Wednesday, November 30, 2016

I'll Take You There by Wally Lamb

I'll Take You There by Wally Lamb
Published November 2016 by Harper
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
I’ll Take You There centers on Felix, a film scholar who runs a Monday night movie club in what was once a vaudeville theater. One evening, while setting up a film in the projectionist booth, he’s confronted by the ghost of Lois Weber, a trailblazing motion picture director from Hollywood’s silent film era. Lois invites Felix to revisit—and in some cases relive—scenes from his past as they are projected onto the cinema’s big screen.

In these magical movies, the medium of film becomes the lens for Felix to reflect on the women who profoundly impacted his life. There’s his daughter Aliza, a Gen Y writer for New York Magazine who is trying to align her post-modern feminist beliefs with her lofty career ambitions; his sister, Frances, with whom he once shared a complicated bond of kindness and cruelty; and Verna, a fiery would-be contender for the 1951 Miss Rheingold competition, a beauty contest sponsored by a Brooklyn-based beer manufacturer that became a marketing phenomenon for two decades. At first unnerved by these ethereal apparitions, Felix comes to look forward to his encounters with Lois, who is later joined by the spirits of other celluloid muses.

My Thoughts:
I'm not sure I know where to start. I'm actually not sure exactly how I feel about this book. I agreed to read and review it solely based on Lamb's name with no idea what it was about.

For twenty-seven pages, Lamb had me. And then ghosts. Hmmm. Okay, I decided, give it a chance. At that point, I decided this was going to be a book where we looked back on Felix's life as Lois walked him through films of his life. That worked for me; I could imagine it all leading to a revelation about Felix's life, a lesson he needed to learn.

I was wrong. And I was really confused about what Lamb was trying to say for most of the rest of the book. Here's one case where I would have been better served to have read the publisher's summary before reading the book. Had I known going in that Lamb's purpose was to focus on the women, I might better have understood when things seemed to become disjointed.

So here we have a book about women, written by a man, with a man as the central figure. It's not that Lamb didn't do a respectable job telling the women's stories. Verna's story, in particular, was well told. Maybe Lamb's purpose of using Felix to tell the story was to show the effect of these women on a man, but that wasn't clear to me. Perhaps I'm touchy right now; my feminist core is a little tender. But if we're going to tell women's stories, why can't they be centered around a woman?

In the end, my initial concern about the ghosts as a device turned out to be valid. For me, it was a gimmick that didn't really work and one that cause the book to feel more disjointed than to tie the pieces together.

But Lamb is a formidable writer, no doubt about it. The relationships between Felix and Aliza and Felix and Frances were wonderfully written and Lamb managed to tell a lot of women's stories in one book. The Miss Rheingold competition was an actual competition, one Lamb used throughout many of the stories and I wondered if might have been able to use that as the device to spin everything out from rather than the ghosts/films. I liked a lot about I'll Take You There but I came away feeling like I could have liked it more.

But that's just me. For more opinions about this book, check out the full TLC Book tour here. Thanks to the ladies at TLC for including me on the tour; no matter how I end up feeling about a book, they always make sure I'm pushing myself and that's a good thing.

Wally Lamb is the author of four previous novels, including the New York Times and national bestseller The Hour I First Believed and Wishin’ and Hopin’, a bestselling novella. His first two works of fiction, She’s Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True, were both number-one New York Times bestsellers and Oprah’s Book Club selections. He lives in Connecticut with his wife, Christine. The Lambs are the parents of three sons.

Find out more about Wally at his website, and connect with him on Facebook.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Butter: A Rich History by Elaine Khosrova

Butter: A Rich History by Elaine Khosrova
Published November 2016 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Source: my ecopy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary:
It’s a culinary catalyst, an agent of change, a gastronomic rock star. Ubiquitous in the world’s most fabulous cuisines, butter is boss. Here, it finally gets its due.

After traveling across three continents to stalk the modern story of butter, award-winning food writer and former pastry chef Elaine Khosrova serves up a story as rich, textured, and culturally relevant as butter itself.

From its humble agrarian origins to its present-day artisanal glory, butter has a fascinating story to tell, and Khosrova is the perfect person to tell it. With tales about the ancient butter bogs of Ireland, the pleasure dairies of France, and the sacred butter sculptures of Tibet, Khosrova details butter’s role in history, politics, economics, nutrition, and even spirituality and art. Readers will also find the essential collection of core butter recipes, including beurre manié, croissants, pâte brisée, and the only buttercream frosting anyone will ever need, as well as practical how-tos for making various types of butter at home—or shopping for the best.

