Sunday, February 27, 2022

Life: It Goes On - February 27

Happy Sunday! In Omaha we've just survived a very cold week but once again got almost no snow out of the forecasted snowfalls. The Big Guy even went out last Sunday and watered the lawn, bushes and trees because it's been so dry. I'm getting worried that it's going to impact my gardens this spring and you know that won't make this girl happy. I'm the person, after all, who already has a cart full of things I want to get for the patio this year - new seat cushions, a couple of rugs, some lighting. Of course, I'm also the person who has carts full of stuff in a lot of stores that will never get purchased. Anyone else do that? 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I finished Eight Hundred Grapes (a disappointment) and I'm now racing to finish Things Fall Apart (much better, although I may end up finishing it on my Nook). 

 Last night we went, finally, to see Steven Spielberg's adaptation of West Side Story with friends. Other than being about 30 minutes too long (although my friend and I agreed that we couldn't think of a lot they could cut), it is a wonderful adaptation. What has added time to the movie is a lot more backstory - we see why Tony has decided to drop out of gang life, we see more of the interaction between the characters. If you know, and love the music, you'll be happy to know that very little has been changed in how most of it has been done. The sets, costumes, and new choreography are terrific. Some of the settings of the songs have been changed but they work. The actors are wonderful and have marvelous voices. It will be out on Disney+ this week and I'll be watching it again. 

Read: I'll be finishing up Jamie Ford's latest, The Many Daughters of Afong, and then I'm not sure what I'll pick up next. I have a lot of books on Netgalley I need to get to but several library books and a book for review sitting on my coffee table as well. 

Made: I made a yummy white chicken chili that we had for supper a couple of nights, several salads (despite the temps being in single digits and warm comfort food being called for - not sure what we were thinking) and today I'm making a smoked salmon pasta to take to my dad's. 

Enjoyed: Happy hour with friends Friday that ended with birthday cake (hers) and decaf coffee (because we're getting old and had all the drinks we needed) at their house. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: It's time to get the taxes done - ugh. 

Thinking About: Hey! I almost forgot to tell you that the great sofa search finally came to an end Monday! So I'm thinking about that new sofa and how I'll change things up in my family once it arrives. Whenever that finally is. Sometime in late June/early July, which is sooner than we could get one other places right now. 

Happy for my Alaska kiddos, who have settled into life up north marvelously and are having fun absorbing all things Alaska. Yesterday we got pics of them at the start of the Iditarod (it's been super snowy up there all winter but it looks like they had to put snow on the street for the start of the race!). 

Looking forward to: Celebrating the birthdays of Miss H and Ms. S this week (even if it's remotely) and, also virtually, An Evening With Colson Whitehead. 

Question of the week: Looking for your best healthier adaptations of comfort food. What have you got for me to try? 

Friday, February 25, 2022

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave

Eight Hundred Grapes
by Laura Dave
Read by Joy Osmanski
8 hours 6 minutes
Published June 205 by Simon and Schuster

Publisher's Summary: 
What if your beloved fiancé, he of the crinkly smile and the irresistible British accent, had kept a life-changing secret from you? And what if, just a week before your dream wedding, you discovered it?

When these questions become realities for bride-to-be Georgia Ford, she does the only thing that seems to make sense. She runs. She hops in her car and drives through the night, from Los Angeles to Sonoma, to her safe haven, to her messy and loving family and their acclaimed family winery. Georgia craves the company of those who know her best and whom she truly knows. And on the eve of the harvest, Georgia knows she'll find solace - and distraction - in familiar rituals. But when Georgia arrives home, nothing is at all familiar. Her parents, her brothers, the family business are all unrecognizable. It seems her fiancé isn't the only one who's been keeping secrets. And, much to Georgia's dismay, it seems likely that this harvest may be the family's last.

My Thoughts:
Up front let me say that I picked this book to listen to at this time precisely because I expected it to be exactly what it is. Which makes picking it apart for being exactly what it was is seem a little mean. Yet that's exactly what I'm going to do. But first a warning - I don't know how to tell you why this book didn't work for me without giving away some things.

Have you stopped reading if you don't want to read spoilers? 

First up - every single member of Georgia's family is having their own drama. One brother and the other brother's wife are pining for each other. That first brother can't hold down a real job and drinks too much. The second brother takes his wife for granted and has a bit of a stick up his rear. Georgia's father has health issues and is selling the vineyard. Her mother is in a relationship with another man who also happens to be impotent (keeps them from doing the dirty so that getting back together with her husband later is a little easier). Can't just one person in the family have their stuff together??

