Sunday, August 18, 2019

Life: It Goes On - August 18

August 18. The kids here are all back in school. Summer is almost over. Oh, maybe not officially. But even for those of us who don't have school-aged children, summer is over when August is over. Honestly, if we didn't mentally start fall on September 1st, we might not even get two months of it - more than once we've had winter storms before then end of October. So while I've absolutely enjoyed beautiful evenings on the patio this week because of evening temperatures in the 70's, I need me some 90 degree days before the end of the month. I need it to feel like summer before summer is gone.

Last Week I:

Blair Brown, Judith Ivey
Listened To: I finished Elizabeth Gilbert's City of Girls on Thursday and started J. Ryan Stradal's The Lager Queen of Minnesota Friday. Can I just tell you how perfect the readers are for both of these books? Blair Brown reads City of Girls and Judith Ivey reads Lager Queen and I can't recommend listening to these books enough.

Watched: Football, America's Got Talent, and several episodes of Orange Is The New Black. I'm struggling with Orange, with the violence and threat of violence that is much more constant than previous seasons. I have to be in the right frame of mind to watch it.

Read: I raced through Melanie Benjamin's Mistress of the Ritz and yesterday started Ted Genoway's This Blessed Earth which was a Nebraska Reads choice and is now the Omaha Reads choice.

Made: If it's got tomatoes in it, we've had it this week. This will pretty much be the case for the rest of tomato season!

Enjoyed: Lots of time with friends this week - dinner on Wednesday at a Thai restaurant and last night on the patio having s'mores.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On finishing up Miss H's room. The new bedding is on, the painting will be done this afternoon, and the curtains are hung. We just need to finish up some organizing and she'll be good to go. 

Thinking About: What I'm going to refinish next. I finally finished the plant stand I've been working on for weeks. Early last week I stained it. Then decided I hated the color. So I stripped it back down, sanded it a bit and gave it a new color. It's not perfect (I would have had to sand it down another half inch or so to get to all of the paint!); but, for me, it's imperfectly perfect!

Feeling: Excited - next week we head north for my niece's wedding and I'm already making packing lists. Can't wait to get in the car to celebrate, enjoy time with family, get to see my kids from up north, and spend time along Lake Superior.

Looking forward to: Book club this week and, hopefully, a book club outing to see Where'd You Go Bernadette.

Question of the week: What's your favorite part about a road trip?

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Accidentals by Minrose Gwin

The Accidentals by Minrose Gwin
Published August 2019 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Following the death of their mother from a botched backwoods abortion, the McAlister daughters have to cope with the ripple effect of this tragedy as they come of age in 1950s Mississippi and then grow up to face their own impossible choices—an unforgettable, beautiful novel that is threaded throughout with the stories of mothers and daughters in pre-Roe versus Wade America.

Life heads down back alleys, takes sharp left turns. Then, one fine day it jumps the track and crashes.”

In the fall of 1957, Olivia McAlister is living in Opelika, Mississippi, caring for her two girls, June and Grace, and her husband, Holly. She dreams of living a much larger life—seeing the world and returning to her wartime job at a landing boat factory in New Orleans. As she watches over the birds in her yard, Olivia feels like an “accidental”—a migratory bird blown off course.

When Olivia becomes pregnant again, she makes a fateful decision, compelling Grace, June, and Holly to cope in different ways. While their father digs up the backyard to build a bomb shelter, desperate to protect his family, Olivia’s spinster sister tries to take them all under her wing. But the impact of Olivia’s decision reverberates throughout Grace’s and June’s lives. Grace, caught up in an unconventional love affair, becomes one of the “girls who went away” to have a baby in secret. June, guilt-ridden for her part in exposing Grace’s pregnancy, eventually makes an unhappy marriage. Meanwhile Ed Mae Johnson, an African-American care worker in a New Orleans orphanage, is drastically impacted by Grace’s choices.

As the years go by, their lives intersect in ways that reflect the unpredictable nature of bird flight that lands in accidental locations—and the consolations of imperfect return.

My Thoughts:
I've been reading a lot lately - books for review, library books that have become available and need to get read quickly. It's meant I'm not always reading the book that I would have chosen for the reading mood I'm in at that moment. Truthfully, I'm not even always sure what I'm in the mood to read. For example, I didn't know, when I picked up The Accidentals that I was in the mood for a beautifully written book about family that spans decades and explores the ripple effect of our choices. She vividly describes the birds, the land, the food and drink, the clothing - it's all part of a beautiful picture. More importantly, Gwin does a marvelous job of helping readers feel her characters anger, their guilt, and their pain.

In the time before Roe v. Wade, three unwanted pregnancies result in three different choices and three very different outcomes. Gwin doesn't make any judgments about her characters choices; she seems to want readers to understand that any choice is a tough choice when faced with an unwanted pregnancy. Olivia had to be willing to risk her life, Grace was forced to give up her daughter, and June felt forced into marriage - all choices they felt they had to make because of the morals and laws of that time.

Speaking of the morals and laws of the time, Gwin loads up her story with references that put readers squarely into the decades in which the book takes place. World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the space race, the Challenger accident, Hurricane Katrina, and Barack Obama's first bid for the presidency help readers keep track of when the book is taking place; Gwin tends to skip forward in time, sometimes taking great leaps, and those references helped me keep track of the ages the sisters.

She also touches on a lot of subjects in the book: homosexuality, abortion, teen pregnancy, rape, adoption, racism, love, redemption, forgiveness, family, racism, "passing," mental illness, Alzheimer's, cancer, animal abuse, pedophilia, rights of felons to vote, and gender inequality. Sound like a lot? It is and, to be honest, Gwin might have been better served by cutting back on some of it. Occasionally it felt forced, like when Ed Mae can vote for the first time just as the first black man is running for president. Sometimes I wasn't sure it was Gwin's place to try to tell the story. I appreciated that she was trying to weave in a story about how unfair life was for blacks in the south in the second half of the last century; but I wasn't sure it was her story to tell.

One reviewer on Goodreads wrote "much like the birds - the "accidentals" that lose their way - so, too, does the story." I'm not sure I entirely agree with that, but the last quarter of the book feels like it is racing along to get to the finale. And it felt a little jarring that Gwin chose to let Ed Mae's story be the final chapter since the book was not her story. That being said, despite a need for some suspension of disbelief, I did like the way the story lines came together at the end of the book and that fact that Gwin left readers to come to their own conclusions about what might have come next.

Thanks to the ladies of TLC Book Tours for giving me the right book at the right time, a book about these "accidentals." For other opinions about this book, check out the full tour.

