Sunday, September 30, 2018

Life: It Goes On - September 30

Welcome to rainy, dreary, cold Omaha. Seriously, it's only 51 degrees.

So sad I forgot to go back for
this set!
That didn't stop Miss H and me from going to Junkstock this morning and browsing in and out of the buildings for a couple of hours. It's gotten to be an enormous event; but I really miss the days when there was actually "junk" at Junkstock, when I could find things like architectural pieces, ceramic insulators, and the handles off outdoor water faucets. But I got to spend a couple of hours with my girl which is always a good time.

Last Week I:

Listened To: I finished Mohsin Hamid's Exit West and M. C. Beaton's A Highland Christmas and started Paula McLain's Love and Ruins. I am loving having access to the library's digital audiobooks but sometimes it's hard to find anything that's readily available.

We weren't allowed to take photos
in the event.
Watched: Ron Chernow speak on Monday. While I was racing home from work, changing clothes as fast as I could, and getting only two bites of dinner before it was time to learn to the event, I wondered if it was worth it. It was. Chernow is a fantastic speaker and I highly recommend making the effort to hear him speak if you get the chance. He spoke about working with Lin-Manuel Miranda to turn his book Alexander Hamilton into Miranda's smash Broadway hit, Hamilton, as well as about his most recent book, Grant. Super excited to know that both the Broadway show and the book Grant are being made into movies.

Read: I finished The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher, read John Jay Osborn's Listen To The Marriage, and started Susan Orlean's The Library Book. I've been a reading machine as of late.

Made: It's been a pretty dull eating week, hasn't it, when you can't remember anything you made all week.

Enjoyed: Last Sunday Miss H had I spent the whole afternoon eating and shopping in the Old Market area of Omaha. Seems like we're getting into a Sunday Girls' Day habit that I'm loving. Also enjoyed the wedding, yesterday, of the son of some of our oldest friends.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: Some small projects around the house. We've got some things we want to get painted while the weather is still nice enough to get them outside (assuming this weekend was a fluke!) and I would love to get my office painted yet this fall.

Thinking About: Getting some voter registration events set up. A friend and I went through training this week to be official deputy voter registrars and I'm itching to get out and empower people. Of course, the next step is to sign up to drive them to the polls in November.

Feeling: Excited for and proud of Mini-him who accepted a new job this week. He's been with Apple for five years and we are really going to miss having our Apple expert (and that discount!) in house. But he will get a chance to travel all over the country, learn so many new things, work regular people hours, and do the things he does best.

Looking forward to: A trip to my sister's and brother-in-law's which will include a trip even further north to see their daughter and her fiancé. Making my list of things from here to take to them (runzas, my sis' fave popcorn) and things to bring back (cheese curds, cheese curds, cheese curds!).

Question of the week: We both grew up having popcorn for our Sunday evening meal so that's The Big Guy and I had tonight (along with some apples and some killer cheese). Do you have any meal like that during the week, a meal where you eat the same thing every week?

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
Published September 2015 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: checked out through my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Living in their car, surviving on tips, Charmaine and Stan are in a desperate state. So, when they see an advertisement for Consilience, a 'social experiment' offering stable jobs and a home of their own, they sign up immediately. All they have to do in return for suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month – swapping their home for a prison cell. At first, all is well. But then, unknown to each other, Stan and Charmaine develop passionate obsessions with their 'Alternates,' the couple that occupy their house when they are in prison. Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust, guilt and sexual desire begin to take over.

My Thoughts:
A few years ago, I finally read Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and it scared the bejeezus out of me. I think I’d find it even scarier now. I was fairly well convinced Atwood was a genius based on that book alone. This book, though, is not helping that impression.

Yes, the initial premise of the book is intriguing. The economy has gone to hell, there are millions of people without work, many are homeless and living out of their cars. Many others are roaming the streets looking to steal whatever they can or assault whomever they can. Into that situation comes the promise of a job, a place to live, and three meals a day. The catch? Every other month you’re “job” is to act as a prisoner so that other people can have jobs operating the prison or working in the adjacent town. Desperate people are willing to make that bargain. So desperate that they don’t really stop to think exactly how the company that is operating this scheme is making money to pay them or to make a profit. Ok, I’m in, even though I really, really don’t like the main characters.

Jump ahead one year. Our main characters have settled into their new lives, but there are starting to be cracks in the façade. Oh, did I mention, they cannot leave the town/prison? That constraint is starting to take its toll as well. Still along for the ride, especially considering some of the things I’m learning along the way about the prison.

And then…

It all got really gimmicky and farfetched. I don’t want to tell you too much but Elvis impersonators, Marilyn impersonators, and Elvis and Marilyn sex robots are involved. And teddy bears. And teddy bear sex. Yeah, Atwood goes there.

As for the title, believe it or not, after all of that, Atwood has a story to tell her about love and the choices we make for love. Which, despite the title, is not at all what I was expecting as I got into the book. I suppose that's part of the reason I was disappointed. I was expecting to find myself truly frightened by the goings on in this book; but, just when I thought we were getting there, comedy ensued and a love story of sorts evolved. Honestly, and this is unusual for me to say, I wanted something darker out of this one.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday - Books By My Favorite Authors I Still Haven't Read

Well, there you go, the list that could go on and on. So many authors I love; so many books they've written that I haven't read yet! Here are just a few of the books I'm hoping to get to sooner rather than later!

