Monday, November 20, 2017

Nonfiction November - Nonfiction Favorites

This week's prompt is hosted by Katy at Doing Dewey:
"We’ve talked about how you pick nonfiction books in previous years, but this week I’m excited to talk about what makes a book you’ve read one of your favorites. Is the topic pretty much all that matters? Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love? Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone? Let us know what qualities make you add a nonfiction book to your list of favorites."
Do you remember the other day when I said my nonfiction reading was all over the place? Because I thought that, I assumed it would be tough to do this prompt. Since six years ago I started tracking my favorite books of the year, breaking out nonfiction, I thought I'd head to those lists to see if I could find any patterns. It turns out that, while the subject can be almost anything (from drug addiction, careers in math and science, the Civil War), I tend to like to get those stories in the form of a biography, memoir, or personal essay collection. Apparently I need to be able to learn about a topic through an individual.

How the information is presented is less important. Some of my favorite personal stories are incredibly sad (The Year Of Magical Thinking, An Exact Replica Of A Figment Of My Imagination, Behind The Beautiful Forevers, This Republic of Suffering). Other favorite nonfiction works include healthy doses of humor (Cocktail Hour Under The Tree of Forgiveness, anything by Sarah Vowell, Let's Pretend This Never Happened, and I Feel Bad About My Neck).

Like any book I pick up, my nonfiction choices are largely a matter of what appeals at a particular time. Am I ready to immerse myself in a book dense with information (anything by Ron Chernow, Instant City, On China) ? Or, maybe something that give me information in a way that's less scholarly (Moranthology, Orange Is The New Black, The Happiness Project). What it comes down to is that the book needs to be well written, just like any other book.

What qualities do you look for in a nonfiction book?

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Life: It Goes On - November 19

It's November 19th and I just went outside in my barefoot. The backdoor is standing open. It is only 48 degrees but, in the sun, it feels warm. And I know how few days we have left before going barefooted is no longer possible.

This homebody has certainly had a busy week! Sunday Miss H and I went to a basketball game; Monday night Miss H, The Big Guy, and I went out to eat because Miss H and I had free pizza to redeem; Tuesday night I had book club;  Thursday BG and I went to the U.S. Olympic Team Curling Trials; and Friday Miss H and I went back to them. I would have loved to have gone back again last night for the final match; but, let's be honest, I really didn't want to have to get cleaned up in time to go. Or leave my house again.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: The soundtrack to La La Land. Mostly in my head. Seriously, I cannot get those songs out of my head! I like the soundtrack well enough but a week of it is quite enough.

Watching: My late night movie this weekend was the 1965 version of Rodgers' and Hammerstein's Cinderella, starring Lesley Ann Warren, Celeste Holms, Ginger Rogers, Walter Pidgeon and Stuart Damon (remember him as Alan Quartermaine on General Hospital?!). I adore this movie but I'm the only one in my house that does so I can only watch it when I'm by myself.

Reading: I finally finished The Witches and spent a couple of days dipping into new books. I finally settled on Helen Oyeyemi's What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours. It's pretty much perfect after two heavy nonfiction reads.

Making: Between eating leftovers and eating out (dinner both nights of curling was at the event), I was hardly in my kitchen this past week. Yesterday I did use the last of this year's tomato crop to make homemade marinara sauce so we had spaghetti with that last night. Best marinara I have ever made so I'm looking forward to pulling out the container I froze later this winter.

Planning: Thanksgiving's long weekend. I need to get my Black Friday and Small Business Saturday shopping lists ready so I can knock out a bunch of Christmas shopping this weekend.

Thinking About: Miss H is heading off to South Carolina by herself on Friday. She'll be gone a week. You moms out there will know that I'm consumed with making sure she has everything she needs to make her travels safe. And then I won't stop worrying until she is back a week later.

Enjoying: Sunshine and fresh air.

Feeling: Unfocused.

Looking forward to: Family time. And my sis and her hubby spending the night Saturday night!

Question of the week: Ladies, have you ever traveled solo? If so, hit me with your best trips for staying awake in the car, being safe, things you need to take. Also, if you live in the south, what kind of weather might Miss H be driving into this time of year? And, if you live along the route from Omaha to Greenville, SC, can she hit you up if she needs help? (Can you tell I'm a worried mom?!)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Nonfiction November - Be The Expert, Ask The Expert, Become The Expert

AND I'm caught up! This week's prompt is hosted by Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness.

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

My nonfiction reading is all over the place (I'm not sure I've ever read three nonfiction books about the same subject) so "being the expert" is out. I'm not necessarily looking for recommendations about specific topics at this time; I tend to choose nonfiction books because they sound interesting not because I was looking for a book on a specific topic. So "ask the expert" isn't for me right now. So I went to my TBR list and sorted it by type to find out what kind of nonfiction books I've got on it to see if there's a topic that it appears I want to become an expert on. Turns out, that seems to be murders. So, here are three books I'd like to read that will help me become the expert:

The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers Who Inspired Chicago by Douglas Perry and The Devil In The White City: Murder, Magic Madness at The Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson are both set in Chicago. Three Bodies Burning: The Anatomy of An Investigation Into Murder, Money, and Mexican Marijuana by Brian Bogdanoff was added to my list after hearing Bogdanoff speak (he was the lead investigator on the case) and is about murder right here in Omaha.

Now that you know about my fascination with murders, I'll understand if you don't want to be friends any more!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Nonfiction November - Book Pairings

Week Two's prompt is hosted by Sarah, of Sarah's Book Shelves:

It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

This is the prompt that always proves tough for me and I often skip it. This year, I'm in!

My first pairing combines one of my favorite fiction reads of 2016, Jesmyn Ward's Salvage The Bones and Sheri Fink's nonfiction Five Days At Memorial, which I've been meaning to read for a long time. Both share Hurricane Katrina as a central event.

My second pairing is a pair of books set in India which both examine the lives of the poorest of that country's people, Thrity Umrigar's The Space Between Us (one of my favorite books of 2010) and Katherine Boo's Behind The Beautiful Forevers (one of my favorite books of 2016).

My final pairing is two books that deal with the recovery of art in France following the Nazi occupation: Sarah Houghtelling's Pictures At An Exhibition and Robert Edsel's The Monuments Men. George Clooney thought Edsel's book was so interesting that he turned it into the 2014 movie of the same name.

What nonfiction pairings would you suggest?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Seduced by Mrs. Robinson by Beverly Gray

Seduced by Mrs. Robinson: How The Graduate Became The Touchstone of A Generation by Beverly Gray
Published November 2017 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
“Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me. Aren’t you?”