About Minrose Gwin

Minrose Gwin is the author of The Queen of Palmyra, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick and finalist for the John Gardner Fiction Book Award, and the memoir Wishing for Snow, cited by Booklist as “eloquent” and “lyrical”—“a real life story we all need to know.” She has written four scholarly books and coedited The Literature of the American South. She grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi, hearing stories of the Tupelo tornado of 1936. She lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Find out more about Minrose at her website. The book can be found at HarperCollins.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

You Can't Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson

You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have To Explain by Phoebe Robinson
Read by Phoebe Robinson
Published October 2016 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my audiobook copy checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Being a black woman in America means contending with old prejudices and fresh absurdities every day. Comedian Phoebe Robinson has experienced her fair share over the years: she's been unceremoniously relegated to the role of “the black friend,” as if she is somehow the authority on all things racial; she's been questioned about her love of U2 and Billy Joel (“isn’t that...white people music?”); she's been called “uppity” for having an opinion in the workplace; she's been followed around stores by security guards; and yes, people do ask her whether they can touch her hair all. the. time. Now, she's ready to take these topics to the page—and she’s going to make you laugh as she’s doing it.

Using her trademark wit alongside pop-culture references galore, Robinson explores everything from why Lisa Bonet is “Queen. Bae. Jesus,” to breaking down the terrible nature of casting calls, to giving her less-than-traditional advice to the future female president, and demanding that the NFL clean up its act, all told in the same conversational voice that launched her podcast, 2 Dope Queens, to the top spot on iTunes. As personal as it is political, You Can't Touch My Hair examines our cultural climate and skewers our biases with humor and heart, announcing Robinson as a writer on the rise.

My Thoughts:
I was not familiar with Robinson before I read this book, although I had heard of her podcast/HBO show 2 Dope Queens. But you know that I'm trying to educate myself so I decided to pick this book up after seeing it around the blogosphere. An education is exactly what I got from a lady who knows how to blend serious subjects with humor and down right funny stories.

Robinson opens the book talking about black people's hair - the ways it has been used to make statements, the way her feelings about her own hair have changed over the years, and the way black people's hair has been used as a weapon against them. Robinson writes about wishing she were the girl with the great hair but she also acknowledges that she can play with her hair in all kinds of ways. Google images of Robinson and you will see that she takes full advantage of her options.

Perhaps my favorite part of this book were the letters Robinson wrote to her now very young niece, who is half black (which, given the content of many of them, we can only hope she won't read for a good long while!). Robinson wants to make sure her niece understands the good things about her black heritage and gives her some heads up about how to make her way through the world as a black woman. And then, hilariously, brings in comedian John Hodgman to explain the good things about being white.

I was educated, I was amused, and I often found myself nodding in agreement. All of which is a good thing in an essay collection and makes this book well worth a listen. Now I need to find the print copy I have somewhere on my shelves because as much as you gain somethings by listening to a book, you also miss out on all of the pictures.

My only, small issue with the book is this: after several similar books in the past few months, there is starting to be cadence and manner of speaking that feels like the funny ladies I'm listening to have all gone to the same "how to read your book" school. If I was more familiar with Robinson, I would know if what I heard here was true to Robinson's style. I suppose I should just go download some @ Dope Queens and find out...and educate myself some more.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Flea Market Fabulous by Lara Spencer

Flea Market Fabulous by Lara Spencer
Published 2014 by ABRAMS
Source: my copy checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary: 
Focusing on nine different rooms (including her own recently purchased Manhattan apartment), Lara Spencer shows readers that all it takes is planning, shopping know-how, and a little imagination to create beautiful and comfortable homes that reflect their personal style. She takes readers through the step-by-step process of overcoming the challenges of the room, offering helpful tips and lessons along the way. She identi­fies the design dilemma; comes up with a decorat­ing plan; makes a mood board for inspiration; compiles a shopping list; scours flea markets for furniture and accessories that fit the bill; restores, repurposes, and reinvents the pieces she finds, giving them new life; and brings all the elements together in the gorgeous, finished space. With illuminating before, during, and after photographs of her DIY projects and the room installations, Lara demystifies the decorating process and allows readers to envision endless possibilities for what they can do in their own homes.

My Thoughts:
I’ve long been a fan of Lara Spencer’s HGTV show Flea Market Flip and I’m always impressed with how creative the contestants on the show are (although I can’t say I always like their ideas!). So when I saw this book was available from my library, I figured it was something I would enjoy.

I wasn’t wrong. But then I wasn’t entirely right, either.

When I finished, I had to look up when the book was published because, honestly, it felt a little dated to me. I was a bit surprised to find that it was only five years old but then I imagine that many of the rooms highlighted were actually decorated some time before that. Still, there were only a couple of the finished rooms I really liked and I’m sure that I would have felt the same way five years ago. Most of the time, I felt like it was all just too much. Too much color, too many patterns, too much “stuff.”

My other issue with the book, as with the t.v. show, is that, while there are some great ideas here for ways to use or reuse flea market finds, many of them require a skill set that I just don’t have. It doesn’t do me much good to know that a metal piece might easily be transformed, for example, if welding is required. Sure, I could do some research around town and try to find a welder that would take on a small project but I’m not sure it would be worth the time or money. The same holds true with reupholstering furniture. Spencer does include a guild at the back of the book that gives cost estimates to have some of these kinds of jobs done, which is helpful to have when you’re considering purchasing a piece of furniture. For example, maybe you find an old sofa with great “bones” and it would cost $3000 for something comparable new; with that guide to show you that it will probably cost $1500 to have it reupholstered, you’d know that it was still a good deal.

Still, there are a lot of great tips in this book, particularly for those who are considered completely redecorating a room. Some seem pretty obvious (understand the way you will be using the room before you buy anything); other ideas are less obvious (Spencer bought a set of small tables for the tops only to be used as frames for artwork). Some of the tips are just great reminders of things I already knew (use fabric to line the inside of a hutch to add color and pattern). There are also sections of general information to keep in mind when on the hunt, including one of flea market rules, style inspiration for each room, and some suggestions for things to keep an eye out for that always make good additions to a room (huzzah for the suggestion of old books!).

Despite what I said earlier about not really liking all of the finished rooms, nearly all of them had something I liked about them and decorating ideas I do think I could manage. One piece was a clock with a really terrific frame but the clock didn’t work; they took out the clock piece and put in a mirror. Voila - really cool wall hanging for a really low price with very little effort. Most importantly, this book reminded me that my flea market/thrifting/picking can really pay off – now to put that inspiration to work!

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Life: It Goes On - August 11

You guys - wasn't it just yesterday that we were saying "I can't believe it's August already?" and now we are a third of the way through August? Summer has gone by way too fast! Why do the good things seem to go by so much more quickly? I mean, February may show that it's only 28 days but we all know that it really lasts 56 days!

Also, hit up some garage sales while I was out!
In bookish news, in one of our older neighborhoods, some people were clearing out a space to open a new business and they let people come this weekend to take away as many books as they wanted. I filled three bags and walked out with 25 "new" books. Truth be told, I'm mostly going to be using them as decor items so my first criteria in choosing a book was that it had to fit the color palette that I wanted. But, because I might pick them up to read them someday, they still had to sound interesting. The first thing I need to do with them is to get them out in some fresh air and sunshine and take brush to them because they are filthy and stink. See that top one? That's Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott. It's one of the worst offenders but I love that book so I couldn't leave it behind!

Last Week I:

Listened To: I about half way through Elizabeth Gilbert's City of Girls and will finish it this week. I am really loving it.

