Sunday, September 29, 2019

Life: It Goes On - September 29

September is over and the month that should be my favorite month is upon us. But October is also the month that we could start having winter and you know how much I loathe winter. Autumn would be much easier for me to love if only winter didn't start until the end of November. Alas, I live in Nebraska so the length of autumn is entirely at Mother Nature's whim.
Yes, I own an iron. No, I cannot
be bothered to pull it out.

To try to keep my focus on the season at hand, I've made two trips to the pumpkin farm and my house is full of pumpkins and warm fall colors. The bread machine has been pulled back out and, especially after reading all of these books about food, I'm ready to pull out the crockpot, too, and start making soups. In fact, it's grey, rainy, and in the 60's today so it may be time for the first batch of chili of the season.

Last Week I:

Listened To: Hunger by Roxane Gay (so good!) and I started Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane which I'm impressed with so far.

Watched: The season premiere of The Voice and lots of football. LOTS of football.

Read: I've been on a reading roll this week - I read Stir by Jessica Fechtor, Relish by Lucy Knisley and French Lessons by Peter Mayle. I am so inspired to get back to cooking!

Made: Two loaves of bread, BLTs (trying to get as many of these in with garden fresh tomatoes as we can!), caprese pasta (ditto with using tomatoes fresh from the garden), and grilled turkey burgers. Clearly, I've still been cooking summer meals this week!

Enjoyed: Working on a cookbook project. Ten years ago I put together a recipe book of the recipes that my side of the family has enjoyed when we've been together. Now it's time for an update that includes a lot of new recipes that each of our families enjoy, not just when we're all together. At this point, the supplement may be as big as the original book!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On finishing the cookbook project and continuing with a massive reorganization project I started yesterday in the basement. 

Thinking About: Food. See what I've been reading. I'm putting together a menu for the week today, something I rarely do in the summer months. I need a whole chicken (thanks to Stir), good mushrooms (thanks to Stir and French Lesson), and pancetta and cheese (thanks to Relish and French Lessons). Fall Feasting always  does this to me!

Feeling: Groggy. I've had a sinus headache for more than a week, thanks to the weather. I need a couple of days without low pressure and with a lot of sunshine!

Looking forward to: Getting my hair colored on Saturday. I always feel ten years younger when I leave the salon but also so relaxed. I've said it before and I'll say it again, if I ever win the lottery, I'm never doing my own hair again!

Question of the week: What's on your menu this week? Are you busting out the soups yet?

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Relish: My Life In The Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

Relish: My Life In The Kitchen by Lucy Knisley
Published April 2013 by Turtleback Books
Source: my local library

Publisher's Summary:
A graphically illustrated, recipe-complemented memoir by the indie cartoonist author of French Milk describes her food-enriched youth as the daughter of a chef and a gourmet, key memories that were marked by special meals and the ways in which cooking has imparted valuable life lessons.

My Thoughts:
Honestly, doesn't that summary make this book sounds kind of boring? It's the summary I found for the hardcover book. At the very least, it sounds so serious. Knisley may be serious about food but her storytelling is definitely not boring. First of all, it's a graphic novel - can they even be boring? For some reason, the paperback has an entirely different summary:
"Lucy Knisley loves food. The daughter of a chef and a gourmet, this talented young cartoonist comes by her obsession honestly. In her forthright, thoughtful, and funny memoir, Lucy traces key episodes in her life thus far, framed by what she was eating at the time and lessons learned about food, cooking, and life. Each chapter is bookended with an illustrated recipe—many of them treasured family dishes, and a few of them Lucy's original inventions. 
A welcome read for anyone who ever felt more passion for a sandwich than is strictly speaking proper, Relish is a graphic novel for our time: it invites the reader to celebrate food as a connection to our bodies and a connection to the earth, rather than an enemy, a compulsion, or a consumer product."
Now doesn't that sound more like a book you'd want to pick up? Knisley's writing and drawings are lighthearted and fun. What's more, although she's clearly a woman who appreciates fine food, she's not a food snob, confessing to a fondness for fast food and baking cookies.

The recipes Knisley shares at the end of each recipe are fully illustrated and, for the most part, not complex. She even makes rolling sushi look do-able. This book will not be going back to the library until I make copies of all of them. Sure, I could just write them down; but they wouldn't be nearly as much fun to make without the drawings!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life From Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
Published July 2012 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: my ebook copy checked out from my local library

Life can be hard: your lover cheats on you; you lose a family member; you can’t pay the bills—and it can be great: you’ve had the hottest sex of your life; you get that plum job; you muster the courage to write your novel. Sugar—the once-anonymous online columnist at The Rumpus, now revealed as Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestselling memoir Wild—is the person thousands turn to for advice.