My Thoughts:
You know I totally judged this book by its cover when I requested it on Netgalley. But almost as soon as I downloaded, I began to have my doubts. Just how much history can butter have? How can anyone write an entire book about one ingredient and keep it interesting?

I hadn't even read the summary before I started reading. Which, once again, proved to be a good thing because I kept being surprised. Turns out butter really does have a rich history.

Khosrova starts the book with the story of a Bhutanese family who still operate their dairy "farm" operations just as their long ago ancestors would have. This story might not suck all readers straight into the book but it did for me. The Bhutanese people are near and dear to my heart ever since my son spent a year working with refugees from that country who, literally, treated him as one of their own when it was time for him to move. And then, too, it is the perfect bridge between the earliest records of butter and the ways it was made to today's modern factory settings.

And just what did Khosrova teach me?

1. There's a "slow butter" revolution going on as the demand for local goods and artisan products grows. Smaller, independent dairys are making butters that have all kinds of flavors other than that perfectly acceptable version we can buy every day. I'm on the prowl now to find places near me where butter making is a craft.

2. Oh, so much science! From the way in which a vegetarian animal manages to produce a product that is so full of fat to the reason butter is yellow but the cream it is made from is white; from the physics of making flavor to the science between margarine versus butter. Not since Henrietta Laks have I been so fascinated by science.

3. Butter has actually played a part in the history of a number of world religions. Seriously. Druids, Celtic pagans, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity all feature butter in rites, celebrations, and as a means for control of believers. The Catholic church's demand that its followers abstain from butter during fasts caused a far greater hardship on those in the north who didn't have ready access to the olive oil that those in the south did during the Middle Ages, resulting in a Queen begging for permission to eat butter.

4. "Because dairying was closely identified with female rites of fertility, birthing, and lactation, strong cultural taboos against men handling milk existed for centuries around the world, and so the business of butter making free up squarely on the shoulders of hearty pastoral women." And so, butter making became the first real money-making, important job that women did.

5. The evolution of butter making is truly an amazing story. From what was likely an accidental discovery, to dairymaids  (Marie Antoinette even had her own aristocratic dairy operation), to the industrial revolution (beginning with the cream separator), and the fall and rise again of butter, I was surprised to see what a big role butter played in history.

6. The battle between margarine and butter came about in no small part because of faulty research which claims a definite link between the fat of butter and heart disease. Unfortunately, the initial push to do away with butter was based on research from only seven countries. Seven. That original study entirely ignored the research available from fifteen other countries, including France and Holland, countries with a high consumption of dairy fat and low rates of heart disease. It also did not take into account any other possible reasons people with a high fat diet might also be more likely to suffer from heart disease. Soddy research like that gives science a bad name. And that lead to...

7. Laws. About butter and margarine and the color of both. How crazy is that?

8. And back to science - the actual science of how butter impacts other foods and what happens to foods that are baked with it. Which lead to...

The recipes. The reason I now have to pay for a book that I just read for free. Also, because I know so many other people who will want to read this book!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Life: It Goes On - November 27

Hoping you've all had a lovely holiday weekend! Did you celebrate with family or did you have a Friendsgiving? Do any Black Friday or Small Business Saturday shopping?

We've had something of an unusual Thanksgiving this year. Mini-me and Miss S couldn't make it down (first time I've ever had a holiday without one of my kids with us - I'm not a fan!), many of our nieces and nephews and their families couldn't be with us, and neither of The Big Guy's brothers made it back. Sure was quiet without the usual raucous crowds!

It was a beautiful day out yesterday, so BG has gotten the Christmas lights out; but I'm not quite ready to do the indoor decorating. Too many other things that needed to get done this weekend, including a fair amount of shopping and a  Gilmore Girls marathon.

  This Week I'm:

Listening To: Well, now that Thanksgiving is over, I did turn on the Christmas music radio channel...briefly. Then I decided it was too soon.

Watching: Miss H and I spent all of today devoted to watching the four new episodes of Gilmore Girls. Sure, it's only a total of three hours of programming, but first we had to make a grocery run for some of the foods we needed. Then there was a break to run to eat hamburgers and another break for pizza. If you're a Gilmore Girls fan, you know why.

Reading: Finishing Wally Lamb's latest, I'll Take You There tonight and I'm about done with all of the plays for the Classics Club spin. Then I'll probably start The Boys In The Boat for book club. Unless I have another book I need to read for review before then. I'll have to check later.

Making: My job for Thanksgiving was the salads (one was a salad that was nicknamed "purple goo" by an Australian friends thirty years ago and the other was the Granny Smith/Snickers salad). Today was chocolate chip cookies. Otherwise, lots of leftovers during the weekend.

