Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day

Life: It Goes On - May 29

Ah, glorious four and a half day weekend! I've been so looking forward to this for so long. And now there's only one day left. And I haven't even gotten started on painting the guest room which was my Saturday project. I have checked off to-do's off my list. But you know how things always take longer than you think they will. I did, after all, spend 30 minutes deciding on just the right shade of white to paint that bedroom. That's normal, right?

The guys are at the beach
The Big Guy and Mini-him headed to Milwaukee Friday for a boys weekend with Mini-him, all of his attendants and a couple other of his closet life friends. Mini-him's been sending me lots of pictures and they look like they are having so much fun; I wish I were a fly on the wall to see my guys so happy.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: While I'm driving, still Ruby, which is such a tough read. These past few days, I'm enjoying the quiet of BG being gone.

Watching: Lots and lots of Grace and Frankie while I'm working on projects in the family room and quite a few episodes of The Mindy Project during the evenings when Miss H and I are hanging out. Also, while my dad, a huge fan of it, was here today, we watched the Indianapolis 500.

Reading: Victor LaValle's The Changeling has grabbed my interest, something that's been hard to do of late.

Making: Tuna salad, grilled burgers. Otherwise, Miss H and I have been eating a lot of takeout.

Planning: On getting on the ball and getting some painting done tomorrow. Hopefully, I'll get some of the other things on my list checked off as well.

Thinking About: Remember how last week I was feeling remarkably calm? Yeah, this week, I'm thinking about all of the things and I'm pretty sure I will never get it all done.

Enjoying: Some time with my sister before she moves. We went to the town my dad grew up in and put flowers on the graves, visited my mom's cousin, and stopped at the ice cream place my grandpa and grandma used to take us to when we were little. It was a good afternoon!

Feeling: Remember how last week I was feeling remarkably calm? Yeah, this week, not so much. Even with the long weekend. How can it only be 33 days to the wedding?!

Looking forward to: Next weekend, we're having a virtual bridal shower for Miss S. She can't get down here to have a real one so my sister and and sister-in-law have put together a Facebook Live shower. Party goods have been sent and food is being shipped so it will feel like a real shower. They are the best aunties!

Question of the week: I'm kind of a chihuahua and I'm trying to find ways to keep myself calm the week of the wedding (short of medication and alcohol!). What are your best tips for keeping calm?

Friday, May 26, 2017

The View From The Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman - Guest Review

The View From The Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman
Published May 2017 (reprint) by William Morrow Paperbacks
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
An enthralling collection of nonfiction essays on a myriad of topics—from art and artists to dreams, myths, and memories—observed in #1 New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman’s probing, amusing, and distinctive style.

An inquisitive observer, thoughtful commentator, and assiduous craftsman, Neil Gaiman has long been celebrated for the sharp intellect and startling imagination that informs his bestselling fiction. Now, The View from the Cheap Seats brings together for the first time ever more than sixty pieces of his outstanding nonfiction. Analytical yet playful, erudite yet accessible, this cornucopia explores a broad range of interests and topics, including (but not limited to): authors past and present; music; storytelling; comics; bookshops; travel; fairy tales; America; inspiration; libraries; ghosts; and the title piece, at turns touching and self-deprecating, which recounts the author’s experiences at the 2010 Academy Awards in Hollywood.

Insightful, incisive, witty, and wise, The View from the Cheap Seats explores the issues and subjects that matter most to Neil Gaiman—offering a glimpse into the head and heart of one of the most acclaimed, beloved, and influential artists of our time.

**I don't know what I said about this book when it arrived in the mail that made my husband decide it wanted to read this book. Whatever it was, it convinced him that he needed to read this book right away. I told him he could as long as he wrote a review. Now that he's finished, maybe I'll finally get to read it. In the meantime, here's his review.**

The Big Guy's Review:

Yes, this book caught my attention, not only by the look, but also because it has a large number of essays on a great variety of topics, which fits my attention deficit personality.  Evidently I have been living in a can as I was not that familiar with Neil Gaiman's work outside of Coraline, but I will now seek out some of his other stories.

