Thursday, June 28, 2018

Cat Thursday

It's been more than a month now since we lost of big boy. I'm mostly done sobbing. Which is not to say that I don't tear up almost daily when I think of him. Like when I don't have a cat trying to mooch my breakfast cereal milk or the deli meat while I make myself a sandwich for lunch or the melted ice cream at the bottom of a McFlurry. I miss him when there's not a cat sitting in a chair across the dinner table from me or on the bench behind my chair, tapping my shoulder to remind me that he'd happily take any meat leftovers. I miss finding him in funny places or seeing him curled up under his favorite pine tree in the back yard. I miss him curling up in my lap while I work at the computer or snuggling in as close as possible when I'm relaxing on the couch. And I miss him because his sister misses him and I feel terrible leaving her all alone when I go to bed. 

Anyone who says cats don't have big personalities has never met Iroh. He was one of a kind.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Published September 2017 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: bought for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town--and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia's past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

My Thoughts:
I've been wanting to read this book for a year but, as so often happens, I had to put it on the book club schedule to finally get around to reading it. First off, let me just say that this book made a great book club choice: so much to talk about. Ng touches on so many important topics: motherhood, adoption, surrogacy, abortion, race, class, and secrets.

Ng has readers considering motherhood by so many different angles: the mother who seems to have it all and balance it, the single mother, the mother who gave up her child, the mother who are desperate for a child, and the girl who doesn't want to be a mother. She explores the relationship between mothers and their children, what a mother must sacrifice for their children, and what makes a mother.
Elena is the mother who lives by the rules and follows the conventions. Mia is the mother who makes her own rules. It turns out neither may be the mother their children need.

There were pieces of this book that particularly appealed to me:

  • There is a court proceeding to determine custody of an infant and Ng's examination there of what makes a good parent (is it better to choose biology or parents that can give the child more in terms of opportunity and things?) and if parents of one race are truly equipped to raise children of another race. Bearing in mind that the book is set twenty years ago when it would have been even more difficult to find books, movies, and toys that reflected any culture other than white, Ng seems to be saying that it's hard enough for parents of the same non-white race to surround their children with their own culture. 
  • Ng does a marvelous job of tapping in to what it feels like to be a teen - trying to fit in, the pressure to have sex, the drinking, the pressure to get into the right schools. But she is also very clear about the different race, money, and privilege can make in a teen's life.
  • There's a lot going on in the book but it almost never feels forced which is a much bigger deal that it sounds like. 
  • The title is perfect: this book is filled with characters setting little fires everywhere. It's a wonder to watch it all unfold.
  • I'm again impressed with Ng's ability to give you an ending to the book up front and then make you feel entirely differently about that event by the time you finish the book. 

This is a book that made a lot of best-of lists for 2017 and it's easy to see why. It's so well crafted, a puzzle of a book with Ng masterfully moving the pieces into place. I was fascinated by many of the characters and it's a book I'm glad I got to talk about with other people because it really made me think about what I'd read. But...

I wanted to love this book. I really wanted it to make my best-of list for the year. I wanted to want to read it in one fell swoop. But I didn't love it and I'm still trying to figure out why not. Perhaps it's because even though there are a lot of really interesting characters in the book, I just could not connect with them. Perhaps it's because when we finally learn Mia's history, it really took me out of the story I had been reading. Perhaps it's because I live in the suburbs and the suburbs don't come off very well here. Perhaps it was because I felt like I was closer to being Mrs. Richardson than Mia and that made me uncomfortable because she is clearly the bad guy in this book. You see what I mean about not being able to put my finger on an answer?

Don't get me wrong; I would definitely recommend this book. I liked it a lot and it's a book that I think will stay with me a while because there is so much to it. I'm going to go add this book to my best-of list for 2018. How much it stays with me is going to determine whether or not it's still on the list by December.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Task It Tuesday - June 26

So, pretty much when I've made the other lists, I've posted them...and ignored them. But this time, I swear, I'm going to follow up on this one! Starting as soon as I'm finished with this list, I'm going to check off #4. Yea, me!

Reading (and blogging) to do tasks:

1. write review for Little Fires Everywhere
2. write review for You Think It, I'll Say It
3. Write "What We're Reading" post (a new idea I've had)
4. catch up book club blog
5. set up post for the Fourth of July
6. clean up reading journal
7. try to fix Nook error with Netgalley
8. put together a tentative summer reading list
9. pick up The Roanoke Girls for July book club
10. write a Mama Shepp's Family Recommends post

We bloggers love our lists and always have tasks to be done. But what about my readers who aren't bloggers - do you ever put together a reading to-do list?

