Thursday, August 31, 2017

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic - Quick Reads

What makes a book a "quick read?"

A recent Litsy daily prompt got me thinking about what it is that makes a book a quick read. If you look at Listopia, on Goodreads, there are any number of lists under "Quick Reads," including "Short and Sweet," "Books I Read in 24 Hours," and "Books Under 250 Pages."

Does a book's length necessarily make it a quick read? Or does "quick read" just mean a book that nasty to read quickly, no matter the length? Or does it mean a book you read quickly because you just could not put it down, whether that be because it was so beautifully written or it was so suspenseful or it just spoke to you in that moment?

Another Brooklyn, by Jacqueline Woodson, for example, is a short book with lots of white space. A quick read, right? But it's a book that really shouldn't be rushed. Beth Hoffman's Looking for Me is more than 350 pages long but I raced through that book in one day; it was one of those "right books at the right time" situations.

Should there be a modifier attached to the phrase "quick read?" As in, Stephen King's Under The Dome was a quick read for me...for a book of more than 1000 pages. When I finally tackle Anna Karenina, which is almost 200 pages shorter, I doubt very much that I will find that a quick read!

Do you ever find yourself scanning your bookshelves especially hunting for something that will be a quick read?  My mood of late, and my long reading slump, has really had me searching my shelves for books that won't make me think too hard and won't take too long. So while I'm really wanting to pick up Game of Thrones and start that series, I'm leery. Perhaps, like Under The Dome, that big book will be  quick read. But just keeping the characters straight may take more brain power than I'm able to summon.

So, for right now, I'm sticking to books that are, for the most part, under 300 pages. Because even if, like Jamie Ford's latest, Love and Other Consolation Prizes, they are beautifully written and books I want to swim in, they are still, relatively speaking, quick reads. And I'm ok with that for now.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Breakdown by B. A. Paris

The Breakdown by B. A. Paris
Published July 2017 by St. Martin's Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
If you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust?

Cass is having a hard time since the night she saw the car in the woods, on the winding rural road, in the middle of a downpour, with the woman sitting inside—the woman who was killed. She’s been trying to put the crime out of her mind; what could she have done, really? It’s a dangerous road to be on in the middle of a storm. Her husband would be furious if he knew she’d broken her promise not to take that shortcut home. And she probably would only have been hurt herself if she’d stopped.

But since then, she’s been forgetting every little thing: where she left the car, if she took her pills, the alarm code, why she ordered a pram when she doesn’t have a baby.

The only thing she can’t forget is that woman, the woman she might have saved, and the terrible nagging guilt.

Or the silent calls she’s receiving, or the feeling that someone’s watching her…

My Thoughts:
I accepted this book for review before I'd read Paris' debut, Behind Closed Doors. It was getting rave reviews so I thought I'd take a chance on this one. Then I read Behind Closed Doors and we all know how that turned out. I was more than a little concerned about picking this one up. But it did seem like just the right kind of book for the reading mood I was in so I decided to give it a shot. I read it in 48 hours over a very busy weekend. Which is not to say it's a perfect book; it isn't. But it was the perfect book for me right now.

Did Cass' deteriorating mental state happen a little too quickly and a little too conveniently? Perhaps. But I could well imagine the guilt I'd be feeling in Cass' place and Paris has a plausible backstory that makes it all the more believable. Did Paris keep me in the dark until the end? Not entirely. I had a suspicion pretty early on who done it and, to some extent, even why. But I wasn't certain and I had no idea how. And that only answered part of the mystery. There are plenty of red herrings and I bit on all of them. And the device used to launch the resolution is a little unbelievable. But I didn't care by that point; I was willing to go along for the ride.

Occasionally, the book felt like it dragged a bit but short chapters kept me reading and the last 65 pages raced along. One reviewer called The Breakdown a "beach read." That sounds about right - not overly dark, nothing that's going to stay with you when you've finished it, and just enough tension to keep readers turning pages. But, like most beach reads, you have a pretty good idea, even if you don't know how, that things will be fine at the end. Which is just what I need right now in a book.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Woman In Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

The Woman In Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
Published July 2016 by Gallery/Scout Press
Source: bought on Amazon Prime Day - I couldn't help myself that day!

Publisher's Summary:
Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. The sky is clear, the waters calm, and the veneered, select guests jovial as the exclusive cruise ship, the Aurora, begins her voyage in the picturesque North Sea. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a dark and terrifying nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong…

My Thoughts:
Once I picked this book up, I found excuses to read every chance I got. I haven't been doing that in months. Was it just a case of the right book at the right time or is this really that good a book? Both, I think.

Before arriving on board the Aurora, Lo's had a break in at her apartment that leaves her unable to sleep. So desperate is she for sleep that she's taken to medicating herself with liquor just to get a couple of hours of it. Sleep deprived and often drunk or hungover, Lo is something of an unreliable narrator. I do love an unreliable narrator done right and Ware does it right. The boat is not that big; everyone on board is accounted for and there is no record that there was ever a woman in Cabin 10. And Lo had been drinking heavily the night before. Lo is the perfect blend of fragile and fierce. She is terrified, certain that her life is in danger; but she is not about to back down in the face of the gaslighting she is subjected to when she presses the issue. Which also makes this a very timely book.