Four and a half years ago, Trish (of Love, Laughter, and A Touch of Insanity) reviewed this book, a book I’d seen around but only marginally had an interest in reading. Trish wrote:
“Strayed takes these incredibly difficult questions and answers them with such honesty and clarity and gorgeously spun words that often my heart ached reading her responses. She talks about her own life and her own challenges (making this book as much a memoir as an advice piece) and she asks her readers to take a hard and deep look within. Sometimes we don’t want to see the answer that is staring us directly in the face, but Strayed squares us by the shoulders and locks into us that impossible gaze of honesty.”
I knew I had to read this one as soon as I read Trish’s review. I was also convinced that I wanted to own the book so I have spent the past four and a half years trying to find an inexpensive copy. I finally gave up on holding out for that. It appears that people hold on to this book once they’ve read it. Having read it, finally, I know why.
“Love is the feeling we have for those we care deeply about and hold in high regard. It can be light as the hug we give a friend or heavy as the sacrifices we make for our children. It can be romantic, platonic, familial, fleeting, everlasting, conditional, unconditional, imbued with sorrow, stoked by sex, sullied by abuse, amplified by kindness, twisted by betrayal, deepened by time, darkened by difficulty, leavened by generosity, nourished by humor, and “loaded with promises and commitments” that we may or may not want to keep. The best thing you can do with your life is to tackle the motherf*%@ing sh@~ out of love.”
Right up until that last sentence, you would have thought this was a book I could put into anyone’s hands. But Strayed uses the f-word liberally, including when referencing sex and she is brutally honest. This is not a book for everyone. But, for the readers of the Dear Sugar column who knew what to expect, and for those of us not especially bothered by those things, Strayed gives thoughtful, caring advice that, despite her pseudonym, is not sugar-coated in any way. She empathizes with those who are hurting, gives step-by-step advice for those who need them, and opens herself up in order to help others. Those who need comfort will find it in Sugar’s responses. But Strayed also flat out asks one letter writer if she knows what boundaries are and tells another that she is arrogant. Those looking for an easy answer will not find one.

If you decide to pick up this book, take your time with it. It is not a book to be raced through, but to be absorbed and considered. Thanks, Trish, for convincing me to pick this one up!

Monday, September 23, 2019

Life: It Goes On - September 23

Happy fall, y’all!
I have no idea why I suddenly became a Southerner – you would not believe how often I randomly start talking in some accent that makes no sense at all. Nevertheless, I am finally embracing the fact that it’s fall. I bought a small mountain of pumpkins on Saturday and decided, almost as soon as I left the farm, that I need more. Even though I have no idea where I’m putting all of the pumpkins and gourds I already bought. Miss H would say I’m “so extra.”

Last Week I:

Listened to: All Hamilton, all of the time. I anticipate that I’ll continue to listen to it some this week as I relive the show but I think it’s time to move on, too, to Roxane Gay’s Hunger.

Watched: The season finale of America’s Got Talent and lots of football. Friday, The Big Guy splurged and went to the cheap theater to see Yesterday. We both enjoyed it a lot. For the drive home I even turned off Hamilton so that I could listen to the Beatles.

Read: I finished Tiny Beautiful Things and This Blessed Earth and read Lucy Kinsey’s Relish: My Life In The Kitchen as part of my Fall Feasting reading. Today I’m starting Jessica Fechtor’s Stir.

Made: Remember how I told you last week that I had my cooking mojo back? Yeah, not so much this week. I did make a yummy chicken pasta dish one night. In my defense, there has been a lot of coming and going this week at our house so it’s been a lot of quick and easy meals for whoever happened to be home to eat that night.

Enjoyed: I think enjoyed might be too weak a word. Mini-him and I went to Hamilton yesterday. There’s a part of me that wishes I weren’t so family with the soundtrack so I hadn’t spent so much time comparing voices but I really did love it. The cast was wonderful and the staging was just incredible. It was fun to get Mini-him’s perspective on how this performance was different from the one he’d previously seen and to hear the responses of those around us who clearly weren’t familiar with the music.

This Week I'm:

Thinking About: We spent Saturday with our friends whose son died a few months ago. They are learning to move on but it’s tough. Each of the family is grieving in their own way and it’s definitely a strain on their relationships. I can’t stop thinking about the long road they still have ahead of them.

Feeling: A little down. I’d been looking forward to Hamilton for months and I’m a little sad that it’s now in the past. Unless I wanted to pony up another couple hundred to go see it again. I’m going to say that The Big Guy probably won’t go for that!

Looking Forward To: A quiet week. We have absolutely nothing on the calendar. Hopefully more time home this week means my house can be put back to rights.

Question of the Week: How many pumpkins do you buy?

All The Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

All The Ugly And Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood
Published August 2016 by St. Martin's Publishing Group
Source: my ebook copy checked out from my local library

Publisher’s Summary:
A beautiful and provocative love story between two unlikely people and the hard-won relationship that elevates them above the Midwestern meth lab backdrop of their lives.
As the daughter of a drug dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. It's safer to keep her mouth shut and stay out of sight. Struggling to raise her little brother, Donal, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible adult around. Obsessed with the constellations, she finds peace in the starry night sky above the fields behind her house, until one night her star gazing causes an accident. After witnessing his motorcycle wreck, she forms an unusual friendship with one of her father's thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold.

