Sunday, July 31, 2016

Life: It Goes On - July 31

Schedules were arranged and rearranged, groceries were bought (car snacks are an extremely important part of the journey!), our fur babies are being cared for, posts were scheduled and books were packed, and plans made (it's Milwaukee so there will be beer and beaches, for sure). We're finally there so I'm not here! I'll likely be driving my husband crazy by posting pictures on Facebook and Instagram that let burglars know that we're not home but, otherwise, I'm going to be AWOL from the electronic world for the next few days. 

I'll just leave you with this question: what is the funniest thing that ever happened to you on vacation? 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Finding Fontainebleau: An American Boy In France by Thad Carhart

Finding Fontainebleau: An American Boy in France by Thad Carhart
Published May 2016 by Viking
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
The adventures of Carhart and his family—his NATO officer father, his mother, four siblings, and their dog—in the provincial town of Fontainebleau, France, in the 1950s. Dominating life in the town is the beautiful Château of Fontainebleau. Begun in 1137, fifty years before the Louvre and more than five hundred before Versailles, the Château was a home for Marie-Antoinette, François I, and the two Napoleons, among others, all of whom added to its splendors without appreciably destroying the work of their predecessors.

Carhart takes readers along as he and his family experience the pleasures and particularities of French life: learning the codes and rules of a French classroom where wine bottles dispense ink, camping in Italy and Spain, tasting fresh baguettes. Readers see post-war life in France as never before, from the parks and museums of Paris (much less crowded in the 1950s, when you could walk through completely empty galleries in the Louvre) to the quieter joys of a town like Fontainebleau, where everyday citizens have lived on the edges of history since the 12th century and continue to care for their lieux de mémoire—places of memory.

Intertwined with stories of France’s post-war recovery are profiles of the monarchs who resided at Fontainebleau throughout the centuries and left their architectural stamp on the palace and its sizeable grounds. Carhart finds himself drawn back as an adult, eager to rediscover the town of his childhood. FINDING FONTAINEBLEAU imagines a bright future for this important site of French cultural heritage, as Carhart introduces us to the remarkable group of architects, restorers, and curators who care for and refashion the Château’s hundreds of rooms for a new generation of visitors. Guided by Patrick Ponsot, head of the Château’s restoration programs, the author takes us behind the scenes and shows us a side of the Château that tourists never see.

My Thoughts:
I gotta be honest with you on two scores.

Number one, I haven't finished the book. Too much going on on television the past couple of weeks for much reading. But I'm well on my way to done and feel like I've got a pretty good grasp on this sucker at this point. Unless, in the last fifty pages, Carhart suddenly resurrects one of the French kings or something, I doubt will be an ending that really knocks the book out of the park and makes me so angry I want to throw the book across the room.

Number two, I had some misgivings going into this book for a couple of reasons. I had mixed feelings about his last book, Across The Endless River, which was one of the first book I ever reviewed for review when I started blogging. And the description of this one both intrigued and worried me - all interesting ingredients, but would there be too much going on?

Not to worry. There is a lot going on in this book but I am really enjoying all angles from which Carhart comes at Fontainebleau. Seriously, a 1950's American family with five children end up living in a French manse right on the edge of the Chateau de Fontainebleau? It's like something out of a Doris Day movie without pratfalls and a laugh track. I can really picture Carhart and his family as they explore their little neck of the new woods and beyond, get used to new customs, and acclimate themselves to a whole new way of life.  But then, I am learning so much about French history, the region, and the way this unique Chateau evolved. I'm bound to find myself digging more into the kings and the times they lived in. can't help but be impressed with France's devotion to the restoration and maintenance of this piece of their history, their devotion to caring for all of their heritage. Especially when you live in a town where it feels as though historically significant buildings are being torn down daily (albeit not nearly as historically significant!).

Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. I'm so glad I took a chance on this book! For other reviews, check out the full tour.

Twenty-six years ago THAD CARHART moved to Paris with his wife and two infant children. He lives there now, with frequent visits to New York and Northern California. His first book, The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, appeared in 2000, published by Random House. Across the Endless River, a historical novel, came out in 2009 with Doubleday. Connect with Thad Website | Facebook | Twitter

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Top Ten Things Books Have Made Me Want To Do Or Learn About After Reading Them

Well, let's just start this list off with the first book that I ever recall making me want to do something and see where that leads us, shall we?

1. Little Women: I was eight and already a lover of books when I was given Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. I wanted to be Jo (even though I knew I was really more of a Beth). Even more, Jo made me want to be a writer. I never did write a book but I still keep notebooks with story ideas, character sketches, short stories, and writing resources. Because a girl's gotta dream.