  1. Year of Wonder by Geraldine Brooks
  2. Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett
  3. Wintering by Peter Geye
  4. Still Life With Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen
  5. The Secrets Between Us by Thrity Umrigar
  6. How To Be Famous by Caitlin Moran
  7. 11/22/63 by Stephen King
  8. A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami
  9. Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner
  10. Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
What books would you put on your list? 

Monday, September 24, 2018

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters In the End by Atul Gawande

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters In The End by Atul Gawande
Narrated by Robert Petkoff
Published October 2014 by Holt, Henry and Company Inc.
Source: borrowed from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Nursing homes, preoccupied with safety, pin patients into railed beds and wheelchairs. Hospitals isolate the dying, checking for vital signs long after the goals of cure have become moot.

Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering. Gawande, a practicing surgeon, addresses his profession's ultimate limitation, arguing that quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families. Gawande offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person's last weeks or months may be rich and dignified.

My Thoughts: 
This one's been on my radar since it came out but somehow it was just never the book I picked up when I was actually paying for a book. Now, even though I've listened to it for free, I absolutely will be paying for this book. This is a book that every adult should read, particularly if you have aging parents.

Gawande has included both the stories of those who have worked to make changes in the way we deal with people as they age and personal stories of the ways systems have worked for or failed those who can no longer live on their own or are battling a terminal illness, including his own father's story. These serve to make the ideas he's exploring very approachable and easy to understand but he backs up his assertions with facts and data, as well.

Being a doctor, Gawande can speak to the fact that doctors are doing what doctors are trained to do and what the families of their patients demand be done. He recognizes that we've come a long way in the ways we care for our elderly and the infirm but wants readers to consider that there are still better ways to be considered and questions that need to be asked.

Two big takeaways for me were:

  • People are happiest when they can retain as much independence as possible. But this creates problems with being able to prove to the government (and families), that people are safe and being well cared for. As my parents are getting older, it's been my goal to try to keep them in their home as long as possible and this book confirmed that my siblings and I are doing the right thing in encouraging this. 
  • Doctors and family members need to be able to face the reality of impending death. Most importantly, we need to ask our loved ones the tough questions: what are their biggest fears and concerns? What goals are most important to them? What trade-offs are they willing to make and which ones are they not willing to make? This allows them control and helps all of us to make the right decisions. 
Gawande says this:
"Technological society has forgotten what scholars call the "dying role" and its importance to people as life approaches its end. People want to share memories, pass on wisdoms and keepsakes, settle relationships, establish their leagues, make people with God, and ensure that those who are left behind will be okay. They want to end their stories on their own terms."
In this day and age when we are able to keep people alive so much longer than we used to be able to, when there are so many more options for care, it's important to remember that, as the second chapter is titled, things fall apart. 
"There is always some final proximate cause that gets written down on the death certificate - respiratory failure, cardiac arrest. But in truth no single disease leads to the end: the culprit is just the accumulated crumbling of one's bodily systems while medicine carries out its maintenance measures and patch jobs...the curve of life becomes a long, slow fade."
That being said, doesn't it seem like we should be more ready for it when we get to the end, more prepared to make the best of the time we have? Gawande seems to think so and I agree.

By the time I finished this book, I was ready to go back to school to get a degree in gerontology and make a difference. Then I remembered that I could well be looking at assisted living facilities for myself by the time I could finish medical school at my age! Still, I'm going to do my damnedest to learn as much as I can so that I can be the greatest help to those I love (and myself) when the time comes to face these tough decisions. 

I suppose it would just have been easier to say to you, "You have to read this book." I would definitely encourage you to do so; it's important reading.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Life: It Goes On - September 23

Oh my goodness, what a beautiful day we're having today! The Big Guy and I had breakfast on the patio and ended up sitting out there for more than an hour. I may seriously have to consider taking this day as a "read all day on the patio" day! It's not like there's anything I need to get done around the house (snort!).

Last Week I:

Listened To: Margaret Atwood's The Heart Goes Last, which I'll finish today. The jury's out on this one, but it's gone a little weird for me. Not quite living up to what I expected early on.

Watched: Football, the finale of America's Got Talent, and more football.

Read: I finished Killers of the Flower Moon for book club and now I'm reading The Kennedy Debutante. It's not really grabbing me, but I'm hoping it will pick up.

Made: Pancakes with rhubarb sauce for breakfast this morning, snickerdoodle cookies, chocolate bread pudding, which I served for book club.

Enjoyed: So many things (book club, an evening out with friends to wineries) but mostly a wonderful twenty-four hours with a friend from Australia we haven't seen in 36 years. I picked her up from the airport Friday morning and took her to Lincoln, where she had spent a year when she was in high school, and then back to the airport she went early Saturday morning. It was not nearly long enough!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: Miss H and I have a major task ahead of this week, reorganizing her things in her room, in my office, and in the guest room. We keep working on things and it just never seems to get to the point things really work well for her.

Thinking About: How busy the next six weeks are going to be!

Feeling: Lazy (see desire to read all day on the patio).

