Monday, December 31, 2018

My 2018 Reading Year

This has been a really weird reading year for me with a lot of reading slumps and a lot of times my reading time got cut into by time sucks, like games on my phones, Instagram, and Litsy. I've done a terrible job of keeping up with my blog reader, staying in touch with my reading community, and responding to comments on the blog. I've missed so many blogging events. I'm not sure that I can give ways that I'll make any of that change in the coming year; listing those kinds of things just seems to add another layer of stress to life and I'd rather move toward reading just for fun instead of the other way.

On the other hand, I've done really well in my reading in a lot of ways. Despite those slumps, I still read/listened to 74 books, which is a big increase over last year. Renewing my library card really helped with the audio piece as I'm finally able to listen when I'm not in my car. Here's how the year shook out:

Total Books Read: 73
Nonfiction: 15
Short Story Collections: 2
Mythology/Fairy Tales: 2
Written by Women: 53
Written by Men: 19
Classics: 6
Diversity: 9
Audiobooks: 23

I'm disappointed in the number of mythology/fairy tale books I read this year, as well as the number of classics. I'd also like to read more diversely than I did this year.

The Best of 2018 (some books may appear on more than one list):

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Circe by Madeline Miller
Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Lying In Wait by Liz Nugent
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
A Ladder To The Sky by John Boyne
The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
A Short Guide To A Happy Life by Anna Quindlen
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters In The End by Atul Gawande
Killers of The Flower Moon by David Grann
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
Five Days At Memorial by Sheri Fink
Heirs of the Founders by H. W. Brand
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
Born With Teeth by Kate Mulgrew
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Frankenstein, or Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley
Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Heading Out To Wonderful by Robert Goolrick

What books were your favorites in 2018? Would you make any changes to the way you read this year?

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Life: It Goes On - December 30

Whoa! I did not intend to go blog silent for more than a week! Guess that's what happens when you are both busy and incredibly relaxed. I hope you all had lovely week and enjoyed the holidays. I spent several days off work before the holidays finishing up shopping and getting things ready then it was off to celebrate with our families. Oddly, I didn't get one picture of any of it!

Do you have big plans for tomorrow night? We will enjoy dinner out with friends then we will likely all sit at one of our houses and keep ourselves entertained until we can toast the new year and then go to bed as has become our very beloved habit.

Last Week I:

Listened To: I had several books become available and listened to a couple of hours of each but then they'd have to be returned and I had to put them back on hold. Yesterday, My Year of Rest and Relaxation became available and, at only about 7 hours, I think I'll make it through an entire book before I lose it. Assuming I remember to listen while I'm lolling around the house

Watched: Football, volleyball, college basketball but also Love Actually (twice), Die Hard (twice, because, for some reason, it's a Christmas movie?), and bit of several other Christmas shows as they came on.

Read: I will finally finish Once Upon A River today and then I've got three days to read a book for a review on Wednesday. Reading another thing that's been tough this past week?

Made: Hawaiian ham sandwiches, peanut soup, taco soup, peppermint stick ice cream, coffee cake and the usual Christmas goodies.

Enjoyed: Time with family, lots of down time, and, especially, FaceTime'ing with Mini-me and Ms. S on Christmas Day.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: I usually wait until New Year's Day to take down Christmas, but I'm starting that today this year. I'm not necessarily tire of it (as I so often am); but since it has to come down eventually, it might as well come down sooner rather than later.

Thinking About: Ways to make it through the winter without going bonkers.

Feeling: Relaxed. I've made sure to work in a lot of down time through the holidays. I even told The Big Guy that I would not allow for more than two things to be scheduled into my four-day weekend!

Looking forward to: Is it too early to say "spring?"

Question of the week: How are you celebrating the New Year's arrival?

Friday, December 21, 2018

A Month of Faves On The Screen

Today's prompt asks us to talk about what we watched this year that we loved and if any of the movies we watched were based on books. That made me wonder if I'm the only person who watches movie previews in the theater and tells the people you're with which upcoming movies are based on books. Anyone? Just me? Ok, so some of these movies may overlap but I'm going to run a separate list of movies I watched that were based on books.

Movies I Loved:

  1. Won't You Be My Neighbor - about Fred "Mr." Rogers. As soon as we got home, my husband bought a "Mr. Rogers For President" t-shirt, he loved this movie so much.
  2. Phantom Thread starring Daniel Day Lewis - so, so slow and odd but also so beautiful and it has really stayed with me.
  3. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society - a wonderful adaptation of the book by the same name. 
  4. Anna Karenina starring Keira Knightly - utterly unique adaptation that is another movie that has stayed with me long after I watched it. 
  5. Mission Impossible: Fallout starring Tom Cruise and Henry Cavill - not at all the kind of movie that I usually enjoy but Henry Cavill.
  6. The Greatest Showman starring Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, and Zac Efron - I enjoyed this one the first time I saw it but I liked it even more the second time. 
  7. First Man starring Ryan Gosling - Gosling is so good in this one!
  8. Bohemian Rhapsody - sure it's emotionally manipulative but there's so much to love about it and, of course, there's the music. 
  9. Mary Poppins Returns starring Emily Blount and Lin-Manuel Miranda - Blount is great as Mary Poppins, the story echoes the original, and there are some fun surprises.
  10. Black Panther - great action, great message. 

Movies I Watched Based On Books:

  1. The Zookeeper's Wife starring Jessica Chastain based on the book by the same name by Diane Ackerman - I haven't read the book but I really enjoyed this movie set during World War II; it has the tension Suite Francaise  lacked and I loved the story. 
  2. Brain On Fire based on the book by the same name by Susanna Catalan - what a sadly disappointing adaptation of an incredible true story. 
  3. Suite Fran├žaise starring Michelle Williams based on the book by the same name by Irene Nemirovsky - too cleaned up, too little tension although beautifully filmed. 
  4. Madame Bovary starring Mia Wasikowski based on the book by Gustave Flaubert - beautifully filmed, beautiful costumes but my gosh how I dislike this character which makes liking this movie impossible. 
  5. The Phantom of the Opera starring Gerard Butler based on the book by Gaston Leroux - of course the music is fantastic, the sets amazing, and many of the performances wonderful but this one always falls just a big short for me. 
  6. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society based on the book by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  7. Anna Karenina starring Keira Knightley based on the book by Leo Tolstoy
  8. Mudbound based on the book by Hillary Jordan 
  9. Mary Poppins Returns based on the books by P. L. Travers
What movies did you love this year? How many of them were based on books?