The book is filled with twists, turns, and tension. Ware throws out red herrings you can't help but bite on; even that early break in threw me for a long time, certain that it was connected. Clue are found only to have them disappear. At one point I had an inkling where the story might go and, to an extent, I was right. Except that I really wasn't and the truth completely took me by surprise. The ending was, perhaps, a bit too tidy but also satisfying, and easy enough to forgive after the claustrophobic ride Ware had just taken me on.

If you're looking for a book to lose yourself in for a couple of days (or, like me, to stay up way too late reading), I definitely recommend The Woman In Cabin 10. Now to find my copy of Ware's debut novel, In A Dark, Dark Wood.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Life: It Goes On - August 27

One more shot of the lake, then it's probably time to acknowledge that summer it over since next weekend if Labor Day. The calendar may say it's still summer for three more weeks but once we come to Labor Day and school has started everywhere, it's time to acknowledge that fall has arrived. We've had an unseasonably cool and wet August which has helped ease me into the idea of autumn arriving but I'm not ready for pumpkin lattes just yet!

I wish you could see how great these pics really look!
I've spent a lot of time running around this week and doing some minor redecorating. Some new photos from my brother ( for Miss H's bathroom meant his photos that were already in there moved to the family room. Of course, that meant that everything else got moved around some. I love how changing up the artwork gives a room a whole new feel.

This Week I'm: 

Listening To: Stuff You Should Know, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, Stuff You Missed In History Class. There are so many interesting podcasts but I can't keep up with what I'm already downloading. Didn't stop me from subscribing to a new Book Riot podcast, Annotated.

Watching: This morning, Flea Market Flip but we cannot wait until tonight's season finale of Game of Thrones!

Reading: Jamie Ford's (Hotel On The Corner of Bitter and Sweet) latest novel, Love And Other Consolation Prizes. Ford stays true to his roots, once again exploring the Seattle area and the experience of Asian immigrants. And I'm pretty sure I'll be crying before I finish the book.

Making: Big changes in Miss H's bathroom! I've got a beautiful new shower curtain, new towels, and new decor. Today I'm painting. I can't wait to see it all pulled together!

Planning: A trip to Milwaukee next weekend!

Thinking About: Ways to make myself focus on the present - as in, enjoy autumn and not worry about coming winter.

Enjoying: Curling! People, I tell you, I was in heaven last night watching teams from four countries curl. I've only experienced curling in the Olympics; I had no idea there were two-person curling teams. We saw some great games.

Feeling: Optimistic.

Looking forward to: Lots of time with my kiddos this week.

Question of the week: I know a lot of you are really ready for autumn but, for those of you who are like me, are fighting the end of summer. What do you do to help ready yourself for cooler days? What makes trading in sandals for socks worthwhile?

Thursday, August 24, 2017

It's Messy: On Boys, Boobs, and Badass Women by Amanda de Cadet

It's Messy: On Boys, Boobs, and Badass Women by Amanda de Cadenet
Published September 2017 by Harper Wave
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Huge apologies to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for not getting this posted yesterday! I actually had it ready before I got the email with the link info and forgot to get it finished up when the email arrived.

Publisher's Summary:
In this deeply personal collection of essays, creator of the The Conversation Amanda de Cadenet shares the hard-won advice and practical insights she’s gained through her experiences as businesswoman, friend, wife, and mother.

Amanda is on a mission to facilitate conversations that allow all women to be seen, heard, and understood. Through her multimedia platform The Conversation, she interviews some of today’s most bad ass women—from Hillary Clinton to Lady Gaga—in no-holds-barred conversations that get to the heart of what means to be female. Now, in It’s Messy, Amanda offers readers an extension of that conversation, inviting them into her life and sharing her own story.

From childhood fame to a high-profile marriage (and divorce) to teen motherhood to the sexism that threatened to end her career before it started, Amanda shares the good, the bad, and the messy of her life, synthesizing lessons she’s learned along the way. Through it all, she offers an original perspective as a feminist on the front lines of celebrity culture.

My Thoughts:
Amanda de Cadenet is the most famous person I've never heard of: she is the daughter of famous race car driver Alain de Cadenet; dated Keanu Reeves and Jack Nicholson; pals around with Gwyneth Paltrow, Chelsea Handler, and Courtney Love; she's been married twice to rock musicians - first to Duran Duran's bassist John Taylor and currently to The Stroke's bassist Nick Valensi. She's even hosted a popular show on Lifetime interviewing all kinds of famous women about serious topics. And yet...never heard of her until I picked up this book.

So I wasn't looking for a tell-all group of essays when I agreed to review this book. I really was just looking for a book of essays about women's issues, which seems to be one of the few kinds of books that's really working for me these days.

