Friday, September 30, 2016

The Bone Tree by Greg Iles

The Bone Tree by Greg Iles
Published April 2015 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Publisher's Summary:
Former prosecutor Penn Cage and his fiancée, reporter and publisher Caitlin Masters, have barely escaped with their lives after being attacked by wealthy businessman Brody Royal and his Double Eagles, a KKK sect with ties to some of Mississippi’s most powerful men. But the real danger has only begun as FBI Special Agent John Kaiser warns Penn that Brody wasn’t the true leader of the Double Eagles. The puppeteer who actually controls the terrorist group is a man far more fearsome: the chief of the state police’s Criminal Investigations Bureau, Forrest Knox.

The only way Penn can save his father, Dr. Tom Cage—who is fleeing a murder charge as well as corrupt cops bent on killing him—is either to make a devil’s bargain with Knox or destroy him. While Penn desperately pursues both options, Caitlin uncovers the real story behind a series of unsolved civil rights murders that may hold the key to the Double Eagles’ downfall. The trail leads her deep into the past, into the black backwaters of the Mississippi River, to a secret killing ground used by slave owners and the Klan for over two hundred years . . . a place of terrifying evil known only as “the bone tree.”

My Thoughts:
I actually have three copies of this book - the copy the publisher sent for this review, an ARC copy the publisher sent review last May, AND, because I needed to "read" this big boy in a hurry, an audiobook "copy."

Iles did not write The Bone Tree to be read right after finishing Natchez Burning. In fact, one could, conceivably, skip Natchez Burning altogether and jump straight into The Bone Tree because Iles spends a lot of print catching readers up in this book. Those who have read Natchez Burning probably don't need as much background as there is here; those who haven't should before they read this one. Because, why would you start a trilogy on the second book for one thing? And because you may be up to speed on who is who and, to some extent, what has happened. But you have no depth and you need the depth. You need to understand the loyalties, the deep seeded hatred, the intricacies of alliances.

Because in The Bone Tree, beyond bringing readers up to speed Iles doesn't add a lot of deep to the story of Tom Cage's plight, Penn Cage's attempt to save him, Caitlyn Master's search for the big story, or John Kaiser's quest for the holy grail. This one's all about driving the action forward. And there is a lot of action. And a lot of death. Not all of which you will see coming and much of which is very violent.

When this book came out in 2015, my mom reviewed it here.  She and my dad are big fans of Iles and they both liked this book a lot. As I was reading this book, particularly when I was listening to it, I a couple of things bothered me about it. When I went back and reread my mom's review after finishing the book, I realized that, despite enjoying the book, the same things had bothered her, too. Iles includes a lot of detail in the book, much of which didn't feel necessary. Cutting out that unnecessary detail, and what I felt like was a lot of repetition, would have helped cut down on a very long book (just over 800 pages). Up to a point, I was willing to try to suspend disbelief but Iles pushed things a bit too far for me to do it at the end of the book. My mom also felt the ending of the book stretched credulity.

All that being said, I'm now chomping at the bit for the final book in the trilogy to be released in March. I need to know who will finally survive the blood bath that's been the past week (yep, 1600 pages = 1 week in these two books) and I need to know that the surviving bad guys are going to get theirs. But mostly, I need to know how Penn and Tom will resolve the chasm that has opened between them. Because, damn it, I need to know that something good comes from all of those deaths!

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

Greg Iles spent most of his youth in Natchez, Mississippi. His first novel, Spandau Phoenix, was the first of thirteen New York Times bestsellers, and his new trilogy continues the story of Penn Cage, protagonist of The Quiet Game, Turning Angel, and #1 New York Times bestseller The Devil’s Punchbowl. Iles’s novels have been made into films and published in more than thirty-five countries. He lives in Natchez with his wife and has two children. Find out more about Greg at his website, follow him on Twitter, and connect with him on Facebook.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Classics Club Spin

The Classics Club Spin is something members have been using as an incentive for a long time to get to through the 50 classic books they put on their lists. I haven't participated before, partly because it didn't always work for me timing wise and partly because I didn't want the spin to land on a book I wasn't ready to read. Well, time is ticking on my five year mark and I've only read 25 classics so far. Clearly time to get that kick in the butt.

Here are the rules for this spin:

Go to your blog.
Pick twenty books that you’ve got left to read from your Classics Club List.
Try to challenge yourself: list five you are dreading/hesitant to read, five you can’t WAIT to read, five you are neutral about, and five free choice (favorite author, rereads, ancients — whatever you choose.)
Post that list, numbered 1-20, on your blog by next Monday.
Monday morning, we’ll announce a number from 1-20. Go to the list of twenty books you posted, and select the book that corresponds to the number we announce.
The challenge is to read that book by December 1, even if it’s an icky one you dread reading! (No fair not listing any scary ones!)