When The Graduate premiered in December 1967, its filmmakers had only modest expectations attached to what seemed to be a small, sexy, art house comedy adapted from an obscure first novel by an eccentric twenty-four-year-old. There was little indication that this offbeat story--a young man just out of college has an affair with one of his parents’ friends and then runs off with her daughter--would turn out to be a monster hit, with an extended run in theaters and seven Academy Award nominations.

My Thoughts:
I was seven years old when The Graduate came out; clearly I didn't see it for years after it was released. Still, I can't remember a time when I wasn't aware of it. Let's face it, everyone knows the Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack. I've read some interesting things about the making of the film before so I didn't even read the synopsis when I saw this book was available.

Here's some of what I learned:

  • Producer Larry Turman read Charles Webb's book after reading it because a book reviewer had compared it's protagonist to Catcher In The Rye's Holden Caulfield. He paid Webb $1,000 for the rights because two scenes particularly grabbed him: young Benjamin Braddock decked out in an entire SCUBA get up floating in the bottom of his parents' pool and the final shot of a disheveled Benjamin in the back of a bus with a young woman in a wedding gown. 
  • Robert Redford really wanted the role of Benjamin Braddock and, physically, he was perfect for the role of a young California man, suntanned, blond, and tall. But Benjamin was a kid who was supposed to have had little luck with girls. When director Mike Nichols asked him if he had ever struck out with a girl, Redford said, in all earnestness, "What do you mean?" He was out.
  • Dustin Hoffman gave up a role in Mel Brooks' The Producers to play Benjamin and make love to Brooks' wife, Anne Bancroft, who played Mrs. Robinson. My background has always led me to find nothing odd at all about Hoffman being cast as Benjamin but, at the time, a Jewish leading man was certainly a daring choice.
"The casting of Dustin Hoffman as The Graduate's romantic leading man was a shock to Hollywood, which had spent decades trying to sidestep the Judaic roots of its founders. But in the wake of The Graduate, young Jewish males were suddenly everywhere, and often they were playing characters with backgrounds similar to their own."

  • Much of Mrs. Robinson's look and her home decor are the result of Nichol's reading Henry James' novella The Beast In The Jungle. Hence, Mrs. Bancroft appears almost exclusively in animal prints and her sunroom is backed by a jungle of tropical plants.
  • Mike Nichols used light and dark to differentiate between Mrs. Braddock and Mrs. Robinson and glass and water to illustrate the way Benjamin was trapped in his parents' world. In fact, a lot of the things Nichols did in this movie changed the way other filmmakers make movies. 
  • That iconic shot at the end of the movie of Hoffman and Katherine Ross, where their faces turn from exuberance to "what the hell have we done?" That wasn't scripted or directed. Someone forget to say "cut" at what was to have been the end of the scene and that's what happened to Hoffman's and Ross' faces when they thought they were done with the shot. It was so perfect that Nichols left it in. 
"In hindsight, it's easy to wonder: If Ben and Elaine have backed away from the future that's been preordained for them by a hypocritical older generations, where exactly are they headed? The fact that there's no good answer reminds us of what this film may actually portend. Perhaps that's what it's secretly about - the end of the happy ending."
  • No one expected this movie to the hit that it was. Young people stood in long lines, even in the cold, to see it because of the way it spoke to them about what would come to be known as the Generation Gap. But not everyone loved it; critics definitely had a wide range of opinions about what it was, what it wasn't, and what it could have been.
"The Graduate's prescience about matters of grave concern to the Baby Boom generation gave it a life of its own. If we young Americans were anxious about parental pressure, or about sex (and our lack thereof), or about marriage, or about the temptations posed by plastics, it was all visible for us on the movie screen. Today The Graduate continues to serve as a touchstone of that pivotal moment just before some of us began morphing into angry war protesters and spaced-out hippies."
"...those of my generation - didn't much want to face a life built on a bedrock of our elders' choices. In Benjamin we found a hero willing to turn his back on the kind of bright upper-middle-class future we weren't sure we wanted." 
  • Gray has done a thorough job of researching and presents a lot of material. She gives the background of all of the players in the making of the movie and follows up with them afterward; she takes viewers through the entire movie to explain what makes each scene work; and she talks about the impact the movie had on the generation it was targeted at and the generations that followed. 
  • As much as I learned, and as much as I did enjoy the book, I think I'm not the kind of person that wants to read a book that breaks down one movie quite as much as this one did. I must admit that I started skimming quite a lot in the last 100 pages. I think if you were a person for whom this movie was a touchstone (a.k.a. someone about ten or fifteen years older than I am) or someone who really enjoys learning about movies, you'd likely enjoy this book even more. 
  • I definitely need to watch this movie again soon while all of this is still fresh in my brain and I can really appreciate the film making touches that made the story work so well.

"The Graduate lasts partly because it offers something for everyone, the restless youth; the disappointed elder; the cinephile who values the artistic innovation that's the legacy of director Mike Nichols. And this film has also burrowed its way into Hollywood's dream factory. The American movie industry, which worships box-office success, has learned from The Graduate brave new ideas about casting, about cinematic style, about the benefits of a familiar pop music score."

Monday, November 13, 2017

Nonfiction November - My Year In Nonfiction

Well, this month clearly got away from me and I'm hard pressed to say how. Nevertheless, as nonfiction is something I'm really pushing myself to read more of, I definitely didn't want this month to go by without me playing along with everyone for Nonfiction November. So this week, I'll be playing catch up. Week 1's was hosted by Jules of @JulesReads:

Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

What Was Your Favorite Nonfiction Read Of The Year?
This one's a tie between Elizabeth McCracken's An Exact Replica Of A Figment Of My Imagination and TaNehisi Coates' We Were Eight Years In Power. Two very different books - one that made my heart break and one that made my brain work.

That Nonfiction Book Have You Recommended The Most?
Even more than fiction, I feel that nonfiction is something that I recommend based on what I know about particular readers. For example, I have recommended Shrill by Lindy West to all of my feminist friends but West's language and graphic subject matters make it a book that's not for everyone. For biography buffs, I highly recommend both Grant by Ron Chernow and Victoria: The Queen by Julia Baird. But they are both very big books and definitely not for the faint of heart. For my more liberal friends, I always recommend Sarah Vowell's books and Assassination Vacation is no exception. Perhaps the book that I find myself recommending most, of the nonfiction books I read this year, is Notorious RBG which really has something in it for everyone.