Ms. de Cadenet has certainly lead an interesting life, a much messier life than a privileged young lady might have been expected to live growing up. But when her parents divorced when de Cadenet was a tween, it had a profound effect on her. Let's just say, she went a little wild, she even spent time in juvie. Some really great things happened to her; some really awful things as well. So de Cadenet has a lot to draw on in terms of life experiences. She writes knowledgeably about obsessive love, self-image, postpartum depression, parenting, friendships, body image, being a working woman, and sexual assault.

de Cadenet is clearly a woman who doesn't pull punches. When she refers to the first time she was sexually assaulted, she is blunt without being salacious. She calls out women for not being supportive enough of each other and men and women for being more concerned about a woman's appearance than about her mind. She is honest about her battle with postpartum depression and the effect of childbirth on her body. de Cadenet is an advocate of a "to each her own" way of life when it comes to sexuality and choosing parenthood.

I wasn't necessarily comfortable with all of the choices Ms. de Cadenet has made but we all make our own path based on our own experiences and it's not for me to judge. She made me wish I'd done a better job raising my daughter to choose her own path. I'm not sure she breaks any new ground in this collection but it's always good to reinforce the idea that women deserve the right to make their own choices, to be treated as equals, to be judged on merit not not be judged at all for the choices we make. Sometimes de Cadenet gets a little too caught up in name dropping although it would be hard to understand what she went through as a very young wife if you didn't know that she was doing it so much in the public eye. Knowing that she's been surrounded by famous people all of her life also makes it easier to gauge her fan girling of Hilary Clinton when she both opens and closes the book talking about her 2016 interview of Clinton.

Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. I'm headed over to watch episodes of The Conversation now (the show de Cadenet did on Lifetime) to hear more about what women think about being women. For other opinions about the book, check out the full tour.

Amanda de Cadenet is a creative force with a lifelong career in the media. She began as a host on British television at the age of fifteen and became a sought-after photographer shortly after—as a result her impressive photography career already spans nearly twenty years. She is the youngest woman ever to shoot a Vogue cover and has photographed many of the most influential figures in popular and political culture. As a media entrepreneur, Amanda is the creator of The Conversation, a series that showcases her in-depth interviews on real topics with celebrated women. Whether it’s in conversations with Lady Gaga, Sarah Silverman, Zoe Saldana, Chelsea Handler, or Gwyneth Paltrow, or in discussions with devoted followers of her social channels, Amanda delivers an honest and authentic voice. The series has aired in eighteen countries and is featured online, with over ten million viewers. In January 2016, Amanda conducted an exclusive one-on-one interview with presidential candidate Secretary Clinton. In February 2016, Amanda launched #Girlgaze, a digital media company utilizing user submitted content and highlighting the work of women Gen Z photographers and directors.

Find out more about Amanda at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

Purchase Link: HarperCollins

Monday, August 21, 2017

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

Ella Mnnow Pea by Mark Dunn
Published October 2001 by MacAdam/Cage Publishing Inc.
Source: both my copies were purchased (yes, I did accidentally buy two copies!)

Publisher's Summary:
Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal phrase containing all the letters of the alphabet, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island’s Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel.

My Thoughts:
It seems strange to me that this book was on my radar before I read Trish's (Love, Laughter and A Touch of Insanity) review in 2015. It came out quite a few years before I started blogging but yet I seem to recall being well aware of it when I read her review. It was, however, her review that convinced me that this was a book I would enjoy. So I bought it. Twice, apparently. I really do need to get an inventory of the books I own!

At any rate, Trish did not steer me wrong. Like her, sometimes an epistolary novel is just the thing; I especially find that so when I'm working my way through a reading slump. In Ella Minnow Pea, we are mostly privy to the letters to and from Ella as things begin to unravel on the island of Nollop. There's no much here in the way of character development, but that is more than made up for with the language acrobatics Dunn displays as a society of wordsmiths' options become increasingly smaller.
The letter writers are forced to get more and more creative in finding words (the days of the week had to be renamed, for example, once the letter D fell); eventually, it became like reading my kindergartners' journals, with phonetic spellings being the last resort. By the end, the letters had gotten quite short due to the lack of alphabet remaining but even harder to read!

Equally of interest was the view of a society collapsing as those in charge begin imposing restrictions and penalties on its citizens. It might be easy to avoid using a "z" in your writing, but imagine a grocer having to adjust to not being able to call twelve eggs a dozen or a nine-year-old not being able to zoom around. On Nollop, a first offense would have earned said grocer a verbal reprimand. After that, things got much more serious; a second offense would find the offender choosing between the stockades or a whipping and a third offense would get a person banished.

It's a small book, with a seemingly light premise, except that it isn't. Dunn has neighbors turning on neighbors, families broken apart, leaders who commandeer others' property for their own use and hoard food. Because of the epistolary nature of the book, none of that is right in our faces. But it's there to think about and seems pretty relevant these days.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Life: It Goes On - August 19

Any of you headed to Nebraska to see the totality of the solar eclipse? We're expecting quite a lot of visitors this weekend, through tomorrow; it's impacting travel across the state but a tremendous boost to local economies along the path. The Big Guy will head south a bit so he can see the totality but I'm just going to have to live with seeing most of it since I don't want to take off work. Luckily, my office is feeding us all pizza and giving us all glasses to go out and watch so I won't miss it all.

