Sunday, July 23, 2017

Life: It Goes On - July 23

It's been a tough week with no end in sight; but we have managed to find some fun here and there, all while continuing to battle the relentless heat. You know the heat's been bad when you're excited for a cloudy day and a high of 92 degrees sounds like relief.

Mini-him had his wisdom teeth removed Monday and I took the day off to mother him. He'd long thought that he wouldn't have them removed (and we've read that it's ok to leave them) but then they started to crowd his other teeth. Let's just say that it's a whole lot easier to have wisdom teeth removed when you're ten years younger; Thursday he was finally able to "chew" macaroni and cheese!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: More podcasts - History Chicks, Stuff You Should Know, Happier, and Stuff You Missed In History Class.

Watching: "The Boys of 36," which was a PBS show that I found on Netflix that tied in, for me, to the book The Boys In The Boat. It was fun putting faces to the names of the people I'd "met" in the book and being able to actually watch them race. I also watched the movie "Lion" starring Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel, which is based on a heartbreaking true story.

Reading: I'll have read two books in three days by the time today is over, thanks to the 24 in 48 readathon (even though I'm not going to come anywhere near to 24 hours of reading). I've read The Little Book of Hygge (celebrating my Danish heritage) and Aunt Dimity and the Summer King. There are a whole series of Aunt Dimity books which are cozy mysteries but with a fantasy element which will likely keep me from reading any more of them. Still, it was light and fun. Up next is Nasty Women: A Collection of Essays and Accounts Of What It's Like To Be A Woman In The 21st Century.

Making: Meals for Miss H. We've been doing meal prep for her on Sundays. Last week she tried two new recipes. One was a hit, the other not as much. We did learn that you don't want to make full recipes when you are doing meal preps for one person because it means you'll be eating the same thing over and over and over for days. She didn't mind so much when it meant lots of buffalo chicken but even that she began to tire of eventually.

Planning: Nothing at the moment. The trip to Milwaukee is on hold for the time being; too hard to get everyone off work at the same time. Much sadness.

Thinking About: We toured the newest mosque in town yesterday. I've never been in one before and we learned so much. It's actually called the American Muslim Institute and is as much a community building as a religious one. Our guide told us that all four of the other mosques in town have been vandalized but that, thanks to the amount of community support they receive, they are able to focus on the good.

Enjoying: Book club and a new (to us) brew pub.

Feeling: Like I need at least one more day to the weekend. Oh, wait. I feel that way every weekend!

Looking forward to: Celebrating Mini-him's birthday tonight, his last birthday in his twenties. How can one of my kids be almost 30?!

Question of the week: Have you ever heard of hygge? I can't wait to review the book and find out ways you are already incorporating it into your lives!




Monday, July 17, 2017

The Widow of Wall Street by Randy Susan Meyer

The Widow of Wall Street by Randy Susan Meyers
Published April 2017 by Atria Books
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Phoebe recognizes fire in Jake Pierce’s belly from the moment they meet as teenagers. As he creates a financial dynasty, she trusts him without hesitation—unaware his hunger for success hides a dark talent for deception.

When Phoebe learns her husband’s triumph and vast reach rests on an elaborate Ponzi scheme her world unravels. As Jake’s crime is uncovered, the world obsesses about Phoebe. Did she know her life was fabricated by fraud? Was she his accomplice?

While Jake is trapped in the web of his deceit, Phoebe is caught in an unbearable choice. Her children refuse to see her if she remains at their father’s side, but abandoning him feels cruel and impossible.

My Thoughts:
The summary above gives away nothing - Meyers opens the book with Phoebe visiting Jake in prison. The question then is not what will happen but how have these two people come to this point in their lives.

Meyers has clearly built her novel around the story of Bernie Madoff, the man convicted of the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. Like Madoff, Jake builds up his own company from nothing, seemingly better at working the stock market better than anyone else. But Jake's secret lies in the private piece of his company that pulls in the big money. Money that is essential to keep everything afloat because, as it turns out, Jake is spending that money instead of investing it for his clients. To keep the money coming in, Jake uses Phoebe to help win over new people. One can't help but wonder if Madoff did the same thing with his wife, Ruth.