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A Month of Faves: This Is How We Holiday

Today's prompt is to: rep your home’s holiday look, share pictures of your holiday decorations. Christmas tree, your favorite holiday traditions, holiday festivities, favorite ornaments, places to go, holiday drinks, holiday eats, holiday themed reads. I've already overshared my holiday decor and trees but I'm going to make you look at it again.

Now, about those holiday eats:

  • The Sweets: years ago I decided I not only didn't have time to make every last Christmas goodie I used to make and that we didn't need all of that stuff around the house. So I told my family they each got to pick one thing. One picked bavarian mints, one picked puppy chow, one picked dipped pretzel sticks, and one picked Christmas cookies. Then I figured out how to make each of those a treat that everyone could help make. It's gotten tough to find a way to get everyone together to help with these things but the kids still insist we make it work. 
  • The Soups: on my side of the family, we have a big dinner in the middle of the day on Christmas Eve. This meal changes from year to year. But supper? That is always soups - chili, oyster stew, and taco soup. Why, you may ask? Because it's easy, can be made ahead, and works around going to church services. At this point, I'm certain the grandkids believe that this is a normal Christmas tradition for all families. 
  • The Breakfasts: here's another tradition that started in no small part because it's easy. At my parents house, there is always my sister's coffee cake, Danish kringle, and their neighbor also sends over German stollen. There is, after all, a real need to carbo load because these couple of days are very akin to a marathon. When my immediate family is at home on Christmas day, our breakfast is always a green chili egg casserole and cinnamon rolls. This year I don't think we'll be at home on Christmas morning. We might have to have breakfast for dinner!
What are your family holiday food traditions?

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

All The Lives We Never Lived by Anuradha Roy

All The Lives We Never Lived by Anuradha Roy
Published November 2018 by Atria Books
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
In my childhood, I was known as the boy whose mother had run off with an Englishman. The man was in fact German, but in small‑town India in those days, all white foreigners were largely thought of as British.

So begins the story of Myshkin and his mother, Gayatri, a rebellious, alluring artist who abandons parenthood and marriage to follow her primal desire for freedom.

Though freedom may be stirring in the air of India, across the world the Nazis have risen to power in Germany. At this point of crisis, a German artist from Gayatri’s past seeks her out. His arrival ignites passions she has long been forced to suppress.

What follows is her life as pieced together by her son, a journey that takes him through India and Dutch‑held Bali. Excavating the roots of the world in which he was abandoned, he comes to understand his long‑lost mother, and the connections between strife at home and a war‑torn universe overtaken by patriotism.

My Thoughts:
You all know I've been struggling to make myself pick up a book and actually read the words. This poor book was the victim of that malaise. Which is a shame because this is just the kind of book I normally eat up voraciously. Story set in India? Check. Family story? Check. History? Check. Beautiful writing? Check. If I wasn't reading this from Netgalley, I might well have set it aside and saved it for a time when I was ready to curl up in a corner of the couch and settle into Myshkin's story.

It really is a lovely, moving story. With a father who is more wrapped in the politics of India than in his son and a mother who abandons them for another life, it's no wonder that Myshkin has grown into a sad, isolated man whose only real connections to the world are the plants he be charged with caring for all of the city and his stepsister. As the book opens, Myshkin has been sent a package from a friend of his mother's. Initially unable to open the package, Myshkin reflects back on his memories of his mother and her life. When he finally is able to open it, her life after she left comes pouring out. Even as my heart broke for her son, I couldn't help but wish for Gayatri to find what she was looking for after having been trapped for years in a life that wasn't meant for a curious, bright young woman.

As much as I loved the poetry of Roy's poetic writing and her story, I was just as impressed with her writings on politics and the arts.
"...she would see that the power and tyranny and cruelties of those civilizations did not survive, the rulers fell and their courtiers lay in parallel lines of narrow marble caskets next to their king, their cats and wives too, but the beauty that had been created remained. The filigree in the windows, the calligraphy on stone, the perfection of the dome she was struggling to draw. The creators of those things, the masons, sculptors, painters, who had no role to play in the great games of power, whose minds were thought inferior, whose opinions were of no consequence, whose wealth counted for nothing: their work remained after all else had vanished. When the world was in turmoil and devastation appeared inevitable, art was not an indulgence but a refuge, its fragments remained after a cycle had run its course from creation through to destruction and begun again. Power crumbles, people die, but beauty defeats time."
If this book sounds like it's as right for you as it is for me, do yourself a favor and make sure you read it when you are ready to fall into Roy's world.

Monday, December 17, 2018

A Month of Faves: Winter Reading

Today the hosts of A Month of Faves are asking us to share our five favorite books from last winter or five of our favorite season reads and five books we're looking forward to reading this winter. Well, that should be easy, right? Well, yes, if you can remember what you read last winter (I mean, I can't even remember what I ate for dinner last night). Luckily, this little thing called the internet, which is bringing you this very post, also allows me to do a little research.

First up, five books I loved that I read last winter: a epic family story, a couple of classics, a tear jerker and an eye opener.

1. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
2. Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
3. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
4. In Every Moment We Are Still Alive by Thomas Malmquist
5. Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley

What I just discovered in looking back at last winter is that I actually went through a reading slump about this time last year, too. Some of it's the business of this season but maybe, just maybe, I need to get one of those lamps for people with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Maybe this isn't just a reading slump after all. Either way, here are five book I'm looking forward to reading this winter:

1. Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield
2. The Woman In The Window by A. J. Finn
3. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
4. Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
5. The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

What are you looking forward to reading this winter?

