Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday - Books That Lived Up To The Hype

I have a confession to make: until I started blogging, I'm note sure I was very aware of book "hype." Oh, maybe The DaVinci Code, Stephen King's books, or Bridget Jones' Diary were buzzed about sufficiently that I really took notice. [A second confession: I read The DaVinci Code and even though I knew the writing wasn't great and didn't buy the supposed facts, I still enjoyed the ride]. But it wasn't until I started blogging that the buzz really got loud and really had an impact on my reading. When it did, not all of the books were new; many were older books that people just kept telling me I needed to read. So my list includes book from all of those categories. In no particular order, here are ten books that I really felt lived up to the hype:

  1. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett - still one of my all-time favorite books.
  2. Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson - everyone was reading Lawson's blog and everyone was reading her first book. And, by God, they were right; it is every bit as hilarious and bizarre as billed.
  3. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver - this was one of the first books I read with my book club and it was such a favorite of our leader that she was making the club read it for a second time. To this day, I think of those girls growing up in Africa.
  4. Bridget Jones' Diary - I liked this book so much when I read it that I was one of the people furious that the filmmakers chose an American actress to play Bridget in the movie adaptation. But that didn't stop me from watching it again and again. Because I adore Bridget!
  5. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt - I had serious doubts about this one but it felt like one I wanted to be able to talk about with people. So I made my book club read it. I'll admit to getting a little bored when the action moved to Las Vegas; but, otherwise, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. And by how many others in the club did, too.
  6. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson - so, so beautifully written and such a lovely story. It's short but, if you haven't read it, don't plan to race through it. It deserves to be savored.
  7. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes - I got an ARC of this book but it really didn't sound like my kind of book so I gave it away. Then everyone started talking about it. So I ended up paying for it. And it was worth every penny.
  8. The Year Of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion - yes, yes, I thought, Didion is a genius. But this is a book about death and grief. I did not want to read a book about someone's husband dying. But the library had it on CD once when I needed a book to listen to so I caved and picked it up. And I cried and cried while I listened to it. And then I bought a print copy. I may never read it again but I needed to know I could if I wanted to. Or needed to.
  9. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - I don't generally do dystopian books. I mean, why do writer's always paint such a bleak picture of the future? But a readalong convinced me to finally pick this one up. It was one of the scariest books I've ever read, partly because so much of what Atwood predicted had already come true. It's even more relevant today.
  10. Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple - I'd read Semple's first book and I didn't much care for it at all. So the buzz had to get really loud for this one before I finally broke down and read it. I couldn't believe this book was by the same author. I love the story, the unique style of the writing, and found myself relating so much to this book. 
What books would you put on this list?

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Paris For One & Other Stories by Jojo Moyes

Paris For One and Other Stories by Jojo Moyes
Published October 2016 by Penguin Publishing
Source: loaned to me by a book club friend

Publisher's Summary:
Nell is twenty-six and has never been to Paris. She's never even been on a romantic weekend away—to anywhere—before. Traveling abroad isn't really her thing. But when Nell's boyfriend fails to show up for their mini-vacation, she has the opportunity to prove everyone—including herself—wrong. Alone in Paris, Nell finds a version of herself she never knew existed: independent and intrepid. Could this turn out to be the most adventurous weekend of her life? Funny, charming, and irresistible, Paris for One is quintessential Jojo Moyes—as are the other stories that round out the collection

My Thoughts:
That summary is absolutely right, Paris For One is quintessential Moyes in this collection. The title story, Paris For One, is a novella and the book is rounded out with eight short stories about women who are unsatisfied in their love lives discovering inner strength, new passion, and courage they didn't know they had.

Although none of the stories has the emotional depth of Moyes' Me Before You, they are not without lessons for all women. From reminding women to appreciate the man they fell in love with to reminding women that they deserve to be loved and appreciated. Also, that Twitter can be bad, as can affairs, and that the right pair of shoes can do wonder for a woman's self-esteem.

Moyes always adds an element of quirky fun to her stories and these are no exception. Which makes the entire collection a quick, fun read. There are some surprises, as well as some endings that are predictable but perfect. I thoroughly enjoyed this collection and recommend it to any fan of Moyes.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Flashback Friday: A Paris In July Edition

I certainly wish I'd started Paris in July earlier - I've had a lot of fun looking back at the books I read that were set in Paris or France and I wish I had time to highlight more of them! This week I'm highlighting a book set in Paris that surprised me.

Ernest Hemingway has been an author who I can appreciate but whose books I haven't very much liked. Until I read A Moveable Feast.

Who'da thunk it - the only Hemingway book I've ever read and actually enjoyed would be a memoir? If you're a Hemingway fan or even a person who feels like you "should" read Hemingway, I'd definitely recommend A Moveable Feast. As a look into life in Paris in the 1920's. As a window into the lives of several literary greats. And, as a honest look into a few years of one young author's life. 
I put this book on my nightstand and read a chapter at a time, each an individual story about an event, person, or part of Hemingway's life in Paris. Reading it this way is probably one of the reasons I appreciated this book as much as I did; I'm not sure I would have had I tried to just read straight through. Then I might not have appreciated gems like this: 
"The blue-backed notebooks, the two pencils and the pencil sharpener (a pocket knife was too wasteful), the marble-topped tables, the smell of early morning, sweeping out and mopping, and luck were all you needed. For luck you carried a horse chestnut and a rabbit's foot in your right pocket. The fur had been worn off the rabbit's foot long ago and the ones and the sinews were polished by wear. The claws scratched in the lining of your pocket and you knew your luck was still there." 
The title, as the publisher's summary says, refers to a literary feast but I could easily have read it as part of Fall Feasting. Hemingway writes extensively about eating and drinking in the bistros and restaurants of Paris and other European cities he visited. I kept having the urge to go sit at a little table in a quiet cafe and while away the afternoon drinking wine and writing. 
While Hemingway and his wife, Hadley, were poor and he talks about going hungry and cold because of it, it's plainly clear that he knew it was the price to pay for living the life he wanted and never seemed to feel sorry for himself. It pained him more to be without books until he discovered the "library" in the legendary Paris bookstore "Shakespeare's." Hemingway was not just a writer, he was a voracious reader and I finally found at least one thing I could really like about him. That and his willingness to admit his flaws, including the infidelity that cost him his marriage to a woman whom he clearly adored.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

What We're Reading!