Planning: Bringing up the Christmas decorations this week. Before that could happen, I wanted to get the giant file cabinet that was in my living room emptied and moved to the basement so the tree can go where it was at. It only took all day to find a home for everything that was in it so that it's still available if BG needs it. Now I know why we hadn't gotten that done yet!

Thinking About: All of the things that need to be done in the next few weeks!

Enjoying: Time with family, including Black Friday shopping. My niece couldn't be with us this year and it was here idea for us to hit Starbucks before we start shopping every year so we found a way to take her with us. BG and I also enjoyed downtown Omaha's holiday festivities last night, including some Small Business Saturday shopping. It was so nice out that families where taking advantage of the big outdoor slides on the mall.

Feeling: Sad to not have Mini-me and Miss S with us for Thanksgiving but happy to get to Face Time with them and seeing them so happy and enjoying making their own Thanksgiving (vegetarian) meal.

Looking forward to: Getting back to regular food. Oh sure, I did it to myself. But c'mon, if there are leftover sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, cranberries, you know you're going to keep eating it. But now my stomach is telling me that it wants to have yogurt or a salad or soup.

Question of the week: What are you most looking forward to doing in December?

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope that those of you in the U.S. are able to enjoy this day surrounded by family or friends, mindful of all we have to be thankful for on this and every day.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday - Thanksgiving Edition

This week is a Thanksgiving freebie, thanks to the ladies at The Broke and The Bookish. For me, that means a list of ten things I'm thankful for, a list that is only complicated by the fact that it's tough to narrow the list down to just ten things.

1. Family, of course. You all know how much I love my family - my kids, The Big Guy, my parents, my siblings, nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles, the whole growing crew.

2. Seeing my son so happy with his future wife. They really are perfect for each other.

3. How engaged my kids are in the world. They read, they listen, they get involved.

4. That I still have both of my parents. They are the bedrock of our family and while it is getting tougher for them physically, mentally they are both still alert and vital. I never forget that at my age, I'm very lucky.

5. Living in a country where I have a voice I'm allowed to use.

6. Peace and quiet when I can get it. I don't get a lot of it around my house because I live with two people that need constant noise and entertainment so when I get it, I bask in it. It's the best way for me to recharge.

7. Books and music which are so often refuges from the craziness of the world and the stuff going on in my head.

8. Champagne. C'mon. Is there any other drink that's sole purpose is to make people happy?

9. These cats we've inherited. They really are better medicine than anything the doctor could prescribe.

10. Inside jokes. Because they always remind me of fun times with people I enjoy. And because they always make me laugh.

What are you thankful for?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
Published September 2015 by Penguin Group
Source: bought about my library's book sale

Publisher's Summary: 
Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.

At age twenty-two, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love, and destined for greatness. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but with an electric thrill we understand that things are even more complicated and remarkable than they have seemed.

My Thoughts:

Fates: The story of a marriage as seen through the eyes of a man who has spent his entire life believing that fate plays a bigger part in his life than anything he does. So when Mathilde walks into a party one evening, Lotto, who has spent the past few years having sex with every woman he meets, drops to one knee and asks her to marry him without even knowing her name. Two weeks later they are married. Even though life is not always perfect, even though their marriage is not always perfect, Lotto clings to Mathilde, who spends her life caring for him, feeding his insatiable ego, and lifting him out of his depressions.

Furies: The story of that same marriage as seen through the eyes of Mathilde, whose life before Lotto explains a lot about her life with him.

The idea of telling the same story through two different points of view isn't a new one, but I'm not sure I've ever read it done better. I appreciated that Groff didn't try to give us a picture of the perfect little missus in Fates; Mathilde is enigmatic from the first time we meet her and there is a shell around her that no one seems to crack. In Furies, we learn why as Groff delves into Mathilde's past, fills in the gaps and answers questions. And damn! Those answers are...unexpected, to say the least. As much as I enjoyed Fates, I could not put the book down almost as soon as I started Furies.

Groff's characters are, almost without exception, flawed but incredibly real. You won't like them, necessarily, but you will feel for them. Her writing is marvelous and filled with mythology and Shakespeare and passion and betrayal, both broad and intimate. The book sometimes dragged when Groff got caught up in deep ideas. But that was rare and easily forgivable given how much I liked the rest of the book. And I really, really liked this book.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Life: It Goes On - November 20

Apparently it decided to be winter finally, huh? Not so much here (just cold and super windy but still all of the tires in my car suddenly decided they needed air so that's how I knew it was cold) as it was other places judging by the football games we watched and the news yesterday. Okay, so that's enough winter for me. Can it be spring yet?