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Life: It Goes On - December 16

I'm using the winter picture because in five days it will officially be winter; but, I'm happy to say, that there is very little snow left on the ground here, the sun is shining, and I actually have the door standing open (although that's pushing it a bit because it's only 44 degrees outside but my cat will not go outside right now unless she knows she can get back in when she wants to without having to actually meow or try to claw through the glass on the door). Yea!

Happy birthday to Mini-me today! Wish we could be with him to celebrate but we'll FaceTime later to watch him open his presents. I did not make and ship him a birthday cake which I'm wishing now I would have done. Although I'm not sure how well a cake will ship. Anyone know?

Last Week I:

Listened To: I finished The Immortalists and started Jenny Lawson's Furiously Laughing, which I'm really enjoying.

Watched: College volleyball, The Voice, football, CBS Sunday Morning - the usual.

Read: I finally finished All The Lives We Never Lived and started Once Upon A River but haven't made it far enough in that yet to have an opinion.

Made: Duchess potatoes and bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin for our dinner party last night - two new recipes that I will make again with a couple of tweaks.

Enjoyed: Last night's dinner party - as you can see we spent quite a lot of time sitting around the dining room table enjoying each other, perhaps a bit too  much alcohol, and the cake my friend made that we were all a little hesitant to cut into.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On doing all the Christmas things - cards and packages will be mailed tomorrow, the presents will get wrapped, and the Christmas goodies, which I've been putting off so we didn't eat them all before Christmas, will get made.

Thinking About: How to get rid of a giant sofa sleeper. I'm not actually getting rid of it soon but I'm already thinking about getting rid of it and what I will do in the living room once it is gone. That's how much I hate that thing. And also how weird my brain can be.

Feeling: Happily tired from last night and surprisingly calm about what still needs to be done before Christmas. That last thing might have to do with the fact that I have three days off this week so I have plenty of time.

Looking forward to: Book club Tuesday, seeing the new Mary Poppins movie with my girlfriends on Wednesday, and seeing my family next weekend. Such a lot of good stuff coming up this week!

Question of the week: What's left on your to-do list this week?

Friday, December 14, 2018

A Month of Faves: Holiday Wishlist

Hmmm - this one's always tough. You wouldn't think so, would you? I mean, there are things we'd all like to have. But some things just aren't practical to wish for (I'm looking at you, world peace) and other things are out of the question (I don't seriously think that putting a remodeled kitchen on my wishlist is going to serve much purpose). But this is a wishlist so I'm going to dream a little bit big, at least.

1. Silver hoop earrings. I lost one earring from the pair I wore almost every day and I'm a little lost without that option. Yes, I know they aren't that expensive and I could easily go out and buy them myself but I just haven't gotten around to that.

2. A comfortable reading chair that I can curl up in. I've been looking for the perfect chair for months. One of these days!

3. I'll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara. There are, of course, a lot of books on my wish list but this is a nonfiction title I'm really eager to read.

4. The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani. I think this one would be the perfect palate cleanser for me just now after so much nonfiction and so many heavier reads.

5. Another cat.  I'm ready for another buddy around the place and my cat is ready for a companion. The Big Guy's not having it so I don't think this is a wish that's coming true. But it never hurts to ask.

6. A blanket with poms. This is sort of ridiculous. I'm imagining my cat would have a field day with the poms but I just think they're so cute!

7. A blanket with sherpa lining. Can you tell it's been cold around here. I want choices for when I want to cuddle up!

8. Black booties. I can picture just what I want. Now to find them in a store.

9. A cream cardigan. Mine is shot and I live in cardigans in the winter.

10. World peace. Oh, what the hell. It's a wish list, right? Might as well go big!

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
Read by Maggie Hoffman
Published January 2018 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out through my local library

Publisher's Summary:
If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?

It's 1969 in New York City's Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

The prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in '80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

My Thoughts:
While the story starts in New York City, Benjamin lingers there only long enough to firmly place the family in their background. After the death of their father,  Simon and Klara take off for San Francisco and Benjamin moves her story forward from there by focusing on one sibling at a time until the date the psychic forecast they would die happens. I'm not always a fan of books where the author has broken up the book in this way. I often feel like I've lost touch with the other characters and more like I'm reading a series of connected short stories. Benjamin makes it work. At least one of the siblings and/or their mother, Gerta, play a role in each character's storyline. I never felt disconnected from the rest of the family.

I'll be honest. As much as I was enjoying Benjamin's writing, early on there was a part that was fairly sexually graphic and I began to wonder where the book was going...and if I was going to enjoy it if it continued in that vein. But Benjamin had a purpose for that and when that purpose was served, she moved on. It was truly the only problem I had with this book. Benjamin does a marvelous job of making her settings come to life. In New York, you can practically taste the custards at Schmulka Bernstein's and feel the heat of the desert. Benjamin has clearly done her research on her settings. What struck my most was the relationship between these siblings, their affection for each other, their annoyance and anger, their guilt.

Most of all, Benjamin makes readers think and you know how much I like a book that makes me think.

If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?

Would it change the way you lived your life? Would you live more cautiously, trying to change things? Or would you live life to the fullest, taking risks? If you knew you would live to 90, would you watch your diet and exercise so that you made sure you were healthy as possible into your dotage? Or would you figure it wouldn't matter and eat all of the bacon and chocolate, knowing it wasn't going to cause you to die prematurely? And what of relationships? If you knew you were going to die young, would you avoid relationships so as to not hurt people? Oh, so many things to think about!