When I told you earlier this month what my book club is reading, I mentioned that I have a family full of readers. As if I had already mentioned that once or twice! This month my family has shared with me that they are reading:

  • Mini-me is switching between The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles (loved it!) by Haruki Murakami and Dune by Frank Herbert. Happy to have turned him onto Murakami!
  • Ms. S, who recently started working for the federal prison system (medical, not enforcement, thank heavens!) is interested in learning more about our prison systems and is reading The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Prison by Pete Earley. She just might be able to pass that along to....
  • Miss H, who is studying criminal justice, with a certificate in chemical dependency. She is currently studying the Narcotics Anonymous basic text. 
  • The Big Guy is making his way through Paul Theroux's latest, Figures In A Landscape. He's been a fan of Theroux's for a very long time. 
  • My dad is enjoying his Father's Day present from my sister, Eunice: The Kennedy Who Changed The World by Eileen McNamara.
  • My Rhode Island uncle and aunt have a couple of recommendations, which I'll share in another post, but they are otherwise devouring crime thrillers including those by Jo Nesbo, Kent Anderson, Trudy Nan Boyce, James Lee Burke, Craig Johnson, and Ken Bruen. Australian Garry Disher's books are new discoveries in that vein. They are also looking forward to Jennifer Egan's Manhattan Beach (eagerly awaiting the verdict on this one). 
  • My Iowa aunt has picked up Thrity Umrigar's sequel to The Space Between Us, The Secrets Between Us. I can't wait to hear what she thinks of us as Space is one of my all-time faves.
  • My Iowa uncle is devouring all of the books, I think - he's been reading (I'm including his comments on the books):
The Restless Wave ~ by John McCain [somewhat interesting; lacking extensive editing I feel that a better title would have been 'The Righteous Wave'] 
Something Wonderful: Rogers and Hammerstein's Broadway revolution ~ by Scott Purdum. [I LOVED it, particularly about how 'South Pacific' and 'Oklahoma' came to be. " All they cared about was the show "]*
I'm presently reading Welty ~ Complete Novels including Eudora Welty's books The Robber Bridegroom; Delta Wedding; The Ponder Heart; Losing Battles; and The Optimist's Daughter. WHY am I reading this? I've long been had the feeling that I ought to give her a try. This Faulkner contemporary was born in 1909 and lived her entire life in her parents house in Jackson, Mississippi. So far 'The Ponder Heart' is the only book that much interests me. In regard to the recent criticism of racist language against Indians in the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, it occurs to me that Eudora (whose novels were written between 1942 and 1953) would be criticized today for Negro racism) 
NEXT up ....thanks to Brother 'Joe' I fell in love with Donna Leon's novels about the Venetian police commissario, Guido Brunetti. I'm almost to the end of the series and am about to read the next-to-last book 'Earthly Remains'
And there you have it, folks! See, I told you I come from a family of readers! How's that for a diverse range of books?

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Lying In Wait by Liz Nugent

Lying In Wait by Liz Nugent
Published June 2018 by Gallery/Scout Press
Source: my ecopy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.

On the surface, Lydia Fitzsimons has the perfect life—wife of a respected, successful judge, mother to a beloved son, mistress of a beautiful house in Dublin. That beautiful house, however, holds a secret. And when Lydia’s son, Laurence, discovers its secret, wheels are set in motion that lead to an increasingly claustrophobic and devastatingly dark climax.

My Thoughts:
You'll have noticed over the years that I don't read many mysteries or thrillers. This book makes me wonder why that is. It's certainly not the first thriller I've read and thoroughly enjoyed; but, maybe, it's the one that will make me start reading more of them. Because I could not put this book down (and by book, I mean Nook).

That first line pulled me in right away. It didn't take long for Nugent to even tell us why. Even knowing all of that, Nugent still had plenty up her sleeve to keep me guessing.

Curiously, this book is less about the murder and much more about the people effected by it in the five years after the murder. How does the murder effect the family members of both the murderer and the family of the victim? How does the stress of the murder effect the murder? What happens when the police and the media turn up details about the victim that are hard for her family to learn about? What's the toll on a marriage?

Nugent has crafted some great characters and the relationships between the characters are as interesting as the mystery, particularly the one between Lydia and Laurence. Poor Laurence. Mommy is a little off her rocker!

The tricky part of reviewing a mystery is telling you enough about it to make you want to read it but not to much to ruin the surprises for you. All I can say for sure, is that this is a book both lovers of mysteries will enjoy, but also those who just enjoy a good study in characters.

If you read this, I'd love to know if you saw the last 25 pages coming. I surely did not but I'm never sure if that's because I don't read many mysteries or because the book is just that good. I think Lying In Wait is just that good.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Paris In July - Movie Mini-Reviews

When I wasn't sure that I would have time to read very many book for Paris In July, I figured I'd at least be able to work in a couple of movies. Turns out, I've had time for a lot of books this month, what with a readathon. I've also had time for a lot of movies in the past couple of weeks - all set in France, two in Paris. Two I've seen before, three are book adaptations. Here are my quick thoughts on each of them:

Madame Bovary 
Up front, I’ll admit that I am not a fan of Gustave Flaubert’s novel, on which this movie is based. Nor am I a fan of Emma Bovary; I like her even less in this adaptation. The one exception is that the movie portrays her much more as having been lured into spending lavishly by a man (played marvelously by Rhys Ifans) who convinces her, time and again, to dig herself deeper and deeper into a financial hole. With the changes the screenwriters have made to the book (Emma doesn’t have a child, for example), it feels more like Emma is spending money and having affairs as much because she is bored as because she is looking for love. Yes, yes, Charles Bovary is a bore. But he’s not cruel nor does he rule with an iron thumb. It feels like Emma has some leeway. Yes, I understand she wants more than she has; but I really just want to slap her and tell her to get over it. Make some effort to find happiness where you’ve been planted.

