Sunday, February 28, 2021

Life: It Goes On - February 28

Happy Sunday! We made it through February, guys; the end of winter is in sight. The snow I thought we might still be looking at in our yard in April is melting fast and a heavy rainfall last night hastened that. It's got me thinking of gardens and evenings on the patio. I need that this year, more than ever. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: My Dear Hamilton, which had me wanting to listen to the Hamilton soundtrack. It was also one of those many things that makes me think of my mom - it's just the kind of book she would have loved. 

Watched: The television's been on but I haven't paid attention to most of what The Big Guy's been watching. Except for Jeopardy, which comes on at the time we're usually eating dinner. Does it make us old people if Jeopardy's the show that you never miss?

Read: I finished When The Stars Go Dark and started The Boy In The Field. I'm reading what's becoming available from the library and what I need to read for Netgalley and they are all things that appeal to me. But I'm not sure they're what I'd pick up in this moment if I didn't have deadlines. On the other hand, I'm not sure what I would pick up right now if I could choose anything. 

Made: This week has been about comfort food and things that are quick and easy to prepare. I just haven't had the energy to cook. But this weekend we went into Lincoln twice to spend time with my brother and his wife while they were there and my brother made a Mexican dish one night and a hamburger soup the second night which were both delicious. 

Enjoyed: An evening on a deck with two of my besties - four hours of the best therapy. 

This Week I’m:  

I'm so behind on 40 Bags In 40 Days but today I'm going to finish working on the kitchen and then try to get caught up this week. You all know how much lighter I feel when I declutter!

Thinking About: Gardening and landscaping plans. We started some projects last year that need to get finished and want to put in some new flower beds. 

Feeling: The band I felt around my chest for the first week after my mom died has loosened but I'm still carrying sadness that can overwhelm me at any time. 

Looking forward to: Celebrating Miss H's birthday with her next weekend. 

Question of the week: Any Friends fans out there? Do you know what a Monica closet is? Every time I start 40 Bags, I feel like my whole house is a Monica closet! Do you have one?

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

National Geographic Guide To National Parks of the United States and National Geographic Secrets of the National Parks - Guest Review

National Geographic Guide To National Park of the United States and National Geographic Secrets of the National Parks
Published February 2021 and December 2020 by National Geographic
Source: my copies courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Guide To National Parks of the United States: 
There’s simply no better getaway in the United States than a visit to one of the country’s 62 national parks from Alaska to the Virgin Islands, from Maine to America Samoa. Profiled in this all-new ninth edition of National Geographic’s enduring and informative guide, you’ll find expert travel advice, candid tips for hiking and wildlife spotting, and detailed maps to help navigate your way through America’s great outdoors. Updated throughout with the latest information from park rangers and National Geographic’s own acclaimed travel writers, this fully revised and comprehensive guidebook includes the newest additions to the United States park system-Indiana Dunes, White Sands, and Gateway Arch national parks. Whether you’re looking to explore the underground world of Mammoth Caves or make your way through the mangroves of Everglades National Park, you’ll find a destination that suits your needs, and inspiration to plan your next wild adventure. In addition to park details and descriptions, this sparkling new edition features week-long regional road trip itineraries s so you can visit multiple parks in one vacation. Filled with more than 300 dazzling photographs and 80 full-color maps, this inspiring book reveals the best the United States has to offer-right in its own backyard.

My Thoughts:
NOT my thoughts - again when the ladies from TLC Book Tours contacted me about these books, I knew they'd be right up my husband's alley. So, again, I give you his thoughts: 

I have always been a bit of a geek for reference books like these since the days my parents got Readers Digest books on America and the National Parks.   These books are arranged by sections of the country with excellent index references. The Secrets of the National Parks is an excellent book that is best described by some of the comments on the cover and rear jacket:
Experts' guide to the best experiences beyond the tourist trail
Hundreds of secrets and tips on ways to enrich your visits to National Parks
Expert advice on the best times and places to visit to avoid crowds (one of my favorites)
Useful park maps to locate places of interest and pathways to get there (I've always been a map hound)
Gorgeous photographs of landscapes, wildlife and distinctive features (of course with Nat Geo)
Easy to find listing of visitor center locations, website and contact information
Clearly indicated levels of difficulty for trails, roads and other byways (definitely helpful to be safe)
Background stories and travel suggestions from those who know these parks the best
Comprehensive index for quick and easy access by state, park name or sites featured
I can't really improve on these descriptions as National Geographic has, as you probably know, outstanding writers and obviously photographers. Although Secrets of the National Parks was published first, I'd recommend reading it second - learn the parks in Guide To National Parks then go learn its secrets. Each section in the guide tells you How To Visit, suggestions on when to visit the park, and information on camping and lodging at the park. Each also gives some history of the park. Secrets let's readers in on local intelligence and hiking information. 

