Thursday, August 30, 2018

Still Me by Jojo Moyes

Still Me by Jojo Moyes
Published January 2018 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher’s Summary: Louisa Clark arrives in New York ready to start a new life, confident that she can embrace this new adventure and keep her relationship with Ambulance Sam alive across several thousand miles. She steps into the world of the superrich, working for Leonard Gopnik and his much younger second wife, Agnes. Lou is determined to get the most out of the experience and throws herself into her new job and New York life. 

As she begins to mix in New York high society, Lou meets Joshua Ryan, a man who brings with him a whisper of her past. Before long, Lou finds herself torn between Fifth Avenue where she works and the treasure-filled vintage clothing store where she actually feels at home. And when matters come to a head, she has to ask herself: Who is Louisa Clark? And how do you find the courage to follow your heart—wherever that may lead?

My Thoughts: I love this character. My heart broke for her in Me Before You and I cheered for her to find happiness in After Me. So I was excited to see what was next for Lou as she embarked on the next stage of her life’s adventures.

We first met Lou when she figured life was about as good as it was ever going to get, a boyfriend who picked out his own presents because she couldn't get it right and carried more about running marathons than he did about her, a sister she didn't really get along with, parents who loved her but..., and a dead end job. But life has changed for Lou and she's no longer to just take life as it's handed to her. But, as exciting as it is to be around Fifth Avenue and as much as her new employer insists that they are friends, Lou soon finds that life among the super rich can be stifling and tricky to maneuver. Also, long-distance relationships are incredibly tough.

It's not until she finds herself without a job, without a home, and without a boyfriend, that Lou really starts to find her own strength and find the true Louisa Clark. She still has that spark that we've always seen (and her own personal clothing style) but she's grown as a person and learning to step out of the shadows of other people.

Make no mistake about it, I really enjoyed this book and finding out where life was going to take Louisa. But...(yep, there is is again, that ugly word).

There's a lot going on here. Not one but two romances for Louisa. Not one but three jobs. So many characters, and so many that are stereotypes. I understand that Moyes wanted to show Louisa a New York City away from the rich and famous and she needed to find a way for Louisa to find her own path using what she knows. I can't say I know a better way to get to those places and I did enjoy many of the characters she met along the way because of those choices. But those are all added to the characters readers of the other books will want to catch up with as well and they all have their own story lines going along.

Unlike Me Before You, there are no real surprises here. You know Louisa will land on her feet and, even though some sad things happen, you know that things will mostly wind up happily-ever-after. But that's ok because it's time to know that Louisa is going to be just fine. Although one would hope that she still keeps some of the quirky awkwardness that makes her so endearing

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday - Back To School

This week's Top Ten Tuesday prompt is Back To School. It's a freebie which means we can interpret the prompt any way we want (The Artsy Reader, for example, feature books with school supplies on the cover). I'm choosing to highlight books with schools as a central setting. Some I've read, some I haven't yet but their all brought to mind this time of year.

1. Matilda by Roald Dahl - I never read this one until I had kids. The movie adaptation is wonderful.
2. The Secret History by Donna Tartt - College kids gone wild accidentally kill a stranger. And that's only one of the ways these young people are not the nicest people.
3. Carrie by Stephen King - Maybe this one's so popular because so many of us would have loved to have had the telekinetic powers to get our revenge on the people who made high school tough.
4. Harry Potter - Nearly the entire seven-book series is set on the grounds of a school. I'm certain that real school looks pretty dull to the fans of these books!
5. The Prime of Miss Jean Brody by Muriel Sparks - Six young girls are marked as being special by a teacher who continues to educate them long after they've left her classroom but is she using them as much as she's helping them?
6. Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon - An aging teacher with writer's block chances upon a student with real talent. It's Chabon, so you know it's great writing.
7. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld - A young girl enrolls as a scholarship student at a prestigious private school. You can already see where this one's going, can't you?
8. Daddy Longlegs by Jean Webster - When a trustee of an orphanage sponsors a young lady's college education, she strikes up a penpal relationship with the man she knows only as "Daddy Longlegs." So sweet!
9. Villette by Charlotte Bronte - A young English woman with no family to care for her, travels to France to find work as an English teacher. Bronte could have used a better editor but it's still a lovely coming-of-age story.
10. Election by Tom Perrota - A popular jock is convinced to run for student body president by a teacher hoping to stop an overachiever from winning that title. But you can't stop Tracy Flick. This movie adaptation is one of my faves - not the least of which because it is set in Omaha. But also, Reese Witherspoon is amazing in it.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Neverhome by Laird Hunt

Neverhome by Laird Hunt
Narrated by Mary Stuart Masterson
Published September 2014 by Little, Brown and Company
Source: my audiobook checked out from the library

Publisher's Summary:
She calls herself Ash, but that's not her real name. She is a farmer's faithful wife, but she has left her husband to don the uniform of a Union soldier in the Civil War. NEVERHOME tells the harrowing story of Ash Thompson during the battle for the South. Through bloodshed and hysteria and heartbreak, she becomes a hero, a folk legend, a madwoman and a traitor to the American cause.

