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?

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Happy Fourth of July

Let us not forget, as we festoon our homes in red, white and blue; barbecue; and shoot off fireworks that brave people stood up to tyranny.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Northern Lights by Cathy Parker

Northern Lights: One Woman, Two Teams, and The Football Field That Changed Their Lives by Cathy Parker with David Thomas
Published June 2019 by Nelson, Thomas Inc.
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Life is hard in Barrow, Alaska. Football mom Cathy Parker first caught a glimpse of this far-away reality from the comfort of her Jacksonville, Florida, living room while watching a 2006 ESPN report on the Barrow Whalers, a high school football team consisting mostly of Alaskan Inupiat Eskimo natives playing in the most difficult of conditions and trying to overcome the most unlikely of odds. These players—raised in the northernmost town in the United States, where drug abuse is rampant and the high school dropout rate is high—found themselves playing on a gravel field, using flour to draw the lines. And while the community of Barrow felt a strong pride for their boys, many felt football was not worth the investment. That is, until Cathy Parker became involved.

Overcome by a surprising stirring in her soul to reach out and help, Cathy was determined to build a suitable field for the Barrow Whalers. Not fully understanding the many obstacles, both financially and logistically, that would line the path ahead, Cathy charged forward with a determined spirit and a heart for both the football team and the greater community of Barrow. She spearheaded a campaign that raised more than half-a-million dollars through people all around the country rallying around one common goal: changing the lives of young men through football.

This is not just the story of how the Barrow Whalers became the first high school above the Arctic Circle to have a football program. This is the story of how we are sometimes called to the most unlikely of causes and to believe in something a little bit bigger, changing our own lives and the lives of others for the better in the most unexpected of ways.

My Thoughts:
You all know how much I love football so this one was kind of a no-brainer for me, a story about how a group of people came together to help a football program succeed where it was absolutely essential that it do so.

The field as it neared completion. That is the Arctic Ocean to
right, close enough that an errant pass could mean a ball
lost forever!
For Barrow, being able to have a football program meant having something for their young men to do, something for their community to come together around. But when you live where grass won't grow and where the ground is permanently frozen, having a field that's usable is all but impossible. In fact, the field was so bad, other teams were no longer willing to go to Barrow to play. Since the schools are so far apart, and there's no way into Barrow except by air or sea, flying is the only way for the teams to travel. If no one was willing to come to Barrow, the Barrow team was going to have to pay to fly to all of their games. Add to that a team that was largely made up of young men who had never played football before and coaches with little to no experience, and you can see why the school was in danger of losing their football program.

And then Cathy Parker saw that ESPN story. Cathy would be the first to admit that she is a big idea person who figures out how to make something work after the fact. Getting an artificial turf field for Barrow was one of those ideas. If she would have had any idea how logistically difficult it would become when she started, she might have gone to sleep that first night thinking "it would be great, but..." Luckily for the people of Barrow, she didn't. Not only did she never give up on giving Barrow a football field, she found a way to bring the entire Barrow team to Florida to learn football the way her own sons' football coach taught it. When the Barrow team returned home, they took with them more than lessons in how to play the game of football better, but lessons about discipline, hard work, and integrity. They went away with everything that's good about participating in organized team sports.

What's more, having that field brought the town together. It gave them a place to gather, a place they could have a picnic (assume you're game for a picnic in a place where summer means highs in the 40's), and young men with hope. Eleven years after the field was put in, Parker returned to Barrow and found a town that had been revitalized.

There's a lot about Parker's family in the book and early on I began to wonder if it was too much. But Parker was setting things up so that readers would know that she understood both the pros and cons of organized sports. The Parkers also understood the high costs, both literal and figurative, that sports can exact. More than once, football had caused problems in their marriage and Cathy is, justifiably, happy to let readers know what her family gained by this experience.

What's missing in that publisher's summary, and I had to go back and re-read that after I read the book to see if I'd missed it, is religion. Parker feels that she was called by God to bring that field to Barrow and her religion plays a big part in this book. Again and again, she talks about being certain that the power of prayer helped smooth over the seemingly insurmountable problems that came up again and again. She talks about church and religion a lot and it sometimes felt like too much for me, not the story I was looking for. But I had to keep reminding myself that whatever compelled Parker to push so hard for those young men, I was happy, for their sakes, for it.

