Friday, December 29, 2023

Mini-Reviews: December 2023

I have been reading (some, at least), but I sure haven't been posting reviews! And this week totally got away from me when I got sick with norovirus just before Christmas - it took me out for five days! To make sure I get reviews posted in the year that I read the books, I'm going to bust out mini-reviews for the books I've read and haven't reviewed yet this year. 

Darling Girl: A Novel of Peter Pan
by Liz Michalski
352 pages
Published May 2022 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: discovered when the author commented on one of my Instagram posts

Publisher's Summary: 
Life is looking up for Holly Darling, granddaughter of Wendy—yes, that Wendy. That is, until she gets a call that her daughter, Eden, who has been in a coma for nearly a decade, has gone missing from the estate where she’s been long tucked away. And, worst of all, Holly knows who must be responsible: Peter Pan, who is not only very real, but very dangerous. Holly is desperate to find Eden and protect her son, Jack, from a terrible web of family secrets before she loses both her children. And yet she has no one to turn to—her mother, Jane, is the only other person in the world who knows that Peter is more than a story, but she refuses to accept that he is not the hero'she’s always imagined. 

Darling Girl brings all the magic of the classic Peter Pan story to the present, while also exploring the dark underpinnings of fairy tales, grief, aging, sacrifice, motherhood, and just how far we will go to protect those we love.

My Thoughts: 
It's not uncommon for an author to comment on an Instagram post, likely in search of finding a reader interested in taking a look at their work. I don't usually follow up but this time I did and was intrigued. By a coincidence, I also happened to be reading the next book at the same time. Two books inspired by classics, both where our perceptions from the classic are turned upside down. 

You'll have to accept a big of magic (but then you know that going in, of course), that you might never understand some of the "science," and that Eden was kept a secret from everyone for years. The sense of urgency I would have expected was somewhat missing. But I really enjoyed the way Michalski incorporated the key characters from the classic and picked up from that storyline to craft her own work. It was a good escape from heavy reads while also touching on heavy themes. I enjoyed it a lot. Thanks for commenting on my post, Ms. Michalski, and introducing me to your novel!

The Fairytale Life of Dorothy Gale
by Virginia Kantra
384 pages
Published December 2023 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary: 
Dorothy “Dee” Gale is searching for a place to belong. After their globe-trotting mother’s death, Dee and her sister Toni settled with Uncle Henry and Aunt Em in Kansas, where Dee attends graduate school. But when Dee’s relationship with a faculty member, a bestselling novelist, ends in heartbreak and humiliation, she’s caught in a tornado of negative publicity. Unable to face her colleagues—or her former lover—Dee applies to the writing program at Trinity College Dublin. Dee’s journey to Ireland leads her to new companions: seemingly brainless Sam Clery—who dropped out of college and now runs a newsagent’s shop—is charming and hot, in a dissolute, Irish poet kind of way; allegedly heartless Tim Woodman—who stiffly refused to take back his ex-fiancĂ©e—seems stuck in his past; and fiercely loyal Reeti Kaur, who longs for the courage to tell her parents she wants to teach underprivileged girls rather than work in the family business. 

In a year of opportunities and changes, love and loss, Dee is mentored by powerful women in the writing program, challenging her to see herself and her work with new eyes. With her friends, Dee finds the confidence to confront her biggest fears—including her intimidating graduate advisor, who may not be so wicked after all. Faced with a choice with far-reaching consequences, Dee must apply the lessons she’s learned along the way about making a family, finding a home...and recognizing the power that’s been inside her all along.

My Thoughts: 
This one takes the original classic and moves it into the twenty-first century. Dorothy is now "Dee"; sister Toni's nickname is "Toto." After they're orphaned, they move in with their aunt and uncle on a Kansas farm, where they're provided everything they need but never feel the warmth of love Dee craves. So when that tornado of bad publicity, instead of moving home, she travels to Ireland (Oz). There she meets her scarecrow, tin man, lion, Glenda, and a wicked witch. 

This being not just a retelling of The Wizard of Oz, but also a romance, you know that everything will end well. The fun is all in the getting there, in seeing each of the characters get what they want (or, in at least a couple of cases, what they deserve), in seeing the ways that Kantra works in so many parts of the classic while still telling a story that sounds contemporary. It was just what I needed when I read it - fun, an ending I wanted, and all of the familiarity I seemed to have craved. 

by Nathan Hill
Read by Ari Flakes
18 hours, 56 minutes
Published September 2023 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
When Jack and Elizabeth meet as college students in the gritty '90s Chicago art scene, the two quickly join forces and hold on tight, each eager to claim a place in the thriving underground scene with an appreciative kindred spirit. Fast-forward twenty years to suburban married life, and alongside the challenges of parenting, they encounter the often-baffling pursuits of health and happiness from polyamorous would-be suitors to home-renovation hysteria. For the first time, Jack and Elizabeth struggle to recognize each other, and the no-longer-youthful dreamers are forced to face their demons, from unfulfilled career ambitions to childhood memories of their own dysfunctional families. In the process, Jack and Elizabeth must undertake separate, personal excavations, or risk losing the best thing in their lives: each other.

My Thoughts: 
I'm seeing this one on lots of "best of 2023" lists and it was an Oprah's Book Club pick. And I get that there's a lot of meat to this one, a lot to think about, a lot to discuss. But it's so, so long and reading a book about a marriage falling apart was just not the thing I wanted to read when I was listening to this one. Maybe if I had read this one at a different time of year, instead of a time of year when I was trying to work so hard to keep in the spirit of the season, I would have enjoyed it more. Publisher's Weekly called this one Dickensian and it certainly did have that feel; things just kept getting worse and worse. It also says that this book never loses sight of its humanity; but, for me, it felt more like Hill was interested in getting his ideas out into the world. Hill asks the questions: do the narratives we craft give our lives meaning, do they harm us or do they help us? I don't know. What I do know was that I felt like both Jack and Elizabeth decided it was easier to give up because things didn't turn out easy and the way they expected. And I found that far too frustrating to enjoy the book.

All The Beauty In The World: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Me
by Patrick Bringley
240 pages
Published February 2023 by Simon and Schuster

Publisher's Summary:
Millions of people climb the grand marble staircase to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art every year. But only a select few have unrestricted access to every nook and cranny. They’re the guards who roam unobtrusively in dark blue suits, keeping a watchful eye on the two million square foot treasure house. 