This book provides one with a real insight into Neil's life, works, thoughts on literature, music, art, history and all of the good things in life.  He opens up about his childhood and how he had his nose in a book most of the time and was a ward of the librarians as he did not always have the funds for his habit and all of the authors and titles he would have liked to read.  I get the image of Neil as that egghead junior chicken on the Foghorn Leghorn cartoon.

In his formative years Neil explored deep recesses of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Graphic Novels (before they were called that) with many authors I am not familiar with and also plan to explore. I can really relate to the content of his genre choices as a youth as I was provided with many horror, fantasy and good choices of mainstream books from an intelligent brother, a few teachers and an old family friend as a teen.

Having written some in college and having too many excuses to not write now, I haven't written much in a long time. Gaiman's insights might just motivate me enough to start doing some short stories.  I think this book is an outstanding read, certainly for anyone interested in writing, but also for anyone interested in good literature, so I give it two thumbs and a big toe up.

Thanks for your review, BG! You always come at a book from a different angle than I would. For other opinions about The View From The Cheap Seats, check out the full TLC tour. Thanks to the ladies at TLC for including us on the tour!

Neil Gaiman is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Neverwhere, Stardust, American Gods, Coraline, Anansi Boys, The Graveyard Book, Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett), The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains; the Sandman series of graphic novels; and the story collections Smoke and Mirrors, Fragile Things, and Trigger Warning. He is the winner of numerous literary honors, including the Hugo, Bram Stoker, and World Fantasy awards, and the Newbery and Carnegie Medals. Originally from England, he now lives in the United States. He is Professor in the Arts at Bard College.

Find out more about Neil at his website, find all his books at his online bookstore, and follow him on Facebook, tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, and his blog.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

DNF: The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova
Published April 2017 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
A young American woman, Alexandra Boyd, has traveled to Sofia, Bulgaria, hoping that life abroad will salve the wounds left by the loss of her beloved brother. Soon after arriving in this elegant East European city, however, she helps an elderly couple into a taxi—and realizes too late that she has accidentally kept one of their bags. Inside she finds an ornately carved wooden box engraved with a name: Stoyan Lazarov. Raising the hinged lid, she discovers that she is holding an urn filled with human ashes.

As Alexandra sets out to locate the family and return this precious item, she will first have to uncover the secrets of a talented musician who was shattered by political oppression—and she will find out all too quickly that this knowledge is fraught with its own danger.

My Thoughts:
Before blogging, I read Kostova's debut novel, The Historian. Except for an ending that made me want to throw the book across the room, I thoroughly enjoyed that book. It was a wild ride combined with well-researched and well-written story. I was definitely looking forward to seeing what else Kostova had up her sleeve. But The Swan Thieves, Kostova's sophomore effort, left me flat. It lacked the adventure and pacing of The Historian that I was looking forward to.

The Shadow Land doesn't make that mistake; Kostova amps up the ride almost right from the start. That's exactly what I asked for, right? But you've got to buy into some pretty unlikely action and I didn't. I really did try to get past that, to allow Kostova to introduce me to Bulgaria, its past and its people. She's good at that and she convinced me to read nearly 200 pages while I tried to invest myself in the mystery at the heart of the story.

Considering the difficulty I've had falling into any book in the past few months, I might well have said to The Shadow Land "It's me, not you." That might well be true, even. Regardless, at that point, I couldn't muster the interest to keep reading. Given my reaction to this book and The Swan Thieves, it's likely that I'm through with Kostova. I doubt she'll miss me.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Life: It Goes On - May 21

You know what else goes on? The rain. I feel like I've been whining about the rain for weeks now! When we started planning the wedding, I wondered about ordering some handheld fans in case it was too hot. Now I'm wondering if we might need to order a lot of umbrellas and rain ponchos, in case it never stops being the rainy season!

I haven't necessarily been doing more reading lately, but I have been enjoying the reading more. Once the wedding is over, I may give myself permission to spend a week of evenings doing nothing but reading! I've been reading a lot of books with heavy themes - that week, maybe it'll be time for some chick lit, something light and fluffy.