Yeah, I'm not going to try to challenge myself because, frankly, at this point just getting one of these baby's knocked off seems to be a challenge. As an exception to that statement, however, I am going to lump all of my short story choices and all of my plays as one choice for each category since they are all so short.

1. Hamlet, A Doll's House, The Importance of Being Ernest
2. Rocking Horse Winner, The House of Usher, The Jumping Frog of Calavaras County
3. This Side of Paradise
4. The Railway Children
5. Frenchman's Creek
6. Candide
7. Treasure Island
8. Oliver Twist
9. Cranford
10. Moll Flanders
11. Frankenstein
12. Brideshead Revisited
13. Lady Chatterley's Lover
14. The Metamorphosis
15. My Antonia
16. Where The Redfern Grows
17. Sense and Sensibility
18. Miss Bishop
19. Daisy Miller
20. The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling

You may notice that I haven't included any of the chunksters I have on my list. I want to make sure I leave myself some time for R.I.P. and Fall Feasting reading and I'm planning on reading Little Dorrit (finally!) in December.

I'm ready for that spin on Monday!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Light Between Oceans - A Movie Review...of sorts

I don't do movie reviews here. I don't review them any where. Wait...that's starting to sound like a Dr. Seuss book. See, that's why I don't review movies. I have an even harder time putting into words why I liked a movie than I do why I liked a book.

I thought I'd turn to some reviews written by actual paid film reviewers to see if they could help me explain it. The problem is they had wildly differing opinions. David Edelstein, whom I generally agree with, found very little about the movie to like. What? How dare he?

Alright, alright. The film has some problems and I did have a couple of quibbles. But we'll get to those later.

First, let's get to what I loved about the film, David Edelstein be damned. 

Edelstein complained that the movie was both melodramatic and psychodramatic. I beg to differ. But then I've read the book and, I'd wager to say, he has not. It's an incredibly sad novel with some deep moral questions. It should pull at your heart. Perhaps women, particularly mothers and those who have miscarried or lost a child, will understand the conflict better than most men. But surely most men who have truly loved a woman will also be able to relate to the lengths a man might go to for the woman he loves.
The movie does a wonderful job of telling the story as Stedman wrote it. There are places, as there are in all book-to-movie adaptations, where those who have read the book just "get" it better than those who have not. For example, if you haven't read the book, you don't understand quite how desperate a young girl was to get away from a home that was filled with grief by the loss of both of her brothers in the war and her willingness to marry a man she hardly knew.

It is a beautifully filmed movie and the director does a fantastic job of conveying the isolation Tom and Isabel Sherbourne felt on the lighthouse island but also the beauty of being, literally, between oceans. The relentless pounding of the waves in the beginning sounds overwhelming but soon begins to feel soothing.

And the acting. Oh, my, the acting. I knew Michael Fassbender and Rachel Weisz would give terrific performances. I have never seen either of these Academy award winners give a bad performance (okay, may Weisz wasn't at her peak in The Mummy movies - but who could blame her). I have not yet seen "The Danish Girl," for which Alicia Vikander won an Academy award, so I was unfamiliar with her skills. She utterly disappears into Isabel; her emotional range was incredible. My heart broke for her; tears streamed down my face during more than one scene. 

Before I even went into the theater, I had a problem with Rachel Weisz playing the role of Hannah Roennfeldt. While she looks terrific for 46 years old, she's too old for the role.

Another problem I had with the movie also had to do with Weisz's costuming. The bulk of her action occurs in 1927 but her costumes (for the most part) and hair style don't feel right for that time period. Because the costumer continued to put Vikander in the same clothes throughout the movie, the two women appeared to be from entirely different eras. Maybe it was to play up the difference between the two but that's not the way it came off for me.

I couldn't remember the ending of the book but the ending of the movie didn't feel right to me. Turns out, it was mostly right after I looked it up. I suppose I wanted there to be some solution that didn't break Tom's and Isabel's hearts and the director didn't give it to me any more than Stedman had. And there were a couple filming spots right at the end that I didn't like.

All little things that momentarily put me off. But, as I said, these are small quibbles. Because, truly, the movie gave me exactly what I expected and, more importantly, exactly what I wanted. Those paid reviewers may want more from a movie but this girl is very happy with that outcome.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Life: It Goes On - September 25

It's officially fall and I'm finally getting into the spirit of it. The seashells and driftwood have been replaced with pumpkins and Indian corn and I seriously considered a pumpkin recipe yesterday.

I just hope fall understands that I really need a spectacular display of all leaves and I need it to stick around clear through November.

It's been a very quiet past nine days around here. I was not feeling 100% much of that time so I hardly left the house. Those who know me will know that I'm okay with that! It does account for the lack of pictures of fun things in this post!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: The Bone Tree - really loving being able to to a read/listen combination for this beastie. I'm enjoying the narrator except for his voice for the lead female character. Would you believe that I just today figured out how to run the audio at 1.5 times? Wish I had figured it out a week ago!