2. March: Geraldine Brooks borrowed Mr. March from Little Women then reimagined him as more the real life inspiration for that character, Bronson Alcott, Louisa's father. I loved Mr. March so as Father but as March, not so much. March made me dig deeper into the reality of the Alcott family, including reading a couple of books that taught me much more about the family and the crowd they ran with.

3. In The Sanctuary of Outcasts: Not long before I read In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, I read Elise Blackwell's The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish which talked about leper colonies in the southern United States. I took that to be a fictional device. Then I read In The Sanctuary of Outcasts and learned that leper colonies were a reality here. I had to know more and spent the better part of a couple of days reading about the ways we "treated" those afflicted with this terrible disease.

4: City of Thieves: I knew about the siege of Leningrad before I read this book. But this work of fiction, for some reason, opened my eyes to just how horrific that siege was for those trapped inside of the German blockade. More, more, I needed to know more. A million and a half soldiers and citizens died; nearly that many more were evacuated. Both armies sustained incredible losses, palaces were destroyed, art stolen. Such a tragedy.

5: The Weight Of Heaven: My first Imrigar book and the book that really set off my love affair with books set in India and the neighboring region. If you've followed me long, you know how much this one book as influenced my reading.

6. The Girl With The Pearl Earring: I'd heard of Jan Vermeer before I read this book, but I knew absolutely nothing about him. Again, I wanted to learn more about how much Chevalier had based this book on fact and how much on fiction and immediately did some research. It's a desire to learn more about the artists I read about that has stayed with me and finds me looking for works by Vermeer and the other artists I've read about any time I'm in an art museum.

7: Loving Frank: Frank Lloyd Wright - icon, pioneer, architect. That much I knew going into this book. After reading it, I wanted to know more about the man behind those incredible buildings. Internet research and a documentary viewing taught me that Horan was spot on in the facts she presented. Wright may have been a visionary, but he wasn't overly concerned with the realities of his visions nor was he a very nice man.

8. Little Heathens, 9. Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistle Stop Cafe, 10. The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry: If there's anything about food in a book, I tend to spend a good deal of the next week in my kitchen. While Fried Green Tomatoes wasn't a book about food, it did make me want to try fried green tomatoes and other Southern delicacies (not a fan of those tomatoes as it turns out!). Little Heathens had me looking at old school kitchen methods and got me back to doing more freezing and jelly making. Both The Sharper Your Knife and Finn's Kitchen Counter Cooking School are chock full of recipes and ideas and both earned a spot in on my recipe book shelf. They've inspired me to be creative, make use of what I've got and dare to make up my own dressings!

What books have made you want to do something or learn more about something after reading them?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Life: It Goes On - July 24

I know I'm not alone in hoping this heatwave that's gripping most of the country ends soon. You know it's hot when they talk about a cold front moving in and all that does is drops the highs to the upper 80's. Ugh. It was at least tolerable enough last evening for us to sit outside for a bit after dinner.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: NPR all week after bailing on my audiobook. I'll start Khaled Hosseini's And The Mountains Echoed tomorrow.

Watching: The RNC convention, at least as much as I could take of it. I sort of hate the conventions. A lot of cheerleading, a lot of telling us what they'll do if they're elected but not much as far as how they think they'll manage to accomplish those things.

Garden at the library
Reading: Racing to finish Leaving Lucy Pear before my permission through Netgalley expires. That whole readathon plan didn't quite pan out as I'd planned. I want to read. I just can't make myself sit down and do it for hours on end right now. Still, I did pick up a couple new books when I stopped at my library's book sale.

Making: A cocktail I discovered last weekend - a French 95 (bourbon and champagne - sounds weird together but oh, so yummy!), grilled cheese, chicken and orzo, caprese pasta, Asian chicken salad, and birthday cake.

Planning: A bridal shower in a couple of weeks for my niece.

Thinking About: Family dynamics. We spent the evening with old friends last night and what can only be called horror stories about problems with their siblings and parents. BG and I both left feeling very blessed.

As laid back a visit as you can get!
Enjoying: A visit from The Big Guy's brother and his wife Sunday and Monday and celebrating Mini-him's 28th birthday today. We'll do a family dinner today since he will be headed off with friends on his actual birthday this week. How did 28 years go by so quickly?!

Feeling: Frustrated. I have ended up with headaches the past few Saturdays. I've powered through as much as I can but I'm not getting nearly as much done as I'd like which means I don't get Sundays for a bit of a recharge day.

Looking forward to: Heading off to Milwaukee this weekend. Because of the way we had to take days off, the boys will head up a day earlier than Miss H, The Big Guy and I and head back a day early but we'll have plenty of time with the six of us to have fun!

Question of the week: It's ice cream season - what's your favorite flavor?

