Thursday, June 30, 2016

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder (Lunar Chronicles #1) by Marissa Meyer
Published  January 2012 by Fiewel and Friends
Source: bought for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

My Thoughts:

  • Why I Read It: Because it's fairy tale based and because Rhapsody Jill (Rhapsody In Books) told me four years ago that I should read it. And because it fit with the Once Upon A Time X challenge. Except that I didn't read it in time for the Once Upon A Time Challenge (just like I didn't do any of the other things for that challenge - hangs head in shame).
  • Why I Didn't Read It Sooner:  Because it's also sci-fi and young adult, neither of which I pick up a lot. Which doesn't make them not perfectly lovely genres. Just out of my usual comfort zone.
  • What I Didn't Like About It: Well, let's just get this out of the way, shall we? I can only assume that the last thirty pages or so are intended to include a major surprise. But I wasn't surprised. Maybe if I were in the target audience? But that would be shortchanging the minds of young adults - I'm pretty sure they wise on to it early as well. Plus, super abrupt ending. I knew going in that this was the first in a series; I just didn't know that it wouldn't be at all self-contained.
  • What I Liked: Cinder - she's fierce. A teenaged girl who who has more than the normal share of things to stress about, when the going gets tough, Cinder puts on her big girl panties and does what needs to be done. Meyer hangs on to the basics of the fairy tale and it's fun to see how she manages to update some of them (including a fairy godmother who's not exactly what you'd expect and a pumpkin that runs on gasoline). The book could have stood on its own even without the Lunar plot line - for a relatively short book, there was a lot going on. 
  • Will I Read The Next Book In The Series? Yep. These are just the kind of books I need to break things up. Probably won't even wait four years to decide to read Scarlet.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman
Published August 2015 by Simon and Schuster
Source: bought for book club

Publisher's Summary:
Growing up on idyllic St. Thomas in the early 1800s, Rachel dreams of life in faraway Paris. Rachel’s mother, a pillar of their small refugee community of Jews who escaped the Inquisition, has never forgiven her daughter for being a difficult girl who refuses to live by the rules. Growing up, Rachel’s salvation is their maid Adelle’s belief in her strengths, and her deep, life-long friendship with Jestine, Adelle’s daughter. But Rachel’s life is not her own. She is married off to a widower with three children to save her father’s business. When her older husband dies suddenly and his handsome, much younger nephew, Frédérick, arrives from France to settle the estate, Rachel seizes her own life story, beginning a defiant, passionate love affair that sparks a scandal that affects all of her family, including her favorite son, who will become one of the greatest artists of France.

My Thoughts:

  • O Magazine called this book Marquez-esque. Yep. Also brought to mind Isabel Allende for me. Which is always a selling point.
  • Beautiful, lush, vivid descriptions of the landscapes of St. Thomas and Paris. If you don't want to get on a boat and sail to St. Thomas by the time you finish reading this, there is something seriously wrong with you. Both Rachel and Camille (the favorite son who will grow up to become Camille Pissarro) yearn to leave it for Paris, a place neither of them had ever been to - I couldn't understand why. Sure it's ridiculously hot. And the bugs. And the diseases. But, my god, the beauty! 
  • There's a lot to be learned about Jewish history here. You know how much I enjoy learning from my reading. The Jewish culture and traditions play a big part in the story, recalling Hoffman's The Dovekeepers
  • Speaking of learning, I knew nothing about Camille Pissarro going into this book other than that he was an Impressionist painter. Much of his part of the story is based on fact and explains a lot about his style and use of color in his works. 
  • There are some really interesting characters in The Marriage of Opposites, both real as imagined by Hoffman and those created by Hoffman. I wished that some of them might have been a little more developed and the relationships a little better explained. 
  • I had some trouble with the change in focus of the book - early on this is clearly Rachel's story, it shifts for a time and becomes the story of Jestin's daughter, for a time it returns to Rachel but only to allow it to shift then over to Jacobo's (Camille) story to the end. It seemed to me as if much of what happened in the book could still have happened without the big shifts in perspective.
  • Hoffman sometimes gets too carried away with her love of the island and was often repetitive. Alright, already, I get that Rachel delivered a certain kind of flower to her husband's first wife to curry good luck. 
  • But...and this one's a good but...I liked the book, the beauty of it, the characters, the intricate storylines. And, it made for a good book club choice. There's a lot to discuss from the history of the island, the art, the characters, the conflicts between Rachel and almost everyone in her life. This one's coming to you, Mom.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Life: It Goes On - June 26

Yeah, still a hot. Sorry about that to all of the College World Series fans here the past week. I mean, this is Nebraska in the summer but even for us, this long stretch of high 90's is growing old. And, sure enough, the air conditioning went out in my office one day this week. I might not have been the friendliest person my customers ever had to talk to that day.