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Women In The Castle by Jessica Shattuck

The Women In The Castle by Jessica Shattuck
Published March 2017 by Harper Collins Publishers
Source: bought for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:

Set at the end of World War II, in a crumbling Bavarian castle that once played host to all of German high society, a powerful and propulsive story of three widows whose lives and fates become intertwined.

Amid the ashes of Nazi Germany’s defeat, Marianne von Lingenfels returns to the once-grand castle of her husband’s ancestors, an imposing stone fortress now fallen into ruin following years of war. The widow of a resister murdered in the failed July 20, 1944, plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Marianne plans to uphold the promise she made to her husband’s brave conspirators: to find and protect their wives, her fellow resistance widows.

First Marianne rescues six-year-old Martin, the son of her dearest childhood friend, from a Nazi reeducation home. Together, they make their way across the smoldering wreckage of their homeland to Berlin, where Martin’s mother, the beautiful and naive Benita, has fallen into the hands of occupying Red Army soldiers. Then she locates Ania, another resister’s wife, and her two boys, now refugees languishing in one of the many camps that house the millions displaced by the war.

As Marianne assembles this makeshift family from the ruins of her husband’s resistance movement, she is certain their shared pain and circumstances will hold them together. But she quickly discovers that the black-and-white, highly principled world of her privileged past has become infinitely more complicated, filled with secrets and dark passions that threaten to tear them apart. Eventually, all three women must come to terms with the choices that have defined their lives before, during, and after the war—each with their own unique share of challenges.

My Thoughts:
I read this with the Omaha Bookworms* last month. It wasn't exactly what any of us had been expecting (maybe because we didn't entirely read through the synopsis); but we all liked the story the book does tell.

This was another one of those books about World War II that surprised me by giving me a view of that war that I've never read about before. Shattuck raises a lot of questions in The Women In The Castle. What of the German people in the aftermath, those who supported the German war machine and those who opposed it? And how do they live with each other after what has happened? And how do people live with the things they've done to survive?

As much as I disliked the Germans for what they did during the war, it's the Russians who really come off as the bad guys here as they literally rape, pillage, and plunder their way across what's left of Germany. I'm not naive enough to believe that American soldiers didn't commit some atrocities as they moved across the lands of the conquered enemies, but the Russians seem to have taken their revenge for what was done to their people by German soldiers and their leaders.

One of the things that grabbed me about this book was how often this piece of history mirrored our current political situation.
"For so long Marianne and Albrecht and many of their friends had known Hitler was a lunatic, a leader whose lowbrow appeal to people's most selfish, self-pitying emotions and ignorance was an embarrassment for their country. They had watched him make a masterwork of scapegoating Jews for Germany's fall from power and persuade his followers that enlightenment, humanity, and tolerance were weaknesses - "Jewish" ideas that led to defeat. They had wrung their hands over his dangerous conflations, his fervor, and his lack of humanity." 
These ladies have stayed with me; a month after reading the book, I'm still thinking about them and their strength and their pain.

*This is a terrific book club selection, with a lot to talk about including the ties to current times, the bonds the women forged, the ways they survived and the truth of the history in the book. We definitely recommend it for other book clubs.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Life: It Goes On - June 24

There were days this week when I truly thought we were living in Biblical times - "Make thee an ark of gopher wood" (Genesis 6:14). It rained and it rained and it rained some more. The College World Series has had more weather delays this year than I think they have ever had. I haven't had to worry about watering lawn and garden, but I haven't really been able to get out and weed, deadhead, or eat on the patio.

 The official start to summer was cool and rainy and I don't like to celebrate that day anyway. It's the longest day of the year which means that everyday after that we are getting less and less daylight. Sure, I know that it happens so slowly I won't even notice and I'll get over it. But I loved leaving a party at 9 the other night and it was still bright light out. Also, it's not the official start to summer for me until this happens →

It's not enough for BLT's yet, but it sure makes me happy!

Last Week I:

Listened To: Sirius radio. It came with my new Pilot and the verdict is still out on whether I like it or not. I find it a little cumbersome to use while you're driving - too hard to explore and keep your eyes on the road. But I did find a station called "On Broadway" which I am really enjoying. Listening to a lot of music from musicals I've never heard of but also enjoying some beloved songs including music from Godspell, Annie Get Your Gun, and A Chorus Line. I've also enjoyed getting to learn the music from this year's big Tony winner, The Band's Visit.

Watched: Baseball - the College World Series variety.

Read: I finished Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere and now I'm reading Curtis Sittenfield's shorty story collection, You Think It, I'll Say It.

Made: I really haven't cooked much this week. We did have a couple of different pasta dishes.

Enjoyed: Seeing how much my dad is improving when I visited them yesterday.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On finally getting the summer decor out. It's time for whites and blues, seashells, and cleared off surfaces.

Thinking About: Painting my dining room table. We refinished it a couple of years ago but I've never loved it. I'd love to paint it white but I doubt I can talk The Big Guy into anything but black.