By the time Wavy is a teenager, her relationship with Kellen is the only tender thing in a brutal world of addicts and debauchery. When tragedy rips Wavy's family apart, a well-meaning aunt steps in, and what is beautiful to Wavy looks ugly under the scrutiny of the outside world.

My Thoughts:
In 2016, when this book was published, it was the Book of the Month Club’s Book of the Year. It was Goodreads runner up as Best Fiction of 2016. Library Journal says this book is so “dangerous that it should come with a warning label.” Kelly Jensen, of Book Riot, says it is “gritty and dark and tough and uncomfortable.” One Goodreads reviewer said that when she came to the end of this book, she was “completely unsure exactly what I did feel about it..” My thoughts exactly. Then she added, “but one thing is certain: I felt.” Which was also true for me.

Here’s the thing: there are a lot of ugly things in Wavy Quinn’s life. But the very thing that will make readers most uncomfortable, the very thing that should be the ugliest thing in a book, the very thing that almost made me have to set the book aside for a while? For Wavy, that’s the most wonderful thing in her life.

From the very beginning of the book, we desperately want Wavy to have something wonderful. Her mother is a drug addict so deep into her addiction and depression that she can rarely pull herself out of bed. Her father is an even worse parent. Enter Kellen, a giant of a man raised in an equally damaged home with a history of violence. But tiny Wavy sees another side of Kellen. With Wavy, Kellen is gentle and caring. She teaches him about the stars and makes him want to be better. I felt happy that they had found each other and created their own family. And no matter what happened in the book, I never stopped wanting both of them to find happiness.

Provocative? Yes. But also marvelously told, filled with interesting, well-written characters and vivid descriptions. Greenwood moves the story along quickly, using multiple narrators but I never lost track of where I was in time and Greenwood never lost focus. This book challenges readers to check their judgment at the door, which is never easy. So, yes, this book made me squirm a little; but, in the end, it was a beautifully told story about people I won’t soon forget.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

It’s all about the book in this week’s edition of Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic - the actual physical book, not a digital edition hidden away on your electronic reading device.

Fast Company wants us to know Why You Should Surround Yourself With More Books Than You’ll Ever Have Time To Read. I cannot tell you how excited I was when I first saw this article. Not only did it give me permission to keep buying more books, but it also gave me permission not to feel guilty about not yet having read the books I already own. The article cites the 30,000 volume library of Umberto Eco (more on that later) and suggests that his library kept him intellectually hungry and perpetually curious. I’m not suggesting that you accumulate 30,000 books…unless you want to. After all, who am I to put a cap on your curiosity?

Karl Lagerfeld

Nigella Lawson
About Mr. Eco – Open Culture gives us this video of Umberto Eco walking through his library.
Of course, Eco is not the only famous person who owns(ed) a lot of books. Emily Temple, LitHub, compiled this list of 10 Famous Book Hoarders with honorable mention for several more who didn’t quite make the list. Mind you, in the day and age when books were significant investments, Thomas Jefferson’s 6,487 books looks significantly more impressive than a present day collection of the same number of books.

Finally, from Matt Grant at Book Riot, comes this article about the Japanese art form of tsundoku to help us feel better about those shelves of unread books. According to the article, A. Edward Newton, an avid book collector who wrote three books on the subject a century ago, wrote “the presence of books acquired produces such an ecstasy that the buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching toward infinity…We cherish books even if unread, their mere presence exudes comfort, their ready access reassurance.” So mental health therapy, right? And at a price far less than a therapy session would cost! So this weekend, venture out and buy the books. It’s good for you!

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
Read by Kate Lock
Published September 2016 by Little, Brown and Company
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
An English nurse brought to a small Irish village to observe what appears to be a miracle - a girl said to have survived without food for months - soon finds herself fighting to save the child's life.

Tourists flock to the cabin of eleven-year-old Anna O'Donnell, who believes herself to be living off manna from heaven, and a journalist is sent to cover the sensation. Lib Wright, a veteran of Florence Nightingale's Crimean campaign, is hired to keep watch over the girl.

My Thoughts:
I've only just finished this book this morning, racing to the end before my loan expired. I'm certain the book suffered from the fact that I had to listen to it, much of the time I had it, at 1.5 speed. While I often felt as if the book were going nowhere and I just wanted Donoghue to get on with it, I attribute much of that to the fact that I was feeling a rush to get through the book. Why do all of my library loans have to come in sooner than I am planning for them and why does there always seem to be at least one person waiting to get ahold of the book so that I can't renew it?!

On the other hand, perhaps Donoghue meant to do that, meant to have readers understand the long days stuck in one room, the slow dying of little Anna, the hours for Lib to do nothing but go inside her own head. And, to be fair, it did take some time for Lib to reach her various conclusions about what was happening and who was at fault. Here is where Donoghue was a bit of a master mystery writer - Lib invariably came to her conclusions as she pondered what someone had told her earlier, things the reader was privy to and might have caught earlier than Lib. I never did, but I always recalled what had been said.