Looking forward to: Seeing Ron Chernow (Hamilton, Grant, Washington) tomorrow night, training to become a voter registrar, and the wedding of dear friends' son on Saturday.

Question of the week: What are you looking forward to doing this autumn?

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
Published April 2017 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: bought my copy for book club

Publisher's Summary:
In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.

Then, one by one, they began to be killed off. One Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, watched as her family was murdered. Her older sister was shot. Her mother was then slowly poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more Osage began to die under mysterious circumstances.

In this last remnant of the Wild West—where oilmen like J. P. Getty made their fortunes and where desperadoes such as Al Spencer, “the Phantom Terror,” roamed – virtually anyone who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll surpassed more than twenty-four Osage, the newly created F.B.I. took up the case, in what became one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations. But the bureau was then notoriously corrupt and initially bungled the case. Eventually the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to try unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only Native American agents in the bureau. They infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest modern techniques of detection. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most sinister conspiracies in American history.

My Thoughts:
People! How have I never heard about this before? And how many other amazing stories about our history have we never heard of until an author chances upon a fragment that tweaks their interest? And do you think that David Grann thanks Truman Capotes in his prayers at night for inventing narrative nonfiction? Oh, sorry, I got carried away there. About the book...

Because the U. S. government, and white people in general, hadn't done enough to harm the Native Americans, after the government had settled the Osage onto a piece of land in Oklahoma, they decided each person should have only a small allotment of that territory and that the government would give away the rest to white people. The Osage had learned from the Oklahoma land rush and negotiated wisely, giving each of them each more land than was originally planned and, most importantly, allowing the Osage to retain the mineral rights to all land in their territory, no matter who owned the land above them.

Then it turned out there was oil under that land. A lot of oil. And the white men, who were already treating the Osage like small children and already unbelievably corrupt, got even worse. If all of that weren't enough, this all happened during Prohibition. We all know what that did for crime in this country and the Osage territory was no exception.

And J. Edgar Hoover? Also, not the nicest guy in the country. But the case of the Osage murders happened just as he rose to power, determined to turn the Bureau of Investigation into an efficient crime-fighting machine. Without him, and his dogged insistence that these crimes be solved, these people's murders would likely never have been solved.

The story of these murders and the attempt to solve them is fascinating and Grann keeps things moving along at a pace that should keep even those most leery of nonfiction interested. I couldn't put it down once I got started. I'm still just astounded at the level of corruption and incompetence and wondering how many more stories there are out there like this one that have yet to be unearthed.

I could have used a cast of characters list that I could refer back to throughout the book. There were so many people involved in the corruption on this area and in these crimes that it was often hard to remember who was who. If decide to read this, I highly recommend making your own as you go along. That goes along with my strong recommendation that you read this book; it's quite the eye-opener and, heaven knows, we could all use to have our eyes opened to the past because it has so much to do with the present.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday - Fall TBR

This week Jana, of That Artsy Reader Girl, is asking us to make a list of our books we're hoping to read this fall. My fall TBR is a monster list of books (for me) and I will be stunned if I actually get to them all; but a girl can dream. I have so many books I already wanted to read that I am skipping out on my annual Fall Feasting reading. My category of why I'm reading them, here is my list:

Book Club:

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
The Wangs Versus The World by Jade Chang

R.I.P. *:

Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfeld
The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins
We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson

TLC Book Tours:

When The Men Were Gone by Marjorie Herrera Lewis
Apollo To The Moon (also counts toward Nonfiction November) - National Geographic

Netgalley Reviews:

The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher
The Library Book by Susan Orleans
Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan
Spark of Light by Jodi Piccoult
Heirs of the Founders (also counts toward Nonfiction November) by H. W. Brands

Nonfiction November:

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Lost City of Z by David Grann
How To Be A Bawse by Lilly Singh
Charles Dickens In Love by Robert Garnett

Yep, that's more than ten. But there are just too many books I want to read soon to limit myself to ten!

*If I’m really reading like a fiend, I’d also like to squeeze in Dracula.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

Tin Man by Sarah Winman
Published May 2018 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: from my local library

Publisher’s Summary:
 This is almost a love story. But it's not as simple as that. Ellis and Michael are twelve-year-old boys when they first become friends, and for a long time it is just the two of them, cycling the streets of Oxford, teaching themselves how to swim, discovering poetry, and dodging the fists of overbearing fathers. And then one day this closest of friendships grows into something more. But then we fast forward a decade or so, to find that Ellis is married to Annie, and Michael is nowhere in sight. Which leads to the question, what happened in the years between?

 My Thoughts:
That’s not quite right. This is absolutely a love story. It’s just an unusual love story, complicated by loss, thwarted desire, and sacrifice.

The Guardian says Tin Man “is a story about alternative lives that might have been lived had circumstances been different.” Agreed. What if Ellis had been allowed to study art instead of being forced by his abusive father to work in a car factory? What if both Michael’s and Ellis’ mothers hadn’t died? What if Michael and Ellis had stayed abroad instead of returning to Oxford? What if there had been no Annie?