Then there's Ben, Georgia's fiance. When a ex-girlfriend shows up with a daughter he never knew about, he keeps it from Georgia, not just to protect her but also to see if maybe he and the exe can't work things out to become a family. And this is the guy who was perfect right up until that moment. And the exe just happens to be an internationally famous movie star who has her sights set on getting Ben back and makes no bones about it. 

Also, there's Jacob, the man who is buying the vineyard and also happens to be part of a family whose method of making and selling wine is deplorable to the Fords. He is intermittently incredibly tuned into what Georgia needs but even more often a bit of an ass. And you know from the minute he comes into the picture that he's the guy that Georgia will end up with. 

Finally, we have Georgia, a woman who works very successfully as a lawyer in Los Angeles, who has spent her life trying to help everyone solve their problems. Then when life gets tough, she completely falls apart because, you know, that's how strong women handle things. She refuses to talk about the situation with anyone, including Ben. Then she falls for the guy who she hated, in no small part because he was a jerk, but gives up on the guy who she had deeply loved only weeks ago.  

So here's the problem - if you never care about any of the characters in a book, then you don't really care what happens to them in the end. It doesn't matter that everyone ends up right where you expect them to end up which should, if done right, make you happy because that's what you wanted in the book. I really enjoyed the parts of the book that takes about wine and the process of making wine (even though they probably took up too much of the book) and I appreciated the correlation between the time and patience it takes to grown wine and the time and the time and patience it takes to make a relationship work. 

It could have worked for me but it didn't, which was disappointing when I thought I was getting exactly what I wanted. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

The Vacationers
 by Emma Straub
Read by Kristen Sieh
6 hours 39 minutes
Published May 2014 by Riverhead Books

Publisher's Summary: 
For the Posts, a two-week trip to the Balearic island of Mallorca with their extended family and friends is a celebration: Franny and Jim are observing their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, and their daughter, Sylvia, has graduated from high school. The sunlit island, its mountains and beaches, its tapas and tennis courts, also promise an escape from the tensions simmering at home in Manhattan. But all does not go according to plan: over the course of the vacation, secrets come to light, old and new humiliations are experienced, childhood rivalries resurface, and ancient wounds are exacerbated.

This is a story of the sides of ourselves that we choose to show and those we try to conceal, of the ways we tear each other down and build each other up again, and the bonds that ultimately hold us together. With wry humor and tremendous heart, Emma Straub delivers a richly satisfying story of a family in the midst of a maelstrom of change, emerging irrevocably altered yet whole.

My Thoughts: 
Look at the cover, read the summary - now you know exactly what you're going to get with this one. It's absolutely a book to read on the beach (hence the reason I chose to listen to it in February - oh, well!). It has that summer lightness that's perfect for a warm, sunny day and endings to its storylines that are exactly what you'd expect. 

Several reviewers said you feel like you know these people - I'd say that's probably because you've met them before in other books. Not literally, this isn't a sequel. But we've met the boomer parents who are experiencing some mid-life crisis, the teenage daughter that spends most of her days moping away, the gay couple who want a child, the girlfriend no one likes. If you're going to start from there, you'd better bring something more to your story. Straub has. Her characters can be witty, catty, and sympathetic in ways I wasn't expecting. 

Mallorca, a place I've certainly heard of but never really thought about, comes alive. Even before I looked at pictures of the island, I could picture the Franny struggling with her stick-shift rental up and down the winding hills, visualize the isolated beach coves, and imagine the isolation of a home in the hills that's only minutes from town. And the food, my goodness did Straub make me want to eat, but more importantly to cook in the way that Franny does. Franny and I do have that in common - she shows her love through food, through cooking for her family and I love to do that as well. 

After telling you that the characters are somewhat stereotypical and the ending is largely predictable, I can still recommend this book because I know that you'll get exactly what you're expecting from it. And sometimes that's exactly what you need. 

