Friday, December 31, 2021

Four Mini-Reviews

Remember how I told you that, even thought my reading was way down, where I was really failing was in getting the reviews written? So in order to start the new year off with a clean slate, I'm going to have a second post on this last day of the year and do mini-reviews of the last four books I finished in 2021. 

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
Read by Aoife McMahon 
Published September 2021 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
11 Hours

Publisher's Summary:
Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a warehouse, and asks him if he’d like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend, Eileen, is getting over a break-up and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood. Alice, Felix, Eileen, and Simon are still young—but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They have sex, they worry about sex, they worry about their friendships and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?

My Thoughts:
I've been meaning to get to one of Rooney's books for a long time so when this one started getting buzz, I decided it was as good a place to start as any. And it won the Good Reads Choice Award for Fiction for 2021, an award chosen by people like myself. 

I gave up on it 70% in. I never give up on a book when I'm more than half way through it but I couldn't stand any more of any of these characters or the weird way that Rooney paced her story. There were long emails between Alice and Eileen where one or the other of them opined about the state of the world and then we were treated to long passages of the minutiae of their lives. And sex. Lots of sex. It might be a good book - it wasn't for me at this time. And while Aoife McMahon did a terrific job, maybe I would have enjoyed it more in print. I'll never find out because there are too many other books I'd rather pick up. 

Bewilderment by Richard Powers
Read by Edoardo Bellerini
Published September 2021 by W. W. Norton Company 
8 Hours

Publisher's Summary:
The astrobiologist Theo Byrne searches for life throughout the cosmos while singlehandedly raising his unusual nine-year-old son, Robin, following the death of his wife. Robin is funny, loving, and filled with plans. He thinks and feels deeply and can spend hours painting elaborate pictures of the endangered animals he loves. He is also about to be expelled from third grade for smashing his friend in the face. 

 What can a father do, when the only solution offered to his troubled son is to put him on psychoactive drugs? What can he say when his boy comes to him wanting an explanation for a world that is clearly in love with its own destruction? With its soaring descriptions of the natural world, its tantalizing visions of life beyond and its account of a father and son's ferocious love, Bewilderment marks Richard Powers's most intimate and moving novel. At its heart lies the question: How can we tell our children the truth about this beautiful, imperiled planet?

My Thoughts:
This one is written by a Pulitzer Prize winner, a prize awarded not by readers like me. And I read and found enough in Powers' The Overstory to be intrigued to see how he would incorporate science into a story about interesting people this time. 

Like The Overstory, Kirkus Reviews and I agree about this one. While it can veer into planetary fantasy frequently, those pieces also serve to give readers insight into the relationship between father and son. And it's a marvelous relationship between a man who is deeply grieving the wife he adored and his challenging son who is equally lost without the person who understood him best. 

Powers makes his opinion of the previous administration, about climate change and what humans are doing to our planet, and his thoughts about our eagerness to medicate over finding better solutions clear. And yet this one did not feel quite a preachy. Maybe because I agree with him. Maybe because I cared so much about Theo and Robin. 

The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris
Read by William DeMeritt
Published June 2021 by Hachette Book Group
12 Hours

Publisher's Summary: 
In the waning days of the Civil War, brothers Prentiss and Landry—freed by the Emancipation Proclamation—seek refuge on the homestead of George Walker and his wife, Isabelle. The Walkers, wracked by the loss of their only son to the war, hire the brothers to work their farm, hoping through an unexpected friendship to stanch their grief. Prentiss and Landry, meanwhile, plan to save money for the journey north and a chance to reunite with their mother, who was sold away when they were boys.

Parallel to their story runs a forbidden romance between two Confederate soldiers. The young men, recently returned from the war to the town of Old Ox, hold their trysts in the woods. But when their secret is discovered, the resulting chaos, including a murder, unleashes convulsive repercussions on the entire community. In the aftermath of so much turmoil, it is Isabelle who emerges as an unlikely leader, proffering a healing vision for the land and for the newly free citizens of Old Ox.

With candor and sympathy, debut novelist Nathan Harris creates an unforgettable cast of characters, depicting Georgia in the violent crucible of Reconstruction. Equal parts beauty and terror, as gripping as it is moving, The Sweetness of Water is an epic whose grandeur locates humanity and love amid the most harrowing circumstances.

My Thoughts:
Yep, 100% agree with the publisher on this one. These characters are unforgettable and Harris does a wonderful job of balancing the terror and beauty of this time, this place, and these people. While very bad things do happen, though, Harris balances that with hope and it made all the difference for me. I'm not sure why this one didn't get more press and acclaim. 

For the second time in one post, I have to admit to agreeing with Kirkus Reviews who found this book just as moving as I did. 

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab
Read by Julia Whalen
Published October 2020 by Tom Dougherty Associates

Publisher's Summary: 
France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets. Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world. But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.

My Thoughts: 
If you look at this one on Goodreads, you'll find that you'll see a lot of one- and two-star reviews and then a lot of five-star reviews, not much in between. Here's the thing - I get both of those reactions. It's too long and probably Schwab spends too much time in the present and not enough time following Addie through the 300 years of her life. We learn that she spent time working as a spy during WWII but we know nothing her experiences doing that. We know that she traveled over time but never to a country where the population was anything other than predominately white. And we have to buy into the idea that she could fall for the the devil to whom she has promised her soul and who appears to her in a form she conceived (the ultimate bad boy). 

This one was, perhaps, the right book at the right time for me because I was willing for forgive Schwab most of that (except maybe perhaps the length). How hard would it be to survive if no one ever remembered you - you couldn't hold a job, couldn't rent an apartment. It's impossible to survive while never bending the rules yet, when she finally does meet the man who does remember her, how to justify all she's done? And how will their relationship survive? I found myself more than willing to suspend disbelief and go along for the ride. Julia Whelan's reading, as always, only served to enhance the experience. 

