Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett
Published May 2016 by Little, Brown, and Company
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher's through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary:When Margaret's fiancé, John, is hospitalized for depression in 1960s London, she faces a choice: carry on with their plans despite what she now knows of his condition, or back away from the suffering it may bring her. She decides to marry him. Imagine Me Gone is the unforgettable story of what unfolds from this act of love and faith. At the heart of it is their eldest son, Michael, a brilliant, anxious music fanatic who makes sense of the world through parody. Over the span of decades, his younger siblings — the savvy and responsible Celia and the ambitious and tightly controlled Alec — struggle along with their mother to care for Michael's increasingly troubled and precarious existence.

Told in alternating points of view by all five members of the family, this searing, gut-wrenching, and yet frequently hilarious novel brings alive with remarkable depth and poignancy the love of a mother for her children, the often inescapable devotion siblings feel toward one another, and the legacy of a father's pain in the life of a family.

My Thoughts:
When I started this book, I couldn't at all recall what it was about, why I'd requested it from Netgalley. Generally, I find that to be a good thing, going into a book with no preconceived ideas or expectations. I'm not sure that was a good thing with Imagine Me Gone. Five pages in I was certain I knew what kind of book this was. Fifty pages later, I knew it was a different book but still a book I would enjoy. Then it went somewhere entirely different and I began to have to fight my way through it.

It's not that Imagine Me Gone doesn't have some brilliant moments and some truly unique elements. It has five well developed characters and Haslett does a terrific job of exploring the complexities of mental illness and its impact on families. He blasts the pharmacy industry and the doctors who are all too ready to medicate patients but also makes clear that there is no easy solution to the problem.

But...(there's that word again)

I just could not become attached to any of the characters, despite ample reason to empathize with them. Some of that had to do with the fact that Haslett didn't necessarily mean for them to be sympathetic. The constant shifting of perspective was an issue for me but the bigger problem was the long passages where he gave Michael's mind room to roam in strange ways. I get that it highlighted his issues and was meant to make readers understand what his family had to deal with. But some of it went on for pages and pages and pages and it took me completely out of the story. Then there was the problem of trying to figure out how Haslett wanted me to feel about the book. Should I be devastated by the incredibly sad things that happen? But then, wait, what's with this black humor section? I just couldn't settle with it and without being able to do that, I couldn't connect.

You're going to read reviews that say Imagine Me Gone "brilliant" and "transcendent" and "eloquent." Those reviewers may well be right. Unfortunately, it didn't work for me. But read those reviews. It may be that this was just the wrong book at the wrong time for me.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Life: It Goes On - May 29

Memorial Day weekend! Time to bust out the summer photo! We had planned to head west to put flowers on the graves of The Big Guy's family. Instead, we moved Mini-him back out again. As so often happens with the things that kid does, the move was up in the air until Friday evening. Poof - twenty more grey hairs for me!

If you'll recall the great fiasco that was Mini-him moving back home last summer, you'll remember that sofas and entertainment centers had to be moved all over my house. Consequently, we returned home from getting him settled only to have to move furniture all over our house before we could relax for the evening last night. It was a long day and we're getting a slow start to today.
The new place

How are all of you spending your long weekend (assuming you're lucky enough to be getting one)?

This Week I'm:

Listening To: So...same book in the car. Which will be my same answer still next week. The plus side of having no television for many hours yesterday (and the Big Guy being gone shopping), was that I did a lot of podcast listening. I listened to some Get Booked, Nerdette, NPR Books, and Radiolab. Today - more podcasts as we work on projects.

Watching: The Indianapolis 500. Neither of our dads really paid much attention to at all car racing but both of them loved the Indianapolis 500. BG's dad went one year to tick that off his bucket list; my family toured the track back in the 70's and got to drive the track because of my dad's love of the race. Having grown up listening to/watching this race, it's generally on at our house. That buzzing bee sound of the cars racing around the track takes both of us back to our youth.

Reading: Working my way through West With The Night (which is beautifully written but I can only read so much at a time). To balance that, I've started Emma Cline's The Girls which could not be more different.

Making: A buffet into an entertainment center today. Because nothing would do but that we had to have a bigger television once we'd had one in the house. Which, of course, means we need a new entertainment center. We have BG's parents' buffet and entirely too many Pinterest suggestions so, before we shell out any $'s, we're going to try our hand at making something that will be uniquely ours. Pics to come (assuming it turns out as imagined!).

Planning:  A wedding. Had Miss S and Mini-me over the other evening for dinner and had fun getting some preliminary plans made. Venues, colors, attendants decided. Preliminary plans for food, music, and attire. Such fun and we are so pleased that Miss S is allowing the groom's parents to be part of the fun.

Thinking About: Garage sale this coming weekend. My sister decided to have a garage sale and asked if I had anything to put on it. Heck yes I do! Now to convince BG that we need to get rid of some things while we have to make some money off of it.

Enjoying: An impromptu Friday evening with BG. We were sitting on the patio when I got a craving for food from one of my fave food trucks. Checked their Facebook page to see where they were at that evening which turned out to be a microbrewery grand opening. Fun getting to tour the place and enjoy some new-to-us beers while enjoying great food.

Feeling: Lighter. I'll miss having Mini-him around but I'm so glad to have all of that extra stuff out of my house!