Friday, July 22, 2016

DNF - Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
Published May 2012 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: I bought both audio and ereader editions

Publisher's Summary:
A ferocious firefight with Iraqi insurgents at “the battle of Al-Ansakar Canal” has transformed the eight surviving men of Bravo Squad into America’s most sought-after heroes. The Bush Administration has sent them on a media-intensive nationwide “Victory Tour ”. Now, at the end of their tour, the Bravos are set to do the Halftime Show at Texas Stadium where they’ll be the Dallas Cowboys’ guests.

Among the Bravos is the Silver Star-winning hero of Al-Ansakar, a 19-year-old Texas native named Specialist William Lynn. On this final day before their redeployment, Billy and the Bravos will meet patriots who are proud of their troops and proud to be Americans. They include the Cowboy’s hard-nosed businessman/owner and his coterie of wealthy colleagues; a luscious born-again Cowboys cheerleader; a veteran Hollywood producer; and supersized pro players eager for a vicarious taste of war. Between their faces he sees those of his family, his worried sisters and broken father, and there is Shroom, the philosophical sergeant who opened Billy’s mind and died in his arms at Al-Ansakar.

My Thoughts:
If you've followed this blog long, you are well aware that I rarely ever give up on a book, especially one that I'm listening to. But 40% of the way into this one, I just couldn't be bothered any more. Not the book for me? Maybe. Not the book for me right now? More likely. A book I should read instead of listen to? Well, that's a possibility.

It's not to say that there's nothing good about the book or that Fountain doesn't have some interesting things to say about our culture, about war, and about the way we treat those who fight wars. He definitely does.

Almost half way through the book, though, I felt like I'd learned what Fountain had to say and that we were now playing Herman Hermit's "Enery The Eight I Am" - you know, second verse, same as the first (okay most of you probably have no idea what I'm talking about here - you'll just have to trust me on this one).

But, I'm not deleting my Nook copy of the book just yet because Ang Lee is directing a movie adaptation of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk which is scheduled to be released on November. I may just have to pick this one back up before then. Because if Ang Lee is involved, you know the movie is going to be worth watching and I'd hate to say I gave up on the book only to find out it had a terrific ending. As they say in the movie "Galaxy Quest," "never give up, never surrender."

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Salvage The Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Salvage The Bones by Jesmyn Ward
Published August 2011 by Bloomsbury USA
Source: purchased at my local indie bookstore for this month's book club selection

Winner of the National Book Award 2011

Publisher's Summary:
A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch's father is growing concerned. A hard drinker, largely absent, he doesn't show concern for much else. Esch and her three brothers are stocking food, but there isn't much to save. Lately, Esch can't keep down what food she gets; she's fourteen and pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is sneaking scraps for his prized pitbull's new litter, dying one by one in the dirt. Meanwhile, brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim in a family long on child's play and short on parenting.

As the twelve days that make up the novel's framework yield to their dramatic conclusion, this unforgettable family-motherless children sacrificing for one another as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce-pulls itself up to face another day.

My Thoughts:
I live in the suburbs where life is, for the most part, pretty damn easy. We drive reliable cars; we stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer in our homes; we have good jobs, plenty to eat, new clothes when we need them (and, more often, just because we want them), insurance to help protect us from catastrophe. It can be easy to become complacent, to forget that not everyone is as fortunate as we are.

Jesmyn Ward will not allow us to forget and she will not let us turn away.

I cannot stop thinking about the Batiste children. I don't I will stop thinking about them for a long while. About their bond and their love for each other. About Skeetah's love for China, the dog who will fight for him, who will love him unconditionally, who might just be his way to save his family. About Randall and his quiet presence and the way he dealt with the loss of hope. About Junior who wants so desperately to be one of the big kids.

But mostly I will think of Esch, a young, motherless girl who doesn't have anyone to tell her that she is being abused by the boys she allows to have sex with her.
“And it was easier to let him keep on touching me than ask him to stop, easier to let him inside than to push him away, easier than hearing him ask me, "Why not?" It was easier to keep quiet and take it than to give him an answer.”
Seriously, don't you just want to hug her? She is smart enough to be able to relate the myth of Medea to her own life. But she is also naive enough to believe that a boy that won't look at her while he's having sex with her, who lives with another girl, will come to love her as much as she loves him. She desperately tries to hide her pregnancy, as much to protect her brothers as to protect herself. She knows that the boys in her life will fight for her honor much as the dogs they raise fight.