That having been said, the last two hours of the book races along, with secrets being revealed left and right. Then I so wished I could slow the book down and really enjoy the revel and be able to get caught up in the tension. The lesson here is this - if you decide to read or listen to this book, take your time and don't give up on it.

Donoghue throws organized religion (particularly the Catholic faith with its miracles and sainthood) and the medical profession of the 19th century, under the bus. And then backs the bus back up over them. While she does let the village priest and a nun who is also keeping watch with Lib up off the ground to brush themselves off, the dogma of religion and the village doctor with his antiquated ways don't fare well.

Through all of this, Donoghue also manages to educate readers about Ireland's potato famine and about Florence Nightingale. Nightingale became known as "The Lady With The Lamp" because of the rounds she made of soldiers at night. This has always conjured up, in my mind, a warm, compassionate woman who offered the soldiers kindness as well as care. Donoghue uses Lib to show us that, while Nightingale was among the first to recognize the importance of sanitary conditions and proper living conditions and was instrumental in turning nursing into a revered profession, her emphasis was on keeping a professional distance and not becoming so entangled with patients that their care suffered. I certainly had expected, when I picked this book up, to learn so much or to have it leading me to do more research. You know how I love that in a book!

The ending of the book was a little too neat and tidy for me while, at the same time, leaving me frustrated that nothing seemed to have been learned by those in Anna's village who encouraged her fasting.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Midnight In Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham

Midnight In Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham
Published February 2019 by Simon and Schuster
Source: ebook checked out from my local library

Publisher’s Summary:
April 25, 1986 in Chernobyl was a turning point in world history. The disaster not only changed the world’s perception of nuclear power and the science that spawned it, but also our understanding of the planet’s delicate ecology. With the images of the abandoned homes and playgrounds beyond the barbed wire of the 30-kilometer Exclusion Zone, the rusting graveyards of contaminated trucks and helicopters, the farmland lashed with black rain, the event fixed for all time the notion of radiation as an invisible killer.

Chernobyl was also a key event in the destruction of the Soviet Union, and, with it, the United States’ victory in the Cold War. For Moscow it was a political and financial catastrophe as much as an environmental and scientific one. With a total cost of 18 billion rubles—at the time equivalent to $18 billion—Chernobyl bankrupted an already teetering economy and revealed to its population a state built upon a pillar of lies.

The full story of the events that started that night in the control room of Reactor No.4 of the V.I. Lenin Nuclear Power Plant has never been told—until now. Through two decades of reporting, new archival information, and firsthand interviews with witnesses, journalist Adam Higginbotham tells the full dramatic story, including Alexander Akimov and Anatoli Dyatlov, who represented the best and worst of Soviet life; denizens of a vanished world of secret policemen, internal passports, food lines, and heroic self-sacrifice for the Motherland.

My Thoughts:
Recently HBO aired a mini-series called Chernobyl. We didn’t catch all of it but enough of it to make me interested in learning more so I turned to the library to see what was available. As it turned out, this book had only recently been published so I figured I’d grab up the newest book on the subject. Then I waited for weeks to get it. By the time I finally got it, and saw that it was almost 600 pages long, I began to doubt myself.

Two weeks later, I am surprisingly happy to tell you that I have a pretty damn good idea of how nuclear reactors work. Now there's a sentence I never expected to be saying (er, typing). Not only do I have a pretty good idea about how the reactors work, I have a really good idea about all of the ways they can fail. And I found it all of that science fascinating. I love, love when an author can do that for me (and a little annoyed that it couldn't have been made more interesting for me when I was in school!).

But, as you'll have surmised by the summary, this is not just a book about how a nuclear reactor failed. It's a book about how the Cold War lead to a rush to move nuclear weapon technology into energy production, how it lead to a race to build the reactors despite evidence of the dangers being built into the reactors, and how it lead to an unwillingness to admit failure. It's also a book about the crushing bureaucracy that not only contributed to the failure of Reactor Number Four but also lead to a massive coverup of the failure, inept attempts at containing the disaster, and disastrous care of the human beings impacted.

It's a long one that I thought I might never finish. I was highlighting so many things, including names I was certain I would need to be able to remember later. But Higginbotham is good about reminding readers who all of players are as he reintroduces them again and again. And, eventually, I came to realize that this is a library book; there's not much need to highlight when I won't be able to go back later and refresh myself on what I learned.

Higginbotham includes quite a few photos which I always enough in a nonfiction book, as well as an epilogue that follows up on the players who survived more than thirty years after the incident. As far as I can tell (and as far as he was able, given that much of the evidence is still hidden, labelled as top secret), this book is incredibly well researched. But now I need to go back to the HBO mini-series which, I now realize, took liberties to make the show more dramatic.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Readers Imbibing Peril (R.I.P.) 14

It's that time of year again - time for Readers Imbibing Peril, or RIP. You all know by know that I'm not a big reader of scary books and I'm not crazy wild about Halloween so it would seem odd that I do enjoy this blog world activity every year. But I always enjoy the push to read books that are out of my normal comfort zone, books, perhaps that have been languishing on my TBR for all too long (like one of last year's reads We Have Always Lived In The Castle) or even books that have been on my shelves for years.