In just over 200 pages, Winman illustrates the many ways our lives could be different “if only” and how many ways there are to love someone. The first half of this book is told from Ellis’ perspective, looking back on his life with Annie and Michael. Ellis is a man so filled with sadness it is palpable but he is finally trying to work his way back to a better place when he is hit hard with the past. The second half of the book is Michael’s story which is filled with loss, fear, and longing.

Winman has written her story in such a way that it evolves something like a mystery, so it’s hard to say much about the book without giving away too much. This is unlike any book I’ve read before but I can’t help but think that it’s a story that’s been lived by too many people which is part of what makes it such a poignant story.

*On a side note, this is the second book I’ve read recently that involves gay men. I haven’t gone out of my way to look for them which makes me hope that their stories are starting to be considered “mainstream” and no longer a separate category of books.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Life: It Goes On - September 16

Fall? Are you sure? Yesterday my outdoor thermometer reached 99 degrees. The actual temperature wasn't that high but in the sun, at least, that's what it felt like and that's all that matters to me. The cat doesn't even want to be outside and she loves to bask in the sun. It's making it hard to get too excited about decorating for fall and I'm not even thinking of pumpkin foods or soups yet.

Last Week I:

Listened To: I raced through Atul Gawande's Being Mortal. Loved. It. I'll likely pick up a physical copy of this book. I think it's truly a book every one should read.

Watched: Football and our full Sunday morning routine. I'm not sure why we watch the Sunday morning political shows - it just gets both of us all riled up.

Read: Tatjana Soli's The Removes and I, finally, started this month's book club selection, Killers of the Flower Moon, which I'm fascinated by.

Made: Taco pizza (I'll use a different crust when we do this again but it was delicious), apple crisp, caramel sauce, and strawberry shortcake.

Enjoyed: Two fun things this week: one evening The Big Guy and I went to hear Julia Alvarez (How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents), which was so inspiring and dinner out with friends last night to one of our favorite places in town. The restaurant wisely stuck the six of us off in a corner to ourselves so that we didn't have to worry about how long we stayed or how loudly we laughed.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On building some wall shelves for Miss H's room and doing some painting in her room.

Thinking About: How I'd like to take a couple of days off to really do a purge and reorganization of all of the paper in my house. I like to think I have a handle on things; but some of the calls I get at work make me wonder if I've set my kids up to handle things if something happens to us. Which are the current life insurance policies, what are the passwords to get into online accounts, and do they have the right authorizations to talk to lenders or get medical records? You'd be surprised how hard it is to get some of this even with a will.

Feeling: The sun is shining and my hair doesn't have any grey today, so I'm feeling good!

Looking forward to: Book club this week, even if I sort of jacked everyone by changing the book last minute so I don't know if any of them will have even finished it!

Question of the week: I have really gotten into a bad habit of going to bed later and later this week. How do you make yourself go to bed at night in time to get a good night's sleep? I need all of the helpful hints!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Readers Imbibing Peril (R.I.P.) Thirteen

It’s that time of year again, the time when everyone gets all excited about reading scary books and watching scary movies and getting to do it as part of a huge group celebrating Readers Imbibing Peril. Also known as that time of year when Lisa thinks she will participate and immediately remembers that she doesn’t watch scary movies and even has a hard time with scary books. I’m a wimp; I’ll admit it.

Still I want to be part of the fun and this year I’ve actually got a number of books ready to go (although when I’ll start them I have no idea and R.I.P.’s already been going on since September 1). This year I’m going to really push to read three books, maybe even four, time permitting. I’ll be shooting for Peril the Second but hope to reach Peril the First for the first time ever. On my list:

Diane Setterfeld’s Bellman and Black

Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived In The Castle

Wilkie Collins’ The Woman In White

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (this will be my final read if there is time)

As for Peril the Screen, I’m in for that one as well; I just need to decide what movie to watch. I mean, technically Beetlejuice qualifies. Even better, Coco, which I haven’t seen yet. Or maybe I’ll go really old school and watch The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Or I could watch one of the genuinely scary movies I have managed to watch (even if it was through my fingers!) again, maybe Fallen or The Others.

What about you, are you joining the fun this year? If so, what’s on your list?

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Removes by Tatjana Soli

The Removes by Tatjana Soli
Published June 2018 by Sarah Crichton Books
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Spanning the years of the first great settlement of the West, The Removes tells the intertwining stories of fifteen-year-old Anne Cummins, frontierswoman Libbie Custer, and Libbie’s husband, the Civil War hero George Armstrong Custer. When Anne survives a surprise attack on her family’s homestead, she is thrust into a difficult life she never anticipated—living among the Cheyenne as both a captive and, eventually, a member of the tribe.

Libbie, too, is thrown into a brutal, unexpected life when she marries Custer. They move to the territories with the U.S. Army, where Libbie is challenged daily and her worldview expanded: the pampered daughter of a small-town judge, she transforms into a daring camp follower. But when what Anne and Libbie have come to know—self-reliance, freedom, danger—is suddenly altered through tragedy and loss, they realize how indelibly shaped they are by life on the treacherous, extraordinary American plains.

My Thoughts:
I became a fan of Soli's when I read her first novel, The Lotus Eaters, in 2010. For me, it's hard to live up to that (Soli's 2015 effort, The Last Good Paradise, did not). But I was more than willing to give Soli another chance, especially when the topic of the book so interests me. This time, my expectation were lower and I was not disappointed.