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Life: It Goes On - February 20

Happy Sunday! Guys, February is almost over. As in, we're almost two months into 2022 already. But also, we've almost survived winter! Although we've had a pretty easy winter - not once have I had to drive on dangerous roads to get to work; not once have I heard that crunchy packing peanuts sound as I drive over super cold pack snow; not once have I had to walk out to my car , afraid that I'm going to slip on the ice and wipe out. To be honest, I might actually have enjoyed winter more if it had snowed more, if I would have looked out my windows more often and seen all of the brown covered in fluffy white stuff. I do see some of you out there glorying in all things winter. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave. Next up is China Achebe's Things Fall Apart, which is on my list of modern classics to read. 

Watched: Psshh, you already know the answer to this. 

Read: Jamie Ford's The Many Daughters of Afong Moy. I'm about 30% into it and the jury's still out. Each chapter is about what I presume to be a descendant of Afong Moy but nothing is tying them all together now and it's hard to get into a new person's story after you've just become invested in a different person's story. 

Made: Shrimp and roasted tomato pasta, vegetable beef soup, pot roast, and a lot of salads. We're starting to get the hang of this new way of eating but we're still working on a good way to balance our calories throughout the day. Still, we're learning that we can eat whatever we want, drink some wine, and still manage to lose weight which is a pretty good incentive to keep going. 

Enjoyed: Time with family and friends. Miss H came in for the weekend, Big Guy's brother and his wife were in Lincoln this weekend, as was my sister's husband - we got a chance to see all of them yesterday.

This Week I’m:  

Planning: The world's longest hunt for a new sofa continues. People keep giving BG ideas about new places to look (I'll deal with all of you later!). It has consumed entirely too much of my time and I've fallen behind around the house. It's time to get a sofa ordered and to get this place back into shape so that's what's on the agenda this week. 

Edwidge Danticat in conversation at 
Creighton University
Thinking About: I forgot to tell you last week that I'd virtually joined a book discussion with author Edwidge Danticat. I've been thinking a lot about how she writes about hope, despite her books dealing with some very heavy themes. I've picked up a couple of her books from the library that I'm hoping to get to soon. 

Feeling: Old. I've been battling some sciatic pain for the past couple of weeks and I'm not a fan. 

Looking forward to: Book club this week. I need to decide today where we'll meet. With Covid numbers down around here, we may be ready to meet in person again. 

Question of the week: You know how much I love the Olympics but after I watched the conclusion of the women's figure skating the other night, and the devastation and emotional toll it took on those young ladies, I'm having problems resolving my feelings about the games. Did you watch that event? What did you think about the way the cameras stayed with those poor girls afterward and how it affected them? 

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak In The Stacks: A Librarian's Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books In Her Life by Annie Spence

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak In the Stacks: A Librarian's Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life 
by Annie Spence
256 Pages
Published September 2017 by Flatiron Books

Publisher's Summary: 
If you love to read, and presumably you do since you’ve picked up this book (!), you know that some books affect you so profoundly they forever change the way you think about the world. Some books, on the other hand, disappoint you so much you want to throw them against the wall. Either way, it’s clear that a book can be your new soul mate or the bad relationship you need to end.

In Dear Fahrenheit 451, librarian Annie Spence has crafted love letters and breakup notes to the iconic and eclectic books she has encountered over the years. From breaking up with The Giving Tree (a dysfunctional relationship book if ever there was one), to her love letter to The Time Traveler’s Wife (a novel less about time travel and more about the life of a marriage, with all of its ups and downs), Spence will make you think of old favorites in a new way. Filled with suggested reading lists, Spence’s take on classic and contemporary books is very much like the best of literature—sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes surprisingly poignant, and filled with universal truths.

A celebration of reading, Dear Fahrenheit 451 is for anyone who loves nothing more than curling up with a good book…and another, and another, and another!

My Thoughts:

"When people say books are full of wonder, we don't take it seriously enough."

This one was recommended for my book club and I worked and worked on finding a theme for the year that would work to include it. Finally I hit on the idea of a book that represents something about each month and for February it was love - in this case love letters to books. I was expecting a book full of letters to books that Spence has loved through her life and I felt certain that I would have enjoyed that book. But this book is so much more. 

Dear Fahrenheit 451 is funny, snarky, political, and, unexpectedly, a bit naughty (which, honestly, makes me love librarians even more). Spence writes letters to books she loves, books that she is culling from collections (including a book about masturbation and a recipe book filled with recipes for popcorn), and even a book collection in a person's home that she becomes a little too involved with. There is more here, though, than just the letters. Spence also includes lists of books for readers who want particular kinds of books and recommendations for people who say they don't like or have time to read. 