Celebrating the dads and my two bookends
This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'm about two-thirds through The Woman Upstairs and enjoying the reliable narrator as much as I'm enjoying the narrator, Cassandra Campbell.

Watching: Yeah, baseball. And Luther on Saturday nights. And CBS Sunday Morning which today featured a piece about Outlander - the books and the show.

Friday night baseball (plus Zesto!) and Saturday Zydeco
Reading: Finally started reading Cinder but I feel like I'm falling into a deepening reading slump. Seriously considering taking a break from reading next week entirely. Clear my brain. Rethink how to get back to reading what I want to read when I want to read it.

Making: Burgers, salads, pasta salad - summer foods.

Planning:  Yep, that's what I'm doing. I'm putting together my own version of a bullet journal with the materials I have at hand (except I did buy some colored pens). If I can make myself really use this, then I'll splurge for the good notebooks next year. Love the idea of having a completely customized planner + journal + to do list in one place.

Thinking About: A trip to Milwaukee to see Miss S and visit Mini-me and her new place. We'd been planning on going in September but now we're thinking we can't wait that long so perhaps the end of July.

Enjoying: Time at Junkstock today with my sister. Oh, lordy, was it ever hot out there in that field but we both found some great treasures and the mimosas we found helped! Also enjoying a visit from Mini-me today. He's stretched out as I type reading a graphic novel a friend of ours loaned us for him to read.

Feeling: Like I need another day of the weekend. So much playing this weekend and not nearly enough actually accomplished.  

Looking forward to: Drinks later today with a friend I haven't seen in more than 10 years. Thank heavens for Facebook for allowing us to stay in touch and as a way for her to contact me to make this happen. There's a lot I hate about Facebook but in the past month it's allowed me to connect with two old friends which almost makes all of the vitriol worth it.

Question of the week: Who's blogging up in Milwaukee that I should make time to meet up with while I'm there?! 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Girls by Emma Cline

The Girls by Emma Cline
Published June 2016 by Random House Publishing
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary:
Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence.

My Thoughts:
In 1969, followers of cult leader Charles Manson murdered seven people. Three of the people convicted of the murders were young women.

I was a young girl when the murders happened but a young woman when I first read anything about the murders. In my mind, it was easy to understand what made Manson click - he was (is) clearly mentally ill. But, even having been a teenager who often felt adrift, I couldn't understand what might cause those young women to brutally kill for him, what kind of hold he had on them.

Cline was similarly intrigued by those questions. The Girls, loosely based on the Manson murders, focuses on the young girls drawn in by a charismatic puppet master. What would it take to lure a girl in living in a place where clothing is communal, comfort is rare, and food has to be stolen? What kind of girl could be convinced to do such a thing?
"I waited to be told what was good about me. I wondered later if this was why there were so many more women than men at the ranch. All that time I had spent readying myself, the articles that taught me life was really just a waiting room until someone noticed you - the boys had spent that time becoming themselves."
Cline understands that Evie and the other girls who find themselves pulled into cults aren't necessarily girls from rough backgrounds or "bad" girls. She understands they are girls who just want to feel wanted and understood, girls who are growing up to find that life isn't as sure and simple as they had grown up thinking it was.
"That was part of being a girl - you were resigned to whatever feedback you'd get. If you got mad, you were crazy, and if you didn't react, you were a bitch. The only thing you could do was smile from the corner they'd backed you into. Implicate yourself in the joke even if the joke was always on you."
On the ranch, Evie finally feels wanted, seen. Tired of her divorced parents who were so busy trying to create their own new lives to notice their daughter floundering, Evie clings to the people who pay attention to her and show her a life seemingly without responsibilities.
"I was starting to fill in all the blank spaces in myself with the certainties of the ranch."
But there are responsibilities and a price to be paid. What the girls will need to figure out is what price are they willing to pay?