This Week I'm: 

Listening To: Rachel Kushner's The Flamethrowers which is not exactly what I was expecting. I'm about a third of the way through it now with no idea where it's going. On Spotify, I'm listening to show tunes to take me to a happy place and during workouts I've listened to the Slate Book Club discussion of The Underground Railroad and some NPR Book topics.

Watching: Husker football, basketball, and volleyball. And the Gilmore Girls marathon on UP t.v. I didn't even know there was such a station until I was scanned the guide Friday and found it. Getting ready for the upcoming new episodes!

Reading: I finished Fates and Furies (review this week) and Elaine Khosrova's Butter. Today I'm starting Wally Lamb's latest, I'll Take You There. I did hit up the library's book sale on Thursday and came home with two hardcover books and five audiobooks and now I want to read all of them at the same time, right now.

Making: An oven full of baked potatoes got used three nights, once just as baked potatoes, once as fried potatoes, and once as twice baked potatoes. We paired those with the pork loin I made last weekend for two dinners. I also baked a pan of chicken legs, fried some apples, put together a gouda chicken pasta bake and baked shortbread cookies that I topped with salted caramel. There will be no pictures. You've all seen food before. And I didn't take any anyway. The point it, I actually cooked this week!

Planning: Black Friday shopping. Which I both look forward to and dread. One thing we will not be doing - shopping on Thanksgiving.

Thinking About: Grocery shopping. Miss H and I are headed out shortly to get things to pack our lunches with for the next couple of weeks. Healthy things that still taste good. And are easy to grab and go. Any suggestions will happily be accepted.

Enjoying: A weekend with nothing on the agenda, again. I've gotten so much done!

Feeling: Stressed. I've mocked up five different versions of our Christmas card and I cannot decide which one to use. These are the kinds of things that I stress over.

Looking forward to: Being with our families, although I'm so sad that Mini-me and Miss S will not be able to come this year. My first year without one of my kids with us.

Question of the week: What are you most thankful for this year?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

NonFiction November - Week 3 Book Pairing

This week the hosts of Nonfiction November are asking us to pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

This prompt has, for some reason, stumped me before but this year I looked at my favorite nonfiction reads for the year and immediately knew what pairing I could feature.

Katherine Boo's Behind The Beautiful Forevers was one of my favorite books this year, the true story of life in Mumbai's ghettos. It's an impressive read but I think I had a special attachment to it because it brought me back to one of my all-time favorite books, Thrity Umrigar's The Space Between Us, the story of Bhima, a slum dweller who has worked for twenty years in the home of Sera, a Parsi woman with a very conflicted relationship with Bhima.

For something that's a little tougher read (which I really enjoyed but it's a tough one for a lot of people) that also looks at life in Indian ghettos and the class battles, I might suggest Aravind Adiga's White Tiger. Much less likable characters but brutally realistic as well. I'd definitely recommend this one on audiobook.

What pairing would you recommend?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

NW by Zadie Smith

NW by Zadie Smith
Readers: Karen Bryson and Don Gilet
Published September 2012 by Penguin Group
Source: bought the audiobook at my local library sale

Publisher's Summary:
This is the story of a city.

The northwest corner of a city. Here you’ll find guests and hosts, those with power and those without it, people who live somewhere special and others who live nowhere at all. And many people in between...

Every city is like this. Cheek-by-jowl living. Separate worlds.

And then there are the visitations: the rare times a stranger crosses a threshold without permission or warning, causing a disruption in the whole system. Like the April afternoon a woman came to Leah Hanwell’s door, seeking help, disturbing the peace, forcing Leah out of her isolation…

Zadie Smith’s brilliant tragi-comic new novel follows four Londoners - Leah, Natalie, Felix and Nathan – as they try to make adult lives outside of Caldwell, the council estate of their childhood. From private houses to public parks, at work and at play, their London is a complicated place, as beautiful as it is brutal, where the thoroughfares hide the back alleys and taking the high road can sometimes lead you to a dead end.

My Thoughts:
If you've been reading my Sunday posts the past couple of weeks, you'll know that this book challenged me, in no small part because I was listening to it. Which is not to say that the readers did a poor job. On the contrary, they both did an excellent job. It's just that Smith has not written a traditional novel with NW and it requires a reader's full attention. Ron Charles, of the Washington Post, said of NW:
"At times, reading NW is like running past a fence, catching only strips of light from the scene on the other side. Smith makes no accommodation for the distracted reader—or even the reader who demands a clear itinerary."
I do nearly all of my book listening while I'm driving; I'm definitely a distracted reader. Eventually, though, as the characters became familiar to me, as I because used to the rhythm and style of Smith's writing, I began to feel like I was keeping up with the story. Even so, this is a book to hold in your hands to read...maybe as a read/listen combo because, seriously, in this dialogue heavy book, getting the accents really helped set the scene. Am I going in circles here?