Looking forward to: A lazy day (fingers crossed) tomorrow capped by some friends' annual Memorial Day party. Also, being able to wear my white capris now that it's officially summer!

Question of the week: Are you a garage sale shopper? As I was dusting yesterday, I realized that a couple of things that we still use are things I found on garage sales thirty years ago. I don't really shop garage sales much any more (what with a house already overflowing with "stuff") and there are so many other ways to find good used goods but I do miss hitting the town on Saturday mornings with cash and friends in search of great bargains.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

Just some random stuff in my head:

  • Apparently I have yet to master Edelweiss. I keep thinking I'm requesting books and then never hear anything about them. Once again, when I checked my account the other night it showed I had never requested any books. Huh? So I requested four books. And they're showing up now. We'll see.
  • I forced myself to finish a book this week. I hate doing that and I hate that I made myself do it. It started so fantastically, I just couldn't give up on it. I feel like I ask this about every six months, but how do you decide when to give up on a book?
  • I've been going back through the Netgalley books I've requested over the years but never got around to reading and reviewing (yeah, there was a whole problem with me "getting" that system as well). I thought I'd order several of them  when I found that I could order them through Barnes and Noble for a couple of bucks apiece. Until I realized that shipping from the various sources they'd come from would cost me more than $80! Needless to say, I backed that whole order out! Luckily, Better World Books had a sale for Memorial Day so six new books are on their way to my house, including three that I'd previously requested on Netgalley.

  • I am so in the doldrums reading-wise that I am seriously considering a reread just so I KNOW I'll like it. The Sparrow is parked in my brain lately and really wants to be read again. 
  • But so many books I haven't read yet!

  • Less than a month left to complete the Once Upon A Time challenge. I need to get started. Perhaps some fairy tales are just the thing to bust out of a reading slump.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Bookman's Tale: A Novel of Obsession by Charlie Lovett

The Bookman's Tale: A Novel of Obsession by Charlie Lovett
Published May 2013 by Penguin Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for a long overdue honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Hay-on-Wye, 1995. Peter Byerly isn’t sure what drew him into this particular bookshop. Nine months earlier, the death of his beloved wife, Amanda, had left him shattered. The young antiquarian bookseller relocated from North Carolina to the English countryside, hoping to rediscover the joy he once took in collecting and restoring rare books. But upon opening an eighteenth-century study of Shakespeare forgeries, Peter is shocked when a portrait of Amanda tumbles out of its pages. Of course, it isn’t really her. The watercolor is clearly Victorian. Yet the resemblance is uncanny, and Peter becomes obsessed with learning the picture’s origins.

As he follows the trail back first to the Victorian era and then to Shakespeare’s time, Peter communes with Amanda’s spirit, learns the truth about his own past, and discovers a book that might definitively prove Shakespeare was, indeed, the author of all his plays.

My Thoughts:
There's a lot going on in this book: a love story, a tale of grief, and more than one mystery told through multiple characters and points in time. Parts of it worked better for me than others. I had a hard time buying into the idea that Peter was as crippled by social anxiety and friendless as Lovett portrayed him; because that came up again and again throughout the book, it kept niggling at me. And the main love story piece didn't work as well for me as the mystery pieces, although it might have made a touching story on its own. That might have been because it kept taking me out of the Shakespeare mystery which I did enjoy quite a lot. In fact, I found myself racing through the book in the final 100 pages.

Having read Lovett's First Impressions, and enough other mysteries to know that things usually aren't what they appear to be, I was certain I knew where the story was going. Lovett makes a big point of trying to steer readers in the wrong direction and any reader of mysteries will know that they need to be looking in another direction. Still, he managed to surprise me, maybe because I was so certain I knew who would end up being the bad guy.

I thoroughly enjoyed the story of one book's journey through time and being immersed in the world of bibliophiles. The politics, the deceit, and controversy all made for a good read even though it was often difficult to remember all of the names and where I was in time. If you read it, you will come across a list in a book that Peter discovers. I highly recommend you tab that so you can refer back to it as you read. I would definitely recommend The Bookman's Tale to those who love reading about the history of books and the book world.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Absolutist by John Boyne

The Absolutist by John Boyne
Narrated by Michael Maloney
Published May 2011 by Doubleday Publishing
Source: my audiobook copy purchased at my library book sale

Publisher's Summary:
It is September 1919: twenty-one-year-old Tristan Sadler takes a train from London to Norwich to deliver a package of letters to the sister of Will Bancroft, the man he fought alongside during the Great War.

But the letters are not the real reason for Tristan's visit. He can no longer keep a secret and has finally found the courage to unburden himself of it. As Tristan recounts the horrific details of what to him became a senseless war, he also speaks of his friendship with Will—from their first meeting on the training grounds at Aldershot to their farewell in the trenches of northern France.