When Madoff's scheme came to light, it was not clear exactly how much Ruth knew about what was really going on. It seemed impossible to me at the time that she could have been clueless. But the older I get, the more I believe that, in a marriage, spouses tend to turn over certain aspects of their lives to the spouse who is best suited to that piece. In The Widow of Wall Street, Meyer wants readers to believe that Phoebe was clueless about how the financial markets work (and, let's be honest, most of us really don't understand them) and that she believed that their rich lifestyle was the just reward of Jake's success.

The question is, how could a woman as smart as Phoebe, stay with a man like Jake, whose behavior becomes increasingly erratic as the stakes increase? How could she stand by him when it all comes crashing down. Meyers has that covered in a way that is very believable, from the initial reason they come together and the reasons she stays with him.

So of the writing seemed a little stilted to me. But there were also passages that really spoke to me, including this one that reminded me of going through my mother-in-law's things when she passed.
"Death taught you that souls lived in the ephemera once surrounding the ones you loved. Families fighting over ancient decks of cards and leaking teapots struggled to be keepers of the past. Now she understood. Possessions mattered because they held your history."
This book works for me in no small part because it explores, in a fictional way, the Madoff story. Meyers gives readers a look into what life might have been like for Madoff, his wife and their families and friends after it all came crashing down. What was life like when everything you own is suddenly under government control, including the things your mother handed down to you? What's it like for the children of a man that did these terrible things who also have to live with people wondering how much they knew? What's it like to have to face family who've been hurt by your husband? What's it like to be under siege by the media, to be considered a pariah wherever you go, to be torn by your loyalties? And what's it like to go from having the best of everything to having almost nothing? It's in the aftermath of Jake's downfall that this book really shone for me.

As with all of Meyer's books, this one would make a good book club selection with themes of loyalty, marriage, family ties, parental relationships, grief, corruption, ethics, fidelity, and multiculturalism.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Life: It Goes On - July 16

🌞🔥🌞🔥🌞 I had this whole piece written about how I needed a row of burning hot sun emojis but didn't know how to make that happen on my keyboard. Then I looked at my screen a realized there was an icon right on my system. I'm living the "you learn something new everyday" adage. Anyway, not as hot here as California and not as humid as Mississippi; but, still, 95 degrees with 65% humidity is damn hot and uncomfortable. And that's our forecast for at least another week. Makes it easy to convince myself to stay inside and read!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Podcasts still. Mostly Stuff You Missed In History Class and Happier. I would be knocking out more of them if I listened while I did stuff around the house but I tend to prefer quiet when I can get it.

Watching: All caught up with Game of Thrones now and ready for Season 7 to kick off tonight. Makes me think, again, about picking up the books. It might be easier to do if there weren't "books" and it was only the one giant book to consider.

Reading: Finishing Behind Closed Doors for this month's book club today. Can I just say how much I wish I hadn't recommended this book? I wouldn't even finish it except I always finish the book club books. I'm looking forward to getting back to Once, in Lourdes.

Making: In this heat, we've been keeping it light and easy this week - nachos, salads, light pastas.

Planning: All plans are up in the air at the moment. Not for any particular reason other than that trying to get my family all on the same page right now is like trying to herd cats. And I have cats, so I know what I'm talking about.

Thinking About: I'm watching This Is Us even as I type - it's got me thinking about family relationships.

Enjoying: Rhubarb Pear cider and truffle mac and cheese. Yum. Sometimes, it's the little things.

Feeling: Lazy but there's too much to be done.

Looking forward to: Book club this week.

Question of the week: How do you get yourself "up" when you don't have the ambition to do anything?


Friday, July 14, 2017

News Of The World by Paulette Jules

News Of The World by Paulette Jules
Published June 2017 by William Morrow Paperbacks
Source: my copies (egalley and print) courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary: n the aftermath of the Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this exquisitely rendered, morally complex, multilayered novel of historical fiction from the author of Enemy Women that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust.

 In the wake of the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.

 In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.

 Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.

My Thoughts:
If that summary, on its own, convinced you to read this book, DO NOT read any other summaries of the book. There's a fifth paragraph I didn't include that pretty much gives away the ending. Why would a publisher do that??? The one thing that you absolutely do not want to do, is ruin this book for yourself in any way. Because this book, before I even started this review, was added to my favorite books of 2017 list; it will surely still be there at the end of the year. Trite as it sounds, I truly could not put this book down.