And that's a wrap for 2021 folks. No year-end statistics. Just an updated list at the top of this page of my favorite books of the year. 

Goodby 2021 - I'm So Over You

In my final post of 2020, I reflected on how tough the year had been and how happy I was to have it over. But I tried to focus on the good and look forward to a better year, certain that 2021 would be better. Then on February 11th, my mom sat down to take a nap and never woke up. 2021 became an entirely different year than I had been expecting. This year has been tough, right up to the end. But it hasn't been a year without some good and, as I close out 2021, I'm going to try to focus on that again. 

My family has, as you've probably noticed over the years, always been close. This year has brought us even closer. My sister, brother, and I text each other almost daily now, sharing what's brought us low and lifting each other up again, sharing good news and focusing on making life good for our dad. Our dad has learned to text and we're loving getting regular updates from him that often lead to long family text conversations. I think we all feel closer to my dad than ever. My husband has been a rock for me and for my dad; I don't know how I would have gotten through this year without him. Friends have shown astonishing kindness and it was a blessing to be reminded that there are so many good people in the world. 

I didn't get nearly as many projects done this year as I did in 2020 but I did complete a major project that I've been wanting to tackle for years. This desk took almost two months of work to finish but it was worth every bit of the effort. I tried the oven cleaner method on another piece and learned that not every project will be a home run. That one is going to require some more work when spring arrives!

My side of the family welcomed two babies this year. I have yet to meet either of these handsome young men but I'm looking forward to that in 2022. Thank heavens for FaceTime, social media, and texts for allowing us to watch them grow from afar. 

Although Mini-me and Ms. S moved thousands of miles away and we'll now be lucky to see them in person once a year, being so far away seems to have made both of them better at keeping in touch. We now get regular texts and calls and we are loving being taken along on their adventure. And keeping up with our rapidly growing grandpup! And both of our other kids are in really good places in their lives now as well. There's nothing more a parent could ask for. 

My reading took a hit this year and my blogging even more so. I haven't opened my blog reader in weeks and it's now been almost a month since I posted a book review. But I'm still reading and have given myself permission to give up on books and to not worry as much this year about reading the things I feel like I should read and to read the things that bring me comfort. Hence I'm ending the year with One Day In December by Josie Silver and starting the new year with Lessons In Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, neither of which requires a lot of brain power and I'm good with that. 

I'd like to say I'll be a better blogger next year. I'd like to say I'll teach myself to upholster so I can get all of these chairs I've bought for that purpose done. I'd like to say I'll lose 50 pounds and start exercising regularly. And I really would like to do all of those things. But one thing I've learned in 2021 is that nothing is certain. We need to be proud of what we have gotten done, let go of the things that we haven't done, and give ourselves grace. Which may just be my word of the year for 2022. 

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Life: It Goes On - December 26

Happy Sunday! For those of you who celebrate Christmas, happy day after Christmas slog. For my Canadian friends, happy Boxing Day. Trying to keep focusing on the happy here. Today is grey, the beautiful wrapped gifts are all gone from under the tree (although the cat is happy about that because she can finally sleep under there again), and I'm exhausted. But my family made it through our first Christmas without the woman who always worked so tirelessly to make it perfect and we did it without giving up on any of our traditions, it was warm enough on Christmas Eve that my dad could sit outside barefooted while the guys grilled steaks, I got all of the foods made that my family loves, everyone seemed to like their gifts and I don't have to go back to work until Tuesday. So there is much to be happy about. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I worked to try to finish Beautiful World, Where Are You but came up about an hour and a half short before it was automatically returned to the library. To be honest, I chose Christmas music over the book on more than one occasion. I don't know that I'll check it out again to finish up - I really wasn't enjoying it all that much. Maybe my mood, maybe not the right book for the season. 

It was not as warm in 
Anchorage as it was here - 
the kids took the pups for 
a hike on Christmas.

Watched: It's a Wonderful Life the other night with my kids as I cleaned up the house after present opening. I don't know how many times I've watched that movie and I still have a visceral reaction to Mr. Potter - maybe because there are all too many Mr. Potters in the world these days and far too few George Baileys. 

 As you can probably tell from two weeks with no reviews, virtually no reading has been done this month. Maybe the worst reading slump I've had in years. It's certainly not for a lack of good reading choices. Just can't make my brain focus on reading right now. 

Made: More homemade ice cream, more chocolate sauce, bavarian mints, onion dip, cheese balls, cheesy hash browns, caramel corn, sugar cookies, bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin with sour cherry glaze, mashed potatoes, roasted asparagus. Last week's cooking was almost entirely focused on Christmas eating. Which we will be eating leftovers of for the next few days! 

 Time with family. I enjoyed it so much I forgot to take a single picture. My sister did snap this one of Miss H and my dad, which I absolutely love. We got to FaceTime Mini-me and Ms S yesterday which makes having them so far away just a little bit easier and we got to see the new grand puppy and watch their cat scale the inside of their tree to get to the new wooden ornaments we gave them which had been promptly hung. Apparently he wanted to chew on them!

This Week I’m:  

Planning: I'm babysitting Mini-him's cat this week so that means splitting time between floors of the house since he and my cat don't get along. We'll see if I can manage to get the decorations taken down and stored back away without letting our guest out of the basement. 

Thinking About: The gift my nephew and his wife gave me dad - they set up a scholarship in my mom's name for young people who, like her, are the first generation in their families to go to college. There were a lot of tears shed when this gift was opened and a determination to fund it annually for years to come.  

Feeling: Tired but grateful for these days off and an upcoming four-day weekend to help recharge my batteries. 

Looking forward to: A lazy week. 

Question of the week: My house is full of leftovers and we're happy to have them. I'll look for ways to reuse them - cold pork sliced onto salads, cheese ball sliced for grilled cheese sandwich, etc. Do you like having leftovers to enjoy?