Caught up in his glamorous fledgling career at The New Yorker, Patrick Bringley never thought he’d be one of them. Then his older brother was diagnosed with fatal cancer and he found himself needing to escape the mundane clamor of daily life. So he quit The New Yorker and sought solace in the most beautiful place he knew. To his surprise and the reader’s delight, this temporary refuge becomes Bringley’s home away from home for a decade. We follow him as he guards delicate treasures from Egypt to Rome, strolls the labyrinths beneath the galleries, wears out nine pairs of company shoes, and marvels at the beautiful works in his care. 

Bringley enters the museum as a ghost, silent and almost invisible, but soon finds his voice and his tribe: the artworks and their creators and the lively subculture of museum guards—a gorgeous mosaic of artists, musicians, blue-collar stalwarts, immigrants, cutups, and dreamers. As his bonds with his colleagues and the art grow, he comes to understand how fortunate he is to be walled off in this little world, and how much it resembles the best aspects of the larger world to which he gradually, gratefully returns. In the tradition of classic workplace memoirs like Lab Girl and Working Stiff, All The Beauty in the World is a surprising, inspiring portrait of a great museum, its hidden treasures, and the people who make it tick, by one of its most intimate observers.

My Thoughts: 
Now this one, at a relatively slim 240 pages, caught my interest immediately, and held it tight. Bringley does a lovely job of weaving together the circumstances of his life that brought him to the Met and how those circumstances made it the perfect job for him in that moment. 

Bringley has a tremendous appreciation of the works housed in the met and had me looking up works of art constantly. I have always regretted that the hubby and I had devoted so little time to the Met when we went there while in NYC on our honeymoon (seriously, I saw the Brooklyn Bridge, I could have skipped walking on it) and now I'm feeling like a trip to NYC just to spend a couple of days there might need to be scheduled. 

This is a lovely book filled with appreciation for the working people of the Met and the wonders displayed there. It's also a lovely book about how one man dealt with grief. I highly recommend this one. 

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Dead On Target: An Agatha Raisin Mystery by M. C. Beaton

Dead On Target: An Agatha Raisin Mystery
by M. C. Beaton and R. W. Green
256 pages
Published September 2023 by St. Martin's Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
A visit to the local village fete for a spot of fun and relaxation turns into a nightmare for Agatha Raisin when she discovers the body of the local landowner in the woods―with an arrow in his chest and trousers round his ankles. 

Agatha’s old adversary, Detective Chief Inspector Wilkes, declares the death a tragic accident, believing the victim has been hit by a stray arrow from an archery demonstration. Agatha is convinced of foul play, however, and is shocked when Wilkes eventually agrees...with her as his prime murder suspect. 

Determined to clear her name and find the real killer, Agatha launches her own investigation, quickly becoming involved with a family at war, an unscrupulous gangster―and a killer who is determined to make her the next victim...

My Thoughts: 
This is Beaton's 34th Agatha Raisin book - thirty fourth. I haven't paid any attention to how long she's been utilizing the services of another author (or if, in fact Green is the person who actually wrote this book, a la the way Agatha Christie novels continue to be written*). It's got to be getting hard to come up with new story ideas, new ways to kill people off and bury the mystery of who-done-it into a book. I've noticed in the past few books that more and more characters are being introduced into Agatha's circle, giving the author(s) more to play with. And, over time, there has started to be more of a softness to Agatha. Yes, she's still incredibly self-centered and absorbed in her appearance. But we're seeing more affection for those around her. 

As with any series (book or t.v.) that lasts any length of time at all, particularly those set in small town areas, it begins to stretch credulity that so many murders would occur in so small a place. Perhaps it's because the police, at some level, see so inept - maybe would-be murders have no fear of being caught? Perhaps it's because these particular areas seem to draw in people who can be murdered without much being missed. 

The beauty of the Agatha Raisin books is that you never have to have read the previous books to enjoy the book; but for those who have, it's always a pleasure to get to know the characters that much better. Will it win any awards? Not likely. Do these books always make for lively entertainment, the kind of thing that it's complete froth but also clears the mind after meatier reads. I enjoyed it, as I usually do, and I'm almost certain to pick up book #35 when it appears. 

*Yes, in fact, Beaton has selected Green to carry on writing Agatha's stories. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Day by Michael Cunningham

 by Michael Cunningham
288 pages
Published November 2023 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary: 
April 5, 2019: In a cozy brownstone in Brooklyn, the veneer of domestic bliss is beginning to crack. Dan and Isabel, husband and wife, are slowly drifting apart—and both, it seems, are a little bit in love with Isabel’s younger brother, Robbie. Robbie, wayward soul of the family, who still lives in the attic loft; Robbie, who, trying to get over his most recent boyfriend, is living vicariously through a glamorous avatar online; Robbie, who now has to move out of the house—and whose departure threatens to break the family apart. And then there is Nathan, age ten, taking his first uncertain steps toward independence, while his sister, Violet, five, does her best not to notice the growing rift between her parents. 

April 5, 2020: As the world goes into lockdown, the cozy brownstone is starting to feel more like a prison. Violet is terrified of leaving the windows open, obsessed with keeping her family safe. Isabel and Dan communicate mostly in veiled sleights and frustrated sighs. And dear Robbie is stranded in Iceland, alone in a mountain cabin with nothing but his thoughts—and his secret Instagram life—for company. 

April 5, 2021: Emerging from the worst of the crisis, the family reckons with a new, very different reality—and with what they’ve learned, what they’ve lost, and how they might go on.

My Thoughts:
I've waited too long to do this book the justice it deserves, I'm sorry to say. I'm so very far behind on writing reviews so I'm afraid this is going to be short, as well as late in coming. 

Day is not the kind of book that's going to rock the world - it's meditative, intimate, focuses on issues many would rather not think about, often sad and frequently melancholy. It's a slow read, the kind where, even though we are moving forward in time, even though there is action and the pandemic to deal with, it feels much more character than action driven. Which, of course, makes it a novel for a smaller audience. 

It's that intimacy that allows us to really get to know each of the characters in this book, to explore their inner thoughts and emotions. To see them in ways they wouldn't necessarily be able to express for themselves, in ways most of us aren't able to articulate for ourselves. It's that intimacy that pulls us so far in that we have to remind ourselves that Day is touching on universal subjects - love, marriage, parenthood, family, obligations, dreams. 