As an adult looking back on her life, Evie is a melancholy woman who has had to live her life in the shadow of what the girls on the ranch did and not knowing, really not knowing, what she might have done if she had been with them.

Cline's writing is fantastic - she sucks you into the story with her vivid "sets," poetic writing and her understanding of what makes young girls tick. Her ability to take such a well-known event and turn the focus back onto the bigger world in a timeless way is impressive. I look forward to Cline's next effort with high hopes.

Emma Cline sold this book, as part of a three-book deal, for $2 million dollars. With that kind of an advance and the subject matter, the book was bound to attract a lot of attention. The question is, was it worth it?

Yes. And no. This is an impressive read, all the more so for being a debut novel. But, in the end, I didn't put the book down and think "wow, that was the best book I've read in a really long time." And shouldn't a book worth a $2 million dollar advance do that?

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Life: It Goes On - June 19

Happy Father's Day to all of the father's out there and those who have played the role of a father in a child's life! We'll celebrate shortly with a late brunch with my parents; my sister, brother-in-law and niece; and my nephew who happens to be in town for the College World Series.
Remember last week when I told you it was a hot? Yeah, it's still that. So hot (and now humid) that I can't even stand to do dinners on the patio and you know how much I love those! I'm a little testy about missing the longest days of the year inside.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'm loving listening to Cassandra Campbell narrate The Woman Upstairs and I've been catching up on some podcasts, too, including Slate's Audio Book Club's discussion of Curtis Sittenfield's Eligible.

Watching: Baseball and Miss H and I finally finished season three of Orange Is The New Black. She's been watching season four of Parks and Rec so I've caught up in a few episodes of that as well.

Reading: The Marriage of Opposites for book club this week. Really enjoying that so far.
BG cutting steak for today - the
mooch wasn't allowed on the
stool next to him but that didn't
stop the mooching

Making: More granola, mini bagel sandwiches for Mini-me and Miss S to take on the road, and breakfast tortillas for today's brunch.

Planning: Nothing. My plans of late seem to get waylaid so I'm just going to play it by ear this week.

Thinking About: Milwaukee. Mini-me, Miss S and one of their friends who drives trucks took a UHaul there yesterday. She starts her residency there next week. Mini-me will join her there in a couple of months when his job here wraps up but they took everything up now and he will live on the bare minimum of furniture and clothes until then. I wish I were a fly on the wall. Oh, who are we kidding - I wish I were there with them!

Enjoying: I met a long lost friend for lunch the other day. We were inseparable middle through high school but haven't seen each other in more than thirty years. Lunch lasted four hours and we were so busy talking that I forgot to take a picture!

Also, the College World Series. We'll be cheering for the TCU Horned Toads since we have dear friends who are alumni. Miss H, the baseball fiend, had to have a shirt to celebrate.

Feeling: I didn't cry when we left the moving crew by some miracle. But that's not to say I'm not feeling pretty sad to know I'm not going to see Miss S again for months.

Looking forward to: Book club this week. We didn't meet last week and I'm missing those ladies!

Question of the week: What are you reading this week? I'm having the urge to make my own readathon this week. So many books I want to read and so little time!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A House for Happy Mothers by Amulya Malladi

A House for Happy Mothers by Amulya Malladi
Published June 2016 by Lake Union Publishing
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
In trendy Silicon Valley, Priya has everything she needs—a loving husband, a career, and a home—but the one thing she wants most is the child she’s unable to have. In a Southern Indian village, Asha doesn’t have much—raising two children in a tiny hut, she and her husband can barely keep a tin roof over their heads—but she wants a better education for her gifted son. Pressured by her family, Asha reluctantly checks into the Happy Mothers House: a baby farm where she can rent her only asset—her womb—to a childless couple overseas. To the dismay of friends and family, Priya places her faith in a woman she’s never met to make her dreams of motherhood come true.

Together, the two women discover the best and the worst that India’s rising surrogacy industry has to offer, bridging continents and cultures to bring a new life into the world—and renewed hope to each other.