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Life: It Goes On - December 19

Happy Sunday! It's been quite a week here. We had the tornado sirens go off on Wednesday for the first time all year. I can't recall us ever having tornadoes in December. Tuesday was my book club's now annual holiday party. I've spent a lot of time with my Dad helping him get ready to host the family for Christmas this year. Hence, very little reading got done and no book reviews were written. To be honest, I've only finished one book in the past few weeks and that one only because it was my book club's selection for January and I needed to return it to the library for the next person in the club to read. 

I'm ok with that. I'm not beating myself up about a reading slump for a change. There are other things that are better uses of my time right now, things that are more important to me at the moment. 

Last Week I: 

This year's tables cape was inspired
by Scotland 
 Listened To: Sally Rooney's Beautiful World, Where Are You. I'm interested it and then I'm not and I've opted to listen to holiday music frequently when I'm in the car instead of a book. 

Watched: The Husker women's volleyball team play for the national championship with my dad, who is so knowledgeable about the team and the sport. It was so fun to watch this team, which is heavily made up of freshmen, take on the challenge of the tournament and knock off the number two team in the country. Sadly, last night was not their night, but they played so well against a team they haven't played well against in the past two years. So proud of them. 

Read: See above. Maybe thirty pages of My Monticello. I did read about fifty pages of Stanley Tucci's Taste, which I'm really enjoying but haven't had much time to pick up. 

Made: Chicken noodle soup, puppy chow, fudge, chocolate cookies, taco soup, chocolate sauce, homemade ice cream. I've definitely spent more time prepping for next weekend than cooking for us to eat regular meals. 

 Hosting my book club. I so enjoy these friends and it's nice to have someone else see the house that I've worked so hard to make festive. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: More food prep, some final shopping for stocking stuffers, and then it's time to enjoy my family. 

Thinking About: As we head into our first Christmas without my mom, I've been feeling pretty sorry for us. Today, though, we heard about a car accident in the town where BG's sister-in-law is principal of the house school that took the lives of two young people and left three others on life support. Our Christmas will be different and a little sad but we are so blessed in every other way. My heart breaks for those families. 

Feeling: Like I'm in pretty good shape for the holidays. Somewhere around Tuesday evening I will surely be struck with the realization that I've forgotten something important or that there's no way I'm going to get everything done without a sprint in the final days. But today, I'm feeling good. 

Looking forward to: Being with my family. 

Question of the week: How will you be celebrating the holidays?

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Life: It Goes On - December 12

Happy Sunday! Friday it snowed; within a couple of days it will all be melted - just the way I like winter. I am finally done decorating, nearly done shopping, and have almost all of the gifts wrapped already (that is a huge first for me!). Off to decorate for my dad this afternoon and then I'll start to feel like I've got this holiday under control. How are you doing this season? 

Last Week I:

 Listened To: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue which I'm still enjoying a lot. I've got three days and four hours still to go - may have to speed it up a little to get it finished as I tend not to listen much around the house. Next up Sally Rooney's Beautiful World, Where Are You

There are a lot of forests going on in my house 
this season!
Watched: The Husker women's volleyball team upset long-time rival Texas last night and is headed to the Final Four. It's always nice to beat a team whose fans boo'd you when you came out to warm up. 

Read: Here's the thing that's not getting done. I'll bet I haven't read 50 pages all week. 

Made: I can't really remember beyond last night when I made a roasted tomato pasta with shrimp. 

Enjoyed: A long FaceTime call with Mini-me and Ms. S. We got a tour of the new house now that they're settled; got to see all of our grand-animals, including their 4-month old puppy; and see how happy they seem to be in their new home. It did this Mama's heart good!

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On getting the Christmas cards mailed, hosting a book club holiday party, and finishing the shopping and wrapping. 

Thinking About: Christmas cooking and baking. 

Feeling: Calmer today. I was feeling overwhelmed this week, sure I could not get it all done in the next couple of weeks. One productive day and I'm feeling much better. 

Looking forward to: My book club's now annual holiday party. 

Question of the week: What's your favorite holiday treat to make? 

Friday, December 10, 2021

Fairy Tale Fridays

What's that you say? You've never heard of Fairy Tale Fridays? If you're new to the neighborhood in the past five years, you probably haven't. But I used to post something about fairy tales at least twice a month on Fridays. And then it started to feel like a job, like extra homework I was being required to do on top of my regular reading. I decided it was time for a break. And now it's been over four years since I last posted. Will this be the start of the return of regular Fairy Tale Fridays? Probably not. But maybe often enough it won't be a complete surprise. 

Recently I read and reviewed Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child, the story of a couple desperate for a child who one day build a snow child who comes to life. The story is based on the Russian fairy tale of Snegurochka in which the child built by the couple returns every winter. Ivey's story most closely resembles Arthur Ransome's version of the tale, which he called The Little Daughter of the Snow. In Ransome's version, the little girl attaches herself to a red fox, as she does in Ivey's adaptation, and is very much attuned to the forest. In Andrew Lang's version, Snowflake (from The Pink Fairy Book), the little girl becomes friends with the village children and melts suddenly when one spring while playing with the children around a bonfire. 

If you search for fairy tales about a snow child, however, you'll also find another iteration of the story which has many variations as well and seems to have been told in many countries. In it, a merchant (or sailor, or farmer) is often away on travels for months on end. One day he arrives home after a year (or years) to find a young child his wife claims is hers. Clearly the child cannot be his but the wife explains that away by saying that some time back she had fallen on ice (or played with snowballs or she swallowed a snowflake) and she became pregnant. In most of those stories, when the husband again heads off on his travels, he says he will take the boy along to teach him his ways. When he returns, the boy is not with him. When the mother asks what has become of her son, the husband answers, "he melted." Which we can be pretty sure, in this version of the story, he did not. 

One of the things that has always interested me is how fairy tales seem so universal, how the same stories appear in many different countries in their own interpretations. But this one seems unique to me in that it seems to have developed from one idea into two entirely different stories and then morphed into each countries own version. The wonder of oral story telling!