Watched: Some more episodes of Orange Is The New Black with Miss H. More importantly, preseason NFL football! I know there are a lot of things the NFL needs to clean up and I know it's a terribly violent game that leaves men with brain damage. But I can't help myself, I love the game. I just keep hoping they can make it safer and solve their other problems.

Read: I raced through Minrose Gwin's The Accidentals which I really enjoyed and now I'm reading Melanie Benjamin's latest, Mistress of the Ritz. My reading lately has me thinking about the "six degrees of separation" game. The Accidentals includes a wayward daughter who is sent off to live with her aunt. City of Girls also has a wayward daughter who is sent off to live with her aunt and includes a reference to Coco Chanel. Yesterday I was reading Mistress of the Ritz and, lo and behold, there was Coco Chanel!

Made: Lots of salads, lots of pastas, and BLTs. It's tomato season and if I can use tomatoes in a dish and I don't have to turn on the oven, there's a pretty good chance we're eating it.

Enjoyed: Spending last evening and this morning with my sister and brother-in-law who had made a quick trip down for a funeral. Sad day for them but we were happy to get to spend some time with them...and their dogs. Not gonna lie, I kind of miss going over to their place for a pup fix, especially their Puck who loves his Aunt Lisa!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: Remember all of those things I had here last week? Yep, still need to do most of them. My half day got consumed with sofa shopping (we had, unsurprisingly, no luck finding anything we agreed on) and then yesterday I ended up going down to get those books and hitting up garage sales instead of staying home and doing the things that needed to be done. 

Thinking About: My niece's wedding, which is only 20 days away and which means I get to have my whole family together and I get to travel. What a great way to close out summer!

Feeling: Lazy. And I definitely don't have time for being lazy.

Looking forward to: Tuesday we meet the Big Guy's sister and niece for dinner and Wednesday I'm having dinner with friends. So, yeah, I'm looking forward to not having to cook for two nights and seeing people I haven't seen in a while. 

Question of the week: Anyone have any tips for cleaning up old books?

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Lady In The Lake by Laura Lippman

Lady In The Lake by Laura Lippman
Published July 2019 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
In 1966, Baltimore is a city of secrets that everyone seems to know—everyone, that is, except Madeline “Maddie” Schwartz. Last year, she was a happy, even pampered housewife. This year, she’s bolted from her marriage of almost twenty years, determined to make good on her youthful ambitions to live a passionate, meaningful life.

Maddie wants to matter, to leave her mark on a swiftly changing world. Drawing on her own secrets, she helps Baltimore police find a murdered girl—assistance that leads to a job at the city’s afternoon newspaper, the Star. Working at the newspaper offers Maddie the opportunity to make her name, and she has found just the story to do it: a missing woman whose body was discovered in the fountain of a city park lake.

Cleo Sherwood was a young African-American woman who liked to have a good time. No one seems to know or care why she was killed except Maddie—and the dead woman herself. Maddie’s going to find the truth about Cleo’s life and death. Cleo’s ghost, privy to Maddie’s poking and prying, wants to be left alone.

Maddie’s investigation brings her into contact with people that used to be on the periphery of her life—a jewelry store clerk, a waitress, a rising star on the Baltimore Orioles, a patrol cop, a hardened female reporter, a lonely man in a movie theater. But for all her ambition and drive, Maddie often fails to see the people right in front of her. Her inability to look beyond her own needs will lead to tragedy and turmoil for all sorts of people—including the man who shares her bed, a black police officer who cares for Maddie more than she knows.

My Thoughts:
Lippman pulled me in from the very first. Who was this woman who was talking in her head to another woman, talking about the kind of women they are? And then this:
"Alive, I was Cleo Sherwood. Dead, I became the Lady in the Lake, a nasty broken thing, dragged from the fountain after steeping there for months, through the cold winter, then that fitful, bratty spring, almost into summer proper."
And I was hooked.

And Lippman kept me hooked with a constant change of point of view, quick chapters, and a point in time and place that worked perfectly for the story. Lippman pulled in minor characters for some chapters which threw me at first but I soon appreciated the way those chapters not only moved the story forward but built up the story of Baltimore in the late 1960's.

Maddie is not a particularly likable character. She manipulates people (well, men, she manipulates men) and she's one know what. And yet. She's a woman with a history that warrants sympathy. She's a woman who married because it was the 1950's and that's what women did. But it wasn't what Maddie wanted. I wanted to feel sorry for a woman who felt trapped in a marriage she felt she'd been forced into. And I did...sort of. But a more likable character would not have given the story the friction it needed.

Cleo Sherwood was even less likable. So why should we care about who killed her and why. But I did. And Lippman gave me a terrific twisty story as Maddie works to solve the mystery of Cleo's death, a murder the police don't seem to have much interest in solving.

So, as I said, I was hooked. I was racing through the book. Lippman hit me with a couple of unexpected punches. I was into it so much I was checking what Lippman books were available from my library so I could quick read another of her books. And felt like the story just dropped off. I was disappointed in how flat the ending of the book felt. Still, Lippman gave me more than enough to consider this a book well worth the reading.

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

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes and Noble

About Laura Lippman

Since Laura Lippman’s debut in 1997, she has been recognized as a distinctive voice in mystery fiction and named one of the “essential” crime writers of the last 100 years. Her books have won most of the major awards in her field and been translated into more than twenty languages. She lives in Baltimore and New Orleans with her family.

Connect with Laura on her website, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Monday, August 5, 2019

The Real Simple Method of Organizing Every Room and How To Keep It That Way

The Real Simple Method of Organizing Every Room and How To Keep It That Way
Published August 2018 by Time Inc. Books
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
The Real Simple Method to Organizing Every Room offers smart solutions and detailed guidance to help you rein in the chaos, no matter how little time you have. This book helps you take control room by room with handy checklists, hundreds of practical tips, and inspiring photographs. Whether you live in a small space or a large one, the experts from Real Simple have the best why-didn’t-I-think-of-that advice for creating and keeping an easy, stylish, organized home.

My Thoughts:
I've been a fan of Real Simple magazine since it was first published in 2000 and for years had a subscription. It's pretty much a given that I'll pick up anything that has the name on it at this point.

Like the magazine, this book is full of practical suggestions, expert advice, great resources and terrific photography. I would definitely recommend it for any one who is new to the game of organizing. It's certainly less terrifying than Marie Kondo's The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up! There are quite a lot of things included that don't necessarily have to do with organizing but are certainly pieces of practical knowledge worth having, including "The Ultimate Stain-Removal Chart" and a "How Long It Lasts" guide. And the editors give a fair amount of space to giving readers tips on getting the rest of the family on board.

For someone, like me, who's looked a lot of different methods to get and stay organized, who has read a lot of books on the subject, there's not a lot here that is new. There were some resources listed that I was not previously aware of, for example an app where you can store all of your store reward card data so that you don't have to clutter up your billfold with all of those cards. I've made note of several apps I'll be using that will help reduce paper clutter around here which is my absolute biggest problem. And I did like chapter on outdoor spaces which many books largely ignore. But at this point, I'm looking for a book, like Kondo's (although, let's be honest, a lot of her suggestions were a little wacky), that gives me specific tools on making decisions on how to decide what to keep and what to let go of.

