Wednesday, August 31, 2016

And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
Published May 2013 by Riverhead Books
Narrators:  Khaled Hosseini, Navid Nagahban, Shohreh Aghdashloo
Source: my audio copy purchased at my local library book sale

Publisher's Summary:
In this tale revolving around not just parents and children but brothers and sisters, cousins and caretakers, Hosseini explores the many ways in which families nurture, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for one another; and how often we are surprised by the actions of those closest to us, at the times that matter most. Following its characters and the ramifications of their lives and choices and loves around the globe—from Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to the Greek island of Tinos—the story expands gradually outward, becoming more emotionally complex and powerful with each turning page.

My Thoughts:
Read that summary and find yourself still wondering what this book is about? That's because And The Mountains Echoed is not so much a novel as a series of interconnected stories, with characters appearing and reappearing throughout the book. In the background runs the story of Abdullah and his sister, Pari.

Abdullah, 10 when the book begins, has raised Pari, 3, since their mother died giving birth to her and their father sank into a depression. Desperate poverty, and a connection through his new wife's brother, result in the children's father selling Pari to a childless couple in Kabul.

From there, the stories fan out, including Abdullah's family and the people involved with the house in Kabul - Pari's new mother, Nila, who flees to Paris with Pari to pursue a life she could not have in Afghanistan; Pari's new father who stays in Kabul, harboring a secret that could get him killed and cared for until his death by Pari's step-uncle whose guilt at setting up the sale of Pari will haunt him to his death;  the foreign doctors and nurses who came to the country care the victims of the violence tearing apart the country; Gholam, Abdullah's half-brother,'s son, who will tie the story back to what became of Abdullah's poor village in light of the wars; and then back to Abdullah, who lives out his life as the owner of Abe's Kabob House in California and who never stops missing his sister.

As with most collections, some stories are not as strong, less interesting and with characters that more are strictly good or bad. Perhaps that comes from Hosseini's own experience with the struggles that Afghanistan has been through since before the Russians invaded.  For the most part, the characters and stories are nuanced and beautifully told. Hosseini brings the larger sorrows of his country down to an intimate level, easier for

The narration is a bit tricky. All three narrators speak heavily-accented English and it can take a bit to fall into their rhythm and inflection. Yet, as this is a book about Afghanis, their voices lend a much more authentic feel to the stories, pulling readers thoroughly into the country.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Published August 2016 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary (abridged):
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. . Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

My Thoughts:
Publisher's walk a fine line - too little and readers won't have an interest, too much and they've lessened the reader's experience. You'll notice that I've abridged the publisher's summary. You can hardly have avoided hearing a lot about this book at this point. But, if you're lucky, you've managed to block out some of the specifics. You'll go into this book with only the bare bones of the story as a starting point. Because both the reader and the book deserve it.
"Truth was a changing display in a window, manipulated by hands when you weren't looking, alluring and ever out of reach. The whites came to this land for a fresh start and to escape the tyranny of their masters, just as the freemen had fled theirs. But the ideals they held up for themselves, they denied others."
Colson Whitehead plays both fast and free with the facts and slams them right in the reader's face.

In the pre-Civil War years, Whitehead imagines the underground railroad as an actual underground railroad. Riders never know when they board where they might end up, nor what they will find there. It is not the only creative risk he takes, imagining what might have been in Southern states as Cora's flight takes her north from Georgia.

But The Underground Railroad is no flight of fancy. It is brutal and horrifying and unrelenting. Whitehead will not allow readers to turn away from the realities and consequences of slavery.  And he will not allow white man to forget what their people have done.
"...created equal was not lost on her. The white men who wrote it didn't understand d it either, if all men did not truly mean all men. Not if they snatched away what belonged to other people, whether it was something you could hold in your hand, like dirt, or something you could not, like freedom. The land she tilled and worked had been Indian land. She knew the white men bragged about the efficiency of the massacres, where they killed women and babies, and strangled their futures in the crib."
The Underground Railroad is at once a book you can hardly stand to keep reading yet cannot put down. It is the rare book that more than lives up to the hype that has swirled around it.
"This nation shouldn't exist, if there is any justice in the world, for its foundations are murder, theft, and cruelty. Yet here we are."