My sister and her husband were up north for a couple of days so I got to spend some time with these two pups this week. They have a lot of energy so we played a lot of fetch and tug but they were missing their people so I got a lot of love, too.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Slate Audio Book Club's discussion about Lincoln In The Bardo and a couple of episodes of This American Life; Ruby is still breaking my heart on audiobook; and live jazz music Friday night at The Omaha Lounge which is located in an old shoe store and still has all of the original fixtures and lighting. We'll definitely be going back there for the music and the atmosphere.

Watching: Some Grace and Frankie, The Voice (although, once again, I have some issues with the people who made it to the finals), some baseball, CBS Sunday Morning.

Reading: I finished Miss Burma and Notorious RBG and started The H-Spot. I'm finding, lately, that as much as I've really enjoyed the fiction I've been reading, it's the nonfiction that has pulled me in.

Making: I can't actually recall what we ate this week, except homemade mac and cheese with mushrooms and bacon.

Planning: Yeah, you already know the answer to this one. We did go and get the catering order finalized yesterday. The kids are having Mexican food and the place we're using is nothing fancy but the food is sooooo good!

Thinking About: How few days it is now until I get to see my kids again!

Enjoying: Lots of time with friends this weekend. Friday night we celebrated the birthday of the woman who introduced me to The Big Guy with a fabulous dinner then drinks and live music. Last night we had cocktails with friends at our favorite place in our "neighborhood." We knew that place was closing but were surprised to find out they had decided last night was their last night. Had to get in one last time!

Feeling: Surprisingly calm. For now.

Looking forward to: A four day weekend with the house to myself. BG is headed to Milwaukee with Mini-him for a bachelor's weekend. I've got a to of stuff planned to do but I'm giving myself one day to just sit.

Question of the week: Looking for recommendations for books I should read that week after the wedding when I won't be wanting to think to much.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik
Published: October 2015 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: bought for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg never asked for fame—she has only tried to make the world a little better and a little freer.

But nearly a half-century into her career, something funny happened to the octogenarian: she won the internet. Across America, people who weren’t even born when Ginsburg first made her name as a feminist pioneer are tattooing themselves with her face, setting her famously searing dissents to music, and making viral videos in tribute.

Notorious RBG, inspired by the Tumblr that amused the Justice herself and brought to you by its founder and an award-winning feminist journalist, is more than just a love letter. It draws on intimate access to Ginsburg's family members, close friends, colleagues, and clerks, as well an interview with the Justice herself. An original hybrid of reported narrative, annotated dissents, rare archival photos and documents, and illustrations, the book tells a never-before-told story of an unusual and transformative woman who transcends generational divides. As the country struggles with the unfinished business of gender equality and civil rights, Ginsburg stands as a testament to how far we can come with a little chutzpah.

My Thoughts:
I have been wanting to read this book since before it was published, something like two years now. I may actually have developed the entire theme of my bookclub for the year as an excuse to make sure I found time for it (Family, Friendship, and Feminism).

This book grew out of the Tumbr account, NotoriousRBG; it grew out of...oh here, I'll let them tell you:
'This Tumblr began in tribute to Justice Ginsburg’s fierce dissent in a voting rights case, in which she acknowledged the long history, and continuing reality, of racial discrimination in this country. As she has said in another dissent, “The stain of generations of racial oppression is still visible in our society and the determination to hasten its removal remains vital.”"
I've been aware of Ruth Bader Ginsburg only about as long as most other people my age, that is to say since she was named as a Supreme Court Justice. Which is also to say that I must have been living with my head under a rock. Much of what makes Bader Ginsburg so beloved now, in addition to her fierce dissents to majority opinions of the Court, is her tiny stature and her, shall we say, advanced age. But those in the know have long known that this woman has been fighting hard for the rights of women (and, she would be quick to point out, for all people) for a very, very long time. Really, most of her life, first as a student fighting to get into law school, then to get every job she's ever had, and then on nearly every job she's ever had.