Assuming your book club wouldn't be put off by that section I mentioned earlier, I think there'd be a lot here for a book club to talk about.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A Month of Faves: Routines, Habits and Changes. What Worked this Year and/or What Didn’t

So today's prompt is: Routines, Habits and Changes. What Worked this Year and/or What Didn’t. I'm going to go out on a limb and bet that you already know that I don't have much to contribute to this subject. This might be the year I've least adhered to a schedule and I have no explanation as to why. No one who knows me would ever accuse me of being a "fly by the seat of your pants" kind of gal. But the older I get, the more I feel like I just want to do what I want, when I want. Also, my mind tends to wander these days which makes it hard to stay on task. Some things I did do this year that were changes I made that worked for me:

1. Pack My Lunch. Every. Single. Day. I actually started doing this to help Miss H save money and since I was packing her a lunch it just made sense to pack both of us a lunch (The Big Guy is on his own!). If we've got leftovers, that's what we have. Otherwise, we've done wraps, sandwiches, soup, cheese and crackers, chicken salad - whatever we have on hand. I do not make a point to buy special food for lunches which actually made it easier to keep this up. No more of "well, I guess were out of the special lunch food; I guess I'll just have to run out for a burger." I always toss in some fruit and generally a granola bar for the midmorning pangs.

2. Scale Back On My Bullet Journal. I was spending a lot of time trying to make my pages all pretty. But I don't have time for that. Or rather, I prefer not to take the time for that. Now setting up pages is not so much of a task for me.

3. Create Monthly Tasks. My cat needs her claws trimmed and her fur brushed. My stupid front load washing machine needs to be drained and cleaned. But I could never remember how long it had been since I'd last done those kinds of tasks and I always forgot to put them on the to-do list. Now I do those kinds of task once a month, the first week of the month. They go on my monthly to-do list, then onto my to-do list for the first week and then I try to knock all of them out in one day that week. It's possible the cat actually needs her claws trimmed every 3 weeks but she's just going to have to live with it because this works for me. Besides, she hates having it done anyway so she doesn't mind the wait.

Have you made any changes to your routine this year that worked for you? Created any new habits? What works for you? I'm especially looking for tips on time management. My phone is such a time suck and I just haven't been able to find a way to get in a better routine about using it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Wangs Versus The World by Jade Chang

The Wangs Versus The World by Jade Chang
Published October 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Source: my ecopy purchased for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
Charles Wang is mad at America. A brash, lovable immigrant businessman who built a cosmetics empire and made a fortune, he's just been ruined by the financial crisis. Now all Charles wants is to get his kids safely stowed away so that he can go to China and attempt to reclaim his family's ancestral lands - and his pride.

Charles pulls Andrew, his aspiring comedian son, and Grace, his style-obsessed daughter, out of schools he can no longer afford. Together with their stepmother, Barbra, they embark on a cross-country road trip from their foreclosed Bel-Air home to the upstate New York hideout of the eldest daughter, disgraced art world it-girl Saina. But with his son waylaid by a temptress in New Orleans, his wife ready to defect for a set of 1,000-thread-count sheets, and an epic smash-up in North Carolina, Charles may have to choose between the old world and the new, between keeping his family intact and finally fulfilling his dream of starting anew in China.

My Thoughts:
I've started this review three times and deleted everything I'd typed. I liked this book; I really did. But it's been a month since I read it and I'm having a hard time remembering the details of it that made me like it and the things that kept me from loving it. Back in the day, when I was blogging like I was getting paid to do it, even if I couldn't get a full review written out right away, I'd start a draft and getting some rough thoughts put down. Too bad I don't do that any more, it would really be helpful now. Luckily, I read it on my Nook so at least I do have the things I highlighted! So let's try doing this review this way:

What I Liked:
I'm a sucker for stories about families, especially when they involve a road trip. As a veteran of many a trip in the family station wagon growing up, this book took me right back to those days, to the ways being stuck in that car and sharing experiences could both drive you crazy and bring you closer. When you can relate to a book that way, it's always a point in favor of the book.

Curiously, I actually felt a bit sorry for Charles which helped me care that his journey was a eventually a success and to know that I'd feel bad for him if it wasn't For a guy that had been smart enough to build up an empire to be so clueless about what was going on around him, and for his chances for success, made Charles more likable than rich guys losing it all usually are.

I loved the relationship the siblings had with each other. They didn't always get each other, they often annoyed each other. But they had a bond forged from the loss of their mother. And I enjoyed watching each of them grow throughout the book.

What I Didn't Like:
Ok, maybe "didn't like" is too strong a phrase. Let's say these are things that didn't work for me.

I sometimes felt like Chang wasn't sure if this book was about Charles' journey, or the family finding a way to overcome their loss, so much as it was a story about Saina. Chang spends a lot of time tells us about Saina's experiences as an artist and her fall from grace, as well as her relationships with men. Strangely, I felt less sorry for Saina than I did for Charles which may account for why I got tired of reading so much about her.

But then I felt like Chang also got a little long-winded when she went off with Andrew on his solo expedition. I just really wanted things to feel a little more balanced.

Things That Caught My Attention:
"The only people who still used mules for anything other than entertainment were the mujahideen and the Amish, both lost tribes fighting for the useless past."
I'm pretty sure it would never have occurred to me that the mujahideen and the Amish had anything in common, but it turns out they do.
"He [Charles] wished they [children] could stay hidden away, with the damp, trusting little mouths, until they developed some sort of hard shell impenetrable to drugs or sex or disappointment or any of the thousand poison-tipped arrows the world might aim in their direction."
Yes, yes, yes. Every parent ever can surely relate to this.

My book club read this book. We did a terrible job discussing it but I do believe there is a lot here for a book club to talk about. Family relationships, art, cultures, ethics, the immigrant experience, what wealth does to people. Also, I don't think I mentioned this yet, the book is frequently quite funny which keeps it from getting weighed down with its heavier topics.

Monday, December 10, 2018

A Month of Faves: A Day In The Life

So we're two and a half weeks from Christmas as of this past weekend and before that arrives, I am hosting a dinner party and book club. Plus I'm still finishing up shopping. But...I'm battled the tail end of a cold so I wasn't as productive as I'd liked to have been.

8:30 a.m. - My alarm went off but I'd been up to 1:30 a.m. so I shut it off and thought I'd get a little more sleep.