To Dr. Seuss' Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories, Spence writes about how the book saved her on the playground, when she saw it sticking out of another outcast parent's diaper bag and likens that playground hierarchy to the one in the book. 
"Since your release in 1950, you may have assumed fascism was dead, but you need only look around this lot of tyrant tots and their proud parents to see that no everyone absorbed your line about all creatures being free. While the parents at the top of the proverbial turtle heap discuss min-body connections and preschool plans on the shady benches, I'm down the throne on the broiling-hot-covered-in-bird-sh&# bench, whipping sand out of my crying child's eyes with the bottom of my T-shirt."
Most of all this book is a love letter to the idea of books. What they make us feel, how they make us think, and what they represent to society: 
"Dear Fahrenheit 451,
Don't ever change. And stay here with us, always, You were created in a library, and I'm comforted by the fact art you'll remain on library shelves around the world. If we ever get to a point where you're not included in the core of a book collection, we're all f*^#ed...Some days the world feels closer to that point than I'm comfortable with. Be glad you have a voice but no eyes. Since 1953, the talking walls are bigger and louder than ever. The modern-day "firefighters" are armed not with kerosene but snarky internet memes, reality TV, and the ability to simultaneously see more and less of the world around them." 

So many books here that I haven't read...yet. Thanks, Spence, for the recommendations and the reminder that libraries are great places and that librarians are cool. 


Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Cloud Cuckoo Land
by Anthony Doerr
Read by Marin Ireland and Simon Jones
14 hours 52 minutes
Published September 2021 by Scribner

Publisher's Summary: 
Thirteen-year-old Anna, an orphan, lives inside the formidable walls of Constantinople in a house of women who make their living embroidering the robes of priests. Restless, insatiably curious, Anna learns to read, and in this ancient city, famous for its libraries, she finds a book, the story of Aethon, who longs to be turned into a bird so that he can fly to a utopian paradise in the sky. This she reads to her ailing sister as the walls of the only place she has known are bombarded in the great siege of Constantinople. Outside the walls is Omeir, a village boy, miles from home, conscripted with his beloved oxen into the invading army. His path and Anna’s will cross.

Five hundred years later, in a library in Idaho, octogenarian Zeno, who learned Greek as a prisoner of war, rehearses five children in a play adaptation of Aethon’s story, preserved against all odds through centuries. Tucked among the library shelves is a bomb, planted by a troubled, idealistic teenager, Seymour. This is another siege. And in a not-so-distant future, on the interstellar ship Argos, Konstance is alone in a vault, copying on scraps of sacking the story of Aethon, told to her by her father. She has never set foot on our planet.

My Thoughts: 

Definition of cloud-cuckoo-land : a realm of fantasy or of whimsical or foolish behavior

Man, are reader reviews all over the place on this one. One reviewer called it "an original idea maybe - but one big conceit." Another said it's "academic snobbery." Another said it was "hours wasted I'll never get back." But then there are those who called it a "rare and beautiful experience,"weird but awesome," and "a heart wrenching journey." So what's a reader to do when faced with those vastly different opinions about a book? 

Read the reviews. All of them. They almost all have valid points, things to be taken into consideration before you devote this much time to a book. It is a bit of a conceit to think that you can pull off a book that has this many different time lines, this many characters that deserve full attention, and tie them all to an imaginary ancient story written by actual Greek Antonius Diogenes. It is weird. It can also be jarring as it bounces from storyline to storyline; even, even though the readers are fantastic, it might be easier to keep up with in print than audio. 

But, for me at least, it was also awesome, original, and heart wrenching. Every one of the storylines tied into that ancient Greek story, Cloud Cuckoo Land and every one of them tied into one another through that text. Every one of the main characters is an outsider whose on journey is helped along by the ancient tale. It's a recognition of those who have treasured and saved written stories over the centuries and a recognition of what those stories can do for us. Doerr's characters are well developed, his settings incredibly vivid, and his command of storytelling is so impressive. 

If you loved All The Light You Cannot See, you'll recognize all of those elements from that book. But this one is definitely an entirely different kind of book, even as much as readers might like to see Doerr return to that kind of story telling. Don't look for that in this book and you will not be disappointed. This book defies categorization - it is at once science fiction, historical fiction, and fantasy. Doerr its on so many themes that will keep readers thinking about the book long after they have finished reading it. This book is a once a realm of fantasy and a book solidly set in reality. 