This year my goal is simple - read a book that I have owned in excess of 40 years which I cannot remember ever having read. How is that even possible? I hauled home armloads of books from the library every chance I got growing up, was thrilled to receive books as gifts, and read the backs of cereal boxes when there was nothing else new to read. To be honest, I can't actually remember if I did read it. Maybe I did and it's left my memory. But it seems unlikely that I would have forgotten any book I'd read so completely, especially when I actually owned so few books. So, after all of that, my one goal this year is to make sure I read 50 Great Horror Stories edited by John Canning.

Now, if I get through that, it's possible, just possible, that this will be the year I finally read Dracula. But if you'd like to give me other suggestions for books I might enjoy, I'm more than happy to put that one off for another year!

Here's what you need to know about RIP if you're interested in joining us:

The purpose of the R.I.P. Challenge is to enjoy books that could be classified as:

Dark Fantasy.

The emphasis is never on the word challenge, instead it is about coming together as a community and embracing the autumnal mood, whether the weather is cooperative where you live or not.

The goals are simple.

1. Have fun reading.

2. Share that fun with others.

As we do each and every year, there are multiple levels of participation (Perils) that allow you to be a part of R.I.P. XIV without adding the burden of another commitment to your already busy lives. There is even a one book only option for those who feel that this sort of reading is not their cup of tea (or who have many other commitments) but want to participate all the same.

Multiple perils await you. You can participate in just one, or participate in them all.

Peril the First:

Read four books, any length, that you feel fit (our very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be Stephen King or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Shirley Jackson or Tananarive Due…or anyone in between.

Peril the Second:

Read two books of any length that you believe fit within the challenge categories.

Peril the Third:

We all want you to participate. This Peril involves reading one book that fits within the R.I.P. definition.

Peril of the Short Story:

We are fans of short stories and our desire for them is perhaps no greater than in autumn. We see Jackson in our future for sure! You can read short stories any time during the challenge. We sometimes like to read short stories over the weekend and post about them around that time. Feel free to do this however you want, but if you review short stories on your site, please link to those reviews on our RIPXIV Book Review pages.

Peril on the Screen:

This is for those of us who like to watch suitably scary, eerie, mysterious gothic fare during this time of year. It may be something on the small screen or large. It might be a television show, like Dark Shadows, or your favorite film. If you are so inclined, please post links to any R.I.P.-related viewing you do on our book review pages as well.

Peril of the Review:

Submit a short review of any book you read and you may see it here on the blog! Again, you may participate in one or all of the various Perils. Our one demand: enjoy yourself!
The R.I.P. XIV Challenge does not require you to read from a pre-selected list of books, but like many of you we love to get ideas from what others are thinking of reading. If you want to include a pool of potential reads when you sign up, either in the comments or on your own sign up post on your social media channel of choice (not required for participation), please do!
This challenge is always a joy because of one thing: you! You sharing your passion for books, reading, films, television, etc. helps bring us together and ensures that we all have a great time. Thank each and every one of you who choose to participate on any level. We are honored that you would choose to do so.

So sign up below and join us, won’t you? It’s going to be a screaming good time.

Starts September 1st. Use the #ripxiv hashtag on all the socials.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Life: It Goes On - September 15

Where did this week go?! I wish I could say it flew by in exciting events or super productive days, and some of it was because of those things; but mostly it was just the usual stuff.

I did get a lot of reading done this week (now I just need to get caught up on reviews), The Big Guy and I had a fun date night, and I made a lot of tweaks around the house to keep things interesting. At least I didn't end the week feeling like I'd wasted too much time on mindless things (I'm looking at you, Instagram, you black hole, you!).

Last Week I:

Listened To: See sidebar. I finished The Wonder and with no new audiobook in queue at the moment, it's time to imprint Hamilton on my brain before Mini-him and I go see it on Sunday.

Watched: More Orange Is The New Black (BG works late on Mondays so Miss H and I knock off a couple of episodes every Monday), America's Got Talent, college football (of course!), and the first episode of A Very Brady Renovation. I'm looking forward to seeing more of the HGTV and Brady Bunch stars recreate that house so many of us grew up with.

Read: I raced through All The Ugly Wonderful Things and I'm still processing it - it may take awhile before I can write my review. I have three digital books and three books in print out from the library right now so I'm going to have to keep up my reading pace this week!

Made: Chicken caprese pasta, peanut butter cooks, bbq chicken - I can't actually remember what we ate like this but I did cook real meals most nights.

Cocktail bar in the Joslyn Castle
Enjoyed: Five hours of Happy Hour with friends on Friday evening, a few hours with all of my siblings at my parents' house today, and an evening at a Mark Twain Launch Party at Joslyn Castle with my hubby (bourbon tasting, tasty treats, live music, and some Mark Twains strolling around).  Did I ever tell you we have a castle in Omaha?