What Is One Topic or Type of Nonfiction You Haven't Read Enough Of Yet?
Easy - science. I'm not looking for textbook reads but I would like to read some of Mary Roach's books, perhaps some Carl Sagan, and, definitely, Neil DeGrasse Tyson's Astrophysics For People In A Hurry.

What Are You Hoping To Get Out Of Participating In Nonfiction November?
As always, it's a great chance to remember the nonfiction books I've read this year and to kick myself in the rear for not reading more nonfiction (although I may have reached a personal best this year). Most of all, it's always great fun to visit the sites of everyone participating so I can find even more nonfiction reads I want to read.

What about you - how was your year in nonfiction?

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Life: It Goes On - November 12

Thursday morning everyone in my company was pulled into a meeting where they announced that 15% of the company was being laid off and by noon they were gone. In the hours between the meeting and noon, the tension was through the roof and, afterward and into Friday, there was a sense of mourning hanging over those who survived the cut. I was lucky and still have a job but it certainly makes one concerned for the future.

On CBS Sunday Morning today, they had a story about charity where those in need can come to get free books. A fire had destroyed the warehouse the charity is housed in and the man who runs it thought that was that. But locals weren't letting it go and soon they were holding fundraisers and cash and book donations poured in...7,000 boxes of books. My husband looked at me and said "You could run a place like that." To say that the wheels in my head are spinning now is an understatement. I mean, after Thursday I can't help but think it might be time to make a change.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: NPR in the mornings and podcasts most of the rest of the time, including Crimetown, Singing Bones, and Stuff You Missed In History Class.

Watching: "La La Land," finally. I do love movie musicals and the sets and cinematography were incredible. Ryan Gosling turns out to have one flaw...he's not much of a singer. Luckily, the filmmakers managed to work around that, giving Emma Stone the lion's share of the work in their duets. I'll likely watch it again, maybe even this week.

Reading: I'm racing to finish The Witches by Stacy Schiff for book club on Tuesday. I'm very impressed by Ms. Schiff's research and writing.

Making: Chicken and noodles, taco salads, lasagna and brownie sundaes (the last two for dinner with my parents today). I'm planning on making chili this week. The Big Guy thinks it's going to be too warm for chili but I disagree. I'm in the mood for chili and cinnamon rolls.

Planning: On ordering Christmas cards this week; I'd love to have those in the mail and off my to-do list by the first of December.

Thinking About: What it takes to start a nonprofit. See above.

Enjoying: A basketball game today with my girl.

Feeling: Is it getting old for me to say, I'm feeling like I need a third day to this weekend?

Looking forward to: Book club this week!

Question of the week: If I open a nonprofit book warehouse, will you please come volunteer?

Monday, November 6, 2017

Artemis by Andy Weir

Artemis by Andy Weir
Published November 2017 by Crown/Archetype
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Jazz Bashara is a criminal.

Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you're not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you've got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

 Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she's stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

My Thoughts:
A couple of years ago, we gave Weir's The Martian to Mini-him for Christmas. He read it, passed it along to us, and it sat on the shelf for two years. Until a couple of months ago when I read it and thoroughly enjoyed it. Just in time to find out that Weir's latest, Artemis, was available for review so I immediately downloaded it. Then got very nervous that it wouldn't live up to its predecessor. So, how did it live up to my expectations?

Set in space? Check.

Yes, yes, I know the whole point of grown up books with descriptive words is to paint a picture in the reader's mind of what the scenes look like. But, dang, I really wished this was a picture book so you know I can't wait until this gets turned into a movie. Which you know it will be.

Filled with humor? Check.

It's official. I'm pretty much in love with Andy Weir's sense of humor.

Loaded with tension? Check.

This time the it's not just space that's trying to kill our hero. There are actual people with actual weapons. And there's murder, and chase scenes, and a cop trying to take down our girl.

Also loaded with science? Check.

As with The Martian, I have no idea if all of the science rings true. It mostly sounds plausible enough and Weir writes it interestingly enough to make me want to read it and try to understand it.

But, this is also the only real problem I had with Artemis. It's set 100 years from now, right? But, on several occasions, Weir refers to devices and such that we use now. Based on the way that the world has changed in the past 100 years, I can't help but think that people wouldn't still be watching cable TV; that even for the older generation, laptop computers might be archaic; and that fiber optics might have been replaced by something we can't even imagine yet. Still, that's all a small enough thing, because...

Book I couldn't put down because it was so much fun? Check!

I adored Jazz, with all of her faults. And this time, Weir's lead character got to have real interactions with his other characters and I thoroughly enjoyed the relationships Jazz had with the men in her life. Did I like it as much as the first book? Maybe not quite; but, to some extent, that was only because I knew something of what to expect from Weir. Still, it's a a book I will happily recommend to anyone who enjoyed The Martian. In fact, I might just have to make this one a Christmas present for Mini-me as well!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Life: It Goes On - November 5

Thirty-five years. Thirty-five years The Big Guy and I have been married as of last Monday. So often my brain still tricks me into believing I'm not much older than that so it's hard to imagine that we have been "we" for so long. Not long ago I met a woman who has what can only be described as a very unusual marriage; still, she called her husband her soul mate. I'm never sure I understand what that means or if BG and I are, in fact, soul mates. But I do know that no one knows me better than he does, I would not be the person I am without him in my life, and that he is my rock. As opposed to the days I feel 35, some days I feel pretty old so it was strange to think, when he said to me "here's to another 35" that, theoretically, that could happen!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Podcasts (including Criminal, Pod Save America, and Classical Classroom), NPR in the mornings, and Sam Smith's new album, after listening to him on an NPR interview.

Watching: The World Series, football (it's quite the bleak year for this fan), Disney's 2017 Beauty and the Beast (I loved it in the theaters; in rewatching it, I was as big a fan), and Bridget Jones' Baby.

Reading: Starting a new book today, Beverly Gray's Seduced by Mrs. Robinson, about the making of the iconic movie, The Graduate. I just finished Andy Weir's Artemis, which I'm reviewing tomorrow. I enjoyed it a lot.

Making: For our anniversary, I did roast a pork tenderloin, baked hasselback potatoes, and made chocolate-dipped strawberries. We did chicken flatbread pizza one night. And last night, we had pasta with tomatoes from our garden that are still ripening on our counter and basil I've brought inside to keep growing.

Planning: On continuing work in my office this week. Doesn't it feel like I'm always talking about working in this little room? It does seem to be a room that is always in flux as things change around here. One of these days, I'll finally decide what it's real purpose is!