My Thoughts:
When I first got my library card and could start getting any audiobook I wanted, I decided to look for books that I'd requested from Netgalley long ago but never gotten read in time before they archived. Neverhome was one of those books. I've mentioned before that I was raised with the Civil War as a part of my life so any book that covers that war is of interest to me, even more so when it involves women who were involved in some way. That's why I requested the book in the first place but, by now, I'd completely forgotten what the book was about. Which, I've also mentioned before, generally adds a level of enjoyment of the book for me. Neverhome was no exception.

“I was strong and he was not, so it was me went to war to defend the Republic.”

When I started listening, having no recollection of what story lay before me, I wasn't even sure that the narrator was a woman. Which is sort of ironic, given that Ash (Constance) spends the rest of the novel switching identities between a man and a woman.

Like Patrick Reardon, who reviewed the book for the Chicago Tribune, I finished this book with mixed feelings. I came away feeling I'd read this story before, just from a different point of view. It felt very much like Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain to me, which, of course, is an adaptation of Homer's Odyssey. It also took me a while to get used to the "voice" of the book. Mary Stuart Masterson does a fine job of reading the book once you get used to the idea that this book is really written in an historic voice; but, in the beginning, it felt so flat to me. Which sort of make me wonder if I would have enjoyed the book more if I had "read" it in print. Reading, instead of listening while I was driving or doing chores, might have allowed me to be more immersed in the book as well.

Not being fully immersed feels like a disservice to this book, in retrospect. I actually liked it much better than Cold Mountain (although that's not saying much; getting through that book was a major effort for me). Ash (Constance) is such an interesting character - a woman who possesses all the masculine traits her husband lacks but who chooses, on her return home, to don skirts again;  a woman who earns the name Gallant Ash but who turns out to not be a terribly reliable narrator; a woman who yearns for her husband but who is more heartfelt with the spirit of her dead mother. Hunt's descriptions of battle are both removed and horrific at the same time. Some of the images he gives readers will stay with me a good long while.

It's no surprise to find that the movie rights to Neverhome were scooped up as soon as the book was published. But that was four years ago and the movie doesn't even show up on IMDB as something that is in the works. And that's a disappointment because this book, done right, is going to make an incredible movie.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Life: It Goes On - August 26

It's been a rainy, dreary week here much of the week. Which also means I've battled headaches a lot of the week and not accomplished a whole lot. I need some sunshine this week because I have a project I'm wanting to get finished up this week, before we head off to see Mini-me and Ms. S next weekend, which I need to be able to work on outside. Also, a week with no headaches would be great. Tough to even read some days, which is no bueno.

Last Week I:

Listened To: Trying to finish up Special Topics in Calamity Physics. I'm  16 hours into this 22 hour book and it is finally interesting me. I've only stuck it out this long because I can listen to it at double time when it drags.

Watched: We went with friends to see the latest installment in the Mission Impossible franchise. Definitely not my usual movie theater fare but it was enjoyable for the relationships as much as the action. Also, Henry Cavill. Although, I prefer him without his bad guy mustache!

Read: I finished Jojo Moyes' Still Me and I enjoyed it much more than After You. It's not Me Before You but this time Moyes doesn't seem to have been trying to be that book and just gone on to tell the story of this character that we've fallen in love with.

Made: Lot of salads, BLT's, naked pasta with tomatoes and basil, cucumber dip, and my grandmother's peach custard recipe. I'm not a huge fan of pies but I do love this recipe and I'm a little disappointed not to have any leftover.

Enjoyed: Dinner and drinks with friends after the movie. We hit up new places for dinner and drinks. The place we ate at is definitely one we'll visit again. Not so sure about the other place, except that they do have a great patio.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: Refinishing a plant stand that my grandfather built. It'll make the perfect housewarming present for my kiddos who have a virtual jungle of plants in their house and a keen appreciation for things with history.

Thinking About: Food and books to pack for the weekend. You know how my mind works!

Feeling: Tired. I'm going to bed early tonight.

Looking forward to: Seeing my kids on Friday and a long weekend!

Question of the week: I'm taking up food to make some of Mini-me's favorites while we're there. If you were him, what would you want me to bring?

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Published May 2017 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: bought for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
Ghana, eighteenth century: two half sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery.

My Thoughts:
"Sometimes you cannot see that the evil in the world began as the evil in your home."
One mother, two daughters who never knew each other and two paths through seven generations on two continents. Effia is forced into marriage with a Englishman in charge of Cape Coast Castle on the Gold Coast, a port for slave ships. Esi is captured in a raid on her village and and sold into slavery. Through the tribal battles, colonization and then independence of Ghana in Africa and the end of slavery through the Jim Crow South and the jazz years of Harlem, the descendants of Maa'am lives tell the story of the legacy of slavery on both continents. It is an incredible feat of writing made all the more amazing by the fact that, in her debut novel, Gyasi manages to get all of this into just 270 pages.
"The need to call this thing "good" and this thing "bad," this thing "white" and this thing "black," was an impulse that Effia did not understand. In her village, everything was everything. Everything bore the weight of everything else."
This is the lesson of Gyasi's story - everything bears the weight of everything else. She doesn't shy away from saying that Africans made it easy for white to "steal" their people into slavery nor that there were people treating people badly and passing judgement on both continents. It is, perhaps, true that Gyasi draws on some stereotypes when she follows the path of Esi's descendants but that didn't particularly bother me; it allowed her to tell stories that opened my eyes to things I either didn't know about or had forgotten about. For example, how easy it was to arrest a black man just so that he could be leased out for hard labor. Or the fact that while Jazz era Harlem was the haven of blacks, it was largely owned by whites and that the whites who traveled into Harlem to visit the jazz clubs were more comfortable if they were filled by lighter-skinned blacks.