Like so many organizing books, this one gave a lot of great ideas about how to find space to store things like wrapping paper. But so many of those ideas involve setting up stations for specific tasks. Let's be honest, if I had enough extra closets that I could devote one to a gift wrapping station, I probably wouldn't have reached the point where I felt like I needed to pick up a book like this!

Also, like so many other organizing books, this one suggests you pick up new furniture pieces that will fit your space better, say a smaller desk, and then they give you ideas on how to make that work. But not everyone has the funds to just go out and buy different pieces of furniture, new filing systems, and storage bins. Again, back to Kondo who recommends using old boxes to create spaces in drawers for specific things rather than going out and buying a drawer organization system. Would a new organization system make me happy? Heck, yes; I would love to open the drawer and see it not only looking organized but also attractive. But do I want to spend money on something no one except me is going to see? Not particularly.

So, the verdict is, if you're fairly new to the idea of trying to organize your home and put systems into place, this is a great starting place. Just don't buy into the idea that you have to spend money to achieve all of the suggestions. Good luck to you on your adventure!

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Life: It Goes On - August 4

Hey, all! I usually try to check in early on Sunday mornings but this Sunday was having none of it. My to-do list for this weekend was long and, truth be told, I only got about a third of the things on it crossed off. Still, I feel like it was a very productive weekend and I even managed to get things done that you can actually see, which I think we can all agree is a plus. I'm bummed to have missed out on the Dewey's Reverse Readathon and even more bummed to have missed getting to spend time with family not once, but twice. Oh the other hand, we finally got to celebrate Mini-him's birthday. And I will go to bed tonight exhausted, in a good way.

Last Week I:

Listened To: Phoebe Robinson's You Can't Touch My Hair which I finished yesterday. Tomorrow I will start Elizabeth Gilbert's City of Girls. Really looking forward to it.

Watched: Miss H and I watched a couple of episode's of last season's Orange Is The New Black. She is anxious that I get to this season so we can watch it together, but I'm not loving last season three episodes in so I'm having to make myself power through.

Read: Lara Spencer's Flea Market Fabulous and Laura Lippman's Lady In The Lake, which I'll be reviewing this week. Tomorrow I'll start The Accidentals by Minrose Gwin.

Made: Asian Chicken Salad and red velvet cake for Mini-him's birthday dinner. Our gardens are really starting to produce so we also made BLTs and bruschetta to use our tomatoes; and, today I canned pickled banana peppers.

Enjoyed: Sorting through some paper dolls that my mom gave me a couple of weeks ago and I found a Bedknobs and Broomsticks set. My parents gave them to me July 20, 1969. How, you may ask, could I possibly remember the exact date, fifty years ago, that I was given a set of paper dolls. On July 20, 1969, my family went to watch Neil Armstrong become the first man to step foot on the moon with a couple who had no young children. My siblings and I needed to be kept preoccupied through the long evening waiting for that momentous first step. I don't know what my siblings were given; but I vividly recall playing with that set in the basement of the Breed's house that night.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On building that mantel for Mini-him that I had intended to work on last week. Mini-him was gone all last week so I decided to wait until he could be here to help with design choices. 

Thinking About: Friendships. My parents and I went to the funeral of one of my dad's oldest friends on Tuesday. They had known each other for 70 years! It takes work to maintain a friendship over all of those years and I know I need to step up my game if I hope to, one day, find myself saying goodbye to someone who's been such an important part of my life as John was for my dad.

Feeling: Happy - I finally finished, at least for now, the stool I've been working on refinishing for weeks! It's very soft wood that absorbed a lot of paint color and I'm loathe to keep sanding in an attempt to get below that. I'm also loathe to turn around and throw more paint on it after all of this work. For now, it the stool of many colors and I'm kind of liking it that way.

Looking forward to: Another quiet week. Y'all know how much I like those!

Question of the week: If you've got kids heading back to school this week, are you in the "whoopee" camp or the "Nooooo, I'm not ready for summer to be over yet" camp? I was always sad for summer to end - I loved the slower pace, not having to get everyone up and out the door in the mornings, no homework, and time to enjoy my kids and not just herd them.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Published March 2019 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Everyone knows DAISY JONES and THE SIX, but nobody knows the reason behind their split at the absolute height of their popularity . . . until now.

Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock ’n’ roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.

Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.

The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones and The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.

My Thoughts:
I grew up with music as a part of my life from the time I was a little girl; sometimes my dad allowed me to fall asleep on the living room sofa, listening to albums on the stereo. I came to love most kinds of music that way. But it was in the 1970's, as I went through my teens, that music became truly important to me. I listened to the radio every night and started buying 45's to play on the record player I had gotten when I turned ten. I listened to it all - Cat Stevens, ABBA, Donna Summers, The Eagles, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, The Bee Gees, Queen, Elton John, Lynyrd Skynard, Led Zeppelin. I read Seventeen and Rolling Stone to keep up with the fashions and the bands.

Daisy Jones and The Six was like a step back in time for me. I could picture Billy in his Canadian tuxedo, Daisy in her short-shorts and tank top; I could almost hear the music they would have been making, knowing what was being done at that time. But even if you didn't grow up in the 1970's, this book will draw you in. If you've ever had a dream, if you've ever gone looking for love, if you've ever been in love with someone you can't have or who doesn't love you, if you've ever struggled with your demons, if you've ever felt under appreciated or overwhelmed, you will find a character in this book who speaks to you.

This book reads like oral history of Daisy Jones and The Six and the people involved in their lives; Jenkins Reid has said she styled it on VH1's Behind The Music and the documentary History of The Eagles. It's an incredibly unique story telling idea and I can't imagine trying to keep all of those story lines in check so that they could be layered over each other.

Kudos to the person(s) who made the decision to have each character read by a different person - it certainly makes it easier to track who is speaking but, more importantly, it makes it feel more real. And it really does feel real. I enjoyed it very much.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
Published: September 2013 by Bloomsbury USA
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher’s Summary:
In five years, Jesmyn Ward lost five young men in her life—to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that can follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men. Dealing with these losses, one after another, made Jesmyn ask the question: Why? And as she began to write about the experience of living through all the dying, she realized the truth—and it took her breath away. Her brother and her friends all died because of who they were and where they were from, because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle that fostered drug addiction and the dissolution of family and relationships. Jesmyn says the answer was so obvious she felt stupid for not seeing it. But it nagged at her until she knew she had to write about her community, to write their stories and her own.

Jesmyn grew up in poverty in rural Mississippi. She writes powerfully about the pressures this brings, on the men who can do no right and the women who stand in for family in a society where the men are often absent. She bravely tells her story, revisiting the agonizing losses of her only brother and her friends. As the sole member of her family to leave home and pursue higher education, she writes about this parallel American universe with the objectivity distance provides and the intimacy of utter familiarity.