8:37 a.m. - Well, that didn't work. Time to get up.

8:45 a.m. - First cup of coffee. It's the weekend so there will be at least a couple more cups. I settle in to watch the rest of CBS Sunday Morning.

9:30 a.m. - Breakfast time - bagel with cream cheese and lemon curd. While I'm eating (and having my second cup of coffee), I'm internet shopping. I'm philosophically opposed to Amazon but, damn, I do love free, 2-day shipping.

10:00 a.m. - Time to get busy. I dust the walls on the first floor, then scrub the walls in the vanity, back hall, and kitchen. Can anyone explain to me how some kind of liquid got spilled on the walls in the back hall?

11:00 a.m. - Third cup of coffee. Time to check in on Facebook and Instagram.

11:30 a.m. - Back to cleaning. When I win the lottery, I'm paying someone else to clean my bathrooms! One bathroom done.

12:00 p.m. - Blogging time. Getting my Sunday post written.

12:30 p.m. - Lunch time. The Big Guy made stir fry and I'm here to tell you that sometimes that guy can really shake a pan.

1:00 p.m. - Laundry time. It seems like it's always laundry time on the weekend.

1:30 p.m. - Watered the plants. Two years ago I had two plants. These days I have 15 in the house. I'm always forgetting to water at least one of them.

2:00 p.m. - Repotted a couple of plants. BG hates when I play with plants in the house; I tend to get dirt every where. In my defense, I am also the person who cleans it all up.

2:45 p.m. - I finally get dressed and convince BG to make a Christmas shopping trip with me.

Love the title, love the price!
3:15 p.m. - Barnes and Noble time. We look at games, books, and when we check out we find that we've gotten a "buy one cookie, get another free" coupon.

4:20 p.m. - We buy those cookie: peanut butter cup for me, oatmeal raisin for BG. We'd eat them at the store except we have plans. We're pretty darned excited to have earned another coupon. Guess we'll be back to the store again soon!

4:35 p.m - Did you know that Dunkin' Donuts has lattes and cappuccinos for $2 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. every day through December 30th? I found this out on Saturday, thanks to Instagram. A latte for him, a cappuccino for me.

4:50 p.m. - We've brought our coffee and cookies home for an early dinner, I guess, and enjoy them while watching football.

5:45 p.m. - Because apparently we're old people, and also because we probably need to put something at least nominally healthy into our stomachs, BG gets us some apples, grapes, popcorn, and cheese. This, of course, requires that we continue to just sit.

6:15 p.m. - Time to clean up the dishes. Miss H has been kind enough to clean out her car today. It's kind in that I now know where half of my plastic containers have gone and will finally have some again for packing lunch. This also means that cleaning up the kitchen involves washing all of those containers as well as a half dozen water vessels she's been driving around with.

6:45 p.m. - Shopping time. BG and I spend the next hour online shopping and discussing what we'll get for Mini-me and Ms. S. While I'm at it, I'll be having a text conversation with Ms. S about things they might need/want as well as her visit, today, to my sister's house.

7:30 p.m. - Pretty sure we've hit present gold but it's a bit of a daring choice so we don't pull the trigger just yet. This one gift will require 30 minutes of conversation with no decision.

8:00 p.m. - Time to catch this post up while I can still remember what we've done today. I'm old, you know, and these things pass quickly from my memory.

8:10 p..m. - On the "I'm getting old" front, time to put new insoles into my shoes. This is about as exciting as it gets on a Sunday night, folks.

8:15 p.m. - The dishes got done but the kitchen is still a mess. Anyone else's kitchen the catch-all spot in the house? Everything gets put back where it belongs, then I sweep and mop and cross my fingers that no one spills anything on the floor for at least a couple of days. History tells me that the best I can realistically hope for is 24 hours.

8:45 p.m. - Time to work on the bullet journal for the coming week. I'm happy to see that I won't be carrying much into next week that was on this week's to-do list.

9:05 p.m. - Finally opening a book for the first time this weekend. I'll be reading while I watch football so it's not the most productive time to read but it's better than nothing.

9:20 p.m. - Oops! Back on my phone again. In my defense, I'm doing some Christmas shopping. I have two gifts left now (which I will get this weekend) and some stocking stuffers and then I'm done! Now to wrap them all. But that's for another day.

10:35 p.m. - The football game is done and it's time to do the "end of the day" tasks. One last spin through the kitchen to make sure it's still tidy. Check the cat's water bowl to make sure it's full. Turn off all of the Christmas lights - three trees, the mantle and six sets of twinkly lights. It's worth every minute - I'm so enjoying the glow all around my house!

11:05 p.m. - One last load of laundry in, which I'll toss into the dryer in the morning.

11:15 p.m. - Fill up a glass of water, get my purse, pour out half dozen kitty treats and then we girls head up for the night. Kitty will have her treats next to her bed. Wash face, brush and floss, jump into my jammies (well, maybe not "jump" exactly) and then crawl into bed where I will actually read for another 25 minutes.

11:55 p.m. - Turning out the light, finally. One day I'll learn how to get myself to bed early. Today's clearly not that day.

Well, that could not have been any more dull to read about but I do love a good, lazy day!

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Life: It Goes On - December 9

Happy two weeks until Christmas! Anyone else starting to kick it into overdrive? Yesterday I got the Christmas cards ordered. I've done a lot of Christmas shopping this weekend. Wrapping won't get done until next week since I have a dinner party and book club meeting to plan for before that can happen. I decided that after spending so much time getting the house decorated, someone might as well actually see it. And I have spent a ridiculous amount of time fussing around with the decorating this year!

I'm dragging this weekend; Miss H was kind enough to share a cold. Luckily, I don't have it nearly as bad as she did so I'm still getting things done. I guess if I'm going to have to have a cold this time of year, this weekend is better than any of the next three!

Last Week I:

Listened To: The Immortalists, which I'm enjoying a lot. My Year of Rest and Relaxation became available ten days ago but I doubt I'm going to get to it before my loan expires so I suppose I'll have to put that on hold again. Not sure what will be available next.