One reviewer didn't find the characters to be memorable. I disagree. These characters and what they went through will stay with me for a long time. Ness, who had the strength to get her child to freedom; H, who led coal miners to unionize; Akua, who went mad from visions of a fire woman; and Yaw, who taught his students:
"We believe the one who has power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must always ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that our, you must find that story too. From there, you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture."
Gyasi was born in Ghana and raised in Alabama so she has strong roots to draw on for both pieces of the story. Perhaps she might have been better able to flesh out her story had it been longer. But, for me, she managed to pack a lot to think about into a slim novel and encouraged me to continue to seek out books that may be uncomfortable, but important, to read.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Top Ten Tuesdays - Books To Pull You Out Of A Slump

This week’s prompt for Top Ten Tuesdays asks us to recommend ten books that will help you get out of a reading slump. At first I figured this one would be a piece of cake. But then I realized that what grabs me in a book isn’t necessarily what will grab you. For example, I raced through Lincoln In The Bardo and while this one was a big hit, I know that some folks really couldn’t get into it. Are you not reading right now because you’re feeling down? Well then I wouldn’t recommend Me Before You, although that’s another book I recommend to everyone but it will give you the ugly cries even if life is going great. Do you usually read fiction? Maybe it’s time to throw in a little non-fiction to shake things up. Or maybe it’s a good time to let someone else read to you for a while and audiobooks are the way to go. You see my problem with recommending books?

So I can only recommend to you what has worked for me, books that made me want to keep reading regardless of the subject matter or writing style. Many of them aren’t even among my favorite books of the year - they didn’t have to be great books, just the right book at the right time.

1. Cocktail Hour Under The Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller – a memoir of life in post-colonial Africa that is filled with warmth and humor despite an often grim life.

2. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters – scary in that eerie way that makes your skin crawl. This one’s coming out as a movie shortly but I’m not sure I can handle it on the big screen.

3. Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman – I read this one in one sitting which is rare for me. It was definitely the right book at the right time. It’s got a love story, family drama, and a woman trying to find herself all told in a very comforting way.

4. I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron – nobody did funny like Nora and I could relate to so many of the stories. But it is also incredibly sad; I cried as I drove listening to it.

5. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell – young love, the pain of trying to find your place, angst, family dysfunction, and Rowell’s incredible humor and insight.

6. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson – I cried I was laughing so hard. Lawson has an incredible talent for making tough times funny. I'll definitely read it again sometime.

7. The Martian by Andy Weir – science fiction made funny. I loved the idea of someone being able to survive on his own wits.

8. The Breakdown by B. A. Paris – here’s one you won’t find on my top ten list. It’s not great writing but good enough that I couldn’t put it down after about the half way point.

9. Any of the Hamish MacBeth books by M. C. Beaton – M. C. Beaton writes what I like to call dark cozy mysteries. In this series, I’m smitten with Hamish and adore the cast of characters in his tiny village of Lochdubh.

10, The Changeling by Victor LaValle – this one is WAY out of my comfort zone and I would highly recommend you look at the publisher’s summary before you pick it up. BUT…I was completely sucked in by the story; evidently what I really needed at the time I read this was something that was entirely different from my usual fare.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Bout of Books 23

So my house is pretty clean and I have audiobooks again - that must mean I have time to give Bout of Books. Because I've got two books that need to be returned to the library in four days if I can't renew one of them, I'm going to plan to spend a lot of time running the battery down on my phone.

Today I've already finished Neverhome and knocked out about two hours of Special Topics in Calamity Physics (you may remember this is the book I was listening to on CD when I no longer had a CD player in my car so I'm happy to be able to pick it back up again). Because I'd already started that one, I'm almost half way finished with it already.

In print, I'm hoping to finish Jojo Moyes' latest, Still Me. If there's still time, I'm hoping to get back to Rebecca Traister's All The Single Ladies, which I'm slowing making my way through.

Maybe this time I'll actually succeed at a readathon!

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Life: It Goes On - August 19

I spent all of the beautiful day that was yesterday cleaning for company that was coming late yesterday afternoon. I had planned on doing some projects that needed to be done outside this weekend but today, of course, it's raining. Not that there aren't plenty of things that can be done around here - think I'm headed up to work on my office and to finish listening to Neverhome.

Last Week I:

Listened To: 
I hadn't realized when I checked out the audiobook that the loan was only for a week, which I will have no time finishing, but that is going to make longer books tough to get through. Not only that, but two books I put on hold both came in the day after I check out Neverhome. Looks like I'll be listening to a lot of books in the next week!