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Life: It Goes On - August 28

Well, it's not Sunday morning but at least it's not Tuesday this week! I was up bright and early, fixing my guys a hearty breakfast before the boys headed off to spend a few hours helping their grandparents. But yesterday was a busy day so I resolved to spend the rest of the morning reading. And then the power went out for a couple of hours. Certainly I could have continued reading but, for some reason, the minute I had the perfect excuse, I couldn't sit still, bouncing around from little task to little task.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I finished And The Mountains Echoed just as I left the library book sale with five new audiobooks. I decided to start Mohsin Hamid's How To Get Rich In Rising Asia, in no small part because it was the shortest book I had picked up. I'll be done with it before this week is out.

Watching: Infamous starring Toby Jones, Sandra Bullock and Daniel Craig which is the story of Truman Capote writing In Cold Blood. It takes on a whole new level of interest now that I've read The Swans of Fifth Avenue and I'm seeing Capote's swans in this movie.

Reading: Ashes of Fiery Weather and Natchez Burning and liking both of them a lot. There needs to be more time for reading in the coming days!

Making: For Mini-me's going away party we did a taco/nacho bar, sangria, and Texas sheet cake, including homemade pico de gallo, two kinds of beans, two kinds of meat, a couple of salsas - something for everyone. It's definitely something we'll do again.

Planning: A reorganization and rearranging of what used to be Mini-him's bedroom and will now be our guest room once we get Mini-me's bed this week. A chest of drawers and cedar chest need to find new homes (doesn't this sound like the story of my life?!) and the closet needs to be gone through.

Thinking About: Fall. There. I said it. I'm not to the pumpkin spice everything yet. But I am ready for real football!

Enjoying: Family time last night that included Mini-me's grandparents, two aunt/uncle sets, two of his friends that are like siblings and both of real siblings. Much laughter and my kiddos even tried to give me a Christmas card picture while they were all still together.

Feeling: Sad for my two friends who have lost their mothers this past week. Both ladies lived long lives (one had recently turned 99!) but it doesn't make losing your mom any easier.

Looking forward to: It's not a week I'm looking forward to with two funerals and putting Mini-him on a plane without an idea when we'll see him again. I anticipate an ugly cry. And that's The Big Guy. I can't even imagine me trying to drive back from the airport Thursday!

Question of the week: Those of you who have watched your children soar off into their futures far away from you, what's your best tip for surviving?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin

The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin
Published January 2013 by Random House Publishing
Source: purchased my copy from my local indie bookstore at the Omaha LitFest where Benjamin was speaking

Publisher's Summary:
For much of her life, Anne Morrow, the shy daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, has stood in the shadows of those around her, including her millionaire father and vibrant older sister, who often steals the spotlight. Then Anne, a college senior with hidden literary aspirations, travels to Mexico City to spend Christmas with her family. There she meets Colonel Charles Lindbergh, fresh off his celebrated 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic. Enthralled by Charles’s assurance and fame, Anne is certain the celebrated aviator has scarcely noticed her. But she is wrong.

Charles sees in Anne a kindred spirit, a fellow adventurer, and her world will be changed forever. The two marry in a headline-making wedding. Hounded by adoring crowds and hunted by an insatiable press, Charles shields himself and his new bride from prying eyes, leaving Anne to feel her life falling back into the shadows. In the years that follow, despite her own major achievements—she becomes the first licensed female glider pilot in the United States—Anne is viewed merely as the aviator’s wife. The fairy-tale life she once longed for will bring heartbreak and hardships, ultimately pushing her to reconcile her need for love and her desire for independence, and to embrace, at last, life’s infinite possibilities for change and happiness.

My Thoughts:
It's a little hard for me to have an opinion of this book as a novel independent of the story of the Lindberghs. Having listened to Benjamin talk about her writing process, and doing some research myself as I read the book, I know that the book is largely based on the facts for the famous couple's lives. That may be what also helps draw readers in - the line between what is fact and what is fiction blurs and that's always a good thing in a work of fiction based on fact, in my opinion.

Charles Lindbergh not does come off well here. Cold, manipulative, single-minded. He was a needy husband who managed to find the perfect girl to be his literal and figurative co-pilot. In a family where much was expected, Anne Morrow was struggling to chart her life course until she met Lindbergh. In Charles, Anne found both the man who would allow her to become something more than just "the little woman" but also the man whose shadow she would always walk in. The first licensed female glider pilot in the United States was also a woman who, even when Charles was almost never home any more, allowed herself to be ruled by her husband, keeping meticulous records of money spent, making home repairs he required, holding her children to the strict schedules he wrote. Life with Charles meant grand adventures but also a life that allowed for almost no privacy for decades.