These books make me want to go out and see more National Parks and now I feel I have a good guide to better navigate Americas' natural resources, books in tow.  Now hit the road and see some of our National Parks!

Thanks to the ladies of TLC Book Tours for including us on this tour. For other reviews, check out the full tour. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

Falling From Trees by Mike Fiorito - Guest Review

Falling From Trees
by Mike Fiorito
Published February 2021 by Loyola College/Apprentice House
Paperback: 115 pages
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, and TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review. 

Publisher's Summary:
Exploring the possibility of sentient knowledge, FALLING FROM TREES by Mike Fiorito is a unique collection of short stories with sci-fi undertones. Perfectly pitched and paced, they are a refreshing addition to the short story genre in the tradition of Italo Calvino, Stanislaw Lem, and Philip K. Dick. Fiorito’s stories grab the reader from the very first sentence and never let go. In clear, provocative and often poetic prose, they explore love, consciousness, identity and the human condition—and succeed in elevating the commonplace to the surreal. Fiorito invites us to interrogate our thinking. “These are not cynical tales,” he writes in the book’s preface. “In fact, they celebrate our potential salvation.”

Heartfelt, with longing and humor, Fiorito’s stories are written in short bursts of other-worldly auras as they knowingly vacillate between science fiction, speculative and literary genres. A few of the stories portray quasi-realistic scenes from the lives of couples and families. Others create worlds that are strange and sad, hopeful and poignant, brilliant and mysterious.

In “Climbing Time,” the first story in FALLING FROM TREES, aliens reach out to individuals with Asperger’s, communicating through vivid, wordless dreams. Other stories contemplate the disastrous impact of climate change. The interconnected “Pale Leviathan” and “Tomorrow’s Ghost” depict the ferocity of the sun invading homes cooled with “freezing air units” and the claustrophobia of a world where children are forced to stay indoors. “The Numbers Man,” “A Star in Time,” and other interconnected stories follow the enigmatic alien Smith through believable yet mysterious encounters with humans in a homeless encampment, a National Park, a beach town and a bar.

While often fantastic, the twenty-one stories in FALLING FROM TREES are ultimately about our lives and the relationships that mean the most to us. “Fiorito teaches us we need not look across the universe for universal truth,” writes Chad Frame, Director of the Montgomery County Poet Laureate Program. “Indeed his characters are as genuine and relatable as they are vast and mysterious. Through them, we can come to understand our place in it a little bit better.”

My Thoughts:
Sometimes when I get pitched a book, I know instantly it's a book for me. Other times I know instantly that it's a book my husband will enjoy. This book fell into the later category. For a guy who has trouble focusing for long, short stories are perfect and when those short stories fall into a variety of styles, they're even better for convincing a guy to sit down and read. Here are my husband's thoughts on Falling From Trees:

Falling From Trees by Mike Fiorito is an interesting little short story book that is a quick, fun read.  It technically falls into the science fiction genre. Even though the stories develop quickly, the stories have great character development, continuity and threads of various common topics flowing through them.  

The author has the theme of aliens helping the people of Earth save themselves from various forms of destruction, particularly around ways we are killing ourselves off or randomness of the universe destroying our world.  Climate and even politics, in particular, pop up periodically in many of the stories but you don't feel over counseled or preached to as the messages are imbedded in interesting stories.

While this sounds depressing it has a very positive and upbeat tone in most cases with a strong feeling of hope that we can save ourselves or be saved from otherworldly beings.  The stories tie together with, as I said, similar underlying themes and characters.   I like the tone of the characters and stories; and, even though other worldly in many cases, they are something more believable.  I particularly enjoyed the first story, Climbing Time, about how those with Asperger's are the people able to communicate with aliens; The Three Bridges, about an astrophysicist meeting a magician; and Earth To Earth, about a character in the Mojave desert. 

Falling from Trees is an interesting and fun read that can be enjoyed by a broad spectrum of ages and men or women.  It has my seal of approval!