I'm but one reader, a reader who often feels she's not up to the author's level of story telling, so my opinion won't matter all that much. But for what it's worth, here it is: I liked the writing, I grew attached to the characters, I was a little heartbroken in that last "chapter." But it wasn't a book I couldn't wait to get back to and it's a book that, in sitting down to write this review, I had to remind myself what the story was about; it hasn't stuck with me that way I expected it to stick. I think it has as much to do with the Dan's brother Garth's story taking up more space than I would have liked; Garth and the mother of his son were the two characters in the book that I struggled to care about. That's me, of course. Look at other reviews - anyone who writes them for a living seems to be more impressed overall. 

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Life: It Goes On - December 17

Happy Sunday and happy last day before Christmas weekend! Do you all still have as much to get done as I do? Every year I think I'll be more prepared and every year I'm wrong. Still need to get cards mailed, still need to wrap all of the presents, still need to make the Christmas goodies. But I'm trying to focus on the positive. The cards are in my house, ready to for envelopes to be addressed; the gifts are nearly all purchased and set out ready to wrap; the ingredients for the goodies and the Christmas meals are all in the house and ready to get made. AND I only have to work two days this week so I might even have some time to relax over the upcoming long weekend! 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I convinced a co-worker to read Maria Doria Russell's The Sparrow and realized I'd never read the sequel so this week I started Children of God. Not to far into it yet but have listened to enough to remember why The Sparrow gutted me. 

Watched: The Voice, Miracle on 34th Street, football and our Husker women win their way to the national championship.

Read: Same as last week. I just can't seem to make myself sit down and actually pick up a book for more than a few minutes at a time. 

Made: The Big Guy has, once again, done all of the cooking. Sometimes that means he's actually cooked, sometimes it means he's popped some fish sticks into the oven and made a salad. Either way we've eaten and I didn't have to lift a finger except to clean up. 

Enjoyed: Last night we went out with two of BG's siblings and their spouses, partly for Christmas and partly to celebrate his sister's and her husband's 50th wedding anniversary. We drank Prosecco, shopped, went to an old favorite bar for drinks, and had dinner. I hit the jackpot when I married into BG's family.

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Today is all about wrapping gifts and getting cards ready to mail. Then I'm on to the Christmas goodies. Miss H texted me this morning to see what treats I was making this year, as though I don't make the same things every year. But now I'm thinking I might just throw in a couple of different things this year, if I have time. And then sending the leftovers home with the kids so BG and I aren't grazing on them for a week after Christmas! 

Thinking About: My dad is in a rehabilitation facility and won't get to leave for Christmas so I'm thinking about how we're going to do a Christmas dinner with him and make it feel as festive as possible. 

Feeling: Old. My hair stylist is on maternity leave and my grey is really showing. Mini-me turned 32 yesterday and Miss H reminded me the other day that she's almost 29. And can I possibly be this old and my brain doesn't register it?

Looking forward to: Miss H arrives Saturday, a day earlier than she was expecting to be able to make it and I'm so excited to be able to have a day with her to just hang out before we start the celebrating. 

Question of the week: What are some of your traditional holiday foods? 

Monday, December 11, 2023

Life: It Goes On - December 11

Happy Monday! The weekend got away from and today almost did as well. It's been an unusual week at Casa Shep. My brother was here all week to be the person spending time with my dad and watching out to make sure he was getting good care. He was super easy to have around and he and The Big Guy spent a lot of evenings away from the house so I had a lot of time to myself. Plus, he even made supper on Friday night. We were happy to have his pick up here because...

Mini-him is moving in with his girlfriend's apartment and has spent the past two weekends moving things there. And into our basement. They only plan to be at her place for a couple of months; and then will start looking for a bigger place so needed to keep much of what wouldn't fit now. Just when we had our house all to ourselves! I hope. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: Wellness by Nathan Hill and a lot of Christmas music. 

 Holiday Inn (how did I not remember that incredibly racist scene?!), Scrooged, and Hannah Waddingham: Home For Christmas all to help keep up my holiday spirits. Oh yeah, and the Nebraska volleyball team win their way to the NCAA Final Four! So impressed with this team!

Read: Helene Hanff's The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street and Christy Lefteri's The Book of Fire. Next up is Patrick Bringley's All The Beauty In The World: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Me. 

Made: Once again this week BG did most of the cooking, with the except of the meal my brother made. I am, however, making a cheesecake for tomorrow night's book club holiday party. 

Enjoyed: Time with my brother, dessert and drinks with friends on Saturday (we've hung out together so long our tickets were identical!), and dinner with friends last night. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Shopping will be finished this week, Christmas cards will get mailed, and packages will be shipped. 

Thinking About: Next up - Christmas goodies! 

Feeling: More relaxed than I did a week and a half ago. My dad is doing great, I had that break from caregiving, and things are in good shape around here. 

Looking forward to: My book club's holiday party tomorrow night and dinner with BG's sibs and their spouses this weekend. 

Question of the week: Do you still do Christmas cards? We have only received one so far this year. I still enjoy sending them and getting them. 

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Life: It Goes On - December 3

Happy Sunday! What a week it's been. I mentioned last week that my dad was diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs and leg last weekend. He was in the hospital until Wednesday, when he was transferred to a rehab facility, where he will be for a least the next month. I cannot say enough about the marvelous care he received while in the hospital, nor how relieved I was to have my siblings with me through last weekend. The three of us, and our spouses, are as one when it comes to getting through the tough times. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I started listening to The Measure by Nikki Erlick but it had to go back to the library long before I was able to finish it. So I've started Nathan Hill's Wellness. 

Watched: Football and volleyball, of course. Christmas viewing has commenced. Last weekend my sister and I watched White Christmas, the other night The Big Guy and I watched The Grinch (animated version - it's the best), and today I watched Love Actually while I decorated. 

Read: Still working on The Fairytale Life of Dorothy Gale. It's pretty much just the kind of read my mind needs right now. 

Made: Not a gosh darn thing. BG has been the best this week and made all of the meals; two nights, while my dad was still in the hospital, he even packaged up dinners and brought them to the hospital. 