My Thoughts:
  • This one is right in my wheelhouse - set mostly in India, filled with moral and ethical dilemmas and family dynamics.
  • I had no idea this kind of thing happens but further research confirms that Malladi based the book on reality. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised - where there's a chance for the wealthy to exploit the poor, particularly if they can convince themselves that they are doing good, they're likely to do it. It was interesting to think about the different ways surrogacy is viewed.
  • Malladi explores infertility, marriage, poverty, class structure, parent/child relationships, parental expectations, cultural differences, and, of course, surrogacy.
  • She does a particularly good job of developing Asha as a character - her conflicted feelings about acting as a surrogate, her growth in her marriage, her attachment to her children, her relationship with Priya.
  • Along the way there are a lot of characters to keep track of as Malladi tries to show readers different familial relationships, takes on motherhood, views of surrogacy, and Priya's and Asha's feelings about the baby Asha is carrying. Not all of them felt necessary to the story and slowed the story line down. I would have liked to see some of the relationships become more developed.
  • I think some more judicious editing would have helped tighten up the book - it often felt repetitious and as though it were circling back around on itself. 
  • The end of the book felt rushed to me and I felt like some of the areas where Malladi had been building tension went unresolved in the end. It was almost as if there were a set number of pages the book was meant to be and after the slow buildup there were a limited number of pages to wrap up as much as possible. 
  • That being said, I do understand why some of the things weren't resolved. One of the points Malladi makes is that there is only so much money and it's simply not possible to help everyone in the best way possible. Which means that the home, which most decidedly does not live up to its billing, will remain shabby and the doctor running it will continue to do it as a way to profit from the needs of both the surrogates and the babies' parents. 
  • Despite what I felt were its flaws, I did enjoy a lot about A House for Happy Mothers and think it would make an excellent book club choice. There is a lot to discuss here with the many themes and relationships. 
Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. To find other opinions (and most of them liked the book more than I did), check out the full tour.  

Amulya Malladi is the author of six novels, including The Sound of Language and The Mango Season. Her books have been translated into several languages, including Dutch, German, Spanish, Danish, Romanian, Serbian, and Tamil. She has a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree in journalism. When she’s not writing, she works as a marketing executive for a global medical device company. She lives in Copenhagen with her husband and two children.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

The interwebs and I are having some discussions lately about what I do and do not have time for.

I'd all but abandoned my Tumblr account a couple of years ago then recently started using it again. It hasn't taken me long to grasp two things: I don't really have an interest in posting things there and it can be a massive time suck. I'm not opposed to falling into a rabbit hole of interesting things but there is only so much time in a day and so many rabbit holes to fall into. Not sure how much longer I'll keep it on my phone.

To that same end, I've essentially stopped using Goodreads. I started my account there to keep a log of the books I was reading/had read and to find a community of other readers. Then I started this blog as a way to log the books I was reading and I found a community of readers among bloggers, some people started making problems among some of the groups I belonged
to on Goodreads, and Amazon bought Goodreads. I'm fully aware that Amazon doesn't notice me avoiding them but a girl's gotta draw a line in the sand somewhere. So, I've exported all of my shelves to other places, although I've yet to close my account. I do miss parts of it but there's only so much time in a day and...

Litsy. It's like Instagram, Goodreads, and a blog all rolled into one. I'm kind of an addict already, checking in several times a day. **addendum** Funny thing. I wrote this post on 6/11/16. On Book Riot on 6/13/16, I find that they are saying Litsy is Instagram and Goodreads rolled into one. I guess great minds think alike!

Here's one of the reasons I need to cut back on my computer time - so many new books in my house!

The Marriage of Opposites is my book club's selection for June; Finding Fontainebleau is for a review; Fate and Furies, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, and The Woman Upstairs (audiobook is in my car) all came from my library's weekly sale and the rest of the books I picked up from Better World Books for $2 each. On my Nook I've recently added Eight Hundred Grapes, Monument Men, Auntie Mame, The Book of Strange New Things, Live Through This, Be Frank With Me, Lit, The Bucolic Plague, and Mr. Splitfoot. Plus there are a couple of new ones on my iPad as well (although The Big Guy has that in his clutches at the moment and I don't have the strength to fight it out of his hands). This is going to make it difficult to #readmyowndamnbooks.