Watched: Lots of sports this week - some football, college basketball, international curling, and college volleyball. Very excited that our Huskers will be going to the Final Four for the fourth year in a row.

Read: Yeah, well. Actual reading is almost at a standstill right now. Maybe I'll actually finish a book this week.

Made: A ramen soup comfort recipe from the New York Times, stir fry, chicken parmesan, scrambled eggs (because sometimes breakfast for dinner is just the thing!).

Enjoyed: Happy hour(s) with friends.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On finishing up the shopping this week and getting the Christmas cards mailed by weekend.

Thinking About: Starting the holiday baking.

Feeling: Like I might just be enjoying this holiday season more than I have in years. I've certainly enjoyed playing with decorating more this year than in a very long time. If you follow me on Instagram, you're probably sick of seeing the pictures! I've brought a lot of family into my decorating this year including runners from Mini-me and Ms. S's wedding, an ice cream maker barrel from The Big Guy's great aunt, dishes from the original Mama Shep and her Christmas carol book, books from my great-uncle, ornaments from my grandparents' and parents' trees, and pages from some of my mom's choral books. My original plan was to scale way back this year. Oh, well. At least, I'm also now in good shape for winter decor once the holidays are over.

Looking forward to: Three short work weeks in a row after I make it through this week.

Question of the week: How are you holding up this month?

Thursday, December 6, 2018

A Month of Faves: Popular Books Worth The Hype

Since I'm so often behind the curve with the popular books, I can't necessarily speak strictly to books published in 2018. But I have read quite a lot of books this year that have, in the year they were published at least, gotten a lot of hype. Here are the books I've read this year that were worth the hype:

1. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones 
2. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
3. Circe by Madeline Miller
4. Five Days At Memorial by Sheri Fink
5. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
6. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
7. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I thought I'd add a few books that had garnered a lot of hype I didn't think they deserved but I can't say that I read that many books this year that fit that category. Perhaps Exit West which appeared on a lot of "best of" lists. I liked it but I sure missed whatever made it one of the best books of the year.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Heirs of the Founders: The Epic Rivalry of Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster, the Second Generation of American Giants by H. W. Brands

Heirs of the Founders: The Epic Rivalry of Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster, the Second Generation of American Giants by H. W. Brands
Published November 2018 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: my ecopy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
In the early 1800s, three young men strode onto the national stage, elected to Congress at a moment when the Founding Fathers were beginning to retire to their farms. Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, a champion orator known for his eloquence, spoke for the North and its business class. Henry Clay of Kentucky, as dashing as he was ambitious, embodied the hopes of the rising West. South Carolina's John Calhoun, with piercing eyes and an even more piercing intellect, defended the South and slavery.

Together these heirs of Washington, Jefferson and Adams took the country to war, battled one another for the presidency and set themselves the task of finishing the work the Founders had left undone. Their rise was marked by dramatic duels, fierce debates, scandal and political betrayal. Yet each in his own way sought to remedy the two glaring flaws in the Constitution: its refusal to specify where authority ultimately rested, with the states or the nation, and its unwillingness to address the essential incompatibility of republicanism and slavery.

They wrestled with these issues for four decades, arguing bitterly and hammering out political compromises that held the Union together, but only just. Then, in 1850, when California moved to join the Union as a free state, "the immortal trio" had one last chance to save the country from the real risk of civil war. But, by that point, they had never been further apart.

My Thoughts:
So, I had all kinds of fantastic things highlighted in my ecopy of this book, things I really wanted to share with you. But when you are reading the book right up to the very last minute before the book archives, you don't have access to it to share things. Which is a shame because there was so much in this book that I wanted to share with you.

On the heels of listening to Lin Manuel Miranda's Hamilton, this was the right book at the right time for me. This second generation of American leaders is every bit as interesting as the first generation and certainly deserve their fair share of attention. They faced some of the same battles as that first generation - battles with Britain, battles of egos, and a battle to make a new country of a disparate collection of states. But they are also forced to deal with the unfinished business of that first generation. Is this group of states a confederacy or a union? How does this new country find its place in the world? And what to do about the question of slavery?

You can't write about Calhoun, Webster, and Clay without talking about the other key players of their generation: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, James Madison, James Monroe, and Chief Justice John Marshall. Which means that there are a lot of players to talk about and keep track of and Brands manages to do all of that without losing sight of who and what his book is about.

Unlike George Washington, who reluctantly accepted the presidency, Calhoun, Webster and Clay spent their entire political lives working to put themselves into that position. The maneuverings were fascinating as were the ensuing battles between these players. While all three rose to the heights of the young government, none of them ever reached the goal they so coveted.

What was, perhaps, most interesting about this book for me about this book was how much what is happening in our country currently echoes what was happening in the first half of the nineteenth century. The politicians battled each other endlessly. At least, our current politicians only battle each other with words and not with pistols in duels. The country was hopelessly divided - the South, the West, New England. They battled over the Constitution and states' rights. They battled over taxes. Sound familiar? It all started to feel like we were reliving history right now.

As someone who grew up with the study of the U. S. Civil War as a part of regular life, it's always interesting to me to read accounts of the events that led up to the war. The only problem with reading books like this turns out to be my dad's problem because I'm bound to put the book into his hands to get his opinion on it. This book is no exception. I hope he enjoys it as much as I did and can learn some new things to add to his knowledge of these captivating men. I definitely recommend it for all fans of U.S. history, particular politics.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

A Month of Faves: 2018 Favorites Edition

It's December which means it's time for A Month of Faves again! I'm terrible about keeping up with the schedule (I mean, this topic was supposed to post yesterday) but I do love to play along so I'll do my best. Join hosts  GirlxoxoTraveling with T and Estella's Revenge for the annual #AMonthofFaves blog event – a fun way to recap the year that was.

In addition to talking about some of my favorite things from 2018, I thought it would be fun to go back and see how my faves from the past couple of years of fared. 