Enjoyed: Decorating for Christmas. I pulled bins up one or two at a time this year, sorting them and getting rid of more than a bin's worth of stuff so far. You all know how much I love to declutter and reduce! I still have far too much and will likely get rid of more when I take things back down. Tonight, I'm enjoying the sparkle of lights all over my house. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On finishing up the decorating. 

Thinking About: What we can do to make my dad's stay in the rehab facility a little more homey and festive during his stay there. 

Feeling: Grateful - my brother has come up to help keep my dad company this week. 

Looking forward to: Working on my book club's reading list for 2024. 

Question of the week: Have you finished your decorating? 

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Not That Bad: Dispatches From Rape Culture edited by Roxane Gay

Not That Bad: Dispatches From Rape Culture
edited by Roxane Gay
Read by various authors
8 hours, 41 minutes
Published May 2018 by HarperCollins Publishers

Publisher's Summary: 
In this valuable and revealing anthology, cultural critic and bestselling author Roxane Gay collects original and previously published pieces that address what it means to live in a world where women have to measure the harassment, violence, and aggression they face, and where they are “routinely second-guessed, blown off, discredited, denigrated, besmirched, belittled, patronized, mocked, shamed, gaslit, insulted, bullied” for speaking out. Contributions include essays from established and up-and-coming writers, performers, and critics, including actors Ally Sheedy and Gabrielle Union and writers Amy Jo Burns, Lyz Lenz, and Claire Schwartz. Covering a wide range of topics and experiences, from an exploration of the rape epidemic embedded in the refugee crisis to first-person accounts of child molestation, this collection is often deeply personal and is always unflinchingly honest. Like Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, Not That Bad will resonate with every reader, saying “something in totality that we cannot say alone.” 

Searing and heartbreakingly candid, this provocative collection both reflects the world we live in and offers a call to arms insisting that “not that bad” must no longer be good enough.

My Thoughts: 
When she was 12 years old, Roxane Gay was gang raped. In order to mentally survive that, she had to convince herself that it was "not that bad" and that other women had it worse. Read that again. Gay did not allow herself to fully comprehend the horrific thing that had been done to her, and at such a young age. 

Women have been brainwashed for so long that we all begin to believe that things are "not that bad." Even when they truly are that bad. And we live in a world where we are constantly comparing what has happened to us against what has happened to other people. We're prone to convincing ourselves that what happens to us really isn't that bad. The reality is that most women have a certain amount of fear at all times. We are less likely to go out after dark. When we do, we are (and have been raised to be) constantly vigilant of our surroundings. We carry our keys webbed through our fingers as weapons. We double and triple checks locks before we go to bed. We have been catcalled, touched in ways we haven't allowed, followed. We are blamed for the terrible things that happen to us. I live in a very safe suburban neighborhood and it makes me uncomfortable to be in my own backyard after dark if my husband is not at home because I have lived so long in fear that someone is lurking in the shadows, ready to harm me. But it is not just women who suffer in our rape culture. 

This collection of twenty-nine essays is one of the most difficult books I've ever read. Listening to it, I believe, made it that much more difficult, emphasizing, as it did through all of the different voices, the size of the problem. As with any collection, some stories were more compelling for me, more relatable. Told from a wide variety of perspectives, this collection speaks to how widespread rape culture is and how many different lives it touches. I meant to write down the names of the essays that most impacted me and the reasons why; but I put off writing about the book because it was just so damn hard to think about and now those titles are gone from my mind, I'm sorry to say. 

As hard as it is to read, I'm hoping that more people will read this book and understand that no matter how rape culture has impacted your life, it is that bad. None of us should have to live in fear, no one should be blamed for the terrible things that others do to them, all of our sons (because the culture is primarily the result of male behavior) should be taught how to behave and how to speak, and all of us deserve to be heard and believed. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder by David Grann

The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder 
by David Grann
Read by Dion Graham
8 hours, 28 minutes
Published April 2023 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
On January 28, 1742, a ramshackle vessel of patched-together wood and cloth washed up on the coast of Brazil. Inside were thirty emaciated men, barely alive, and they had an extraordinary tale to tell. They were survivors of His Majesty’s Ship the Wager, a British vessel that had left England in 1740 on a secret mission during an imperial war with Spain. While the Wager had been chasing a Spanish treasure-filled galleon known as “the prize of all the oceans,” it had wrecked on a desolate island off the coast of Patagonia. The men, after being marooned for months and facing starvation, built the flimsy craft and sailed for more than a hundred days, traversing nearly 3,000 miles of storm-wracked seas. They were greeted as heroes. 

But then ... six months later, another, even more decrepit craft landed on the coast of Chile. This boat contained just three castaways, and they told a very different story. The thirty sailors who landed in Brazil were not heroes – they were mutineers. The first group responded with countercharges of their own, of a tyrannical and murderous senior officer and his henchmen. It became clear that while stranded on the island the crew had fallen into anarchy, with warring factions fighting for dominion over the barren wilderness. As accusations of treachery and murder flew, the Admiralty convened a court martial to determine who was telling the truth. The stakes were life-and-death—for whomever the court found guilty could hang.

My Thoughts: 
I hadn't really considered that it's, in the blogging world, Nonfiction November. But I've managed to read a couple of nonfiction books this month, one of which is David Grann's latest, The Wager, which is being widely touted as one of the best books of 2023. I actually started it almost six weeks ago, when the Big Guy and I were on a road trip; I knew it was the kind of thing that would appeal to both of us. But this was another one of those books that BG found hard to listening because he found it so troubling. So we didn't actually listen to more than about three hours of it on that trip; while waiting for another opportunity for the two of us to listen to it, my loan expired and it took weeks for me to get it back. 

We hadn't even gotten to the worst of it. In any review of this book that you'll read, they will inevitably start at the point where life was hard on the journey around Cape Horn but the trials of tribulations of the crew aboard The Wager, and the other ships with which it set sail, began long before then. 

We're accustomed to thinking of the British navy as one of the greatest military forces in history. What we don't read about it how difficult it was to maintain a wooden ship of that size, how prone they were to rot and hard it was to find sufficient crew to man such enormous vessels. It was, in fact, so difficult that many of the 2000 men in the squadron of ships that included The Wager, were impressed and either in poor health, elderly, or had no sailing or military experience. Before the squadron had even left the coast of Europe, typhus began to reduce their numbers. Life on the ships was miserable, especially if you were a regular seaman, and not an officer and the journey dragged on much longer than expected. Rations were already running low when The Wager became separated from the squadron as it was rounding Cape Horn so that when The Wager ran aground, the men were already feeling the effects of it. The island they landed on made it difficult to fish and offered little in the way of edible vegetation or animals. Almost as soon as the ship wrecked, there were men who began to defy the officer who had become captain when the original captain died at sea. 