Benjamin does a wonderful job of allowing Anne to tell her own story, from the shy girl who lived in the shadows of the Morrows to the woman who wrote best-selling books and finally became her own person. Benjamin does not paint her a saint - she was a woman who had affairs and, at least on paper, defended Hitler's regime. The book is largely told in flashbacks, Anne recalling their lives as Charles nears death. The through line is a series of letters outing his affairs that come into Anne's possession. It's a literary device that allows readers to see a part of Charles Anne did not actually discover until after his death. But it was good to see Anne really and truly get angry at that man who demanded so much of her and had, in fact, given her so little.

The Omaha Bookworms read The Aviator's Wife this month and can highly recommend it as a book club selection, not just because of its famous characters. Benjamin has pulled in from their lives themes including the cost of fame, mental illness, homosexuality, parent/child relationships, marriage and infidelity, abuse, and grief.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Life: It Goes On - August 23

Well, then. I don't suppose I can pass today off as Sunday, can I? Oh my, what a busy weekend we had and I'm still playing catch up. Which, you may have noticed lately, is going to be a big job!

Friday evening was prep for the bridal shower for my niece and, literally, all of Saturday was devoted to the actual event. It was a lot of fun and she got some great gifts for helping with entertaining. Sunday we were back in the car to head to The Big Guy's hometown for a baby shower and got home eight hours later. Fun to celebrate the impending grandparenthood of some of our oldest friends (in fact, the wife introduced BG and me!).

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Nearly finished with And The Mountains Echoed. It's really less a novel than a collection of tightly woven short stories which makes for an interesting listen.

Watching: I may have teared up a little as the Olympics came to an end the other night. The only thing that makes it okay is that The Voice is starting again. Although, I'm a little leery about Miley Cyrus as one of the judges.

Reading: Finally, finishing Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad. Let me just say this - all of the hype is true. I've also started Greg Iles' Natchez Burning which is really interesting following on the heels of Whitehead's book.

Making: Shortbread cookies (that recipe never left the house) and two kinds of sangria (which did). Because you can never have too much sangria, I made quadruple batches of both the red citrus and the peach basil.

Planning: A going away party for Mini-me, who leaves for a trip to California in a week and then is back for one night before his adventure in Milwaukee begins. Trying to spend as much time with him as we can get before then!

My mom, me, the bride, Miss H, my sister
Thinking About: 
How funny this pic of the hostesses of the shower with the bride looks. Miss H is already nearly 5'10" and then threw on some tall wedges. She makes the rest of us look like hobbits!

Enjoying: An unexpectedly rainy August. We have hardly had to water all summer. We get a few hot, dry days then a heavy rain that saturates everything. Of course, this means that it's more humid than usual this time of year which means my hair is a hot mess.

Feeling: A little overwhelmed. I really should have gotten more done while I was watching the Olympics the past couple of weeks!

Looking forward to: More family time this weekend. You know how much I love that!

Question of the week: What's your best tip for keeping all of the plates spinning at once?

Monday, August 22, 2016

Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart

Girl Waits With Gun  (Kopp Sisters Series #1) by Amy Stewart
Published September 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Publishing
Source: my copy purchased for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
Constance Kopp doesn’t quite fit the mold. She towers over most men, has no interest in marriage or domestic affairs, and has been isolated from the world since a family secret sent her and her sisters into hiding fifteen years ago. One day a belligerent and powerful silk factory owner runs down their buggy, and a dispute over damages turns into a war of bricks, bullets, and threats as he unleashes his gang on their family farm. When the sheriff enlists her help in convicting the men, Constance is forced to confront her past and defend her family — and she does it in a way that few women of 1914 would have dared.

My Thoughts:
I've seriously wanted to read this book since it came out just because I love that cover. I downloaded it a few months ago but decided it was time to read it when I downloaded the next book in the series, which will be published next month (Lady Cop Makes Trouble).