So, balance. Gotta find it. Because it all goes back to my word of the year, "happier."

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
Narrated by: Simon Vance
Published May 2010 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: purchased audiobook at my local library book sale

Publisher's Summary: In the third volume of the Millennium series, Lisbeth Salander lies in critical condition in a Swedish hospital, a bullet in her head.

 But she's fighting for her life in more ways than one: if and when she recovers, she'll stand trial for three murders. With the help of Mikael Blomkvist, she'll need to identify those in authority who have allowed the vulnerable, like herself, to suffer abuse and violence. And, on her own, she'll seek revenge—against the man who tried to killer her and against the corrupt government institutions that nearly destroyed her life.

My Thoughts:
  • Except for Lisbeth's voice (which was kind of a problem given that she's the focus of the books), Simon Vance is amazing as a narrator. Gotta find me some more books he's read.
  • Stieg Larsson never met a tiny detail he didn't think he needed to include or a backstory he thought was necessary to the book. I really did not need to know the type of handheld device Salander was using every single time she picked it up nor the background of the man Blomkvist enlists to help him help Lisbeth when she is in the hospital.
  • There are a lot of characters in this book - it was sometimes hard to keep track of who people were and how they fit in, especially considering I was listening to the book while I was driving.
  • There's a secondary storyline in this book involving Blomkvist's sometime lover and business partner, Erika Berger. I kept waiting for it to somehow tie into the main story line. It didn't. It was, apparently, just another way for Larsson to talk about journalism plus the ways in which men hurt women.
  • In theory, you could read this as a stand alone book (Larsson does give some background from the first two books as you go), but I wouldn't recommend it. In fact, this trilogy would have benefitted from Larsson and the publisher just being willing to say "you have to read these in order." There's just too much going on that relies entirely on the previous books to catch up with here.
  • It's amazing that a man wrote these books, books that focus so strongly on how badly men treat women, books where the main character is a strong, highly intelligent woman who, despite her physical size, again and again kicks the mens' butts.
  • All that being said, I really did enjoy this book. The primary characters, who aren't necessarily flawed so much as just not fitting into the "norm," are honest and vulnerable and smart. The "bad" guys might be a little stereotyped but I was okay with that in the bigger picture since so many of them represented government run amok. There's a lot of action, a lot of "putting the pieces together" mental strategy, and the ending is oh so satisfying. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Life: It Goes On - June 12

Welcome from the gates of hell. Seriously. It's been in the upper 90's for the past four days and the humidity it creeping up. To paraphrase Miss H, "it's a hot." We're having to water everything every day and yard work has got to be done early. Even so, I managed to give myself a case of heat exhaustion yesterday. I'm terrible about remembering to drink a lot more water on days like this.

It didn't stop me from going to the Summer Arts Festival, one of our fave things to do in Omaha during the summer. Always some impressive artwork and we thoroughly enjoyed the music of Rockin' Dopsie Jr. and the Zydeco Twisters. We didn't bring anything home (except some kettle corn!), but my pocket was filled with business cards and I'll definitely be ordering some gifts.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I finished The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest Thursday (review this week). I'm  sticking to my assertion that every book in the trilogy could have been 100 pages shorter but I still enjoyed the actually stories. I didn't want to start a new book on Friday so I spent the drive time listening to podcasts including Stuff You Missed In History Class. Music wise, I'm listening to the Hamilton station on Pandora. I have noticed that some of the Pandora stations are really limited in what they have - of course, I want to listen to the music from Hamilton, and it stands to reason that I might also enjoy In The Heights, but the station is pretty much limited to those two musicals and Green Day's American Idiot.

Watching: Not much other than the NCAA baseball Super Regionals. Gotta start choosing my teams to cheer for when they get to Omaha and the College World Series! 

Reading: I finished Emma Cline's The Girls last night. Makes me want to reread Vincent Bugliosi's Helter Skelter. Next up, though, is A Home For Happy Mothers for review later this week and then A Marriage of Opposites, this month's book club selection.