Yes, things just kept getting worse and worse. Men went off hunting and died. Men died of starvation and disease. One man died when the captain shot him. And when help, in the form of natives of the area who were experts in finding food, arrived, the men managed to frighten them off. Finally, the remaining group decided that they must make an effort to leave the island and the divide in loyalties reached a mutinous level. Some stayed with the captain, others left with a sailor who, it seemed, had a much safer plan, one more likely to get the men home. Most of both parties perished before they were finally able to return to England and face what had happened on the island. 

It was, to say the least, a big deal, at the time. Which makes the fact that none of us have really heard of The Wager before surprising. Grann tells readers up front that The Wager will be shipwrecked, that there will be a mutiny, and that some of the sailors will return home, telling very different stories. We know all of that and it it still shocking to read about what happened to these men and how terribly they suffered. It's truly amazing that any of them survived at all. For my money, that isn't the most stunning part of the book. The highlight for me is in learning why The Wager is not a story any of us have heard before and it ties in so well with what we know about how the military, the press, and governments work today. 

It's a tough read. BG wasn't wrong in his assessment that it was hard to listen to too much at once. Any book about human suffering is difficult to read, particularly one where the suffering was so unnecessary. But it's certainly a book that readers will sink into and not be able to pull themselves out of until you find out what happened to these men. 

Monday, November 27, 2023

Life: It Goes On - November 27

Happy Monday! Hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving, however you celebrated it. Miss H was not even joking when she told a friend that she'd be perfectly happy having a day at home to herself without anything she had to do - this mama was happy that she was convinced to go out to dinner with this wonderful friend who treated her to a fabulous multi-course dinner. We ended up with just 13, which still required almost all of the table space we could muster without putting up another table. It was such a good day - so much good food, so much fun, so much healing laughter and conversation. 

When Saturday hit, and our family had all headed off to spend time with their other families, I put my feet up for a bit and then took all of Thanksgiving down and put it away. Thought I would start putting Christmas up on Sunday but life had other plans. Christmas decorating will have to wait a little longer. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I finished Darling Girl. I had several others all come up at the same time; but with a long weekend, I actually have less time to listen, so I've returned them all and put new holds on them. 

Watched: A sad weekend for my beloved Huskers. The football team lost in the last seconds, the previously undefeated volleyball team was swept, and the soccer team was knocked out of the tournament in the Elite Eight. 

Read: I'm still reading The Fairytale Life of Dorothy Gale; and, surprisingly for me, considering that it is, in addition to being a Wizard of Oz spinoff, a romance novel, enjoying it. 

Made: Cranberries, pumpkin spice breakfast cake, stuffing, brined turkey, glazed ham. And then I didn't have to cook again the rest of the four day weekend, what with leftovers and takeout pizza. 

Enjoyed: Spending so much time with my family. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Late Saturday, my dad fell and was taken to the hospital for assessment. While there, it was discovered that he has blood clots in his lungs and leg. Needless to say, all plans have now shifted to getting him the care that he needs as he recovers from this. 

Thinking About: Saturday night, as we were sitting in the emergency room, a doctor left the room and closed the door firmly. Immediately, it slowly reopened. My sister and I joked that it was our mom's spirit coming to be with us. At that point they had not discovered my dad's clots and the doctor was about to send him home. Then a nurse spoke up and convinced him to looked into something more closely. We know that it was our mom giving that nurse the nudge to speak up and point out what the doctor had missed. We felt her with us so strongly all weekend. 

Feeling: Guys, I'm tired. Glad that my dad is getting better and getting such good care. Sad that this means he'll need to move to assisted living and leave his beloved apartment. So many feelings. 

Looking forward to: Saturday we're going to see the touring company of My Fair Lady, my favorite musical (well, at least my favorite old school musical). 

Question of the week: Do you believe that the spirits of those we love stay with us? 

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Happy Thanksgiving!

Not my usual traditional, vintage post but I saw this and decided we could probably all do with a little levity today! Hope you are all enjoying your Thanksgiving, however you are spending it.


Monday, November 20, 2023

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

The Sentence
by Louise Erdrich
400 pages
Read by Louise Erdrich - 709 minutes
Published November 2021 by HarperCollins Publishers

Publisher's Summary: 
Louise Erdrich's latest novel, The Sentence, asks what we owe to the living, the dead, to the reader and to the book. A small independent bookstore in Minneapolis is haunted from November 2019 to November 2020 by the store's most annoying customer. Flora dies on All Souls' Day, but she simply won't leave the store. Tookie, who has landed a job selling books after years of incarceration that she survived by reading "with murderous attention," must solve the mystery of this haunting while at the same time trying to understand all that occurs in Minneapolis during a year of grief, astonishment, isolation, and furious reckoning. 

The Sentence begins on All Souls' Day 2019 and ends on All Souls' Day 2020. Its mystery and proliferating ghost stories during this one year propel a narrative as rich, emotional, and profound as anything Louise Erdrich has written.

My Thoughts: 
I was gifted this book last year at my book club's annual Christmas party and thought it would make a great choice for my book club for this year. I mean, Louise Erdrich always gives you a lot to think about and talk about, right? Hmmm, not so much for my book club; no one else was all that thrilled with this one. Which made me the odd man out, because I really enjoyed it, despite what I perceived to be its flaws. 

I'd be interested to find out when Erdrich began writing this book because it feels a bit like she might have started it in 2019, intending it to be one book, and then 2020 arrived and the book went an entirely different way. There are, in fact, a lot of different kinds of book within this one. It begins with a kind of tragicomic crime escapade that results in Tookie being incarcerated, sentenced to 60 years. Which, of course, made me immediately think this book had veered into a completely different direction. It did, just not the direction I expected. It's a story of redemption, it's a ghost story, there's a supernatural element, it's an homage to books and reading, it's a love story, and, for a time, there's an element of nonfiction. In lesser hands, this could have been a disastrous mess. Even as skilled as Erdrich is, it sometimes felt a bit disjointed. But I was willing to forgive Erdrich that because I was so invested in these characters. 