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Life: It Goes On - February 13

Happy Sunday! Everyone getting ready to party for the Super Bowl? Big Guy has gone off to a party in Lincoln to see old friends; I always opt out of going and enjoy the evening to myself. Are you all amping up for Valentine's Day? I've been seeing a lot of people getting Valentine's boxes ready for there kids and I'm sort of glad I'm not playing that game any more - you folks with young kids have really upped the game on those boxes! We've long ago given up going out on that day but like to do a nice candlelit dinner, pull out the china and crystal, and put away our phones. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I started Emma Straub's The Vacationers and I'm enjoying it; think it would give book clubs a lot to talk about. I've also been listening to a lot of what Spotify calls "Chill Mix" and "Timeless Love Songs." 

Watched: Almost exclusively the Olympics, especially my beloved curling. 

Read: I finished Thrity Umrigar's latest, Honor, and now I'm reading Jamie Ford's latest, The Many Daughters of Afong Moy

Made: We adapted a Jamie Oliver recipe for pasta with smoked salmon and asparagus one night, another night we paired chicken thighs with avocado and mushrooms over brown rice, and another night we figured out how to eat delicious grilled cheese sandwiches while watching calories. Counting calories is really making us think about what we eat, how much we eat, and what we are willing to give up. If I'm eating a grilled cheese, I want what I like, so I just ate less; other things I'm willing to go with the lower calorie versions. 

Enjoyed: Time with my sister, who is at my dad's this weekend. We went in Friday evening and again yesterday afternoon/evening and enjoyed a couple of delicious meals she prepared. Definitely going to get Polish sausage and sauerkraut back into the rotation at home!

This Week I’m:  

On getting a sofa ordered this week. We spent two hours looking today and will hit up another place tomorrow. Did you realize it is taking a minimum of 3 months to get a custom sofa right now? One we liked would have taken up to 12 months. This is all made even more difficult by the fact that Big Guy and I do not want at all the same thing in a sofa. I'll win the battle, of course; but it will probably mean he's going to get the recliner I hate. 

Thinking About: Changes that are happening at my office as some people are retiring and others have moved on to other jobs. We had a really good synergy and now my boss is going to be making some changes in job duties so I'm a little nervous about what that will mean for me. 

Feeling: Friday was the one year anniversary of my mom's death. I thought I was doing well with that coming up but the day of hit me hard. Then last night my sister and I were sorting through some things and just as we were wondering what our mom would make of it, we found a cardinal. If you don't know, a cardinal is a symbol of a message from an angel. I needed that reminder that she is still with me every step of my life. 

Looking forward to: Miss H is coming to town this weekend and we will celebrate her birthday. 

Question of the week: Super Bowl parties are popular for a lot of reasons. Which is your favorite: the game, the commercials, or the food? 

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Bewilderment by Richard Powers

by Richard Powers
Read by Edoardo Ballerini
7 hours 51 minutes
Published September 2021 by Norton, W. W. and Company Inc. 

Publisher's Summary:

The astrobiologist Theo Byrne searches for life throughout the cosmos while single-handedly raising his unusual nine-year-old, Robin, following the death of his wife. Robin is a warm, kind boy who spends hours painting elaborate pictures of endangered animals. He’s also about to be expelled from third grade for smashing his friend in the face. As his son grows more troubled, Theo hopes to keep him off psychoactive drugs. He learns of an experimental neurofeedback treatment to bolster Robin’s emotional control, one that involves training the boy on the recorded patterns of his mother’s brain…

With its soaring descriptions of the natural world, its tantalizing vision 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: 
Well, this one befuddles me. Not so much the book but why Oprah would have picked this book for her book club. Sure, there's plenty to discuss - again Powers looks at man's effect on his environment and unwillingness to acknowledge the damage he has done, as he did in The Overstory, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize. Powers also tackles the themes of loss; marriage; and parenting, especially parenting a child on the spectrum. And it's bound to get an emotional response from readers; there is so much here intended to provoke emotional reactions - anger, sadness, empathy. 

But that's just it - Powers is too obvious in this book, too clearly attempting to manipulate his readers. The educators are evil, the doctors who insist that Robin should be medicated are evil, the government leaders who control Theo's work funding are evil; and the man who developed the experimental treatment is a terrible person who, in Theo's mind, was having an affair with Robin's mother. Our hearts are meant to ache for Robin (and mine did; I'm not that hardhearted!) as he struggles with the loss of his mother and trying to assimilate with his school mates, with teachers and administrators who don't understand him and a father who is not much better at it. We're meant to sympathize with Theo as he tries to balance parenthood with work and his own pain. There is very little shading to any of the characters, very little chance to understand their point. 