From 2016:

Fave scent: Dolce and Gabanna's Light Blue. Still my go-to scent. Besides still really liking it, having only one real perfume on hand makes life just a little bit easier. 

Fave cream for my feet: Gold Bond Ultimate Softening Foot Cream is still my favorite. The Big Guy bought me a giant bottle of something else he'd read was supposed to be great and I do like it for my foot but for my heels, it's still the Gold Bond that works best. 

Fave t.v. show: This is Us is still right at the top although I'm sort of over the ads for the show. I swear they tell us that every episode is "a very special" episode. 

From 2017: 

Fave game: Two Dots finally was usurped from the top by Word Connect this year but even that has lost its luster for me already. At the moment, I'm not playing any games, finding other things to do with my time on my phone.

Fave t.v. show: Grace and Frankie is still one of my faves but I need them to hurry up and get the next season released!

For 2018:

My parents and their kids
Favorite Celebration: We did a lot of celebrating this year (Mini-him and Ms. S both turned 30, we had several friends who children got married, and, of course, The Prince arrived in July) but my favorite was the wedding of my nephew in Dallas. The wedding was beautiful and so much fun but what made the long weekend even more fun was getting to visit a new city (well, technically, I'd been in Dallas before but only for a couple of hours on a bus trip to Mexico 40 years ago), getting to spend so much time with my family, and, most of all, having all six of my family together for the first time in almost a year. 

Favorite Bookish Event: Seeing Ron Chernow in September. He is a lively, entertaining speaker who proves that history can be a lot of fun. He spoke a lot about working with Lin Manuel-Miranda since his book, Alexander Hamilton, was the basis for the musical Hamilton and he even rapped. 

Favorite Trip: With apologies to my siblings (we very much enjoyed trips to see both of them and their families), we most enjoyed a trip to see Mini-me and Ms. S in their new home in Rochester. It's not Milwaukee (which we loved), nor their cool place there, but it's a nice town with everything you really need and their place is perfect for them. Plus, they are only about an hour and a half from the Twin Cities when they need a city fix and a couple of hours from my sister and less than that from BG's brother so we are happy to have been able to see both of them while we've been up north. 

Favorite New Snack: Sensible Portions' Garden Veggie Straws with sea salt. Anyone who knows me will find that fact that my new fave snack has the word "veggie" in it will be stunned. But, honestly, these don't really taste like veggies. They are just a nice light, salty, crunchy snack. I love the irony of the brand name, given that I buy them at Costco in a giant bag!

Favorite Cocktail: I'm on a bourbon kick right now so my current favorite is a French 95. I can make them at home but I do love to find them in a bar where they have all kinds of bourbons I can choose from.

What are some of your favorite things from 2018?

Monday, December 3, 2018

A Highland Christmas by M. C. Beaton

A Highland Christmas: A Hamish Macbeth Mystery by M. C. Beaton
Narrated by Graeme Malcolm
Published November 1999 by Grand Central Publishing
Source: my audiobook copy checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
In the dark, wintry highlands of Lochdubh, Scotland, the spirit of Old St. Nick is about as welcome as a flat tire on a deserted road. The Calvinist element in Lochdubh has always resisted what they view as the secular trimmings of the holiday, so for most of the townspeople, there's no pudding, carols, banquets, gifts, or even whisky for Christmas.

Nor is crime taking a holiday, as Hamish soon finds himself looking for a missing cat belonging to a lonely spinster. Confrontational and curt, the unfriendly woman insists her pet was stolen. Looking into her eyes behind her heavily bolted door, Hamish can see her true problem-she lives in great fear...but what is she afraid of?

Then some thieves make off with a Christmas tree and lights in nearby Cnothan and Hamish must investigate. As if that isn't enough on his holiday plate, Hamish's romance of the new schoolteacher is going fine, until she mentions a perfect little girl whose family abhors Christmas...and whose behavior has recently become very imperfect.

Now it's up to Hamish to make things right. He has to protect an unhappy girl, unlock the secrets of a frightened old woman, and retrieve some stolen holiday goods. And he had better do it quickly, for the church bells will soon toll, and all of Lochdubh will be forced to face another dreary winter without the warm embrace of A Highland Christmas.

My Thoughts: 
This being a Christmas tale, this is even more of a cozy mystery than usual - no dead bodies, no concerns for danger. I mean, a stolen kitten and some missing Christmas lights are hardly as exciting as a dead body on the moors. It's a bit boring, honestly; but at only two hours listening time, it went by quickly enough.

But it's Hamish, so you know I liked it, right? He can be cranky and a little self-centered, but he's right where he belongs and he's happy there. As ever, he's surrounded by the usual kinds of people: a boss who doesn't appreciate him, a cranky old woman, some uptight wealthy people, some colorful locals, and a woman who has the hots for him. And, of course, you know that he's going to solve the mysteries. This time, though, Hamish gets to do some real good - making people happy, pulling people together, and bringing Christmas to Lochdubh.

Graeme Malcolm is perfect as the narrator, as always, adding an extra layer of warmth to the story.

Fans of Hamish will probably like this one, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it for someone who isn't already invested in Hamish's life.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Life: It Goes On - December 2

Happy December! Hope this finds you all...oh heck, I hope this finds you all. I've been so lax on my blogging lately that I'll be really surprised if there are any of you still out there reading.

I am hunkered down for the day. We got a few inches of heavy snow last night, after a whole day of rain, sleet, and slush and I have no reason to venture out into it other than to have been out to scoop the driveway. Besides, I was hardly at home yesterday so this girl needs some quiet home time.

Also, it's time for me to finally finish the Christmas decorating. If you follow me on Instagram, you'll know I've spent a ridiculous amount of time thinking about, playing with, and re-doing just the mantle. I'm working on a less busy look this year and I have several new pieces to work into that so it means rethinking everything I've done before. Maybe next year it will actually be easier to put up?

November came to an end, as did my attempts to write my first novel during National Novel Writing Month. The goal was 50,000 words. My final total? About 15,000. It's a fail in every way other than that I did do some writing; I have a start and can move forward from there if I so chose.