The Sci-Fi Summer Readathon wrapped up Tuesday. I only managed to get one "sci-fi" book read the entire week. On the plus side, it was, at least, one of my own damn books.

Making: Lots of granola! Cherry/coconut, golden raisin/pumpkin seed, and peanut/chocolate chip all turned out well. I'm particularly a fan of the peanut/chocolate chip which is like eating all of the cookies at once. What didn't turn out so well was an apple cinnamon batch, which was, honestly, nasty. Still, I'm going to give it another try because, dammit, it should be great, right?

Today we're making the summer's first batch of caprese pasta and a lemonade "salad" my sister makes which is more of a dessert, super light and summery.

Planning: Work continues on turning Mini-him's room into a guest room. Chenille bedspreads, my great-grandmother's dresser and vanity, quilts, and old family photos are moving in to replace the Captain America shield, beer boot, and masculine feel. Eventually it will get painted this summer before we get a second bed in there and there will be a new window treatment; but, for now, I'm happy with the way it's shaping up.

Thinking About: Saying goodbye to Miss S who leaves next weekend to move to Milwaukee. She's gone off for months at a time for school assignments before but we always knew she'd be back. This time we don't know when we'll see her again so it's going to be hard to see her leave. Have I mentioned before how bad I am at goodbyes? There will be tears.

Enjoying: The flowers at the library I go to for the book sale.  They are beautifully kept up and bloom spring through fall. Unfortunately, the library sits on the corner of one of the busiest intersections in Omaha so you can't just sit there and enjoy them.

Feeling: Heartsick about the shooting in Orlando. What is it going to take for this country to do something about the weapons that allow for this kind of thing to happen? How many innocent people have to die?

Looking forward to: A quiet week. I think. Whenever I think that, things start popping up to keep life busy.

Question of the week: What's your best tip for staying cool this summer?

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Brief History of Death by Kevin Brockmeier

The Brief History of The Dead by Kevin Brockmeier
Published 2006 by Pantheon Books
Source: this one is mine

Publisher's Summary:
The City is inhabited by those who have departed Earth but are still remembered by the living. They will reside in this afterlife until they are completely forgotten. But the City is shrinking, and the residents clearing out. Some of the holdouts, like Luka Sims, who produces the City’s only newspaper, are wondering what exactly is going on. Others, like Coleman Kinzler, believe it is the beginning of the end. Meanwhile, Laura Byrd is trapped in an Antarctic research station, her supplies are running low, her radio finds only static, and the power is failing. With little choice, Laura sets out across the ice to look for help, but time is running out.

My Thoughts:
Like Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, in The Brief History of The Dead a virus has raced around the earth, killing off its victims in just a matter of hours. And, like Mandel, Brockmeier spends very little time focusing on that. Instead we are left dealing with what happens afterward and those that are left.

In The Brief History of The Dead, this means a massive increase in the population of The City, a kind of holding place for those who have died but are still remembered by the living. But, as the virus rapidly takes its toll, the population of The City disappears as fast as it arrived. Those left begin to discover something strange - most of them knew Laura Byrd in some way. Why?

Meanwhile, when the two people Byrd was stationed with fail to return from their mission and the power fails at the station, Byrd strikes out to find a stronger radio, food, and human contact. Along her way, she has a lot of time to think. About her family, about incidents in her life both large and small, about the people who crossed her life.

It's not often you find a book with two disparate story lines that are equally strong. Laura's journey is perilous and tense but also filled with an indictment of corporate America and greed, as well as the small moments of life. Which is the real tie between the two story lines. In The City, those who are "in limbo" carry on much as they did in life but with the opportunity to ponder their choices in life and the chance to make some amends before they move on.

The final 30 pages dragged a bit for me until very near the end. Not so much Brockmeier's problem as mine. I was so hoping for a certain outcome and expected a build up to that. Brockmeier had other ideas and, with that in mind, he ties up the story just the way it should be done.

This one's going straight into The Big Guy's hands. I can't wait to hear what he thinks about it.