I loved the writing. It is beautiful and cruel and just when you think something terrible will happen, Ward lets you off easy. Until she doesn't. Ward and her family survived Hurricane Katrina, riding it out in their cars after abandoning their home as it filled with water. When she writes about Katrina crashing into Bois Sauvage, it is incredibly tense and real and I could not put the book down in the final 80 pages.
“I will tie the glass and stone with string, hang the shards above my bed, so that they will flash in the dark and tell the story of Katrina, the mother that swept into the Gulf and slaughtered. Her chariot was a storm so great and black the Greeks would say it was harnessed to dragons. She was the murderous mother who cut us to the bone but left us alive, left us naked and bewildered as wrinkled newborn babies, as blind puppies, as sun-starved newly hatched baby snakes. She left us a dark Gulf and salt burned land. She left us to learn to crawl. She left us to salvage. Katrina is the mother we will remember until the next mother with large, merciless hands, committed to blood, comes.”
Salvage The Bones is not an easy read. But if you feel willing to face the world beyond your doorstep, I highly recommend it. Even if you'd prefer not to, I still recommend it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

High Summer Read-A -Thon

Hey, are you surprised to see that I'm, once again, late to the party. Well, at least as far as remembering to post about the read-a-thon, which is, once again, hosted by Michelle of Seasons of Reading.  I did spend Monday night reading (more because I had to finish my book club book for the month than because I was read-a-thoning, but still!). Book club last night but I'm about to settle in for tonight. My plan for the rest of the week is to finish Leaving Lucy Pear which I started today and then it's on to Finding Fontainebleau: An American Boy In France. We're having ridiculously high temps this week (it really is high summer!), so spending all of my free time curled up inside reading is just the thing!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Life: It Goes On - July 17

My summer schedule's been less crazy this year than it is some years but it seems to be filling up all of a sudden. This weekend's been overflowing with things we could/should/been invited to do. We've had things going on every night since Thursday with plans through Wednesday and have even had to turn down invites. What's an introvert to do with all of this social interaction?! I'm thinking by Thursday, I may shut myself in my room for the night!

My calendar for the fall is filling up fast, too, but that's with book reviews. Remember how at the beginning of the year I was going to free-range read, #readmyowndamnbooks? Yeah, that's not really working out quite the way I planned. Some of the scheduled reviews are actually pushing me to read books that I already do have on my shelves (real and digital) so, I suppose, it's not all bad. But when Ann Patchett, Jaqueline Woodson, and Colson Whitehead all have new books, I can't say no.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I haven't been able to make myself listen to Billy Lynn's Long Half Time Walk much this past week. I'm thinking it may be one of my rare DNF's which is disappointing because I really feel like it's something I should listen to/read. But it's not keeping my attention and right now there's so much going on in the world that I feel I'm better served listening to the radio and keeping up with the world.

Watching: We haven't really watched much t.v. in the past few days. The Big Guy watches American Ninja Warrior but nothing much else has caught either of our attention. Which is not a bad thing, right?

Reading: You'd think that would mean I've been reading a lot lately, wouldn't you? Not so much. I'm pretty sure I've got too many books started and I'm having a hard time getting involved in any of them. I have to concentrate the next couple of days on finishing up Salvage The Bones for book club this week which I am enjoying and I'm just about finished with The Year of Reading Dangerously.

Making: More pizza loaded with farmer's market goodies and several meals using a pork tenderloin BG had grilled (including a killer pork/grilled cheese sandwich). We haven't had to cook the past three nights which has been a nice break.

Planning: Dinner for tonight - BG's brother and sister-in-law will be here to spend the night and she eats gluten-free so we'll work around that. Grilling will be involved, I'm sure. Now what to have for dessert that doesn't involve flour? There's always ice cream but I'd like to be a little more creative.

Thinking About: A community awareness/action meeting this week. This will be way out of my comfort zone but it's time to get involved in my community again.

Enjoying: Time with family and friends. Thursday was my company's annual picnic/baseball game and I got the whole crew to go. Cherishing my family time before Mini-me moves to Milwaukee. Friday night we had dinner with friends and last night was dinner with two of BG's siblings and their spouses. So much happiness!

Feeling: Tired. See note regarding being an introvert. No matter how much I love what I've been doing, there's not been a lot of time to recharge in the way an introvert needs to recharge.

Looking forward to: Book club this week.

Question of the week: Are you an introvert or an extrovert? What's your go-to way to recharge your battery?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

2016 Big Book Summer Challenge

It's that time again, time for Sue's (of Book by Book) Big Book Summer Challenge. I'm late to the party (what a surprise, right?); the challenge started Memorial Day. But it runs through Labor Day so there's still time to knock out a chunkster. I'm looking to finally read Charles Dickens' Little Dorrit, which has been on my bookshelf ever since I saw the Masterpiece Theater adaptation. It weighs in at over 800 pages so that will likely be the only big book I get through all summer with this late start.