Thanks to the ladies of TLC Book Tours for including us on this book tour. For other opinions, please check out the full tour

About Mike Fiorito 

Mike Fiorito is an Associate Editor for Mad Swirl Magazine and a regular contributor to the Red Hook Star Revue. Mike is the author of Call Me Guido published by Ovunque Siamo Press. He is also the author of Freud’s Haberdashery Habits published by Alien Buddha Press. Mike lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife and two sons. He is currently working on a novel.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Life: It Goes On - February 21

Life: it goes on. Those words have never struck me as so true as they have in the past ten days. On February 11th, my mom sat down to take a nap and never woke up. I am gutted and, yet, somehow those of us she left have to figure out how to go on. She was, as so many have noted, our center. She was the organizer, the family's biggest cheerleader, the person whose life focused on caring for and about others. 

Twenty-eight years ago she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure; we thought we were going to lose her. Thanks to amazing doctors, she lived to see the birth of two more grandchildren; the high school and college graduations; the marriages of five of her grandchildren; and the births of three great-grandchildren. She was so excited to be able to call me recently to tell me that a fourth great-grandchild would arrive this summer. She was our rock, the person who helped hold me together then the Big Guy was battling cancer, when we nearly lost Mini-me, and as Miss H went through recovery from addiction. I don't know how I go on without our center, my rock, my best friend. But I know I have to do that. I know I have to go on. My mom would want that. 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents
by Isabel Wilkerson
Read by Robin Miles
Published August 2020 by Random House Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary:
“As we go about our daily lives, caste is the wordless usher in a darkened theater, flashlight cast down in the aisles, guiding us to our assigned seats for a performance. The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality. It is about power—which groups have it and which do not.” 

In this brilliant book, Isabel Wilkerson gives us a masterful portrait of an unseen phenomenon in America as she explores, through an immersive, deeply researched narrative and stories about real people, how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings. 

Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more. Using riveting stories about people—including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball’s Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others—she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day. She documents how the Nazis studied the racial systems in America to plan their out-cast of the Jews; she discusses why the cruel logic of caste requires that there be a bottom rung for those in the middle to measure themselves against; she writes about the surprising health costs of caste, in depression and life expectancy, and the effects of this hierarchy on our culture and politics. Finally, she points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial and destructive separations of human divisions, toward hope in our common humanity.

My Thoughts: 
I took three pages of notes while reading this book, notes I will keep to refer back to over time. That says a lot about how much I learned from this book and how important I think it is, especially now as I'm working to become a better person. 

I first came across the idea of a caste system in the U.S. in Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow and was eager to learn more about. Like, what's the difference between a system that keeps certain people down based on caste and one that does it based on race? 

According to Wilkerson, "Any action or institution that mocks, harms, assumes or attaches inferiority or stereotype on the basis of the social construct of race can be considered racism. Any action or structure that seeks to limit, hold back or put someone in a defined ranking, seeks to keep someone in their place by elevating or denigrating that person on the basis of their perceived category can be seen as casteism." 

Wilkerson contends that race is an American social construct, developed apart from logic or science, a concept developed to keep the hierarchy as it is in order to maintain the upper caste's ranking, advantage, and privilege, designed to elevate some above others or to keep others beneath the upper caste. Two things distinguish caste, according to Wilkerson: the policing of roles expected of people based on what they look like, first, and second the monitoring of boundaries, the disregard of the boundaries of the subordinate caste or the passionate construction of boundaries by the dominant caste to keep the hierarchy in place. 

Wilkerson has clearly done her research but Caste doesn't feel like a work of research. Wilkerson blends the larger historical picture with intimate, and often personal, anecdotes. She compares the caste system in the U.S. with that in India and in Nazi Germany. Did you know that the Nazis looked to the U.S. handling of how to determine if someone was black when they were looking for ways to deal with their Jews? According to Wilkerson, there are eight pillars of caste, among them Purity vs. Pollution, Occupational Hierarchy, and Terror as Enforcement. That last one plays a big role in the book and one of Wilkerson's examples struck home. In September 1919, Will Brown, a black man arrested on suspicion of attacking a white woman, was brutally murdered outside of the courthouse in Omaha. I knew the story but Wilkerson included details I'd never heard. Finding that kind of story about your city in a book such as Caste is quite the gut punch. It's not the only time I had a visceral reaction while reading this book. 