Watching: "Brunch At Bobby's" this morning. I'm fired up to bake some biscuits now! I'm not a huge fan of Flay's personality but his recipes generally make my mouth water and I feel like they are things I could replicate.

Reading: You'll see in my sidebar that I am supposed to be reading The Girl Who Fought Napoleon. I'm not. Because I can't figure out where I put the book. I know it arrived by mail a couple of weeks ago. On today's to-do list is to find that book!

Making: Goulash and pancakes. Not for the same meal. They might be the only two things I actually made this week, thanks to not feeling well.

Planning: I did some furniture rearranging this week, moving some furniture between the guest room and my office. It required some fairly significant reorganizing in my office which has me fired up to continue to do more in there. So that's the plan for this week.

Thinking About: A reorganization and cataloging of my books. I have books in my bedroom, books in my office, books in my family room and books in the basement. Up until I lost that book, I was fairly confident I at least knew what was where but now I'm not so sure.

Enjoying: Time with my parents yesterday. The Big Guy and I went in to help them with some stuff around the house and yard and were rewarded with yummy chicken and noodles, peach cobbler, and love. I wish we could have stayed longer so I could have finished a project I was working on - although my dad might be happy to have me out of his shop!

Feeling: Lighter, thanks to a hair cut this morning! Miss H's friend was in town so stopped in to make us beautiful.

Looking forward to: Another quiet week with the energy to actually accomplish something!

Question of the week: What is your favorite brunch food?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

Here's what happens when you finally really and truly clean up your email: you find some interesting links that have gotten buried under all of the newer stuff.

The Big Guy found this link for me about quotes attributed to Mark Twain.  Did he say it? Did he say it that way? It seems like so many other things we read on the internet, like as not the Mark Twain "quotes" we read are wrong.

From my uncle comes this link highlighting books about women in science. Which ties in right in with the book Hidden Figures, a book on tour with TLC Book Tours this month about the women mathematicians of NASA. You may also have noticed that that book has been made into a movie coming out soon with an all-star cast including Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Butler, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, and Jim Parsons. Love seeing the accomplishment of women in math and science recognized. I only wish our school systems would do a better job of convincing our smart girls that these are fields they can excel in.

Also brought to my attention by BG is this list of the 100 Best Novels: From Bunyan's Pilgrim to Carey's Ned Kelly he found through Flipboard in The Guardian. It's a year old. So, yeah, I haven't really completely cleared out my mailbox in a while but it's mostly classics and the list took two years to build so I don't there'd be many changes if it came out now.

If you're already putting together your list of books to read for Nonfiction November, you might want to check out Buzzfeeds 19 Best Nonfiction Books of 2015 to see what you missed from last year.  Another link passed to me from BG. He may not read as much as I do, but he's good about feeding the beast!

One last thing - last week I reviewed Greg Iles' Natchez Burning. If you were interested in learning more about the book and Iles' inspiration, here are some links for you to check out:

Reading Guide
Greg Iles talks about writing about the South in his new novel (YouTube) 
Greg Iles Introduces Natchez Burning (YouTube)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Yard by Aliyyah Eniath

The Yard by Aliyyah Eniath
Published: April 2016 by Speaking Tigers Books
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours
             in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
A story of love and redemption, set in Trinidad, that exposes the fault lines in Indo-Muslim culture. Behrooz is brought to a familial complex, The Yard, to live with a devout and extended family, where he struggles to belong. He forms a childish alliance with Maya, a wilful and rebellious girl, and his guardian’s daughter. After they share a night of adolescent tenderness, Maya, fearing retribution, flees to London. Behrooz painstakingly rebuilds his life and marries another. When tragedy strikes, Maya returns to her childhood home. There, she and Behrooz must face up to old demons. Can their love endure? Even after Maya is dealt the most righteous blow of all?

My Thoughts:
The story of the family of an immigrant's descendent's, an opportunity to learn something about the Muslim religion, and the chance to visit a setting I've never visited before were all big selling points when I was pitched this book.

My mother-in-law once visited Trinidad and Tobago and the chance to learn more about that country she enjoyed so much might have been the biggest selling point for me. By and large, though, the setting could have been almost any where. Entail does spend some time talking about the history of the native peoples on the islands and the history of indentured servants there, but, in the present day, there is very little sense of this book being set in a specific place.

Some of that might have had to do with the fact that the book is almost entirely set in The Yard, a compound of houses built by that original immigrant for his family. It was partly a symbol that he had made a success of his life but also a way to insulate his family and keep them together. For some, including Maya, it became something of a prison. But, here again, I didn't get what I was expecting from the book. Eniath does include several scenes of the family coming together for celebrations, there is some discussion about the different ways the Muslim faith is practiced (or not) amongst the family, and we see some of the interactions between the family members. But, for me, beyond Maya's immediate family, most of the family felt almost like stick figures to me. In fact, late in the book, Maya has entirely stopped trying to remember the children's names and who they belong to; I felt much the same way throughout. I wanted more about that family dynamic.