Despite my quibbles with the book, I really enjoyed reading about how so many people came together to provide the community of Barrow that football field and the young men of Barrow hope and a future.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Side by Side by Anita Kushwaha

Side by Side by Anita Kushwaha
Published November 2018 by Inanna Publications
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Kavita Gupta is a woman in transition. When her troubled older brother, Sunil, disappears, she does everything in her power to find him, convinced that she can save him. Ten days later, the police arrive at her door to inform her that Sunil’s body has been found. Her world is devastated. She finds herself in crisis mode, trying to keep the pieces of her life from falling apart even more. As she tries to cope with her loss, the support system around her begins to unravel. Her parents’ uneasy marriage seems more precarious. Her health is failing as her unprocessed trauma develops into more sinister conditions. Her marriage suffers as her husband is unable to relate to her loss. She bears her burden alone, but after hitting her lowest point, she knows she needs to find a better way of coping. Desperate for connection, she reaches out to a bereavement group, where she meets Hawthorn, a free-spirited young man with whom she discovers a deep connection through pain. After being blindsided by a devastating marital betrayal, she wonders if a fresh start is possible in the wake of tragedy. Will she escape her problems and start over? Or will she face the challenges of rebuilding the life she already has? Side by Side is a story about loss, growth and the search for meaning in the wake of tragedy, illuminated through one woman’s journey from harm to care.

My Thoughts:
You know how often I've forgotten what a book is about before I read it; this book takes that up a notch. I was meant to read and review it a few weeks ago but there was a problem getting the book from the publisher, moving my review back to the point where I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into. This meant that, on the heels of our dear friends having lost their son in an accident, picking up a book and finding out that it was about the death of a young man was initially a bit of a gut punch. I wasn't sure I could read it. I am so glad that I stuck with it.

I don't know what experience Kushwaha has with grief; but, my god, did it feel like she had to have lived through the loss of a loved one as intimately and honestly as this book feels. I felt like the ladies at TLC Book Tours had put this book into my hands at this time to help me understand exactly what my friends might be feeling. When Kavita finds her mother crouched on Sunil's bedroom floor, her head resting on his bed, and his urn protected between two couch cushions on the bed, I could easily imagine this being the way a mother might react. Kushwaha's description of Kavita's guilt, her need to help her parents through their own grief, and talks with her brother's spirit are heartbreaking.

What really felt like Kushwaha had reached the truth of  grief were the three "people" Kavita began carrying inside her: Anchor, Black Gloom, and Blaze. We're all familiar with Elisabeth Kugler-Ross' five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. But Anchor, Black Gloom, and Blaze make it clear that those "stages" aren't necessarily stages, one doesn't necessarily pass through them one at a time. In the two weeks since our friends lost their son, I know they have experienced denial, anger, and depression. Two weeks later, I can't imagine anyone expecting them to go on with their lives as if nothing has happened, yet that is exactly what Nirav, Kavita's husband, expects from her. And his family if unwilling to acknowledge that Sunil is even dead; they are more concerned about when the couple might start a family. It's no wonder that Kavita would reach out for understanding from others who might be more sympathetic and I was so hoping that she would find finally find the support she so desperately needed.

I'm certain that when I was pitched this book, the ladies at TLC Book Tours made sure to tell me it was about an Indian family (they know me so well!) plus the book is largely set in Canada (and I do love to find great books from Canadian authors). The truth of the matter is, though, that this book is about a part of life that is universal. Kavita's heritage, the country she lives in, are just parts of the story but her grief is without country or heritage.

Two quibbles: first, some of the characters, particularly in Nirav's family, felt a bit like stereotypes; secondly, there were quite a lot of grammatical errors and typos in the book. I kept checking, thinking that this might not be a finished copy but it is and it's a shame that a book this good is handicapped in this way. Still, neither of these was enough to impact my impression of the book and I raced through it in just a couple of days.

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

Anita Kushwaha grew up in Aylmer, Quebec. Her road to publication included a fulfilling career in academia, where she studied human geography at Carleton University and earned an M.A. and a Ph.D. She is also a graduate of the Humber School for Writers creative writing program. Her first novel, Side by Side, won an Independent Publisher Book Awards Silver Medal for Multicultural Fiction in 2019. She is also the author of a novella, The Escape Artist. Her second novel, Caught in a Lie, will be published in January 2020 by HarperCollins Canada. She lives in Ottawa.

Find out more about Anita at her website, and connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Purchase Links Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound | Chapters/Indigo