This Week I’m: 

Planning: One of Miss H's friends spur-of-the-moment spent the night last night. She told Miss H that our guest room was creepy with all of the old family pictures hanging on the walls. I'm not going to take all of those pictures out of the room; but if it feels creepy, it might be time to change things up a bit in there. If I'm doing that, I'm going to have to go get some paint - I literally used every last drop of a gallon of paint the last time I painted in there. 

Thinking About: My family - life is tough sometimes and I don't know what we'd do without each other.

Feeling: A little bit like I'm spinning my wheels and getting no where. Which is sort of why I'm tweaking things around here. Sometimes a little change around here can give me the inspiration to get on with things.

Looking forward to: Book club on Tuesday and Hamilton on Sunday!

Question of the week: As I have the past couple of falls, I'm planning to try really hard not to look beyond fall. But I'm having a tougher time this year already. For those of you who experience a real winter, how do you keep yourself from get down as winter approaches?

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

In this week's episode of "Let's Clean Up Lisa's Bookish-Related Facebook Saves," I'm looking at books about children. I wasn't sure why I, who have only adult children, would have saved posts about books for little people. But as soon as I started looking at the lists, I remembered how much joy children's books have bought me over the years. And now I want start rereading the children's books that I've been saving.

Gretchen Rubin, who is a huge fan of children's literature, shared a list of her 81 favorite children's and young adult books. The list only includes one book by any given author so only James And The Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, The Fault In Our Stars by John Green, and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. Most of my favorites are on this list, as are many of my kids' favorites. There are also a lot of books on this list that I've never even heard of!

From Romper comes a list of 19 Obscure Children's Books Your Child Should Have On Their Shelf. Again, there are a couple of books here that I've never heard of but I'm pretty excited to see All Of A Kind Family, Pippi Longstockings In The South Seas, and Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang on this list.

Some of the same books that appeared on these lists also appear on The New York Public Library's 100 Great Children's Books|100 Years. If you're invited to a book shower or a children's birthday party, you can't go wrong with buying any of the books on this list. You've got to figure that this list includes books that have been popular with children at the library for decades. I've chosen to show you Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon which was one of my son's favorite books when he was little and which I credit for providing him early encouragement for his creative mind.

After looking at these lists, is there anything missing that you would include?

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Fall Feasting 2019

Several years ago I decided to devote a good portion of my fall reading to books about food. As much as I adore summer and love sitting on the patio eating salads, when the temps start to drop and the leaves start to change, I start to get my cooking mojo back. It stands to reason that books about food are just going to give me that much more inspiration. Last fall, it kind of got away from me but I'm feeling ready to mix in some food books this year so I'm brining it back.

I'm kicking this Fall Feasting season off with Lucy Knisley's Relish: My Life In The Kitchen, a graphic novel. I haven't read a graphic novel in a long while. If this goes well, I may just pick up Knisley's French Milk when I take Relish back to the library.

Also on my list of possible reads this fall are:
Stir: My Broken Brain and the Foods That Brought Me Home by Jessica Fechtor
Animal, Vegetable, Mineral by Barbara Kingsolver
French Lessons by Peter Mayle
Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Harvest by Richard Horan

What books would you recommend for me to add to my list?

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Read by Cathleen McCarron
Published May 2017 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

My Thoughts: 
Everyone was reading this book in 2017. Because everyone was reading this book in 2017, I had that reaction that has so often saved me from reading a book I would rather not have read. I put it on the tbr list where books so often go to die. But everyone is still reading this book - I had to wait 16 weeks to get the audiobook from my library. If everyone is still reading this book, maybe there's something to it.

There is.

Did I not actually read any of the reviews of this book back in 2017? Because I was certain, for two years, that this must be one of the sweet, feel-good books that might be just the right book at certain times but lacks the depth that makes it anything more than a sherbet kind of read.

I was wrong.

Well, I was and I wasn't. It is a sweet, feel-good book. But there is a depth to it that completely took me by surprise. In many ways Eleanor reminded me of Don Tillman (Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project). Eleanor is a woman set in her ways, socially awkward, judgmental, and often rude. But Eleanor has a history that explains much about why she is so bad at social interaction and seems to feel she is superior to others. As Honeyman slowly revels Eleanor's past, she sucks readers in in much the same way as does a mystery book. I needed to know what happened to Eleanor and I needed to know that she was going to be ok. As unlikable as Eleanor is in the beginning, there is a person inside who desperately wants to be loved. Honeyman is masterful at getting readers to love Eleanor.

I was sad for this book to end but Honeyman ended it exactly the way it should be ended. This one is going on my book club's list for 2020 - I wish I could have them read it sooner!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Life: It Goes On - September 8

Grey, gloomy, and threatening to rain - so far September is looking very much like much of August. I'm not a fan of weather like this in the first place; but the fact that it is making it difficult for my tomatoes to ripen is making me more than a little cranky. It has made for excellent reading weather, which is a good thing because I have so many book checked out from the library that are about to expire. Why do they all have to become available at the same time?!