My Thoughts:
First - the three covers. Hardcover, paperback/Nook, and audiobook. They're all great covers but that hardcover, which I'd not seen until I started to write this, is absolutely perfect.
"Chiefly a phenomenon of Britain, white feathers were typically handed over by young women to men out of uniform during wartime, the implication being that the man concerned was a 'shirker' or a coward. The co-called 'Organisation of the White Feather' was initiated by Admiral Charles Fitzgerald in the opening month of the war and was encouraged by a number of writers, including Mary Ward. The organisation was founded as a means of applying pressure to able bodied men to enlist with the British Army." - FirstWorldWar.com
The movement was based on the 1902 novel by A. E W. Mason, The Four Feathers, in which a young man who quit his regiment during war received four white feathers as a sign of cowardice. For the soldiers in the field, men who declared as conscientious objectors became known as feather men and were looked down on as cowards, according to Boyne. During the First World War, these men were given noncombat duties (very often duties that put them in the most danger, such as stretcher bearers). An absolutist was someone who refused to serve the war in any way.

Second - the narration. Michael Maloney is fantastic. He manages multiple character voices and reads with emotion and animation. I'll definitely be looking for more of his work.

Finally - the writing.  Boyne addresses cowardice versus courage, both on the battlefield and off, loyalty, guilt, and morality through the lens of war and its aftermath. Boyne draws out his secrets slowly...until he doesn't and that's why it comes as such a big surprise. The story moves back and forth between Tristan's 1919 visit to Norwich and his time with Will during the war in 1916. 1919 is quiet, mannered, a land trying to reclaim normal. 1916 is loud, masculine, harsh - a tough place to be anyone other than a soldier. The contrast works marvelously to show how Tristan has come to the place in his life he has reached. Perhaps it was too easy to make Tristan's loutish father a butcher. Perhaps the war itself might have been broader. But I didn't really care. When it was good, it was brilliant.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Life: It Goes On - May 22

It's been a quiet but strange week around here. Mama E flew home on Tuesday which meant that Tuesday night was the first night we'd had an empty house in five days. While it was nice to not worry about what we'd eat for dinner and just crash on the sofa after dinner, we kind of missed having Mama E, Miss S and Mini-me around. 

Plus, with my house still in decent shape and no projects in the near future, it was strange not to really have anything I had to do. You'd think that would mean I'd have gotten a lot of reading done but I just couldn't get into any of the books I had going. I even tried a few pages of several books that should have interested me but didn't just now. 

This Week I'm:

Nebraska's own Hannah
Huston on The Voice
Listening To: Podcasts - I'm so far behind on all of them. I got through about half of the NPR Books episodes, several Futility Closet episodes, and some Story Corp episodes. Of course, I'm still listening to The Girl Who Played With Fire in my car. That will take at least a couple more weeks. Can I just say that it has gotten so complicated that I often have no idea who the characters are? 

Watching: The Voice (sorry for the voting spam on Twitter!), Mr. Selfridge (we introduced Mama E to this one and she was a good sport and acted like she was interested), and baseball. I know you'll find it hard to believe, but The Big Guy actually went two evenings without turning on the television!

Reading: I'm struggling with Adam Haslett's Imagine Me Gone. It's gone an entirely different direction than I was expecting after the first few pages. Dark humor, multiple points of view as it skips through time, no real clue where this is going. I've decided to start Beryl Markhams' West With The Night as well which I am enjoying but won't read as my primary book until I finally finish Imagine Me Gone

Making: I grilled steaks and made a tater tot/cheesy casserole (for you Midwesterners, this was not your grandma's tater tot casserole!) for Mama E's last night but otherwise we've been using up leftovers. Which ain't a bad thing when those leftovers include gingerbread, homemade ice cream, and ham!

Planning: Mini-him's move the end of the month. Again. Didn't we just move him in?  On the plus side, I can finally get the sofa out of my bedroom!

Thinking About: Doing some painting. The powder room is definitely getting painted today. And, finally, I think we've settled on a color for the front door. I think. Well, we're down to two choices anyway - charcoal grey or tomato red. Could we have picked two more different colors?

Enjoying: A beautiful weekend and a visit from BG's cousin and his wife who were here from L.A. We had inherited some old pictures from his side of the family so they had fun going through the envelop we had for them. 

Feeling: Adrift. Not quite sure what to do with myself. It's not like there aren't plenty of things I should be or could be doing. I just can't seem to make myself care about them enough to do them.

Looking forward to: Seasons of Reading's Sci-Fi Summer Read-a-Thon. I know you're thinking "But Lisa, you don't even read sci-fi!" And you're right. But...The Martian. I need to read The Martian. Also, on NPR's list of 100 sci-fi books, The Princess Bride is included. I'm not sure why but I'm going to run with that idea and try to knock off both of those books.

Question of the week:  What do you do with yourself when you fall into the doldrums?

Friday, May 20, 2016

Why, Hello There!

After planning and cleaning and prepping for the party, after two graduation ceremonies and one hooding ceremony, the party, and a house guest over a long weekend, I was pooped. And then a little sad because it was all over and the next big thing that will happen is that one of my kids will move far away. 

Best way to get over that is to get back to routines and doing the things I love. Like visiting blogs (I missed you all the past couple of weeks!) and finding a book that will suck me in and MAKE me read it. I've been popping into several books trying to find the book.