It's not too late for you to join, too. Here are the "rules:"

  • Anything over 400 pages qualifies as a big book. The challenge will run from Memorial Day weekend (starting May 27 this year) through Labor Day weekend (Labor Day is September 5 this year). Choose one or two or however many big books you want as your goal. Wait, did you get that? You only need to read 1 book with over 400 pages this summer to participate! (though you are welcome to read more, if you want).
  • Choose from what's on your shelves already or a big book you've been meaning to read for ages or anything that catches your eye in the library - whatever peaks your interest!
  • Write a post to kick things off - you can list the exact big books you plan to read or just publish your intent to participate, but be sure to include the Big Book Summer Challenge pic above, with a link back to this blog.
  • Write a post to wrap up at the end, listing the big books you read during the summer.
  • You can write progress posts if you want to and/or reviews of the big books you've read...but you don't have to! There is a separate links list below for big book review posts.
Are you looking to knock of any big books this summer?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown

The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown
Published July 2016 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Madeleine is trapped—by her family's expectations, by her controlling husband, and by her own fears—in an unhappy marriage and a life she never wanted. From the outside, it looks like she has everything, but on the inside, she fears she has nothing that matters.

In Madeleine’s memories, her grandmother Margie is the kind of woman she should have been—elegant, reserved, perfect. But when Madeleine finds a diary detailing Margie’s bold, romantic trip to Jazz Age Paris, she meets the grandmother she never knew: a dreamer who defied her strict, staid family and spent an exhilarating summer writing in cafés, living on her own, and falling for a charismatic artist.

Despite her unhappiness, when Madeleine’s marriage is threatened, she panics, escaping to her hometown and staying with her critical, disapproving mother. In that unlikely place, shaken by the revelation of a long-hidden family secret and inspired by her grandmother’s bravery, Madeleine creates her own Parisian summer—reconnecting to her love of painting, cultivating a vibrant circle of creative friends, and finding a kindred spirit in a down-to-earth chef who reminds her to feed both her body and her heart.

My Thoughts*:
Brown's dual narratives are maybe the most closely tied dual narratives I've ever read. Both women are being raised as society girl, with all the expectations and the baggage that includes - cotillions/debutante balls, the right clothes, the right hair, and marriage to the right men with babies following closely behind. Neither Madeleine nor Margie feels comfortable in that milieu and their mothers'  disappoint weighs heavily on them. Both yearn to find the place where they fit in and to have the chance to express their creativity.

And that's where Brown takes the women down different paths.

Margie gets a reprieve, the chance to go to Europe where she becomes the butterfly who sheds her cocoon. She lives on her own, finds a job, hobnobs with the artistic community, writes prolifically, and falls in love.

Madeleine, on the other hand, so desperately wants to do the right thing that she marries a man far more in love with himself than he is with her, a man who quashes her dreams of being a painter and any self worth she had remaining. She is so miserable that she practically lives on antacids. So miserable that even time with her mother is preferable to time with her husband. Thanks to that time, she discovers her grandmother's journals and finds out the woman she knew growing hope once had hopes of a far different life.

I liked the historical narrative better (as I so often do). Paris comes alive as Margie becomes a part of it and I enjoyed "watching" Margie become a part of the city. Madeleine's narrative is the more predictable of the two. Brown tries to throw the reader off track periodically, but (and I don't think I'm giving anything away here), this is a happily ever after story and I never doubted the outcome. Still, I came to care about both of the women and enjoyed reading about how each of them came to terms with the societies they were raised in.

There were no real surprises in The Light of Paris but somehow that was exactly what I needed right now - a book about women struggling to find themselves against society's expectations that turns out exactly the way I expected it would. And that was just fine with me.

*I had some lovely passages to share with you but I forgot to get them copied before my license to view the book expired. -insert sad emoji here_

Monday, July 11, 2016

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift
Published April 2016 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: this one arrived unexpectedly on my doorstep (okay, in my mailbox) from the publisher

Publisher's Summary:
Twenty-two-year-old Jane Fairchild has worked as a maid at an English country house since she was sixteen. For almost all of those years she has been the clandestine lover to Paul Sheringham, young heir of a neighboring house. The two now meet on an unseasonably warm March day—Mothering Sunday—a day that will change Jane’s life forever.

As the narrative moves back and forth from 1924 to the end of the century, what we know and understand about Jane—about the way she loves, thinks, feels, sees, remembers—expands with every vividly captured moment.

My Thoughts:
I hadn't heard of the book when it arrived in my mailbox and I certainly didn't need any more books. But I held onto it simply because it was short, fewer than 200 pages. Yep, that's the only reason. A girl's always gotta have a few quick reads on hand for when she needs a break from longer reads. But that's not really the reason I chose to read it now. The reason I chose to read it now was because JoAnn, of Lakeside Musing, listed it as one of her favorite books so far this year. I'm not sure JoAnn and I have ever disagreed on a book so if she loves it, I'm going to read it.

As ever, JoAnn didn't steer me wrong.