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Published September 2020 by Bloomsbury USA
Pages 272

Publisher's Summary: 
Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house. 

There is one other person in the house—a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

My Thoughts: 
I've been reading...sort of...but I haven't been able to make myself sit down and right a book review for a few weeks. Even when I've enjoyed a book as much as I enjoyed Piranesi. Clarke's first book was the door stopper Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which I have never picked up for two reasons: 1) it's nearly 900 pages long and 2) the word "magic" appears in the book description. If you've been around long, you know that magic, magical realism, fantasy are book ideas that I tend to veer away from. But Piranesi won the Women's Prize for Fiction in 2020 so, without even reading the description, I requested it from the library. 

And, once again, it's been proven that sometimes a book that leaves reality behind can be just what I need. 

The entire book is told through Piranesi's journals, the journals of a person who lives almost entirely along in a labyrinth of halls and vestibules so expansive that he can walk for hours to reach a hall he has meticulously mapped over his time there. He has managed to figure out how to sustain himself using what the tides bring to him and the few gifts that The Other brings. Piranesi seems content with his life exploring and caring for the 13 human skeletons he has come across in his explorations. But the more he explores, the more he talks to The Other, the more questions he begins to have. And when another human appears in the halls, everything Piranesi has believed in begins to unravel. Who can he trust? Where did the stories in his earliest journals come from? 

Clarke has managed, in under 300 pages, to create a story that Kirkus Reviews calls "weird and haunting and excellent." It is every bit of that and more. While there's nothing here that we can relate to as being a part of our everyday lives, everyone of us can relate to the wonder, the fear, the sadness that Piranesi experiences. And who wouldn't like the idea of a world you could retreat to when the real world becomes too much, a world where magic still exists? This book took me away from the real world and I needed that right now. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Life: It Goes On - December 7

Happy Tuesday! If I’d written this Sunday, I could have reported that it was a sunny, warmer than normal day which was giving me the incentive to get things done (except that instead of writing this, I was actually spending the time looking for a new tree topper – but that’s a different story!). Instead, yesterday brought in winter - grey, cold, windy. Which is a good time to discover that you didn’t get your wool coat cleaned at the end of last winter and that a button is dangling from it. Add that to the to-do list! 

It didn't help me get to this sooner that my desk has been covered with Christmas bins. Even now, they are just moved to the sofa. More on that later. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, my book club pick for January. I’m really enjoying it so far but only about a third of the way through it.

Watched: I’m a little embarrassed to report that our first Christmas movie of 2021 was “Bad Santa.”

Read: Working on My Monticello. It’s very good but maybe not the book for me right now so it’s work to read.

Made: Mushroom risotto, bacon-wrapped asparagus, and a Christmas fruit salad for a potluck dinner with friends on Saturday night. Lessons learned – do not use thick cut bacon to wrap asparagus, bacon cannot be cut lengthwise not matter what the recipe claims, and stirring risotto for an hour right before you put on your face to go to a dinner is a good way to melt your makeup right back off.

Enjoyed: That dinner with friends. All day Saturday I felt like my mood was lighter, like I had more energy. As an introvert, my batteries are best charged in quiet but these friends are some of the few people who can also do that for me. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On finishing up the decorating in the next couple of days. I had all of the bins up last week and had gotten started but just wasn’t feeling it. Then the first tree I put up fought me every step of the way (seriously, that thing leaned one way and then another no matter what I did!). Note to self: do everything the same way next year and life will be much easier!

Thinking About: Finishing up my shopping this week, the soonest it's ever been finished. 

Feeling: Overwhelmed, both by life’s events and the kindness of others. An angel sent my dad, myself and each of my siblings an ornament with my mom’s picture on it. We have no idea who was so kind but I hope they know how much it touched each of us.

Looking forward to: Going to an annual Jane Austen Society tea on Saturday. Which I'd completely forgotten about because that's how my brain works these days!

Question of the week: How long does it take you to decorate your home for the holidays? 

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Life: It Goes On - November 28

Happy Sunday! As always happens, this four-day weekend has flown by. It always seems like there will be plenty of time for relaxation or big projects but I always forget that half of it is already spoken for what with the actual holiday celebrations. So yesterday was about getting the usual weekend cleaning done and today will be about getting the Christmas bins brought up so I can start decorating. 

This whole decorating thing would go much more quickly if I would cut back on the amount of stuff I have or just do things the same way from year to year. But I don't. This year I got inspiration from a picture on Instagram, found that I had a scarf that would be a great launching off spot to create my own version of the picture and then I ordered a bunch of new ornaments. At least I'll be able to use all of them in other ways if I don't ever create this look again. We'll be having company next weekend so I can't drag this decorating thing out as long as I often do!

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: Still listening to Richard Powers' Bewilderment. I haven't listened at all this weekend so may end up having to speed it up to get it finished before it needs to go back. 

Watched: Last night The Big Guy and I went to the symphony to see Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire  while the symphony performed the soundtrack. Not something we would normally go see but Mini-him had tickets he ended up not being able to use to we used them. Getting to our seats was something of a Keystone Cops event but once we settled in, we enjoyed it very much. Except for the part where people came who clearly had no idea how to behave when you go to the symphony. 

Read: I haven't read much this past week and I'm bouncing between books, not getting far in any of them. Not sure I'll have much time for much reading this week either. 

Our littlest helper
 I have always appreciated all of the work my mom put into getting holiday meals on the table but I have a newfound appreciation for it after having to step into her shoes this year. My sister-in-law and I split things and still it was a lot of work. I made three pies, sweet potatoes, my great-grandmother's beans, and another dessert that's a family tradition. 

Enjoyed: Being with my family as we made it through Thanksgiving, which was maybe my mom's favorite holiday. We did all of the traditional foods (my sister-in-law even made the scalloped corn with oysters that my mom loved), set the table the way my mom would have, threw in some new versions of traditional activities, and everyone stepped up to fill in the gaps. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: See above. It will be all about decorating, cleaning for company, and making food for Saturday. 