Powers is too clearly attempting to manipulate his readers, except when he isn't - in those places where he ventures off into imagined planets that Theo has created as part of scientific research he's doing to help earn funding for a new space telescope. There are a lot of these expeditions to the simulated planets and while there was often a tie to the story with them, they pulled me out of the story entirely. 

I'm not alone in not caring for this one but there are others who applaud it. The Guardian calls those trips to the plants "myth-like passages" and says Robin is "as compelling a fictional creation" as the reviewer has encountered in a long time. So don't just take my word for it. Maybe look to see what the readers of Oprah's book club thought of this one if the publisher's summary sounds like something that interests you. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

The London House by Katherine Reay

The London House
by Katherine Reay
Published November 2021 by Harper Muse
368 pages

Publisher's Summary: 
Uncovering a dark family secret sends one woman through the history of Britain’s World War II spy network and glamorous 1930s Paris to save her family’s reputation.

Caroline Payne thinks it’s just another day of work until she receives a call from Mat Hammond, an old college friend and historian. But pleasantries are cut short. Mat has uncovered a scandalous secret kept buried for decades: In World War II, Caroline’s British great-aunt betrayed family and country to marry her German lover.

Determined to find answers and save her family’s reputation, Caroline flies to her family’s ancestral home in London. She and Mat discover diaries and letters that reveal her grandmother and great-aunt were known as the “Waite sisters.” Popular and witty, they came of age during the interwar years, a time of peace and luxury filled with dances, jazz clubs, and romance. The buoyant tone of the correspondence soon yields to sadder revelations as the sisters grow apart, and one leaves home for the glittering fashion scene of Paris, despite rumblings of a coming world war.

Each letter brings more questions. Was Caroline’s great-aunt actually a traitor and Nazi collaborator, or is there a more complex truth buried in the past? Together, Caroline and Mat uncover stories of spies and secrets, love and heartbreak, and the events of one fateful evening in 1941 that changed everything.

In this rich historical novel from award-winning author Katherine Reay, a young woman is tasked with writing the next chapter of her family’s story. But Caroline must choose whether to embrace a love of her own and proceed with caution if her family’s decades-old wounds are to heal without tearing them even further apart.

My Thoughts: 
I don't remember where I heard about this book. I almost certainly would not have picked up a book with World War II as a piece of the story with having people recommend it to me. But I made an exception for this one because the piece I read mentioned a connection in the book to the designed Elsa Schiaparelli. I have a degree in fashion merchandising; I studied Elsa Schiaparelli so it was the perfect hook for me. 

Ms. Schiaparelli herself, I was disappointed to find, plays a small role in the book. There is too much going on in this book for her to pay a much larger role. There is, in fact, too much going on here. Reay tries to balance the story line of Caroline Waite's role in the war and her relationship with her family (particularly her twin sister, Caroline Payne's grandmother) with the story line of the tragedy that happened in Caroline Payne's life and its aftermath and the storyline of Caroline Payne's relationship with Mat. I found myself wishing that Reay would have found another way for Caroline Payne to wind up researching her great-aunt's past; we knew, after all, how the arc of Caroline's and Mat's storyline was going to go from the beginning. And all of it doesn't allow as much time for character development as Reay might have been able to do if she'd have had a tighter story. 

Putting all of that aside, I did like the storyline of the relationship between the Waite sisters and how their roles in life flipped over the course of one summer and how one omission changed their relationship for the rest of their lives. I enjoyed the way the pieces of what happened to Caroline Waite were discovered and came together and how they eventually led them to a satisfying conclusion. Some pieces were the happily ever after I expected, others were the ending I felt was more realistic than the happily ever after would have been. 

The Tear Dress, Elsa Schiaparelli,
Wallis Simpson wearing The Lobster Dress
House of Schiaparelli itself plays a bigger role, the place that first draws Caroline Waite to Paris, the place where she first becomes engaged in the politics leading up to the war and where she meets the woman who will drive her to become a spy. It was a good hook that taught me more about Shiaparelli's politics and her relationship with the artist Salvador Dali than what I had learned in college. You know how I love a book that teaches me new things!