Thinking About: Yeah, it's one of those weeks when my head's aswirl with so many things I can't even seem to alight on one thing long enough to finish that thought.

Enjoying: A quiet day yesterday while BG was off to spend the day with friends and Miss H took a four hour nap in anticipation of a very late night last night with her best friend who is on leave from her post in Virginia.

Feeling: Like I need to get busy cleaning but I'd much rather be doing organizing and decluttering things.

Looking forward to: A very quiet week. Again.

Question of the week: Last week a lot of you were surprised that I had already started shopping for Christmas. I couldn't possibly get it all done if I didn't start early. My question for you is, how do you find the time to get everything done for the holidays that needs to be done? Start early and spread it out or devote the month of December to getting it all done?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak
Published October 2017 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
It’s Christmas, and for the first time in years the entire Birch family will be under one roof. Even Emma and Andrew’s elder daughter—who is usually off saving the world—will be joining them at Weyfield Hall, their aging country estate. But Olivia, a doctor, is only coming home because she has to. Having just returned from treating an epidemic abroad, she’s been told she must stay in quarantine for a week…and so too should her family.

For the next seven days, the Birches are locked down, cut off from the rest of humanity—and even decent Wi-Fi—and forced into each other’s orbits. Younger, unabashedly frivolous daughter Phoebe is fixated on her upcoming wedding, while her older sister, Olivia, deals with the culture shock of being immersed in first-world problems.

Their father, Andrew, sequesters himself in his study writing scathing restaurant reviews and remembering his glory days as a war correspondent. But his wife, Emma, is hiding a secret that will turn the whole family upside down.

In close proximity, not much can stay hidden for long, and as revelations and long-held tensions come to light, nothing is more shocking than the unexpected guest who’s about to arrive…

My Thoughts:
When I was pitched this book, I read that summary and imagined "light and frivolous." While there is a lightness to the book, frivolous it is not. Hornak touches on infidelity, homosexuality, cancer, deadly viruses, adoption, abandoned dreams, and complicated relationships within families.

Sometimes when I sit down to write a review, I think it might just be easier to start giving ratings and leave it at that. This one would get, for example, three of five stars. Which, as it turns out, makes it harder to review than a book that got one star or a book that got five stars. So why isn't this a five-star book?
  • Because the characters are somewhat caricatures. Andrew, for example, is the crotchety middle-aged man who dreams have been squashed and who takes it out on the restaurants he now reviews. Phoebe is very much the pampered younger daughter who believes the world revolves around her. And her fiancé, George, and his family are the stereotypical upper class English family, with the macho, sporty men. To some extent, those tight characters forced Hornak to follow particular plot lines; more rounded characters would have made some of the action less predictable. It might also have made it easier to like the characters and this is a book that needs readers to like the characters.
  • Because, while the writing is perfectly acceptable, there was nothing that particularly exceptional about it.  Some of it is predictable. There weren't passages that made me think, "wow" or "that's beautiful." If I'm giving a book five stars (theoretically), it has to have that kind of writing. 
  • I was never entirely sure how I was supposed to feel about one of the love stories and I wasn't clear if Hornak meant for the reader to wonder or if that was just the way I felt about it.
More importantly, I suppose, it what makes this book rise about a one-star book, as in why should you read it?
  • Because this is a book that, despite all of those heavy subjects, mostly stays away from being overly dramatic and predictable; and it does maintain that lightness which makes it the kind of book that you can read almost any time. People who don't read a lot may not even know why that's important. But for those of us who do, we know that, sometimes, you need a book you know you're not going to carry around with you (figuratively) when you finish it. Sometimes I need a book that I can enjoy while I'm reading it and then be done with it when I'm done. That's a good thing, really it is.
  • There are a couple of things that really took me by surprise. One thing in particular that I did not see coming and I always love when a writer can do that without making it feel unnatural.
  • I don't want to give away the ending. But...this is the kind of book that you know going into is going to have a happily-ever-after ending. And then Hornak doesn't do that. Not everyone is going to come to their senses. Every relationship is not going to get tied up with a pretty bow. That made me very happy because it felt just right. And if you leave a reader feeling like the ending was just right, then you've done a job well worth a three-star rating. 
*Would this one make a good book club choice? Yes, with all of those themes, there is a lot here book clubs could discuss. Plus, it might be just right for those members who get scared off by heavier books.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Classics Club - Classics Challenge

Five plus years ago, I jumped into The Classics Club Classics Challenge. The idea was to make a list of 50 classics to read in the next five years. I love the classics and had well more than 50 in my house that I could choose from and wanted to find time to read. Easy peasy, right? Not so much. I even gave myself a couple of extra months at one point. I didn't even reach 30 books. I finally gave up, because reading is supposed to be fun, even when we are challenging ourselves to read better.


JoAnn, of Lakeside Musing, recently completed her challenge (she is a great reader of classics!) then she announced that she is restarting the challenge for another five years. Wait - what? You can do the challenge a second time? Well, then. I do hate to have been a failure at anything. And I do still have all of those classic books around the house. That being said, here is my new list of classic books* to read in the next five years:

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
Moll Flanders by Daniel DeFoe
Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Far From The Maddening Crowd by Thomas Hardy
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
My Man Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse
Pere Goriot by Honore de Balzac
Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
My Antonia by Willa Cather
The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins
The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton
The Children by Edith Wharton
Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence
The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
Dracula by Bram Stoker
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
Candide by Voltaire
Shirley by Charlotte Bronte
Miss Bishop by Bess Streeter Aldrich
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Classics I'd Like To Do As A Readalong:
Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Middlemarch by George Eliot
East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Modern Classics:
Crossing To Safety by Wallace Stegner
The Mystery of Hunting's End by Mignon Eberhart
The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
The Remains of The Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Decline And Fall by Evelyn Waugh
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier
The Sound And The Fury by William Faulkner
This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
The Mysterious Affair At Styles by Agatha Christie
Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Huston
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Stoner by John Williams
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
The Trial by Franz Kafka
Native Son by Richard Wright
All The Kings Men by Robert Penn Warren
We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson

Children's Classics:
Where The Redfern Grows by Wilson Rawls
The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawls
Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevens

Short Stories and Plays:
Rocking Horse Winner by D. H. Lawrence
The Fall of The House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe
A Midsummer's Night Dream by William Shakespeare
Our Town by Thornton Wilder