The end of November also meant the end of Nonfiction November. I always look forward to this month and it's always another thing I just can't seem to do right. I did read a lot of nonfiction last month and got up quite a few reviews. But I didn't manage to do any of the posts associated with the event. Ah well, we can't do everything, right?

Last Week I:

Listened To: As much of The Woman's Hour as I could get listened to before my loan was up with my library. I've got it back on hold and hope that next time it doesn't become available when I still have ten hours left of another book! On Friday I started Chloe Benjamin's The Immortalists, and I must say, I'm quite enjoying listening to fiction after several nonfiction books in a row.

Watched: Last night we went to see Widows with friends. I think I liked it better than the rest of our crew. I appreciated the fact that director Steve McQueen was able to make an action film that isn't gratuitously violent and the way he turned an action film into a film about people.

Read: Like I said, not much. I'm having a hard time focusing on books right now. I do have several books I need to get read in the next month so I need to find my reading mojo again soon.

Made: Homemade mac 'n' cheese, chicken noodle casserole, beef stew. It's been cold and it's time for comfort food!

Enjoyed: A couple of parties yesterday.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On finishing up most of my Christmas shopping this week. I'm mostly finished but need to get Mini-me's and Ms. S's gifts off in the mail to them; the first year they weren't here I waited too long and it cost me $95 to get their gifts to them on time! Never again.

Thinking About: Christmas cards. I need to get them ordered today so that they can go out in the mail by the end of the week.

Feeling: Lazy. Not a good thing with so much to get done today.

Looking forward to: I don't think we have anything on the calendar this week. Which means I'm probably forgetting something!

Question of the week: How do you decorate for the holidays? What is the one thing that you absolutely have to put out to make things feel festive?

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Five Days At Memorial by Sheri Fink

Five Days At Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink
Read by Kirsten Potter
Published March 2014 by Gale Group
Source: my audiobook copy checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
In the tradition of the best investigative journalism, physician and reporter Sheri Fink reconstructs 5 days at Memorial Medical Center and draws the reader into the lives of those who struggled mightily to survive and maintain life amid chaos.

After Katrina struck and the floodwaters rose, the power failed, and the heat climbed, exhausted caregivers chose to designate certain patients last for rescue. Months later, several of those caregivers faced criminal allegations that they deliberately injected numerous patients with drugs to hasten their deaths.

Five Days at Memorial, the culmination of six years of reporting, unspools the mystery of what happened in those days, bringing the reader into a hospital fighting for its life and into a conversation about the most terrifying form of health care rationing.

In a voice at once involving and fair, masterful and intimate, Fink exposes the hidden dilemmas of end-of-life care and reveals just how ill-prepared we are for the impact of large-scale disasters—and how we can do better. A remarkable book, engrossing from start to finish, Five Days at Memorial radically transforms your understanding of human nature in crisis.

My Thoughts:
Do you ever watch Dateline? If you do, you're familiar with the way they present a story in such a way that you are absolutely certain you know what happened and who the bad guy is...and then they present the contradictory evidence and you have no idea what the truth is.

I got that same feeling as I listened to Five Days At Memorial.

Fink begins by bringing readers up to speed with New Orlean's history of flooding and the measures that could have been, but weren't, put in place to prevent future disasters. And then she brings on the disaster. Fink wants readers to know the people who were trapped in Memorial Hospital when Katrina came ashore; more importantly, she wants us to care. Which makes it all the more appalling when the generators stop working. When communications with possible rescuers go to hell. When it becomes so hot inside the building that employees and families (who took shelter at the hospital) are forced to use furniture to break out windows. Medications ran low. Moving patients to the helipad or the parking garage ramp that became a boat rescue landing space was exhausting; and because patients had to be ready to go when rescue arrived, they often spent hours outside. Family members were called into action to help carry patients to rescue and fan those who were bed ridden. Stairwells were dark, floors became slick with the humidity. Difficult decisions had to be made as to who would be rescued first; then, as the situation changed, those decisions were changed. Patients died. And administrators, doctors, and nurses talked about easing patients' pain.

On the fifth day, some medical professionals gave nine patients high doses of medication to relieve their suffering. All nine of those patients died.

When I'd heard about those patients all those years ago, I felt certain that if the choice had been made to euthanize patients, it was the right choice given the dire circumstances and the patients' conditions. By the time those patients died in the book, I wasn't so sure. After all, on day five, even as the patients were being given the medications, mass evacuation was beginning. In the second half of the book, Fink explores the aftermath of the disaster at Memorial that culminated in the arrest of Dr. Anna Pou and two nurses for second degree murder. And here is where your mind really becomes muddled. The investigators, coroners, and prosecutors make valid cases for charging some of the caregivers with murder. But their motives are suspect and their handling of the cases are mangled. Public opinion among the medical community and those who went through Katrina was decidedly biased.

There's no question that there is plenty of blame to go around for all of the deaths that happened with Katrina. The government had known for eighty years that there were things that could, and should, be done to shore up the levee system. Tenet  Healthcare, owner of Memorial Hospital, did not have a proper emergency plan, hadn't moved generators to higher ground, and hadn't even insured that their helipad was safe for landing. The evacuation of the areas impacted was badly mishandled and communication was horrific.

In the end, Fink wants readers to understand that the measures in place when Katrina struck were woefully lacking, from the levees to the power supply to the evacuation procedures to the plan for how to allocate limited supplies in the event of a major crisis. What's more, in the Epilogue Fink details time she spent in Bellevue Hospital in New York when Super Storm Sandy flooding New York City and finds that some of the same problems still existed years later.

As much as I really enjoyed Potter's reading, I often wished that I had been reading this one in print so I could keep track of the players better and so I could highlight the heck out of it. I saw Fink talking about what happened at Memorial a few years ago and knew I was going to love her writing. I was right. This book brings up important questions, it made me think. It made me think that I may need to buy a copy of this book to read again. It was that good.