I can't recommend this book highly enough for anyone who wants to gain a deeper understanding of how we've come to the point where some Americans will storm the U.S. Capital in an effort to retain their position in the hierarchy. Robin Miles does a marvelous job reading Caste but I can't help but wish I had read it in print, in a book I own. I have a feeling I'm going to be coming back to this book again and again. 

Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Life: It Goes On - February 7

Happy Sunday! I hope it's warmer where you're at than it is here - our temps dipped below 0 last night and we're stuck with frigid temps for the next week are so. I HATE the cold; it's the thing I hate most about winter but even it wouldn't be as bad if it were at least dry. But no. It keeps snowing, a few inches a day. If it weren't for CoVid, I'd at least be planning a trip somewhere warm to look forward to, but I'm not comfortable with traveling any where yet. So we'll hunker down and stay in as much as possible. Oh, wait...we've already been doing that since the middle of last March!

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I'm listening to Isabel Wilkerson's Caste but it's hard to listen to while I'm doing other things so I've also listened to Hamilton, Into The Woods, and III by the Lumineers. 

 Bohemian Rhapsody and Blazing Saddles last night. And, of course, we'll be watching the Super Bowl tonight. While the Chiefs aren't either of our favorite teams, we'll both be cheering for them...and against Tom Brady. But it will be hard to cheer against all of the Bucs with Nebraska roots - Suh, David, and Shaquil Barrett who grew up in Omaha. 

Read: I raced through Fredrik Backman's latest, Anxious People, started Paula McLain's When The Stars Go Dark, and read more of Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women

Made: Ham and navy bean soup, chicken pot pie, a loaf of sourdough bread, and Heath crackers. It's been all about warmth and comfort food. 

Enjoyed: An unexpected visit from my brother-in-law for a couple of nights. We've all had CoVid now so we can sit together without worry, which is a nice change. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On doing a lot of reading this week. I've got several books that have all come ready from the library at the same time. 

Thinking About: Spring and gardening. 

Feeling: Tired of winter already. 

Looking forward to: The end of this cold snap. 

Question of the week: I cannot get my feed to load on Bloglovin'; it tells me the page won't open. Are any of you having problems? Or do you have a different RSS feed that you like?

Friday, February 5, 2021

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Anxious People
by Fredrik Backman
Translated by Neil Smith
Published September 2020 by Atria Books
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Looking at real estate isn’t usually a life-or-death situation, but an apartment open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes a group of strangers hostage. The captives include a recently retired couple who relentlessly hunt down fixer-uppers to avoid the painful truth that they can’t fix their own marriage. There’s a wealthy bank director who has been too busy to care about anyone else and a young couple who are about to have their first child but can’t seem to agree on anything, from where they want to live to how they met in the first place. Add to the mix an eighty-seven-year-old woman who has lived long enough not to be afraid of someone waving a gun in her face, a flustered but still-ready-to-make-a-deal real estate agent, and a mystery man who has locked himself in the apartment’s only bathroom, and you’ve got the worst group of hostages in the world. 

Each of them carries a lifetime of grievances, hurts, secrets, and passions that are ready to boil over. None of them is entirely who they appear to be. And all of them—the bank robber included—desperately crave some sort of rescue. As the authorities and the media surround the premises these reluctant allies will reveal surprising truths about themselves and set in motion a chain of events so unexpected that even they can hardly explain what happens next.

My Thoughts:
Fredrik Backman has the ability to write about incredibly heavy themes with a light touch and sense of humor that never fails to have me laughing and crying, sometimes on the same page. His writing is uncomplicated and yet says so much. His characters are ridiculous, flawed, and some are downright unlikable. But Backman clearly loves his characters and readers can't help but care about them and reminds us that we are all connected.
"...most of us remain strangers, we never know what we do to each other, how your life is affected by mine."
As with so many books, communication plays a big role in this book, what we say that we shouldn't, what we don't say that we should. It's about the communication between married couples, therapists and patients, fathers and sons, and even strangers. Here again, Backman plays this both humorously and with a feeling of sadness.
"The other one said they'd started to hate each other after an argument that, as far as Jim could understand, started when they were unable to find a juicer in a color that reflected them both as individuals but also as a couple. That was when they realized that they couldn't live together another minute longer, and now they hated each other."

"It's so hard to find the words when all you really want to say is: "I can see you're hurting."

So many of the characters in this book come to see that others are hurting but can't find the words to say it. The saving grace in Backman's books is that they almost always find other ways to show that they see it and reach out to help.  

