Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Life: It Goes On - September 26

Happy Tuesday! We returned yesterday evening from a wonderful long weekend visiting my sister and her family and I just could not muster the energy to post. I wish someone would invent a way to teleport one of these days so we can actually return from a break rested instead of exhausted by an eight hour drive in heavy traffic and/or rain. We didn't help ourselves any by spending a little extra time hanging out with my niece and her little guy before we headed south but it was so fun to get more time with him. Is there anyone else more fun than than a 2-year-old? 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: A Fever In The Heartland, by Timothy Egan (what an eye opener!) and more of The Wager, while we were driving. We were hoping to finish it yesterday but the drive was too stressful to focus on a book. 

Watched: A lot of Husker sports - two volleyball matches and a football game. 

Read: Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet. 

Made: Who can remember back in time to before we left for the weekend?

Enjoyed: Lots of family time; and a rainy, but very fun, trip along the north shore of Lake Superior, with stops to check out the view, get down by the water, and stop at a winery. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: My dad will be moving sooner than originally planned so we will be working this weekend to get him packed up and ready. 

Thinking About: What needs to be done to move my dad, Miss H, and, possibly, Mini-him yet this fall. 

Feeling: One day back and I'm already in need of Friday to get here soon!

Looking forward to: I have a half day on Friday that will be spent doing lots of things just for me. 

Question of the week: If you could teleport anywhere for a long weekend without the time and expense of travel, where would you go?

Thursday, September 21, 2023

All The Broken Places by John Boyne

All The Broken Places
by John Boyne
Read by Kristin Ahterton and Helen Lloyd 
12 hours 42 minutes
Published November 2022 by Penguin Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
Ninety-one-year-old Gretel Fernsby has lived in the same well-to-do mansion block in London for decades. She lives a quiet, comfortable life, despite her deeply disturbing, dark past. She doesn’t talk about her escape from Nazi Germany at age 12. She doesn’t talk about the grim post-war years in France with her mother. Most of all, she doesn’t talk about her father, who was the commandant of one of the Reich’s most notorious extermination camps. 

Then, a new family moves into the apartment below her. In spite of herself, Gretel can’t help but begin a friendship with the little boy, Henry, though his presence brings back memories she would rather forget. One night, she witnesses a disturbing, violent argument between Henry’s beautiful mother and his arrogant father, one that threatens Gretel’s hard-won, self-contained existence. 

All The Broken Places moves back and forth in time between Gretel’s girlhood in Germany to present-day London as a woman whose life has been haunted by the past. Now, Gretel faces a similar crossroads to one she encountered long ago. Back then, she denied her own complicity, but now, faced with a chance to interrogate her guilt, grief and remorse, she can choose to save a young boy. If she does, she will be forced to reveal the secrets she has spent a lifetime protecting. This time, she can make a different choice than before—whatever the cost to herself….

My Thoughts: 
I did that thing again, the thing where I don't finish listening to a book before my loan expires and then months later, when I finally get it back again, I can't remember a thing I listened to before and I have to go back aways into the book to refresh my memory. In no time, though, I was once again swept into this book and everything it made me feel. 

In 2006, Boyne wrote the bestseller The Boy In The Striped Pajamas. Readers of that book will recognize the main character in this book. Gretel Fernsby was 12 years old in that first book. Almost 80 years later, she is still living with the guilt of what she did then and what her father (and, by extension, her family) did and stood for. 

Here we are centered on present-day Gretel, but Boyne drops us back in to different times in Gretel's life. First to the time she and her mother spent in Paris, then to the time she spent in Australia, then to her early life with her late husband and son. In all of those places, Gretel is faced with the repercussions of what her father did, of her own feelings about it, of her implicate others who were guilty of heinous acts. But Gretel has been living for a long time with the past buried, in no small part because she keeps so much to herself. But young Henry has brought back the memory of what Gretel did to her brother and she finally sees a way to at least partially redeem herself. 