You don't have to read very many pages into Mothering Sunday to know that Graham Swift is British. What is there about British writers that makes their writing so different from all other writers?  Certainly some of it is owing to the class structure and the interaction between the upstairs and downstairs in English homes. Mothering Sunday, unfolds slowly, beautifully, and deeply emotionally, highlighting the differences between the lives Jane and Paul have led and the futures they have to look forward to. Swift brushes back and forth in time, touching gently again and again on small details that are incredibly telling. Swift sets his story just after the first World War when families were just recovering from the loss of their sons, when changing times meant the wealthy were finding they could no longer live in the ways they had been for generations, when the working class began to see a way out of servitude. Mothering Sunday is a small window with an wide-ranging, beautiful view.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Life: It Goes On - July 10

What a terrible week we've had here in the U.S. So much sadness and anger. What happened in Louisiana and in Minnesota and in Texas all comes down to hate. Not long ago, a person commented on Facebook that hatred is really fear. We tend to fear what we do not know or understand.

I know I don't have any answers but I do know that I can't sit out here in my suburban safe haven any more and imagine that this is not my problem. Friday I did something that I have never done before - I joined a protest. The organizers brought it to my neck of the woods - no excuse for it being too far away or in a neighborhood I didn't feel safe in.

I learned a lot. About myself, about the people protesting, about the people who drove through the intersection who largely showed support, and about the police in Omaha. For the most part, the police hung well back and let people voice their frustration and the protesters were respectful of the police. I was really proud of Omaha. I might have been standing with those who feel disenfranchised but I also support the police. They have an incredibly hard job and put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe. So, when I bought a couple of dozen doughnuts from the Krispy Kreme where I was parked, I first shared with the officers. Which made it on to Twitter!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Still Billy Lynn's Long Half Time Walk. I'm about a third of the way through and I'm feeling like I already get the point of the story and I'm not sure where it's going from here. It'll have to pick up this week or I may not finish it.

Watching: "Macbeth" at Shakespeare on the Green with The Big Guy last night. I had some trouble hearing and it's not a play you should be missing any of, but it was a beautiful evening and we enjoyed a picnic dinner, adult beverages and people watching as well as the play.

Reading: I'm hoping to finish The Light of Paris in the next couple of days, if I can get my hands on the iPad long enough. Then I'll finish The Year of Reading Dangerously. I'm enjoying it but it's time to finish it and put something new on my nightstand.

Making: We ate leftovers from our Fourth get-together for a couple of days, made a pizza, grilled some chicken thighs - mostly we took it easy in the kitchen.

Planning: As for this subject, I'm really enjoying working with/on my Bullet Journal. It's still a work in progress and I won't move it into a good journal book until I've got the kinks worked out and settle on the way I want it set up. I like having everything in one place and having as much room as I want for each day's plans and activities.

Thinking About: Ways to continue to be involved in making my community better.

Enjoying: Finding out that my nephew and his wife will be having a baby girl in October.

Feeling: Sad and annoyed. I've had to unfollow a blog this week when, in the course of a book review, the blogger felt it necessary to bring her political views into the review. I disagreed with her with but also found it to be a passive/aggressive move which was what drove me to unfollow her.

Looking forward to: My company's annual picnic and baseball game this week.

Question of the week: If you use a bullet journal, which book do you use?

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Weekenders by Mary Kay Andrews - Guest Review

The Weekenders by Mary Kay Andrews
Published May 2016 by St. Martin's Press
Source: this copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Some people stay all summer long on the idyllic island of Belle Isle, North Carolina. Others come only for the weekends-and the mix between the regulars and “the weekenders” can sometimes make the sparks fly. Riley Griggs has a season of good times with friends and family ahead of her on Belle Isle when things take an unexpected turn. While waiting for her husband to arrive on the ferry one Friday afternoon, Riley is confronted by a process server who thrusts papers into her hand. And her husband is nowhere to be found.

So she turns to her island friends for help and support, but it turns out that each of them has their own secrets, and the clock is ticking as the mystery a murderous way. Cocktail parties aside, Riley must find a way to investigate the secrets of Belle Island, the husband she might not really know, and the summer that could change everything.

My Sister's Thoughts: 
There are certain books that I see and know that my sister will want to read them. If the author is Mary Kay Andrews, for example. So when I was offered this one for review, I knew she would be the one reading and reviewing it. Just like she did in 2014 when she read and reviewed Andrews' Save The Date.

Here's what she had to say about The Weekenders:

My sister knows my love for novels set in a beach environment. When she shared Mary Kay Andrews most recent book with me and asked me to review, I chose not to read anything about it. I wanted to open the book and try to be pulled into the story.

Ms. Andrews did not disappoint me. She once again has developed characters whom I was drawn to and whom I felt became very familiar to me. Through her descriptions she makes it feel as if I am living on Belle Isle for the summer.