This little one was a great help!
Thinking About:
Before all of the holidays now we get the messages about how to handle the holidays when you're with family you don't necessarily get along with or agree with. My nephew and I could not be more different in our political views; we know this and have long ago agreed that we will not discuss those things. Friday, when he was up with his mom's side of the family and busy with them, I got a text from him. In part it said, "I haven't ever told you how much I appreciate the way you treat my family...You could easily let how different we are affect our relationship...but your investment in my family is awesome." Love him and his family so much and I'm so grateful that we have not let our differences keep us from each other. 

Feeling: Blessed. I know that to be true every day but it's always good to have the annual reminder to give thanks for all that we have. More than plenty to eat, warm homes and clothing, access to good health care, family who loves us and friends who have gotten us through this difficult year. 

Looking forward to: An evening with great friends. 

Question of the week: Of course we only put foods on the Thanksgiving table that we like but somehow some of those leftovers are much less appreciated than others. What leftover would you just as soon throw away than eat again after Thanksgiving dinner? 

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Happy Thanksgiving!

May we all take this day to count our blessings!

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

The Snow Child
by Eowyn Ivey
Published February 2012 by Little, Brown and Company
386 pages

Publisher's Summary:

Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart — he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone — but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees. 

This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.

My Thoughts:
I think I may have owned this book since 2012 so when one of my book club's selections for 2021 was a fairy tale book, I opted to go with this fairy tale retelling. And why had I put it off for almost 10 years? Because it has "snow" in its title and in the winter I don't want to read about snow and cold and when summer arrives I don't want to read about snow and cold. Yeah, I know, a silly reason to put off a reading a book I clearly had wanted to read because I'd paid actually money for it. 
"It was beautiful, Mabel knew, but it was a beauty that ripped you open and scoured you clean so that you were left helpless and exposed if you lived at all."
Now I'm finding myself wondering which other books on my shelves have I put off reading for equally silly reasons, depriving myself of enjoyable reading experiences. Because, despite my fears, especially when this book began, that this was going to be dreary, depressing book, it was very much an enjoyable reading experience. 

Author Robert Goolrick said of The Snow Child, "If Willa Cather and Gabriel Garcia Marquez had collaborated on a book, THE SNOW CHILD would be it. It is a remarkable accomplishment -- a combination of the most delicate, ethereal, fairytale magic and the harsh realities of homesteading in the Alaskan wilderness in 1918." It's a perfect description of this book but there is also so much more to The Snow Child. It's also a book about marriage, communication, friendship, love, what it means to be a parent, and what family means. 

Jack and Martha are both grieving the loss of their stillborn child but they have never talked to each other about their pain and it's the coldness that has developed in their marriage that I felt almost as much as the coldness of the setting. When winter, new friendships, and Faina arrive, things begin to change between them. When an injury sidelines Jack and Martha must step up to help save what they have built, they finally become a partnership that might be able to survive life in Alaska. I like them both and so wanted them to find each other and what they wanted so desperately. 

Here is another book where an element of magical realism is at play, a thing you know I've struggled with in the past, but again it was done just perfectly for me. Maybe because throughout the book we're never really sure whether magic is at play or if the truth of Faina lies in reality. 
"We never know what's going to happen, do we? Life is always thrown us this way and that. That's where the adventure is. Not knowing where you'll end up or how you'll fare. It's all a mystery and when we say any different, we're just lying to ourselves. Tell me, when have you felt most alive?"
And that is what this book is about at its core - the adventure, the mystery of knowing how things will end up for its characters. For me, this book ended up just perfectly. 

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Life: It Goes On - November 21

Happy Sunday! I got my Covid booster late yesterday so I am really dragging as today rolls on. This is not the time of year to spend five hours on the sofa but it's worth it to keep myself safe, especially as the Covid numbers around here are spiking again. At least I was productive yesterday and got my parents' house decorated for Thanksgiving today. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I started Richard Powers' Bewilderment when it suddenly became available weeks before I was expecting to be able to listen to it. 

 The Big Guy and I joined friends in going to see Kenneth Branagh's Belfast last night and think we would all highly recommend it. It's the story of Branagh's life just before his family moved from Belfast to England. It is funny, and tense, and warm and the acting is so good. 

Read: I've been bouncing around between books this week, trying to finish things that will be coming due at the library. I'm racing to finish Piranesi but I think I'm going to end up having to check that out again. I'm also reading Anderson Cooper's Vanderbilt

Made: Lots of fried apples this week, lamb chops, baked chicken, tacos. This week will be a busy week of prepping for Thanksgiving so we may be eating take out for the first part of the week. 

Enjoyed: There were only three of us at book club last week. It made it hard to discuss the book but left us lots of time to catch up with each other. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: My mom has insisted, all the years of my adult life, that she had more time to cook ahead for holidays (and I think she loved doing it) so I've never done all that much to prepare for the big family get together. This year, though, we've split it up between my sister-in-law, myself, and my dad. So I'm taking a first stab at ham and beans the way my great-grandma made them, making sweet potatoes, pies, and a special family dessert. I'm confident in my ability to make all of it but those beans have been a part of family meals for decades and I'm so afraid I'll do them wrong! 

Thinking About: My mom loved Christmas and giving people gifts but she loved Thanksgiving even more. I've talked to you before about all of the things my parents have done over the years to make the day special. It will be hard this year to not have her directing traffic (the day of she did turn over all of the cooking to my sister, sister-in-law and me), watching with delight as the grandchildren try to solve some puzzle she and my dad have created to make them earn a treasure, and sit in her spot soaking in time with her family. 

Feeling: See first paragraph. The good news is that I'm confident that I'll be feeling much better tomorrow. 

Looking forward to: Being with my family, although we'll miss having my sister and her family with us. She is getting to spend Thanksgiving with her two-week-old grandson! 

