Thursday, August 29, 2019

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

This week, I'm looking at women and books as I go through my bookish saves on Facebook.

First up, from Book Riot comes a list of 10 New Books on Anger, Feminism, and Unruly Women (mind you, this list was created in September 2018 so these are really all that new anymore). I've had to back off my anger for a bit for my mental health, with 2020 and elections around the corner, I'm ready to get fired up again and these books will help!

In June 2018, HelloGiggle gave us this list of the books Emma Watson and her feminist book club had read to that point. Everyone of the books on this list that I've already read I heartily recommend and I can't wait to get to the rest of them. Now I need to go find out what the club has read in the past year. Why haven't I joined this book club?!

POPSUGAR gives us this list of 100+ Books by Black Women That Should Be Essential Reading for Everyone. This seems even more appropriate to share since we recently lost Toni Morrison, whose Beloved appears on this list. You know that I'm always trying to push myself to read more diversely and this list is going to be a great help when I'm looking for my next book to read in the pursuit. Every one of the books on this list is written by a different author (hence, only the one book by Morrison on the list) so there are a lot of new authors to experience.

Because, let's face it, most book clubs are made up entirely of women, I'm including some book club lists on this post as well. First up is Reese Witherspoon's Book Club Picks from Read It Forward. While Witherspoon isn't nearly as edgy as Watson, her books always focus on women and she does include a mix of styles, from books that would likely be considered chick-lit to Curtis Sittenfeld's short story collection, you think it, i'll say it which I reviewed here.

If you'd like to push your book club out of their comfort zone, check out this list of 10 New Controversial Books To Shake Up Your Next Book Club from Book Riot. I'm forever trying to remind my book club that one of the reasons to join a book club is to read books that they wouldn't otherwise pick up. Trust me, none of them would pick up any of these unless I made them do it!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin

Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin
Published May 2019 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Nothing bad can happen at the Ritz; inside its gilded walls every woman looks beautiful, every man appears witty. Favored guests like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Coco Chanel, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor walk through its famous doors to be welcomed and pampered by Blanche Auzello and her husband, Claude, the hotel’s director. The Auzellos are the mistress and master of the Ritz, allowing the glamour and glitz to take their minds off their troubled marriage, and off the secrets that they keep from their guests—and each other.

Until June 1940, when the German army sweeps into Paris, setting up headquarters at the Ritz. Suddenly, with the likes of Hermann GoĆ«ring moving into suites once occupied by royalty, Blanche and Claude must navigate a terrifying new reality. One that entails even more secrets and lies. One that may destroy the tempestuous marriage between this beautiful, reckless American and her very proper Frenchman. For in order to survive—and strike a blow against their Nazi “guests”—Blanche and Claude must spin a web of deceit that ensnares everything and everyone they cherish.

But one secret is shared between Blanche and Claude alone—the secret that, in the end, threatens to imperil both of their lives, and to bring down the legendary Ritz itself.

Blanche and Claude Auzello
My Thoughts:
The world is full of people who have interesting stories. Some of them are famous, some are well known in their own sphere, others are almost forgotten to time. Melanie Benjamin has a knack of finding the people at the edges of fame and bringing their stories to life: Vinnie Bump (Mrs. Tom Thumb), Alice Liddell (Alice In Wonderland), Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Blanche Auzello is remembered because of her connection to fame, the fame of Hotel Ritz in Paris, a hotel known for its glamour, famous clientele, and the curious mingling, during World War II, of the rich and the Nazis who had set up headquarters in the Ritz.

Only a skeleton of Blanche's history remains for historians and that's where Benjamin's ability to weave a story comes into play. Benjamin has created a story of a hasty marriage between two people who seemed drawn to each other but who were unwilling to compromise and unable to communicate with each other. The arrival of the Nazis turned the heat up on all of that.

I'm not entirely sure how a feel about Benajmin's light touch early in the book. I don't really need Benjamin to tell me what was happening to the people who were pulled out of their homes and disappeared. And I understand that, at the Ritz, things were not so desperate as they were in other parts of the city. Still, it seemed strange to read a book about occupied Paris without feeling overwhelmed by sadness about what was happening to the people of France.