As always, Erdrich explores native culture and the Indigerati (her term for urban, intellectual Native Americans). To that end, she talks about the foods (including the commodity foods that the government handed out), traditions, solidarity with black people, and white appropriation (there are two characters who seem unable to understand the boundaries). 

This book touches on so many themes: racism, Erdrich uses the ghost to explore hauntings in all of its forms (personal pasts, colonial haunting and how it has played out): 
"Think how white people believe their houses...are haunted by Indians, when it's really the opposite. We're haunted by settlers and their descendants. We're haunted by the Army Medical Museum and countless natural history museums and small-town museums who still have unclaimed bones in their collections." 
The Sentence is not just the title of this book; it is a running theme. We start with Tookie's sentence to prison ("This light word lay so heavily on me.") then the sentence in language, many of which play an important part in the book. There is the sentence in a book that Tookie believes killed Flora, the sentence that Tookie believes will cause Flora to pass on, the sentence that actually does cause Flora to leave the book store, the sentence that Pollux waits years to hear Tookie say, and the final sentences of the book, "The door is open. Go." Finally, there is the death sentence given to George Floyd and the hundreds of thousands who died of Covid. 

I loved that books saved Tookie in prison, that they became so important during 2020 that bookstores were considered essential, that a book plays such an important role in this novel, and that the book store is a central fixture of the novel. The books in the novel forge relationships, unveil history, bring hope. 

An interesting bit in this book is that the bookstore Tookie works in is Birchbark Books, owned by a woman named Louise. Yes indeed, Erdrich owns a bookstore of that name in Minneapolis. This was a listen/read combo for me and I don't think you could go wrong either way. If you listen, try to find the book list that Erdrich includes at the end of the book. My to-be-read list exploded! 

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Life: It Goes On - November 19

Happy Sunday before the chaos! Show of hands - who actually brings the turkey to the table to carve it? And if you do, how the heck do you keep it from making a mess of the entire table? 

Who else is hosting the family this week? We'll have 14 with us Thursday and 5 people staying for the weekend. Needless to say, this week has been busy with planning and preparing. Fortunately, everyone who's coming is arriving with some of the meal, making that part much easier for me. I know where everyone will sit for the meal...not sure where everyone will sit while they're waiting, or, more importantly, where they'll stretch out to nap afterward!

Last Week I: 

Listened To: Darling Girl by Liz Michalski, a modern spin off of Peter Pan, which I'm enjoying. 

Watched: Mini-him's cat for the week while he traveled to California for work. 

Read: The Fairy Tale Life of Dorothy Gale by Virginia Kantra, a spin off of, of course, The Wizard of Oz. This is one of those times when my reading has an unexpected commonality. 

Made: Prepping for this coming week, I've made cranberries and a pumpkin/spice breakfast cake. 

 Brunch with my Tier Ones and their spouses. Always so good for my heart to be with these people! 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: See above. It just occurred to me today (how it didn't occur to me sooner, I don't know) that I need to have a meal plan for the whole weekend so I'm starting that plan. 

Thinking About: The Big Guy and I did a lot of work putting our basement back together again this week. There's a lot to be done down there yet. Now that we have Miss H settled, we can get rid of the things that we no longer need to save for "some day." Now we can start thinking about what we want to do with that space, now that it's no longer a kid zone. 

Feeling: Like taking a day off this week would have been a good idea. 

Looking forward to: The chaos that will be my house from Wednesday late afternoon until sometime next Sunday. 

Question of the week: Are you a Thanksgiving traditionalist or do you like to experiment with new takes on old favorites? 

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy - Guest Review

The Kafka Studies Department
by Francis Levy
Illustrations by Hallie Cohen
112 pages
Published September 2023 by Heliotrope Books

Publisher's Summary:
From Francis Levy, author of Seven Days in Rio, which The New York Times called “a fever dream of a novel,” comes The Kafka Studies Department, a highly original collection of short, parable-like stories infused with dark humor, intellect, and insight about the human condition. While the book’s style is deceptively simple and aphoristic, it carries a hallucinatory moral message. A prism of interconnected and intertwined tales, inspired by Kafka, the stories examine feckless central characters who are far from likable, but always recognizable and wildly human.

My Thoughts - Well, Actually, The Big Guy's Thoughts: 
This book arrived in my house a couple of weeks ago and The Big Guy immediately picked it up - I think the cover intrigued him initially. Always thinking that another point of view is a good idea to break things up, I figured I'd let him read this one and share his thoughts. Without further ado, I give you The Big 
Guy's Thoughts: 
This little Diddy is a short 109 pages of short stories.  At first they appear fairly divergent, but later they come together, especially with the main character of Spector.  

I really like Francis Levy's writing style, like I am told, Kafka wrote about many bizarre situations with many strange characters and this assortment is evidently similar.  I have always liked fictional tales with a different perspective with somewhat eccentric characters doing strange things, so I am in my element.  

There are many bad things happening to many of the main characters, many who deserve it and some situations that even if not happily ever after are neutral in calamity.  But for some reason, I don't feel bad for the characters either because they are a-holes or you just don't feel much for them either way.  

The writing style is dark comedy like a Cohen Brothers show or movie, so even if there is death and destruction in many of the stories they have a light and airy feel to them. His stories have a late 1960s early1970s feel to them like Richard Braughtigan or Kurt Vonnegut.

An easy quick read you can knock you in a couple of hours, but I catch myself wanting to reread it again right away as in any good short story there is a lot packed into few pages.  Not much in the way of violence except for violent thoughts, but certainly quite a few sexual references and probably best for readers over 18.  

I catch myself wanting to read some Kafka now. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Short Story Advent Calendar

You should head over to my Instagram account, where I'm featuring the Short Story Advent calendar today! Wouldn't it have been nice if I'd had a lovely Christmas-y background in this pic - still decorated for fall since I'll be hosting 17 for Thanksgiving dinner and we might be sitting in every room in the house to eat! 

I was talking to Trish, at TLC Book Tours, a bit ago about a book that I'll be reviewing tomorrow when she asked me if I'd ever heard of the Short Story Advent Calendar. I hadn't; but, always one who thinks she needs to read more short stories, I agreed to do an Instagram feature. 