Like The Lotus Eaters, Soli has combined the story of women with the story of war and the men who wage it with a landscape that contributes heavily to the story. Like that book, the narrative here moves back and forth between characters which can be a bit jarring.

The violence in Soli's story is vivid and never-ending - the violence between the North and the South, between Indians and settlers, Indians and soldiers, men on women, and the land on those who live on the frontier. It's tough to read and Soli hits you with it right from the beginning when the settlement where 15-year-old Annie lives is attacked by Cheyenne warriors and she is taken captive.

Soli always does her research and, as much as I can tell, hews pretty closely to the facts of the Custers' lives, which gave me a chance to see George (or Autie, as those how knew him best called him) in a different light. He didn't necessarily fare any better in my opinion of him but I felt like I came away with a idea of why he might have become the man he became. Sadly, much of his portions of the book were the parts where the book dragged some.

Mostly, this is the story of those women, Libbie and Annie and how they survive life on the great American frontier. I'm always interested to read books about women in historical settings, as they play such a small role in history books and the circumstances of these women's lives were particularly interesting, if heartbreaking.

When my copy fell into the bathtub before I had even read a page, I imagined that it would be a book I'd pass along to others. I mean, who wants to read a slightly warped book with about a third of its pages having the texture of parchment? Oh well, they're going to have to get over it. Because, even if this doesn't quite live up to The Lotus Eaters for me, it's still a book with some much to recommend it, particularly for those who like books set in the American West.

For other opinions, check out the full tour. Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour.

About Tatjana Soli 

Tatjana Soli is the bestselling author of The Lotus Eaters, The Forgetting Tree, and The Last Good Paradise. Her work has been awarded the UK’s James Tait Black Prize and been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award. Her books have also been twice listed as a New York Times Notable Book. She lives on the Monterey Peninsula of California.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Hidden Gems

This week, Jana of That Artsy Reader Girl, is asking us to share some hidden gems, books that haven't been talked about as much as we think they deserve to be. As soon as I began thinking about this list, I knew I needed to go back to my early days of blogging when I wasn't as aware of the "big" books and I certainly wasn't being given them by publishers. I read some great books in those years.

1. The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish by Elise Blackwell - my review of this book was mostly quotes, there were so many lovely passages. Blackwell's writing was just beautiful but the story was incredible as well.

2. Only Milo by Barry Smith - this one was unique to me in 2009 and it still stands as a solid piece of dark comedy. It was a book I never would have picked up if I hadn't been so early into blogging and more willing to accept books that were out of my comfort zone.

3.  The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter - more dark humor, which was, apparently, a thing I was into in 2009. I even reported that I had giggled while I read this story of a man who fell into such financial straits that he turned to drug dealing.

4. The Housekeeper And The Professor by Yoko Ogawa - sweet and charming and utterly original. I adored the relationship between the characters and Ogawa found a way to make math interesting to me, something no teacher has ever managed.

5. The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli - Soli puts so much into this book, the beauty of Vietnam, the relationships between all of the players during the Vietnam War, love stories, and she does it beautifully.

6. Safe From The Sea by Peter Geye - when I wrote my review of this book, the one word that kept popping into my head was "brilliant." It's a book about the relationship between a man and his father that I would recommend to men and women alike.

7. Cocktail Hour Under The Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller - Fuller's mother lived a live worth writing a biography about so that's just what Fuller did. Nicola Fuller had a chimpanzee for a best friend growing up, for goodness sake. But Africa is the real star of this book that made me both laugh and cry.

8. The Birth House by Ami McKay - the book I always recommend for book clubs. McKay created marvelous characters in a book that centered around childbirth that pits the old ways against the new and shows women finding their voices.

9. The Absolutist by John Boyne - Boyne's writing is often brilliant and the story unlike anything I've read before as it looks at courage versus cowardice on the battlefield and off. I listened to this one and it's one of those books I can't help but feel was enhanced by the narrator.

10. Last Night At The Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert - a beautifully written story about the relationship between a mother and daughter, chasing dreams, and family.

Every one of these books is a book I'd happily read again. All of them, except those that were checked out from the library, are still on my bookshelves waiting for that day. I'd let you borrow them but, even though the chance of me actually getting around to rereading a book is slim, I'm afraid I couldn't trust you to return them. Just in case.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Born With Teeth by Kate Mulgrew

Born With Teeth by Kate Mulgrew
Narrated by Kate Mulgrew
Published  April 2015 by Little, Brown, and Company
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Raised by unconventional Irish Catholics who knew "how to drink, how to dance, how to talk, and how to stir up the devil," Kate Mulgrew grew up with poetry and drama in her bones. But in her mother, a would-be artist burdened by the endless arrival of new babies, young Kate saw the consequences of a dream deferred. Determined to pursue her own no matter the cost, at 18 she left her small Midwestern town for New York, where, studying with the legendary Stella Adler, she learned the lesson that would define her as an actress: "Use it," Adler told her. Whatever disappointment, pain, or anger life throws in your path, channel it into the work.