Benjamin's focus, though, is on Blanche and Claude and the things they do to fight for the country they both love. The atrocities that the Nazis were committing are a part of the book but the real fear and horror doesn't come into play until late in the book, after Benjamin has built the tension around her central characters. And once she's built up the terror of the Nazi occupation, Benjamin doesn't shy away from the atrocities and the suffering nor the desperation those who remained safe felt. Nor does she shy away from the aftereffects of what happened once the Nazi's are driven out of Paris. There is no real "happily-ever-after." The citizens of France may have heeded Charles de Gaulle's advice and focused on moving forward after the war. But, as happy as the reunions were, the scars remained.

As with all of Benjamin's books, Mistress of the Ritz would make an excellent book club selection. There is a lot here to discuss including infidelity, secrets, collaboration with enemies, marriage, friendship, heroism, and anti-Semitism. I raced through this one and recommend it, particularly for fans of historical fiction.

Monday, August 26, 2019

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
Read by Blair Brown
Published June 2019 by Penguin Publisher Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
"Life is both fleeting and dangerous, and there is no point in denying yourself pleasure, or being anything other than what you are."

Beloved author Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction with a unique love story set in the New York City theater world during the 1940s. Told from the perspective of an older woman as she looks back on her youth with both pleasure and regret (but mostly pleasure), City of Girls explores themes of female sexuality and promiscuity, as well as the idiosyncrasies of true love.

In 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has just been kicked out of Vassar College, owing to her lackluster freshman-year performance. Her affluent parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a flamboyant, crumbling midtown theater called the Lily Playhouse. There Vivian is introduced to an entire cosmos of unconventional and charismatic characters, from the fun-chasing showgirls to a sexy male actor, a grand-dame actress, a lady-killer writer, and no-nonsense stage manager. But when Vivian makes a personal mistake that results in professional scandal, it turns her new world upside down in ways that it will take her years to fully understand. Ultimately, though, it leads her to a new understanding of the kind of life she craves - and the kind of freedom it takes to pursue it. It will also lead to the love of her life, a love that stands out from all the rest.

Now eighty-nine years old and telling her story at last, Vivian recalls how the events of those years altered the course of her life - and the gusto and autonomy with which she approached it. "At some point in a woman's life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time," she muses. "After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is."

My Thoughts:
I've been struggling with this review. There was so much I liked about this book. And yet, when I was about two-thirds of the way through it, a friend asked me what I thought of it and the word that came to mind at that point was "boring." So I turned, as I so often do, to see what other people thought of the book. Was I the only one who felt this way? Had I missed something? Was I the only person who found this book to be terribly uneven and who felt it had lost its way? The answers to those questions is "no."

Vivian is looking back on her life because she's received a letter from a woman whose father has died and she is asking Vivian for an explanation of her father's and Vivian's relationship. This book is meant to be Vivian's response.  A hundred pages in, it occurred to me to think it was odd that Vivian would go into such detail as a response to that request.

At that point, though, I was thoroughly into the story. Ron Charles, of the Washington Post, nailed it when he said that Gilbert has a good ear for the "arch repartee of 1940's comedy." Y'all, I love 1940's comedies - Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant in His Girl Friday, anyone? Vivian's time with her Aunt Peg at the Lily Playhouse was filled with humor, wild abandon, a crazy cast of characters, and descriptions that made the place and time come alive. I'd completely forgotten that I was meant to be reading a letter to the daughter of one of Vivian's loves.

Then Vivian's life crashed and the vibrancy of the book crashed as well. I tried to give Gilbert the benefit of the doubt - certainly she would have wanted readers to feel how flat Vivian's life had become and to understand how she might yearn for the life she had once had and for us to truly understand how what had happened affected her. But I was so bored by the book at that point that I seriously considered giving up on it, and you know how rare it is for me to give up on a book.

Gilbert saved the book with the third act (a reminder why I am always so loathe to give up on a book). It didn't have the same sparkle, nor the humor, and went longer than it needed to as it worked it's way back to the answer to the daughter's question. Which sounds like I didn't like the ending but I actually liked it a lot and was very glad that I had stuck with this book. Although I'm not sure I can recommend it. Now you see why I was struggling with this review!