This is such a fun idea and anyone can find time to read one of these little books a day; each is only around 20 pages. The Big Guy thought he'd start reading them but I slapped his hand and reminded him that advent calendars are meant to be started on December 1. We won't tell him that I've already been doing a little reading. A girl's gotta be prepared to discuss, right?

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Life: It Goes On - November 7

Happy Tuesday! Golly, not only am I late posting this week, but I never got any reviews posted last week! It's been a busy week only broken up by evenings that I'm too mentally exhausted to get much done and I've given myself permission to give in to that. 

This is probably the last week for this Life: It Goes On pic - the leaves are almost all gone and we are entering the season of bare trees and dark evenings. I know so many of you love when we leave daylight saving time but this girl hates it. It's dark when I wake up, it was dark well before I got home from work; it's depressing, for me, to be waking into work when it's light, knowing that may well be the only light I get for the day. On the plus side, it was warm enough for us to eat dinner on the patio tonight!

Last Week I: 

Listened To: The Sentence by Louise Erdrich. My loan expired this morning before I was able to finish; but, luckily, I happen to also have it in print to finish it up. 

Watched: The Nebraska volleyball team come from 2 sets down to win. These girls seem to always find a way to win - they're very fun to watch. 

Read: Day by Michael Cunningham. Hope to finish that this week. Who knows - maybe one day I'll actually get a review written! 

Made: Raspberry banana bread because I had both bananas and raspberries that needed to be used and not enough time to make two different kinds of bread. It was delicious! 

The cedar chest I refinished and the end table that I painted, with 
it's new lighting. 
 As exhausting as it was and as sore and tired as we were when we left, we enjoyed helping Miss H move into her apartment this weekend. We couldn't stay long enough to get her completely settled, but left her in good shape. So excited for her - it's very cozy and very much her. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Have to finish putting the yard and gardens to sleep for the season and put the basement back in order now that all of Miss H's things are gone. 

Thinking About: I'll admit it - I'm starting to think of decorating for Christmas. I never, and I mean never, start before Thanksgiving but it's so much work and I want to be very deliberate about it this year. It will actually take more thinking as I try to scale it all back some. 

Feeling: Like I should have been cleaning tonight but instead I watched The Voice and scrolled Instagram. 

Looking forward to: The Big Guy's brother is coming to town so that the two of them can go to a concert and his wife and I are going to have a movie night here with take out. 

Question of the week: Are you team "decorate right after Halloween" or team "wait until after Thanksgiving?"

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Life: It Goes On - October 29

Happy Sunday! It's grey, it's cold, and all of the things that were still alive outside are now dead. And this is why I'm not a fan of autumn. I did bring in my herbs and some flowering plants and will see how long I can keep them alive. On the plus side, there are a few tomatoes still sitting on my counter that ripened off the vine this past week because it was abnormally warm to start the week. So maybe one more round of BLT sandwiches with home grown tomatoes? 

I finally finished the furniture for Miss H early last week, after much frustration. I'd liked to have had another week or two to work on it, but it looks good and will serve her purposes. And now I can finally focus on getting some other things done around here. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: Madame Restell, by Jennifer Wright; unfortunately, my loan expired before I could finish the book so it will be several weeks before I can finish this on. This week I'll start Louise Erdrich's The Sentence, the November pick for my book club. 

Watched: The usual football and volleyball and the last ever episode of Grace and Frankie. I'm really going to miss the laughs and those two ladies. 

Read: M. C. Beaton's latest Agatha Raisin mystery, Dead on Target, my nod to Halloween. 

Made: Tonight I made a new version of chicken pot pie, which includes a puff pastry topping, instead of the usual pie crust. It's a definite make again, but I'm definitely be upping the seasoning. 

Enjoyed: A Zoom happy hour with my Tier 1 friends on Friday. It was just the therapy I needed! 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: This weekend we go down to help Miss H get settled into her new place. I love doing that, so I'm looking forward to it. Before we go, I'm going to plan out the best layout for her furniture on graph paper and gather together all of the things we'll need to get things put together and on the walls. 

Thinking About: Now that our basement will finally get to be an adult space (for the first time every), I'm busy making plans for what that space will look like one day. BG keeps reminding me that we have other, more pressing, things to get done around here before then; but I'm going to keep dreaming. 

Feeling: Blessed. Yesterday was my birthday and I was wow'd by the number of people who reached out over social media, the number of cards I got, and some very thoughtful gifts, including these frog stepping stones which arrived from Mini-me's mother-in-law, who is also, now, a friend. 

The Big Guy gave me the house to myself for much of the day, and you know how much I enjoy my alone time. That was only interrupted by a visit from Mini-him, who brought me lovely flowers, lunch, and a book. I may have messed some things as a parent, but I certainly taught that boy how to treat his mama (and, I hope, all women) well. 

Looking forward to: Tomorrow night we're headed to dinner out to celebrate our 41st wedding anniversary. We're going to one of the last old school steak places left in Omaha; they still have a salad bar and serve baked Alaska. Tuesday we're going to see the musical, Tina, about Tina Turner. 

Question of the week: Some years back, my sister got me a set of peg doll figurines of the lady Supreme Court justices. Later, she added a suffragette to my peg doll collection. Last year, she had one of my mom commissioned, to be added to what has become referred to as my "strong women" collection. Last week, the latest addition arrived in the mail...Miss H. To say that it brought tears to my eyes would be an understatement. She really is one of the strongest people I know (although I love that she still needs her mom and dad on a pretty regular basis!). If you had this kind of collection, what famous woman would you add? Who would you add from your own life? 

Thursday, October 26, 2023

The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store by James McBride

The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store
by James McBride
400 pages
Published August 2023 by Penguin Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
In 1972, when workers in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, were digging the foundations for a new development, the last thing they expected to find was a skeleton at the bottom of a well. Who the skeleton was and how it got there were two of the long-held secrets kept by the residents of Chicken Hill, the dilapidated neighborhood where immigrant Jews and African Americans lived side by side and shared ambitions and sorrows. Chicken Hill was where Moshe and Chona Ludlow lived when Moshe integrated his theater and where Chona ran the Heaven & Earth Grocery Store. When the state came looking for a deaf boy to institutionalize him, it was Chona and Nate Timblin, the Black janitor at Moshe’s theater and the unofficial leader of the Black community on Chicken Hill, who worked together to keep the boy safe. 