*I realize that this list is, even after extensive research, largely made up of American and European literature. My goal is to continue to look for books from other cultures to add to the list. While this is my list as of today, I reserve the right to add and delete things as the mood strikes. Because, just as I may or may not be in the mood to read any particular book on a given day, the list reflects my mood as of today and books I left off today may be added on another day.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Life: It Goes On - October 29

While those of you in California have been experiencing summer temps, we had our first hard freeze the other night. Which means I spent good parts of my half day and yesterday (and will spend more time today) bringing my potted herbs and some flowers in, repotting some things into smaller pots (so everything will fit, which has been like putting together a puzzle), and pulling out plants which have died. It's the real wake up call that winter is coming. Not in the good, Game of Thrones, about to be some major battles going on kind of way; but in the way that means it will take five minutes longer to get out the door in the morning by the time you pull on your coat, hat, gloves, scarf, and maybe even snow boots. I hate it. It makes it hard for me to appreciate pumpkin spice latte, the crunch of leaves under my feet, and what's left of the beautiful fall colors.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Mostly podcasts (loving Pod Save America!) but also NPR. It's time for me to get back to being better informed and jump back into the fray. Pod Save America is four guys that were aides to President Obama so that will give you an idea as to whether or not this is a podcast for you.

Watching: The usual fall fare - football, The Voice, and the World Series. We don't have a team in the series, but my dad has long been a Dodgers fan so we're cheering for them.

Reading: Grant, right up until my ecopy archived, days before it said it was going to do that. Which means I haven't finished it. Luckily, I hooked my dad up with a copy as well. Looks like he's writing a review for me (but don't say anything to him - he doesn't know yet!). I'm racing through Seven Days of Us and hope to finish it up today. Quite a switch from Grant! Next up, The Revolution of Marina M. Or Andy Weir's latest, Artemis. I haven't decided yet.

Making: Caramel chocolate brownies, fettuccine alfredo, chicken pizza, and a triple batch of chicken alfredo dip (food days at work - health food it is not!). We ate out more than usual this week so I've cooked less than usual this week.

Planning: On a quiet week. Hopefully a productive one.

Thinking About: Christmas. Just the gift part. I've got a good start on my shopping but need to get things organized and start on the homemade projects.

Enjoying: Miss H got me tickets to a local college volleyball game for my birthday yesterday. We have two great volleyball teams in Nebraska (both Division I top twenty teams). This was not one of them but it was great fun, nonetheless and we had fun having girl time.

Feeling: Well rested? I slept nine hours last night. I never sleep nine hours! Since I'm a night owl, nine hours of sleep means I slept away half of the morning today.

Looking forward to: Two years ago, one of our favorite restaurants burned down, leaving only the brick exterior of the building it was in. This week, it reopens in the same building, largely exactly as it was before the fire. We're excited to have a belated anniversary celebratory dinner there later this week.

Question of the week: Halloween - love it or eh? I do love decorating with my witches and pumpkins but I haven't gone to a party or dressed up in years and I'm getting to be kind of a grump when it comes to handing out candy.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Life: It Goes On - October 23

How did all of my readathon friends do this weekend? I was so sad to miss it - always look forward to it, even though I have not once figured out the best way to make it work after all of these years.

As much as I missed being able to do Dewey's, I did love my weekend at my brother's and sister-in-law's. We got to spend time with all of the kids and the much-adored Miss E, we went hiking to a park we have enjoyed for decades, got Shakespeare's pizza (a requirement with every visit), hit up a winery, and got in lots of talking and laughing (my sister-in-law and I stayed up until 3 a.m. Saturday morning without even realizing we'd been talking that long!). So wish we could get there more often.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: My new podcast of choice is Crime Town. This season is about Providence, Rhode Island and Buddy Cianci. I keep thinking of the restaurant my aunt and uncle took the Big Guy and me to when we visited them in Rhode Island and they were telling us about the mob hit that had taken place in that restaurant. In 1983, that was something shocking for this naive Midwest girl! I had no idea it was so common then!

Watching: Volleyball, football, baseball, The Voice, The Real Housewives of New Jersey.

Reading: Chugging along still on Grant. Good thing I get more days with this one than I was expecting!

Making: Pizzas, baked chicken legs and sweet potatoes, something else that was delicious, I'm sure, but apparently not memorable.

Planning: On putting the yard and gardens to bed for the winter this week, with much sadness.
Just a few of the books I've
bought recently

Thinking About: Putting a moratorium on my book buying for the rest of the year. Somehow I've managed to buy about 20 new books in the past few weeks. In my defense, except for a couple of gifts and one new book for myself, all of the others were used and cost no more than $3. Still, my shelves will, once again, need to be reorganized to fit everything on them.

Enjoying: See collage. Miss H and her uncle both got a lot of great shots at Rock Bridge park.

Feeling: Excited. I think. Just after we got home last night, a deputy came to our door to tell us that they had found Mini-him's car that was stolen a couple of weeks ago. He hadn't seen it yet and we can't pick it up yet so we have no idea what kind of condition it's in. It was found only a few blocks away from where it was taken so we are hoping it was just some kids out for a joy ride. We'll hopefully find out tomorrow. Unfortunately, just Friday Mini-him bought a new car. So now he has (if the stolen car is drivable) two cars.

Rock Bridge Park, Columbia Missouri 
Looking forward to: So, if the stolen car is still in good shape, Mini-me may buy it. Which means we'll have to get it to Milwaukee. Oh darn - I'll have to go to Milwaukee and see my kids again. Fingers crossed that will work out.

Question of the week: Did you participate in Dewey's Readathon? If so, how did you do?

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Bones of Paradise by Jonis Agee

The Bones of Paradise by Jonis Agee
Published August 2016 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: my copy through the library for book club

Publisher's Summary:
Ten years after the Seventh Cavalry massacred more than two hundred Lakota men, women, and children at Wounded Knee, J.B. Bennett, a white rancher, and Star, a young Native American woman, are murdered in a remote meadow on J.B.’s land. The deaths bring together the scattered members of the Bennett family: J.B.’s cunning and hard father, Drum; his estranged wife, Dulcinea; and his teenage sons, Cullen and Hayward. As the mystery of these twin deaths unfolds, the history of the dysfunctional Bennetts and their damning secrets is revealed, exposing the conflicted heart of a nation caught between past and future.

At the center of The Bones of Paradise are two remarkable women. Dulcinea, returned after bitter years of self-exile, yearns for redemption and the courage to mend her broken family and reclaim the land that is rightfully hers. Rose, scarred by the terrible slaughters that have decimated and dislocated her people, struggles to accept the death of her sister, Star, and refuses to rest until she is avenged.