Watched: Mudbound, based on the book by the same name, which I've been meaning to read for a long time. But, damn, it's so, so hard to watch! I'm not sure I can read the book not that I've seen the movie.

Read: I started Jojo Moyes' Still Me and so far I'm enjoying it but with so much time spent listening to a book, I haven't had a lot of time to actually read one.

Made: Miss H's favorite goulash, caprese pasta, and The Big Guy made baked beans with rhubarb. That doesn't sound any where near as good as it tasted!

Enjoyed: An evening with old friends. She is the one who introduced me to BG; BG and her husband  have been great friends for more than 40 years. We started the evening at a dive place that sits on the banks of the Platte River. Terrible service, stupidly noisy but still we enjoyed the view. Had dinner on a rooftop restaurant in town then wandered down the street to finish off the night at a bar that's filled with old video game machines.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On getting to the painting projects that I couldn't get to this weekend.

Thinking About: All of the difficult movies I've watched and books I've read lately. It's good to do, to be reminded. But I'm thinking I may need to read some David Sedaris so something equally funny to lighten my load.

Feeling: Like I'd just like to curl up and sleep and read. It's cool out today, just 70 degrees, and we can finally have the doors and windows open (when it's not actually raining!) which is just bliss.

Looking forward to: Book club this week - can't wait to get everyone's thoughts about Homegoing!

Question of the week: I got onto Pinterest today, for the first time in a long time for anything other than to quickly find a recipe. I find that things are a lot different than they used to be, a lot of ads and I wasn't getting much variety in my home page. Do you still use Pinterest? I do have a lot of things pinned that I would like to try and miss Trish's Pin It and Do It. If you still use it, would you be interested in joining me in a kind of challenge to use what you've posted?

Friday, August 17, 2018

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

Nine years ago when I started blogging, I made extensive use of my local library. It was the only way I could get enough current books to read enough to post a book a month without spending a fortune. It was before I realized that all of my holds would always come in at the same time and that I would never want to make the trip back to the library to return them until I was done with all of them and had racked up a hefty fine.

So eight and a half years ago, I stopped going to the library and my card lapsed.

In the meantime I found Netgalley, began to have more and more publishers offering me books, and found out I could get audiobooks for a couple of bucks at my local library book sale. Problem solved.

Until a couple of months ago when I bought a new car that doesn't have a CD player. Since then I've been exploring options for audiobook subscription services. I just couldn't make myself pay a set fee each month; that was adding an expense to the budget and that kind of it's-only-$15-a-month thinking adds up fast. So I've been listening to podcasts and trial of SiriusXM. But when I was listening to the podcast S*Town, which reminded me so much of a narrative nonfiction book, I realized I missed audiobooks.

So yesterday I finally took an alternative route home from work on my half day and went to the library to get a new book card. And, also, to pay the outstanding fines I apparently have had hanging out there for for more than 8 years. Damn, I should have gone in one of those times they've had fine-forgiveness!

I limited myself to only one physical book (which I'm pretty excited to get to) and I downloaded Overdrive's Libby app so that I could get audiobooks. I put two books on hold and started a third. I must say, I'm pretty stoked to finally be able to listen to my audio books when I'm NOT in the car now!

Now just to remember to get that book back on time!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Reviews of Adaptations

I must first admit that I have never read Anna Karenina so I can't speak to how well it has been adapted by Tom Stoppard and Joe Wright's in the 2012 adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's book. On the other hand, I feel confident you have never seen an adaptation like this before. Much of the action takes place in an empty theater - the floor, the stage, the balconies, the backstage area - that often blends into traditional sets. I found it a bit disconcerting in the beginning; but, as I got used to it, I came to like the idea.

One reviewer compared it to Baz Luhrmann. Visually, I'd agree - it's lush and vivid. The costumes and use of color are amazing. There was something about it that also reminded me of Wes Anderson's films, particularly early on. I was surprised to find so much humor and lightness in the early going and I began to think that Wright might have reimagined Tolstoy's masterpiece as a comedy. Have no fear. Anna will die in the end and Wright will have shown us all of the ways love can play out, just as Tolstoy imagined them. It's not an adaptation for purists and it certainly has it's flaws. But, in the end, I enjoyed it.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, on the other hand, is a book I have read and enjoyed very much. It was also a book I felt certain would, at some point, be made into a movie. But it's been a long time since I've read the book so it's hard to me to say how true it was to the book.

Doing that would have been tough - it is an epistolary novel, after all; you can't do an entire movie through letters. But those letters were part of what I enjoyed about the book and I missed that in the movie. I recall the book having a much greater sense of tension than does the movie.  In looking back on the occupation of the island by the Germans, somehow director Mike Newell has made it seem more of an inconvenience than a seriously dangerous time. has the charming appeal of an old-fashioned romance movie with lovely settings, some very good performances, and enough of the book to satisfy those who loved it. It was sweet and predictable, which was just what I'd imagine almost everyone who watches it will want form it.