Here's my other struggle with recommending this book - you can't skim an audiobook (yes, I know you can speed it up but you can only stand so much mosquito buzzing reading) so you can't just move ahead to the good parts of the book. But if you read it in print, no Blair Brown and Blair Brown was the perfect person to "play" Vivian.

Ron Charles raves about Gilbert's first book, Stern Men. Maybe I'll go pick that up so I can appreciate Gilbert's often impressive skills in a book that really works.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Life: It Goes On - August 25

The last Sunday of what I consider summer - why does summer have to go by so quickly?! Not only that but it's been grey and cool here the past few days; it doesn't even feel like summer any more. Which may account for why I'm starting to think about fall decorating (even as another part of my brain cries out "don't pack up the seashells yet!"). I feel like the summer has flown by and we haven't done nearly enough summery kinds of things. Hopefully, we'll still have some hot, summery days left in September for us to do some of those things.

Last Week I:

Listened To: I finished The Lager Queen of Minnesota and I am now an expert when it comes to the ingredients that go into a beer. Seriously - on CBS Sunday Morning they were talking about the ingredients in a particular new beer and I turned to my husband and said "I would like that beer with Citra and Simcoe hops." Friday I started Emma Donoghue's The Wonder, which is moody and Irish.

Watched: Friday night I watched three Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies (thanks, TCM!), my Oakland Raiders preseason game, and the kickoff of college football yesterday.

Read: I'm really enjoying This Blessed Earth about a year in the life of a Nebraska farm family. It's slow going because I'm really wanting to make sure I'm soaking it up. I'm hoping to finish it in the next few days and can't wait to talk to people about it. The farm is only about ten miles from where my husband grew up so I can vividly picture the lay of the land.

Good thing you can't see the rest
of the room!
Made: My daughter's bed. It's a rare thing but once I got the painting done and the curtains hung, it was time to get the bedding on and I wanted at least one pic to know what the room could look like if she made the bed.

Enjoyed: Book club on Tuesday. We reading Michelle Obama's Becoming and enjoyed talking about the book and the roads that discussion took us down.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: It's wedding week for my niece! I'll be driving north with my parents and my family will follow the next day. By now you all know what a control freak I am so it won't surprise you in the least to know that leaving BG in charge of closing up the house and bringing up the rest of what we need to causing me to panic a bit. There will be long to-do lists left for him!

Thinking About: What books to take along. Which is a little silly because between actually be the driver for a good part of the trip and being busy with family and sightseeing, there won't be much time for reading. But you know I'll still probably bring a couple of books with me!

Feeling: A little silly. I'm feeling very sad that my kitty girl will be home alone for so long and I already know that I'll miss her and her silliness and snuggles. Those of you who don't have pets will think I'm crazy; those of you who do will completely understand.

Looking forward to: Duluth!

Question of the week: What's the one thing you always forget when you're packing for a trip?

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

I added something to my save the other day on Facebook and realized that I've been adding things for months again without going back to read them. It's time for me to go through those and I thought I'd share while I was at it. This week, I'm looking at nonfiction books. Truly, I never realized that I could love nonfiction until I started blogging, even though I have always loved biographies, memoirs, histories. What I've learned is that there is something for every when it comes to nonfiction, just as with fiction.

First up, from Book Riot, is a list of 5 Popular Books That Are Still Worth Reading Post-Hype. Let's face it, we've all picked up books because we wanted to read them while everyone was talking about them. And we've all had our fair share of them that baffled us - how did this book become so popular? Or, we've been scared away from a book because everyone else was reading it. Sometimes it's worth waiting a bit to see how the book holds up. I definitely recommend the four of these I've read (I haven't heard of Clade to be honest).

From Bustle comes a list of 10 Nonfiction Books About Other Books, Because The History of Literature Is Fascinating. Most lists contain at least one or two books that I have no interest in picking up but I'm adding all of these to my towering TBR list. The question is where to start? I'm thinking a reread of Little Women followed by Meg, Jo, Beth Amy. Or...Prairie Fires, in light of the fact that I recently read Caroline, Little House Revisited. Hmm....

Kim Ukura, of Book Riot, has put together a list of 50 Great Narrative Nonfiction Books To Get On Your TBR List. I love narrative nonfiction so I'm pretty darn excited to check out a lot of these books. Kim is kind of my go-to person for nonfiction recommendations so I'm loving having all of these suggestions in one place.