Also, is Mia Wasikowska now the queen of movie adaptations of classic books, after starring in the Alice In Wonderland movies, Jane Eyre, and now Madame Bovary?

This movie is beautifully filmed, the costumes are amazing, and the settings more true of life in rural France than most adaptations of books set in this time period are so the movie has that going for it. If you are a fan of the book, I’m not sure how you’ll feel about the movie given the changes to the story. If you’ve never read the book, I think you’d have even less patience for Emma than I had.

Suite Francaise
This movie is based on the book by the same name by Irene Nemirovsky, who was writing the book as part of a five-part project. She died in the Holocaust before being able to finish her series. I have never read the book so I can’t report back to you as to whether or not the movie lives up to the book. Given the praise the book has received, I suspect not.

It’s an interesting story; it may well be a story that played out where enemy soldiers billeted in invaded lands. The cinematography is beautiful, the sets well done, and the movie touches on the many issues that arose in these situations. But the movie lacked the level of tension that would have made it feel true; it by and large only hinted at the atrocities that German soldiers committed and the repercussions of the collaborators actions. Michelle Williams is usually so good but there was mostly a lack of passion in her performance. Even so, both the hubby and I did get invested enough to want to watch to the end. Now to pick up the book.

Midnight In Paris
I’ve watched this movie three times now and (even though I have serious moral issues with Woody Allen) still find it charming and quirky and fun. I love the fact that Owen Wilson’s character gets to rub elbows with so any of the great writers and artists of the twentieth century. I even like the way his portrayal of Gil blends both Wilson’s usual persona and Allen’s usual persona, both of which can grate on my nerves. Rachel McAdams, Tom Hiddleston, Corey Stoll, Adrian Brody, and Kathy Bates all seem to relish playing their characters. Marion Cotillard is, as always, wonderful and incandescent.

You know I’m not a fan of time travel in my reading so the fact that I like this movie so much should tell you something about how well it’s done. And Paris is so very much a character in the movie.

When I’ve watched the movie before, there was a character that I kept thinking looked so familiar. This time I looked her up; she is none other than Carla Bruni, wife of Nicolas Sarkozy, former president of France.

The Phantom of The Opera
I’ve seen this movie several times; in fact, we own it. But this was the first time I’ve ever watched it by myself, late at night. I had to stop watching the first night because it was too “scary” for me to watch. And now you know why I don’t watch actual scary movies. It also says something of the mood the creators of the movie achieved. The settings, the costumes, the staging are all so good.

This is the first time I’ve really thought about the singing as I’ve watched the movie, and who was actually doing the singing. Minnie Driver as Carlotta? Not doing the actual singing. I don’t know what Minnie Driver’s voice sounds like but Carlotta requires a powerhouse operatic diva’s voice so choosing Margaret Preece to sing that part was a good choice. Emma Rossum as Christine? She is doing her own singing, as is Patrick Wilson as Raoul. Both are so good I assumed their singing parts had been done by others as well. Gerard Butler as the Phantom? Yep, that’s his voice. Why? His singing is what made me check to see who had sung their own parts. Otherwise, I would have assumed the producers had decided to farm out all of the singing. Since the producers had already chosen to do a voiceover for Driver’s role, why didn’t they choose to do that for Butler? He’s not bad but it’s too big of a role to hand over to someone who isn’t terrific.

Despite all of the action in this movie, sometimes it gets a little drawn out. Still, music I enjoy, great costumes, a great set, and mostly great singing make for an enjoyable movie.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Life: It Goes On - July 22

Good morning! It's a beautiful, sunny morning here and I'm headed out shortly to do some reading on the patio. There are plenty of other things I need to get done but it's the 24 In 48 Readathon so I have an excuse to read as much as I want to read this weekend. I'm certainly not going to come any where near to 24 hours of reading this weekend - those other things that need to be done keep calling and my family wants attention - but I'm getting a lot of reading done so that makes me happy.

Last Week I:

Listened To: I've been all over the place with what I've been listening to: NPR, podcasts, lots of music.

Watched: Two more movies for Paris In July: Midnight In Paris and The Phantom of the Opera.

Read: I finished Paris for One by Jojo Moyes and Patrick Dennis' Auntie Mama. I've started Rebecca Traiter's All The Single Ladies but may set that aside for today for something that's a faster read.

Made: Salads, pastas, s'mores - it's summer and we're keeping it light. I don't think the oven's been on all week.

Enjoyed: The play by my book club friend that a few of us went to see last Sunday. It's called The Dairy Maid-Right which may sound light and fun (and there are a lot of laughs in it) but it's also a very serious piece about immigration.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: Hopefully a trip to meet my new great-nephew (who I'll just refer to from now on as The Prince) and his cousin, The Princess. Oh, yeah, and my brother and the rest of his family!

Thinking About: What my next project should be. Paint my office, perhaps?

Feeling: Happy to have finally gotten my front door painted!

Looking forward to: Mini-him's 30th birthday! How in the world can we possibly have a 30-year-old son?!

Question of the week: Mini-him's been requesting the same things for his birthday dinner for about half his life. Do you have a go-to food that you always have for celebrations?

Friday, July 20, 2018

Flashback Friday: A Paris In July Edition

In browsing lists of books set in Paris and France, I find that I've read quite a few already that fall into that category. I thought it might be fun to look back at those books this month.