Feeling: Conflicted today. Yesterday was busy, what with a 2 hour hair appointment, a trip to Lincoln to see my parents, and then an evening with old friends. So do I make today productive or relaxing? So far, it's sort of been a mixture of both.

Looking forward to: Book club on Tuesday and dinner with a friend on Wednesday.

Question of the week: If you could make one change in your home, what would it be?

Friday, June 22, 2018

Flashback Friday: The College World Series

I thought it might be fun to look back at some of my older posts. Or it might be painful. Either way, here's one from June 2009, when I first talked about the College World Series:

It's good to be in Omaha this week if you're a fan of college baseball as Rosenblatt Stadium is playing host to the College World Series. We love playing host to the thousands of fans that travel here from all over the country in support of their favorite team and usually buy up the rest of the tickets to ensure a full stadium for most games, adopting a new favorite team each year.

Last night's game between Virginia and Arkansas was a big fan favorite--Dave Van Horn, coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks, used to coach at the University of Nebraska and Brian O'Connor, coach of the Virginia Cavaliers, used to play ball at Creighton University which is located in Omaha. The game was what the series is all about. Arkansas was down to their last out and behind by two runs and it looked like they were headed home. Then they managed to tie up the game with a two-run home run and hold the Cavs to take the game to extra innings--three extra innings to be exact. Twice Virginia had the bases loaded but could not score and in the top of the 12th inning the Razorbacks were able to score the game winning run. You couldn't help but cheer for the Razorbacks even as your heart broke for the Cavaliers. On to the next game--play ball!

The College World Series has since moved to a new stadium, just north of downtown Omaha. Instead of parking in the yards of all of the small homes near Rosenblatt Stadium, there are now parking lots nearby. Otherwise, much of what made the event such a fan favorite has been transplanted to the new digs - food vendors, dozens of baseball clothing vendors, and concerts. They've even kept a few pieces of Rosenblatt Stadium around, including that statue.

That's a different picture than the one I originally posted, which was at the old stadium. It's already hard to remember what it was like to be at the old stadium. The other night when we were at a game, The Big Guy and I both remarked on how much better than new facility is, how much more they are able to set up for fans to do around the stadium, how many more eating and drinking establishments are within walking distance, and how much easier it is to explore Omaha from this location.

There's not really an underdog here this year, no team that I think the locals are really embracing. Except, maybe, for Dave Van Horn's Razorbacks, who are back again this year. They are also known as the Omahogs, so you know we have to love that!

No matter where in Omaha the Series is played, it's still the Greatest Game On Dirt and Omaha still loves playing hosts to the thousands of fans that come to town to watch some great baseball and some of the players we'll be watching in the major leagues in the future.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash

The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash
Published October 2017 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Twelve times a week, twenty-eight-year-old Ella May Wiggins makes the two-mile trek to and from her job on the night shift at American Mill No. 2 in Bessemer City, North Carolina. The insular community considers the mill’s owners—the newly arrived Goldberg brothers—white but not American and expects them to pay Ella May and other workers less because they toil alongside African Americans like Violet, Ella May’s best friend. While the dirty, hazardous job at the mill earns Ella May a paltry nine dollars for seventy-two hours of work each week, it’s the only opportunity she has. Her no-good husband, John, has run off again, and she must keep her four young children alive with whatever work she can find.

When the union leaflets begin circulating, Ella May has a taste of hope, a yearning for the better life the organizers promise. But the mill owners, backed by other nefarious forces, claim the union is nothing but a front for the Bolshevik menace sweeping across Europe. To maintain their control, the owners will use every means in their power, including bloodshed, to prevent workers from banding together. On the night of the county’s biggest rally, Ella May, weighing the costs of her choice, makes up her mind to join the movement—a decision that will have lasting consequences for her children, her friends, her town—indeed all that she loves.

Seventy-five years later, Ella May’s daughter Lilly, now an elderly woman, tells her nephew about his grandmother and the events that transformed their family. Illuminating the most painful corners of their history, she reveals, for the first time, the tragedy that befell Ella May after that fateful union meeting in 1929.

My Thoughts:
TLC Book Tours: Hey, do you want to read the new Wiley Cash book for a review?
Me: How is that even a question?

Ok, well, that's not exactly how the conversation went but it's pretty close. I've read and loved Cash's first two books (A Land More Kind Than Home and This Dark Road To Mercy). The only question when they asked me to review The Last Ballad was why had I not read it earlier. It's a question I'm still asking myself. Because Cash has done it again and I'm not sure why I haven't heard more about this book in the blogosphere.