Eniath's focus is the relationship between Maya and Behrooz - The Yard  is, at its heart, a love story Maybe because I could never connect to any of the characters, particularly to Maya, I never got invested in their story. I couldn't understand why Behrooz fell so deeply in love with a girl who did so many things that repulsed him from the beginning and, without that sense of a deep unbreakable bond, I could never understand why he was so devastated when she left and why he wasn't able to move on without her. Without that connection to those two characters, it was hard for me to connect to the book.

There were places in the book where I felt like the whole might have been much tighter had things been edited differently; just the rearranging of some of the elements of the book would have made a difference. The frustrating thing, I think, is that the book is largely based on Eniath's own history, something she obviously wanted to teach others to understand and love. I really wanted to like it more, knowing that.

For other opinions, please check out the full TLC Book Tour.  Thanks to the ladies at TLC for including me on the tour.

Aliyyah Eniath was born in Trinidad and Tobago; her ancestors hailed from Uttar Pradesh, India. She’s a director at Safari Publications, a magazine publishing house, and founder/editor-in- chief of Belle Weddings (Caribbean) magazine. Her debut novel The Yard (literary, romance) is published by Speaking Tiger Books in both paperback and ebook formats. She explores the ideas of breaking free from imposed boundaries (familial or otherwise), understanding and feeling supported in who you are, overcoming self-doubt, and finally being true to yourself. Her writing looks at strict religious ideologies and their potential consequences and begs for a softer approach and innate understanding and compassion towards every human being. She writes from the perspective of East Indians whose forefathers were brought to Trinidad from India through the British colonial indentureship scheme in 1845.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Life: It Goes On - September 18

Well, I've finally had to acknowledge that it's fall, even though, officially, it isn't yet. It got chilly enough this week that I had to switch to a warmer bed covering. It was that or put on warmer jammies or turn off the ceiling fan and I'm not ready to do either of those things yet. We spent most of the week under grey skies with a lot of rain and even had the tornado sirens go off one day but Friday evening it was finally sunny and dry and I spent two hours on the patio.

I jumped in on Bloggiesta since I had a largely quiet  weekend and have really gotten a lot done including tweaking the look of the blog just a big. Ever since I last made changes, I've been struggling with the size of the print. It actually took Bloggiesta for me to remember that I could just change the size of the font. Duh.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: As I mentioned the other day, I've switched over the The Bone Tree which I've downloaded to my phone. Pretty excited to finally be able to do an audiobook outside of the confines of my car!

Watching: Mostly football, I think. Nothing else I've watched this week even sticks in my head.

Reading: Finishing up The Yard for a TLC Book Tour this week then in print (and by print, I mean on my Nook), I'll be reading A Month In The Country by J. L. Carr, as recommended to my by Liberty Hardy, with a group on Litsy. After I finish it, I need to track down the movie adaptation which starts Kenneth Branagh, Natasha Richardson, and Colin Firth.

Making: Me? I think I've made nothing all week. The Big Guy has done what cooking's been done. Unless you count the sauce I made for cocktail weinies Miss H took to work.

Planning: On working with Mini-him today to finish sorting through the stuff he still has here. I don't mind storing stuff the kids will need/use/want someday but I don't want to work around stuff no one is ever going to want again.

Thinking About: Pulling out the fall decor today. Seashells and driftwood just aren't cutting it any more. 

Enjoying: Seeing Geraldine Brooks speak the other night with a couple of friends. Great speaker and always fun to spend extra time with friends.

Feeling: Excited for Miss H who started back to college last week and Monday will start a new job.

Looking forward to: Seeing The Light Between Oceans with the Omaha Bookworms this week. We're doing that instead of reading a book this month.

Question of the week: What is your favorite thing about autumn - leaves changing colors, pulling out your sweaters, pumpkin spice latte, apple harvest?

Friday, September 16, 2016

Bloggiesta - Fall 2016

I really hadn't intended on joining in Bloggiesta this weekend. In fact, I've been so bad about keeping up with my blog reader that I wasn't even aware it was coming up until a couple of days ago. But some changes in my schedule this weekend have resulted in some free time I wasn't planning on and because I'm feeling that guilt about being behind, I decided to join in the fun. I may be using that term loosely. I'm not sure I'll have a lot of time for the fun aspects; I'm more likely to be doing what I always do during Bloggiesta and getting things caught up. So here's the list of things I'll be working on - which probably looks pretty much like my list from this spring!