The Kopp sisters are all great fun - Constance who has no interest in traditional feminine roles, Norma who'd prefer to hide away from the world, and Fleurette who yearns to let the world she imagines become reality. The sisters have been living in isolation for more than 15 years but Henry Kaufman destroys their buggy with his automobile, Constance will not let it go. When her letters requesting damages go unheeded, she marches into his office, demanding he respond. His response lands him pushed up against a wall by the much taller Constance, embarrassing him in front of his less than respectable friends. Their threatening response leads Constance to call in the sheriff and his deputies as they try to catch Kaufman and his crew.

Girl Waits With Gun is filled with interesting characters, brings the time and place to life, and has, for much of the book, a tension that makes the book fly along. Unfortunately, about two-thirds of the way through the book, that tension all but disappears and a secondary story line takes center stage. That secondary story line, that of one of Kaufman's female employees whose child by him disappears, offers Constance the chance to stretch her wings and appears to be the springboard for the next book. It's an interesting enough story line, I just wish it hadn't overwhelmed the primary plot. The book is solidly based on fact and it may have been that, in sticking with the known facts of the case, Stewart was left with a gap and without a real climax to the battle between Kaufman and the Kopp sisters.

Still, I enjoyed the book and it's characters enough that I'm looking forward to the next book in the series. I hope that Norma's love of newspapers and their headlines carries over, that Fleurette continues to push the sisters to let her out more into the world, and that Constance's relationship with the Sheriff continues to develop.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
Published August 2016 by Amistad
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Publisher's Summary:
Running into a long-ago friend sets memory from the 1970s in motion for August, transporting her to a time and a place where friendship was everything—until it wasn’t. For August and her girls, sharing confidences as they ambled through neighborhood streets, Brooklyn was a place where they believed that they were beautiful, talented, brilliant—a part of a future that belonged to them. But beneath the hopeful veneer, there was another Brooklyn, a dangerous place where grown men reached for innocent girls in dark hallways, where ghosts haunted the night, where mothers disappeared. A world where madness was just a sunset away and fathers found hope in religion.

My Thoughts:
170 pages. Spare, airy pages. Just 170 pages.

That's all it took for Woodson to undo me. That's all it took for Jacqueline Woodson to bring back my own adolescence and friendships in much the same time period but in a place as different as possible.
"...I had Sylvia, Angela, and Gigi, the four of us sharing the weight of growing up Girl in Brooklyn, as though it was a bag of stones we passed among ourselves saying, Here. Help me carry this."*
From the opening paragraph, I wanted to wrap August into my arms. I never once wanted to let her go.
"For a long time, my mother wasn't dead yet. Mine could have been a more tragic story. My father could have given in to the bottle or the needle or a woman and left my brother and me to care for ourselves - or worse, the care of New York City Children's Services, where, my father said, there was seldom a happy ending. But this didn't happen. I know now that what is tragic isn't the moment. It is the memory."
August's father moved August and her brother to Brooklyn in 1973, leaving their beloved Southern farm and their mother. He tried to shelter them from the outside world and keep them inside their apartment. But every parent knows you can't protect your children from everyone forever.
"We had blades inside our kneesocks and were growing our nails long. We were learning to walk the Brooklyn streets as though we had always belonged to them - our voices loud, our laughter even louder. But Brooklyn had longer nails and sharper blades. Any strung out soldier or ashy-kneed, hungry child could have told us this."
In the 1970's, America was a country at war in Vietnam, New York was suffering from blackouts, starving children in Biafra were in the news, Son of Sam was killing young people in the boroughs of New York, white people were fleeing Brooklyn, and drugs were destroying lives in greater numbers than ever. It was a tough time and place to grow up. It was even harder being a girl. Sylvia, Angela, Gigi and August formed a barrier against the world around them. But barriers can't always hold up against parents, boys and sexual desire, and loss.

Woodson's writing is spare but impactful and vivid. Emotionally hard to read but even harder to put down.

I chose to read this book because I have been wanting to read Woodson's National Book Award winning book, Brown Girl Dreaming, and want to give myself a better understanding about what it's like to be black in the United States. Coming just after I read Jesmyn Ward's Salvage The Bones, Another Brooklyn stands as an emotional lesson about how different and difficult growing up as a young black woman is in this country. It is a lesson that makes me know I have much more to learn.

Thanks to the ladies of TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. For other opinions, check out the full tour.