That tension lacking in Guernsey? Sharp Objects has it in spades. I watched the second episode by myself as it began to get dark and almost had to shut it off. The book is exceedingly dark. The HBO adaptation may well beat it, even with much of the action set in the bright light of day. The murders that are the background of the movie are not the only reasons it's all so hard to watch. Visually, it jumps around quite a lot - it demands you pay attention. Amy Adams is incredible - she's so deep into it that she has declined to do a second season because she can't live in that character another season. Patricia Clarkson is equally impressive. I'm as knocked out by how well the book as been adapted, at least in the first five episodes. I'd say I can't wait for the final three episodes but I must admit that I'm also a little fearful.

If you haven't already read Gillian Flynn's book, on which this series is based, be aware that this series is loaded with triggers, including cutting, rape, alcoholism, murder, psychological abuse, and a lot of talk about incest and pedophilia. This is not a book nor a series for everyone.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Published May 2018 by Little, Brown, and Company
Source: bought for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
Who says you can't run away from your problems? You are a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the mail: your boyfriend of the past nine years is engaged to someone else. You can't say yes--it would be too awkward--and you can't say no--it would look like defeat. On your desk are a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.

QUESTION: How do you arrange to skip town?

ANSWER: You accept them all.

What would possibly go wrong? Arthur Less will almost fall in love in Paris, almost fall to his death in Berlin, barely escape to a Moroccan ski chalet from a Saharan sandstorm, accidentally book himself as the (only) writer-in-residence at a Christian Retreat Center in Southern India, and encounter, on a desert island in the Arabian Sea, the last person on Earth he wants to face. Somewhere in there: he will turn fifty. Through it all, there is his first love. And there is his last.

Because, despite all these mishaps, missteps, misunderstandings and mistakes, Less is, above all, a love story.

My Thoughts:
I've started this review three times. What remains of two of those opening paragraphs can now be found at the end of this review. They included points I wanted to make but they didn't say enough about this book. This book that won the Pulitzer Prize despite being a book that includes humor that made me laugh out loud. How often do serious prizes award books like that? How did that happen? Well, it probably happened because Less is really so much more.

This is a travelogue, the story of a man reaching middle age and feeling that he hasn't accomplished anything, a tale of friendship, the story of one man's life. Less is, above all, a love story. It is filled with pain and sadness, it is self-deprecating and funny, it is filled with yearning for the past without hope for the future.

Poor Arthur. He is a man who feels broken in so many ways! He travels the world with a glass half empty view on life and finds, time and again, that life is full of surprises, some of them amazingly wonderful. As Arthur travels, Greer moves the book back and forth in time, effortlessly, so that we learn just how Arthur became the man whose most prized possession was a medium blue suit, lined in fuchsia - "There is no Arthur Less without the suit."

Greer is a master at painting a picture, using the mundane to make the scene come alive:
"It was the year the cicadas returned: less had not been alive when they buried themselves in the earth. But now they returned: tens of thousands of them, horrifying but harmless, drunk driving through the air so they bumped into heads and ears, encrusting telephone poles and parked cars with the delicate, amber-hued, almost Egyptian discarded shells. Girls worse them as earrings. Boys (Tom Sawyer descendants) trapped the live ones in paper bags and released them at study hour. At night, the creatures hummed in huge choruses, the sound pulsing around the neighborhood And school would not end until June. If ever."
"...the endless series of shops, as if made from one continuous concrete barrier, painted at intervals with different signs advertising chickens and medicine, coffins and telephones, pet fish and cigarettes, hot tea and "homely" food, Communism, mattresses, handicrafts and dumbbells and gold by the ounce; the low, flat temples appearing at regular intervals like the colorful, elaborately frosted, but basically inedible sheet cakes displayed at Less's childhood bakery; the women sitting roadside with baskets of shimmering silver fish, terrifying manta rays, and squid, with their cartoon eyes; the countless men standing at tea shops, variety stores, pharmacies, watching Less as he goes by; the driver dodging bicycles, motorcycles, lorries (but few cars), moving frenetically in and out of traffic, bringing Less back to the time at Disney World when his mother led him and his sister to a whimsical ride based on The Wind In The Willows  - a ride that turned out to be a buckle-whitening rattletrap wellspring of trauma."
When we talk about reading more diversely, my brain always goes to the idea that I need to read more books by people of color. Which, of course, I do. What I tend to forget, in that conversation, are all of the books about people whose lives are nothing like mine, even though their skin color may be the same - inner city youths, back country "hill billies," and gay people. It's a shortcoming I'm going to work to remedy in the future. Because everyday I'm reminded that it's incumbent upon us to learn more about each other if we have any hope of understanding each other and coming together. And Greer taught me so much in this book.

I knew in 2009, after I read Greer's The Story of A Marriage, that I would read more books by Greer but for some reason I just haven't gotten around to it, even though I have two others on my Nook. It may be hard now to go back to those. Because Less won the freaking Pulitzer Prize for literature. I mean, how can those other books live up to that?! I suppose they may not. But, given my track record with Greer, I imagine they will still be well worth reading.