A kaleidoscopic portrait of misfits, schemers, chancers, and dreamers, Jonis Agee’s bold novel is a panorama of America at the dawn of a new century. A beautiful evocation of this magnificent, blood-soaked land—its sweeping prairies, seas of golden grass, and sandy hills, all at the mercy of two unpredictable and terrifying forces, weather and lawlessness—and the durable men and women who dared to tame it.

My Thoughts:
When The Bones of Paradise was picked to be this year's Omaha Reads selection, one of my book club friends quickly suggested our book club read it and even grabbed one of the library's book club bags with books for us. It included an audiobook copy which I took with us on a recent trip. We got through one disc (which was no reflection on the book; just new terrain that involved more concentration for driving and navigating); my husband was already saying the book was "brutal." I wouldn't have thought that would scare him off but it did; he never asked to read or listen to it again. It did not, however, scare of the ladies of my book club. Not sure if that says more about my husband or my book club friends!

My husband was right; this book is often brutal. But life in the Sandhills of Nebraska in 1900 was brutal, from the weather to the people who inhabited it, and Agee's writing reflects all of the ways that life could be tough in 1900 western Nebraska, from ice storms to tornadoes to the American government to the men (and women) who lived there.

THIS is what the Lakota were
doing that so alarmed the Indian
agent who called in the military

As unforgiving as that land is, in Drum, J. B. and Ry Graver (who discovers the bodies of J. B. and Star) we see the lengths a person will go to to try to own their own piece of it. It makes some people harder, it breaks others, and it drives men to do things they wouldn't think themselves capable of to try to hold on to it.

As the story moves back and forth in time, in part to tell the background stories of many of the characters. But Agee says the real reason she told the story from multiple points of view was to "respect the events and Native Americans at Wounded Knee by making them as alive and as vivid as possible...I dramatized key events with my characters involved so that the impact of the massacre could be registered as horrific as it was." There are several characters who "were there" at Wounded Knee. (Drum, J. B., Ry, and Star). It's this day that is at the center of the book, pulling the story of what happened to the Indians in that area into the story of the Bennett family and the people surrounding them.

And THIS is what was done to the Lakota at Wounded Knee
I was glad to have read this book with a group. I had some questions when I finished and it helped to have people to bounce them off of, many of them having to do with the reason Cullen was sent to live with Drum and why Dulcinea left the ranch. I didn't entirely buy into Agee's reasoning but others in my book club found those reasons believable. All of the characters (with the possible exception of Rose) are deeply flawed and many of them are so hard that they are hard to care for. But Agee lets readers see the humanity in most of her characters and readers can understand what makes them the people they are.

About those murders...there is a murder mystery element to this book, after all...some in my book club figured out early on who killed J. B. and Star. Others were holding on to their own theories until the end. Either way, the slow reveal of what happened in that meadow was satisfying. The ending of the book, though, left some (including my mom) not as satisfied. My mom said she felt like Agee had gotten to the end of the book and didn't know how to finish it so rushed into the ending that we have here. Agee, herself, says she didn't know who killed J. B. and Star when she began writing the book but that she did rewrite the ending many times. One of our book club members said, "how would you have finished the book?" I'm not sure, to be honest. I just don't think it would have ended the way Agee ended it.

Still, it's a fascinating, complex novel, filled with interesting characters and dynamics, one in which the setting plays a very important role. Which, for this girl who was born in the Sandhills of Nebraska, is a very good thing.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

I spent much of a wet, chilly Saturday afternoon cleaning up my Facebook saves...again. I moved, literally, hundreds of recipes onto Pinterest, grew frustrated that so many recipes don't have links to other sites so that I could do that, found dozens of "saves" I have no idea where to store, and realized that I, once again, had a whole lot of bookish things to read and share. Maybe if I spent less time on Facebook, this would stop happening!

From Esquire magazine comes this list of the 40 Best Books of 2017 (So Far). This is where I both pat my back for the books I have already read AND wonder where the hell I've been when I find I haven't even heard of some of the books.

Signature also has a list of The Best Books of 2017. Again, I've read a couple of these, haven't heard of some; the biggest shocker on this list is Dan Brown's latest, Origin. Dan Brown on a list with Ron Chernow, Henning Mankell, and Amy Tan? Hmmmm.

Jane Austen
Also from Signature comes 10 Lessons Every 21st-Century Woman Can Learn From Jane Austen. It makes my heart happy to see that my beloved Jane Austen is still so relevant, all these years after her death!

Speaking of Austen, from The New York Times comes this article that posits that Austen's word choices explain why she endures. The article cites a number of studies and quotes Virginia Wolff as saying "Of all great writers, she is the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness." And yet, her work stands the test of time.

Some other female authors we should be mindful of are highlighted in this list of 12 Revolutionary Novels By Women That Will Motivate You To Keep Resisting from Bustle. It's not too surprising to find Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler on the list, but you might be surprised to also find J. K. Rowling. Of course, the Harry Potter books are largely about resistance.

And yet more women authors to pay attention to are found on PBS's list of 5 Books By Women Of Color You Need To Read Right Now. Haven't read a one of them but they are all, now at least, on my tbr list.

Bookbub Blog has put together a list of 10 Unforgettable Historical Books Based On True Stories. I love reading books that are based on true stories, especially historical ones. I've read a couple of these and will be looking for several others.

Speaking of books I haven't read, here's the list of the National Book Award finalists for 2017. I've got a couple of these lined up to read but had only even read one of the books on the long list. Have you read any of these? Your thoughts?

Finally, Penguin Random House has put together a list of The Best Books About Books. I've actually read more than half of these. Apparently I have a thing for books about books? Are there any other books about books that you would recommend?

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Telling Room by Michael Paterniti

The Telling Room: A Tale of Loe, Betrayal, Revenge And The World's Greatest Piece of Cheese by Michael Paterniti
Published December 2013 by Gale Group
Source: this one is mine

Publisher's Summary:  In the picturesque village of Guzmán, Spain, in a cave dug into a hillside on the edge of town, an ancient door leads to a cramped limestone chamber known as “the telling room.” Containing nothing but a wooden table and two benches, this is where villagers have gathered for centuries to share their stories and secrets—usually accompanied by copious amounts of wine.

It was here, in the summer of 2000, that Michael Paterniti found himself listening to a larger-than-life Spanish cheesemaker named Ambrosio Molinos de las Heras as he spun an odd and compelling tale about a piece of cheese. An unusual piece of cheese. Made from an old family recipe, Ambrosio’s cheese was reputed to be among the finest in the world, and was said to hold mystical qualities. Eating it, some claimed, conjured long-lost memories. But then, Ambrosio said, things had gone horribly wrong. . . .