Finishing ripening
Starting to get to be harvest season around here. We've been getting quite a lot of tomatoes, rhubarb and cucumbers, yesterday a coworker gave me a purple pepper from her garden, and last night I picked up a crate of peaches that had come in from Colorado. I love this time of year!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Lots of podcasts, this week mostly episodes from Stuff You Should Know. Cranked up some music as well, including some Sia. Oh yeah, and the high school band marching through the neighborhood, fundraising. Woke up this morning to the sound of the drums as they made their way up our street. Grabbed some clothes and got to the front porch in time to watch them do a couple of mini-concerts for neighbors.

Watching: Some of the book club, a friend and I went to see the film adaptation of Jeanette Walls' The Glass Castle. We were impressed with the acting and I thought they were, for the most part, very faithful to the book. As tough as it was to watch, it still wasn't has hard as it hard been to read.

Reading: I finished Amanda de Cadenet's It's Messy on Friday (review this week) and I'm dipping my toes into books right now trying to find something that sticks. My brain wants to get back to something meaty but my gut says I'm not ready for that. In the meantime, I'm trying things that are a bit different from my usual read. I picked up The Sisters Brothers yesterday but I'm not sure about that so I may pick up Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns or grab something by Nora Ephron. It's always a good time for Ephron!

Making: Banana bread, peach/rhubarb tarts, and apple cake with caramel sauce. There's clearly someplace in my head that is ready for fall, what with all of this baking!

Planning: On a small redecorating project in Miss H's bathroom this week. I've ordered a new shower curtain and some artwork. When the shower curtain gets here, I'll head out to pick up some new towels and a rugs. I don't think I'll paint but once the curtain gets here then I'll know if I need to do that. Still pondering new flooring - I've never done that before! This could turn out to be a much bigger project than I initially planned!

Thinking About: Looking for a reading chair. I really want to create a reading corner where I can read in quiet, without the television blabbing on in the same room.

Enjoying: Evenings on the patio and a visit yesterday from BG's oldest brother as he went through town. He is one of my favorite people so we're always happy to spend time with him.

Feeling: Tired. Which is odd since we've had a very quiet weekend.

Looking forward to: Curling Night In America next weekend. It's an international event being held here in Omaha. I'm so excited to see curling live! 

Question of the week: How's back to school going for those of you who have kids still in primary and secondary schools? I miss some of the activities of those school days but I don't miss having to get everyone out the door in the morning or fighting homework in the evenings!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Fairy Tale Fridays: Horse, Flower, Bird by Kate Bernheimer

Horse, Flower, Bird by Kate Bernheimer
Published September 2010 by Coffee House Press
Source: bought this one three years ago when I was deep into reading fairy tales

Publisher's Summary:
In Kate Bernheimer's familiar and spare—yet wondrous—world, an exotic dancer builds her own cage, a wife tends a secret basement menagerie, a fishmonger's daughter befriends a tulip bulb, and sisters explore cycles of love and violence by reenacting scenes from Star Wars.

My Thoughts:
Ti, of Book Chatter, starts her book reviews with "The Short of It." If I were to do that, this review would open like this:
The Short of It:
Dark, modern fairy tales that made me think.
This tiny book (just 6" x 7 1/2") is just 185 pages. Many of them look like this:

Which makes writing the second piece of Ti's usual reviews, The Long Of It, tough. There's not a lot here, word count-wise. On the other hand, I really liked the way the stories were printed. It lent a break in the reading that enhanced the stories.

The eight tales in the book are odd, to say the least. All are about girls or young women and some have a Jewish element which makes them unique among fairy tales. But, like traditional fairy tales, the men in these tales tend to be the oppressors and there are no lessons to be learned. Unless the lesson you take from A Cageling Tale is to make sure that you never let your daughter have a parakeet lest she one day become an exotic dancer in a cage and eventually builds a cage for herself in a spare room.

I told you they were odd. But also utterly unique and original and the perfect way to break up my other reading and to spark my fairy tale reading again.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Talented Ribkins by Ladee Hubbard

The Talented Ribkins by Ladee Hubbard
Published August 2017 by Melville House
Source: my ecopy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
At seventy-two, Johnny Ribkins shouldn’t have such problems: He’s got one week to come up with the money he stole from his mobster boss or it’s curtains for Johnny.

What may or may not be useful to Johnny as he flees is that he comes from an African-American family that has been gifted with rather super powers that are rather sad, but superpowers nonetheless. For example, Johnny’s father could see colors no one else could see. His brother could scale perfectly flat walls. His cousin belches fire. And Johnny himself can make precise maps of any space you name, whether he’s been there or not. In the old days, the Ribkins family tried to apply their gifts to the civil rights effort, calling themselves The Justice Committee. But when their, eh, superpowers proved insufficient, the group fell apart. Out of frustration Johnny and his brother used their talents to stage a series of burglaries, each more daring than the last.

Fast forward a couple decades and Johnny’s on a race against the clock to dig up loot he’s stashed all over Florida. His brother is gone, but he has an unexpected sidekick: his brother’s daughter, Eloise, who has a special superpower of her own.

My Thoughts:
This is one of those books that I thought sounded interesting when it was pitched to me then completely forgot what it was about by the time that I started reading it. I'm so glad I did - going into the book completely unaware meant that it was an even bigger treat than it might otherwise have been.