Despite its flaws, I think this is a book that fans of historical fiction, particularly historical fiction that focuses on women's roles, will appreciate.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Life: It Goes On - February 6

Happy Sunday! How are all of you who are buried under snow lately faring? Here we have had almost none and, as much as I love not having to drive on dangerous roads, I'm so tired of looking at brown lawns and so concerned that we are not getting enough moisture this winter. You know I'm going to be upset come spring if this means my lawn and gardens won't thrive this year!

Last Week I: 

Listened To: Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. I'm racing today to finish it before it gets returned. It is so interesting and I'm loving the interconnected stories.

Watched: If you've been around long, you'll know that I've been watching a lot of the winter Olympics since they started a couple of days before the actual opening ceremonies. 

Read: I read this month's book club selection, Dear Fahrenheit 451, and have developed a new "game" for us to play based on it. I also continue to read Thirty Umrigar's Honor. I love her books so much and am happy to stretch this one out. 

Made: Good progress on training ourselves to think about eating differently. As I'm not willing to give up on flavor (as in, no fat-free cheeses or sour cream for this girl), portion control is huge as is finding things to eat that are filling, low in calories, and that taste good. We're getting there. 

 Yesterday was salon day and you know how much I live for those mornings, especially when I have time after my appointment to do a little thrift store shopping. I found some good stuff yesterday, including old editions of Jane Eyre and Adam Bede

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Today I'm taking down the winter decor that is what I left up after Christmas. I know what the groundhog said but I'm over winter at this point. I'm not, however, taking down my snowmen yet - I wouldn't want to jinx us with a blizzard, even though I know we need the snow. 

Thinking About: Everything. My brain is on overdrive lately. It's actually part of the reason I've been trying to read more lately. If I can get into a book, it clears away the other things. 

Feeling: Sad. Found out the other night that one of my Tier Ones is moving. I'm happy for them - they will be closer to their grandbaby but we are really going to miss them both. The bright spot is that they are moving someplace we travel to often so we will still get to see them. 

Looking forward to: Watching a virtual event of A Conversation with Edwidge Danticat on Wednesday. I've long been wanting to read her work, especially after Julia Alvarez raved about her work at an event we went to a couple of years ago. Putting in a request for one of her books from the library today. 

Question of the week: Are you watching the Olympics? If so, what's your favorite winter sport?

Thursday, February 3, 2022

One Day In December by Josie Silver

One Day In December
by Josie Silver
Read by Eleanor Tomlinson and Charlie Anson
10 hours
Published January 2018 by Broadway Books

Publisher's Summary: 
Laurie is pretty sure love at first sight doesn't exist anywhere but the movies. But then, through a misted-up bus window one snowy December day, she sees a man who she knows instantly is the one. Their eyes meet, there's a moment of pure magic...and then her bus drives away. Certain they're fated to find each other again, Laurie spends a year scanning every bus stop and cafe in London for him. But she doesn't find him, not when it matters anyway. Instead they "reunite" at a Christmas party, when her best friend Sarah giddily introduces her new boyfriend to Laurie. It's Jack, the man from the bus. It would be. What follows for Laurie, Sarah and Jack is ten years of friendship, heartbreak, missed opportunities, roads not taken, and destinies reconsidered. One Day in December is a joyous, heartwarming and immensely moving love story to escape into and a reminder that fate takes inexplicable turns along the route to happiness.

My Thoughts: 
A coworker recommended this book to me when I told her what kind of books I felt like would work best for me back in December when I was so mentally distracted and in a reading slump. And then it took weeks to become available and somehow I let it expire before finishing it. I finally got it back last week and picked up right where I'd left off. That happens all too often to me and most of the time I find that I've lost my connection to the story and the characters. Not this time. 

If you've been following along with me for long, you'll know I don't read many romance novels (except, of course, for the classics!). But I was feeling the need for lighter stories that had happy, expected endings. Trust a romance novel to give you that. Sure the premises are often preposterous - I mean, you lock eyes at a bus stop and then spend a year searching for him because you're certain he's "the one." Ridiculous, right? But sometimes you just have to be willing to go with it because it's going to lead you to a story that rings true in so many other ways. 