My Thoughts:
I was a fan of Ward’s after reading Salvage The Bones, which won the National Book Award. Since then I have also read Sing, Unburied, Sing (for which she also won the National Book Award) and now Men We Reaped and Ward has quickly become one of my favorite authors. With each book, she opens my eyes anew to a world well beyond my middle-class, white, suburban life.

Ward writes about people, her people, who the rest of us so easily forget. What Ward wants us to know, to remember, is that these people are not nothing. In telling these young men’s stories, Ward is also trying to make us understand the cost to society of forgetting, marginalizing whole groups of people. The black community in the South is not alone in suffering because their countrymen ignored what was happening to them economically as jobs disappeared, but they also carry the overwhelming weight of racism in all of its ugly forms. E
very single day they live with the fear that the police may pull them over for the least thing, that white people will flaunt racism in their faces to try to provoke a reaction, and the very real chance that there will not be enough food to put a meal on the table. There is no hope. So they drink, they do drugs, they try to numb the pain; and they hold onto each other because that is all that they have even as they tear each other apart.
”…we didn’t trust society to provide the basics of a good education, safety, access to good jobs, fairness in the justice system. And even as we distrusted the society around us, the culture that cornered us and told us we were perpetually less, we distrusted each other. We did not trust our fathers to raise us, to provide for us. Because we trusted nothing, we endeavored to protect ourselves, boys becoming misogynistic and violent, girls turning duplicitous, all of us hopeless.”
Ward weaves her own life around the stories of four boys she grew up with until she finally works her way to the death of her younger brother. These are those young men’s stories; but this book is also Ward’s story about awakening to what is really happening all around her and why. It is about understanding why her father left the family, why her mother is so unemotional, why she grew up feeling like she didn’t deserve better than she was getting, and learning what is really at the heart of the problems that plague Black people.
”I knew that I lived in a place where hope and a sense of possibility were as ephemeral as morning fog, but I did not see the despair at the heart of our drug use.”
Ward is haunted by the lives and the tragic deaths of Roger Eric Daniels III, Ronald Wayne Lizana, Charles Joseph Martin, Demond Cook, and Joshua Adam Dedeaux. If you aren’t, too, by the time you finish this book, I’m not sure we can be friends any more.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Life: It Goes On - July 28

Ugh - why do I get headaches on the weekends?! I had so many plans to be productive this weekend and here it is, almost noon on Sunday, and I've hardly crossed one thing off the to-do list. Of course, my kids have thrown me a couple of curve balls that cut into my time in a big way, which didn't help. Just a heads up for those of you with little kids - it NEVER ends! On the plus side, getting up and out the door early this morning means we got donuts!

Last Week I:

Listened To: I finished Daisy Jones and The Six and started Karl Marlantes' Matterhorn. Matterhorn is a book I've been wanting to read for years and I think the narration is good, but...I'm not sure it's the book for me right now. I did a lot of driving this weekend and only chose to listen to it for about 30 minutes, instead opting for music. Some of that's the headache - hard to focus on anything more than just the driving. It may also just not be the right book for me right now.

Watched: I feel like there was something other than the usual list of t.v. shows I was going to put here but I can't remember what it was now. Must have been really exciting, right?

Read: I finished The Real Simple Method to Organize Every Room and Men We Reaped and started Lara Spencer's Flea Market Fabulous and Laura Lippman's latest, Lady In The Lake for an upcoming TLC Book Tour this week.

Made: Dressing stuffed chicken breasts and caprese salad - I cooked a real meal, guys! Today I'm going to make zucchini bread, if I have time what with all of the catching up I need to do.

Enjoyed: A little thrifting - I didn't find much but the hunt is always fun.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: I'm clearly not going to get through everything I wanted to do this weekend (guys I am still working on those two pieces of furniture!), so this coming week will be about playing catch up. 

Thinking About: Building a mantel for Mini-him. I had a plan but found a different idea I like better so I'm off to Lowe's soon to get the wood.

Feeling: See headache above.

Looking forward to: Seeing my parents this week. 

Question of the week: Do you get headaches? Besides pain relievers, what's your go-to to help get through them?

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller

Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller
Published September 2017 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
In this novel authorized by the Little House Heritage Trust, Sarah Miller recreates the beauty, hardship, and joys of the frontier in a work of historical fiction that illuminates one courageous, resilient, and loving pioneer woman as never before—Caroline Ingalls, "Ma" in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved Little House books.

In the frigid days of February, 1870, Caroline Ingalls and her family leave the familiar comforts of the Big Woods of Wisconsin and the warm bosom of her family, for a new life in Kansas Indian Territory. Packing what they can carry in their wagon, Caroline, her husband Charles, and their little girls, Mary and Laura, head west to settle in a beautiful, unpredictable land full of promise and peril.

The pioneer life is a hard one, especially for a pregnant woman with no friends or kin to turn to for comfort or help. The burden of work must be shouldered alone, sickness tended without the aid of doctors, and babies birthed without the accustomed hands of mothers or sisters. But Caroline’s new world is also full of tender joys. In adapting to this strange new place and transforming a rough log house built by Charles’ hands into a home, Caroline must draw on untapped wells of strength she does not know she possesses.

My Thoughts:
Confession: although I read several of the Little House books when I was young, I never reread any of them and have very little recollection of the specifics of them, which makes it difficult for me to review this book as a comparison to Laura Ingalls Wilder's own Little House on the Prairie. That may  have been as beneficial to me as I read Caroline as it was a hinderance. In not being able to recall the source material, I was free to read this book without looking for the ways it mirrored, or did not, Wilder's book.

In a day and age where women were largely at the mercy of their husbands, Caroline Ingalls didn't have much say when her husband suddenly announced he had sold their home in Wisconsin and they would be moving to the Indian Territory in Kansas. Didn't ask her what she thought of the idea, didn't ask her if she wanted to go. Oh, and by the way, won't have room for any furniture and will need her to sew a canvas cover for the wagon. Also, going to be leaving in the winter on a journey that will take months. On the surface, Caroline in the book does what Caroline in real life probably did, bit her tongue and made the preparations. In Caroline, though, we get to see below the surface - the irritation Caroline feels about having to do all of this preparation to make a move she doesn't even want to make but can't speak out against and her deep sorrow about having to move away from a place where they are surrounded by family and friends.

We see the strain on Caroline, body and soul, during that long journey. By turns bored, frightened, tired of dealing with two little girls who have been cooped up in a wagon for hours on end, and frustrated with having to prepare meals from scratch, often without even a fire to cook them by. And did I mention that as much as you may be tired of your bra by the end of the day, Caroline was being pitched around on a wagon seat wearing a corset?

That corset pain is only one of the ways that Miller gives readers a glimpse into what life was really like for women in the late 19th century. No hospitals, no doctor nearby, and no one to deliver her baby who she trusts. No nursing bras or maxi pads for after the delivery - these are things Caroline will have to make. No town nearby if you run out of anything and no neighbors nearby to borrow from. It's not as though I had ever thought life was easy for women on the plains but Miller makes it very clear how very difficult even the most mundane things were and how mixed Caroline's feelings were about her life, her children and her husband.