Any time I need to remember what fun we had the past couple of weeks I only need to look at that adorable tricycle planter and fuchsia plant that Miss S's mother gave us before she left. How sweet is that? Just as sweet as the young lady and her mother who are now part of our family!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason by Helen Fielding

Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason by Helen Fielding
Published February 2000 by Viking Adult
Source: my local Goodwill

Publisher's Summary:
The Edge of Reason finds Bridget ensconced in an up and down relationship with Mark Darcy, whom she finally decided to give a chance at the end of the first book. Bridget's best Singleton pals Jude and Shaz are on hand to dispense advise about men and relationships culled from the pages of GETTING THE LOVE YOU WANT and KEEPING THE LOVE YOU FIND, with unfortunate results. And Bridget's Smug Married friend Magda still mixes phone calls with friends with instructions shouted at her kids: "Bridget, hi! I was just ringing to say in the potty! Do it in the potty!"

My Thoughts:
Sometimes you just need something mindless, something that doesn't make you work to read it, something that makes you chuckle. Bridget Jones is just the girl to turn to when you need that book.

The Edge of Reason gave me exactly what I was expecting at exactly the right time.

Bridget is still a lovable ditz who is constantly finding herself in awkward situations. She drinks too much, she smokes too much, she obsesses about her weight which is never what she hopes it to be. Her parents, particularly her mother, are still a trial and she has job troubles, relationship troubles, and friendship troubles. This time around she also has home improvement problems and her lack of good judgment takes her to an all-time low which will eventually land her in prison. This being Bridget, you know things won't get too dark.

I know it's to be expected for me to say that I liked the book better than the movie. This time it has to do as much with what the movie added as with what it left out. One of the funniest things in the book was an interview that Bridget does with Colin Firth. As Firth is playing Mark Darcy in the movies, they couldn't very well leave that in which was a shame. A highlight of the first movie was the fight between Firth and Hugh Grant. Apparently the writers of the second movie thought that needed to be repeated. In fact, Bridget's ex-boss and ex-beau Daniel spends a lot more time in the movie than he does in the book. Because Hugh Grant. But it all just felt like a rehash of the first movie. Whereas, the second book offers readers something more and something different all while still being 100% authentically Bridget.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Why We Write About Ourselves Edited by Meredith Maran

Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature edited by Meredith Maran
Published January 2016 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
For the many amateurs and professionals who write about themselves—bloggers, journal-keepers, aspiring essayists, and memoirists—this book offers inspiration, encouragement, and pithy, practical advice. Twenty of America’s bestselling memoirists share their innermost thoughts and hard-earned tips with veteran author Meredith Maran, revealing what drives them to tell their personal stories, and the nuts and bolts of how they do it. Speaking frankly about issues ranging from turning oneself into an authentic, compelling character to exposing hard truths, these successful authors disclose what keeps them going, what gets in their way, and what they love most—and least—about writing about themselves.

My Thoughts:
I'm not sure this is a book you could sit down and read straight through but it made a wonderful nightstand book, a book I read a few pages or memoirist at a time. Even if you've never harbored hopes of writing the great American novel, you may well have wondered about writing your own story. These twenty authors have a lot of tips for aspiring authors including how to know if you have a story truly worth telling and the difference between writing memoir and all other types of writing.

Each chapter opens with a quote from the author's memoir, some biographical information, a list of collected works by the author and then the author's go to town each first addressing why they write about themselves. Beyond that, each author shared what they'd learned about through their particular experience. Ishmael Beah, for example, talked about being called a liar after his memoir, A Long Way Gone, was published. Kate Christensen wrote about writing "foodoir." Anne Lamott shared that she writes memoirs because she has a passionate desire to be of help. Ayelet Waldman addressed the way that social media has impacted her writing.

What I learned:
  • Memoir is not a diary. Many of the authors commented on the difference between a day-to-day recounting of your life and life as a story.
  • Memoirists should only write their story, no one else's.
  • Tell the truth the best you can. It will not necessarily be what others remember. 
  • You don't have to tell the whole truth. It's okay to hold somethings back; readers don't need to know everything.
  • Try not to hurt other people to the best of your ability.
  • Worry about other people's feelings later. Don't overthink your first draft. You can always take things out in later drafts if you feel it will hurt someone or there will be legal issues.
This one is staying on my shelves. Because, maybe someday I might just decide I have some stories to tell.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Life: It Goes On - May 15

Our four kids!
Well, we've had quite the week! We got Miss S hooded and graduated, the party for Mini-me and Miss S was a huge success, we've been enjoying getting to know her mom for the past couple of days, AND Mini-me and Miss S got engaged! We are beyond thrilled!

I'll be AWOL for a few more days enjoying Mama E's visit but I've got a couple of reviews scheduled so I can take a couple of days to recover.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I continue to listen to Stieg Larsson's final book, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest. I'm enjoying it much more than the second book, so far.

Watching: Gilmore Girls in the mornings before work (the writing on that show never fails to amaze) and I caught a movie I'd never heard of before when I was off work on Friday, "Copying Beethoven" with Ed Harris and Diane Kruger (you can never go wrong with Beethoven!).

Reading: I finished The Bookman's Tale this week and started Adam Haslett's Imagine Me Gone, although I haven't had much time to read in the past few days.

Making: Pork loin; baked ham, turkey or veggie sandwiches; onion dip; and three batches of homemade ice cream. You know, party food.

Planning: Mini-him's move out in a couple of weeks. Our house = revolving door.  