1. Empty my blog reader.

2. Respond to all comments from September and all Sunday post comments from August.

3. Clean up my email.

4. Make sure my blogging calendar is up to date.

5. Work on tags - I wish I could remember where I'd gotten with this project during the last Bloggiesta!

6. Check out mini-challenges.

7. Prep 3-4 posts.

8. Clean up the look of the blog.

Chances are I won't get to most of these, between football, friends, family, housework and reading. But it's a nice dream!

Thanks to not feeling 100%, I stayed home all weekend which gave me a lot of time to Bloggiesta and I did get everything done that I'd hoped to get done. There is still work to be done on the tags, although I have gotten rid of all of the tags I don't want to use any more. Now it's a matter of going through over 1600 posts to make sure everything has the tags it should have. But that's for another Bloggiesta!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

Oh my, I feel like I'm really dropping the ball around here lately. I may be getting posts up here and there, and I am reading, but I haven't gotten around to responding to comments in ages and I'm barely getting around to browsing all of my blog friends' posts. 

I don't even have a very good excuse other than that The Big Guy has taken to using my desk chair to sit in to watch television and it's all but impossible to get him out of it. Which makes it all but impossible to get to my computer as often as I'd like to get there. 

I will be helped this month by a fortuitous email I received yesterday, an offer for the Nook Audiobook of Greg Iles' The Bone Tree which I was about to pick up for a review the end of the month. That sucker is more than 800 pages and I have yet to finish another book for a review next week and one that I'm reading with a group on Litsy. Being about to listen while I drive, clean, and even type this post is really going to help a lot! I've already "read" for almost two hours today. 

Because my September's been so loaded up with commitments, I've been hesitant to commit to too much in October, including R.I.P. XI (Readers. Imbibing. Peril.). I wasn't even sure I'd have time to read any books for Fall Feasting this year. But those are part of what makes blogging so much fun! Also, since R.I.P. includes thrillers, I'm thinking that I'm already reading for that challenge with Natchez Burning and The Bone Tree. So I signed up for that today and I'll spend some time browsing my books to later to find at least one more book that works for that and a couple that will work for Fall Feasting. I'm thinking maybe Sarah Water's Fingersmith for R.I.P. and maybe, finally, Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle for Fall Feasting which will also worth well for Nonfiction November. 

Last night a couple of book club friends and I went to hear Geraldine Brooks speak. If you ever get the chance to see her speak, I highly recommend it! She is open, funny, smart and an amazing storyteller and speaker. She talked about her history as a writer, her work as a journalist and how it influenced her writing as a novelist, making sure she doesn't use words in her work that take readers out of the time setting, and how she finds the voices for the characters in her historical novels, particularly the women. It helps, of course, that she's Australian, so she's got that accent going for her! She is married to Tony Horwitz, an American who is also a writer and an American Civil War fanatic (I think she'd agree that word is appropriate). His passion for that war helped inspire her Pulitzer Prize winning novel March. We were all very happy that we'd made the trip across town to see her!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles
Published: Hardcover April 2014, paperback August 2015  by William Morrow
Source: I have two copies - the hardcover borrowed from my parents and a paperback copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Raised in the southern splendor of Natchez, Mississippi, Penn Cage learned all he knows of duty from his father, Dr. Tom Cage. But now the beloved family doctor has been accused of murdering the African American nurse with whom he worked in the dark days of the 1960s. Once a crusading prosecutor, Penn is determined to save his father, but Tom, stubbornly invoking doctor-patient privilege, refuses even to speak in his own defense.

Penn's quest for the truth sends him deep into his father's past, where a sexually charged secret lies. More chilling, this long-buried sin is only one thread in a conspiracy of greed and murder involving the vicious Double Eagles, an offshoot of the KKK controlled by some of the most powerful men in the state. Aided by a dedicated reporter privy to Natchez's oldest secrets and by his fiancée, Caitlin Masters, Penn uncovers a trail of corruption and brutality that places his family squarely in the Double Eagles' crosshairs.

With every step costing blood and faith, Penn is forced to confront the most wrenching dilemma of his life: Does a man of honor choose his father or the truth?

My Thoughts:
Natchez Burning is the first in a trilogy of books; the final book in the trilogy will be published in March. When I was offered the chance to get first shot at that book by reading and reviewing the first two books in the trilogy in September, I didn't hesitate.  My parents are fans of Iles and have particularly enjoyed Natchez Burning and The Bone Tree (the next book in the series); I knew how much they'd love to get their hands on the new book early and because I love them so much, I was willing to reading 1600 pages to make that happen. Because that's just what kind of daughter I am!

I can certainly understand why my parents enjoyed this book - it is a roller coaster of a read, it is chock full of interesting (and questionable!) characters, and it is mired in the history of the South. We've traveled in the South, we've been to Natchez. I was not yet out of high school when we were there but, for my parents, I'm sure it was easy to picture the area. And for history buffs and people who have always stayed well-informed about the goings on in the world, the parts of the book set in the past must have brought back vivid reminders of the news they saw in the 1960's.