I blame The Elegance of The Hedgehog for my inability to give up on books. At the half way point, I still wasn't loving this book and then something changed, it hooked me in some way. I became emotionally invested and by the end of the book, I was ugly crying. The copy I read was from the library so I don't have a copy. Right now. But I would really love to read this one again and see if I appreciate the beginning of the book more, knowing where it is going. Here's what I had to saw about it after I'd read it:
This felt like two books to me and it wasn't because the story alternates between narration by Renee and narration by Paloma. The first one-third plus of this book is Barbery introducing us to our two narrators by means of philosophical musings. It is very obvious that Barbery is a professor of philosophy. It is difficult going and, although it serves to give us a feel for Renee and Paloma, it is so slow moving I seriously considered giving up on this one before I hit the halfway mark.
That would have been a mistake because after that point, the story got going. I finally began to care for Renee and Paloma. Prior to that, I really didn't care for either of them--Renee goes to great pains to be the very person she feels the owners in the building will look down on then despises them for looking down on her.
Once Mr. Ozu arrives, things start happening and we really start to understand some of the things that Paloma and Renee have been discussing earlier in the book. I'm glad I stuck with this one. In the end, I really loved the book and got, let's be honest, a little emotional.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

What We're Reading!

So, I know what all of my blogging friends are reading because, well, blogging. But I'm also surrounded by readers, from friends, to coworkers, to most of my family. I seem to forget to ask them, regularly, what they're reading. Starting this week, I'll begin periodically posting a new feature called "What We're Reading," as a reminder for me to ask the question and maybe introduce you to some new books.

This month the members of my book club, who may or may not have read this month's book club selection, have been busy reading other things as well. Here's what they have found interesting lately:

  • Prairie Fires: The American Dream of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser (an especially interesting choice given the recent controversy surrounding Ingalls Wilder)
  • The Knowledge by Martha Grimes 
  • The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon (are you as impressed as I am?)
  • The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George (the member reading this asks, "Has there ever been an unsatisfactory book about a bookshop?")
  • The Women's Hour: The Great Fight To Win The Vote by Elaine Weiss (this one's new to me but definitely getting added to my wish list!)
  • Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigani
I have mentioned that my book club is chock full of smart women who read all kinds of interesting books and read across the spectrum, right?

My funniest response, when I asked the members what there were reading, was this:
"I'm reading Facebook, way too often; on page fifty."
Four days later, I got this update:
"Still reading Facebook, can't find the end..."
And now you know why we spend so much time just laughing at meetings!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel
Published March 2017 by Crown/Archetype
Source: my ecopy purchased to read with my book club

Publisher's Summary:
“Roanoke girls never last long around here. In the end, we either run or we die.”

After her mother's suicide, fifteen year-old Lane Roanoke came to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin, Allegra, on their vast estate in rural Kansas. Lane knew little of her mother's mysterious family, but she quickly embraced life as one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls. But when she discovered the dark truth at the heart of the family, she ran…fast and far away.

Eleven years later, Lane is adrift in Los Angeles when her grandfather calls to tell her Allegra has gone missing. Did she run too? Or something worse? Unable to resist his pleas, Lane returns to help search, and to ease her guilt at having left Allegra behind. Her homecoming may mean a second chance with the boyfriend whose heart she broke that long ago summer. But it also means facing the devastating secret that made her flee, one she may not be strong enough to run from again.

As it weaves between Lane’s first Roanoke summer and her return, The Roanoke Girls shocks and tantalizes, twisting its way through revelation after mesmerizing revelation, exploring the secrets families keep and the fierce and terrible love that both binds them together and rips them apart.

My Thoughts:
I'm struggling with reviewing this book without discussing a major spoiler. Truth be told, readers know the truth of that spoiler long before Lane does. It's actually revealed fairly early on in the book so for me to tell you doesn't necessarily spoil the book for you. And I really wish someone had spoiled the book for me because, honestly, I might not have read it at all if I had known what was at the heart of the story. I certainly would not have chosen it for a book club read.

That being said, I'm not going to tell you the secret. Because I just can't do that. Just know that it might be a trigger for some people.

I'm also struggling to figure out my thoughts on this book beyond that key point, so I guess I'll resort to that simple review format I'm fond of when I'm struggling.

What I Liked:
Engel writes terrific flawed, scarred characters. Lane, Allegra, and the boys they become inexorably involved with, Tommy and Cooper, are complex characters that drew me into their lives. I could feel their pain and their struggles.

Engel seems to have a knowledge of small towns on the prairie and the kinds of relationships small town inhabitants have with one another. She also seems to have a love of the land.

The ending was not altogether unexpected but it was satisfying, particularly in the way that Engel left somethings open.

I liked the way Engel interspersed the stories of the Roanoke girls that came before Lane and Allegra into the story as a device to further the story. It gave the reader insight that Lane and Allegra didn't have and I did find myself needing to remember that they were working with less information than I had.

What I Didn't Like:
On the other hand, this would have felt much more like a thriller if I had not known what I knew about the prior Roanoke girls, if that spoiler had been revealed much deeper into the book. Also, it kept making me hope that perhaps Lane was a really unreliable narrator and things weren't what they seemed.

There are two characters that work on Roanoke that know the truth. The way that one of them is convinced to keep the secret seemed a little contrived to me. And the truth of how the other was convinced to keep the secret was never really revealed. I would have liked that to have been played out on the pages.

Lane returns to Roanoke to help find Allegra. But very little of her time seems to actually be spent trying to find Allegra. Frankly, the local police don't seem to be doing a whole lot to look, either. I get that Allegra was for whom disappearing wasn't altogether out of the ordinary. But by the time Lane had gotten half way across the country, it seems like the search might have picked up. Small towns tend to pull together when one of their own goes missing, even when it's someone who isn't particularly loved.

I'm looking forward to talking about this one with my book club. I'm going to beat there were some who didn't finish the book because they couldn't make themselves. And I'm going to beat that I can guess what one word they would all use to describe the book if they were only allowed one word. But I can't tell you what that word is because I feel like even that much would be a spoiler.