But Caroline is going to stand by her man, not just because that's how it was done, but because she is very much in love with Charles. And when she listens to him talk about the new land and sees how his face lights up, she knows she will never tell him he is wrong. When they finally arrive in Kansas, though, she starts to see what he has been seeing, starts to fall in love with the place, despite the hardship and dangers.

Although the book frequently felt repetitive (yes, yes, we get that Charles is still hot for his wife), and often tedious, I really did enjoy seeing life from Caroline's point of view and the last hundred and fifty pages flew by for me. I know that Miller tried to hew true to the events of Wilder's book, but she also included more factual history of both the land and the life that the Ingalls lived. I think that made for a work of historical fiction that felt real but will still make fans off Wilder's book happy.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Life: It Goes On - July 23

Yes, I know it's not Sunday. Between being out of town over the weekend and beautiful evenings that called me out onto the patio for much longer than I planned, it's a wonder I'm getting this posted tonight.  So let's just get right to it, shall we?

Last Week I:

Listened To: I was listening to The Recovering until my library loan for Daisy Jones and The Six became available to I've switched to print for The Recovering. I was hoping to talk Miss H into an audiobook for our weekend road trip but she said she can't listen to a book when someone else is in the car. What's that about? On the plus side, she did put together a great playlist for us - we actually like a lot of the same music.

Watched: What ever anyone else is turning on. Because our basement is not yet put back together again since we got water in it, Miss H has spent a lot of time upstairs...watching I have no idea how many episode of Friends.

Read: I finished Sarah Miller's Caroline: Little House; Revisited and finally read Jesmyn Ward's Men We Reaped.

Made: Seriously guys - I cannot remember a single thing I cooked last week. I did bake peanut butter cookies.

Enjoyed: A quick weekend trip to meet my newest great-niece. Loved, loved spending time with my brother's family, especially the littles!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: Nothing. Wait, that's not true. I'm planning to build a mantel for Mini-him's fireplace as a birthday present. Because I needed another project to add to the ones I haven't finished yet.

Thinking About: How fast summer is going! Make time stop - no more back-to-school ads, no more fall decor tips. I need the long days and dinners on the patio to last several more months.

Feeling: Pretty darn excited to have gotten tickets for Hamilton even if I now feel like I need to find ways to cut back on my spending so The Big Guy will be cool with the amount I spent on the tickets.

Looking forward to: Celebrating Mini-him's birthday this weekend!

Question of the week: Be honest - are you already thinking about pumpkin spice lattes or are you with me on more swimming pool days?

Monday, July 22, 2019

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kahling

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kahling
Read by Mindy Kahling
Published September 2012 by Turtleback Books
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Mindy Kaling has lived many lives: the obedient child of immigrant professionals, a timid chubster afraid of her own bike, a Ben Affleck–impersonating Off-Broadway performer and playwright, and, finally, a comedy writer and actress prone to starting fights with her friends and coworkers with the sentence “Can I just say one last thing about this, and then I swear I’ll shut up about it?”

Perhaps you want to know what Mindy thinks makes a great best friend (someone who will fill your prescription in the middle of the night), or what makes a great guy (one who is aware of all elderly people in any room at any time and acts accordingly), or what is the perfect amount of fame (so famous you can never get convicted of murder in a court of law), or how to maintain a trim figure (you will not find that information in these pages). If so, you’ve come to the right book, mostly!

In Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy invites readers on a tour of her life and her unscientific observations on romance, friendship, and Hollywood, with several conveniently placed stopping points for you to run errands and make phone calls.

My Thoughts: Up front let me just be honest that there was very little chance I wouldn’t like this book. I freakin’ love Mindy Kaling. She is funny and smart and self-deprecating but also confident and (did I mention?) funny. This coming from someone who was late to the whole Mindy Kaling party, having never watched an entire episode of The Office. I know, I know, it’s hilarious and I really should just stream the entire series enough times to memorize it (anyway, that’s what my daughter tells me). But I didn’t so I didn’t really know Kaling until I sat down with my daughter one night and watched an episode of The Mindy Project.

But that’s in the unforeseeable future when this book was written and, on occasion, it’s obvious this book was written eight years ago. Like when Kaling refers to Amy Poehler’s great marriage to Will Arnett (they’ve since divorced) or when she suggests that she’d like to do an all-female remake of Ghostbusters (which was made in 2016, although not exactly in the way that Kahling suggested).

Like most collections, this one isn’t all filled with knock-it-out-of-the-park bits and some of the pieces fall flat if you aren’t as familiar with the pop culture Kaling refers to in the piece. Of course, most of that's probably on me since I'm nearly 20 years older than Kaling and almost certainly have never been as in touch with what's "in" as is Kaling.

But most of the book is wonderful – funny, poignant, honest, and often a little bit sad. Life as the daughter of immigrant professionals wasn’t always easy. After all, she points out, what a disappointment she must have been not to have been a Spelling Bee champion given her Indian heritage, thick glasses, and lack of friends. Her stories about getting her career started are hilarious as is her spin on what men need to do so women find them attractive (get a well-fitted pea coat and the right shampoo) and her attraction to men with chest on their hair.

Now I need to go get caught up on The Mindy Project and see if my library has the audiobook copy of Kaling's Why Me?

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Sunset Beach by Mary Kay Andrews - A Guest Review

Sunset Beach by Mary Kay Andrews
Published May 2019 by St. Martin's Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Drue Campbell’s life is adrift. Out of a job and down on her luck, life doesn’t seem to be getting any better when her estranged father, Brice Campbell, a flamboyant personal injury attorney, shows up at her mother’s funeral after a twenty-year absence. Worse, he’s remarried – to Drue’s eighth grade frenemy, Wendy, now his office manager. And they’re offering her a job.

It seems like the job from hell, but the offer is sweetened by the news of her inheritance – her grandparents’ beach bungalow in the sleepy town of Sunset Beach, a charming but storm-damaged eyesore now surrounded by waterfront McMansions.

With no other prospects, Drue begrudgingly joins the firm, spending her days screening out the grifters whose phone calls flood the law office. Working with Wendy is no picnic either. But when a suspicious death at an exclusive beach resort nearby exposes possible corruption at her father’s firm, she goes from unwilling cubicle rat to unwitting investigator, and is drawn into a case that may – or may not – involve her father. With an office romance building, a decades-old missing persons case re-opened, and a cottage in rehab, one thing is for sure at Sunset Beach: there’s a storm on the horizon.

My Thoughts:
My sister has long been a fan of Mary Kay Andrews' books and has read and reviewed books by Andrews previously for me. When this book showed up in my mailbox, I knew immediately that I needed to put it in her hands. My sister lives on the banks of a river and I could just imagine her sitting on her dock reading this one as I looked at that cover. Here are my sister's thoughts on this book. Thank you, sis, for your review!

Guest Review:
As a fan of Ms Andrews' writing I was looking forward to reading her latest book, Sunset Beach. My general rule of thumb is to put a book down that hasn’t captured my attention by the end of the first chapter. I made an exception on Sunset Beach because of my fondness for Ms. Andrews' storytelling. I found the the story slow to develop and the characters difficult to relate to.