It was a lesson she would need. At twenty-two, just as her career was taking off, she became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter. Having already signed the adoption papers, she was allowed only a fleeting glimpse of her child. As her star continued to rise, her life became increasingly demanding and fulfilling, a whirlwind of passionate love affairs, life-saving friendships, and bone-crunching work. Through it all, Mulgrew remained haunted by the loss of her daughter, until, two decades later, she found the courage to face the past and step into the most challenging role of her life, both on and off screen.

My Thoughts:
Last week I reviewed One True Thing, a novel about a young woman who can't get away from her small town and her family fast enough. This week, it's a true story. Kate Mulgrew was very fond of her mother, very close to her family; but she knew early on that she wasn't going to give up her dreams for a family. And my goodness, did she ever go after her dream with a passion.

I have "known" Kate Mulgrew since I was 15. She was just 20 and was tapped to play Mary Ryan, the daughter of an Irish family that owned a bar in a new soap opera, Ryan's Hope. I rushed home everyday to watch it, to watch her. She was beautiful and her character was every bit as strong as she was. The show was a huge hit and the producers loved her so much that when she came to them to tell them she was pregnant, they wrote it into the show. Only days after she gave her daughter up for adoption, Mulgrew returned to work and did a scene with her own show baby. Listening to Mulgrew talk about that day, you can still hear the pain in her voice.

And what a voice. It's rich, deep, and honeyed with a more than a touch of whiskey...and cigarettes. I'm sure this is a wonderful memoir in print, but if you're going to "read" it, I beg of you to listen to it.  You will thank me.

Occasionally it felt like Mulgrew was doing a little too much name dropping, especially when they were names that are likely only to be very familiar to those who play close attention to the theater, where Mulgrew has spent a lot of time. But I'll forgive her that because she is also extremely honest which is always appreciated in a memoir. Mulgrew has certainly had her share of heartache but she's also lived a life filled with love, an abundance of friendships, children, and no end of the work she so dearly loves.

This book was written in 2015 so I was surprised that the book ended in 1998 just before she married her second husband and as she was reunited with the daughter she had given up twenty years earlier. Perhaps there will be another memoir. She certainly has plenty left to write about. In 2006, she lost her mother to Alzheimer's disease and in 2013 she began her run as Red in Orange Is The New Black, one of the great roles for a woman of a certain age. We can only hope.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Life: It Goes On - September 9

Yes, yes it does. Even if the Huskers lost their opening football game in a heartbreaker. On the plus side, the volleyball team game from 2 sets down to win a match this week so it wasn't all bad news in Huskerland.

I don't think I mentioned last week that my new Sunday photo was taken by my sister. Last year, she and her husband moved to Wisconsin. It was a big adjustment for them but much more so for her. He had moved quite a lot growing up and was on the road a lot during the week anyway. She has spent most of her life within sixty miles from the town she was born in. She still socialized with friends from preschool. This move was tough. She took to hopping in her car and driving around the areas around her to get to know the place, to make things familiar and to fill the time when she would otherwise be alone. It became a therapy of sorts. Along the way, she has found a lot of beauty. She takes back roads. She stops her car alongside the road (or even in the middle of the road!) anytime she sees something that interests her. When we were up there last fall, we joked about her making a book of the pictures she's taken of the beautiful barns nearby. A couple of months later, she sent me that book. It holds a place of honor on my coffee table. She's branched out to much more than just barns in the year since. I think it may be time for a new book!

Last Week I:

Listened To: I finished Born With Teeth  and then I started listening to Marisha Pessl's latest, Neverworld Wake; but decided about 20 minutes in that it was too similar to her Special Topics in Calamity Physics, which I just finished. I needed something completely different so now I'm on to Kate Atkinson's A God In Ruins. It's a long one so I'm going to have to listen to it as much around the house as possible to finish it in the seven days I have it.

Watched: Last night we finally watched The Greatest Showman. I have mixed feelings about it. I really found myself wishing the costumes had been more true to the time period (that's just my fashion education showing through, maybe?) and I couldn't help but remember that P. T. Barnum was not nearly the nice guy the show portrays him to be. And it annoyed me that when they were doing scenes with the entire cast performing, the camera nearly always stayed with a few characters. But I did really enjoy most of the songs, the message of the show, and I thought the performances were all solid. It's certainly a role Hugh Jackman was born to play.

Read: I raced through Tin Man by Sarah Winman, which I read on the strong recommendation of Ti of Book Chatter and was about to start Tatjana Soli's latest, The Removes, when I dropped it in the bathtub. Two days later, it is finally dry enough for me to read. I'll have to race through it to get a review posted for TLC Book Tours on Tuesday. Guess I'm not doing much beside reading today!

Made: I harvested rhubarb this week so I made a huge batch of rhubarb sauce (probably enough to get me through the winter) and a batch of rhubarb jam. Not a fan of the recipe, which didn't really thicken enough to be called jam, so I will try again with the next harvest.

Enjoyed: Decorating for fall this week. It's too early for me to go full out on pumpkins but I did get a dozen small pumpkins which I've used in a couple of rooms, as well as some mum plants (which may or may not survive long enough to get planted outside). As much as I have a hard time saying goodbye to summer, I was ready to change things up decor wise. Still not eating pumpkin spice anything, though.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: A week of getting my house in order and projects done. The next couple of weeks are filling up with activities fast so I won't have much time for anything.