As for the book itself, the opening chapter, "Notorious," threw me a bit. I felt like we were beginning at the ending and I couldn't quite figure out where it went from there. And it did bug me quite a lot that the authors referred to Bader Ginsburg throughout the entire book as "RBG." Only RBG, never by Ruth or Bader Ginsburg or whatever nicknames for her her friends may use.

But the authors have clearly spent a great deal of time with the Justice, herself, as well as with her family members and those who know her best. Readers come away from the book feeling very much as if they know the woman who was known in her youth as Kiki. We learn about the great influences of her life, the great love of her life, the great achievements of her life. We also learn that Bader Ginsburg is a terrible cook, is as passionate about working out daily as she is about opera, and counted Antonin Scalia as a close friend. It's  clear from her body of work that Bader Ginsburg is also passionate equality of all people and incredibly devoted to her work.

Unbiased the book is not. But I think the title alone is fair warning that the authors are fans. RBG's legion of fans are surely more than happy with the book. I already knew RBG was a woman to be admired and a feminist icon. Now I'm certain that the woman is a national treasure.

Kate McKinnon is clearly another great fan!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Life: It Goes On - May 11

Happy Mother's Day to all of the mothers out there and those who have been like a mother to a child who needed one! We went to Lincoln yesterday to have lunch with my mom and dad to celebrate with her. Getting out of the house for a few hours is the best way for me to really relax so in a little bit Miss H and I will head off to a college baseball game to celebrate. Later Mini-him will come over for steak dinner. Wish my other two could be with us!

Realized the other day that the end of my five years for Classics Club was fast approaching and it was clear I wasn't going to get through the fifty classics I'd planned to get read in that period. I thought about leaving that page up on the blog as a reminder to get to those remaining books. Instead, I deleted the page. Who needs that constant reminder of failure when it was an entirely arbitrary goal? Sure, I should probably be reading more classics, especially since I already own them; but I'd much rather be reading what I want to read when I want to read it.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Ruby by Cynthia Bond, read by Ms. Bond. I cannot believe this is Ms. Bond's first novel and I'm already aware that I am going to have a hard time putting into words how I feel about this book when it comes time to review it.
Saturday evening dinner time

Watching: The evening sky from the terrace of my brother-in-law's condo while we ate dinner on a beautiful Saturday night.

Reading: Still working my way through Miss Burma. Like Ruby, it's a tough read. I'll set it aside today to read this month's book club choice, Notorious RBG.

Making: A strawberry/rhubarb crisp with my first harvest of rhubarb for my dad and a peach crisp for my mom.

Planning: 45 days to go! I can't believe the wedding is only six weeks from now! I'm so looking forward to it but also a bit nervous that I won't be able to enjoy it because the control freak in me always has a hard time relaxing and letting things just be what they'll be.

Thinking About: My happiness project - I realized the other day that I'd completely let it slip by the wayside all of April and into May. I'm still going to work on the goals I'd set for May which is all about finding a contented heart.

Enjoying: Book mail! Best part of the books that arrived this week is that they came on my half day so they made their way into my office without The Big Guy seeing them. Thus, I avoided the "do you really need any more books?" question! I'm very excited about these books - so many have been on my wish list for years.

Feeling: Guilty about what a terrible blogger, and even more a terrible blog reader, I've become. I did have to resign myself to that continuing until after the wedding.

Looking forward to: Dinner with some of our oldest friends this coming weekend; they're coming to town to celebrate her birthday.

Question of the week: Summer is fast approaching - do you have any big plans for the summer?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger

The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger
Published May 2012 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Read by Mozhan Marno
Source: purchased audiobook at my local library sale

Publisher's Summary:
Amina Mazid is twenty-four when she moves from Bangladesh to Rochester, New York, for love. A hundred years ago, Amina would have been called a mail-order bride. But this is the twenty-first century: she is wooed by—and woos—George Stillman online.

For Amina, George offers a chance for a new life for her and her parents, as well as a different kind of happiness than she might find back home. For George, Amina is a woman who doesn't play games. But each of them is hiding something: someone from the past they thought they could leave behind. It is only when Amina returns to Bangladesh that she and George find out if their secrets will tear them apart, or if they can build a future together.