Oh, yes, I almost forgot this little gem that reminded me so much of watching baseball when my brother was playing and when my sons were:
"Nothing has happened in right field all season, which is why he was put there: a kind of athletic Canada."
It's a funny line but one that always reminds me how sad it was to watch those boys (including my younger son) who were stuck out in right field. They are so often the boys who have no interest in the sport, but whose parents so badly want them to be part of the team. Like Arthur's father, we parents often need to do a better job and finding the things that bring our children joy, instead of trying to make them fit into our expectations.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Life: It Goes On - August 12

School may be starting up this week, and people say that's the end of summer, but this girl is not going down without a fight. It's still August, I still need to sleep in my summer jammies, and it's still too hot most evenings to build a fire for roasting marshmallow, although we do that anyway. So that picture on the left is staying, at least until the end of this month!

I've had this weekend all to myself, while The Big Guy is off celebrating his 40th high school reunion. For some people this means reconnecting with people you haven't seen in years. For BG, this means seeing people he hasn't seen since the last class reunion just five years ago, or last weekend when we went out to dinner with them. His class has remained remarkably close and his closest friends remain those boys he befriended when he moved to the town he graduated from at 14 and some of the people who most often do things with. We should all be so lucky!

Last Week I:

Listened To: Mostly the podcast S*Town. It's been very much like listening to the audio version of a narrative fiction book. I have really enjoyed it, but it's certainly not for everyone. My mom, for example, would hate it. I may even review it.

Watched: When BG's gone for some hours, I generally leave the television off. When he's gone for days, I take that occasion to watch and watch the things I want to watch that he will not like. So this weekend, I've watched a documentary about Hedy Lamarr; The Center Will Not Hold, a documentary about author Joan Didion; three episodes of Sharp Objects, so dark and disturbing that I could only watch it when it was light out; Victoria and Abdul, starring Judy Dench; and  the movie adaptations, on Netflix, of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society and Anna Karenina.  I'll be reviewing everything I've watched that's book related sometime this week.

Read: I'm finishing Homegoing for book club this week (such a tough read!) and I'm still working on All The Single Ladies which is a book I think all women should read and share
generously with the men in their lives.

Made: BLT's with a tomato big enough that one slice was enough to cover the entire slice of bread, a new marinade for steaks I grilled last night, cucumber dip with a cucumber from our garden, and tomato and mozzarella salad with fresh picked tomatoes and basil from the garden.

Enjoyed: Dinner with work friends; it was so nice that work didn't come up at all.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On working on some painting and furniture refinishing projects.

Thinking About: How I should never go to Trader Joe's again when I am both hungry and about to have the house to myself for the weekend. My cart Friday included gelato, cookies, pretzel bread, two kinds of cheese, caramels, beer and wine. As I said on Instagram, I was like an eight-year-old run amok!

Feeling: Not gonna lie, if Miss H and her boyfriend hadn't come for dinner and football last night, I'd be getting lonely about now. But don't tell BG because I told him I'd be happy to have 48 hours to myself!

Looking forward to: Book club on Tuesday. We'll be discussing Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing. Have you read it? It's an eye opener.

Question of the week: If you ran amok in the grocery store like I did on Friday, what would be in your cart?

Friday, August 10, 2018

Everyone Is Beautiful by Katherine Center

Everyone Is Beautiful by Katherine Center
published 2009 by Random House Publishing
Source: bought the ebook for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:

Lanie Coates’s life is spinning out of control. She’s piled everything she owns into a U-Haul and driven with her husband, Peter, and their three little boys from their cozy Texas home to a multiflight walkup in the Northeast. She’s left behind family, friends, and a comfortable life–all so her husband can realize his dream of becoming a professional musician. But somewhere in the eye of her personal hurricane, it hits Lanie that she once had dreams too. If only she could remember what they were.

These days, Lanie always seems to rank herself dead last–and when another mom accidentally criticizes her appearance, it’s the final straw. Fifteen years, three babies, and more pounds than she’s willing to count since the day she said “I do,” Lanie longs desperately to feel like her old self again. It’s time to rise up, fish her moxie out of the diaper pail, and find the woman she was before motherhood capsized her entire existence.

Lanie sets change in motion–joining a gym, signing up for photography classes, and finding a new best friend. But she also creates waves that come to threaten her whole life. In the end, Lanie must figure out once and for all how to find herself without losing everything else in the process.

My Thoughts:
Katherine Center is one of those authors who always delivers exactly what you expect. This is the third book I've read by her and I know by now that I can count on her for a little drama, a little fluff, a mostly happy ending, a fair dose of humor, and some serious stuff that usually includes parenting and relationships. I can also always count on her for some great gems of truth, like the ones I shared with you yesterday.

I can relate to Lanie. Although I often felt like Center made living with three small kids much worse than it really is on a daily basis, I was also once the stay-at-home mom of three young children. There are days when you'd sell your soul for a conversation with an adult. It is easy to stop feeling good about yourself when finding time for a shower means after the kids go to bed and you can forget having time to put on a full face of makeup and ironed clothes before you leave the house. It's a constant balancing act with your partner, especially when you feel like the children are your "job," even if that means that your job is 24 hours long and his isn't. I could relate to moving to a new city and away from my parents, who still live in the house I grew up in to this day, and all of my friends.

