sure. At least we're heading into gardening and farmer's market season.

Enjoying: Seeing my kids enjoying each other's company. Miss H and Mini-him hopped in the car last Monday and drove to Kansas City (a seven-hour roundtrip) to go to a concert together. Got home at two a.m. and went to work the next day. I can hardly contemplate going to a concert in town on a work night - I miss being young!

Feeling: Excited. My nephew and his wife let us know that other day that they are expecting their first baby this fall. I can't wait to meet him or her!

Looking forward to: Today is the opening reception for Mini-me's senior thesis art show. He's been working on this for the entire school year and I can't wait to share pictures next week. Which is remarkable for me to be able to say, given what so much of his work looks like!

Question of the week: What are your favorite ways to make food taste delicious while still being healthy?

Friday, April 8, 2016

Fairy Tale Fridays: NRA Rewrites Fairy Tales With More Firearms, Less Bloodshed

Well here's something I didn't see coming - the NRA has begun rewriting fairy tales, according to a story from NPR. In their versions, of course, the victims in the original tales are now armed to protect themselves.

"Adding guns to the world of the Brothers Grimm drastically reduces death rates, according to a study — well, OK, according to a couple of stories published by the NRA.

So far, there are only two data points. And they're imaginary. But the trendline is clear: In the NRA's reimagined fairy tales, putting rifles in the hands of children creates a safer world.

The NRA Family site published its first reimagined fairy tale — "Little Red Riding Hood (Has A Gun)" in January, and followed up with "Hansel and Gretel (Have Guns)" last week.

On Twitter, inspired by the series, a few people have been inventing their own #NRAfairytales, imagining tales that begin with "once upon a time" and end with a bang.

Maybe they'll inspire some other advocacy and lobbying groups to defang disturbing fairy tales.

Will the pharmaceutical industry take the bite out of Snow White's poisoned apple? Will PETA soothe the angst of the Boy Who Cried Wolf, when the townspeople realize the joys of an animal-free life and set loose their sheep? Will agribusiness harness Jack's beanstalk?

The NRA series has inspired some criticism, as The Washington Post has noted: Gun control advocacy groups have decried it for advancing gun culture. Gun rights advocates, meanwhile, have mocked liberal objections to the stories, pointing to the sheer horror of the original tales.

But the NRA is pretty clear about its own intent: The stories are tagged "Fun Friday" and "Just for fun" on the site."

Hmmm - not sure this is quite the retelling I'm interested in reading.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean

The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean
Published March 2006 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: bought for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
In the fall of 1941, the German army approached the outskirts of Leningrad, signaling the beginning of what would become a long and torturous siege. During the ensuing months, the city's inhabitants would brave starvation and the bitter cold, all while fending off the constant German onslaught.

Marina, then a tour guide at the Hermitage Museum, along with other staff members, was instructed to take down the museum's priceless masterpieces for safekeeping, yet leave the frames hanging empty on the walls - a symbol of the artworks' eventual return. To hold on to sanity when the Luftwaffe's bombs began to fall, she burned to memory, brushstroke by brushstroke, these exquisite artworks: the nude figures of women, the angels, the serene Madonnas that had so shortly before gazed down upon her. She used them to furnish a "memory palace," a personal Hermitage in her mind to which she retreated to escape terror, hunger, and encroaching death. A refuge that would stay buried deep within her, until she needed it once more.

Moving back and forth in time between the Soviet Union and contemporary America, The Madonnas of Leningrad is a portrait of war and remembrance, of the power of love, memory, and art to offer beauty, grace, and hope in the face of overwhelming despair.

My Thoughts:
Sixty years after that devastating 900 day siege, the memory Marina relied on in order to survive has betrayed her. As her family prepares for the wedding of her granddaughter, Marina is struggling to remember who is even getting married as Alzheimer's begins to tighten its grip on her mind.

Dean, in her debut novel,  moves back and forth in time as Marina, again and again, slips into her past. Marina's battle to stay in the present is beautifully written, although the story does get bogged down when Dean moves into Marina's daughter's problems. Likewise, Dean paints a vivid picture of life in a world devoid of hope as the people of Leningrad fight to survive but the story again gets bogged down in overly vivid details of the paintings Marina is committing to memory.