Cash is a master at using multiple voices to tell his story. Here it is Ella May's story that is the through line of the book but Cash moves the story forward through the stories of those whose lives will intertwine with hers. There is not a character in this book whose story I was not interested in reading but I was always happy to get back to Ella, a woman who has finally tired of letting life carry her along, who is tired of watching her children go hungry and being used by every man she has met since her father died.

If you know your history, you know that violence was the norm which these strikes. So even if you've never read one of Cash's book (and know that things will get tense and there will be sadness), you'll know almost as soon as you start reading this book that something bad will happen before the book is done. It's the South, Ella's a mill worker, and she lives in a community of blacks. While Cash gives us brief periods of reprieve, there are so many levels of stress here that your apprehension never really lets up.

There's a tendency to think of the mill owners as the bad guys, the union organizers as the good guys, the ones who are coming in to help the workers to have a better life. But Cash wants readers to see how the unions were just as willing to use the workers to get what they wanted. The bad guys here are predominately mill management and law enforcement but there are more nuanced characters on both sides of the fight.

Poignant is a word that is probably used all too often in book reviews. Yet I don't know a better word to describe this book.

The Last Ballad is based on the true story of Ella May Wiggins and Cash shares her story in the Afterword. Do not look Wiggins up or peek at that Afterword. You want to this story to unfold in the way Cash wants to tell it. When you've finished, go read about Wiggins and the mill strikes; but not until you're finished.

Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for making sure I read this one. I've already passed it along to my parents and the day I gave it to them, my dad had already started it because he well remembered A Land More Kind Than Home. For other opinions on this book, check out the full tour.

Wiley Cash is the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of A Land More Kind Than Home. A native of North Carolina, he has held residency positions at Yaddo and The MacDowell Colony and teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Southern New Hampshire University. He and his wife live in Wilmington, North Carolina. Find out more about Wiley at his website, and connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Life: It Goes On - June 18

It's Monday, not Sunday, and that will tell you everything you need to know about my weekend in a nutshell. It was a busy one but I've also been battling headaches, which is something I haven't had to contend with in a while (thanks, unsettled weather!).

We bought a new car this weekend (actually, an SUV but I'm not ever sure if that rightfully falls in the category of truck or car). The Big Guy did most of the work over the phone and the internet, we ran over lunch on Friday to pick out the exact vehicle we wanted, and still on Saturday it took hours to actually do the paperwork, turn in the old vehicle, and get the new one. Why do they have to make it so painful?!

Last Week I:

Listened To: Special Topics In Calamity Physics - I'm about a third of the way done. But now that I no longer have a CD player in my vehicle, I'm stymied as to how I will finish it. Very bummed that I will not be able to support my local library by buying books on CD from the book sale anymore. Unless I can figure out some way to move them to a digital format.

Watched: I can't actually remember what we watched. A couple of nights we actually did leave the tv off except for the news and we spent hours on the patio a couple of other nights. All good; it means I read more than I have been reading.

Read: The Last Ballad for an TLC Book Tour review this week. Ermagawd, Wiley Cash has done it again, made me love his characters and broken my heart.

Made: Lot of eat-on-the-patio foods plus cheesy hash browns, roasted broccoli tossed with Italian dressing, and homemade ice cream with homemade chocolate syrup for Father's Day.

Enjoyed: Father's Day at the College World Series with two of my kids and The Big Guy. The game we attended started three hours late, thanks to a rain delay in the first game. Imagine 14,000 people just milling around the stadium for that long with no idea when the next game was going to start, in 90+ degree temps and high humidity. Then imagine all of those people trying to get into the stadium at once when they finally started letting us in. Let's just say the fun did not start until we actually finally got to our seats!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: Just to stay on top of things this week. I've got several things planned during the week so no major projects on the horizon.

Thinking About: Trips to Missouri (I've got a great-nephew due in the next few weeks I'll be wanting to meet!), to Wisconsin (to see my sister), and to Minnesota (to see Mini-me and Ms. S's new place). Now the trick is to find times for all of those trips that work for everyone.

Feeling: Sloggish. Yeah, I know that's not a word but best sums it up. Today's headache has me struggling just to get simply tasks done. At least it's not keeping me from reading!

Looking forward to: Book club tomorrow night, dinner with a friend on Wednesday, and seeing the great progress my dad has made between yesterday and Thursday when I see him again.

Question of the week: I've got some chicken breasts cooking right now but haven't yet decided what we'll use them for. What's your go-to recipe for using chicken breasts?

Heading Out To Wonderful by Robert Goolrick

Heading Out To Wonderful by Robert Goolrick
Read by Norman Dietz
Published June 2012 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Source: my audiobook copy purchased at my library book sale

Publisher's Summary:
In 1948, a mysterious and charismatic man arrives in a small Virginia town carrying two suitcases - one contains his worldly possessions, the other is full of money. He soon inserts himself into the town's daily life, taking a job in the local butcher shop and befriending the owner and his wife and their son. But the passion that develops between the man and the wife of the town's wealthiest citizen sets in motion a series of events that not only upset the quiet town but threaten to destroy both him and the woman.