Mama E, Miss S, and
Thinking About: On catching up with my blog reader - I miss my bloggers and I can't wait to see what everyone's been up to with Armchair BEA and real BEA! 

Enjoying: Celebrating all of the good things with family and friends!

Feeling: Thrilled for Mini-me and Miss S - we could not have picked a better girl to join our family and love watching them so happy together!

Looking forward to: Putting my feet up once our house guest is on her way home and reading, reading, reading!

Question of the week: If you're married, what was your favorite part of your wedding?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Bachman
Published May 2016 by Atria Books
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Britt-Marie can’t stand mess. A disorganized cutlery drawer ranks high on her list of unforgivable sins. She begins her day at 6 a.m., because only lunatics wake up later than that. And she is not passive-aggressive. Not in the least. It's just that sometimes people interpret her helpful suggestions as criticisms, which is certainly not her intention. She is not one to judge others—no matter how ill-mannered, unkempt, or morally suspect they might be.

But hidden inside the socially awkward, fussy busybody is a woman who has more imagination,bigger dreams, and a warmer heart that anyone around her realizes.

When Britt-Marie suddenly has to fend for herself in the miserable backwater town of Borg—of which the kindest thing one can say is that it has a road going through it—she is more than a little unprepared. Employed as the caretaker of a soon-to-be demolished recreation center, the fastidious Britt-Marie has to cope with muddy floors, unruly children, and a (literal) rat for a roommate. She finds herself being drawn into the daily doings of her fellow citizens, an odd assortment of miscreants, drunkards, layabouts.

My Thoughts:
I've edited that summary. I don't know why they wanted to tell you so much about the book. Were they afraid you wouldn't be interested if you just read what I've left? Maybe. Let's face it, people who are, as her husband said of Britt-Marie, "socially incompetent" don't necessarily draw readers in. Unless you've read and enjoyed Backman's previous books. Or you can tell by that cover that this one is going to have some fluff and fun.

Backman's debut, A Man Called Ove is one of my favorite books this year. In Britt-Marie Was Here Backman returns to the tale of a cantankerous older person who rubs people the wrong way until the right people come into her life, people who appreciate her for what she is and who bring out the softer side.  Along the way, Backman helps readers to understand why his characters have become the way the people they've become. Britt-Marie Was Here is filled with humor and quirky characters; on its surface, it seems light. But there is an underlying darkness that balances things out.

I had a harder time buying into all of the happenings in Britt-Marie Was Here and it felt a bit like there was too much going on, making it harder to connect to some of the characters than I would have liked. But I had a mother-in-law who swore by cleaning with baking soda and taught me to get down on my hands and knees and cleaning vinyl flooring with a paring knife decades ago. I couldn't help but have a real fondness for a character who swears by baking soda for cleaning everything. And who wouldn't cheer for someone who'd been so ill-used to find herself and happiness?

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Top Ten Tuesdays: Ten Websites I Love That Aren't About Books

This week the ladies at The Broke and the Bookish are asking us to share our top ten favorite websites that aren't about books. It's fairly shocking that any of us have time to have ten favorite websites that aren't about books given the number of websites we visit that are about books. Let's be honest, there's no way I have time to visit most of these sites, or the book blogs I follow regularly. But I do like to check in for inspiration!

1. The Inspired Room - Melissa blogs mostly about home decorating and design, often what she's doing in her own home with a lot of resources for the ideas she's tossing about. But she also shares other homes, sometimes food, and often organizing and decluttering posts.

2. The Pioneer Woman - Ree Drummond came on my radar a few years ago when book bloggers started talking about her blog and her cookbooks. But I had no time to add anything more to my plate and steered clear of the bandwagon. Until one day when I caught her show on the Food Network. She's just a whole lot of fun and the food she made looked so good. I had to check it out. Now I'm hooked. I have not made one of her recipes that didn't turn out as promised (and if you cook, you know that's a rare thing); some of those recipes are now big family favorites.

3. Real Simple - My favorite magazine, the website also gives information about food, home, style, life and holidays. You can find recommendations for all kinds of products, recipes, and advice about etiquette, technology and travel. It's a go-to site for everything!

4. The Huffington Post - I do have some issues with how they pay writers (or don't) but it's a site that covers everything from politics to entertainment to health. 

5. Reddit - My boys love Reddit and talked me into giving it a try. If you want to talk about it, you can find it here. One caveat - there is a lot of crazy going on on Reddit. It's definitely a site where you want to remember that not everything on the web is true. 

Nesting Place

6. Nesting Place - Myquillan, her husband and three sons moved to a fixer-upper farm a few years back. She and her husband are big DIY'ers but she talks a lot about living in less than perfect spaces and rooms that are in limbo. You know, real life. She shares links to other articles every weekend, decorating ideas, and talks a lot about living with what you have.

7. Magnolia - Joanna's Blog - Everyone's favorite home renovation show, Fixer Upper, has it's web home here. Joanna shares her recipes, organizing tips, updates on their projects, and posts about their latest t.v. episodes. On the main web site, you will also find links to all of the products you've fallen in love with on the show.

8.  Eclectically Vintage - Kelly shares her own home but also takes readers along to a lot of other wonderful homes filled with beautiful rooms. She also shares directions for a variety of projects, links for shopping, and advice on collections. I always love the homes she shares.