Paulette Jiles is, it turns out, a poet, which explains so much about the writing but not everything. Because not only is the writing in News Of The World beautiful, the story is, while not entirely unique (think Charles Portis' True Grit and John Wayne in The Searchers), engrossing, and Jiles uses her research remarkably well. She has clearly done her research but never gets mired down in it, giving readers just as much detail as they need to understand the time, a place, or the look of a thing. She also knows when the draw out a scene or a description and when to cut to the chase. There is a tension throughout the book but Jiles also makes time for sweet moments.

The last chapter is a bit jarring; it's one of those final chapters that spans many years to wrap everything up. The book is just over 200 page. One can't help but wonder if Jiles might have stretched that bit out a bit more; I would happily have read another 100 pages. But then, the story Jiles wanted to tell was told by the time she reached that last chapter. Maybe she should have left it there? Either way, Jiles would have left the reader wanting more and that's never a bad thing.

I'm just waiting now for the announcement that News Of The World has been optioned for a movie adaptation. I'm casting it in my head even now.

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

Paulette Jiles is a novelist, poet, and memoirist. She is the author of Cousins, a memoir, and the novels Enemy Women, Stormy Weather, The Color of Lightning, Lighthouse Island, and News of the World. She lives on a ranch near San Antonio, TX.

Find out more about Paulette at her website.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Readathon Time!


If I'm reading again, it's probably time to start readathoning again, right? I think I've earned the right to just sit and read as much as I want to for a couple of weeks. Who am I kidding? We've all earned that right!

First up is Michelle's High Summer Readathon. Michelle's readathon's are always very relaxed and last a while so it's usually pretty easy to find time in that two week period to sit down and read. Never as much as I want there to be but given that my calendar for the month is pretty empty (other than just  spending as much time on the patio as possible), it might just work this year.


Tucked right into the middle of the High Summer Readathon is the 24 in 48 Readathon, hosted by Rachel, Kristen, and Kerry. The idea here is to read for 24 of the 48 hours of the weekend of July 22 and 23. Rachel created this readathon because she could never handle reading the full 24 hours of Dewey's readathon but liked the idea of cranking out that many hours of reading in one weekend. Since I can never seem to get more than a few hours of Dewey's in either, I think this might just work for me. If I can get my family to play along better for this one. That's a big "if."

Because I couldn't really think much past the wedding for the past two months, my reading commitments are minimal this summer. Which means that I can pretty well read whatever catches my fancy during the readathons. I'm ridiculously excited to just grab a big pile of books and go to town!

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan

The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan
Published June 2013 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: bought for my Nook to read with my book group

Publisher's Summary:
Evelyn has been married to her husband for forty years—forty years since he slipped off her first wedding ring and put his own in its place. Delphine has seen both sides of love—the ecstatic, glorious highs of seduction, and the bitter, spiteful fury that descends when it’s over. James, a paramedic who works the night shift, knows his wife’s family thinks she could have done better; while Kate, partnered with Dan for a decade, has seen every kind of wedding—beach weddings, backyard weddings, castle weddings—and has vowed never, ever, to have one of her own.

As these lives and marriages unfold in surprising ways, we meet Frances Gerety, a young advertising copywriter in 1947. Frances is working on the De Beers campaign and she needs a signature line, so, one night before bed, she scribbles a phrase on a scrap of paper: “A Diamond Is Forever.” And that line changes everything.

My Thoughts:
I picked The Engagements for last month's book club selection for a couple of reasons: I'd read and really enjoyed Sullivan's Maine and I imagined a book that dealt with marriage from a number of points of view would make for a interesting discussion.

Coming at a book from five different story lines is tough to pull off and tough to read. Early on it felt like I was reading a collection of short stories. As so often happens when a book moves back and forth between story lines, the shift between stories sometimes felt abrupt and even frustrating when I had to try to get back into a different story line. Like a short story collection, some story lines here were stronger or more interesting throughout the line. The unifying theme throughout was marriage (and the role of those diamond rings that come with it) but Sullivan also touched on a lot of other themes as well - infidelity, women's role in the workplace, grief, parental relationships and expectations, financial hardship, divorce, and ethical dilemmas. There is a woman in this book that will probably speak to every woman who reads it.