Iles does not pull any punches when it comes to the brutality in this book and there is a lot of it. As a reader, I have mixed feelings about that. Given that Iles clearly wants readers to understand this piece of his city's past, I accept that he feels it's essential for readers to have a very clear picture of the horrendous tortures that were carried out in the past. But it's a very tough read made all the more tough by the violence that continues into the present day parts of the story. I understood that Iles wanted me to know that powerful people and those filled with hate are willing to go to any lengths to achieve their goals. I just wasn't convinced I needed all of the details. Also, let's face it, I prefer to live in my happy little shell sometimes and it's hard for me to imagine that there are people out there willing to torture others when a gunshot would do the trick.

In the end, though, the question became which is scarier - a man filled with hate or a man who is so powerful that he will stop at nothing to get what he wants and keep what he has?

I can't see me pitching this to my book club (it is too long and too violent) but I can see where it would make an interesting book club choice given all of the themes Iles addresses. Racism, infidelity, the bond between friends, euthanasia, corruption, family bonds, trust issues, politics and the legal system, power struggles, forbidden love, and the truths parents may keep from their children. I enjoyed all of that a lot which made it well worth skipping over that parts that were too tough for me to read.

Of course, all of that is just my opinion; if you'd like more opinions, check out the full tour. Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for including me on the tour! I'm looking forward to reading The Bone Tree soon!

About Greg Iles
Greg Iles spent most of his youth in Natchez, Mississippi. His first novel, Spandau Phoenix, was the first of thirteen New York Times bestsellers, and his new trilogy continues the story of Penn Cage, protagonist of The Quiet Game, Turning Angel, and #1 New York Times bestseller The Devil’s Punchbowl. Iles’s novels have been made into films and published in more than thirty-five countries. He lives in Natchez with his wife and has two children.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Top Ten All-Time Favorite Non-Fiction

The ladies at Top Ten Tuesday have asked us this week to make a list of our top ten all-time favorite books of any particular genre. I've been thinking about a list of non-fiction favorites for a while so this one is easy-peasy (as my sister would say)! In no particular order:

1. Empress Of All Russia: Catherine The Great by Iris Noble - this is the first non-fiction book I ever remember reading for pleasure. I must have been eight or ten? Why did I love it so much? 40+ years later I remember being enthralled by the story of a woman who ruled a country.

2. Cocktail Hour Under The Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller - adventure, family, humor, history, Africa. I loved Fuller's account of her family's time as British colonists.

3. Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn - I loved the story of Flinn's school but most of all I loved the kick in the butt to make things from scratch, to use what you already have, and to be creative. This one lives with my cookbooks.

4. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot - I have never read  a book about science that so pulled me in. Skloot did such a great job of blending the story of this one woman, the family she left behind, the ethics of medical research, and the actual science. I would read it again.

5. This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett - where I discovered non-fiction essays and loved them. I love Patchett's writing and her honesty and humor in these stories about her life where wonderful.

6. Orange Is The New Black by Piper Kiernan - opened my eyes to life in prison for a woman, which is saying something considering both of my parents-in-law and sister-in-law all spent some time working in the Nebraska women's penitentiary. It's very disheartening..

7. Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi - horrifying murders, incredible stories of the people involved, the workings of the criminal and judicial systems. Started me on a whole new sub-genre.

8. Eleni by Nicholas Gage - opened my eyes to the tragedies of wars in other parts of the world and the terrible toll they take, before I'd ever read a book about World War II.

9.  In The Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White - leprosy. In the United States. Recently. I had no idea. White opens eyes as he writes about his life was changed when he was imprisoned in a building that also housed lepers.

10.  I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron - because Nora Ephron is always funny, but it turns out her own stories can also make me ugly cry. In my car. I loved it so much, I plan to pick it up in print one day so I can keep a copy.

Now that I've finished, I feel that I've made this list before. I wonder if I can find it and see what's changed on it. What would you have on your list?

Monday, September 12, 2016

2016 Big Book Summer Challenge

Remember in July when I jumped in late to this challenge, certain that this would be the year I would conquer Charles Dicken's Little Dorrit?

Yeah, that didn't happen. I think I read about 15 pages when I remembered all of the books that I'd committed to or had coming up on Netgalley.

I did, however manage to succeed at this challenge, listening to one book over 400 pages and reading another before Labor Day: And The Mountains Echoed on audio and A Gentleman In Moscow in print. I feel a little bit like I cheated, though, because I didn't even know how many pages either of these had when I started them. But we all know how mixed my success with challenges is, so I'm blaming victory!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Life: It Goes On - September 11

MSNBC is running, today, the Today Show coverage from that terrible day 15 years ago. I could not pull myself away from the television for a couple of hours. It was like reliving that terrible morning. For those of us who lived through that day, old enough to understand what was happening, I imagine it is a day none of us will ever forget. What I'm afraid we've forgotten, though, is the way this country pulled together as one in the aftermath to support those who had been most deeply affected, to support those in our own communities who put their lives at risk every day to run toward the situations the rest of us are running away from, and to understand that, while our country may have its flaws, we are better when we work together. 