9. Pinterest - Duh. Remember when you used to need an invitation to join Pinterest?

10.  Gretchen Rubin  - She of The Happiness Project and the Happier podcast. She's kind of my happiness guru now and even though I haven't plunged all-in on her ideas (yet), I've taken a lot of inspiration from her, including my word of the year, "happier."

What websites do you love to visit that I should be checking out?

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Sparks
Published 1961 by McMillan
Source: my audiobook was purchased at my local library book sale
Narrator: Nadia May

Summary From bn.com:
At the staid Marcia Blaine School for Girls, in Edinburgh, Scotland, teacher extraordinaire Miss Jean Brodie is unmistakably, and outspokenly, in her prime. She is passionate in the application of her unorthodox teaching methods, in her attraction to the married art master, Teddy Lloyd, in her affair with the bachelor music master, Gordon Lowther, and—most important—in her dedication to "her girls," the students she selects to be her crème de la crème. Fanatically devoted, each member of the Brodie set—Eunice, Jenny, Mary, Monica, Rose, and Sandy—is "famous for something," and Miss Brodie strives to bring out the best in each one. Determined to instill in them independence, passion, and ambition, Miss Brodie advises her girls, "Safety does not come first. Goodness, Truth, and Beauty come first. Follow me."
The many covers of
The Prime of Miss
Jean Brodie

And they do. But one of them will betray her.

My Thoughts:
I've been aware of the movie adaptation of The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie for as long as I can remember (in no small part because it stars Maggie Smith) but have never seen it and wasn't even aware of it being a book until several years ago. Maybe Maggie Smith played a part in my deciding to "read" this one; after all, if it was something she thought was good enough to be a part of, then it must be something worthwhile. It was.

Maggie Smith as Miss Jean Brodie
Miss Brodie thinks quite a lot of herself as a teacher but the reader quickly picks up on the fact (as her girls eventually do) that Miss Brodie's avocation is less about bringing out the best in each of "the Brodie set," and more about making them into her mirror images.

As young girls, Miss Brodie's girls fix on her every word but as they get older they begin to see that Miss Brodie's stories seem to take on the characteristics of whatever is her current fancy and they begin to question both Miss Brodie and the things they have learned. While she has, commendably, exposed her girls far more to the arts and beauty than is strictly within the school's curriculum, she has also extolled the fascism. It will be her undoing as one of her girls will use it, eventually, to have her removed from her teaching position. That betrayal will haunt her to the end of her life.

Miss Brodie is an unusually interesting character, inspired by one of Sparks' own teachers. She is a woman driven by her belief that her fate is predestined, leaving her the ability to live her life with her own set of morals. "Watching" her girls learn from her, grow away from her, then, eventually, recognize her influence on their lives was truly enjoyable. Nadia May does a terrific job of narrating; I'll definitely be looking for more books narrated by her.

Now to watch the movie! It appears, from the trailer I watched, that Miss Brodie may come off as slightly less self-absorbed. I wonder if I will enjoy her quite as much?

On a side note, you know how when you pull up a book on the Barnes and Noble website it shows you other books you might be interested if you're interested in the one you pulled up? For this book, they assume you'll also be interested in an Amy Tan book, The Light Between Oceans, The Baker's Daughter, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Mrs. Dalloway, and A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. Yep. If I haven't read them (and I have read most of them), they are already on my wish list. Looks like the Barnes and Noble algorithm is working!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Life: It Goes On - May 8

We have a graduate! If you know me in real life, you know I'm a crier. So it won't surprise you to know that teared up a bit Friday as we watched Mini-me receive his degree. I was so touched by how excited Miss S was for her guy; they are so cute together! We couldn't be more proud of Mini-me and the man he's become!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I may have done some extra driving this past week just to finish John Boyne's The Absolutist. Wonderful book and fantastic narration. Tomorrow I'll start The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest. That one will help me #readmyowndamnbooks since I've had a print copy on my shelves for a long time.

As for music, I've been listening to the ladies more this week: Adele, Lorde, Sia, Florence, A Fine Frenzy, Nina Simone, Peggy Lee, Alanis, and Dolores O'Riorda .Me

Watching: We're still watching "Mr. Selfridge" on PBS but I'm starting to grow tired of it; good thing it's on its final season. We've have been enjoying "Grantchester" leading into it, though.

Reading: I started The Bookman's Tale the other day and am enjoying it although I haven't had a lot of time to read this past week and will have even less in the coming week. On my nightstand, I also started The Year of Reading Dangerously.

Making: It's been all about easy this week - tuna salad, pizza, pasta salad. Friday night I just put out a board with a French boule and butter, some divine cheese, and fresh raspberries. My kitchen focus has been entirely on next weekend. This weekend I made Emeril LaGasse's coffee ice cream, cooked up some chocolate syrup and caramel sauce, carved turkey breast, baked & carved a ham, baked two loaves of banana bread and a raspberry coffee cake.

Planning:  Not so much planning the graduation party any more, as implementing the plan. Some more food to prepare, curtains to finish (because why wouldn't I decide Mini-him's room needs new curtains before Miss S's mom stays there?), flowers to buy.