Thinking About: My brain has been in a bit of a debate this week. I'm pulled to set aside books for a while and focus on really making some changes around my house. But then I also have plotted out a reading schedule through the end of the year and requested a half dozen books on Netgalley.

Feeling: Frustrated. My parents kindly passed on a new-to-me monitor and I can't quite figure out how to get the screen sized right. I'm not computer illiterate and I can google the shit out of things so I've spent a fair amount of time this morning playing with it and I'm stumped. I need my Apple kid to swing by over his lunch break - it's probably a very simple fix. In the meantime, it works well enough for me to use and I am enjoying the bigger screen. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

Looking forward to: The Big Guy and I are going to see Julia Alvarez (In The Time of the Butterflies and How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent) this week.

Question of the week: I looked at my calendar for last week or so of September and thought "well, look how many things I'm doing," and was reminded of the days when I felt like it was a competition to be the busiest mom. I don't really miss those days and you all know how much I love a week with nothing on the calendar, so I don't know why I had that reaction. How about you - do you prefer a calendar with a lot of blank space for relaxing and just going about your lives or do you like to be full up with activities?

Thursday, September 6, 2018

One True Thing by Anna Quindlen

One True Thing by Anna Quindlen
Published August 1995 by Demco Media
Source: bought this one

Publisher's Summary:
A young woman is in jail, accused of the mercy killing of her mother. She says she didn't do it; she thinks she knows who did. When Ellen Gulden first learns that her mother, Kate, has cancer, the disease is already far advanced. Her father insists that Ellen quit her job and come home to take care of Kate. Ellen has always been the special child in the family, the high achiever, her father's intellectual match, and the person caught in the middle between her parents. She has seen herself as very different from her mother, the talented homemaker, the family's popular center, its one true thing. Yet as Ellen begins to spend her days with Kate, she learns many surprising things, not only about herself but also about her mother, a woman she thought she knew so well. The life choices Ellen and her mother have made are reassessed in this deeply moving novel, a work of fiction that is richly imbued with profound insights into the complex lives of women and men.

My Thoughts:
Quindlen was an accomplished columnist when she became an author. It was a given that she could write, but writing an novel is an entirely different beast. I've never read Quindlen's first novel so I can't judge how she made the initial transition. One True Thing is her second attempt. Although it has it's flaws, I fell into this story and into the relationship between Ellen and Kate.

There are stereotypes galore. We could have done without some of them - the boyfriend who turns out to be an ass (well, we knew that all along, honestly) could have been written out of the book entirely and no one would have missed him. But others are essential to the story - there must be a head and there must be a heart.

Kate is the heart, George the head. Ellen has spent her life trying to make her father proud, ignoring the worth of her mother. But when Kate is diagnosed with cancer and George refuses to take a sabbatical to care for her, Ellen is forced to look at both of them, and their relationship,  in a new light.
"No one knows what goes on inside a marriage. I read that once; the aphorism ended 'except for the two people who are in it.' But I suspect that even that is not the truth, that even two people married to each other for many many years may have only passing similarities in their perceptions and their expectations. . . . But I know from experience that those least capable of truly assessing any marriage are the children who come out of it. We style them as we need them, to excuse our faults, to insulate ourselves from our own expendability or indispensability."
While there were places in this book that I felt dragged, there was far more that pulled my heart into the story and there are so many of what I call "book gems," passages that really spoke to me.
"I realized that, while I would never be my mother nor have her life, the lesson she had left was that it was possible to love and care for a man and still have at your core a strength so great that you never even needed to put it on display.”
I grew up very much wanting to have the life my mother had. Because of her, I believed it was possible to have it all. She is an educated woman who worked at a job she enjoyed and managed to keep our home and family afloat. It was hard for me to relate to a young woman who so openly looks down on her mother and prefers a man who makes her work so hard to earn his praise. And knowing from the opening sentence of the book that Ellen has been arrested for murdering her mother seemed to make it clear that things were not going to get better.

But this is Quindlen and Quindlen always writes with heart. She's also written one of the most devastating descriptions of a person dying and what it feels like to watch someone you love being consumed by cancer. I've done that. Twice. This book had me reliving those months, those last hours. It was so painful, so true.

The fallout after Kate's death, as Ellen is accused of murdering her, is like another story. Quindlen has something to say about the way our justice system works and the way the media hover like vultures over the last hot story. I liked the rest of the book, the way Ellen came to grips with her new feelings for both of her parents and the way that she had come to embrace the lessons her mother had taught her.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Special Topics In Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

Special Topics In Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
Narrated by Janice Card
Published January 2007 by Gale Group

Publisher's Summary:
A coming-of-age novel and a richly plotted suspense tale told through the distinctive voice of its heroine, Blue van Meer. After a childhood moving from one academic outpost to another with her father (a man prone to aphorisms and meteoric affairs), Blue is clever, deadpan, and possessed of a vast lexicon of literary, political, philosophical, and scientific knowledge—and is quite the cineaste to boot. In her final year of high school at the elite (and unusual) St. Gallway School in Stockton, North Carolina, Blue falls in with a charismatic group of friends and their captivating teacher, Hannah Schneider. But when the drowning of one of Hannah's friends and the shocking death of Hannah herself lead to a confluence of mysteries, Blue is left to make sense of it all with only her gimlet-eyed instincts and cultural references to guide—or misguide—her.