Inspired by W. E. B. Dubois' essay "The Talented Tenth," Hubbard has crafted an utterly original novel full of heart, hope, and, dare I say it, fantasy. Is it possible that I have actually enjoyed two books already this year with a fantasy element? The Talented Ribkins is also something of a reverse graphic novel - rather than taking a story and turning it into an illustrated work, this feels like an illustrated work that's been translated into novel form. I don't read many graphic novels, either so this one would really seem to be out of my wheelhouse.

Maybe what I've learned from this book is that those genres, fantasy and graphic novels, might actually not be that far distant from my usual fare. Because this book is filled with interesting characters I grew to care very much for, there is an interesting family dynamic, there are complicated relationships, and there is a depth to the story I wasn't expecting. Perhaps I've been giving those genres short shrift. Or perhaps Hubbard is just that great at storytelling, which makes this debut novel all the more impressive.

Once in a while, things got a bit muddled, but Hubbard pulled things back together and wove the various threads she'd been developing throughout into a very satisfying ending. Although she relies on the fantastical gifts of the Ribkins to drive the story, the clear lesson here is that people need to make the most of the gifts they are given. Oh yes, and that no matter what our issues are with our family (however we define that), family is everything. I like that, I like that a lot.

Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for introducing me to this book and to Hubbard. I look forward to reading more of her work. For other opinions, check out the full tour.

About Ladee Hubbard:
Laddee Hubbard is the winner of the 2016 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award and the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition for the Short Story. She holds a BA from Princeton University, an MFA in Dramatic Writing from New York University, an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin, and a PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles. She lives in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Talented Ribkins is her first novel.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Nasty Women: A Collection of Essays and Accounts On What It Is To Be A Woman In The 21st Century

Nasty Women: A Collection of Essays and accounts On What It Is To Be A Woman In The 21st Century
Published March 2017 by 404 Ink
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:

With intolerance and inequality increasingly normalised by the day, it's more important than ever for women to share their experiences. We must hold the truth to account in the midst of sensationalism and international political turmoil. Nasty Women is a collection of essays, interviews and accounts on what it is to be a woman in the 21st century.

People, politics, pressure, punk - from working class experience to racial divides in Trump’s America, being a child of immigrants, to sexual assault, Brexit, pregnancy, contraception, identity, family, finding a voice online, role models and more, Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!, Zeba Talkhani, Chitra Ramaswamy are just a few of the incredible women who share their experience here.

Keep telling your stories, and tell them loud.

My Thoughts:
If you'd titled your book "Nasty Women" a year ago, you'd have been putting together an entirely different kind of book. Since last year, though, if you give your book that title, there's a good chance I'm going to pick it up. And I'm going to know exactly what I'm going to get.

This collection, largely written by women in the UK, covers the gamut of issues women have, from birth control to sexual orientation, from a woman's place in predominately male venues to race. Every one of these women is tired of having to fight but inspired to keep up the fight, to be a nasty woman. Given the number of authors not from the United States, I was more than a little surprised to see the current U. S. president come up again and again. But it's not just the political climate in the U. S. that has these women concerned; it's the political climate in their own countries, as well. These women understand that's it's taken a long time for women, particularly those of color or of the LGBTQ community, just to get where we'd gotten. Now many feel that we will fall back.

As with all collections, some of the writing are stronger than others and some of the writing really stands out. I particularly liked "Independence Day," about a woman who was forced to face the bigotry of a family member after the 2016 election in the U.S.; "Lament: Living With The Consequences of Contraception," which mixes a letter to "D" with a story about the author's ordeal with Depo-Provera injections; "The Nastiness of Survival," the author's story of being a rape survivor; and "These Shadows, These Ghosts," in which the author talks about the generations of nasty women in her family and the ways that stereotypes and expectations damaged them.

I read this collection straight through but I wish I had read it an essay at a time and let myself have time to really consider each essay before moving on to the next. It can get to be a little much read straight through. But as a collection, it's well worth reading. Particularly if you proudly call yourself a nasty woman.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Life: It Goes On - August 13

We've had a quiet week which skidded into a very busy weekend. Friday night was dinner with friends on their deck, last night was all of the in-laws on our patio and today we are headed off to The Big Guy's aunt's 88th birthday party. Not looking forward to the three hour drive there and the three hour drive back except that it will give me a lot of reading time. Because it's HIS aunt so he has to do all of the driving, right?!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Nerdette, Stuff You Missed In History Class, Futility Closet, Stuff You Should Know, and 10 minutes of an episode of Slate Audio Book Club. I've about decided to be done with that podcast - I swear those people have never read a book they really loved. In this episode, they were not impress with The Handmaid's Tale, particularly compared to the television adaptation, calling it dated. Well, duh, it was written more than twenty years ago. I'm on the fence with whether or not I'll just delete all of the other episodes I've downloaded.

Watching: Everything I could find about Princess Diana, lots of baseball and some soccer, and last night Bridget Jones' Diary. Which suddenly I found, as a feminist, a little appalling. And that made me sad, because, dammit, I love that movie!

Reading: I raced through Ruth Ware's The Woman In Cabin 10 and then B. A. Paris' The Breakdown. Which makes two books over 300 pages I managed to read in one week. I'm getting back into the groove! I did realize that, right now, I need to read print books and nothing that makes me think too hard.