George W. Bush said, on September 20, 2001, to a joint session of Congress:
"Americans are asking: What is expected of us? I ask you to live your lives, and hug your children. I know many citizens have fears tonight, and I ask you to be calm and resolute, even in the face of a continuing threat. I ask you to uphold the values of America, and remember why so many have come here. We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them. No one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of their ethnic background or religious faith."

This Week I'm:

Listening To: The Weird Sisters and NPR while I'm driving, podcasts while I'm working out (You Must Remember This, Happier, NPR Books, Stuff You Should Know).

Watching: Football and volleyball. Also, we happened to catch an excellent filmed version of the play "Barrymore" on PBS the other night. It starred Christopher Plummer and he was simply incredible.

Reading: Racing to finish Natchez Burning for review this week and so I can get back to Ashes of Fiery Weather and finish it. My house may need to clean itself this month - I have a lot of books to read!

Making: Oh, you know, all of the things with tomatoes. Yesterday, we made salsa and spaghetti sauce to freeze. Will probably make more of both of those this week.

Planning: I can't think of planning today. There are too many things swirling around in my mind and I can't focus on any of them.

Thinking About: See above. 

Enjoying: A picnic dinner with friends last night on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River valley. Don't tell my hubby I said that, though; I might have pouted before hand about going.

Feeling: Sad/happy - had to say goodbye to Mini-me and Miss S on Monday. I'm happy that they are finally getting to be together and starting their life together but oh how I will miss them both!

Looking forward to: A group from my book club and I will be seeing Geraldine Brooks speak this week. 

Question of the week: What is your most vivid memory of 9/11?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles

A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles
Published September 2016 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary:
When, in 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

My Thoughts:
I have been waiting for this book for more than four years. In 2012, Towle's debut novel, Rules of Civility, was  one of my favorite books of the year, perhaps, in no small part, because it was so unexpected. This time, I expected a lot of Towles - smart writing, a wonderful sense of place, characters I wanted to know. Towles delivers. I have already added this book to my list of favorites for the year. I doubt it will be knocked off the list at year's end.

One reviewer said that this book could have been set anywhere, given that nearly the entire setting is a fine hotel. I respectfully disagree. Through the patrons, the employees, and the newspapers the Count reads daily, the greater setting is made clear - from young Nina's stay with her father who is a party member to her own later affiliation with the party and the consequences of that, from the first appearance of "the Bishop" as an unskilled waiter clearly sent to spy on the employees to his rise in the ranks, from the early meetings of committees in the ballroom to the one-on-one meetings between the Count and a party official.

But...this is not a story about Russia, it's the story of one man who must learn to deal with the end of life as he has known it.
"As we age, we are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade. We are familiar with the songs our grandparents favored, after all, even though we never danced to them ourselves. At festive holidays, the recipes we pull form the drawer are routinely decades old, and in some cases even written in the hand of a relative long since dead. And the objects in our homes? The oriental coffee tables and well-worn desks that have been handed down from generation to generation? Despite being "out of fashion," not only do they add beauty to our daily lives, they lend material credibility to our presumption that the passing of an era will be glacial. But under certain circumstances, the Count finally acknowledged, this process can occur in the comparative blink of an eye."
Just as he begins to feel the walls coming in on him, the Count meets nine-year-old Nina, who is something of an "Eloise," a girl who has had the time on her hands to explore her surroundings thoroughly and who teaches the Count that there is much more to his world than he has ever known.
"Nina had not contented herself with the views from the upper decks. She had gone below. Behind. Around. About. In the time that Nina had been in the hotel, the walls had not grown inward, they had grown outward, expanding in scope and intricacy. In her first weeks, the building had grown to encompass the life of two city blocks. In her first months, it had grown to encompass half of Moscow. If she lived in the hotel long enough, it would encompass all of Russia."
Once again, Towles impresses with his wit, ability to bring to paint a scene, and fairness to his characters. I was utterly captivated by the Count. I felt sorry for him, worried for him, even teared up in the end. I kept thinking of the word "charming" as I read, but that seems to somehow discount how smart the writing is, how much Towles gives readers to consider. Mostly, I was struck by the heart of A Gentleman In Moscow.
"As a younger man, I used to feel the same way about my sister. Every year that passed, it seemed a little more of her had slipped away; and I began to fear that one day I would come to forget her altogether. But the truth is: No matter how much time passes, those we have loved never slip away from us entirely."