Monday, June 6, 2016

West With The Night by Beryl Markham

West With The Night by Beryl Markham
Originally Published 1942
Source: purchased for my Nook

Summary (
The memoir of Beryl Markham, horse trainer, bush pilot, and history making aviatrix. Beryl Markham grew up in the wilds of Africa where her father raised racehorses on their farm. Beryl followed in her father's footsteps by becoming the first woman in Africa to receive her horse-training license. Fascinated with the talents of her friend, Tom Black, Beryl learned to fly and went on to become the first person to fly east to west across the Atlantic from London to North America. Although her flight ended in Nova Scotia rather than the intended New York, Beryl will always be known for her courage and her groundbreaking talents.

My Thoughts:
Having recently read Paula McLain's fictionalized account of Markham's life (Circling The Sun - my review here), I was eager to "hear" the story in Markham's own words, particularly in light of so many critics who questioned why McLain felt the need to write her novel when Markham had already told her story.

I imagine McLain's reasons were twofold: Markham's life was exceptional and historic and Markham shared very little of her personal life in her own book. In West With The Night, Markham doesn't mention her husbands at all, rarely speaks of the father who raised her after her mother abandoned a very young Beryl, or her many lovers. Friends are only mentioned in so far as they pertain to the antidotes Markham is sharing. I missed the people that shared Markham's life in her own book.

There's been some debate as to whether or not Markham actually wrote West With The Night, particularly in light of the fact that it was written at the time she was married to a writer. I don't really care who wrote it. It is clearly Markham's story as she wanted it told and it's wonderfully written.
"Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer's paradise, a hunter's Valhalla, an escapist's Utopia. It is what you will, it it withstands all interpretations. It is the last vestige of a dead world or the cradle of a shiny new one."
What West With The Night lacks in personal detail, it more than makes up for in atmosphere. Markham is unsentimental except when she writes about animals and Africa.
"...for Africa was the breath and life of my childhood. 
It is still the host of all my darkest fears, the cradle of mysteries always intriguing, but never wholly solved. It is the remembrance of sunlight and green hills, cool water and the yellow warmth of bright mornings. It is as ruthless as any sea, more uncompromising than its own deserts. It is without temperance in its harshness or in its favors. It yields nothing, offering much to men of all races. 
But the soul of Africa, its integrity, the slow inexorable pulse of its life, is its own and of such singular rhythm that no outsider, unless steeped from childhood in its endless, even beat, can ever hope to experience it, except only as a bystander might experience a Masai war dance knowing nothing of its music nor the meanings of its steps."
Of her unforgettable adventures Markham wrote:
"The only disadvantage in surviving a dangerous experience lies in the fact that your story of it tends to be anticlimactic. You can never carry on right through the point where whatever it is that threatens your life actually takes it - and get anybody to believe you. The world is full of sceptics."
Maybe so when telling the stories to people living on colonial Africa but for today's readers tales of surviving lion and bull elephant attacks and perilous flights over dangerous territory and oceans the stories are all the more incredible for Markham's ability to survive on her own terms.
"We are bound for a place thirty-six hundred miles from here - two thousand miles of it unbroken ocean. Most of the way it will be night. We are flying west with the night."

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Life: It Goes On - June 5

It's summer now - the air-conditioner runs from early in the morning until late into the evening, my commute has gotten faster thanks to school being out, and evenings out with friends mean time on a patio. Love it!

It's been a busy week around here. My sister decided to have a garage sale and asked if I wanted to join her. You know I'm always looking for excuses to clear clutter out of my house so I was onboard. Of course, that meant spending time going through "stuff," a night of pricing and moving it over to my sister's, three days of sale followed by a couple of hours of boxing up the remains of the sale to donate to charity. We didn't have a great turnout but I got a fair amount out of my house and made a few bucks so I suppose it was worth it. Although I won't be doing it again any time soon.

Yesterday we went to a Relay for Life event to support one of Miss H's friends who has a rare combination of cancers. We got some walking in, she got to spend time with her friend, and we got to support a cause that's near and dear to our hearts.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: One more week of The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest. I think I've been telling you that I've been listening to The Girl Who Played With Fire still. The Big Guy is actually listening to that one now. This one has so many characters to keep track of and often wandered off into deep backstories but things are moving fast now and I'm really enjoying it.

Watching: Nothing exciting. Mostly a lot of baseball.

Reading: I'll finish Kevin Brockmeier's The Brief History of the Dead and then I'm back to Emma Cline's The Girls. Very much enjoying Brockmeier's book which brings to mind Station Eleven for me.