Jacqueline Woodson is the bestselling author of more than two dozen award-winning books for young adults, middle graders, and children, including the New York Times bestselling memoir Brown Girl Dreaming, which won the 2014 National Book Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, a Newbery Honor Award, an NAACP Image Award, and the Sibert Honor Award. Woodson was recently named the Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York. Find out more about Woodson at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

*all quotes from an uncorrected proof and may not appear as quoted here in the final product*

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Top Ten Books Set In The U.S. Midwest

This week the ladies at The Broke and The Bookish challenged us to pick a setting and then chose our ten favorite books from that setting. I had a hard time narrowing this one down - the American South? Africa? New York City? I toyed with the idea of an island theme but would have had to leave England off because it would have overwhelmed the list and since I just had to do that recently, I didn't want to do it again. So I started looking at my books read on Goodreads and got to thinking that maybe books set in the U.S. Midwest don't get enough love.

In no particular order, here are actually eleven of my favorite books set in the U.S. Midwest:

1. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather - or any Cather for that matter; they're all great and so beautifully paint this part of the country as the pioneers settled in the Plains.

2. A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick - dark, oh so dark. The isolation of rural turn-of-the-last-century Wisconsin and the decadence of big city Chicago all wrapped up in one novel. Plus, great characters and lots of surprises.

3. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell - Rowell's books all have a Midwest setting and she brilliantly portrays the people I'm surrounded by everyday and the cities I've lived in. This one is my favorite.

4. Some Luck by Jane Smiley - This one's the first of a trilogy I'm still on the fence about but I definitely appreciated Smiley's grasp of this part of the country and its people - the beauty and the minutiae of everyday life.

5. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote - in the 1950's, unless you lived in a city, you felt safe enough in your own home to leave the doors unlocked at night. Until one night two men changed all of that. Capote, who was most definitely not a Midwesterner, buried himself in the story and really captured the feelings of the people most closely impacted.

6. The Man Who Ate The 747 by Ben Sherwood - quirky and fun and heartfelt and utterly unique.

7. The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett - this was my second book by Patchett (following on the heels of Bel Canto). So unexpected different and such a nice surprise to find an appreciation for small town middle America.

8. The Round House by Louise Erdrich - you could, of course, include all of Erdrich's books here. She shines a light on a place and people that the rest of the country is all to ready to turn their backs on. Erdrich makes readers remember those whose ancestors were here first.

9. Last Night at the Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert - Rotert is a local writer who set this book in Chicago. She catches that balance between big city life and midwest values.

10. The Coffins of Little Hope by Timothy Schaffert - Schaffert understands small town Nebraska, the good, the bad, and the hopeful.

11. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - twisty, dark, terrible people. Not everyone in the Midwest is midwest nice. Although, Amy is a New Yorker.

I'd include all of Kent Haruf's books except they're set in the plains of Colorado and I don't really consider any part of Colorado as midwestern. Likewise, I consider Mark Twain's books, although set in Missouri, to be more Southern than midwestern.

If I'd included children's books, of course you'd also see the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder and L. Frank Baum on this list.

Book Riot has put together a list of 100 Must-Read Books of the American Midwest you might like to check out if you'd like to learn more. Not all of the books they have included are set in the Midwest so I wouldn't have included them on my list. But there are a lot there that I need to get to someday.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Life: It Goes On - August 14

School started here this week for most of the area school districts. Which means my commute just got about 10 minutes longer each way; I'll try to think of it as 20 extra "reading" minutes a day. For all of those families, summer may be essentially over but not for this girl, not until Labor Day! I'm going to love every minute of the next three weeks of summer. I'm a sweaty, ugly mess when it's really hot but I'd still rather look like that than be cold and bundled up for months

This Week I'm:

Listening To: As for books, still And The Mountains Echoed. It's quite lovely, a quilt of interrelated stories about Afghanistan. I'll be listening to it for a couple more weeks, particularly as I've been mixing it up with some news while I'm driving. I've found another bookish podcast to enjoy, Reading Women, and I've been letting 80's alternative music keep me moving when I'm working out.

Watching: As much of the Olympics as I can possibly work into my days. I love, love the swimming but I will really watch almost any of it. This morning I'm enjoying a field hockey match. I do wish they would do more stories about the athletes from other countries like they used to do.