My Thoughts:
If I had kept track of my favorite reads of the year in 2009, Goolrick's A Reliable Wife (my review) would have been on it. Goolrick had the capability to make the bitter cold of rural Wisconsin cool a torrid Nebraska summer day and convince me to care about some very unlikable characters. When Heading Out To Wonderful was released, I didn't hesitate to pick up a copy. But when I began reading less than glowing reviews, I found Wonderful getting pushed aside again and again in favor of other books. Eventually it was the victim of a book cull.

Still, when I found an audiobook copy for $2 at my library book sale, I decided to give it a try. After all, not all of the reviews had been bad, including this fantastic review from Jill at Rhapsody In Books Weblog. If Jill likes a book, there's a good chance I'm going to like it, too. I'm glad I didn't give up on this one but even happier that I waited to "read" it until I could listen to it. Norman Dietz's reading is marvelous. His mellifluous voice reading me very much of listening to Garrison Keillor telling a story and perfectly suited the setting of the book.

In Heading Out To Wonderful, Goolrick lulls readers with the quiet, peaceful setting of small-town Virginia, the kind of town "where no crime had ever been committed,"  just after the second World War. The people of Brownsburg "believed in God and The Book." There is a real sense of community in Brownsburg. Still, it's not all as wonderful as it seems on the surface when Charlie Beale arrives in town. Surprisingly, the town quickly grows to love Charlie, a man who is kind and giving to everyone. So when word gets out that Charlie has taken up with the wife of the richest man in town, a man no one likes, they are happy for him. Until the scandal takes a new turn.

I liked the way Goolrick slowly built up the tension (you just know that this is not going to end well), the way that he called out racism and the hypocrisy of organized religions, and the way we got the back story on so many of the important characters. And that ending completely stunned me.

But, like A Reliable Wife, Heading Out To Wonderful, has its flaws.

We never get Charlie's back story. Where did he come from, why is he working so hard to find a permanent home, and where did all of that money come from? And, if the young boy that Charlie becomes so attached to is actually telling the story looking back 60 years, how does he know everything that happened in people's history or the things he was never privy to? As to that later point, it wasn't one that bothered me throughout because I was so into the book as I was listening.

Like Reliable Wife, there are also passages in this book where Goolrick drags things out too long, particularly when he's talking about Charlie's feelings about the woman with whom he's having the affair and their relationship. The beauty of listening to a book, when it comes to places like this in a book, is that I can sort of just tune out until things pick up again.

Would it make a good book club choice? Yes. There is certainly a lot to discuss, including religion, racism, small town ethics, adultery, parenting, the class divisions. It's not a perfect book; but, especially on audio, it's worth reading.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

Eats, Shoots and Leave: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss
Published 2004 by Avery
Source: bought this one through Better World Books

Publisher's Summary:
We all know the basics of punctuation. Or do we? A look at most neighborhood signage tells a different story. Through sloppy usage and low standards on the internet, in email, and now text messages, we have made proper punctuation an endangered species. In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, former editor Lynne Truss dares to say, in her delightfully urbane, witty, and very English way, that it is time to look at our commas and semicolons and see them as the wonderful and necessary things they are. This is a book for people who love punctuation and get upset when it is mishandled. From the invention of the question mark in the time of Charlemagne to George Orwell shunning the semicolon, this lively history makes a powerful case for the preservation of a system of printing conventions that is much too subtle to be mucked about with.

My Thoughts:
Huzzah! I finally finished this book after it languished on my nightstand for months and months. And why is that? I have no idea. I mean, I don't know that it's a book you would want to try to push straight through. It is, after all, a book about grammar and punctuation. On the other hand, it certainly deserved to be read faster than a couple of pages every few days and I absolutely would have remembered more of what I learned if I hadn't stretched it out so long.

Here's what I did learn:

  • There are more punctuation rules than I was even aware of there being.
  • Punctuation has been evolving since people began writing words.
  • There is a difference between how Brits punctuate and how Americans punctuate and it's not always the Brits who are the bigger sticklers. 
  • Authors have very vocal opinions about punctuation in their books. So do editors. These opinions can often lead to conflict. 
  • Punctuation can be humorous. 
As to that last point,  this book is filled with humor. Which, I suppose, you might gather from the title and the cover; but which, nevertheless, was a pleasant surprise. Truss gets that she's a stickler when it comes to punctuation, even calling herself and those like her "punctuation vigilantes." In talking about the name of a British pop music group named Hear'Say, Truss says:
"And so it came to pass that Hear'Say's poor, oddly placed little apostrophe was replicated everywhere and no one gave a moment's thought to its sufferings. No one saw the pity of its position, hanging there in eternal meaninglessness, silently signaling to those with eye to see, "I'm a legitimate punctuation mark, get me out of here."
More on apostrophes:
"Now, there are no laws against imprisoning apostrophes and making them look daft. Cruelty to punctuation is quite unlegislated: you can get away with pulling the legs off semicolons; shrivelling question marks on the garden path under a powerful magnifying glass; you name it."
This one's a keeper. It will go on the shelf with my other reference books and may even (gasp!) be highlighted. And when I pull it off the shelf to check on a rule of punctuation, I may even reread passages just for amusement. I'll bet you never thought you'd hear anyone say that!