Like The German Wife, this book left me with mixed feelings about the main character. How much of what happened in those camps is she complicit in? What is her responsibility to those who died and those who suffered? Are we meant to feel sorry for her or should she be punished for what she did (or didn't) do? To be fair, Gretel was a young girl, not able to stop anything. But she could, in later years, have done more and it's hard to forgive her for that. Especially in light of the fact that she seems to feel much greater guilt for what happened to her brother than what happened to the millions of others who died. I wanted her to make things right in some way and here Boyne did not disappoint. 

I definitely recommend the audiobook (although I'm sure it's great in print, as well) and can imagine that this book would give book clubs a lot to talk about. 

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Life: It Goes On - September 17

Happy Sunday! Why do weekends have to go by so quickly?! I wasn't nearly as productive this weekend as I had hoped to be. Well, let's rephrase that - I didn't knock nearly as many things off of my to-do list as I had hoped to but I did get a lot done. Just a lot of the kinds of things that don't really show (although they show when they aren't done). Went to get the milk out of the fridge this morning and that lead to a lot of cleaning and cooking I hadn't planned to do. Where did all of the energy I used to have go?!

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I'm all over the place this week. I was listening to Poverty, By America (so interesting!) but my loan expired so now I'm waiting on the book. Then I went back to Now You See Us but yesterday, while we were driving to KC, The Big Guy and I started listening to David Grann's The Wager. One day, I'll actually finish a book!

Watched: Football, volleyball, and more football. And one episode of Ted Lasso, which we're still enjoying but it's gotten to be so heavy and sad that it's hard to binge. 

Read: The Many Lives of Mama Love, which I didn't realize was a memoir. Enjoying it but need to get it back to the library soon. Partly because when I went to pick up a book I had on hold, it turned out that I, once again, had three books ready. 

Made: You all know how my heart wants the warm weather to continue. But there's definitely a part of my subconscious that's screaming to let autumn in because today I roasted a pork tenderloin, baked some chocolate croissants, and made Hungarian mushroom stew. I can't vouch for how Hungarian it is. It does have lots of paprika, but I don't know that it originated in Hungary. It's definitely one I'll make again but if I'm making for just the two of us again, I'll cut the batch in half. 

Enjoyed: We went with friends to a new-to-us Mexican restaurant on Friday, as part of Omaha Restaurant Week. For a set price, each of us got an appetizer, a main course, a dessert, and a drink. Far more food than any of us would regularly eat but it was good. And we will definitely be going back for their churros again! 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: A trip north to visit my sister, her husband, and their daughter's family. I can't wait to see them. They moved to where they are now three years ago, but one thing or another has kept us from getting up there. 

Thinking About: Did I tell you that I'd gotten a bonus at work? I have spent far too much time lately planning how to spend that. New clothes, new shoes, a new custom piece of jewelry, some organizing products, new patio furniture, something new for the house, a new tattoo...the list of things I might get are endless. So much so that I've sort of reached decision paralysis. Does that ever happen to you?

Feeling: A little on edge. We went by Miss H's new place yesterday when we were in KC and BG and I were not thrilled with it, concerned about whether or not it's safe enough. We feel a bit like she got mislead but now wonder how far her parents can push it to get her into a different place. On the other hand, I'm pretty darn proud of how we've Jenga'd everything into her storage unit! Sometimes having grown up kids is almost as tough as having young ones. 

Looking forward to: Book club this week (although I have yet to start the book - do you think I can read it in 48 hours and still do all of the other things that need to be done?). 

Question of the week: On Instagram I watched accounts get all fired up with fall decor and now, before September is even over, they've already switched to Halloween. Do you decorate for the season or for the holidays? 

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Crook Manifesto by Colson Whitehead

Crook Manifesto
by Colson Whitehead
336 pages
Published July 2023 by Doubleday

Publisher's Summary: 
It’s 1971. Trash piles up on the streets, crime is at an all-time high, the city is careening towards bankruptcy, and a shooting war has broken out between the NYPD and the Black Liberation Army. Amidst this collective nervous breakdown furniture store owner and ex-fence Ray Carney tries to keep his head down and his business thriving. His days moving stolen goods around the city are over. It’s strictly the straight-and-narrow for him — until he needs Jackson 5 tickets for his daughter May and he decides to hit up his old police contact Munson, fixer extraordinaire. But Munson has his own favors to ask of Carney and staying out of the game gets a lot more complicated – and deadly. 