Question of the week: What dishes does your family have at Thanksgiving that are tradition for your family but maybe not the traditional dishes the rest of us enjoy? And do you experiment with new versions of the traditional things or do you always adhere to the way you've always done things? 

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Matrix by Lauren Groff

by Lauren Groff
Read by Adjoa Andoh
Published September 2021 by Penguin Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
Cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, deemed too coarse and rough-hewn for marriage or courtly life, seventeen-year-old Marie de France is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey, its nuns on the brink of starvation and beset by disease.

At first taken aback by the severity of her new life, Marie finds focus and love in collective life with her singular and mercurial sisters. In this crucible, Marie steadily supplants her desire for family, for her homeland, for the passions of her youth with something new to her: devotion to her sisters, and a conviction in her own divine visions. Marie, born the last in a long line of women warriors and crusaders, is determined to chart a bold new course for the women she now leads and protects. But in a world that is shifting and corroding in frightening ways, one that can never reconcile itself with her existence, will the sheer force of Marie’s vision be bulwark enough?

My Thoughts: 
Desperately in love with Eleanor, a woman with whom she will spend the rest of her life in a battle of wits with, Marie is desolate when Eleanor sends her away. Not just away but to a desperately poor abbey in England where there is a better than average chance that she will perish from disease or starvation. Far taller than any other woman in the abbey, clothes have to be cobbled together for Marie, the other nuns mock her, and she struggles to find her way. Until she remembers that she is the prioress of the abbey and, as such, holds some power. Taking matters into her own hands, she soon has the people living on the land of the abbey paying their dues to the abbey, saving the women from starvation. She further convinces the women of the abbey to believe in her power by reallocating jobs, assigning each woman to the task she is best suited for, not the least which had been the way before she arrived. 

As the abbey begins to thrive, so does Marie. She gains greater and greater power and is better and better able to manipulate the people in charge so that she can protect the women in her charge. Over the decades Marie will become the venerated Abbess of a community she is surprised to find herself caring very much about, to the point she would defy the church. 

I didn't even look to see what this book was about when I checked it out from the library. I had been so impressed with Groff's Fates and Furies that I was eager to read more of her work. While I had no idea what this book was about, going in, I certainly was not expecting historical fiction set in the Middle Ages. But in Groff's hands, the line between the Middle Ages and current time was blurred considerably. This is a book about a group of women who take their lives into their own hands, who rule themselves, who demand more from the men who would oversee them. It is a book about friendship, courage, faith, hubris, and love in so many forms. As Marie grows to find love for each of her charges, so do readers, as we grow to understand each of the many women who have devoted their lives to the abbey and, eventually, their abbess. She is a complicated woman, a woman who is strong, intelligent, fierce, and devoted but also often judgmental and arrogant and mean. 

Here is a book that I am certain I would have liked a great deal had I read it in print. But I cannot recommend the audiobook version highly enough; Adjoa Andoh takes the story to an entirely different level. Her voice is wonderful; but, more importantly, her ability to give each of the dozens of female characters unique voices is masterful. What's more, she is able to "age" Marie's voice in a way that I didn't even realize was happening it was so organic. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

A God In Ruins by Kate Atkinson

A God In Ruins by Kate Atkinson
Read by Alex Jennings
Published May 2015 by Litte, Brown and Company

Publisher's Summary:
"He had been reconciled to death during the war and then suddenly the war was over and there was a next day and a next day. Part of him never adjusted to having a future." 

Kate Atkinson's dazzling Life After Life explored the possibility of infinite chances and the power of choices, following Ursula Todd as she lived through the turbulent events of the last century over and over again. A God in Ruins tells the dramatic story of the 20th Century through Ursula's beloved younger brother Teddy — would-be poet, heroic pilot, husband, father, and grandfather — as he navigates the perils and progress of a rapidly changing world.

After all that Teddy endures in battle, his greatest challenge is living in a future he never expected to have.

My Thoughts: 
In a year of great books, Life After Life, was one of my favorites. It went without saying that I would read A God In Ruins; I couldn't wait to see what Atkinson had in store for readers after the ride she took us on in Life After Life

Life After Life is written in a way that very much reflects its very vital protagonist, with its unique format and vivid settings. A God In Ruins is written in very much the same way, except that in this book, we are following the life of a very quiet man (the god of the title) who has lived a very quiet life after his service as a pilot during World War II. He marries the girl he's expected to marry, the girl next door, even though while he loves her, he is certain that he is not in love with her. His career path is unspectacular, his only child is a disappointment who seems not to care very much about him, and his one claim to fame seems to be the books that his aunt wrote that were based on him for their title character. 

Atkinson mostly alternates between Teddy's years in service and his life in post-World War II England but the book begins with a look back at Teddy's childhood years and then jumps forward 45 years to his daughter's life as commune-living hippie who is married to an unsuccessful painter. It quickly becomes apparent that this book, like life After Life, will not have a traditional narrative although it will have a much quieter one. Teddy, like his wife, Nancy, when she discovers she has cancer, and his daughter, Violet, when she tries of writing successful novels, has resigned himself to his life. He is fine, has always been fine, with letting life play out as it will. 
“Now it was settled, now there were no more possibilities.”
Teddy's life is something of a reflection of all of England, post-war. It feels muted. Even when Teddy becomes convinced that his wife is having an affair, there is no real explosion of emotion. Which is not to say that Teddy is without emotion, he just seems incapable of truly expressing it and sometimes, it seems, that is for the best. Teddy is at his best as a pilot because of this and those scenes are the most vivid and alive of the book. 
"He had been reconciled to death during the war and then suddenly the war was over and there was a next day and a next day. Part of him never adjusted to having a future." 
Just when I was certain that the book would end as quietly as Teddy's live has been lived, Atkinson made me gasp. And that was exactly what made the rest of the book feel entirely different. One of my favorite book endings in a long while. 