My Thoughts:
Of The Newlyweds Ann Patchett said "Every minute I was away from this book I was longing to be back in the world she created." You all well know how I feel about Ann Patchett; when I grow up, I want to be Ann Patchett. So I feel like I missed something in this book when I say that I have very mixed feelings about it.

What I Liked:
Mozhan Marno's reading: Although she is American-born she perfectly captures the accents and speech patterns (well, at least I think she does - it sounded great to me) and manages quite a number of characters, each with a distinct voice.

Learning more about Bangladesh and it's culture: Four years ago, I read and very much enjoyed Tahmima Anam's A Golden Age about Bangladesh's war for independence from Pakistan. I referenced there the Concert for Bangladesh (George Harrison's and Ravi Shankar's first ever benefit concert). I got a kick, here, of hearing a character refer to that concert when he joked that he had been to Bangladesh, anyway to the Concert for Bangladesh. Like that character, that concert was my first awareness of this country and its very complicated history. Set where it is, much of the culture is similar to that of India and Pakistan. But for the Mazid family, their Islamic religion and village home add an entirely new layer to my understanding of the region. A good part of the book is set in Bangladesh which allowed me to learn about life for villagers, life in the city, and the complications when long traditions run into modern ways.

The way Freudenberger wealth with the Muslim religion: This book is set post-9/11 so Amina's Muslim religion plays a role in her relationship with George, what her family expects of her, and comes into play in the story of another character. But it never hijacks the story; it simply serves as another way to demonstrate the difficulties that relationships such as George's and Amina's face.

Seeing marriage through these characters' eyes: The publisher's summary says that Amina moved to America for love. But she didn't, not really. Their relationship begins more as a way to heal from other relationships but it's not like the usual rebound love kind of story. Amina likes George well enough but it's more about the opportunity to make a better life for her parents. And George likes Amina well enough. But because of the way that they met, because of the secrets that they are both keeping, and because of their very different backgrounds, there are well more than the usual number of adjustments that have to be made. Mostly by Amina who necessarily has to adjust to living in another country.

What I Didn't Like:
George's cousin: Kim plays a big role in the story but I just didn't care for her and couldn't understand the attraction that any of the characters had for her.

George, for that matter: Seriously, this guy seems like he's trying to be accommodating but he really doesn't make any changes in his life other than the occasional ride for Amina and learning to enjoy her cooking. How, I wondered, had he given the impression that he was someone she could learn to love and spend the rest of her life with?

Too much thinking: Sometimes it felt like we were spending much too much time in Amina's head, rehashing the same thoughts over and over.

I can't help but wonder, despite Marno's excellent reading, if I wouldn't have like this book more if I had read it rather than listened to it, if I had spent more than a couple of 25 minute blocks a day "reading" it.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
Published April 2005 by Simon and Schuster
Source: bought this one

Publisher's Summary:
From Buffalo to Alaska, Washington to the Dry Tortugas, Vowell visits locations immortalized and influenced by the spilling of politically important blood, reporting as she goes with her trademark blend of wisecracking humor, remarkable honesty, and thought-provoking criticism. We learn about the jinx that was Robert Todd Lincoln (present at the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley) and witness the politicking that went into the making of the Lincoln Memorial. The resulting narrative is much more than an entertaining and informative travelogue -- it is the disturbing and fascinating story of how American death has been manipulated by popular culture, including literature, architecture, sculpture, and -- the author's favorite -- historical tourism. Though the themes of loss and violence are explored and we make detours to see how the Republican Party became the Republican Party, there are all kinds of lighter diversions along the way into the lives of the three presidents and their assassins, including mummies, show tunes, mean-spirited totem poles, and a nineteenth-century biblical sex cult.

My Thoughts:
Having heard Sarah Vowell on NPR many times, I no longer need to listen to her books on audiobook; I read her books in her voice in my head. You have to. Really. They are so much funnier when you do. Which is not to say they aren't funny to begin with because they are so much fun and so snarky. Which is a rare thing in a book about history.