The story immediately took an unexpected turn and drew me in. The story is about a marriage that was falling apart, a teenage daughter who wants to believe her father is perfect, friendship, family, rekindled love, deception, and loyalty. It was, while perhaps a stretch, and great example of the secrets all families have.

The character I most identified with was Parrish, the lifelong friend of the story's main character Riley. She steps in to help her friend through a terrible time in her life and in doing so becomes her confidant, voice of reason, and, at times, accomplice.

My only disappointment is one that I have had with other novels by this author. She slowly develops the story, and then, it feels to me, abruptly ends it.

If you share my love of beach novels I think you will enjoy this book.

Thanks, sis - see you next year!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messed

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messed
Published April 2013 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: hardcover and audiobook purchased at the library book sale
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell

Publisher's Summary:
Nora Eldridge, a thirty-seven-year-old elementary school teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who long ago abandoned her ambition to be a successful artist, has become the "woman upstairs," a reliable friend and tidy neighbor always on the fringe of others' achievements. Then into her classroom walks Reza Shahid, a child who enchants as if from a fairy tale. He and his parents—dashing Skandar, a Lebanese scholar and professor at the École Normale Supérleure; and Sirena, an effortlessly glamorous Italian artist—have come to Boston for Skandar to take up a fellowship at Harvard. When Reza is attacked by schoolyard bullies who call him a "terrorist," Nora is drawn into the complex world of the Shahid family: she finds herself falling in love with them, separately and together. Nora's happiness explodes her boundaries, until Sirena's careless ambition leads to a shattering betrayal. Told with urgency, intimacy, and piercing emotion, this story of obsession and artistic fulfillment explores the thrill—and the devastating cost—of giving in to one's passions.

My Thoughts:
You'll notice I have two copies of this book. No, I did not do that on purpose with thoughts of doing a read/listen combination. In fact, I never cracked the book. Partly because I didn't even remember that I had the print copy of the book until I was almost half way through the book. But more so because I never got out of my car thinking that I just had to keep reading. Which says something, I suppose, about how I felt about this book. Except, it doesn't.

Nora is one hella angry woman.
"How angry am I? You don't want to know. Nobody wants to know about that
I'm a good girl, I'm a nice girl, I'm a straight-A, strait-laced, good daughter, good career girl, and I never stole anybody's boyfriend and I never ran out on a girlfriend, and I put up with my parents' shit and my brother's shit, and I'm not a girl anyhow, I'm over forty fucking years old, and I'm good at my job and I'm great with kids and I held my mother's hand when she died, after four years of holding her hand while she was dying, and I speak to my father every day on the telephone -- every day, mind you, and what kind of weather do you have on your side of the river, because here it's pretty gray and a bit muggy too? It was supposed to say "Great Artist" on my tombstone, but if I died right now it would say "such a good teacher/daughter/friend" instead; and what I really want to shout, and want in big letters on that grave, too, is FUCK YOU ALL."
Like I said, filled with rage. Unlike a lot of people, Claire knew what she wanted to have when she grew up, knew she would be an artist and a mother.  Her mother, who pleaded with her at one point in her youth "Don't ever get yourself stuck like this," became Claire's lodestar. But that very piece of advice also pushed Claire to make some safe choices, choices that would mean she would not have to rely on a man. And life, as life so often does, got in the way. Instead of having a family and being a world-reknowned artist, Claire is alone and only works as an artist in the spare bedroom of her home.

Nora is an unlikable character, but she's not unknowable. How many of us had dreams that never came true? And Nora, to an extent, understands why her dreams haven't come true. She knows the fault is largely her own.
“I always thought I'd get farther. I'd like to blame the world for what I've failed to do, but the failure - the failure that sometimes washes over me as anger, makes me so angry I could spit - is all mine, in the end. What made my obstacles insurmountable, what consigned me to mediocrity, is me, just me. I thought for so long, forever, that I was strong enough -- or I misunderstood what strength was.”
When the Shahids come into her life, Nora falls in love with each of them separately, for the very piece of her dreams that each of them represent. Reza, the child she never had; Skandar, the intelligent man who is interested in her opinions; Sirena, who has the big artist's life that Nora so wanted. Interesting enough. But about that time, I started to get confused about where Messed was going with the book. Was she going to make this a book about what happens when someone becomes as obsessed as Nora had become. To be honest, I got a little bit bored, too. I got it, I got it - Nora's world was tiny, Sirena's world was bigger and getting bigger all of the time.

When it became obvious where Messud was going with the story, it picked back up again and the last third of the book picked back up again for me and the ending felt perfect. Back to an angry Nora. This time deservedly so. This time with an goal. I liked that.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Happy Fourth of July, U.S.A.!