I'll just leave you with this reminder that this entire book is centered around something that may be a trigger for some people. Maybe thumb through it a bit before you actually choose to read it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Task It Tuesday

I did so well with my last Task It Tuesday list that I decided to keep at it. In fact, really working on that list has me kind of excited about blogging again! I have only one thing that I need to work on from that last list still so it's going to the top of the list this time.

  1. Work on the error I'm getting on the Nook that doesn't allow me to get to Netgalley to download and read books.
  2. Catch up with my blog reader. And by catch up, I mean clear it out for a change, not just get it down to about 30 unread posts. 
  3. Respond to all comments left on my blog this month. I am terrible about doing this and often have to add it to my Bloggiesta list.
  4. I've worked out my blogging calendar for the rest of the year (something I haven't done in the last few years is really keep a calendar for the blog). Now I want to go in and add the events I know are coming up in the next six months and plot out when I want to do features, like Mama Shepp's Family Recommends, Top Ten Tuesdays, Book Gems and Task It Tuesdays. 
That's enough for this list as some of these things will take some time. But my hope is that they will all inspire me to love blogging again without returning to the feeling of it being work. 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Life: It Goes On - July 15

We've had a quiet week here. Which is just what the doctor ordered - plenty of time to read, relax on the patio, play on the computer, and still get things accomplished around the house. We finally got to our first farmer's market of the season - shameful. I did come home with sweet corn, orange tomatoes, purple and white peppers, dragon tongue beans, cucumbers and two kinds of cheese brought in from Wisconsin. We'll be eating well today!

Last Week I:

Listened To: Mostly musicals on both Spotify and Sirius. My poor hubby even had to listen to them when he was in the car with me.

Watched: I decided to jump on the Paris in July bandwagon so I've watched a couple of movies as part of that this weekend: Suite Francaise (starring Michelle Williams and Kristin Scott Thomas and based on the book of the same name by Irene Nemirovsky) and Madame Bovary (starring Mia Wasikowska of the movies Jane Eyre and Alice in Wonderland and based on the book by the same name by Gustave Flaubert). I sort of feel like I'm killing two birds with one stone in watching movies based on books!

Read: I'm racing through Lying In Wait and should be finished with it by tomorrow. I really can't recall what made me chose it on Netgalley but it's not at all what I expected when I first started reading it.

Made: Light, light, light - I don't think the oven's been on all week. Salads, BLT's, grilled steaks - summer fare.

Enjoyed: A Cuban sandwich and pear cider at lunch with The Big Guy's brother yesterday. I am so fond of him - we've been pals since the first time we met.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On getting started painting the front door shortly. Finally!

Thinking About: Trips to see my new great-nephew, who arrived this week, and to Rochester to see Mini-me's and Ms. S's new place. Trying to schedule around everyone is turning out to be a crazy amount of work!

Feeling: Like I'd like to take a couple of days off just to putter around the house. It's so hard to get the things that have to be done and enjoy time out and about on the weekends, let alone work on projects around the house.

Looking forward to: The 24 In 48 Readathon this coming weekend. Yep, another thing to make time for in a mere two-day weekend but I really enjoy those excuses to just spend a lot of time reading and getting to interact with other bloggers, which I've been missing lately.

Question of the week: Honestly, how do you balance your time on the weekends to make sure have time for fun, housework, and bigger projects?

Friday, July 13, 2018

Paris In July

Yes, I know we're already 13 days into July. Put I'm finally in a place in my reading where I have time (and the interest) to join in some blogging fun. I'm still trying to find books set in Paris, or France for that matter, that I already own that appeal. But I can absolutely join in with some of the other French kinds of things. So I'm in!
Paris in July is a French themed blogging experience running from the 1st – 31st July this year. The aim of the month is to celebrate our French experiences through actual visits, or through reading, watching, listening, observing, cooking and eating all things French! There will be no rules or targets in terms of how much you need to do or complete in order to be a part of this experience – just blog about anything French and you can join in!
Some ideas might include: reading a French themed book – fiction or non-fiction, watching a French movie, listening to French music, cooking French food, experiencing French, art, architecture and travel. 
Paris in July is being hosted this year by Thyme for Tea. It's never to late to join in the fun!

Now I'm off to continue looking for books that will fit the bill. But, first, maybe a movie set in France?

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Mama Shepp's Family Recommends: The Death and Life of the Great Lakes

It's been a long time since I've done one of these posts but it's certainly not because my family hasn't been reading and recommending books. My family is full of readers and my list of books to read grows every time I hear from one of them.

Recently my uncle wrote that he had just finished Dan Egan's The Death and Life of the Great Lakes and had high praise for it. This is what he had to say:

"​In grade school back in Lyons, NE, we learned about what a wonderful thing the St. Lawrence Seaway​ (construction started in the mid-1950s) was going to be.

But, alas, the frugal American and Canadian decision makers constructed the seaway on the cheap, making the canals & locks only big enough to handle the 'average size' of ship then going through the Panama Canal. Within years the invention and proliferation of container ships made the seaway obsolete. Ocean-to-Great-Lakes shipping never became 'the big deal' it was billed as. But by wrecking the geographic wall that protected the Great Lakes from invasive species from the oceans, the St Lawrence Seaway has cost a fortune in damages, far above either the cost of building the system and the supposed benefits of ocean ships being able to travel as far inland as Duluth."

Egan is a reporter with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel so he's familiar with the lakes. Given my recent association with Milwaukee and Lake Michigan, it's certainly a subject I'm interested in reading about. My uncle also provided this link to a PBS interview with Egan.