1973. The counter-culture has created a new generation, the old ways are being overthrown, but there is one constant, Pepper, Carney’s endearingly violent partner in crime. It’s getting harder to put together a reliable crew for hijackings, heists, and assorted felonies, so Pepper takes on a side gig doing security on a Blaxploitation shoot in Harlem. He finds himself in a freaky world of Hollywood stars, up-and-coming comedians, and celebrity drug dealers, in addition to the usual cast of hustlers, mobsters, and hit men. These adversaries underestimate the seasoned crook – to their regret. 

1976. Harlem is burning, block by block, while the whole country is gearing up for Bicentennial celebrations. Carney is trying to come up with a July 4th ad he can live with. (“Two Hundred Years of Getting Away with It!”), while his wife Elizabeth is campaigning for her childhood friend, the former assistant D.A and rising politician Alexander Oakes. When a fire severely injures one of Carney’s tenants, he enlists Pepper to look into who may be behind it. Our crooked duo have to battle their way through a crumbling metropolis run by the shady, the violent, and the utterly corrupted.

My Thoughts: 
My first Colson Whitehead book was his masterpiece The Underground Railroad. Of it I said, "It is the rare book that more than lives up to the hype that has swirled around it." Here's the thing about Whitehead: it is not a rare thing at all for his books to live up to the hype. Crook Manifesto is the fourth book by Whitehead I've read and I'm astonished by his ability to...well, I'm just astonished by his ability. 

Crook Manifesto is a follow up to Whitehead's Harlem Shuffle (my review here). We're again brought into the world of Ray Carney, furniture store owner who has worked hard, since we last met him, to stay on the up-and-up. In this book, Whitehead has broken his story into three different years that show the decline of Harlem and New York City in general. In the first act, we're again brought into the world of Ray Carney, furniture store owner who has worked hard, since we last met him, to stay on the up-and-up. 

In typical Ray fashion, and in a bid to be a good dad and connect with his daughter, in the first act of this book, Ray finds himself once again involved in the tough life of Harlem. Also in typical Ray fashion, he finds a way out. Things we love about Ray: 1) he tries very hard to be a better father than his own father was (not all that tough), 2) he wants to be a good man but life in 1970's Harlem makes that difficult, and 3) Ray always seems to find a way out. 

Act two finds Ray taking a step back in the action, when Hollywood comes to Harlem via a wealthy arsonist named Zippo who has dreams of being a famous director. Here readers are reintroduced to Ray's friend Pepper, a thug who does what needs to be done. Pepper has been hired as a guard on set but is called in to find the leading lady when she goes missing. Pepper solves problems in the way you would expect a thug to solve them but it always seems appropriate to the situation. In the end both Zippo and Pepper will find themselves back the worlds they come from. 

In the third act, both men must work together, facing both the so-called underbelly of Harlem and the elite. 

Violent? Yes, all of the Whitehead books that I've read are very violent. As a general rule, I'm not a fan of violence in books but in Whitehead's books it feels very necessary to set the tone, to force the reader to accept the reality of the world he's created. Genre? Yeah, Whitehead's book defy genre. Is it a crime novel? Yes...and no. Crime drives the action but this is a book about family and community. I was so impressed with Whitehead's ability to put me right into 1960's Harlem in Harlem Shuffle and he's done it again here. Within pages I was envisioning 1970's New York City, remembering images of that time from watching the news when I was growing up. Whitehead is unparalleled in his ability to do that. 
"It was a glorious June morning. The sun was shin gin, the birds were signing, the ambulances were screaming, and the daylight falling on last night's crime scenes made the blood twinkle like dew in a green heaven. Summer in New York that bicentennial year was full of promise and menace in every sign and wonder, no matter how crummy or small."
The reviewer in The Atlantic said that Whitehead had lost the plot in this book. Now, I know that that reviewer is a professional but I feel like he missed the point. The plot is there, just not in the way we would typically see it. It's one of the reasons that I loved this book. It was, as Whitehead's books so often are, unexpected and, for me, perfect. 