Monday, June 11, 2018

Dream Like A Champion: Wins, Losses, and Leadership the Nebraska Volleyball Way by John Cook

Dream Like A Champion: Wins, Losses, and Leadership the Nebraska Volleyball Way by John Cook with Brandon Vogel
Published 2017 by University of Nebraska Press
Source: borrowed from my parents to whom it was loaned by a friend

Publisher's Summary:

Since becoming the Nebraska women’s volleyball coach in 2000, John Cook has led the team to four national championships, seven NCAA semifinal appearances, and the nation’s top winning percentage in women’s volleyball. In Dream Like a Champion Cook shares the coaching and leadership philosophy that has enabled him to become one of the game’s winningest coaches.

Growing up in San Diego, Cook acquired his coaching philosophy from his experiences first as a football coach, then as a student of the sport of volleyball on the beaches of Southern California. After a stint as an assistant volleyball coach at Nebraska, he returned to Nebraska as head coach in 2000 and won the national championship in his first season. Even with a bar set so high, Cook saw at Nebraska’s tradition-rich program the potential for even greater growth and success. He decided to focus on higher expectations, training, motivation, goal setting, and other ways to build the strongest teams possible.

In Dream Like a Champion Cook shares the philosophy behind Nebraska’s culture of success and reveals how he’s had to learn, evolve, and be coached himself, even in his fifth decade as a coach. With openness and candor he delivers insights about his methods and passes along lessons that can be used by leaders in any field. Cook also shares behind-the-scenes anecdotes about Nebraska volleyball moments and players—and how he coaches and teaches his players about life beyond the court.

My Thoughts:
When John Cook took over the University of Nebraska volleyball program, we knew he was going to be a good coach. But we also imagined that this program, which had only in the past few years become a great program, was going to take a hit. I mean, you just don't get two coaches in a row that can build championship teams. Except Nebraska volleyball did. Under Cook, Nebraska has been the Big 12 champion 12 times, the Big 10 champion 4 times, and national champions 4 times. This man knows how to coach.

In this book, he shares a lot about the way he coaches and the tools he uses. He is quick to give credit to others who have helped him along the way, people whose advice he has sought, and the coaches who have assisted him over the years. He has high praise for the University, which has thrown its full support behind the team, and the people of Nebraska who have become, maybe not even arguably, the greatest volleyball fans in the country.

Cook spends a lot of time talking about how important culture is to a sports program. When he took over the volleyball program at the University of Wisconsin, it was a program that had a long way to rise. There he developed a mindset among that girls that had them playing with a chip on their shoulders, wanting to prove something. It was just what they needed; in just a few years, Cook had the program playing in the Final Four. At Nebraska, he came into a program that already had an established culture; but, Cook soon put his own imprint on the culture. It shows in the way you can always tell how hard Cook's teams work and how much of a "team" they really are.

I really enjoyed the stories Cook shared about some of the players he's coached with Nebraska, names I vividly remember, young women I remember watching play. Watching on television that is; home games have been sold out since 2001, even after the team moved to an arena that held twice as many fans. It was also nice to learn how much Cook and his family love living in Nebraska and appreciate that things about this state that so many people don't know about.

I had some minor issues with some editing problems (because I can't just read a book and enjoy it without putting on my school marm cap) but, otherwise, I enjoyed this book a lot. Would I have enjoyed it as much if it weren't about the coach of a team I love? Maybe not quite as much; but, if you're person that wants to learn coaching from one of the best, there's a lot to enjoy and learn here.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Life: It Goes On - June 10

Oh my good lord, I hope it's not as hot where you are as it is here! I am avoiding the great outdoors as much as I possibly can the past few days except when the evenings are finally cool enough to spend some time on the patio. Or when we are at an outdoor wedding, as we were last evening. There was not a person there who was not sweating and/or waving a paper plate fan. About this time every year, I start to think "winter's not so bad; at least you can always add on more layers." Slap me if you hear me say that! I can never get warm in winter and I hate the short days!