Thinking About: Smash Your Stack hosted by Andi of Estella's Revenge and Melissa of Scuffed Slippers and Wormy Books which is just the kick in the butt I need to read my own damn books in May. Check out the details here.  I had a review book this month, my book club read, and a couple of books I needed to read from Netgalley but I'm still shooting to read at least four of my own books in May.

Enjoying: Other than graduation, I enjoyed an evening on the patio with Miss H, my sister, and my niece the other night. It was our version of therapy filled with time to vent, more than a few drinks, and a lot of laughter. We even let Mini-him and The Big Guy crash the party to add to the fun.

Feeling: Remarkably calm - much more so than I usually am this close to a party. The yard is in order, the groceries are mostly all bought and I have a menu planned for the entire time Miss S's mom is here. I'm sure I'll melt down sometime between now and then and bite someone's head off unnecessarily, because that's how I usually roll, but they're all used to it by now so it'll be fine, right?

Looking forward to: Miss S's graduation, the party, meeting Miss S's mother, and spending the afternoon with my girl, her bestie and bestie's mom at the ball park. We're headed off shortly to watch the K. C. Royals' Triple A team, the Omaha Stormchasers, play ball to celebrate Mother's Day.

Question of the week: What are you looking forward to this summer?

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

Cleaning up the rest of my bookish saves on Facebook this week (and trying to move the rest of them to Pinterest because I'm tired of trying to remember where I've saved things!). 

I had ten, yes ten, lists of the best books from 2015. I'm working my way through those to make sure I haven't missed anything I should read and then I'm all caught up. For now. Because, as you know by now, I'm a sucker for lists!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

When The Moon Is Low by Nadia Hashimi

When The Moon Is Low by Nadia Hashimi
Published July 2015 by HarperCollins Publishers, paperback edition April 2016
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Mahmoud's passion for his wife Fereiba, a schoolteacher, is greater than any love she's ever known. But their happy, middle-class world—a life of education, work, and comfort—implodes when their country is engulfed in war, and the Taliban rises to power.

Mahmoud, a civil engineer, becomes a target of the new fundamentalist regime and is murdered. Forced to flee Kabul with her three children, Fereiba has one hope to survive: she must find a way to cross Europe and reach her sister's family in England. With forged papers and help from kind strangers they meet along the way, Fereiba make a dangerous crossing into Iran under cover of darkness. Exhausted and brokenhearted but undefeated, Fereiba manages to smuggle them as far as Greece. But in a busy market square, their fate takes a frightening turn when her teenage son, Saleem, becomes separated from the rest of the family.

Faced with an impossible choice, Fereiba pushes on with her daughter and baby, while Saleem falls into the shadowy underground network of undocumented Afghans who haunt the streets of Europe's capitals. Across the continent Fereiba and Saleem struggle to reunite, and ultimately find a place where they can begin to reconstruct their lives.

My Thoughts: 
So you know how publisher's summaries generally give you maybe a third of the story? Yeah, this one goes much further than that. So, if the summary intrigues you, add it to your list then don't pick it up to read the book until you've forgotten what you read here.

The other interesting thing about this summary is that it doesn't start at the beginning of the book. It's Fereiba's early years that color all of her choices - the death of her mother at her birth, a father who cannot stop grieving and can't face Fereiba without thinking of his dead wife, a stepmother who gives her just enough to make Fereiba hope for a mother's love but not much more, and an angel, who promises to watch over her through her life. For the first half of the book, the story is Fereiba's - a story of longing, heartache, anguish, fear, and hope.

Once Fereiba and her children are forced to flee Afghanistan, the story shifts and becomes more and more Saleem's story. Told from the third person, although Saleem's life is more desperate and more reflective of the trials of refugees, it becomes more distant and harder to connect with the story. Because Hashimi wants to leave her reader with hope, things never quite become as tense and horrible as they might have. Still, with the continuing refugee situation in the Middle East (and world wide), it's important to put readers into the shoes of the disenfranchised, to make those of us sitting in our comfortable homes understand how hard life can be and to, hopefully, become more compassionate.

You know how much I enjoy books set in the Middle East and this one was no exception. Hashimi does a wonderful job of immersing readers into the culture of Afghanistan and making them understand life, particularly as a woman, in the region. The book could have benefited from more editing where it sometimes became repetitive, but I became caught up in Fereiba's story, the story of a mother who is fighting to make a better life for herself and her children.

Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. For more reviews, check out the full tour.

Nadia Hashimi’s parents left Afghanistan in the 1970s, before the Soviet invasion. She was raised in the United States, and in 2002 she visited Afghanistan for the first time with her parents. Hashimi is a pediatrician and lives with her family in suburban Washington, D.C. Find out more about Nadia at her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

She is the author of The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, which I enjoyed and reviewed here. As long as Hashimi continues to write books about the women of Afghanistan that make me think, I will continue to read them.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
Published May 2016 by Simon and Schuster
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
London, 1939.

The day war is declared, Mary North leaves finishing school unfinished, goes straight to the War Office, and signs up.

Tom Shaw decides to ignore the war—until he learns his roommate Alistair Heath has unexpectedly enlisted. Then the conflict can no longer be avoided.

Young, bright, and brave, Mary is certain she’d be a marvelous spy. When she is—bewilderingly—made a teacher, she finds herself defying prejudice to protect the children her country would rather forget.

Tom, meanwhile, finds that he will do anything for Mary.