The last list I want to share this week is The New York Times' list of The 50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 Years. Two of my co-workers just finished Tara Westover's Educated. They both loved it but both of them said it was the first memoir they had ever read. That blew my mind! So I've been trying to put together a list of other memoirs they might like. There are quite a few here I think I can safely recommend; I'm thinking Mary Karr's Lit will be my first recommendation. I think I'll finally get around to reading it, too!

Wednesday, August 21, 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.

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Recovery: Intoxication And Its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison

The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison
Published April 2018 by Little, Brown and Company
Source: my copy purchased for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
With its deeply personal and seamless blend of memoir, cultural history, literary criticism, and reportage, The Recovering turns our understanding of the traditional addiction narrative on its head, demonstrating that the story of recovery can be every bit as electrifying as the train wreck itself. Leslie Jamison deftly excavates the stories we tell about addiction—both her own and others'—and examines what we want these stories to do and what happens when they fail us. All the while, she offers a fascinating look at the larger history of the recovery movement, and at the complicated bearing that race and class have on our understanding of who is criminal and who is ill.

At the heart of the book is Jamison's ongoing conversation with literary and artistic geniuses whose lives and works were shaped by alcoholism and substance dependence, including John Berryman, Jean Rhys, Billie Holiday, Raymond Carver, Denis Johnson, and David Foster Wallace, as well as brilliant lesser-known figures such as George Cain, lost to obscurity but newly illuminated here. Through its unvarnished relation of Jamison's own ordeals, The Recovering also becomes a book about a different kind of dependency: the way our desires can make us all, as she puts it, "broken spigots of need." It's about the particular loneliness of the human experience-the craving for love that both devours us and shapes who we are.

My Thoughts:
I've read about addiction in a lot of books over the years, from Go Ask Alice when I was in junior high to, most recently, Daisy Jones and the Six. I've read memoirs and fiction. I've a lot of books by both men and women who battled addiction - William Faulkner, Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen King, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens. Jamison has read a lot of books written by addicts, too. When it was time for her to write her dissertation, it was those addicts whose journeys through addiction she chose to write about. Those were her people, writers battling their addictions.

Here Jamison has expanded on that dissertation. She writes a lot about how addiction and recovery affected creative lives. She was looking for answers to some questions - are active addicts better storytellers? are stories of active addiction more interesting? I'd add another question after reading this book and thinking about those questions - what does it say about our society when it seems that the answer is that stories of people behaving badly, giving in to their demons are more interesting to us? Perhaps the most interesting story off all the authors she included was that of Stephen King, who said he wrote The Shining "without even realizing...that I was writing about myself." But even though this piece of the book gave me much to think about, it was also this piece of the book that dragged for me.

Fortunately, there was so much in this book that made me happy that I picked it up. Jamison is incredibly honest about her own alcoholism and how it impacted her life and very open about her battle to get clean. Addiction has hit close in my family and I'm always looking for stories about people who have found a way to get and stay clean. I could picture those church basements Jamison described and the people who found their way to them. I know about addicts getting up to tell their stories and I know about the mantras that may seem trite to some but which seem to be lifelines for recovering addicts. Because Jamison is an alcoholic, her recovery experience is with Alcoholics Anonymous and she includes the history of that program. I did wish she would have touched on other groups that help other kinds of addicts; not all programs work the same.

Most interesting for me was Jamison's research into the history of the recovery movement in this country and her examination of the way we treat addicts and addiction. Have you ever heard of the Narco Farm, the "infamous prison-hospital for addicts?" Did you know that Richard Nixon, not Nancy Reagan, first initiated the so-called War on Drugs? In the past 100 years, it seems that we have made very little progress, as a society, in dealing with addiction. We rely almost entirely on programs like Alcoholic Anonymous or rehabilitation facilities that most addicts can't afford and which have a very low rate of sustained recovery.

But Jamison leaves readers with hope. Researchers continue to find new drugs that will help recovering addicts sustain their sobriety and the way addiction and treatment affect the brain. And there is hope for addicts who want to recover, who look to those fellow addicts who can show them the way.

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?

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.