Making: Caprese salad for Friday night. Actually, a lot of salads this week. Also, BLTs!

Planning: A re-do of the "kids" bathroom. Several years ago, I neutralized it from the undersea adventure it had been for nearing twenty years. But now that it's really just Miss H who uses it, I thought she might like something that's a bit more girly and soft.

Thinking About: Our great-nephew who is headed off to boarding prep school today. Dinner on the patio was a going away party for him. Wishing him much success and hoping his mom doesn't have too hard of time leaving him this afternoon.

Enjoying: See that face in the middle. Golly I love my great-nieces and nephews!

Feeling: Better this week.

Looking forward to: Getting to bed tonight - it's been a busy weekend!

Question of the week: We are blessed to enjoy being with both sides of our families and food so often seems to be involved. What are some of your family favorites for summer get-togethers?

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Two DNF's - The Locals by Jonathan Dee and Once, In Lourdes by Sharon Solwitz

The Locals by Jonathan Dee
Published August 2017 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:

Mark Firth is a contractor and home restorer in Howland, Massachusetts, who feels opportunity passing his family by. After being swindled by a financial advisor, what future can Mark promise his wife, Karen, and their young daughter, Haley? He finds himself envying the wealthy weekenders in his community whose houses sit empty all winter.

Philip Hadi used to be one of these people. But in the nervous days after 9/11 he flees New York and hires Mark to turn his Howland home into a year-round “secure location” from which he can manage billions of dollars of other people’s money. The collision of these two men’s very different worlds—rural vs. urban, middle class vs. wealthy—is the engine of Jonathan Dee’s powerful new novel.

Inspired by Hadi, Mark looks around for a surefire investment: the mid-decade housing boom. Over Karen’s objections, and teaming up with his troubled brother, Gerry, Mark starts buying up local property with cheap debt. Then the town’s first selectman dies suddenly, and Hadi volunteers for office. He soon begins subtly transforming Howland in his image—with unexpected results for Mark and his extended family.

My Thoughts:
Well, I suppose the DNF (did not finish) in the title pretty much gives away what my thoughts were about this book. You all know how rare it is for me to give up on a book.

I keep wondering if maybe what I downloaded isn't even the right book. It has the same cover. It even has a character named Mark Firth who is a contractor in Massachusetts. But the page for the book on Barnes and Noble's website says this is a 400 page book - the book I downloaded is just 284 pages. I could understand a difference of a few pages but more than 100? And the book I downloaded opens in Manhattan the day after the 9/11 attacks, not in Massachusetts, with an unnamed first-person narrator who is an extremely unlikable character. By the time I got to the actual first chapter, I was no longer interested.

George Saunders (Lincoln In The Bardo) calls the book "bold" and "vital." Mary Karr (Lit) called it "moving." The New York Times reviewer, on the other hand, didn't love it. And I can't tell whether Ron Charles (The Washington Post) liked it or not. So I'm not saying don't read it. Although I might be saying borrow it from your library if you're interested. There's a good chance you won't want to have paid good money for it.

Once, In Lourdes by Sharon Solwitz
Published May 2017 by Penguin RandomHouse
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review, through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary:

As the Vietnam War rages overseas, four friends make a vow. For the next two weeks, they will live for each other and for each day. Then, at the end of the two weeks, they will sacrifice themselves on the altar of their friendship.

Loyal Kay, our narrator, dreams of being an artist and escaping her stifling family—the stepmother and stepsister she gained after her mother’s early death, and the father she no longer feels she knows. As she struggles with her weight, her schoolwork, and her longing for her mother, she feels loyalty only to her three friends, determined to keep their group together at any cost. Brilliant, charismatic CJ appears to have everything—though even those closest to him can’t see him as he really is. Steady, quiet Saint wants to do right by everyone, trying not to let his emotions destroy himself and those around him. And beautiful Vera’s family secrets are too dark to share, even with her closest friends; caught in a web of family dysfunction, she can only hope the others won’t get tangled up in the danger she senses around her.

In the two-week span in which the novel takes place, during the summer before their senior year of high school, the lives of Kay, CJ, Saint, and Vera will change beyond their expectations, and what they gain and lose will determine the novel’s outcome.

My Thoughts:
Perhaps this one follows too closely on the heels of The Girls for me, another book set in the same time period also about teenagers struggling with family problems and secrets and looking for a family of friends. Perhaps I just had a hard time believing that friends would all have kept so much from each other (with the exception of CJ's secret which would have been something he would have wanted to hide even from his closest friends in the late 1960's).

Solwitz moves the story between the four characters, Kay's in first person and the others in third person. The changing narrative, particularly the changing point of view, just didn't work for me. I gave it 50 pages before I gave myself permission to stop. Sometimes you need to push through, and if other people who generally like the same books as I do told me it was well worth reading, I might have done that. But no one had. And so I gave up.

My not finishing this book probably has as much to do with it being the wrong book at the wrong time as it does with the book itself, in the end. It hit on too many triggers for me just now. That being said, I also don't see myself going back and picking it up any time. Unless one of those friends can convince me to do that. You never know.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking
Published January 2017 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: Bought for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
Embrace Hygge (pronounced hoo-ga) and become happier with this definitive guide to the Danish philosophy of comfort, togetherness, and well-being.