Last Week I:

Listened To: I finished Heading Out To Wonderful (review next week) and started Special Topics In Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. Like her book Night Film (my review), I suspect Pessl has loaded this book up with bonus materials: footnotes, images, etc. But I'm listening, not looking, and I'm starting to feel like I'm missing out on some of what makes the book interesting.

Watched: I finished season one of Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, we watched an episode of Westworld (we may finally finish season one so we can move into the current season), and we watched a fair amount of the NBA finals. We don't watch a lot of NBA basketball so I don't know what fans think of having the same two teams play in the finals four years in a row; but I can't help but think it's not helping the game.

Read: I made quick work of a book about the Nebraska volleyball program, written by the coach, which I enjoyed (review this week) and I'm now reading Wiley Cash's latest, The Last Ballad. Having read Cash's first two books and the setting of this book, I have a feeling my heart will be broken before it's finished. I also finally finished Eats, Shoots and Leaves off my nightstand (review this week)!

Made: Not much. Pasta, salads, chicken salad made from a roasted chicken The Big Guy picked up at Costco. This week it's been all about quick food and as little use of the oven as possible.

The backdrop of the arch is hundreds of paper cranes and
they were also found in bowls on the tables and larger
cranes were given as favors. So neat!
Enjoyed: Watching a dear friend of the family get married. His parents live across the street from my parents and we consider them all family. The wedding was in his parents' back yard and their patio is big enough to have room for tables for dinner and a dance floor. It was great fun, even if we had to keep hugs to a minimum!

Also, bringing my dad home from the rehab facility on Thursday, two weeks after he had major back surgery. He is so happy to be home at last!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: BG bought a chain saw yesterday and will be cutting down a big pine tree in our back yard this week. It's going to leave a big area that will need to be filled in so I'm planning on what plants will be moved or brought to fill that area in, the possibility of making it a bird friendly zone, and, since we will be burying our kitty there (he loved to spend hours lounging under that tree where he could see all that was going on in the yard), some way to memorialize him there. Yep, I'm definitely much more affected by this cat's passing that I could possibly have expected to be.

Thinking About: How much yard work I should be doing and how much I don't want to go outside to do it.

Feeling: Sad to have missed a party with friends last night and a baby shower for my niece this morning but the wedding was scheduled first and had to be a priority.

Looking forward to: Dinner with a former coworker one evening and lunch with my best friend from my teen years on another day.

Question of the week: Do you have a bird bath in your yard? If so, is it more of a pain than it's worth, what with the constantly needing to keep it filled and the birds pooping all around it?

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
Originally published in installments between 1851 to 1853
Read by: Clare Wille
Source: my audiobook purchased at my local library book sale

Summary (Amazon):
Cranford depicts the lives and preoccupations of the inhabitants of a small village - their petty snobberies and appetite for gossip, and their loyal support for each other in times of need. The village is dominated by women, from the kindly spinster Miss Matty, living in genteel poverty with her redoubtable sister, to Lady Glenmire, who shocks everyone by marrying the doctor. When men do appear, such as 'modern' Captain Brown or Matty's suitor from the past, they bring disruption and excitement to the everyday life of Cranford.

My Thoughts:
For the love of Pete (whoever that may be), why in the world did I wait so long to discover Elizabeth Gaskell?

Cranford reminded me so much of two of my favorite authors, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, in the way that Gaskell skewers society and mores. But, readers, Gaskell is ever so much more approachable. Where Dickens can romp off into political statements and Austen can describe the countryside for pages, Gaskell pares it down to the essentials in Cranford. Make no mistake, nothing is lost in this method. The town of Cranford and its denizens are vividly portrayed. It's easy to picture the gently worn carpets and gowns, the small rooms in the cozy homes.  More importantly, these ladies became real, their pettinesses, their loyalty, their sins of pride. Cranford is charming and sweet and, undoubtedly, my gateway to more Gaskell.

I must say, this is clearly a ladies' book. The men in the story, while they often play key pieces in the lives of the Cranford women, their roles are small and generally brief. I'd put this book into any woman's hands, but I'd be hesitant to recommend it to any of the men in my life.

I highly recommend the audiobook version; Clare Wille is marvelous. The emotions of the novel were palpable in her capable hands. I truly felt as though Miss Mary Smith were telling me about her visits to the town of Cranford.

Monday, June 4, 2018

A Handbook For Beautiful People by Jennifer Spruit

A Handbook For Beautiful People by Jennifer Spruit
Published November 2017 by Inanna Publications
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Publisher's Summary:
When twenty-two year old Marla finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, she wishes for a family, but faces precariousness: an uncertain future with her talented, exacting boyfriend, Liam; constant danger from her roommate, Dani, a sometime prostitute and entrenched drug addict; and the unannounced but overwhelming needs of her younger brother, Gavin, whom she has brought home for the first time from deaf school. Forcing her hand is Marla’s fetal alcohol syndrome, which sets her apart but also carries her through.