The Hermitage during the siege of Leningrad
It's always a plus for me when a book pushes me to look for more information on a subject and this one had me not only researching the siege of Leningrad but also the paintings that Dean highlighted.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Miller's Valley by Anna Quindlen

Miller's Valley by Anna Quindlen
Published April 2016 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: the publisher through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary:
For generations the Millers have lived in Miller’s Valley. Mimi Miller tells about her life with intimacy and honesty. As Mimi eavesdrops on her parents and quietly observes the people around her, she discovers more and more about the toxicity of family secrets, the dangers of gossip, the flaws of marriage, the inequalities of friendship and the risks of passion, loyalty, and love. Home, as Mimi begins to realize, can be “a place where it’s just as easy to feel lost as it is to feel content.”

My Thoughts: 
I'm half tempted just to say to you here "just, please, read this book" and leave it at that. Seriously. Unless you don't like lovely coming-of-age stories, complex stories about families, strong characters and vivid settings.

Miller's Valley impressed from the first pages.
"I felt kind of sorry for the woman. It was her job to make it sound as though one place to live was just as good as another, just as good as the place you'd brought your babies home to from the hospital fifty years before, just as good as the place where your parents had died and, in a few cases that you could tell made the government people really uncomfortable, were buried. They could make moving to a new house with a nice dry basement sound like a good deal, but there was no way they could put a pretty face on digging up a coffin that went into the ground before the First World War."
The government is making a move to buy up the property in Miller's Valley with plans to flood the valley. It's a battle that will be the backdrop of Mimi's life for more than 15 years, years she spends  struggling to adjust to changes in her family and to find her place in the world.
"...more than anything I missed the Mimi I used to be. Getting older wasn't working out so well of me. My brother's words had made me think a lot about what I wanted, where I wanted to end up, and the truth was I had no idea in the world. I figured it should be clear, like that big strip of yellow tape they held across the end of the course for the sack race at the volunteer fire department picnic: this, here, this is how you win."
There was nothing I didn't love about this book. I highly recommend it for book clubs; I know mine will be reading it this year. With themes of family, love, friendship, what makes a home, loss, and life choices there is a lot to discuss. It all circles back to family, in the end, and home. Mimi learns, just as Dorothy did so long ago, there's no place like home.

This is my fifth book by Quindlen, maybe my favorite (although Every Last One may still hold that place for the way I was able to connect with it); it is definitely a book that will be among my favorite books of 2016.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Life: It Goes On - April 3

I've been "off" all week. I blame having to move to a new home at work. Everything in my new spot is backwards from my last place - I feel like I'm in a cubicle for a left-handed person. Initially I set things up as a mirror image of what I'd had but muscle memory found me tossing staples and crumpled papers to the floor on my right when the trash can was now on my left. So, now my trash can is floating under the center section of my desk which looks odd but works. The trick in the next week or so is just to figure out what works in the new reality. Which is kind of the trick in life, isn't it?

This Week I'm:

Listening To: The Girl Who Played With Fire - a little over a third of the way through it and enjoying it, although I'm so over all of the street names. Also, catching up with podcasts a bit while I'm working out. Got some very helpful hints about what to do when you can't remember someone's name from the Happier podcast which is a problem I struggle with a lot.

Watching: A couple of episodes of "Longmire" on Netflix, some basketball, a couple of interesting documentary shows which for the life of me I cannot remember the names of now, and I may have stayed up until 1:30 a.m. Friday night watching the movie "Ragtime," based on the E. L. Doctorow book by the same name. Doctorow may not have loved the movie, but I do. So many big names in it - James Cagney, Mandy Patinkin, Mary Steenburgen, a very young Elizabeth McGovern and a very young Samuel L. Jackson (who I had never recognized in it before). The movie got me interested in reading more about some of the real people Doctorow included in the book, including Evelyn Nesbit (played by McGovern) in American Eve, which I reviewed here

Reading: I've gone back and forth this week between Miller's Valley (when I can wrest the iPad from the Big Guy's death grip) and Tampa when I can't. I'm still not sure what to make of Tampa but I loved Miller's Valley. Today I'll start Tracy Chevalier's latest, At The Edge of The Orchard. I've had mixed success with Chevalier but I'll give this one a shot and then decide whether or not to read the other two of her books I have on my shelves.