Here's the publisher's summary:

A landmark work of science, history and reporting on the past, present and imperiled future of the Great Lakes.The Great Lakes—Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario and Superior—hold 20 percent of the world’s supply of surface fresh water and provide sustenance, work and recreation for tens of millions of Americans. But they are under threat as never before, and their problems are spreading across the continent. The Death and Life of the Great Lakes is prize-winning reporter Dan Egan’s compulsively readable portrait of an ecological catastrophe happening right before our eyes, blending the epic story of the lakes with an examination of the perils they face and the ways we can restore and preserve them for generations to come.For thousands of years the pristine Great Lakes were separated from the Atlantic Ocean by the roaring Niagara Falls and from the Mississippi River basin by a “sub-continental divide.” Beginning in the late 1800s, these barriers were circumvented to attract oceangoing freighters from the Atlantic and to allow Chicago’s sewage to float out to the Mississippi. These were engineering marvels in their time—and the changes in Chicago arrested a deadly cycle of waterborne illnesses—but they have had horrendous unforeseen consequences. Egan provides a chilling account of how sea lamprey, zebra and quagga mussels and other invaders have made their way into the lakes, decimating native species and largely destroying the age-old ecosystem. And because the lakes are no longer isolated, the invaders now threaten water intake pipes, hydroelectric dams and other infrastructure across the country.Egan also explores why outbreaks of toxic algae stemming from the overapplication of farm fertilizer have left massive biological “dead zones” that threaten the supply of fresh water. He examines fluctuations in the levels of the lakes caused by manmade climate change and overzealous dredging of shipping channels. And he reports on the chronic threats to siphon off Great Lakes water to slake drier regions of America or to be sold abroad.In an age when dire problems like the Flint water crisis or the California drought bring ever more attention to the indispensability of safe, clean, easily available water, The Death and the Life of the Great Lakes is a powerful paean to what is arguably our most precious resource, an urgent examination of what threatens it and a convincing call to arms about the relatively simple things we need to do to protect it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Macbeth by Jo Nesbo

Macbeth by Jo Nesbo
Published April 2018 by Crown/Archetype as part of the Hogarth Shakespeare Series
Source: my ecopy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Set in the 1970s in a run-down, rainy industrial town, Jo Nesbo's Macbeth centers around a police force struggling to shed an incessant drug problem. Duncan, chief of police, is idealistic and visionary, a dream to the townspeople but a nightmare for criminals. The drug trade is ruled by two drug lords, one of whom—a master of manipulation named Hecate—has connections with the highest in power, and plans to use them to get his way.

Hecate’s plot hinges on steadily, insidiously manipulating Inspector Macbeth: the head of SWAT and a man already susceptible to violent and paranoid tendencies. What follows is an unputdownable story of love and guilt, political ambition, and greed for more, exploring the darkest corners of human nature, and the aspirations of the criminal mind.

My Thoughts:
Confession: I was well into this book before I realized this was a modern retelling of Shakespeare's play. Yes, yes, I know the name of the book, and title character, are a dead giveaway. As is the fact that Macbeth's lady love is, in fact, called Lady. And it's only been a year since I've seen the play! Which may account for why it was the secondary character's names that started to ring a bell with me.    No need to shame me; I'm already hanging my head in shame.

Here's my only excuse: for the first 75 pages or so, this was just the wrong book at the wrong time. My mind was just not engaged. Until the little light bulb went off in my head. As soon as I wised up to the fact that this was a modern retelling of one of Shakespeare's greatest plays, I was hooked.

The mood is dark, the action is nonstop, and Nesbo has done an impressive job moving the story into a 1970's, post-industrial country. And an even more impressive job of keeping the reader sucked in to a story when the outcome is a given.

Have you ever read or seen the play and felt sorry for the Macbeths? No, I'm sure your answer is no. Because as brilliant as Shakespeare's play is, the Bard gave us zero information on their histories. Nesbo takes advantage of his longer medium, giving his characters backstories that make readers, if not care for them, at least understand their motivations. The payoff is that it's even harder to watch so many of them die. Because they are going to die. We know that going in (well, at least those who aren't me and know that this is the Macbeth).

If you're a fan of Nesbo, you will not be disappointed. If you're a fan of Shakespeare, you will not be disappointed. I accepted this book for review simply because it was time for me to read something by Nesbo. Count me now as one of his fans.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday - Best Books I've Read In 2018 (so far!)

After eight years, The Broke and The Bookish (the blog that has hosted Top Ten Tuesdays) has shut down. Fortunately for those of us who love our lists, Top Ten Tuesdays will still be carried on by one of TBTB's contributors, Jana of The Artsy Reader Girl. This week Jana's asking us to share our favorite books so far this year. This one's easy for me since I keep a running list on my favorites page. So far in 2018, this is what's grabbed me the most:

  1. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones 
  2. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
  3. Circe by Madeline Miller 
  4. Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy 
  5. The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash 
  6. A Short Guide To A Happy Life by Anna Quindlen 
  7. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides 
  8. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  9. Heading Out To Wonderful by Robert Goolrick 
  10. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
While I've really enjoyed all ten of these, at least one of them is coming off the top ten list as soon as I finish Macbeth by Jo Nesbo, baring a complete disaster of an ending. Given that it's a modern retelling of Shakespeare's Macbeth, I'm not anticipating anything too unexpected!

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Life: It Goes On - July 8

I think we are about to the end of people shooting off fireworks here after thirteen days, only ten of them when it was legal to shoot off fireworks. I find that I have become quite the Fourth of July grouch these days; I really don't like get-togethers where there are all ages of people out in the street lighting off explosives. This anxiety-ridden old lady can't handle the stress so I'm glad to have this week over. Although I did enjoy having that day off in the middle of the week!

Last Week I:

Listened To: More show tunes, especially 1776 in keeping with the holiday, as well as my Spotify playlist of hits from the 1970's and 1980's that I love. That last made an excellent soundtrack while I worked on the garage yesterday. It's amazing how much music can influence your mood and energy level!

Watched: I had the house to myself last night so I got to pick what to watch. It's possible that I may not have the best judgment - I watched two movies and neither was great. I watched Set It Up (starring Taye Diggs and Lucy Lui) which was fairly cute but predictable then Brain On Fire (based on the book by Suzanna Cahalan) which was so disappointing. Cahalan's book is based on her real life experience when she contracted a very rare autoimmune disease which was misdiagnosed as a mental disorder for weeks. The book was so good and terrifying. The movie was so bland.