I wish the day I was at the playground with my kids and someone asked me if I was pregnant when I wasn't, it would have had the same effect on me that it had on Lanie. I couldn't help but admire her for working to squeeze in the time for herself and for her dreams, for being willing to ask for help to make that happen.

Some things here are just a little too convenient, in order to make the story work. Lanie's parents suddenly sell her childhood home and move to Dubai, thus making it impossible for her mom to just hop a plan and come help. And some of it is predictable - of course Lanie's children were going to make a mess of her new friend's white house.

Because I know what to expect now with Center, it was easy to pick this one up at just the right time to read it. A quick, enjoyable read with a message worth listening to - beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and it is never too late to follow your dreams. Maybe I'll still go back to school and become a teacher!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Book Gems

Even in the lightest books or the books I’m not as fond of, I often find little nuggets of writing that speak to me, for their beauty, for their humor, for their profound truth. These gems don’t always find their way into my reviews but they are often part of what formed my opinion of the book. One of the joys of reading from my Nook is that those nuggets are always out there for me to go back and read. I though you might enjoy them as well.

Here are a few from Katherine Center’s Everyone Is Beautiful (which I apparently forgot to review when I read it so that review is upcoming):

“I knew exactly how your body could wander off like a toddler at the supermarket, leaving you racing through the aisles and shouting, “Where are you? This isn’t funny!”
Fortunately, Center’s character found her body again. Mine was abducted; haven’t seen it in years!
“…I was coming more and more to believe that women’s desire was different from men’s. Women’s desire seemed to come from their feelings – a physical ache in the heart that ravaged the body.”
“Because the truth was, there was a dark underbelly of terror to motherhood. You loved your children with such an overwhelming fierceness that you were absolutely vulnerable at every moment of every day…The threats to your child were infinite. And the thing was, if any of your children’s lives were ruined, even a little bit, yours would be, too.”
I believe every mom understands the truth of this.

And this one, just for fun:
“Amanda, who held herself to the most excruciating standards of beauty of any friend I’d ever had, was married to a truffle pig”

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Life: It Goes On - August 5

Happy weekend! It seems like I just did one of these posts a couple of days ago. Oh, wait - I did! But it's Sunday, so it's time again.

I spent part of Thursday weighing my options regarding audio books. Priced them on iTunes and my Nook but at $24 a book (as opposed to the $2 for the CD versions I'd been buying at my library sale), it seemed like a monthly subscription to one of the services might be a better option. Or the library, where the books can be gotten for free, although I'm not sure I'll every get them them "read" in as short a time as they allow you to have them. Do you use one of the services? If so, which one and what are your thoughts about it? I'm really missing books on audio.

Last Week I:

Listened To: I started listening to the podcast S Town, which is done by the same people who did Serial. I'm only a couple of episodes in but it's definitely grabbed my attention. When I went to grab this image for this post, I found myself going down a rabbit hole of stories related to this podcast. I'm certain I'll find myself looking into some of the related stories again.

Watched: An episode of Sharp Objects on HBO. I wish I'd read Gillian Flynn's book more recently so I could remember the story better. Also, watched a documentary about Hedy LaMarr. Such a beautiful, intelligent woman - such a sad life.

Read: I haven't done much reading in the past few days. I found a new game to play on my phone that I haven't been able to put down. It's a good one for keeping my brain active but I'm already starting to bore of it - which is a good thing!

Made: In the past couple of days? Not a thing, unless you count raisin toast. We've eaten out three of the last five meals. Today we need to eat salad!

Enjoyed: Time with friends and family. Friday night we went out with friends for happy hour and, even though we'd just eaten dinner with them a couple of nights before, we still had to force ourselves to get up and leave three hours after we got there. Yesterday we went to Lincoln and spent several hours with my parents and then several more with The Big Guy's sister and her husband. We hadn't had time, just the four of us, in ages and it was so much fun and we didn't get home until much later than we had planned.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: Construction of a shadowbox table. My mom gave me an old family autograph book from 1877 yesterday and I suddenly decided that all of the old things I have like that need to have a home where they are protected but can still be seen. I'd like to build it out of wood pieces I already have for the most part, so my brain has been working overtime trying to figure out what will work best.

Thinking About: Making a quick trip to my aunt's and uncle's this weekend to pick up some furniture they are kindly giving to Mini-me and Ms. S. They have such a lovely home and are such gracious hosts so it's always good to spend time with them. I just need to find someone willing to take a trip with me as BG will be off to his 40th class reunion.

Feeling: Younger again now that my hair isn't grey any more; thanks, Adriana!

Looking forward to: Dinner with work friends past and present this week.

Question of the week: Our cat is still really missing her brother. She's not allowed to sleep with us because of my allergies (I need one cat-free room!) and some nights she sits outside our door crying most of the night. Any one had to deal with pet grief before? If so, how did you handle it?

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Life: It Goes On - The Thursday Edition

Oh my, what a busy past week and a half we've had. I can't believe it's already August!

Mini-him turned 30 last week and I can't get over how old that makes me feel! His girlfriend and sister put together a surprise party for him. This should have required very little of me, other than cupcakes and gifts. I should have known better. His gf made all of the food but I ended up having to pick it all up to store it overnight, get it all heated back up and ready to serve, get it to the venue and get the food table set up. I was a busy mama for a couple of days. The important thing is that Mini-him was surprised and had a great time! Last night we finally got around to having our family birthday dinner for him - it's not a birthday until he's had Asian chicken salad.