And when Mary and Alistair meet, it is love, as well as war, that will test them in ways they could not have imagined, entangling three lives in violence and passion, friendship and deception, inexorably shaping their hopes and dreams.

My Thoughts:
If you ask me if I'd like to read a book set in Europe during the Second World War, I'd likely say "no." It so often feels that there cannot be a stone left unturned in the story of that war. And knowing that any such book it likely to be devastatingly sad, I find it hard to do that to myself. But Chris Cleave won me over with Little Bee so I was willing to take a chance. Cleave has become something of the master of combining humor with crushing sadness.  

In Everyone Brave Is Forgiven, Cleave as found a way to bring those elements together in a completely different World War II story. While Mary stays in London, volunteering, she faces the day-to-day hardships of the Blitz but also unexpected racism. Alistair finds himself stationed on Malta, an island that the Axis powers lay siege to for more than two years, trying to break the people on the strategically important island. There is no shortage of the gore and desperation of war here but the emphasis never veers from the characters.

What first grabbed my attention was the witty dialogue between characters.
"Mary frowned. "You are a mousetrap of a friend, all soft cheese and hard springs."
 Hilda beamed. "I use you for practice. One day I'll have a husband."
 Mary took a second envelope from the tray. "God help the poor man."
 "God will take my side," said Hilda. "He's only human, after all.""
And what great characters they are! Filled with kindness, melancholy, jealousy, anger, bigotry, love, hope, hopelessness, disgust, and sorrow. I became so attached to Mary and Tom and Zachary and Alistair that at times I could hardly keep reading, so unable was I to keep "seeing" them hurting.

Of course, I couldn't stop reading. Cleave's writing grabbed me and held onto me with its honesty, intelligence, and emotion. More than once, I found myself thinking "oh, please no" and just as often "oh, yes, this."
Cleave's grandmother, Mary
"Even as she railed, a hollow feeling grew that perhaps life would turn out to be like this. No, after all, the effortful ascent to grace that she had imagined, but rather a gradual accretion of weight and complexity - and not in one great mass that could be shouldered as Atlas had, but in many mundane and antiheroic fragments with a collective tendency to drag one down to the mean."
"There in the sweet sacking smell of the mailbags he understood that he was dying, and it pleased him that he was going in the company of so many soft words home." 
Cleave's grandfather, David
"I was brought up to believe that everyone brave is forgiven, but in wartime courage is cheap and clemency out of season." 
"The quick bright shock of the light between the cloud and the eastern horizon: an unimagined thing, thought Mary, a life. It was an unscrewing of tarnished brass plaques. It was one tile lost to the pattern. It was a world one might still know, if everyone brave was forgiven."
Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is loosely based on Cleave's own grandparents lives during the War. The idea for the novel was given to him by his grandfather when Cleave's grandfather asked Cleave to transcript his handwritten memoir into one computer document. The true story is included in the book as well and is every bit as interesting.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Life: It Goes On - May 1

Happy May Day! After all of these years of not doing it, it still seems strange not to be putting together May baskets for the kids to deliver to friends, neighbors and classmates.

May here is coming in exactly as April left us - wet, wet, wet. I'm so ready for some sunshine! We had box seats at a baseball game today but, sadly, it was rained out.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: We've been back at the gym this week so I've been listening to more podcasts, several episodes of NPR Books and two episodes of Nerdette. I finally set up my own Pandora account so I've been listening to a lot of different music as I've done that: Alison Krauss, The Avett Brothers, Brandi Carlisle, Chevelle, Florence + The Machine, Incubus, musicals, Nina Simone. I've been all over the place!

Watching: Miss H introduced me to The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, I finally caught "Love Actually," and we're catching up on BBC's "Luther." Love me some Idris Elba!

Reading: On audio, I'm listening to The Absolutist by John Boyne. So good and so well narrated! In print, I finished When The Moon Is Low and Why We Write About Ourselves yesterday. Today I'm starting Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman and my new nightstand book is The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller.

Making: Chili (it's been that chilly lately - ya' see what I did there?!) and cinnamon rolls yesterday and today I'm making a breakfast souffle and french toast for brunch.

courtesy of the MeanStreetsOmaha
Twitter account
Planning: It's all about the graduation party and our upcoming house guest. Since Miss S's mom will be staying in Mini-him's room while she's here, Mini-him will need to stay in my office for several days. That meant I finally had to buckle down an get that room cleaned up. I found my bookshelves again!

Thinking About: How lucky Omaha was the other day. The weather became unexpectedly severe and a couple of tornadoes touched down (one not too far from my office). Minor damage, no injuries but impressive footage. Got home to find we'd gotten a fair amount of pea-sized hail but looks like all of our plants survived that.

Enjoying: Brunch today with Miss S and Mini-me. Miss S has been in Fort Worth for four months for a school rotation and we are so glad to have her back!

Feeling: Productive. I could have spent the afternoon reading since I wasn't planning on doing anything around the house but, instead, I've been deep cleaning the kitchen. No one else may notice that the cupboards look cleaner, but I do!

Looking forward to: Mini-me's graduation on Friday!

Question of the week:  With a party just around the corner, I'm using that as an excuse to get some projects done around the house that we've been putting off. Is it just us or do you do that, too?