By the time the two men exited the telling room that evening, Paterniti was hooked. Soon he was fully embroiled in village life, relocating his young family to Guzmán in order to chase the truth about this cheese and explore the fairy tale–like place where the villagers conversed with farm animals, lived by an ancient Castilian code of honor, and made their wine and food by hand, from the grapes growing on a nearby hill and the flocks of sheep floating over the Meseta.

What Paterniti ultimately discovers there in the highlands of Castile is nothing like the idyllic slow-food fable he first imagined. Instead, he’s sucked into the heart of an unfolding mystery, a blood feud that includes accusations of betrayal and theft, death threats, and a murder plot. As the village begins to spill its long-held secrets, Paterniti finds himself implicated in the very story he is writing.

My Thoughts:
I know what the "experts" say about the food groups, but I have my own edition of what the food groups are and one of them is cheese. Yep, cheese gets it's own group. There are a whole lot of cheeses out there in the world and there are very few of them that I've tried and didn't like. So four years ago when I first heard about this book, I knew that I had to find out about the world's greatest piece of cheese.

I must admit that it seemed like it would be a stretch to write an entire book about one kind of cheese. Clearly I did not read the summary before I started reading because this book is so much more than a book about cheese. It is, at least a little bit, about the slow-food movement (it was that movement, after all, which caused Ambrosio Molinos' cheese to gain world-wide fame).
"Ambrosio saw himself as the needle and thread, stitching backward in time, unifying epochs. The awards had validated the idea that you could still make old food, the old way, and enthrall."
It's also about the Castilian way of life and the land. It's about family, friendship gone wrong, greed, and obsession. Not only Ambrosio's obsession with revenge but Paterniti's obsession with Ambrosio and the village of Guzman; Paterniti, a journalist who had traveled the world, became so obsessed with Ambrosio's story, eventually, he moved his entire family to Guzman. Which all makes it a book that's hard to put down, something you almost certainly wouldn't expect from a book you thought was just about cheese.

A word about Paterniti's writing: this book is chock-a-block full of footnotes; footnotes that have footnotes that have footnotes. Some of this is because of the way Ambrosio told his tale (and the tales of others). Much of it is simply Paterniti traveling down side roads, roads that were often humorous, often filled with Spanish history. Occasionally they were distracting but for the most part I enjoyed them. Just as I did Paterniti's writing. He brings the processes, the food, the land, and the people alive.
"The only constant was the bodega. It was nearly guaranteed that at some point along the way we'd end up in the telling room with Ambrosio holding forth, in great word gusts of appreciation for the joys of Castile. He slurped wine and let out wondrous sighs, saying, "Its taste reminds me of the old people who once sat here. It's a privilege to drink this wine." It was a privilege to eat the almonds and the chorizo and jamon, too. It was a privilege to sit on one's derriere in the telling room and get pleasantly soused while hearing stories. It was a privilege to walk this land, to live in this place, to watch the grain grow."
Years ago, my husband picked up a book called Driving Mr. Albert. He thoroughly enjoyed it but it didn't appeal to me (let's be honest, I wasn't really listening when the hubby was telling me about it). Turns out Paterniti wrote that book. I wonder if we still have it. Suddenly, it sounds very much like something I'd like to read!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Life: It Goes On - October 15

Happy Sunday! And by Sunday, I mean that the sun is finally shining today, hopefully all day. It's been so dreary and wet here for most of the past week. Doesn't do much to help the mood I'm put in first thing every morning when I turn on the news. It's also making it tough to start getting the yard ready for winter.

You'd think that would free up more reading time but, I've got to be honest, I'm not doing as much reading as I was for a while. Grant is brilliantly interesting but it's very slow going and I feel guilty if I pick up anything else for a break.

The Big Guy is watching The Coneheads today. It's all silly fun except when you hear Michael McKeon's character, who works for the INS, tell a boatload of refugees to "Go home. You have no skills and will only be a burden on our society." Then it starts to feel like you're watching the evening news.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I finished The Bones of Paradise, have been making myself listen to the news more (although that always makes me an angry driver), and I'm back to podcasts (this week I listened to episodes of Stuff You Should Know and Classical Classroom). I actually added several new ones to my list (Crimetown; Terrible, Thanks for Asking; and Pod Save America) which were recommended by NPR; I haven't listened to any of them yet, though.

Watching: The baseball playoffs. I've got family happy about how the Cubs and Dodgers are doing (although someone is not going to be happy at the end of their series) and a girl very happy with how her Yankees have been playing.

Reading: An interesting article in Harper's Bazaar about emotional labor.  My work load, emotional labor-wise, is considerably less than when my kids were young and I was a stay-at-home mom. Still, I'd made supper last night for two of my kiddos and an hour later had to go in and clean up the kitchen when it became clear that neither of these grown adults thought that maybe they should do it. When I said something about it, they both said, "You didn't ask me to do it." And so it continues.

Making: Slow-cooked pork chops with apples, chicken enchiladas, turkey tater tot casserole, lasagna bake, chocolate chip cookies, shortbread cookies, and, last night, we tried cloud eggs. Got the bug last Sunday to meal prep for the week and I'm always so grateful to be able to walk in the door after work and just heat something up. Today will definitely include meal prepping again!

Planning: Our trip to Missouri this week. Cannot wait to get my hands on my great-niece who will turn one next week.

Thinking About: Making some changes to make myself happier. For starters, maybe get back to that Happiness Project I started at the beginning of the year and abandoned months ago.
Miss E

Enjoying: Last night a mildly amusing thing happened that, for some reason, struck Miss H and I as much funnier than it really was. Then the fact that we were laughing so hard made us laugh even harder. Tears streaming down our faces harder. Can't even breathe harder. This happens to us sometimes and BG just rolls his eyes and says, "I don't get it." That's ok, we do; and it's great!

Feeling:  Like I need to get out and enjoy the sunshine instead of doing the things I know I need to do.

Looking forward to: This face.

Question of the week: Last night I drove through a patch of water on the road and found myself already wondering if it was just wet or might be icy. I hate that I'm already focusing on winter! If you live in a part of the country with four distinct seasons, how do you help yourself enjoy this season without thinking too much about upcoming winter?

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
Published October 2017 by Simon and Schuster
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Find your magic.

For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man.

Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk.

From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.

The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy.