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Life: It Goes On - November 14

Happy Sunday! As I type, I'm looking outside at a sunny day and I can almost pretend that it's a warm and sunny day...except for the fact that the wind is blowing and I can see the neighbor children playing outside all bundled up. It's supposed to warm up and I'm hoping they're right because I still need to finish that sewing machine project (yeah, yeah - I know I've been saying that for a couple of weeks!). 

It's the last week for this picture - after four days of strong winds there are very few leaves left on most of the trees. And this is when my winter blues start to set in, especially with the end of daylight savings time, so it's time to try to find ways to make these next few months more tolerable. First up, I've decided to give myself permission to leave lights on in rooms I'm not in so the evenings are not so dark. Hit me up with your best suggestions!

Last Week I: 

Listened To:
 I finished Lauren Groff's Matrix but I'm weeks away from getting my next scheduled audiobook so I listened to a lot of music and some podcasts, including Glennon Doyle's We Can Do Hard Things

Watched: I haven't been home a lot this week so not much, besides football and our usual Sunday morning cooking shows.

Read: I'm racing to finish Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child for book club on Tuesday. I've had entirely too many library books became available at the same time so I'm basically racing to finish ALL of the books lately.

Made: Again, I haven't been home much so I haven't cooked much. I did make penne alfredo to take to a friend for her family's dinner. 

 I won lottery tickets to Hamilton for last night's performance! My sister-in-law and I went to dinner then off to the show where we had front row seats. Not the best for a full view of the stage but it was so fun to be that close to the performers and the music director. 

Also, a five-hour Happy Hour with the ladies I call my Tier Ones. Four bottles of wine, loads of food, even more catching up and laughing. These ladies recharge my soul.

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On getting my Covid vaccine booster so, knowing the way I've reacted to the vaccine before, also planning on a day of being really tired right after it. 

Thinking About: Christmas decorating. The Tier Ones settled on a December 4 progressive dinner which means that my house can't be in its usual state of Christmas decorating chaos on that date this year. Which also means that I can't wait until after Thanksgiving to start the process. Normally, I'm a stickler for waiting but this year I've got some new ideas that I'm eager to put together. 

Feeling: Relaxed, which, as you've probably figured out by now, is rare for me. 

Looking forward to: Book club Tuesday.

Question of the week: Besides the turkey, what's your favorite Thanksgiving food?

Monday, November 8, 2021

The Cartographer's Secret by Tea Cooper

The Cartographer's Secret
by Tea Cooper
400 Pages
Published November 2021
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:

The Hunter Valley, 1880—Evie Ludgrove loves to chart the landscape around her home—hardly surprising since she grew up in the shadow of her father’s obsession with the great Australian explorer Dr. Ludwig Leichhardt. So when an advertisement appears in The Bulletin magazine offering a thousand-pound reward for proof of where Leichhardt met his fate, Evie is determined to use her father’s papers to unravel the secret. But when Evie sets out to prove her theory, she vanishes without a trace, leaving behind a mystery that haunts her family for thirty years. 

1911—Letitia Rawlings arrives at the family estate in her Ford Model T to inform her great-aunt Olivia of a loss in their family. But Letitia is also escaping her own problems—her brother’s sudden death, her mother’s scheming, and her dissatisfaction with the life planned out for her. So when Letitia discovers a beautifully illustrated map that might hold a clue to the fate of her missing aunt, Evie Ludgrove, she sets out to discover the truth. But all is not as it seems, and Letitia begins to realize that solving the mystery of her family’s past could offer as much peril as redemption.

My Thoughts: 
Earlier this year I read and reviewed Cooper's The Girl In The Painting and enjoyed it so much that I didn't need to know anything more about this one than the author's name to know that I would read and review it. 

I've told you before that I'm not very good about reading Afterwards and Author's Notes when I've finished a book but recently I've been finding that I'm gaining a greater appreciation for the story by doing so. Cooper reveals that she's always had a interest in maps, especially after she found out that many early cartographers were women. Liking to set her books in Australia led her to the true story of Dr. Ludwig Leichhardt. And thus began her story of a how a young woman, interested in mapmaking, resolves to find the truth between Leichhardt's disappearance. 

Like The Girl In The Painting, Cooper sets her story primarily in the Australian outback and the setting comes alive in her hands. Even before I looked up Yellow Rock to see if there was such a place, I pictured it very much as it's seen here. It's not the only similarity these books have - both have mysteries to be solved, young women who won't be stopped by the conventions of the day, and family at the core of the story. It is the story of love, grief, loss, guilt, secrets, and the things that bind a family together and those that tear a family apart. It's also the story of three women who defy expectations to live their lives in ways that they choose. 

Unlike most dual story lines set in different time periods, there is a direct link between the two stories and not a lot of time between them. It feels much more natural that these stories should tie together then the usual dual storylines and I find that much more enjoyable in a book than when a modern day storyline is used simply as a means to tell an historical story from a modern perspective. 

My only quibbles with the book were that sometimes it could feel repetitive, occasionally it got a bit unnecessarily confusing, and there is a romance that I didn't feel was necessary. Otherwise, it was a book that pulled me through, made me care about the characters, and feel like I was immersed in the setting. 

Thanks to the ladies of TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. 

About the Author Tea Cooper is an established Australian author of historical fiction. In a past life she was a teacher, a journalist, and a farmer. These days she haunts museums and indulges her passion for storytelling. She is the winner of two Daphne du Maurier Awards and the bestselling author of several novels, including The Horse Thief, The Cedar Cutter, The Currency Lass, and The Naturalist’s Daughter.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Life: It Goes On - November 7

Happy Sunday! We've had a glorious weekend here, by Nebraska November standards, at least. We've gotten a lot a yard work done, enjoyed the fall foliage in our yard, even as it was falling to the ground, and gotten to eat some final patio meals before it's too cold to do that for the next few months. 