For all that the members of the Continental Congress of 1776 looked alike (and they were, of course, all white and all men), they did not enter that assemblage at all united in their beliefs about what was best for the lands they served. There were valid arguments to be had on both sides and repercussions to be considered from countries beyond just Great  Britain. No doubt voices were raised, fists were waved, threats to walk out were made. But, in the end, the delegates to that Congress, through discussion, consideration of what their constituents wanted, and compromise, voted to band together to break away from Great Britain.

Compromise is a word we seem to have forgotten in politics these days. Civil debate has all but gone by the wayside. Disrespectful actions by those we've elected to represent us abound. When we look back 240 years this Fourth of July, we'd be wise to consider the lessons of the members of the Continental Congress who, despite their differences, voted that this group of colonies should unite. I would love to see us all remember that word on this day. We are, after all, the United States of America.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Life: It Goes On - July 3

When we first moved into this house twenty years ago, we were on the edge of town. Reasonable to expect that there might be some wildlife nearby but with no mature trees and very little other landscaping, we hardly had birds let alone raccoons.

Yesterday I looked out my window to see an opossum making it's way along the back fence line. While my cats were out in the backyard. Freaked the f out. Luckily, my cats were smart enough to stay back and were easily herded into the house. Less than an hour later, I looked out to see a mama opossum making her way, loaded down with babies, making her way back across my lawn. They are such ugly creatures and we really don't want a family of them living in our yard. But, I must say, there was something pretty cute about those babies clinging to their mama's back. I ran to get my phone to get a pic but by the time I got it, she had disappeared. Hopefully never to be seen again.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I finished Claire Messud's The Woman Upstairs (review Tuesday) on Thursday and decided not to start my next audio book until Tuesday. Listened to NPR on my drives the rest of the week and remembered how much I prefer to get my news from them.

Watching: U.S. Olympic Swim Trials every night and some of the track Olympic qualifying races as well. So love the swimming and it was fun to see a couple of "old" guys make the team in the 50 meters race but also see so many new faces on the team.

Reading:  I'll finish Graham Swift's Mothering Sunday tomorrow; really liking it a lot. Also reading Eleanor Brown's latest The Light of Paris. I'm early into that one yet, no opinion yet on it. It's from Netgalley so I need to get it read before it archives but...I'm really hankering for some nonfiction.

Making: Still summer foods. Yesterday I did slow cook a pork roast for pulled pork sandwiches tomorrow and today I'll make dessert for tomorrow. On the fence about what that will be. Homemade ice cream and red velvet cake are traditions but strawberry shortcake is sounding so good. Which would you do?

Planning: A trip to Milwaukee the end of the month. So excited to get up there and see where Miss S is living (and where Mini-me will be living in a couple of months). We'll take in a Brewer's baseball game, spend time on the lake, explore their neighborhood and enjoy German Fest which will be going on the weekend we're there.

Thinking About: Spending the day reading. It won't happen but it's a nice idea!

Enjoying: Evenings with friends.

Feeling: Better today - yesterday was a day long headache that would not be defeated by ibuprofen or naps. Ugh - I hate days like that.

Looking forward to: Having family and friends over tomorrow to celebrate the Fourth. We'll keep it low-key but Mini-me and his grandpa have a lot of fun blowing "sh*# up together every year.

Question of the week: Do you have fun Fourth of July plans?

Friday, July 1, 2016

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic - Reading Habits

I recently saw  a comment on Twitter about someone's reading habits. We often comment about our habits (eating habits, sleeping habits) but I began to wonder what the phrase "reading habits" even means.

Merriam Webster defines "habit" as:
A usual way of behaving: something that a person does often in a regular and repeated way
I'm a reader. I read a lot by most people's standards, at least a book a week (although I pale in comparison to a lot of my blogging friends!). But I'd be hard pressed to tell you what my reading habits are.

I generally read while I eat breakfast...except on weekends or when there's something especially interesting on the morning news, or when one of my family comes down for breakfast early and we're talking.

I usually read over my lunch hour...except on my half day or if I need to run an errand and not always on the weekends.

I nearly always read for a while when I crawl into bed. But that could mean anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or more depending on how tired I am, how late it is, or how compelling the book I'm reading is.

None of those things really feel like habits when I look at them more closely.

Maybe I'm overthinking this. If you're a person who only reads a couple of books a year, these almost certainly feel like reading habits. Still, I tend to think of the act of brushing my teeth as a habit, something I always do and always at a particular time and place. 

I definitely don't read like that. I don't read the same kind of "books" all of the time any more: audio, Nook, iPad, and physical books all play a part in my reading. I don't even read regularly in the same place. 

So, I'm a reader. Who, apparently, has no reading habits. I guess that truly does make me a free-range reader. What about you? Do you have any reading habits?