When Marla loses her job and breaks her arm in a car accident, Liam asks her to marry him. It’s what she’s been waiting for: a chance to leave Dani, but Dani doesn’t take no for an answer. Marla stays strong when her mother shows up drunk, creates her own terms when Dani publicly shames her, and then falls apart when Gavin attempts suicide. It rains, and then pours, and when the Bow River finally overflows, flooding Marla’s entire neighbourhood, she is ready to admit that she wants more for her child than she can possibly give right now. Marla’s courage to ask for help and keep her mind open transforms everyone around her, cementing her relationships and proving to those who had doubted her that having a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder does not make a person any less noble, wise or caring.

My Thoughts:
Those ladies at TLC Book Tours know me so well. They know when they've got a book that's right in my wheel house. And they know that I'm usually game for something that will push me out of it. This one definitely pushed me out of it. So many characters that I couldn't relate to, that, frankly, weren't all that likable. Oh, heck, some of them weren't likable at all (I'm looking at you, Dani).

I started this book at exactly the wrong time to start a book that wasn't going to be an easy read. My life has been extra busy, my brain extra distracted. It took me a week to read 100 pages of this book. I wasn't enjoying it, wasn't getting into it at all. But I needed to write a review so I needed to push through it. Yesterday, I did something I never do - I read the last page. If I couldn't get through the book in time, at least I would know how it ends so I could write a better review. And that's when I realized that I was beginning to get into these characters. Because I didn't like the ending at all; it didn't feel right for the characters I'd been reading about.

So instead of writing this review so it posted this morning, as I would normally post reviews, I decided I needed to finish the book. All 167 pages I had left to read in time to still get a review posted today. Here's the surprising thing - reading that last page turned out to be the best thing. Because, instead of just speed reading enough to write a review, I read this book. And those characters? The ones I didn't particularly care for? I found myself caring very much for them, feeling their pain, understanding their anger and addictions.

That's an impressive feat from a debut author. I don't know what Spruit's background is but she seems to very much understand what makes a what makes her characters tick, what drives someone to addiction, and how to make readers feel empathetic.

Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for pushing me out of my comfort zone again. To read other reviews of this book, check out the full book tour here.

Jennifer Spruit was born in Lloydminster, AB/SK, and now lives in Courtenay, BC. She attended the Creative Writing MFA program at the University of British Columbia. Jennifer enjoys teaching kids, playing music, and paddling a blue canoe. This is her first novel. Find out more about Jennifer at her website.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Life: It Goes On - June 3

Why, hello there! Assuming you are even still there after my extended absence. My dad had major back surgery a week and a half ago and between a house full of family, time at the hospital and real life, I haven't touched my computer once in the past two weeks. He gave us a scare but he's well on the road to recovery now. Gardening is out this summer, which will be tough for him, but he'll have lots of time for reading on the front porch in the sun or back deck in the shade so I'm hoping for some guest reviews out of him!

Last Week I:
Chihuly and Kaneko art in the hospital and my parents, who
celebrated their 60th anniversary on Friday. Not the way
they might have hoped but in just the way to prove
how they have lived their marriage vows.

Listened To: I am loving Robert Goorick's Heading Out To Wonderful, particularly Norman Dietz' reading which reminds me very much of Garrison Keilor's tone of storytelling.

Watched: Not a whole lot until this morning when I am watching an 80's movie marathon, apparently, starting with Tootsie and now Mystic Pizza.

Read: A Handbook for Beautiful People for a TLC Book Tour review for tomorrow. It's been tough to focus this past week so reading has been slow going.

Made: To make sure we had foods we could take to the hospital or for quick meals here, I had prepped sirloin, seasoned taco ground beef, and shredded chicken thigh meat and baked a loaf of bread, blond brownies, and sour cream raisin bars. So we had a salad buffet one night at the hospital, made sandwiches there one noon, and did a taco bar one night there (have I mentioned before how my family takes over hospitals?). We didn't have to make much the rest of the week between leftovers and take out.

Enjoyed: The quiet evenings on my patio this weekend including toasted marshmallows and equal parts quiet and bird songs. We even discovered we have a family of cardinals living in one of our trees.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: Trips to Lincoln to be with my parents as my dad finishes rehab and finally gets to go home.

Thinking About: My kiddos who moved on Friday to Rochester....and will not have their furniture until Tuesday. In the meantime, they will sleep on an air mattress and eat take out food on paper plates.

Feeling: Sad. One of our cats died just about the time I stopped posting. He was my buddy, followed me everywhere and cuddled with me whenever I sat down. He was a big cat and a big presence and I keep being surprised by how much I miss him.

Looking forward to: Heading to Rochester soon!

Question of the week: Now that summer's started, what are your big plans to enjoy the warmth and sunshine!