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Life: It Goes On - September 10

Happy Sunday! It's going to be a busy day here today - I'm playing catch up from coming home late from work everyday last week, too tired to do much more than the essentials. Prep for Miss H's upcoming move has meant that she and I have played a lot of "take to the apartment, leave at Mom and Dad's, give away" this weekend. Between what she's getting rid of and what my dad is getting rid of in prep for his upcoming move, we've got a vehicle load that needs to be taken to charity today. I've got to run get some paint for furniture Miss H will be taking and get started on those projects today. Fortunately the weather will be perfect for taking those projects outside and you all know how much I love to work on furniture projects! 

Last Week I: 
Listened To: I'm more than half way through Now You See Us, with Poverty, By America up next. 

Watched: Lots of football, some volleyball, more Ted Lasso, and a rewatch of Drew Barrymore's Ever After

Read: Still plugging away at Crook Manifesto when I can make myself pick up a book. I'm really enjoying it; Colson Whitehead makes his time period, setting, and characters come alive. But I just don't seem to have the mental capacity to read these days. Which is a shame because I've got so many great books from the library that I need to read (and want to read!). 

Made: Granola, meatloaf, hash brown casserole. One part of my brain is fighting the end of summer but another part of my brain has clearly accepted that fall is here. 

Enjoyed: We met good friends at a brew pub last evening for drinks on the patio and it was such a lovely evening to sit outside, relax, and catch up. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Work will continue on getting things ready for Miss H's move. I've hired a friend of Mini-him, who has a cleaning service, to come help me clean some furniture for Miss H and to help clean up the basement. I'm looking forward to catching up with her and moving forward in the basement. 

Thinking About: Between work and the upcoming moves, I haven't thought of much else. 

Feeling: Productive. 

Looking forward to: We're headed back down to KC with another load to put into storage for Miss H this coming weekend. I'm hoping that we'll finally get to see the restaurant where she is working now. 

Question of the week:
Have you heard about the group MoveOn's banned bookmobile? They are traveling around parts of the country giving away books that have been banned in the libraries of those areas. My dad asked me the other day if there were books that I wouldn't have wanted my kids to come across in a library. There are books that I don't think my kids might were ready for when they first might have come across them. But I've always felt like that was my decision. I paid attention to what they were reading and had conversations with them about the books. In the end, I'd say we've raised three intelligent, thoughtful adults who were only enhanced by what they read. What are your thoughts on banning books?

Knowing what an advocate against book banning that I am, my dad gave me a new coffee mug this week; I'm enjoying my coffee in it this morning! 

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

The Turk and My Mother by Mary Helen Stefaniak

The Turk and My Mother by Mary Helen Stefaniak
316 pages
Published January 2004 by W. W. Norton and Company 

Publisher's Summary: 

Every family has its secrets. But toward the end of his life, George decides to tell his daughter the story of his mother and the Turk. This initial revelation leads to a narrative tour de force that follows a family through four generations and around the world―through love, marriage, and betrayal, through illness, death, and war. Mary Helen Stefaniak's charming and flawed characters and the warmth of her prose will stay with readers long after they close the book.

My Thoughts: 
Several years ago my book club read Stefaniak's The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia - we were charmed by the book and by Stefaniak, who graced us with her presence when we met to discuss the book. I've had this book of hers sitting on my shelf for many years and when I chose this years' book club theme, You Learn Something New Every Month, I thought it was a good time to read a book that addresses different cultures and employs a different story telling style. 

I'm sorry to say this one was not a hit with my book club. Although, I think it might have been better received had people found the cast of characters that was hidden at the back of the book. Many people complained that it was confusing and were surprised by some of the things that were revealed to them when we discussed the book. This I attribute to the unusual way the book is crafted. 

The story is based, rather loosely, on members of Stefaniak's own family. Told through the point of view of several different characters, we come at the story from several different vantage points. We start with George and move, without readers even being very much aware of it, to George's grandmother, Staramajka who, in telling the story to her grandchildren, is, in fact, telling it to their mother, Agnes, who is eavesdropping. It's through that story that we come to learn of the relationship between Agnes and a prisoner of war, who is presented as being a Turk (but who, we learn, is actually Serbian) in the small Croatian village where Agnes and her husband, Josef, have started a family. Josef has gone to Milwaukee to earn money, with plans to return to the village. But war intervenes and it's years before Agnes and Josef will reunite. 