As these characters’ stories overlap and deepen, it becomes clear how much the people who live on the margins of white, Christian America struggle and what they must do to survive. When the truth is finally revealed about what happened on Chicken Hill and the part the town’s white establishment played in it, McBride shows us that even in dark times, it is love and community—heaven and earth—that sustain us.

My Thoughts: 
Confession: this is another one of those books that I picked up without any notion of what it was about; I picked it up solely based on the author, an author I've been meaning to read for years, an author who's written three books I own but have never read. It's time I thought. And now I can't help but wonder if I might have done those other three books a disfavor. Not so much in ignoring them for so long (although that's certainly a disfavor), but in having set the bar so high for them with this one. 

The New York Times calls this book "a murder mystery locked inside a Great American novel" and a web. 

That murder mystery begins in the opening pages of the book, when that skeleton is found and then the mystery disappears until it is finally explained in the closing pages of the book. There is not much investigation, nor an inquiry in 1972 and readers will be forgiven for forgetting about that skeleton over the course of the book. They'll forget about it because McBride's about to weave that web, bringing in more and more story lines that, at first, seem to be leading nowhere. 

We quickly travel back in time to the 1920's and 1930's, to Chicken Hill, where African Americans and Jewish immigrants live in sometimes uneasy peace with each other and with the "real" Americans who live down the hill in Pottstown. McBride introduces to a wide range of characters in the neighborhood and a complicated water rights issue that will try your brain but stay with it, the payoff is well worth it. Not even the smallest detail is a throwaway in this book; everything points to something more. McBride takes his time building the novel; but it never felt too slow, so wrapped up was I in the people of Chicken Hill, the dynamics of the people who lived there, the music and politics of the time. There is humor here, tension, heartache, sadness, satisfaction, and joy and so many small and great lessons to be learned (although McBride is never preaching here). 

I picked this one up without knowing anything about it. Now I doubt I will ever forget it. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese

Cutting For Stone
by Abraham Verghese
560 pages; 23 hours, 54 minutes
Read by Sunil Malhotra
Published February 2009 by Knopf 

Publisher's Summary: 
Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon at a mission hospital in Addis Ababa. Orphaned by their mother’s death in childbirth and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution. Yet it will be love, not politics—their passion for the same woman—that will tear them apart and force Marion, fresh out of medical school, to flee his homeland. He makes his way to America, finding refuge in his work as an intern at an underfunded, overcrowded New York City hospital. When the past catches up to him—nearly destroying him—Marion must entrust his life to the two men he thought he trusted least in the world: the surgeon father who abandoned him and the brother who betrayed him.

My Thoughts: 
I bought a paperback copy of this book something like ten years (or more) ago but it has long languished on my bookshelves because of its length. It felt intimidating, as so many big books do. But when a friend from work strongly recommended it for perhaps the third or fourth time, I knew it was time to get to it. 

I figured a read/listen combination was the best route to go so I requested the audiobook from the library. But at nearly 24 hours long, there was no way I was getting this one listened to in 14 days. It never occurred to me that it would be weeks and weeks before I would be able to check it out a second time to finish it. When that turned out to be the case, I went to pull the paperback off my shelves...only to find it gone. I assumed that I had purged it, in light of the fact that I had requested it in audio format. I resigned myself to waiting for the book. And then, when I randomly decided to reorganize my books one day, I found it, shoved down behind other books. I had something like 200 pages left to read and put it on my bookshelf to read in bed at night. Except I didn't. I either went to bed too late to read or had a library book I needed to finish up and read that instead. So it was weeks before I got back to it, other than to read a few pages at a time. I do not recommend this as a good way to read a book; it's certainly not the way I intended to read/listen to this one when I started. 

In breaking the book up, I can't help but feel that my overall impression of the book suffered. What stuck with me when I got back to the book was not the emotional attachment I had formed for Marion, but rather a feeling that there was entirely too much medical detail, not enough connection to Shiva, and the feeling that the reconnection Marion makes late in the book with a woman he'd spent his life in love with was lacking. 

The Guardian has this to say about the book: 
"This is a book narrated by a surgeon, and structured as a surgeon might structure it: after the body has been cut open and explored everything is returned to its place and carefully sutured up - which is not, in the end, how life actually works."

Which is to say that Verghese chooses to reveal quite a lot about several of the characters well into the book, in time to bring the story to its climax; but, perhaps, too late for the reader to remain connected emotionally. It pulled me out of the story, as did all of the medical detail. 

But, again, I will never know how this all might have felt if I had read this one straight through. I never stopped caring what happened to Marion and I was glad that he has some resolution to things that had troubled him all of his life.  


Sunday, October 22, 2023

Life: It Goes On - October 22

Happy Sunday from Omaha, where it was 80 degrees and sunny and today I'm working on furniture between sprinkles and outfitted in sweatpants and a hoodie. Racing to get these last two pieces of furniture finished for Miss H before it gets entirely too cold to work outside...and also before we have to pack them up to take them to KC. 

The ash tree in our front yard is in full, glorious color and when the sun has been shining, it has bounced the most beautiful rosy light into my office. As I've struggled with autumn this year, that was a good reminder of the good things about this time of year. I needed that, after having pulled plants out of pots and garden beds yesterday, something that always makes me blue. 

Last Week I: 
Listened To: Finishing Not That Bad today. It's so, so hard to listen to, but so, so important. 

Watched: Grace and Frankie, Daisy Jones and The Six, and a lot of football, including a Husker win. Oh, yeah, and the Husker volleyball team knocking off the No. 1 team in the country, a team we've been unable to beat in the last ten times we've come up against them.

Read: I finished James McBride's The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store.  Not sure what's up next. 

Made: Lasagna tortellini soup (it was a huge hit!) and boozy chocolate cake. 

Enjoyed: Lots of time with family and friends. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: I thought I was about finished with this cedar chest but I wasn't happy with it so I've sanded the top back down and will restain it tomorrow and then finish cleaning up the copper.  

Thinking About: Everything. Seriously, I wake up in the night and my brain is all over the place and I can't get back to sleep. 

Feeling: Still not happy about it being fall...even as I think about soups and all other manner of comfort foods. 

Looking forward to: A little weekend trip. 

Question of the week: Have you ever refinished or painted furniture? If so, which do you prefer doing? Any favorite products to recommend?