When I finished this book, I assumed I was finished with it. I'd write my review, I'd donate the audiobook to charity and that would be that. But these characters are staying with me. The reasons for their actions continue to have me thinking. Were the things they did in part because of their impoverished background, were they products of their cultures? I'll probably still send my audiobook off into the world. But I might just pick up a print copy. Because Natalie, in particular, is really stuck in my head. And that's never a bad thing.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday - My Ten Favorite Movies That Make Me Cry

This week the ladies at The Broke and The Bookish have given us a movie freebie to make a list of whatever movie category we want to make. I've may have mentioned, once or twice, that books rarely make me cry, no matter how attached to the characters I've become. I may become a bit emotional, but tears aren't often a part of that.

Movies are a whole other thing. And, let's be honest, televisions shows and even commercials can have the same effect on me. Births, deaths, goodbyes - all teary moments for me. I blame my mom. Perhaps "blame" is not the right word. Because I'm not embarrassed by it; I own it proudly. Here, in no particular order, are ten movies that have made me cry. I'm only including here movies I've watched more than once that made me cry more than once. And two that made me so profoundly sad that I couldn't even cry.

1. Beaches - Bette Midler, Barbara Hershey. Best friends who care more deeply for each other than any man ever will. It makes me cry every. single. time.

2. Life Is Beautiful - World War II. A father who will go to any lengths to protect his son physically and from reality. A father who gives in own life to that end.

3. Stepmom - Susan Sarandon, Julia Roberts. If you're a mom, this one is tough on so many levels. But filled with love and laughter and a great dance scene. Sad without even including death.

4. Steel Magnolias - Julia Roberts again, this time as a daughter and a young mother. It made me cry before I became a mother myself. It makes me cry even harder now that I can truly understand what Sally Field's character is going through.

5. The Notebook - I know, I know, it's Nicholas Sparks and it's manipulative but I can't help myself. Don't we all long for such a deep love?

6. Glory - Denzel, Morgan Freeman, Matthew Broderick, Cary Elwes. The Civil War and one of the first black regiments. Spoiler alert - they literally all die at the end of this movie. Gah!

7. Sophie's Choice - Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline. If that choice Sophie has to make doesn't break you (and it does me, every time), the ending will.

8. Last of the Mohicans - Daniel Day Lewis. It's not the stars that make me cry in this one. It's poor Uncas and Alice. And that score. Maybe the best score in all of moviedom.

9. Legends of the Fall - Brad Pitt, Aidan Quinn, Anthony Hopkins, Julia Ormond. A beautifully shot movie about war, love, and family that is almost unceasingly sad.

10. My Life - Nicole Kidman, Michael Keaton. The. Saddest. Movie. Ever. Especially if you are a parent or have lost someone you love to cancer, it will be hard to watch as Keaton's character battles cancer.

And those two that are so hard to watch that I can't even cry?

*Hotel Rwanda - The true story of a man fighting to save lives during the Rwandan genocide. The whole movie is a tough watch but the point which really breaks me is a drive down in bumpy road in the fog. If you've seen it, you know what I mean.

*Schindler's List - When we saw this in the theater, it was several minutes after the credits ended before anyone got out of their seats. When they did, no one made a sound. The immensity of man's inhumanity is gut wrenching. The willingness to risk everything to fight that is incredible.

What movies make you cry every time you watch them?

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Life: It Goes On - November 13

At least I hope it does.

It's been a rough week, made that much tougher by some of my Facebook "friends" and coworkers. No one gets to tell me how I should feel about the outcome of the election, no one who has spent the past eight years being negative about the president gets to tell me I should embrace the president elect, and don't bother trying to tell me that the protesters have no reason to be protesting (although I abhor the violence that some of them have resorted to). They have every right to exercise their First Amendment rights as long as they do it peacefully. Fortunately, I've found some ways to start feeling like I'm making a difference, from a small thing like wearing a safety pin as a daily accessory to making contributions to causes that are important to me. And then I have to hope for the best. I'll get off my soap box now.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I finished NW Friday and started Rachel Kushner's The Flamethrowers. I ended up liking NW much better than I thought I might but would really commend it in print when you're better able to appreciate the writing even though the readers did a fine job.

Watching: The usual. I had the house to myself yesterday for nine hours and should have used it to catch up on some stuff on Netflix but opted for quiet instead.

Reading: I finally finished Fingersmith which I very much enjoyed despite it taking me so long to finish. I'm racing through Fates and Furies to finish it before my book club meets this week and then I'm back to Butter which I'm reading for both Nonfiction November and Fall Feasting. And for the simple fact that the title is Butter.