Read: Remember last week when I said that reading Jo Nesbo's Macbeth was work? It must have been that same day when something clicked and I ended up really enjoying it a lot and racing to finish it. Now I'm reading The Roanoke Girls for book club, which should be a quick read. After that, I'll pick up something from my summer reading list but I don't know what that will be yet.

Made: Macaroni salad and red velvet cupcakes for the Fourth. Otherwise, we've been pretty much sticking to salads. Or eating out.

Enjoyed: Friday evening at Benson First Friday. Benson is a former small town that was swallowed up by Omaha decades ago and which has become one of the top spots in town for bars, restaurants, and bands. We're much to old to be hanging out later on a Friday evening but we did enjoy happy hour on a rooftop deck, an art show, great pizza, and ice cream in one of my fave places. We'd have liked to do more shopping in some of the unique shops in the area but, sadly, they weren't savvy enough to stay open later for the crowds.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On finishing the clean up of the garage. Realistically, this is a two-person job; but if BG helps me, then nothing gets thrown out.

Thinking About: All of the great tweets I read on Twitter this past week under hashtag #SecondCivilWar. This all started after Alex Jones (InfoWars) announced that the Democrats were planning to start a second civil war last week. If you haven't read any of these tweets yet, I highly recommend them. So many are so well done and they are just as likely to be self-deprecating as they are to be on the attack against Trump supporters. Many references to being low on rations and requesting that their beloveds send avocado and quinoa.
My love,
 Rations are growing scarce. Quinoa hasn't been seen in days, and they're only giving the gluten free food to those who actually need it. These are lean times indeed.
 Ever yours, Thomas
#SecondCivilWarLetter #SecondCivilWar 
Feeling: Like I'd like to take today just for fun things. That's not going to happen. Time to get productive.

Looking forward to: Finally getting my front door painted. After all this time, we have finally settled on a color. It's not what you'll guess, given the colors I've talked about before. Pictures when we're finished.

Question of the week: For those of you battling summer's heat, what ways are you finding to beat the heat?

Friday, July 6, 2018

My Summer Reading List

Well, June's already behind us so it may be a little late for a summer reading list but I've only just reached the point when I have no books for review that need to be read for the next couple of months so now's the time to think about what I want to read off my shelves. I only wish it were on a beach like in this picture!

In no particular order, and with no illusions that I will definitely get to all of these, here's what I'm putting on my list:

1. The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel (book club selection for July)
2. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (book club selection for August)
3. Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis (may just have to watch the movie again as well!)
4. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (did just watch the movie again of this one)
5. Paris For One by Jojo Moyes
6. All The Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister
7. Love, Water, Memory by Jennie Shortridge
8. One True Thing by Anna Quindlen

Let's be honest, there's a reasonable chance other books will catch my eye between now and the end of summer. Hopefully, with two readathons coming up this month, I might even get to more books than this!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

You Think It, I'll Say It by Curtis Sittenfield

You Think It, I'll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
Published April 2018 by Random House Publishing
Source: my ecopy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
A suburban mother of two fantasizes about the downfall of an old friend whose wholesome lifestyle empire may or may not be built on a lie. A high-powered lawyer honeymooning with her husband is caught off guard by the appearance of the girl who tormented her in high school. A shy Ivy League student learns the truth about a classmate’s seemingly enviable life.

Throughout the ten stories in You Think It, I’ll Say It, Sittenfeld upends assumptions about class, relationships, and gender roles in a nation that feels both adrift and viscerally divided.

With moving insight and uncanny precision, Curtis Sittenfeld pinpoints the questionable decisions, missed connections, and sometimes extraordinary coincidences that make up a life. Indeed, she writes what we’re all thinking—if only we could express it with the wit of a master satirist, the storytelling gifts of an old-fashioned raconteur, and the vision of an American original.

My Thoughts:
I liked this collection right from the first story, a story in which the main character gets caught up in a  game called "I'll Think It, You Say It" that leads her down a path to obsession over a man who isn't her husband. "...alarmingly, I'll Think It, You Say It left her as cheerful and energized as a Zumba class." Julie is a woman who has settled into her family's life in the suburbs; the attention of another man makes her feel alive again.
"It wasn't that talking to Graham had made her feel lovestruck, not remotely, not then. It was more that it had made her feel big-boomed, curly-haired, high-spirited, and Jewish. Even if it was only by that point symbolic rather than literal, it had made her feel like herself."
This is a solid collection of stories about relationships of all kinds. Like all short story collections, I liked some of the stories better than others but more as a matter of preference than that any of the stories were weaker than others. Many had interesting twists which I won't share with you because I don't want to spoil anything. There's an interesting story that I can't help but think took Ree Drummond, Pioneer Woman, as a launch point. Some stories are about friendships, some are about marriages, some are about both. There was one story were I was highlighting like crazy because I was trying to figure out if there were editing errors that weren't, in fact, errors. If you do read this collection, I'd love if you can tell me if you figure out which story this was that exposed my prejudice.

If I find a flaw in Sittenfeld's writing it's that her writing can come off as elitist. In the above story, it seems clear she feels like the suburbs are the place people go to lose themselves but not in the good way. In another story she writes: "As if Bill and Barbara Adams of Traverse City, Michigan, even grasp what Uber is." I don't live in Traverse City, Michigan, but I know people who grew up there and I'm fairly certain that it's not the isolated outpost Sittenfeld seems to be insinuating. Little jabs like that can gnaw at me and turn my opinion about a book.

Fortunately, there was enough I liked about this collection for me to overlook those little jabs. I tend to have such mixed feelings about short story collections and often come away from them feeling like I wanted more from many of the stories or that there were too many weak stories to recommend the book. This is a collection that has left me thinking I'd like to read more short stories and that's a good thing.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Happy Fourth of July!