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid
Narrated by Mohsin Hamed
Published March 2013 by Penguin Publishing
Source: my audiobook purchased at my library book sale

Publisher's Summary:
The astonishing and riveting tale of a man’s journey from impoverished rural boy to corporate tycoon, it steals its shape from the business self-help books devoured by ambitious youths all over “rising Asia.” It follows its nameless hero to the sprawling metropolis where he begins to amass an empire built on that most fluid, and increasingly scarce, of goods: water. Yet his heart remains set on something else, on the pretty girl whose star rises along with his, their paths crossing and recrossing, a lifelong affair sparked and snuffed and sparked again by the forces that careen their fates along.

My Thoughts:
I was wow'd by Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist so I knew it would be then next audiobook I would listen to as soon as I saw it. Like The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the book is written in the second person, here not even naming any of his characters.  I admire Hamid's ability to write from interesting new points of view. I also admire his ability to be political without being overt, to blend here a love story with the story of a world in flux, and his ability to make readers care about a character that is less than admirable.

"Less than admirable" is, Hamid is clear, not necessarily a bad person. Our hero is a man who sees, all around him, the toll that being poor exacts and the unscrupulous means that others will use to take advantage of those in need and the opportunities that life provides. Those same people whose palms had to be greased on the way up and who will also be happy to pull back down those who have become successful.

We're never told where our nameless character lives but that, too, is hardly important. Here's the thing - we can look at the way people take advantage of others, the shortcuts they take, the rules they will break, and judge them as wrong, as evil people. But if you know the history of the United States (and, for that matter, any other  world power), you know that exactly the same kinds of things happened here as this country grew and prospered.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this book is "the pretty girl" who remains "the pretty girl" to the end of the book, to her death as an elderly woman. Because, to our hero, despite the years and anything she might have done to survive and prosper, she remained the pretty girl. Wouldn't we all like to think that our beloveds will still think of us that way when our hair is grey, our faces are wrinkled, and we need a cane to walk?

In the end, How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia didn't wow me in the same way that The Reluctant Fundamentalist did. But it certainly has something to say about our world and it is certainly well said.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Life: It Goes On - September 4

Hello, three-day weekend! My brain needed this so badly. Between the funerals of two friends' mothers and saying a first goodbye to Mini-me, and a tribute last night to the Nebraska football player that died this summer, it's been an emotional week. Much reading will be involved and a major project will get finished.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: It's been a mixed bag this week. I finished Mohsin Hamid's How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia and started Eleanor Brown's The Weird Sisters. I listened to some podcast episodes: Reading Women, Happier, and NPR Books. I ended the week rocking old-school style, from Joan Jett and Billy Idol and The Clash to  Green Day and Nirvana and Radiohead. 

Oh god, how I love this movie!

Watching: I've been all over the place with my viewing this week. Caught some Real Housewives of Orange County, watched a couple of baseball games, lucked out and found Franco Zefferelli's "Romeo and Juliet" the other night, and, of course, college football. 

Reading: Well, this is embarrassing. I got so caught up reading Natchez Burning that I forgot to check my Netgalley account and my blogging calendar and just discovered that I have only three days to read Amor Towle's latest, A Gentleman In Moscow. Which I am loving and will be happy to spend the next couple of days with. 

Making: If you can't put tomatoes on it or in it, I probably haven't made it this week. We've done our usual BLT's, caprese pasta, and made several salads. It's the time of year when the tomatoes are ripening much faster than we can eat them so I've frozen quite a lot of them for use this winter - you know, when chili is on the menu.

Mini-me in traditional costume
Planning: On heading upstairs shortly to finish getting the guest room put together now that we have Mini-me's bed. I've got to move a dresser into the closet (because, as you all know by now, we have more furniture in this house than we know what to do with) and that involves cleaning out Mini-him's stuff he left behind. 

Thinking About: Using Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project to set up a template for my own happiness project. She started her project in January but I'm thinking of beginning my year in October. Or maybe not until I actually finish the book.

Enjoying: Knowing how much Mini-me was liked by the refugees he's been working with the past year. They are largely from Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar. Wednesday, on his last day, they held a leaving ceremony for him and gifted him with some traditional clothing and gifts. He was very touched and will really miss them.
Sam Foltz's nephews ran onto the field with the team, the Cornhuskers in a missing man formation for our first punt, and the banner the student body displayed. The Fresno State team waived the delay of game penalty the Huskers incurred because of the tribute.
Feeling:  So sad for the family of Sam Foltz, the Nebraska punter who was killed in a car accident this summer, proud of the tribute our football team and the student body paid him, and impressed with the class with which the Fresno State football team showed. 

Looking forward to: Some baseball tomorrow - Miss H has picked us up some tickets for our Triple A baseball team. I'm going to need something to distract me because in the morning we will be sending Mini-me and Miss S off to Milwaukee with no idea when we will see them again.

Question of the week: If you're lucky enough to have a three-day weekend, how are you spending it?