As nice as it was to be outside, it was also a reminder of why it's hard for me to be excited about autumn. It's not really autumn until the leaves start to turn, sometime in October, and it's more or less over once the leaves have all fallen, which will be in the next week or two. So, it's essentially a six-week season, during which I have to spend a good deal of time and effort making my yard look barren. And then today arrives and I lose an hour of sunlight on the end of the day I need it the most. **Sigh**
Last Week I: 

 Listened To: Lauren Groff's latest, Matrix. It being by Lauren Groff, I didn't even look to see what Matrix was about before I checked it out. It isn't at all what I was expecting but I'm really enjoying it and I'm really happy that I'm listening to this one. 

Watched: Nothing you don't already know that I watched. 

Read: I've got so many books that have come in from the library and that I need to read for review that I've been reading like a maniac this week. Tonight I'll race to finish Tea Cooper's latest, The Cartographer's Secret, so that I can write a review for a TLC Book Tours review tomorrow. I always enjoy her books because they are all set in Australia. 

Made: Lasagna, spinach and ricotta stuffed jumbo shells, taco salads, grilled cheese. Not exactly health food!

 Another weekend with Miss H. She came up so she and The Big Guy could go to Hamilton, the first time either of them has seen it. She has been wanting to see it since the first time she listened to the soundtrack. I wish I could have gone with her so I could have seen her reactions (I know tears were shed!) but I'm so glad that she and her daddy got to have that time together, just the two of them. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: It's going to be a busy week, so no major projects will get worked on during the week. Hoping to find the time next weekend to finish up my sewing cabinet project, though. 

Thinking About: Christmas decorating. I absolutely will not actually decorate until after Thanksgiving and I'll be ready to take it all down right after Christmas. But right now, I'm excited to think about what I'm going to do differently this year. 

Feeling: Excited. My sister became a grandma for the first time yesterday. I'm so happy for her (and, of course, my brother-in-law and the new parents!). 

Looking forward to: Celebrating birthdays with the friends I call my tier ones on Tuesday!

Question of the week: The coffee places have brought in the Christmas flavors; I had a peppermint mocha the other day. Are you hanging on to pumpkin spice or are you ready for the Christmas flavors? 

Monday, November 1, 2021

How I'm Spending My Afterlife by Spencer Fleury

How I'm Spending My Afterlife
by Spencer Fleury
Published September 2021 by Woodhall Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:

After you’re gone, what will they say about you? Alton Carver is about to find out. Alton’s got a problem: he’s under federal investigation for embezzling and securities fraud. Instead of spending the next three to five years behind bars, he’s got a plan: stage his own death, take the money he stole and light out for Central America, leaving behind wife Nicole and daughter Clara. But when he sticks around town long enough to watch his own funeral, he makes the unpleasant discovery that the life he’s leaving behind isn’t the life he thought he had. When he overhears the way his former colleagues talk about him now that he’s “gone,” Alton is forced to reconsider his self-image as a respected and admired pillar of the legal community. Then the shock of seeing Nicole in the arms of another man leads Alton to postpone his plan to run for the border. What comes next is a slow-burn train wreck, a tale of self-deception, revenge and bad decisions.

My Thoughts: 
Somewhere I read this book described as a thriller. I definitely wouldn't define it as a thriller. To my way of thinking, How I'm Spending My Afterlife is a dark comedy. 

As a debut, this book shows a lot of promise. Fleury's writing is clever and humorous and he somehow manages to make you like Alton who is, truth be told, a very unlikable chap. He's the kind of guy who drives a Porsche then feels entitled to park it in two spaces. He buys the best bicycle and the gear for it then never puts more than a mile on it. He buys a vintage sport car but tires of the idea of fixing it up before he's done a thing to it. And he definitely, stole three million dollars and committed insurance fraud to cover it up. All of this might add up to a guy you can't stand but Alton is so lacking in self-awareness that you begin to feel a little bit sorry for him, especially when you find out that his wife's been cheating on him with a complete sleaze ball. Yes, he'd been a terrible husband but she wasn't that great a wife or mother. And Alton is a really great dad who always made time for his daughter even when he didn't do that for his wife. He adores his daughter and she adores him; kids are great judges of character, right? 

What didn't work as well for me was the pacing of the book. While the book moves back and forth between Alton's narration and Nicole's, we spend a good majority of the book in Alton's head. Unfortunately, while we're there, not much more happens than Alton feeling sorry for himself while he justifies what he's doing. I would have liked to see more fleshing out of the characters, more action instead - something that moved the story forward. 

That said, I raced through the parts that dragged because I just knew that this was going to end badly and I wanted to know just how. We know that both Alton and Nicole are "talking" to someone as we read their sides of the story and I really wanted to see who that was and why they were talking to those people. I couldn't help but hope that some kindly grandparent would show up at the last second to rescue little Clara   just as her parents were hauled off to jail. Forty pages from the end, I still wasn't sure how this was going to play out and I loved that Fleury could keep me guessing. 

As I said, a promising, if flawed debut that has enough going for it to convince me to read Fleury's followup. 

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

Monday, October 11th: Books and Bindings

Tuesday, October 12th: @books_and_biceps9155

Thursday, October 14th: @shopcoffeekids

Friday, October 15th: @oomilyreads

Monday, October 18th: @annoying_sidekick_thoughts

Wednesday, October 20th: @whimsyreadswithshelby

Friday, October 22nd: @thebookishalix

Monday, October 15th: @bluntscissorsbookreviews

Wednesday, October 27th: @bathtubbookworm

Monday, November 1st: @jessicamap

Wednesday, November 3rd: Girl Who Reads

Thursday, November 4th:

About the author: 
Spencer Fleury has worked as a sailor, copywriter, record store clerk and economics professor, among other disreputable professions. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and has previously appeared in outlets including Utne Reader, Ascent, and the anthology City by City: Dispatches from the American Metropolis. This is his first novel. He lives in San Francisco.