Reading: Finishing up The Aviator's Wife for book club this week then I've got Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad to read before Netgalley archives it this week. I swear they change the dates on me all of the time - I had my Netgalley reads all scheduled then checked yesterday and found I needed to rearrange several things.

Making: Poutine one night, with gravy my friends brought back for us from Quebec (thanks, Cheryl and Bruce!) and cheese curds we brought back from Wisconsin. The Big Guy and I enjoyed it; Miss H was less enthused. This weekend I'm playing with recipes for lavender cookies. Otherwise, all things I can make with fresh produce, especially if I can include tomatoes, peppers, and herbs from my garden: pasta with basil, oregano, and grape tomatoes; grilled burgers with the rest of those cheese curds, avocado, bacon and fresh picked tomato with a side of white peaches; breakfast burritos with garden tomatoes and just-cut chives. I love eating this time of year when everything is so fresh and flavorful!

Planning: Putting the finishing touches on the bridal shower for my niece this weekend. The lavender cookies are an experiment for that. Beyond that, a going away party for Mini-me who will leave for his new life in Milwaukee in a few weeks.

Thinking About: The rioting in Milwaukee. It's only a few miles from where Miss S lives.

Enjoying: Tomatoes from my garden!

Feeling: Lazy. We had nothing we "had" to do on the calendar this weekend and without that push, I've kind of putzed around all weekend.

Looking forward to: Book club Tuesday, bridal shower on Saturday, and a baby shower next Sunday.

Question of the week: What's your favorite season?

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

Never a good week when you're not able to post a single book review for the entire week but that's how my reading's been going lately and it's not likely to get better with the Olympics on for more than another week yet! I actually have finished a couple of books one is a book for review and the one I just finished yesterday I decided to hold off on the review for another week when I'm also likely to be needing one.

Cleaning up my Facebook saves again and thought I'd share a couple of things. shared 11 Fascinating Books That Will Turn You Into a True Crime Junkie. I've long been a fan of true crime books. I can't recall when I first started reading them but Vincent Bugliosi's Helter Skelter and Joseph Wambaugh's The Onion Field are two that have always stuck with me. I lived a very sheltered youth; there was only about one murder a year in Lincoln at that time and while we might not have left our front doors unlocked, we likely could have. True crime books opened my eyes to a bigger more dangerous world. These days, I'm more likely these days to pick up a book about an historical crime than something more recent. I think I get enough of stories that scare me in the news. But the ones on this list, they do intrigue me.

In June The Washington Post gave us 37 Books We've Loved So Far In 2016.  In case you missed any of these and needed some more books to add to your list of books you want to read!

Gretchen Rubin asked if her Facebook followers look at the titles on bookcases when they visit someone's home. I know I do (and I may be guilty of being a little judgy sometimes, I'm embarrassed to admit. Do you do this?

I love this infographic from Electric Lit!  As National Whiskey Day was only a couple of weeks ago, I thought you might enjoy seeing the impact that drink has had on literature.

Buzzed put together a list of 31 Books You Need To Bring To The Beach This Summer, compiled from reader recommendations. The Millions has a much different take on summer reading with A Summer Reading List for Wretched A*#holes Who Prefer To Wallow In Someone Else's Misery. What kind of reading do you prefer for the summer?

Penguin Random House has compiled a list of 22 Unforgettable Love Stories In Fiction.  I don't consider myself much of a love story reader but I have read eleven of these so maybe I like love stories more than I thought I did!

And, finally, in the year of the first female presidential nominee, a list from Book Riot of 115 Reading Recommendations for Books by Women.  I've only read 20 of these, despite reading predominately books by women. How many of these have you read?

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Life: It Goes On - August 7

New books have been making their way into my house at a pretty good clip the past few weeks but I haven't been getting nearly enough reading done. I thought I would certainly read some on our trip but my navigator job always seems to be more demanding than expect it to be. Now that the temps have cooled off a lot, I'm hoping to snatch some patio evening time for long stretches of reading - one of my fave things to do in the summer. Although...Olympics. So.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I've been all over the place with my listening the past couple of weeks. Some of the time I'm listening to my audio book, some of the time to podcasts, some of the time to music. I'm as ADD with my listening as I am with my reading lately!

Watching: Um, did I mention the Olympics? All sports, all of the time. Very glad to have missed the French gymnast breaking his leg, though.