My Thoughts:
So, I know I just said, in another review, that I don't like supernatural elements in books. Literally just said it. Even after I had started reading this book. As it turns out, I may be wrong, at least when the supernatural is done by someone who knows how to do it as well as Alice Hoffman. For some reason, even though the entire book is about witches, and curses, and mind reading, it never felt like the magic was the center of the book. Instead, this is really a book about family, love, redemption, and being true to yourself and I do love a book with those themes.

I've never read Hoffman's Practical Magic (this is actually a prequel to that earlier book), but I love the movie adaptation, starring Sandra Bullock, Nicole, Kidman, and Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest (the later two play Franny and Jet Owens, the sisters in this book). I adore that movie for the very reasons that I enjoyed this book. It's not a given that a movie adaptation of a book will fairly represent the book on which it was based (ok, it's often not even close); but, on the assumption that this one did, I had a feeling I would enjoy a book based on the aunts younger lives. Hoffman did not disappoint because, at it's heart, the magic in this book is the characters, who adored, each in their own way.

Even though the rules the Owens children grow up with are a little unusual, they are still rules made by parents and not understood by the children. Even though the Owens children have unique magical gifts and can often read each others minds, don't most siblings grow up each with their own unique gifts and an ability to read each other where others might not be able to do so? They don't appreciate their parents until they are gone, they long to be accepted, they long to be loved but are afraid of love - aren't these all things that are universal?

Hoffman charmed me with her blend of humor, sadness, grief, love, spirit, and family bond. Perhaps that was the greatest magic of the book. It's not perfect (it can drag on too long in some places and occasionally feel repetitive) but it was the perfect book for me at just the right time.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Life: It Goes On - October 8

Ladies and gentlemen: I have, perhaps for the first time, actually completed the R. I. P. Challenge. Already. Yea, me! Ok, ok - it's entirely to do with the fact that both of the books I read were downloaded from Netgalley and had to be read by now. But still!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I've continued "reading" The Bones of Paradise. There's no way I would have gotten through the print copy of my library book before the book club bag was due back; being able to do a listen/read has been a lifesaver!

Watching: The Avett Brothers in concert! Oh, sure, it misted the entire concert and I was pretty cranky about that right up until they started. But once they started, I was remind again how much I enjoy their storytelling and the energy the entire band puts into giving their fans a great experience. 

Reading:  Basically, I've been a reading fool because I went completely berserk requesting books on Netgalley without paying any attention to archive dates. Boy, is it showing in my house. But we're only eight days into the month and I've finished three books, and will finish a fourth today. Of course, this week I will start Ron Chernow's Grant which will take me the next two weeks to read. My dad's also reading it so when I review it, you'll get his opinion, too. But he doesn't know he's going to do that, yet, so don't tell him.

Making: I can hardly remember what we ate for meals at all this week except I did make Irish nachos for supper on Friday. Health food at it's finest! Tator tots topped with ground beef, bacon, cheese, onion, sour cream, chives and tomato.

Planning: On heading off to Junkstock shortly. I don't usually go on Sundays but it has been so rainy here all week (several inches in just a couple of days) so I decided to give the mud a chance to dry up some.

Thinking About: How it might be time to give up on shorts and capris for the year. Even the cats, in their fur coats, have decided it's time to start cuddling up on our laps (aka stealing our body heat).  

Enjoying: Family. Jeff's cousin and his wife, as well as their son and his wife and baby boy, came to Nebraska this weekend from California. It's always good to get to spend some time with them and it was fun to get to meet the baby. As much as Facebook makes me crazy most days, it's been fun getting to watch him grow up that way but more fun to actually get to hold him!

Feeling: Angry. Wednesday night Mini-him walked out of work at 9 p.m. only to find that his car had been stolen. He's been driving the original Mama Shep's 2000 Honda Civic, nothing fancy at all. We're almost certain it was stolen for parts so don't hold much hope out for it being found. It was in fantastic shape and, of course, he had no car payment. It will be hard to replace, particularly since he hasn't been saving money to be ready to get a new car. So frustrating that people think it's ok to just take the things that others have worked so hard for.

Looking forward to: A normal week? I'm not entirely sure what that means any more. It seems like there's always something, even in this phase of our lives.

Question of the week: Have you ever had a car stolen? How did that experience end up for you?

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Witches' Tree by M. C. Beaton

The Witches' Tree by M. C. Beaton
Published October 2017 by St. Martin's Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Cotswolds inhabitants are used to inclement weather, but the night sky is especially foggy as Rory and Molly Devere, the new vicar and his wife, drive slowly home from a dinner party in their village of Sumpton Harcourt. They strain to see the road ahead—and then suddenly brake, screeching to a halt. Right in front of them, aglow in the headlights, a body hangs from a gnarled tree at the edge of town. Margaret Darby, an elderly spinster, has been murdered—and the villagers are bewildered as to who would commit such a crime.

Agatha Raisin rises to the occasion (a little glad for the excitement, to tell the truth, after a long run of lost cats and divorces on the books). But Sumpton Harcourt is a small and private village, she finds—a place that poses more questions than answers. And when two more murders follow the first, Agatha begins to fear for her reputation—and even her life. That the village has its own coven of witches certainly doesn't make her feel any better...

My Thoughts:
M. C. Beaton is known for two series of books, one featuring Hamish Macbeth (whom I adore), and one featuring Agatha Raisin. Agatha is a character that the other characters in Beaton's books tend to dislike so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that I don't care much for her myself. I feel rather bad about this given that she is a woman of a certain age (mine) who has bad a name for herself and runs her own business. But to call Agatha "independent" would be wrong. She is forever trying to find the love of her life; she wants the full on romance. I tend to come away from books featuring her feeling that we've dwelt entirely too much on Agatha's problems with men. Which isn't fair, I suppose, when I consider how much time is devoted to Hamish's love life in his series. Nevertheless.

This time it really did feel a bit like Beaton forgot all about the murders as the book went on. Even when we got to the end, it felt like Beaton had forgotten to tie up some of the loose ends. In some books, that would be alright. But this is a cozy mystery and cozy mysteries are meant to finish all neat and tidy. In fact, there was a lot about the book that felt as though it hadn't been thoroughly thought out, from the fact that the coven so much is made of that ends up featuring almost not at all to conversations that don't seem to flow properly. My copy is, as I note above, a egalley. Perhaps before the book went to press, some of those concerns were cleaned up.

In the end, it's a fun enough book (if one can say a book in which four people are murdered is "fun"). It just wasn't up to the standards of Beaton's previous books.