Sarah Vowell does not drive. Which means her fans owe her friends and family a debt of gratitude. Here, she's dragged them all over to sites related to Lincoln, James Garfield, and William McKinley and the men who killed them. I'd have been happy just to learn what I learned about Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth and all of the amazing coincidences that intertwined the two families or the way Teddy Roosevelt rose to the presidency because of McKinley's death. But in both of those cases, it was more a matter of filling in what I already knew. With Garfield, though, it was nearly all new to me. It shouldn't surprise anyone, considering the times he lived in, to know that Garfield might well have survived his assassin had doctors not repeatedly thought it was a good idea to stick their dirty fingers into his wound.

No one has ever said that Sarah Vowell's books are boring. Nor has it ever been said of them that they are without bias. Assassination Vacation is no exception. Which was just fine with me; she and I largely agree politically. If, on the other hand, you tend to lean right, you may not enjoy her writing as much. Still, Vowell is more than willing to take shots at all politicians. Except Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln she loves.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Conception And The Baby Brokers by Deborah Clearman

Concepcion And The Baby Brokers by Deborah Clearman
Published Marcy 2017 by Rain Mountain Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
In nine thematically linked stories set largely in Guatemala, ConcepciĆ³n and the Baby Brokers brings to life characters struggling with universal emotions and dilemmas in a place unfamiliar to most Americans. From the close-knit community of Todos Santos to the teeming danger of Guatemala City, to a meat-packing plant in Michigan and the gardens of Washington DC, Deborah Clearman shows us the human cost of international adoption, drug trafficking, and immigration.

A Cup of Tears, the opening novella, reveals a third-world baby farm, seen through the eyes of a desperate wet nurse, a baby broker, and an American adoptive mother. In “The Race” a young man returns to his native village to ride in a disastrous horse race. “English Lessons” tells of a Guatemalan immigrant in Washington DC who learns more than English from a public library volunteer. A teenage girl tries to trap her professor into marriage in “Saints and Sinners.”

With searing humanity, Clearman exposes the consequences of American exceptionalism, and the daily magic and peril that inform and shape ordinary lives.

My Thoughts:
When you're struggling through a reading slump, it's tempting, very tempting, to stick to books that seem like they can't miss. Oh heck, it's often tempting to do that. But TLC is always offering me books that are, as I called them the other day, "take a chance" books. And I'm hard pressed to turn those books away because I know that this blog owes some of what it is to the authors and publishers that were willing to give me books early on. From them I learned that small publishers are just as likely to have wonderful authors and unique and marvelous books as the big guys. In Concepcion And The Baby Brokers and Deborah Clearman, Rain Mountain Press has a wonderful author and a unique and marvelous book.

Guatemala can feel, like all of the countries of Central America except Mexico, a bit like a lost country. I've never read any book set there. Or for that matter, any book about anyone from there, that I can recall. Clearman opens readers eyes to life throughout Guatemala, especially village life - especially the poverty that drives so many to seek a better life in the north.

All of the stories are strong but my favorites were the three that made up the opening novella. In a story where we expect to find "bad" guys, Clearman reminds readers that people have lives we know nothing about and we shouldn't be so quick to judge. And that, sometimes, people do the right thing, even when it's incredibly painful. Clearman's writing it not showy but she does does paint vivid pictures of the land, the clothing, and the food of the countryside. Most importantly, she helps readers understand the people of the region and it's always good to try to understand other cultures.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour and to my friends for always putting books into my hands that they know will push my buttons. For other opinions, check out the full tour.

About Deborah Clearman 

Deborah Clearman is the author of a novel Todos Santos, from Black Lawrence Press. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals. She is the former Program Director for NY Writers Coalition, and she teaches creative writing in such nontraditional venues as senior centers, public housing projects, and the jail for women on Rikers Island. She lives in New York City and Guatemala.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Life: It Goes On - May 7

Sunshine and warm temps = a very happy Lisa this week. It meant I got to do lots of productive and fun things. Which also meant I didn't get a whole lot of reading done this week which is disappointing because I have some really good books going right now.