This is my third book by Backman and each of them has had a certain sense of mystery to them but this is by far the most complicated. It is a slow reveal that makes readers rethink assumptions they've made along the way, about the plot and the characters. 

I used to do posts periodically that I called Book Gems. I haven't done one in a while but I've saved so many quotes from this book that I think it's time to pick that up again. There were so many things that spoke to me about parenthood, being an adult, and about siblings. And so many things that were just too funny not to share. 

I raced through this book and wanted to start it all over again. Even knowing all of the revels and how it all ends up, I think I'd enjoy it nearly as much the second time. Clearly, this one's going on my favorite reads of the year list, where I expect to still find it in December. 

Monday, February 1, 2021

Betrayal At Ravenswick: A Fiona Figg Mystery by Kelly Oliver

Betrayal At Ravenswick: A Fiona Figg Mystery 
by Kelly Oliver
Published March 2020 by Historia
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
What’s the best way to purge an unfaithful husband?

Become a spy for British Intelligence, of course.

Desperate to get out of London and determined to help the war effort, Fiona Figg volunteers to go undercover.It keeps her from thinking about Andrew, her philandering husband.

At Ravenswick Abbey a charming South African war correspondent has tongues wagging.His friends say he’s a crack huntsman. The War Office is convinced he’s a traitor. Fiona thinks he’s a pompous prig.What sort of name is Fredrick Fredricks anyway?

Too bad Fiona doesn’t own a Wolseley pith helmet. At Ravenswick a murderer is on the prowl, and it’s not just the big-game hunter who’s ready to pounce.

My Thoughts:
I said in my post last week that this book was probably going to benefit from being the right book at the right time. I was right. It's a nice blend of a cozy mystery with the depth that comes from being set during a war and exploring the fall out from that. 

Fiona is not your typical heroine. She will readily admit that she's not beauty queen. In fact, with her height, she's able to pass as a man when she's sent undercover to Ravenswick Abbey. She's got a photographic memory, a skill at breaking codes, and finds the fact that the men in the office consider it her job to clean up after them more than a little annoying. She has a passion for clothes (and the costumes her new job allows her to use), especially hats and the details of the clothing helped set the story in time. She has her heart broken when her beloved husband returns from the war only to leave her for another woman just months later and then again when he dies. And on her days off, she works as a nurse, helping care for soldiers coming back from the war  with unimaginably horrible injuries. 

The mystery itself was intriguing enough to keep me guessing, with plenty of red herrings, motives for murder, and potential killers. In fact, there are so many options that first one and then another killer are arrested. And they still haven't gotten the right person. Oliver lets readers know what's what but also allows that some people might have to suffer a little for their misdeeds even if they didn't commit murder. There's not time here to really develop most of the characters but this is not the kind of book that requires that; we learn exactly what we need to know about each of them. The ending of the book sets up the next book with the set up and plenty of unanswered questions. 

Is it high literature or the most well-crafted mystery? No; there are some cliches and the mystery sort of takes a backseat to developing the story line for the coming books. But I wasn't expecting anything too complicated or prizewinning. I found it perfectly entertaining without being too light and I enjoyed it a lot. I'm definitely looking forward to the next book, High Treason At The Grand Hotel, which was published in January. 

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

About Kelly Oliver 
Kelly Oliver grew up in the Northwest, Montana, Idaho, and Washington states. Her maternal grandfather was a forest ranger committed to saving the trees, and her paternal grandfather was a logger hell bent on cutting them down. On both sides, her ancestors were some of the first settlers in Northern Idaho. In her own unlikely story, Kelly went from eating a steady diet of wild game shot by her dad to becoming a vegetarian while studying philosophy and pondering animal minds. Competing with peers who’d come from private schools and posh families “back East,” Kelly’s working class backwoods grit has served her well. And much to her parent’s surprise, she’s managed to feed and clothe herself as a professional philosopher. 

When she’s not writing mysteries, Kelly Oliver is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University. She earned her B.A. from Gonzaga University and her Ph.D. from Northwestern University. She is the author of thirteen scholarly books, ten anthologies, and over 100 articles, including work on campus rape, reproductive technologies, women and the media, film noir, and Alfred Hitchcock. Her work has been translated into seven languages, and she has published an op-ed on loving our pets in The New York Times. She has been interviewed on ABC television news, the Canadian Broadcasting Network, and various radio programs. 

Kelly lives in Nashville with her husband, Benigno Trigo, and her furry family, Mischief and Mayhem. Find out more about Kelly at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.