Last Week I:

Listened To: I'm hoping to finish Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine today so I can get back to The Wonder tomorrow. I'm sure I've read reviews of Eleanor Oliphant but it still surprised me by its dark undertone.

Watched: Football - it's back for real now! Also, I've finally reached the final season of Orange Is The New Black. This morning I'm watching a marathon of Good Bones on HGTV.

Read: I'd been racing through books until the past couple of weeks when I hit Midnight In Chernobyl, which is over 1000 pages long. Also, I'm pretty sure I only read about 100 pages in the six days I was six days I was out of town.

Made: Bruschetta, nachos, caprese pasta, salads - lots of summer kinds of foods. Yesterday, though, I pulled out a container of frozen chicken taco soup because it was chilly and it has me thinking of new soups to try. As much as I hate for summer to end, I can't seem to stop myself from moving into fall!

Enjoyed: Friday evening on the patio with friends. We'd planned to do happy hour but it was so nice we decided we needed to make sure we could sit outside for as long as we wanted. It was the kind of evening I live for all winter!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: I'm not sure what project is up next. I've got a big reorganization planned for the basement but I'm not sure I want to spend nice days down working on that. Perhaps it's time to try deconstructing a chair. Or maybe I'll just sew some new pillow covers instead. That seems more do-able, right?

Thinking About: Christmas. Yes, I said it. It's time to start thinking about gifts before I'm racing around like a chicken with my head cut off in December. I've got some ideas for gifts to make and those always take longer than I think they will.

Feeling: There are some things going on right now that have me a little cranky and stressed. Stupid, toxic people need to get out of my life. And I need to find ways to decompress.

Looking forward to: Time with friends and family next weekend!

Question of the week: Of course, I turn to books to relax but I need your best ideas for other ways to find your inner peace. What's your go-to to put yourself in a better place?

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

Recently I reviewed Melanie Benjamin's latest book, Mistress of the Ritz. In going through my Facebook saves, I discovered this post from Benjamin in September 2018:
"You know what's a good way to take care of yourself with all that's going on in the world? Read a book. And particularly, read fiction. I'm not telling any tales out of school when I say that fiction is not doing so well right now in this climate, not compared to the weekly hot new political memoir, obsessive Twitter refreshing, and the latest "Binge-worthy" drop on Netflix. Even some of my closest friends, devoted readers, have admitted that they haven't read a novel in a long time, even as they can recommend a list of recent nonfiction as long as their arms! And I like nonfiction, I do. But fiction takes us away, immerses us in new worlds while shutting out the noise of this one; it beguiles, it beckons, it helps us experience different lives, fascinating lives and stories. There is no better distraction than a big thumping novel that keeps you up at night. Try it. You'll like it!"

The other day I noticed that I had entirely forgotten to put together a list of books I've enjoyed in 2019. As I went back through the books I've read this year, I realized that I've read much more nonfiction than I usually read (although the nonfiction books I've read haven't necessarily been related to politics, which is what I believe Benjamin is referring to above). In the past couple of weeks, I've been racing through fiction books again and really enjoying what I've been reading. I'm certain I would have enjoyed these books any time I might have picked them up; but it's also possible that I just need to immerse myself into something that has nothing to do with the current climate.

I'm going to continue to work to read what I'm in the mood for, be that fiction or nonfiction. But, while I'm all for reading books that make us think, that teach us something, I'm also convinced that one of reading's great qualities is that it takes us away from the world we live in and into the world of imagination. I'm going to try to make sure that I spend as much time in that world as I do in the real world in my reading.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Life: It Goes On - September 4

The wedding trip has come and gone - how did six days pass by so quickly?! Re-entry yesterday was, as it always is, a little rough. I'm still tired and sad that I didn't have time to explore more while I was north. But I got to spend lots of time with my kiddos, which you know I love. And the wedding was beautiful. And I got to spend a lot of time with my parents and time with my siblings. Also, there was a giant lake I got to spend time right next to for days.

Last Week I:

Listened To: I didn't have much time for listening to a book in the past week. Mostly I thoroughly enjoyed listening to my kids enjoying each other's company. I love that they discuss world issues together, confide in each other, and lean on each other. This week was all about them teasing each other and laughing together. So much laughter and so many jokes that we will be laughing about for a long time.

Watched: My niece get married, duh! There were some tears, there was some laughter (my brother-in-law actually dropped his drawers during his father-of-the-bride speech!), there were a lot of smiles, and there was a whole lot of baltering. What's that you ask? Balter: (v.) to dance artlessly, without particularly grace or skill, but usually with enjoyment. And that was just my siblings and me!

Read: Ugh - I'm not getting one book done before the next one becomes available from the library so I'm trying to get through Midnight In Chernobyl and then I'll go back to This Blessed Earth.