One Day In December isn't just a romance novel; it's also a book about friendship, about the friendship between Laurie and Sarah that prevents Laurie from ruining Sarah's and Jack's relationship and about the friendship between Laurie and Jack that develops between two people whose goal is to make Sarah happy. I loved the friendship between Laurie and Sarah - the kind where special sandwiches are developed, where both understand the other like no one else ever will, the kind that can be bent but not broken. 

My coworker was right when she told me that this one has the depth that keeps it from being the kind of light and frothy romance novel that scares me away from the genre. I don't want to give away too much so I can't really even give you clues about what happens that gives you the bitterness to take the edge off of the sweet. You'll just to have to take my word for it that those things give these characters dimension and make them feel more like people you'd know. 

This book is the perfect example of why you should take a risk on books and try things you'd normally steer clear of - they might just be the right book at the right time. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Radium Girls: The Dark Side of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore

Radium Girls: The Dark Side of America's Shining Women
by Kate Moore
Read by Angela Brazil
Published May 2017 by Sourcebooks

Publisher's Summary: 
The Curies' newly discovered element of radium makes gleaming headlines across the nation as the fresh face of beauty, and wonder drug of the medical community. From body lotion to tonic water, the popular new element shines bright in the otherwise dark years of the First World War.

Meanwhile, hundreds of girls toil amidst the glowing dust of the radium-dial factories. The glittering chemical covers their bodies from head to toe; they light up the night like industrious fireflies. With such a coveted job, these "shining girls" are the luckiest alive—until they begin to fall mysteriously ill.

But the factories that once offered golden opportunities are now ignoring all claims of the gruesome side effects, and the women's cries of corruption. And as the fatal poison of the radium takes hold, the brave shining girls find themselves embroiled in one of the biggest scandals of America's early 20th century, and in a groundbreaking battle for workers' rights that will echo for centuries to come.

My Thoughts: 
In New Jersey and Illinois two dial making companies had no trouble finding young women to work as dial painters in their studios. They paid very well for the precision work that was required and those wages allowed these young girls and their families to live lives they'd never been able to have before. Plus, the positions had the added benefit to the girls of giving them an extra glow, the same glow they were painting on the dials, that made them feel more attractive because the paint included the new wonder ingredient, radium. We know now how very dangerous too much radium can be but when these girls were painting dials, radium was thought to have healing properties. It was no wonder that no one thought a thing of these young women "lip pointing" their brushes to make the tips more precise. 

Before long, though, these young women (most were in their early 20's) began having unusual symptoms - terrible jaw, hip and back pain; teeth falling out and jaws disintegrating; wounds that wouldn't heal. Because no one knew that radium might be causing these problems, no doctor or dentist could initially identify what was happening. In fact, the first girl that died from radium poisoning was actually diagnosed with syphilis. It would take years before anyone really began to understand what was happening and to tie all of the women's problems to one source. 

Long before the dial companies shut down though, long before the practice of lip pointing was ended, officials of the companies knew radium was dangerous. Typically, the companies did nothing. They lied, they covered up, and they fought back when the young women began suing them. 

It's a heartbreaking to read about how these young women suffered and Moore doesn't hold back when describing the agony they were in as their bodies slowly broke down. Or the agony of fighting back against companies that who, even when they settled cases, paid only a pittance of what their medical care had cost and fought back against paying bills. Moore introduces readers to a lot of young women and their families and we come to know them well but companies, doctors and lawyers who covered up what was happening are equally vivid characters. Maybe the saddest thing about the whole situation is that companies continue to treat their employees much the same way. 

This is a story I'd never heard of before and it's one that certainly needed to be written. In one interview with Moore, she said that the finished product was much longer than she had expected when she started writing it. This she attributed to finding much more personal material than she had expected to find - diaries, letter, court transcripts. Those things certainly made the book more readable and relatable. But what I think made the book too long was not the addition of those thing, which were well worth adding, but the extra dramatic flourishes and suppositions that Moore includes. The book often devolves into melodrama which it didn't need and, for me, actually made the book feel less real. Periodically she's added things like "one would imagine she felt..." or "her family closed the door and suffered in private." I understand that narrative nonfiction adds embellishments but this felt a step beyond that to me and colored my impression of the book. Angela Brazil's reading further emphasized the drama. 

So, in the end, I would suggest that this is a story worth knowing and a book that really makes you understand the numbers of girls impacted, the agony they suffered, the battles they had to fight. It's worth reading; but maybe read it in print where you might more easily be able to ignore the flourishes.