My Thoughts:
Let's just get this out of the way up front - while there's nothing wrong with the narration in the audiobook edition of this book, I really wish I had just read the book. There's a lot going on here and I completely lost track of what I was listening to. In the Prologue, Blue tells us about Hannah's death but when it actually happens in the book, I had completely forgotten about it. Of course, some of that is because this is the book I was listening to on CD when I suddenly no longer had a CD player and ended up waiting a couple of weeks before I was able to check out the audiobook from the library. As it turns out, I was also completing unaware that there are also visual aids in the book. Which I discovered when I realized that I actually have this book on my Nook. I could have just picked it up as soon as I didn't have a CD player. Ugh.

You really do need to pay attention. We do know, after all, right up front that someone is going to die. It should probably occur to readers that, perhaps, the book may drop some clues along the way that will come into play later. I didn't catch any of it and I'm certain that actually seeing the words would have had a greater impact on my memory (I say that, but I'm also the person who often has to flip back tens of pages to find out who a particular character is). Or, maybe not; this is, after all, a 500+ page, 21+ hour book and there are so many digressions. For a debut novel, in particular, it really is quite a unique novel and it's easy to see how Pessl built from this book to Night Film.a

I couldn't help but wonder if Pessl had been influenced by Donna Tartt's The Secret History the further I got into the book, just at a high school level. A group of not very likable young people at a privileged school who somewhat have a new person thrust into their group, a charismatic teacher, and a death while they are out in the woods - all echoes of Tartt's book. What saves Special Topics in Calamity Physics from veering too close into knock off territory is Blue's relationship with her father. Even though you feel sorry for the pair who have lost their beloved wife and mother, and for Blue who has to constantly try to fit into new schools as Gareth drags them all over the country, you can't help but be a little jealous of the relationship the two have.

I felt, for 16 or so hours of listening, as though we were sort of plodding along, working toward something. Then Hannah died and things picked up quickly and I was forced to slow down the speed because there was so much going on that I HAD to pay attention. When we got to the end, I wished I had done that sooner. Because, I'll be damned if there's not a pop quiz at the end of the book! Might have known that was coming when the chapters are all set up as a sort of literature syllabus. I might just have to get out my Nook a browse back over this one sometime to see if I can get a better score!

Monday, September 3, 2018

Life: It Goes On - September 3

photo credit: Lora Higgins
Hope you've all had a nice three-day weekend. We spent it traveling to Rochester, MN to visit Mini-me and Ms. S. Sadly, Mini-me not only didn't have a three-day weekend, he didn't have any weekend at all. He recently started a job as a mail carrier with the post office but as an "assistant," which means he works all of the weekends and, thanks to Amazon, that means Sundays and holidays. Apparently the USPS didn't get the memo about the real meaning of Labor Day! Still it was so nice to spend as much time as we could with him and Ms. S was a great hostess.

Last Week I:

Listened To: We tried listening to Mohsin Hamid's Exit West while we were driving but it was too slow going to listen to once it got dark on the way up and there was too much traffic on the way home to be able to focus so I'll have to pick that one up another time. I'll be back to Born With Teeth tomorrow - really enjoying listening to Kate Mulgrew tell her story.

Watched: Saturday we drove from Rochester to The Big Guy's brother's and sister-in-law's home (about an 80 mins) to watch the Huskers play their first football game with their new coach at the helm. Sadly, endless thunderstorms in Lincoln meant the game was cancelled. Fortunately, that did give us more time to talk.

Read: I brought two books for the weekend and ended up only reading about 75 pages. I just can't read any more in the car - it doesn't seem fair to read while BG is doing the driving.

Made: I haven't been doing much cooking lately but I did make homemade root beer ice cream while we were in Rochester. That doesn't hold a candle to the meals our kiddos whipped up including fried tacos and gnocchi with sun-dried tomatoes and white beans. They are both such good cooks and make me think being a vegetarian wouldn't be such a bad thing.

Enjoyed: See collage - Rochester Farmer's Market, Quarry Hill Nature Center, a winery, Plummer House. Most of all getting to see where my kids are living now and spending time with my fur grand babies - Jasper and Lifter.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On acknowledging that it's time to switch to fall decorating. I'm not sure I'm pulling out blankets yet, but pumpkins and acorns are likely to appear around the house this week.

Thinking About: Where or not I should take tomorrow off. I did have it scheduled off but then BG didn't want to take the day off. Technically, I could go to work. But I sort of don't want to, so...

Feeling: Happy to see my kids settled and doing well. Plus, we're happy they are so close to so much family, both for their sake and because it makes it easier for us to see lots of family as well. They are close enough to my aunt's and uncle's weekend getaway that they were able to come up and have dinner with us last night.

Looking forward to: My next trip north in just a month. We're headed to my sister's and brother-in-law's and will likely work in a brief visit with Mini-me and Ms. S again.

Question of the week: I may start to decorate for fall but I'm not ready to jump full into fall yet. What about you? Have you already had your first pumpkin spice fix?