Reading: I raced through Jacqueline Woodson's Another Brooklyn while we were traveling, but otherwise, I'm all over the place. I think I've finally settled on Amy Stewart's Girl Waits With Gun for now.

Making: Tacos, sandwiches, grilled steaks - easy summer fare. Last night, Mini-me and I worked together to make a black bean and grilled corn salad that we served over quinoa he made. He's a huge fan of quinoa; I am not. Well, I wasn't. But he make have convinced me to give it another chance.

Planning: A bridal shower for my niece and a going away get together for Mini-me before he takes off for his new adventure.

Thinking About: How much fun we had in Milwaukee. If you live there, you already know that you have a great city. I'm pretty sure that a lot of the rest of the country has no idea. Maybe we'll just keep it between us. I wouldn't want it to get too crowded because that German Fest we went to the first night was all the crowded I could handle!

Enjoying: Spending time with cousins from Denmark who have been visiting with my parents.

Top: the new digs, German Fest; Middle: Wind Point Lighthouse, Atwater Beach, Milwaukee Museum of Art; Bottom: Wind Point Beach, Milwaukee River riverfront walk, North Beach Park

Feeling: Happy. You all know how much I love spending time with my family and seeing them all having so much fun together and so happy was the best! I thought we'd never get Miss H out of the water!

Looking forward to: Right now I'm not looking forward so much as trying to stay in the present.

Question of the week: The Big Guy likes the beach but he's more of a mountain person. I like the mountains, but I'd much rather spend vacations on the beach. Are you a mountain person or a beach person? Or, maybe, a city vacation person?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Leaving Lucy Pear by Anna Solomon

Leaving Lucy Pear by Anna Solomon
Published July 2016 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary:
One night in 1917 Beatrice Haven sneaks out of her uncle's house on Cape Ann, Massachusetts, leaves her newborn baby at the foot of a pear tree, and watches as another woman claims the infant as her own. The unwed daughter of wealthy Jewish industrialists and a gifted pianist bound for Radcliffe, Bea plans to leave her shameful secret behind and make a fresh start. Ten years later, Prohibition is in full swing, post-WWI America is in the grips of rampant xenophobia, and Bea's hopes for her future remain unfulfilled. She returns to her uncle’s house, seeking a refuge from her unhappiness. But she discovers far more when the rum-running manager of the local quarry inadvertently reunites her with Emma Murphy, the headstrong Irish Catholic woman who has been raising Bea's abandoned child—now a bright, bold, cross-dressing girl named Lucy Pear, with secrets of her own.

My Thoughts:
Leaving Lucy Pear came to my attention through an email from the publisher. I'd never heard of it but I was preapproved for it through Netgalley and it was different than the other things I've been reading lately so I decided to take a chance. I'm glad I did.

Book clubs will find that Leaving Lucy Pear makes a good selection. There is a lot going on in it and so much to talk about. Solomon explores homosexuality, infidelity, sexual and physical abuse, bigotry and intolerance, workers vs. bosses, prohibition and illegal alcohol, unrequited love, mental illness, truth, family dynamics and, most importantly, what it means to be a mother.

You'll think I didn't like the book when I tell you that, while all of those themes in one book make for a great book club choice, the book might have been stronger and more emotionally compelling if Solomon had pared back a little.

Solomon has created some great characters here and some really wonderful storylines. Bea and Emma are, as they should be, strong, interesting and complicated characters and I enjoyed "watching" them interact with each other and grow. I would actually have liked to know Lucy better; she sometimes disappeared in the story. But then, the story isn't necessarily hers.

The arc of the story, from the moment Bea sneaks out of the house to leave her infant daughter out in the pear orchard to the point when Bea, Emma, and Lucy come together played out in a way I really enjoyed. There is no happily-ever-after here, which is not to say there is not some happiness found or that the ending isn't just as it should be (which is kinda sad, to be honest).

I've gotten kind of bad about picking up unknown books in the past few years. I mean, I've got all of these great bloggers telling me about so many books that I want to read that I rarely pick up something I know nothing about. Leaving Lucy Pear is a good reminder that there's a lot to be said for taking chances.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday - Ten Books I've Read Set Outside the US

I missed this theme a couple of weeks ago but thought it was too good a topic to pass up. I love books that take me to places I've never been. Like Katherine of I Wished I Lived In A Library, I'm going to exclude England because I could fill the list just from there (I mean, Jane Austen, the Brontes, Dickens).