Making: We finished the buffet-into-entertainment center project today when we finally decided on hardware. It took a little longer than expected when BG realized that we would need to take out another drawer and turn it into a shelf and get that painted. Got it moved into the house today and we are loving it! I would like to move it to a different wall but that requires some speaker rewiring so I'm not going to win that argument anytime soon.

Planning: To turn Mini-him's room into a guest room this week. He still has some things to get out of it and then I can set up the bed, rearrange furniture, and decorate.  

Thinking About: Ways to find more time for reading which mostly means finding ways to make myself put down electronic devices for a couple of hours a day. I have spent way too much time sucked down the rabbit hole that is the internet lately.

Enjoying: Time with friends and family this week. No better way to recharge the batteries during a busy week.

Feeling: Tired. 

Looking forward to: A few days with nothing on the calendar and nothing that has to be done.

Asking:  We went to my favorite place to get a Cuban sandwich the other night and I'm wondering what's your favorite sandwich?

Friday, June 3, 2016

Seasons of Reading: Sci-Fi Summer Read-a-Thon

Michelle, of Seasons of Reading, is hosting the Sci-Fi Summer Readathon this week. I had planned to read The Martian during the read-a-thon but it's Mini-him's and he took it with him when he moved. Rotten kid. Instead I'm reading Kevin Brockmeier's The Brief History of the Dead. I'm not sure that it rightly qualifies as sci-fi because I'm not sure there's any actual science involved. Although there is a pandemic. So, science, right?

There's not a lot of time to read this week so my read-a-thon may be nothing more than the usual amount of reading, just a book out of my usual comfort zone. Which is a good thing.

What book(s) would you read if you were joining us?

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Clothes They Stood Up In by Alan Bennett

The Clothes They Stood Up In by Alan Bennett
Originally published July 1998
Source: bought it for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
The Ransomes had been burgled. "Robbed," Mrs. Ransome said. "Burgled," Mr. Ransome corrected. Premises were burgled; persons were robbed. Mr. Ransome was a solicitor by profession and thought words mattered. Though "burgled" was the wrong word too. Burglars select; they pick; they remove one item and ignore others. There is a limit to what burglars can take: they seldom take easy chairs, for example, and even more seldom settees. These burglars did. They took everything.

When the sedate Ransomes return from the opera to find their Notting Hill flat stripped absolutely bare—down to the toilet paper off the roll, they face a dilemma: Who are they without the things they've spent a lifetime accumulating? Suddenly the world is full of unlimited and frightening possibility.

My Thoughts:
All it took for me to decide to buy this one was that name - Alan Bennett. The guy who's written screenplays I've loved, including The Madness of King George. The guy who wrote one of my favorite reads of 2009, The Uncommon Reader (my review here). I picked it to read now because at under 200 pages, I assumed it could keep my interest for that long, even if I'm suffering from the reading doldrums. And, again, Alan Bennett.

Bennett did not disappoint. The Ransomes are so set in their ways, so staid, that Mr. Ransome's first name sounds odd to Mrs. Ransome's ears. "Set in their ways" may not be the right phrase. It's more a case of set in Mr. Ransome's ways. Not until everything they had every had, right down to the casserole baking in the oven, was stolen, does Mrs. Ransome realize that "their" ways might not be her ways. In fact, she feels a certain unexpected lightness and a joy in exploring new places and meeting new people as she sets out to pick up the things they need to get by until the insurance settles up. The television they've never had until now opens her eyes to new ways to think and speak. Mr. Ransome carries on, determined to benefit from the event only financially.

When The New York Times reviewed this book, the reviewer felt it would not do as well in the U.S. as it had done in Britain because Americans would not be able to connect to Mr. Ransome's "emotional constipation" and Mrs. Ransome's "pathological diffidence." Well, perhaps those are more British traits than American but that's not to say that we don't all know people like the Ransomes. Besides, I think we can all relate to the very mixed feelings the Ransomes have about their "stuff" and, British or not, appreciate Bennett's terrific wit.

If nothing else, The Clothes They Stood Up In will make readers think about their attachment to their "things" and the weight those same things can put on us.