Making: Yesterday and slow cooked a pork loin then immediately started a hamburger vegetable soup while the crock pot was still hot and filled with the juices from the loin (I took a picture, but it really doesn't look as good as it smells or tastes). I'll freeze half the soup. I'm really trying to prep for the winter evenings.

Planning: Healthy lunches and snacks - Miss H and I will use today to shop and prep for healthy, easy lunch and snack options for this week. We've less than eight months to get ourselves wedding ready!

Thinking About: See above. Also, my book club's reading list for next year. I had fun with this year's them of Love and Learning so I'm pondering a theme for next year as well. Possibly Friends and Family or Females and Feminists.

Enjoying: Getting to meet Lisa of Books Lists Life! We've known each other for seven years or so through blogging and often talked about trying to get together sometime when she's traveling south but have never been able to make it work. So excited that we finally could! It was just like having lunch with someone I haven't seen in a while since we already know so much about each others lives.

Feeling: Also see about - shocked, sad, scared, angry. Working hard to get back to even keel without losing momentum to move forward.

Looking forward to: Book club this week. I skipped out on a happy hour with my girlfriends the other day because my mood was so vile so I am really ready for some girl time!

Question of the week: Have you ever been to The Container Store? We had one open recently which I've been avoiding like the plague because I'm a sucker for containers - baskets, bins, boxes, I need them all. I went the other day to pick up containers for Miss H and my lunches. Let's just say that it is dangerously close to my office.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Published 2002 by Virago Press
Source: this one is all mine
Short-listed in 2002 for the Man Booker Prize

Publisher's Summary:
Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a "baby farmer," who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves—fingersmiths—for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home.

One day, the most beloved thief of all arrives—Gentleman, an elegant con man, who carries with him an enticing proposition for Sue: If she wins a position as the maid to Maud Lilly, a naïve gentlewoman, and aids Gentleman in her seduction, then they will all share in Maud’s vast inheritance. Once the inheritance is secured, Maud will be disposed of—passed off as mad, and made to live out the rest of her days in a lunatic asylum.

With dreams of paying back the kindness of her adopted family, Sue agrees to the plan. Once in, however, Sue begins to pity her helpless mark and care for Maud Lilly in unexpected ways...

My Thoughts: 
A few years back I read Waters' The Little Stranger and loved its moodiness, unpredictable story lines, and creep factor. I was told then that this book was even better. I picked it up shortly afterward but have held onto it, anticipation building. I might have held onto it longer but I began to fear that it could never live up to the expectations I was building.

My fears were unfounded. Holy buckets, did I like this book. It's everything I love about Charles Dickens with touches of the Brontes. It is dark and atmospheric and filled with bad people who can't help but kind of care about...until they make you wonder why. And while Dickens may know how to throw in a surprise here and there, he's got nothing on Waters. Twisty stuff this, folks.

The plot is truly masterful - the further along I read, the more I wondered how Waters could have plotted it all out and kept it straight. The book opens and ends with Sue narrating but in the middle it's Maud's voice we hear as she gives readers her side of the story Sue has just unveiled. Waters takes it down to the tiniest detail in joined narratives - what was meant by a word, a glance, and action and how it was perceived. It forced me to burrow into the story, trying to remember, as I read Maud's story, what Sue had said about the same incidents.

Let's be serious, I wanted to burrow into the book. I only wish I had had bigger chunks of time to sit and read. Do yourself a favor. If you haven't already read this book and aren't squeamish (there is some violence), clear a weekend and fall under Waters' spell.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Top Ten Tuesdays - Ten Books I've Added To My TBR Lately

This week's prompt, from the ladies at The Broke and The Bookish, is a list of ten books I've added to my TBR list lately. Easy peasy, thanks to Litsy. Maybe too easy. It might be helpful when trying to imagine that someday I'll be able to read all of the books I want to read if I stopped adding books to that list faster than I can read them!

1. Provenance by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo - nonfiction about art fraud. Money, art, rich people getting taken.

2. Before the Feast by Sasa Stanisic - old stories, myths, and fairy tales have escaped from a village archive and are wandering among the people. Sounds odd, and quirky and foreign.

3. The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts by Laura Tillman - two parents kill their three small and in the aftermath the city wrestles with tearing down the building it happened in. Is there such a thing as an evil building?

4. Shrill by Lindy West - because it's seriously time to be reading some feminist work.

5. Evicted by Matthew Desmond - nonfiction book about poverty in America, specifically in Milwaukee, a city we've only recently discovered.