The primary figure, Drue, returns home to Sunset Beach to restart her life. From there the storyline pulls in several directions, with too many secondary characters. The storylines, while slow to develop, felt rushed to the finish and felt very disconnected to me. I was left waiting for more closure.

There is mystery, suspense, family drama, and a love story.

I will happily pick up Ms Andrew’s next book because of previous reading pleasure; but for me, Sunset Beach was a bust.

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Girls In The Picture by Melanie Benjamin

The Girls In The Picture by Melanie Benjamin
Published January 2018 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
It is 1914, and twenty-five-year-old Frances Marion has left her (second) husband and her Northern California home for the lure of Los Angeles, where she is determined to live independently as an artist. But the word on everyone’s lips these days is “flickers”—the silent moving pictures enthralling theatergoers. Turn any corner in this burgeoning town and you’ll find made-up actors running around, as a movie camera captures it all.

In this fledgling industry, Frances finds her true calling: writing stories for this wondrous new medium. She also makes the acquaintance of actress Mary Pickford, whose signature golden curls and lively spirit have earned her the title “America’s Sweetheart.” The two ambitious young women hit it off instantly, their kinship fomented by their mutual fever to create, to move audiences to a frenzy, to start a revolution.

But their ambitions are challenged by both the men around them and the limitations imposed on their gender—and their astronomical success could come at a price. As Mary, the world’s highest paid and most beloved actress, struggles to live her life under the spotlight, she also wonders if it is possible to find love, even with the dashing actor Douglas Fairbanks. Frances, too, longs to share her life with someone. As in any good Hollywood story, dramas will play out, personalities will clash, and even the deepest friendships might be shattered.

My Thoughts:
The Girls In The Picture is Benjamin’s fifth novel (I have her sixth, Mistress of the Ritz on hold at the library); I’ve read them all. It’s safe to say I’m a fan. Benjamin always finds interesting women in history to write about and her research is always thorough; I’m always learning when I’m reading her books. The Girls In The Picture was no exception. I’d heard about Mary Pickford, of course, but I had no idea the influence and power she had wielded in the early days of movie making. I had never heard of Frances Marion nor was I aware of how many women were involved in making movies in those early days of silent movies.

While The Girls In The Picture is about two women who helped pioneer the film industry and the rise of movies from “flickers” to “talkies,” it is primarily the story of a complicated friendship that spans six decades.

What I Liked:
Benjamin moves the story back and forth between Mary and Frances and I enjoyed getting to “see” both women’s point of view. It’s always good to be reminded that there are two sides to every story. See more on this, though, below.

Learning about the early days of movie making. Did you know that the actors were originally called “movies,” not the film itself? Or that women were the majority of the “scenarists,” the early screen play writers? Or that Frances Marion was the first writer, male or female, to earn two Academy Awards for writing?

The relationship between Frances and Mary. While they were besties, there was a balance of power issue at play with both women fighting to be at the top of their fields and it gave a spark to their friendship.

Reading about how two women rose to the top of their field in a time when women had very few opportunities to thrive outside of the home. Benjamin had me cheering when Mary was finally able to take control of her own career and when Pickford; her husband, actor Douglas Fairbanks; Charlie Chaplin, and director D. W. Griffiths started their own studio, United Artists. Sadly, both women also had to watch as men took back the power when movie making became a big business and not just an art form.

What I Didn’t Like (As Well):
My dad pointed out recently that I am prone to saying that a book could have, should have, been shorter. I’m afraid I’m saying it again, mostly because it sometimes felt like things got repetitive.

I wished that both stories had been told from the same point of view; Frances’ was first person and felt vibrant, whereas Mary’s was third person and felt much less so. Perhaps Benjamin had more source material she was trying to work into Mary’s storyline and, therefore, less wiggle room with that narrative.

Honestly, I got tired of “listening” to Mary whine about how she was stuck playing a young girl. Not necessarily a critique about the book other than that I might have preferred for the characters to be more equally appealing. And all of the whining made what happens toward the end make it all the more difficult for me to understand why Frances reacted the way she did.

The good far outweighs the things I didn’t like in this book, as always happens with Benjamin’s books. They are always interesting with strong characters I’m happy to have gotten to know. The Girls In The Picture would make an excellent book club selection with a lot to talk about, including friendship, addiction, power, abuse, ambition, the rise of the movie industry, women’s empowerment, and the role the public plays in the lives of celebrities.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Life : It Goes On

The Big Guy and I went and got ice cream cones at McDonald's the other night and went and sat on this dock. It had just gotten dark and looking out over the lake, with its smattering of boat lights, was so relaxing. Except for the teenagers whooping it up in the parking lot - we weren't the only people who thought hanging out at the lake was a good idea!

That's about the highlight of my week. It's been every bit as slow and calm as I had expected and hoped. Except the part where my son got stuck in a flooded town. That'll stress a mom out! More on that later.

Last Week I:

Listened To: A lot of music and a fair number of episodes of podcasts including Happier, The History Chicks, and Nerdette.

Watched: Gone With The Wind, Gentleman Jack, and lots of Fixer Upper.

Read: I finished Karl Marlantes' Deep River and started Caroline: Little House, Revisited. I'm really enjoying Caroline but I'm already convinced it is 100 pages too long.

Made: It's clear that I have utterly lost my cooking mojo. We've survived on salads, simple pastas, chicken salad. We DID have our first BLT sandwiches of the season with tomatoes from our garden!

Enjoyed: Time for reading, dinners on the patio, doing not much more than keeping things tidied up.

Worried About: Yes, I did just add this category. Because worrying it what I do best. I spend a lot of time worrying about my kids. One of the ways I do that is by watching the weather wherever they are at. Except this past week, when I registered that there were torrential rains in central Nebraska resulting in flooding, and neglected to remember that my son was in a town in central Nebraska for work. Until he sent me a picture of flooded streets, saying "I'm not sure we can get back to our hotel or my car."

He and his co-worker made it to Cabelas, bought some hip waders and waded through the waters to their hotel, where they found Mini-him's car sitting in only a few inches of water. He moved it to higher ground shortly before they were evacuated to the University's dorms for the night. They were fine, the car was fine, and they were able to leave the town the next afternoon after the flood waters moved further down river. Not everyone has been so lucky; Nebraska farmers, in particular, are once again being hard it.

This Week I’m: 
It's bold and the paint strip
around the room will match.
Planning: On finally finishing the refinishing projects I've been working on for two weekends. Citrus Strip may be nontoxic and, therefore, great but it also doesn't take six layers of paint off as the toxic stuff. I'll be making a trip to Lowe's in a few minutes to go get some of that.

Also, hoping to get Miss H's mini-refresh done this week. Curtains and bedspread are here and I got the paint I needed on Thursday. Now I just need to get her home long enough to help

Thinking About: All of the things. My brain will not shut off lately nor stay on one topic long enough to make any decisions. Ugh.

Looking Forward To: Book club and a trip south to finally meet my newest great-niece.

Question of the week: I've got very little I have to read the rest of the summer. I'm hoping to knock off some books from my shelves but also wondering if you've got a recommendation for me. What book do I absolutely have to read before the summer is over?