Made: Travel food - muffins, hard boiled eggs, brownies. We rolled into our hotel looking like total white trash with our box of food and two coolers.

Enjoyed: I'm pretty sure you've figured this out by now - wedding, time with my family, Duluth. Perhaps the thing I enjoyed the most was watching my daughter having a blast in a situation that might have been really hard for her. I was so proud of her!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On finishing up my early fall decorating. That doesn't mean I'm giving up on summer and there won't be pumpkin anything in my near future. But, there is a chill in the air these days. And Instagram is telling me it's time, so...

Thinking About: A major reorganization in my basement. You know I always need something to be planning that will take me much longer than I expect it to take. This should fill the bill.

Feeling: Meh. It's the let down after something you were looking forward to is past.

Looking forward to: Hamilton in two and a half weeks! Time to be listening to it nonstop!

Question of the week: Do you makeover your house for the change of seasons?

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal
Read by Judith Ivey*
Published July 2019 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher’s Summary:
Two sisters, one farm. A family is split when their father leaves their shared inheritance entirely to Helen, his younger daughter. Despite baking award-winning pies at the local nursing home, her older sister, Edith, struggles to make what most people would call a living. So she can't help wondering what her life would have been like with even a portion of the farm money her sister kept for herself. 

With the proceeds from the farm, Helen builds one of the most successful light breweries in the country, and makes their company motto ubiquitous: "Drink lots. It's Blotz." Where Edith has a heart as big as Minnesota, Helen's is as rigid as a steel keg. Yet one day, Helen will find she needs some help herself, and she could find a potential savior close to home. . . if it's not too late.

Meanwhile, Edith's granddaughter, Diana, grows up knowing that the real world requires a tougher constitution than her grandmother possesses. She earns a shot at learning the IPA business from the ground up—will that change their fortunes forever, and perhaps reunite her splintered family?

Here we meet a cast of lovable, funny, quintessentially American characters eager to make their mark in a world that's often stacked against them.

My Thoughts:
Returning to the format that made his debut, Kitchens of the Great Midwest so popular, Stradal again gives us a generational story of a family torn apart and the way that rift impacts each of them. That book used one central character with the story moved forward from the point of view of many people who came into her life. It was a really interesting way to tell the story and you never entirely lost sight of the central character. Here Stradal utilizes a more traditional form, telling his story from just the points of view of his three central characters.

Because of the nature of the story, this meant that one or more of the characters kept disappearing from the story, sometimes for long periods. The truth of the matter was that not much of importance to the story was happening to those characters during that time period so it’s fine that we didn’t get that; but when the story more or less switched from being Edith’s and Helen’s story to being Diana’s story, it took some getting used to the change. Eventually, though, it all circles back, as you know it will from the beginning; and I found the way Stradal handled that very satisfying.

As he did with food in Kitchens, Stradal goes into detail about the ingredients and flavors and even smells of beer as well as the exploding craft brewing industry and the way that turned traditional brewing on its ear. And, as he did with foodies in Kitchens, Stradal is quick to mock those who take it all too seriously. I’m a big fan of craft beers but I have no idea of the specific ingredients that go into making my favorite porter. My son, on the other hand, is very knowledgeable about beer and has very definite opinions about craft beers in particular. He will happily chat up a brewer, which might make some of the characters here happy, but certainly makes him a target of Stradal’s mirth.

The Lager Queen of Minnesota does require some suspension of disbelief. Diana is forced to make her first beer 22 times before the brewery owner finally decides she’s made something worth selling; but, later, the grandmas that start working for her are allowed to put their first efforts out into the world. These are ladies with no experience in beer making who didn’t hesitate to believe they could create a beer. Putting them through their paces just wouldn’t have fit the time line, so we have to be ok with that. We also have to be ok with the idea that anyone would buy a pie flavored beer. I only know of one person who wouldn’t hesitate to try it (and you know who you are….Dad!). But these ladies need to be allowed to make beers they would drink and we have to believe that there are other people out there who would feel the same way. For the sake of the story, I was willing to do that.

The publisher calls the cast of this book “lovable, funny, quintessentially American characters.” I disagree. This cast is at quintessentially Midwestern, certainly quintessentially Minnesotan. Which is just fine; Stradal knows these people and clearly has great fondness for them. I was impressed with how well Stradal wrote female characters in Kitchens and he hasn’t lost a step here. This book is absolutely about women stepping up and stepping into traditional male roles and about women finding ways to make their lives work, no matter what it takes.

Lager Queen lacks the gut punches and certain element of darkness that Kitchens sometimes had so it lacked some of that depth. But there are characters here to like, characters you won’t care much for, successes, sadness, and hard times. But it’s an uplifting book that you will probably race through. And, in the end, when you hear something on tv about Citra and Simcoe hops (as I did just after I finished this book), you’ll feel mighty darn smart because you already know what those do to a beer!

*Judith Ivey does a commendable job reading this book (although she is stronger with the older
women’s voices than some of the others). I’d definitely pick up other books she’s read.