6. Picnic At Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay - in 1900, a class of young women go on an excursion deep in the Australian bush. Four girls and a teacher disappear. Mysteriousness!

7. Adnan's Story by Rabia Chaudry - the story of Adnan Syed whose murder conviction was the basis for the first season of the podcast Serial.

8. Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family by Mary S. Lovell - drama about a family who "took the twentieth century by storm."

9. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren - just one of the books about women and science that I've added to the TBR list in the past couple of months.

10. The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore - the battle to light the streets of our cities. The birth of electricity in our lives is seriously interesting stuff anyway you look at it.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Life: It Goes On - November 6

Hope you have all enjoyed another wonderfully warm and sunny fall week. Did those of you with kids all survive Halloween? There's a part of me that misses getting to craft costumes but the getting them into them, makeup and all, multiple times then schlepping them around the neighborhood I don't miss. You know what else I miss? Ghosts, and vampires, and all of the other kinds of costumes kids used to put on for Halloween. I don't even recognize what a lot of the kids are dressed as any more. Guess I'm turning into "that" grumpy old lady!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: NW still; I'm about two-thirds of the way through it now and enjoying it much more. Knocked out a couple of podcasts during workouts and on our trip I introduced The Big Guy to "Hamilton."

Watching: Baseball, football, and The Voice. The Cubs win made a lot of people in my family very happy so that made us happy.

Reading: Hoping to finish Fingersmith in the next day or so; not much reading time lately. Next up, for book club, is Lauren Groff's Fates and Furies.

Making: I froze three quarts of homemade tomato soup, two quarts of apple slices, five containers of apple butter and 1 quart of applesauce. I'm fired up to get some more soups made and frozen for the winter - love looking into my freezer and seeing so many things ready quick, delicious meals.

Planning: On doing a purge and sort of paperwork. Because, somehow the title to Mini-me's car has vanished from the file where we keep "very important papers" and he needs to get his car licensed in his new state. I can't tell you how little I'm looking forward to sorting through every single piece of paper in the house to find where it got filed by accident.

Thinking About: My bed. Two nights in a bed that's not ours, that's only a double, and two five hour drives in three days has me tired.

Enjoying: The weekend with family, getting to meet The Princess, have some of our favorite pizza, and enjoy a couple hours at one of my brother's and his wife's favorite vineyards (which blessed us with a magnificent sunset as we left).

Feeling: In love! I'm officially nicknaming my new great-niece The Princess because that little lady can bring a roomful of adults to a standstill to coo and ah over her. Miss H repeatedly threatened to tuck The Princess into her purse and bring her home (which gives me hope that Miss H might yet reconsider her statement that she is never going to have kids).

Looking forward to: A quiet week. Because that's how this introvert recharges her batteries.

Question of the week: I'm still looking for book club ideas for next year. What was the book you read this year that most made you want to talk about it with other people?

Friday, November 4, 2016

Five On Friday

It's November, it's Friday and it's in the upper 70's in Nebraska. Pretty damn excited about that! Here's what else I'm excited about (this is what happens when you haven't finished a book in more than a week and don't have any reviews to post!):

Baby Evie! We are planning on heading south when Miss H gets off work to meet the latest member of our family. I may have bought her a Husker outfit with a tutu! No pictures of her yet until I get her mom's and dad's permission to do so. After that, all bets are off.

The Serial Reader app. I'm breaking it in with a play, short stuff. But you can read Anna Karenina, if you're willing to take six months to read it. This app is great for people who "don't read" - surely everyone can find 7-10 minutes a day for reading!

I've used up all 20 lbs of the apples The Big Guy brought home last week, except a few we left out for eating. We've had fried apples a couple of times but most of them are now in the freezer in various incarnations. I'd feel like Martha Stewart but they aren't in pretty containers with cute labels and raffia bows. Although, everything is labeled. Because isn't is weird that once you put a container of something in the freezer, it no longer looks like anything you can recognize?

New trainers for my birthday. I never paid a lot for walking shoes or trainers and spent years thinking all walking shoes were heavy or uncomfortable. I'm not blaming that for my big butt, but it didn't help. A couple of years ago, I spent some money on a good pair of shoes and, more importantly, time to find shoes that really fit my feet. Ta-da! I finally understood what it meant to have a spring in your step. Then I wore them down on the inside but the outside was still in great shape so I didn't think I could justify new shoes. What was I waiting for! I'm ready to conquer the gym again!

The end of the baseball season. Don't get me wrong, I like baseball. But when the post-season hits, it's a battle between Miss H and BG every game as to who gets to have the big television. And I didn't really care who won (although I'm glad that so many of my family members are happy with the outcome) and I'm tired of hearing about how this series was "historic." Oops, didn't mean to end on a grumpy note. Sorry about that! 