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Deep River by Karl Marlantes

Deep River by Karl Marlantes
Published: July 2019 by Grove/Atlantic Inc.
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary:
In the early 1900s, as the oppression of Russia’s imperial rule takes its toll on Finland, the three Koski siblings—Ilmari, Matti, and the politicized young Aino—are forced to flee to the United States. Not far from the majestic Columbia River, the siblings settle among other Finns in a logging community in southern Washington, where the first harvesting of the colossal old-growth forests begets rapid development, and radical labor movements begin to catch fire. The brothers face the excitement and danger of pioneering this frontier wilderness—climbing and felling trees one-hundred meters high—while Aino, foremost of the books many strong, independent women, devotes herself to organizing the industry’s first unions. As the Koski siblings strive to rebuild lives and families in an America in flux, they also try to hold fast to the traditions of a home they left behind.

Layered with fascinating historical detail, this is a novel that breathes deeply of the sun-dappled forest and bears witness to the stump-ridden fields the loggers, and the first waves of modernity, leave behind.

My Thoughts:
So, guys, Matterhorn. Marlantes' last book? Huge; really big. You'd think there'd be all kinds of reviews about this book out there already, all kinds of p. r. Nope, hardly a peep. And I sort of needed for someone to tell me how I felt about this book. Is that weird?

It will seem even weirder when I tell you that I really liked this book. I'm all over decades long family sagas. I mean, The Thorn Birds was one of my first "grown up" favorite books, after all. And I learned a lot from Deep River and you know how much I love that in a book. The lumbar industry, the labor movement on the west coast, the immigrant experience of the Finns who settled in the west - Marlantes had me going to the internet again and again to find out which characters were real people, what events really happened.

I became very attached to some of the family and the people who surrounded them and felt that they were, for the most part, well developed. Which made me get really nervous when the tension built but Marlantes kept from making this a giant saga of terrible things that happened to this family.

But seemed to drag on forever. It is over 700 pages long but I've raced through books that long before. What made this one feel so different? One reviewer I found used the word "longeur" in his review (which I had to look up which you know I also love!); for those of you, like me, who need a definition, longeur means a tedious passage in a book. Oh yeah, for as much action as there was, for as many beautifully descriptive passages as there were, there were also a heck of a lot of longeurs. In fairness to Marlantes, though, I was balancing several books I needed to get through, including a really long audiobook and I might have become much more engrossed in it if I had devoted myself solely to this book. But part of what made the book drag was that Marlantes included so many characters and tried to cover so much ground with this book - the history of the logging industry along the Columbia River, the history of the labor movement, the salmon and fishing industry, the immigrant experience. Yes, it gave me a lot to learn about but it often felt like it was pulling me away from the story of this family.

I would recommend Deep River, with the proviso that there may be times you'll want to skim over those longeurs. If you read it, especially if you are able to really devote your full attention to it, I hope you'll let me know what you thought of it.

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Need by Helen Phillips

The Need by Helen Phillips
Published July 2019 by Simon Schuster
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary:
When Molly, home alone with her two young children, hears footsteps in the living room, she tries to convince herself it’s the sleep deprivation. She’s been hearing things these days. Startling at loud noises. Imagining the worst-case scenario. It’s what mothers do, she knows.

But then the footsteps come again, and she catches a glimpse of movement.

Suddenly Molly finds herself face-to-face with an intruder who knows far too much about her and her family. As she attempts to protect those she loves most, Molly must also acknowledge her own frailty. Molly slips down an existential rabbit hole where she must confront the dualities of motherhood: the ecstasy and the dread; the languor and the ferocity; the banality and the transcendence as the book hurtles toward a mind-bending conclusion.

My Thoughts:
When Phillips' The Beautiful Bureaucrat was publisher in 2015, I heard a lot of great things about it, including that it was great mind-bending fun. I've never gotten to that one but when The Need became available, I knew I'd want to give her writing a shot.

Mind-bending might be an understatement. The Need is one of those books that, when you turn the last page, leaves you asking "what the heck did I just read?" It also left me wondering why I don't seek out more books that leave me asking that question because I was left asking it in the best of ways. It is a book unlike anything I've read before. What genre is it? Psychological thriller? Yes. Science-fiction? Yes. With its focus on the struggles of woman as mother, it might best be considered women's fiction.
“She was always hurrying to get ready for work, hurrying to put the groceries away … every single thing in life shoved between the needs of a pair of people who weighed a cumulative 57 pounds.”
Molly has been thrown off since the birth of Viv four years ago. Like so many mothers of young children, she is torn between a love so deep she spends a lot of time terrified about their well-being and an exhaustion so overwhelming that she feels a desperate need for a break from them. I think everyone who has ever lived with small children, and their constant need for attention and care, their constant mishaps and demands, can relate to Molly. Maintaining your own sanity can be an issue. The question here is has Molly lost her tenuous hold on her sanity? Or has she, in her own work, created an issue that will threaten her family?

Phillips keeps things moving at a rapid pace and, with movement back and forth in time, she keeps readers off balance and constantly recalibrating. To the extent that, a one point I reopened the book to the wrong bookmark and I wasn't entirely sure that I was rereading something I had already read or if Phillips had me looking at a previous part of the book with a new twist.

Phillips asks more questions than she answers in The Need. Sometimes, that's just what I need in a book.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Life: It Goes On - July 7

Happy July! I hope you've all had a great week and got to celebrate the Fourth exactly that way you enjoy. As for me, we spent the day with family, friends and my parents' neighbors at their neighborhood's 44th annual Fourth of July breakfast. The breakfast was first held in my parents' back yard in 1976 to celebrate the bicentennial. My mom cooked all of the food that year and my dad gave a short speech. On Thursday, he again spoke, talking about some lesser known figures who fought for our independence, a reminder that all of us has a part to play in our government.

Last Week I:

Listened To: My copy of Black Leopard, Red Wolf expired on Tuesday and I returned both it and the print copy. I've put a hold on the audio again; but, honestly, I'm not sure if I'll actually finish it. I've read/listened to 500 pages and I'm only a third of the way through it with no clue what it actually going on. While I'm waiting for my next book to become available, I'm catching up on some podcasts and listening my Spotify playlists, including a new playlist of covers.

Watched: It was time for my annual viewing of the musical 1776 and, while I was at it, The Music Man on the Fourth. Love them both!

Read: I finished Helen Phillips' The Need and I'm almost finished with Karl Marlantes' Deep River, which is a behemoth.

Made: A new dip for food day at work - cookie dough dip - which was delicious but, let's be honest, didn't really taste like cookie dough.

Enjoyed: A four-day weekend! I haven't gotten as much done as I'd hoped but I have gotten lots of reading done and have had a lot of down time which was essential!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On finishing up a couple of pieces I'm refinishing and a mini-update to Miss H's room.

Thinking About: Crafting a mantle for Mini-him's apartment fireplace. He's designed what he wants and I'm in charge of making it happen.

Feeling: Relaxed!

Looking forward to: A week without anything on the calendar.

Question of the week: Musicals - yea or nay?