Every year, for the past 43 years, my parent's neighbors have gathered on the morning of the Fourth of July for a celebratory breakfast. Everyone dons their patriotic finest, brings food to share, and enjoys the companionship of their fellow Eastridgians (yeah, yeah, I'm making up words here). And nearly every one of those 43 years, my dad (who, along with my mom, started this tradition) stands and reminds everyone why they are gathered together on this day. This year he has graciously agreed to allow me to share his talk. Enjoy!

"There are three grand monuments to individual men in Washington D.C. One of those is The Washington Monument, another is the Lincoln Memorial, and the third is the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. In the third one, a 19' bronze statue of Jefferson stands in the center of a classical, circular, domed colonnade. In the spring, standing as it does among the cherry blossoms, it may be the most beautiful place in the city.

Thomas Jefferson stands out in our history for several things. He was the third President of the U.S. and the first to break the grip on power of the Federalists, who believed that the government should always be in the hands of the rich, the possessors of a lot of property, and those who were "well-born." He wrote the Virginia Statue of Religious Freedom, which guaranteed freedom of religion in Virginia to people of all religious faiths, including Christians of all denominations, Jews, Muslims, Hindus. And he authorized the doubling in size of the United States by buying the Louisiana Purchase.

But Jefferson stands above all the great American men and women, for whom there are not such grand monuments as those three above, for one thing above all others - the Declaration of Independence. It's that declaration, of course, that's the foundation of this breakfast tradition of ours. On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress, having voted in favor of American separation from England on July 2, put its final touches on the explanation for that separation, passed it, and sent it out to the printers. On July 4, 1976 - 200 years later - the first edition of this breakfast took place next door, in my wife's and my back yard.

The first 4th of July breakfast -
my mom is standing
I'm interested this morning in the background of that Declaration. Near the end of his life, Jefferson explained his goal in writing it. He said that he'd intended "Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent...Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular or previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give that expression the proper tone and spirit call for by the occasion."

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Locke, George Mason
And he certainly did not achieve originality of principle or sentiment. You Wouldn't have to browse with Google for very long to find the same arguments put forward in nearly the same words by the Frenchman Rousseau, the Englishman John Locke, Jefferson's contemporary George Mason, and others.

So if Jefferson borrowed freely from the ideas of others, why is his great work so revered as to put him in the center of that striking monument in our nation's capital? My argument to you is that he wrote those ideas more beautifully than the other guys. And, at the same time, in language that could be understood by many more than the rich, the well-born, and those with university educations.

Many of you know that the longest section of the Declaration is just a list of complaints against King George III of England: He has imposed "taxes upon us without our sent," he has deprived us "in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury," "He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people." And so on and so on.

Following the list of grievances, Jefferson wrote that the colonists had tried many times to settle these matters while still remaining good Englishmen themselves. But that had failed and so now the Americans were declaring "That these united Colonies are, and of Right out to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown..."

But the complaints and the pledge are really no more than a lawyer's argument. What makes Jefferson stand out, what earns him that beautiful monument is the second section, in which he lays out the philosophy of the thing, what it is that Americans believe that makes everything else valid in their minds. And, yes, he was not, as he wrote years later, "aiming at originality of principle or sentiment." He just set it all out more skillfully than had Rousseau, Locke, or anyone else.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government...

We're here this morning, of course, for the fellowship, the food, and the tradition. But were it not for those ringing words, we'd probably all be sitting right now in our respective homes, waiting for the picnics, the swimming, the boating, the family times, the fireworks, and whatever else we may have planning door the day. So thanks for yet one more thing Thomas Jefferson."  - Ed Kemble

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Life: It Goes On - July 1

It's July! How can it be July already? And how could Mini-me and Ms. S have celebrated their one-year anniversary yesterday? You probably still feel like it was only yesterday that I was going on and on about the wedding plans. I feel that way as well! What a great year they have had and it's fun to watch them (albeit from afar) as they launch the next phase of their lives. Can't wait to get up to Rochester to see their new place and explore their new area.

Last Week I:

Listened To: Lots of Broadway tunes in my car which lead me down the rabbit hole of listening to musicals at home. Caught a number from the musical Nine which had me waxing nostalgic - when The Big Guy and I went on our honeymoon in 1983, we saw this in the very theater that Hamilton's been playing in. Wishing I could find the full soundtrack somewhere. Also wish we had been there a couple of months earlier so we could have seen Raul Julia in the lead. But these then very young Midwestern kids have never forgotten Anita Morris in her very sexy role!

Watched: Baseball, a lot of junk just so we could have the local channels on to track the weather, and some episodes of The Crown.

Read: I'm working on Jo Nesbo's Macbeth. You'll notice I chose the work "working." It's not a bad book, it's just not what I'm in the mood for right now. But I need to get it finished before it archives on Netgalley so I can get the review posted there.

Made: I'm trying to eat less sugar so I haven't been baking. Also, it's hot and we have a ton of lettuce (perhaps literally!) so we've been eating salads almost every night.

Enjoyed: Won't You Be My Neighbor - the story of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood and Fred Roger's impact on American children. I'm not gonna lie - I have been known to mock Mr. Rogers. Never again. I had no idea how revolutionary that mild-mannered man was for his time. For example, this scene where he and Officer Clemmons both had their feet in a wading pool at a time when swimming pools were segregated.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: The calendar's pretty clear this week. With the holiday right in the middle of the week, I think it will be more of a reading week than a big project kind of week.

Thinking About: Have you ever heard the song, "Wives and Lovers" by Frank Sinatra? I heard it for the first time on Sirius' Frank Sinatra station the other day. I'm under no illusions that Sinatra was a feminist but are you kidding me with this stuff?!

Feeling: Bummed. I had intended to go to an rally for keeping family's together but my bum knee was acting up and I knew it couldn't handle the walking and standing. Had to comfort myself by making donations.

Looking forward to: Hopefully seeing my kiddos in a couple of weeks!

Question of the week: How will you celebrate the Fourth?