By the end of today, we'll have all of our planting done. I spent most of my half day at nurseries and planting. With the wedding coming up, I wanted lots of color in my yard so I planted about a half dozen more pots than I usually do. The first thing I planted was a pot to go into the planter that Miss S's mom gave us last year when she visited; it ties that happy weekend celebrating the engagement with the upcoming nuptials.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'll be finishing The Newlyweds in the next couple of days. The wife in this book is from Bangladesh and I'm learning a lot about that country, which I'm enjoying quite a lot. Next up is Cynthia Bond's Ruby. Andi, of Estella's Revenge, convinced me to read this one after she wrote this review.  It could definitely make for some emotional drives home from work.

Watching: The Voice (some really impressive talent this season), we finished the most recent season of Longmire (wow-cliffhangers abound!), and I started watching Grace and Frankie. I'm sure hoping that The Big Guy will spend plenty of time away from the house so I can watch more of that. It is so well done - funny and touching.

Reading: Miss Burma, which is so good and, like The Newlyweds, I'm learning so much about another country. Speaking of reading, while I was downtown yesterday for the season's first Farmer's Market, I got some time to prowl through my favorite used book store. Although, it does make me a little claustrophobic - it's a bit like a hoarder opened a book store.

Making: Chicken alfredo dip for food days at work, a new recipe for black bean and corn salad, and blonde brownies with M & M's (the recipe made a 9x13 pan - I'd say they were a hit because just six people polished off the entire pan!).

Planning: This week has a fairly empty calendar. Although, last Sunday the calendar looked pretty clear and I ended up out and about quite a lot. Anyhoose, the plan is for the week to be spent working on the house, doing those things that I've wanted to get done but just haven't gotten around to. Like taking down valances in the dining room and picking up new sheets for one of the guest room beds.

Thinking About: You know me by now so you'll already know that I'm thinking about logistics. What still needs to be done, making lists so nothing falls through the cracks, wondering how we're going to make it all happen smoothly. Miss H admitted the other night that she's looking forward to getting out of town the week after the wedding in no small part because she'll need a break from the crazy person (that would be me) she's had to live with in the days leading up to the wedding.

Enjoying: Spur of the moment got to go watch our great-niece at her track meet and wish her a happy birthday, Star Wars night at the baseball park with friends, and dinner on my sister's patio with her brother-in-law and his wife. It was a good week!

Feeling: Like I should be doing something more productive. But I was a busy girl yesterday and I'm feeling a little slow today.

Looking forward to: Right at this moment, I'm just trying to live in the present.

Question of the week: If you garden, what's the one thing you absolutely must plant every year?

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
Published April 2017 by Random House Publishing
Source: my copy courtesy through the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Anything Is Possible explores the whole range of human emotion through the intimate dramas of people struggling to understand themselves and others.

Here are two sisters: One trades self-respect for a wealthy husband while the other finds in the pages of a book a kindred spirit who changes her life. The janitor at the local school has his faith tested in an encounter with an isolated man he has come to help; a grown daughter longs for mother love even as she comes to accept her mother’s happiness in a foreign country; and the adult Lucy Barton (the heroine of My Name Is Lucy Barton, the author’s celebrated New York Times bestseller) returns to visit her siblings after seventeen years of absence.

My Thoughts:
So it's a book by Elizabeth Strout. I'm reading it and I don't even need to read a summary to know that. Which means I went into this book with absolutely no clue what it was. Which is often a good thing. In this case, it was a bit of a jolt when I started reading and, all of a sudden Lucy Barton was in the story. And by a bit of a jolt, I mean I wasn't sure at all that I liked it. I wondered if Strout had decided to take an easy out and just use some leftover material.

But, wait. What if Lucy's hometown of Amgash has stayed with her and she wanted to visit the people in that town more closely? Or, is she just brilliant and planned it all along? I don't know. I just know that it didn't take me very long to get over my initial hesitation.