Why are Danes the happiest people in the world? The answer, says Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, is Hygge. Loosely translated, Hygge—pronounced Hoo-ga—is a sense of comfort, togetherness, and well-being. "Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience," Wiking explains. "It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe."

Hygge is the sensation you get when you’re cuddled up on a sofa, in cozy socks under a soft throw, during a storm. It’s that feeling when you’re sharing comfort food and easy conversation with loved ones at a candlelit table. It is the warmth of morning light shining just right on a crisp blue-sky day.

The Little Book of Hygge introduces you to this cornerstone of Danish life, and offers advice and ideas on incorporating it into your own life, such as:

Get comfy. Take a break.
Be here now. Turn off the phones.
Turn down the lights. Bring out the candles.
Build relationships. Spend time with your tribe.
Give yourself a break from the demands of healthy living. Cake is most definitely Hygge.
Live life today, like there is no coffee tomorrow.

From picking the right lighting to organizing a Hygge get-together to dressing hygge, Wiking shows you how to experience more joy and contentment the Danish way.

My Thoughts:
In the English language, we seem to have multiple words for every thing but there is no word in English that hygge translates directly into. In fact, there doesn't seem to be a word in any other language that means exactly the same thing. Other Nordic languages have similar words but those words don't seem to convey quite the same spirit. Hygge is a concept, but it is also a verb. The Danes live their lives around the idea of hygge and compound words have grown around it.

This is a little book that made me want to pull out blankets, candles, and put a stew on to simmer. So, yeah, maybe a book to study in the fall or winter, rather than the summer. In Denmark, of course, they don't get summers like we have in Nebraska so I'm not sure what they would do to introduce hygge on a day when the temps are in the 90's.

Or do I? After reading this book, I sat and pondered how I can make the ideas work for me this time of year and I came up with some ideas that I think are hygge, summer style - comfy cushions on the patio furniture, a table full of candles, soft light-weight cotton blankets for the evenings when it gets cool, blooming plants, friends around a fire, and summer comfort foods ( you know, strawberry shortcake and s'mores). Yep, I think I've got this. This quarter Danish girl has got this.

There's nothing in this book that anyone can't do. It's largely a matter of putting it all together and getting yourself in the right frame of mind. For an introvert like me, the hardest part will be making myself spend time with my tribe. Not that I don't enjoy that, I just have to remind myself of the happiness it brings me and make it happen. If the Danes can be the happiest people in the world with their weather, I think this might just be my ticket to survive Nebraska's winters.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Life: It Goes On - August 6

Guys - I have book reviews written for the next two weeks! I'm reading again! Truth be told, many of the books weren't that long but if that's what it takes for me to get back in the swing of things, I'm good with that. Today I was rearranging the book shelves in my office and began gazing longingly at A Suitable Boy and other such chunksters there and it occurred to me that I might just be ready to dive into one of them.

But, people, this is how flighty my mind is of late - I went off to have a happy hour therapy session with my girlfriends and completely forgot that my niece (from Wisconsin) and parents were coming for dinner! That is so not me! I hadn't even written it in my bullet journal. That is the whole point of the bullet journal - so you don't forget things!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Yep, still podcasts. This week it was lots of "Stuff You Should Know" and "RadioLab." Sometimes you don't even know how interesting those shows will be until you just let one run into another one.

Watching: Comedians In Cars Drinking Coffee (Jerry Seinfeld's web show - we watched episodes with Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah), Game of Thrones, Westworld. Oh yeah, and yesterday an episode of Wild, Wild West; how I loved this show growing up!

Reading: I finished three books in eight days! I'm caught up for scheduled reviews and Netgalley requests and now I get to read something just because I feel like it. Because Miss H's best friend read The Woman In Cabin 10 last week, I'm reading that now so I'll be able to talk with her about it.

Making: Grilled chicken salad, grilled chicken with black bean and roasted corn salad, grilled steaks (well, The Big Guy actually grilled the steaks), S'mores - you get the idea, we're eating summer foods.

Planning: On going to protest the Keystone Pipeline this afternoon. Assuming I get the energy to drive to Lincoln. I feel like I need to go but I'm on both a reading and an organizing kick lately and I kind of want to keep at both of them.

Thinking About: Ways to pick myself up - Friday night it was a bonfire on the patio with friends, last night it was delicious pizza and this morning it was great coffee and pastries.

Enjoying: My brother sent the pictures he took the weekend of the wedding. He was the official photographer for the actual wedding. He's never taken pictures at a wedding before and we are so impressed with the pictures he took!

Feeling: Down; thus "Thinking About."

Looking forward to: Lots of family time next weekend - a going away for our great-nephew who is headed off to boarding school and a birthday party for BG's last member of the older generation.

Question of the week: What do you do to cheer yourself up?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

Time again for the periodic "Lisa needs to clean up her saved links on Facebook" post. Let's see what I've got, shall we?

First up, a fun look at children's picture books from The Millions: Are Picture Books Leading Our Children Astray?  When I first saw the link, I wondered if someone seriously thought I'd screwed my children up by reading them Ferdinand The Bull and Caps for Sale!