Making: Does throwing a Costco pizza in the oven count as making my family supper? No? BG actually did most of the cooking this week, including a couple of salads and nachos. I did make a killer baked potato soup yesterday, brown sugar and apple slow cooker oatmeal for breakfast today and I'll be making spicy smoked sausage alfredo bake in a little bit. 

Planning: To unplug for a week soon, maybe even this coming week. I have reviews posted already, my reader is caught up and I'm in need of finding a better balance. 

Thinking About:  Proposing to Costco that they need to have someone in their stores hand selling books. When I looked at the books they had on the table the other day, I so badly wanted to put so many of them in the hands of those browsing the piles. They have ladies pushing cheese spreads, pizza, and nuts; why not have someone singing the praises of City of Women and City of Thieves?

Enjoying: A new cut and color, time with friends, knowing my dad's through his cataract surgeries with flying colors and better vision than he's had in over sixty years. 

Smiling About: Pulling into the parking lot and finding The Brave Little Toaster parked next to me. 

Looking forward to: The Easter decorations are down but I haven't played with spring decorating yet so that's on the agenda this week. Hoping some more things start blooming soon. 

Question of the week: What made you smile this week?

Friday, April 1, 2016

Bloggiesta Wrap Up - Finally!

Oh heck, I was doing so well at Bloggiesta this spring, working hard every night, knocking out a lot of the stuff on my list and I did end up getting a lot done, I just forget to finish things out. So here's what got done:

1, Comments: I need to catch up on the comments left this month. 
2, Mail: I've been doing better on this lately, but there's always cleaning up to be done.
3. Bloglovin': This should be at the top of the list - I've got about 100 posts I haven't read as of today and want to make sure I take time to read and comment on all of them.
4. Mini-challenges: I've been doing this almost seven years now so it's harder to find mini-challenges that work for me, but it's always worth checking out. 
5. Clean Up Sidebar: There's not a lot to do, but I do want to do some cleaning up and rearranging. 
6. Catch Up My Calendar: I'm trying to free read as much as possible but I do have some books on Netgalley that I need to make sure I read before they archive, book club reads and at least one scheduled review. Gotta make sure nothing is falling through the cracks. 
7. Prep Some Posts: I'm remarkably scheduled ahead a couple of weeks for reviews but I'd like to get the rest of those weeks filled in to give me more reading time in April.
8. Visit New-To-Me Blogs: I can't keep up with the blogs I follow already but I'd hate to think there's a great blog I don't even know about yet! 
9. Clean Up Labels: The never ending task. Ugh. UPDATE: everything's gone I wanted to get rid of. Next Bloggiesta I'm going to work on adding labels to the posts without labels and adding some new labels to old posts.
10. Books Read List: This is one of those tasks I've started and never quite finished.
11. Clean Up Old Posts: If I'm really crazy and knock out everything else, I'd love to go back and make sure older posts are all formatted the way I like them to be now. UPDATE: I did a fair amount of this while I was cleaning up labels. I'm calling that good enough for now.

Well, yeah, I didn't exactly get some of the main things done I wanted to get done. I didn't touch my mailbox and I only got about half way done with my Bloglovin' feed (which has doubled again since last week, of course!). I didn't get any mini-challenges done during the actual Bloggiesta dates but I have done a couple of them this week so I'm counting them!

Challenge #1: Litsy - the Instagram for booklovers. Because we weren't already posting pics of books on Instagram. I had already downloaded the app on my phone but hadn't got my account set up yet. I've done that now, started following some people, gotten the lay of the land. Now just to start posting. Hosted by Jenni Elyse.

Challenge #2: LibraryThing: What's On Your Bookshelf? - an alternative to Goodreads. I've been a member for several years but haven't really used it. Since I'm looking to do away with my Goodreads account, I'm going to give this a try. I don't find it as user friendly and it doesn't have some of the features I do like from Goodreads but it will work for now to catalog things. Hosted by Laurie at Bay State Reader's Advisory.