There is nothing flashy about Strout's writing. There are no gripping plots nor literary gymnasts (ala Michael Chabon). Instead, not a word is wasted in these quiet stories of people in pain, people hiding secrets.

Charlie McCauley, for example, who has fallen out of love with his wife:
"The very stuff that would make him roll his eyes now - her utter foolishness, the useless, nauseating softness that lay at the center of her - had thrilled him quietly that day with a rush of love and protectiveness as the autumn smell of earth filled him, kneeling there with the trowel."
Despite her economy of words, Strout still paints vivid pictures.
"Panic, like a large minnow darting upstream, moved back and forth inside him. He was suddenly as homesick as a child sent to stay with relatives: when the furniture seemed large and dark and strange, and the smell peculiar, each detail assaultive with a differentness that was almost unbearable. I want to go home, he thought."
This is how you write damaged characters. And this is how you treat them with compassion,  without glossing over their flaws. Every person has a story. Elizabeth Strout is brilliant in the way she tells those stories.

Monday, May 1, 2017

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante and Mama Shepp's Family Recommends

December 21, 2013 - why, yes, that's when Rhody aunt wrote recommending author Elena Ferrante. She had just finished My Brilliant Friend, which she "adored" and recommended to our family's female readers. She was off to check out the rest of the books in the series as well as Ferrante's previous books, including Days of Abandonment. I made a note of the recommendation because she recommended it and because it definitely sounded like a book I'd enjoy. And then I forgot about it, so much so that even when it seemed like every blogger was talking about the Neapolitan novels, I didn't recall the recommendation at all. Until, thanks to 40 Bags In 40 Days, I was cleaning out my email account and found the recommendation and decided it was time to read Ferrante.

My Brilliant Friend (Neopolitan Novels #1) by Elena Ferrante
Published September 2012 by Europa
Source: bought it for book club

Publisher's Summary:
Beginning in the 1950s in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples, Ferrante’s four-volume story spans almost sixty years, as its protagonists, the fiery and unforgettable Lila, and the bookish narrator, Elena, become women, wives, mothers, and leaders, all the while maintaining a complex and at times conflictual friendship. Book one in the series follows Lila and Elena from their first fateful meeting as ten-year-olds through their school years and adolescence.

Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists.

My Thoughts:
Okay, let me just say up front that some people may tell you that this book could be read as a stand alone book. Don't listen to them. Yes, there is something of an ending to this book. But it's also clear that it's merely the end of a chapter in the lives of Lenu and Lila and that things are going to get very interesting in the next novel.

Also, this book series has possibly got the worst covers. They are one of the reasons I didn't pick up these books sooner. Because, it turns out, I do judge books by their covers, no matter how many people recommend the book, apparently.

As it turns out, I should have listened to my aunt three years ago.

I liked this book. A lot. Ferrante makes the neighborhood come alive - the relationships between its denizens, the violence of their lives - but she also makes readers feel the insularity of the neighborhood. It's easy to forget the characters live in Naples and not a small village.
"I feel no nostalgia for our childhood: it was full of violence. Every sort of thing happened, at home and outside, every day, but I don't recall having ever thought that the life we had there was particularly bad. Life was like that, that's all, we grew up with the duty to make it difficult for others before they made it difficult for us...The women fought among themselves more than the men, they pulled each other's hair, they hurt each other. To cause pain was a disease."
I loved the relationship between Elena and Lila. Elena, who's telling us her story, struggles with her relationship with Lila. There is so much about Lila that Elena admires but often to the point that she becomes jealous of it. It's sometimes hard to tell if the girls are even still friends.
"I felt grieved at the waste, because I was compelled to go away, because she preferred the adventure of the shoes to our conversation, because she knew how to be autonomous whereas I needed her, because she had her things that I couldn't be a part of...because, in short, she would feel that I was less and less necessary."
We know from the beginning, as Elena looks back on their relationship, that it will remain rocky. Yet, the two seem to have a bond that cannot be broken. I can't wait to read the next book to see what life has in two for these girls and how their relationship will continue to influence their lives.