Over the weekend, The Big Guy, Miss H, her boyfriend and I headed south to meet my new great-nephew (who shall hereafter be known as The Little Prince) and to spend much needed time with The Princess. Oh, yeah, and to see the rest of my brother's family. It was much too short a trip but we had so much fun.

Last Week I:

Listened To: Some NPR, Sirius radio, some podcasts, and a lot of music. Miss H and her bf were surprised to find that I knew the lyrics to Coolio's Gangsta's Paradise. Good to know I'm still capable of surprising my kids!

Watched: We've caught two episodes of Maigret, a drama about a French detective starring Rowan Atkinson. It is dark, and atmospheric, and very French. Except that it's filmed in Hungary and stars an cast which largely speaks with a British accent! Atkinson plays it 100% straight, which is so strange since I only know him as a comedic actor. He's really quite good here.

Read: I started Rebecca Traister's All The Single Ladies. As soon as I started it, I had second doubts, not having been a single lady myself for 35 years. No worries; it's a book that speaks to all women. But with all of the highlighting and things I'm learning, it's slow going. I've also picked up Andrew Sean Greer's Less which I'm enjoying.

Made: Red velvet cupcakes, shortbread chocolate chip cookies, summer fare including a lot of salads, and the aforementioned Asian chicken salad.

Enjoyed: Time with my family last weekend, getting our fave Shakespeare's pizza and spending a good chunk of Saturday relaxing at a local winery where we danced (some of us better than others!), ate great food from all of the goodies we brought and a food truck that was there, and talked and laughed until well after dark.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: Several weekend trips.

Thinking About: Taking a "me" day off work. And by "me" day, I mean a day that I can have the house to myself to get the jobs done that there just doesn't seem to be time for otherwise.

Feeling: Blessed.

Looking forward to: Getting my hair colored this afternoon. I pushed it extra long between appointments and now there's an old lady looking back at me in the mirror. I'm not a fan of her!

Question of the week: Summer's winding down. What are you still hoping to do before the kids head back to school, the temps start to drop and the days get shorter?

Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade by Patrick Dennis

Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade by Patrick Dennis
Published 1955

Publisher's Summary:
When shy young heir Patrick is orphaned at the tender age of ten, the only family he has is his wealthy and eccentric aunt, a fabulous New York socialite named Mame. While prone to dramatic costumes, flights of fancy and expensive whims - not least her lives as a muse and a Southern belle - Auntie Mame will raise Patrick the only way she knows how: with madcap humour, mishaps, unforgettable friends and lots and lots of love. 

My Thoughts:
The movie adaptation of this book has long been one of my favorite movies but the book has been sitting on my virtual Nook book shelf for several years. Despite encouragement from a fellow blogger, I just couldn't imagine Dennis' Mame could live up to Rosalind Russell's interpretation. Oh, but she does! In fact, Mame actually becomes even more three-dimensional through the stories in this book where we see her desire for love and need to feel young even more clearly.

Even though the time period the book is set in is very clear (beginning as it does in the 1920's), there is a timelessness to it that makes it every bit as readable now as it was when it was published. It's inconceivable that 19 publisher's turned down this story before it was finally published. Was it the political side of some of the chapters that scared them off or Dennis' stance on bigotry, racism, religion, and sexuality, topics that were taboo for popular literature of the time? Mame and Patrick talk about her queer friends on Fire Island, Mame stands up for Jewish friends, and Dennis makes his views about the treatment of blacks by the old guard of the South very clear.

Want some examples of what makes this book stand the test of time? How about this:
""You sit and talk like the New Republic or some parlor pink when another christian faces a serious..."
" I wish you wouldn't use the term Christian where it is so obviously misapplied," Auntie Mame said steadily."
"At seven o'clock another couple, named Abbot or Cabot or Mabbit - I never learned just which - joined us. He was in banking and she was in Planned Parenthood."
I had to stop reading and go find out exactly when Planned Parenthood was founded - turns out it was 1916. I also had to look up to see just when Fire Island began to be known as a party place for gay men since Patrick says to Mame at one point "They don't have to know about all your queer friends on Fire Island..." That, as it turns out, was around 1938. God love Mame who replied to Patrick:'
"Should they know that I think you've turned into one of the most beastly, bourgeois, babbity little snobs on the Eastern Seaboard, or will you be able to make that quite clear without any help from me?"

After reading the book, I have an new appreciation for the way the movie screenwriters kept so much of the dialogue and exact story lines from the book. I will say that I did prefer Pegeen, the woman Patrick marries, in the movie simply from the standpoint that she is more understanding of Mame. On the other hand, the way her character is written in the book gives Dennis another shot at the terrible way the upper class treated the working class.

There has never been, I don't think, a character quite like Auntie Mame in literature. If you haven't read the book, I highly recommend it, especially if you are a fan of the movie. Even though, after reading the book, I think Russell was a little old to play Mame, she simply is Mame.