What are you excited about this week?

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Nonfiction November - My Year In Nonfiction

Finally! The kick in the butt I need to pull out some nonfiction reads. It's not like I don't enjoy nonfiction but for some reason, I just don't seem to pull it out when I've got the chance to read whatever I want. I may just drag this thing into December once I get going because talking about my year in nonfiction won't take long at this point. Which is a disappointment.

I have read nine nonfiction books so far this year, which puts me just two books away from my original goal of 11-14. I'd much prefer to be at the high end of that or beyond by year end.

The bigger problem is that I've not been overly impressed with a lot of the books I've read. So far, I've only got three on my top books of the year: Finding Fontainebleau by Thad Carhart, How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran and Behind The Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo.

So, what to read to end the year on a high note, nonfiction-wise? First, I'll pull Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project off my nightstand and finish that. I might also try to get to her Happier At Home. Then I'll check out what's on my Nook. I'm thinking it's time to read another memoir, perhaps Mary Karr's Lit or Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Maybe a sports book - I'm thinking The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football. Or something historical like The Worst Hard Times: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dustbowl. Maybe something that will really grab me like Anne Perry and The Murder of The Century. I've got a book club book to read yet this month, a book for a review, and the plays for my Classics Club spin so I'm not sure how many more books I'll get read this month.

What was your favorite nonfiction read this year? Maybe that's the one I should be reading!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

West of Sunset by Stewart O'Nan

West of Sunset by Stewart O'Nan
Published January 2015 by Penguin Publishing Group
Audio: Blackstone Audio
Narrator: Christopher Lane

Publisher's Summary:
In 1937 F. Scott Fitzgerald was a troubled, uncertain man whose literary success was long over. In poor health, with his wife consigned to a mental asylum and his finances in ruins, he struggled to make a new start as a screenwriter in Hollywood. By December of 1940, he would be dead of a heart attack.

Those last three years of Fitzgerald’s life, often obscured by the legend of his earlier Jazz Age glamour, are the focus of Stewart O’Nan’s gorgeously and gracefully written novel. With flashbacks to key moments from Fitzgerald’s past, the story follows him as he arrives on the MGM lot, falls in love with brassy gossip columnist Sheilah Graham, begins work on The Last Tycoon, and tries to maintain a semblance of family life with the absent Zelda and daughter Scottie.

Fitzgerald’s orbit of literary fame and the golden age of Hollywood is brought vividly to life through the novel’s romantic cast of characters, from Dorothy Parker and Ernest Hemingway to Humphrey Bogart.

My Thoughts:
Dorothy Parker once said of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, "They did both look as though they had just stepped out of the sun; their youth was striking. Everyone wanted to meet him."

By 1937, though, not so much. Zelda's fragile mental health was a constant concern and Scott's books were out of vogue. No longer the golden boy, Scott was suddenly just like every other hack trying to make a living in Tinseltown. Albeit, one who had some pretty famous friends, including Ernest Hemingway, Marlene Dietrich, Humphrey Bogart and his wife Mayo Methel, and Dorothy Parker and her husband Alan Campbell.

Top: Sheilah Graham, Garden of Allah, Ernest Hemingway and Scott
Middle: Scott, Zelda and Scottie, Scott and Zelda, Scott and Scottie
Bottom: Hemingway and Marlene Dietrich, Mayo Methel and Humphrey Bogart, Alan Campbell and Dorothy Parker
There was so much to enjoy about West of Sunset. O'Nan is quickly becoming a favorite of mine and I'll definitely be pulling something else of his off the shelves soon. There's nothing fancy about his prose; he just "gets" what it takes to survive life's struggles.

Christopher Lane's narration was wonderful (my only little problem with it was his English woman's voice for Sheilah). I really wished I wasn't listening to it on disc so that I could have listened outside of my car; his tone and cadence are marvelous. I'll certainly be looking for more of his work.

O'Nan balances the glitz and glamour of life in Hollywood with Scott's daily efforts to fix terrible scripts, deal with flaky executives and the whims of the studios, and do right by the wife he is no longer in love with and the daughter he adores. Much of it comes from Fitzgerald's own letters and O'Nan did his best to work around the facts as they're known. Constraints like those can really hamper an author but O'Nan does a masterful job of getting into Fitzgerald's head and creating dialogue. And in creating empathy for man of whom it would have been easy to think "well, he got what he deserved after living the way he had lived."

Those paid reviewers had mixed opinions about this book when it came out last year. Maybe if I'd read it, it might have been easier to see who those who were less than impressed were seeing. I certainly didn't hear it. This one's going on my list of favorite audiobooks for the year.