Had you heard that PBS has ordered a new series called The Great American Read? It will feature people from all over the country talking about their favorite books and will culminate with a vote to choose American's best-loved books. Sadly, we have to wait until spring 2018 for it to start.

From Penguin Random House comes this list of 40 Books To Read Before You're 40. This poses a bit of a problem for me since I'm well past 40. Also, quite a lot of these books weren't even published before I was 40. Still, it's a good list to look at and maybe there's still time for you.

From The Man Book Prize page, comes the long-list of finalists for the 2017 prize. As usual, there are books on the list I haven't even heard of; but, unlike some years, I've actually read at least a couple of them.

Book Riot has given us their list of best books of 2017, so far (and looky, there are a couple of my faves so far this year) and The Millions has given us a list of books to look forward to in the second half of the year. I need to get over to Netgalley and see what I can pick up from this list.

From Literary Hub comes a list of 10 Famous Book Hoarders. Karl Lagerfeld, with his 300,000, might actually have a problem. Otherwise, I think these are just famous people who really like books. It does make me feel better about the number of books I have.

Riot New Media gives us a list of 25 Nonfiction Favorites Out Now In Paperback and Electric Lit gives us a list of 34 Books by Women of Color To Read This Year. Definitely adding at least a couple of these to the bookshelves. Quite a lot of these will be coming to my house sooner rather than later.

Books that actually did get added to my shelves last week:

Of course, I want to read all of them right now. Which would you read first?

Oh, yeah - guess what I did? I actually DNF'd another book. At better than 20% into The Locals by Jonathan Dee, the book didn't remotely seem to be about what I thought it was going to be about and I really, really did not like the narrator. I've already quit more books this year than I did in the five years before this. Pretty proud of myself!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

An Exact Replica Of A Figment Of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken

An Exact Replica Of A Figment Of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken
Published September 2008 by Little, Brown, and Company
Source: bought through Better World Books

Publisher's Summary:
A prize-winning, successful novelist in her 30s, McCracken was happy to be an itinerant writer and self-proclaimed spinster. But suddenly she fell in love, got married, and two years ago was living in a remote part of France, working on her novel, and waiting for the birth of her first child. This book is about what happened next.

In her ninth month of pregnancy, she learned that her baby boy had died. How do you deal with and recover from this kind of loss? Of course you don't--but you go on. And if you have ever experienced loss or love someone who has, the company of this remarkable book will help you go on.

My Thoughts:
I'm fairly certain that this book has been on my radar since I heard Maureen Corrigan review it on NPR shortly after it was published. It's a shame that it languished on the TBR list for so long; it might not have if it were still getting the kind of notice that other books about loss, such as Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, do. But maybe, sometimes, books fall into our hands at just the right time. For me, losing a child has always seemed like the worst thing that could possibly happen. What's going on in my life is not that. Other people are dealing with so much more.

"This is the happiest story in the world with the saddest ending," McCracken writes, early on in the book. That is after she wrote:
"A child dies in this book: a baby. A baby is stillborn. You don't have to tell me how sad that is: it happened to me and my husband, our baby, a son."
How can this possibly be the happiest story in the world, then, I wondered. McCracken's story does begin with a woman who had resigned herself to a happy life alone. No, that's not right. She hadn't resigned herself; she was perfectly fine with the idea that she would be, as she called it, a spinster. But then Edward came into her life, adding a new layer of happiness and they created a life that included time in Europe between teaching gigs in the U.S. In her late 30's, McCracken became pregnant while they were living in France; she was the poster child for happy, healthy pregnancies. She did everything right - she ate healthy, she kept active, she shopped around for the medical professionals she felt were best for her.

Then one day she realized that her baby, a son they had taken to calling Pudding because they didn't want to give him his name until he was born, had become very inactive. By the time they got to the hospital, it was too late. How do you get over that?
" goes on but that death goes on, too, that a person who is dead is a long, long story. You move on from it, but the death will never disappear from view. Your friends may say, Time heals all wounds. No, it doesn't, but eventually you'll feel better. You'll be yourself again. Your child will still be dead."
As with all grief, I'm sure the grief of losing a child, in particular a stillborn child, is unique to every person. McCracken is incredibly honest with her grief, from her own guilt, to the need to escape everything that reminded her of her son, to the ways in which the people surrounding her helped her through the worst of it (and, in some cases, the ways in which they made it so much worse).

As much as the book is about losing Pudding (because they had not decided on a name before he was born and couldn't bear to give him a name that would only be a death name, their son's birth and death is recorded in French paperwork was Pudding Harvey), it's about the ways in which that loss affected her second pregnancy. McCracken and her husband never gave the second baby a nickname, they didn't prepare a nursery, they went to multiple classes to make sure they were doing all of those things the right way but she didn't worry about what she ate the same way she had in her first pregnancy.

There is never a point in the book that doesn't feel sad but it is also filled with hope (McCracken became pregnant with her second child only three months after losing her first), and even humor. It is, simply, a beautiful book and it taught me so much about the way to help someone who is grieving. I don't know that I will ever be able to read it again (which is usually the criteria for me keeping a book); but, for now at least, I'm not ready to part with it. I think I'm going to want to revisit it.