1. Italy - Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
2. Kenya - Cocktail Hour Under The Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller
3. Russia - City of Thieves by David Benioff
4. Jamaica - The Book of Night Women by Marlon James
5. Bangladesh - A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam
6. Germany - City of Women by David Gillham
7. Canada - The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay
8. India - The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar
9. Chili - Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende 1
10. Ireland - Faithful Place by Tara French 1
11. Iran - Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
12. Afghanistan - The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
13. Greece - Eleni by Nicholas Gage
14. Vietnam - The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli
15. Sierra Leone - A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of A Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

 Oops - got a little carried away there! I could easily keep adding new countries - I've read so many great books from all over the world. This is a good reminder to keep looking for books set outside of the U.S. and England! Do you have a favorite country to read about?

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller

The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (And Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life by Andy Miller
Published November 2014 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Nearing his fortieth birthday, author and critic Andy Miller realized he's not nearly as well read as he'd like to be. A devout book lover who somehow fell out of the habit of reading, he began to ponder the power of books to change an individual life—including his own—and to the define the sort of person he would like to be. Beginning with a copy of Bulgakov's Master and Margarita that he happens to find one day in a bookstore, he embarks on a literary odyssey of mindful reading and wry introspection. From Middlemarch to Anna Karenina to A Confederacy of Dunces, these are books Miller felt he should read; books he'd always wanted to read; books he'd previously started but hadn't finished; and books he'd lied about having read to impress people.

My Thoughts:

  • Andy Miller had, like so many of us, grown up loving to read. Maybe more than most of us. He spent an incredible amount of time at his local libraries growing up, read every book in the school library, and took no small amount of grief as a child for being such a book nerd.
  • In his son's first three years, Miller read just one book - Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code. Instead he read work emails, music magazines, business proposals, newspapers, Excel spreadsheets. I hadn't been distracted by quite so many things but, while my kids were very young, I was lucky to read more than a couple of books a year, preferring to stick with magazines which worked better with the brief periods of reading time I could squeeze in.
  • When he started reading The Master And Margarita he said his "life changed direction" and he began his year of reading dangerously, a year when he was not "reading for pleasure." Instead he was "reading for dear life." 
  • I've been pretty well convinced to never pick up The Master and Margarita after reading what Miller had to say about it, even though he loved it.
  • Miller began with a list of a dozen books he called the "list of betterment." It was largely a list of books he had previously lied about having read and included only a dozen books. It's his belief that all readers lie about having read books they think they should have read but haven't. Not sure I agree about that, at least not in the blogosphere - we're forever making lists of books we should have read but haven't!
  • On only his second book, George Eliot's Middlemarch the whole thing almost came to a screeching halt. His wife convinced him to continue, to "let the book do the work" and told him that it didn't matter if every line made sense. "The drift would do for now." I can relate to that - more than once I've kept reading, accepting that I'll get out of the book what I can and won't worry that it might not be what the writer intended.
  • In the end, Miller made his way through 50 books in a year, reading 50 pages a day. While he ended up loving some books (including Middlemarch), it was more important to him that he took something away from each of them. It ranged from a lesson the book meant to teach to the idea that he must persevere, even when he'd prefer not to. 
  • I have a hard enough time giving up on books I'm not enjoying. Miller would have me believe that I need to push on through. You'll notice that I didn't learn that lesson from him, having recently succeeded in giving up on Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
  • Fifty books on that list of books he felt were really important and must be read - I hadn't even heard of a lot of them. What does that say about the kind of reader I am? 
  • The book is a blend of memoir and book criticism. It is filled with humor (particularly in all of the footnotes) and readers will be able to relate to Miller's struggles. It felt a bit uneven, sometimes focusing for long periods on Miller's life but more often to long stretches about the books. When I cared about the books, that was fine. When he was talking about books I'd never heard of, and quickly sussed out that I would never read, things dragged. 
  • If you're interested in this one, I recommend reading it a chapter at a time. It doesn't suffer from being read that way but might if you tried to power through it. Of course, that's entirely up to you - unlike Miller, I have no intention of telling you what to read or how to read it.