We'll learn more about the circumstances of the family when we follow the trail of Josef's brother, Marko, who is taken prisoner by the Russians and presumed to have died. We learn more, yet again, from the point of view of a woman George befriended when they were young. The stories and characters merge and separate and reveal that the details of a story often vary depending on the storyteller. We learn of Staramajka's relationship with a gypsy, of Marko's marriage to a Russian and escape from the White Army, and of Josef's relationship with a woman whose daughter would later befriend George. 

While my book club may not have liked this book, I was the lone exception. Was it confusing at times? Yes. But I loved all of the stories that Stefaniak managed to work into the book and how things tied back together. Most of all, I loved the way the book ended making me want to go write back to the beginning and start again to see what it was that I had missed in the story telling. It's not unusual for me to like a book more than the majority of my book club does (and sometimes less); it's rare for me to be the only person to like a book. But here I am fine with being that person and suggesting that you disregard their opinions and give this book a chance. 

Monday, September 4, 2023

Life: It Goes On - September 4

Happy Monday Sunday! That is to say a Monday that serves as the last day of the weekend. Hope yours has been a good, long one! We had company this weekend and packed in loads of time with family but we still had plenty of time to get things done around the house when our family was off visiting other family. 

Found myself wondering when the pumpkin patch was going to open of the season the other day, which surprised me because, generally speaking, I'm not going in to the fall happy about it. My potted plants are already winding down, my garden beds are already needing to be cut back - in general it's time to begin reversing all of the fun stuff I did in April and May. Do I like the heat and humidity of summer? Not so much. But I don't spend all of summer hot, whereas, I'm pretty much cold from December through March. And the sunshine - how I love the light of summer!

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I stopped listening to The Rabbit Hutch and started listening to Now You See Us by Balli Kaur Jaswal, as recommended by my aunt. I'm enjoying it much more. It's still dealing with some heavy topics but I'm enjoying these characters much more. 

 The Nebraska college system's Volleyball Day set a world record attendance record for women's sports at 92,003. It gave me chills to watch that crowd love on women's sports! 

Watching the Husker football team the next night was not nearly as fun! 

Read: Not much. Just can't seem to make myself pick up my book, as much as I'm enjoying it. 

Made: Very little, considering we had company. One night we just did charcuterie, one night we did an indoor picnic and the only thing I made for that was peach pie the way my grandma made it. The next morning I did get up and make my Asian chicken salad for Miss H to take home. 

 See first paragraph. My sister and her husband came down to spend time with their fathers, Miss H came up to just spend some time with us. My sister, Miss H and I got to laughing so hard Friday night that we all seriously began to wonder if it was possible to die of laughter. The result was some inside jokes only the three of us will ever find funny but we will laugh at those things for years to come. That laughter was such good medicine. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Miss H has found an apartment and I think she is only slightly more excited about it than I am. Number one - we will be getting so much stuff out of our basement! Number two - there's nothing better than seeing your children happy. I'm on a mission to make sure she has all of the things she needs to get set up, which means I'll be doing some painting and staining this coming month. Need to get over to pick up some Fusion mineral paint, which Instagram assures me is the best. I sure hope so because it isn't cheap but I love the colors. 

Thinking About: We will have a busy fall, with a couple of long weekend trips to see siblings and two people to move in November. I'm trying to get my mind wrapped around how all of that gets organized while also keeping up with the other things that need to be done and putting the house and yard to sleep for the winter. 

Feeling: Refreshed. Family time, down time, and lots of laughter were just the things I needed. 

Looking forward to: As much as I enjoyed the weekend, I'm also looking forward to the quiet week ahead. More stuff has headed both north and south this weekend and I'm looking forward to reorganizing the areas that stuff came out of. 

Question of the week: Did you get a three-day weekend? If so, how did you use that extra day? Did you enjoy a day of relaxation, hit the Labor Day sales, or hit up some of the weekend festivities?