By looking at women from several generations and walks of life, Sullivan is able to explore women's changing roles in society, to look at the ways society at large has changed, and also to look at the strength of women from many different angles.

Of Evelyn, who married in the 1930's and whose life's passion was teaching, Sullivan wrote:
"It was expected that she would quite her job after marriage, as most women did, and she did quit, for a while, to be with Teddy [Evelyn's son], and to open up a job for someone else during the later years of the Depression. There was real bitterness aimed at working girls at that time, especially the ones with husbands."
Through Kate, who abhors the idea of marriage, Sullivan gives us this:
"Through centuries and across cultures, women were intimidated and coerced into marriage, through horrible means - kidnapping, physical violence, even gang rape. In eighteen-century England, the doctrine of coverture dictated that a woman had no legal rights within a marriage, other than those afforded her by her husband. Early American laws replicated this idea, and did not change until the 1960's. Before then, most states had "head and master" laws, giving husbands the right to beat their wives and take full control of family decision making and finances, including the woman's own property."
An excellent reminder of why I marched in the Women's March back in January. We've come a long way, thanks to those who fought before us. It's easy to forget that, as Sullivan reminds us in Evelyn's story line, even in the 1970's there had to be cause for a divorce and the woman was often the party who suffered the most embarrassment even when it meant she had to accuse her husband of wrongdoing.

Frances Gerety was a real woman - the real person who came up with that iconic signature line for De Beers diamonds. Not long ago it was voted the best advertising slogan of the 20th century. Her life, and her storyline, are as interesting as any of the others in the book. In Sullivan's hands we see Gerety as someone who was married to her profession, never "had never wanted to marry or have children." Perhaps as a working woman who was always treated (and paid) as inferior to her male counterparts, Gerety didn't see any reason to seek that out in her personal life as well.

In a book titled The Engagements, I didn't expect to find feminism. But, as Sullivan follows the trail of a ring through the book, she also follows the trail of women finding their own voices and their own way.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Life: It Goes On - July 9

Life is returning to normal. I've begun selling off the wedding things I want to get rid of, borrowed things are mostly returned to their homes, and my dining room can finally be used for dining again. For someone who hates clutter, I must say I kind of miss it. But only because it means that the thing I was looking forward to for a year is over. See, I told you yesterday that I wasn't quite over the post-wedding letdown.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I listened to podcasts through last week, including Happier, Stuff You Missed in History Class, and Reading Women. I'm really enjoying catching up on them and may continue that for at least another week before I start another book.

Watching: Veep with The Big Guy, The Mindy Project and Orange Is The New Black with Miss H, Game of Thrones with BG and Mini-him, and I am now all caught up with Grace and Frankie which is just for me. I'm pretty sad that I'll now have to wait for the next season of that one. Obviously, the television has been back on in my house!

Reading: I'm starting Once, In Lourdes by Sharon Solwitz today and Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris for book club after that.

Making: So I listened to BG when we ordered food for the reception and we had a lot left over. A lot. By Friday, I was begging not to eat something that made use of the leftovers in any way. Which is to say that, mostly, I have not been making anything.

Planning: A trip to Milwaukee in August to see our kids. And that, folks, is how I'm getting over my blues!

Thinking About: Picking up some classes. I'd talked about it a while back but never figured out how I was going to make time for it. Mini-him will return to school this fall and I decided if he can figure out how to work full-time and carry three classes, I should be able to manage at least one. Now to figure out what I want to take.

Enjoying: Quiet. BG is a person who needs to go, go, go. Which is good, because as I have needed time to collect myself this week, he has been off finding ways to entertain himself and leaving me the house to myself.

Feeling: Better.

Looking forward to: Getting back to blogging regularly and visiting blogs. I miss my people!

Question of the week: My reading schedule will be pretty open this summer. What's the one book you are looking forward to reading that I should pick up?

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Reading!


Since I tend to suffer from post-big event letdown in general, I should have seen post-wedding letdown coming. And I did... sort of. But, damn, I had no idea it would hit so hard and take almost a week for me to seriously start feeling like myself again. 

The most curious thing has happened this week, though. That reading slump I've been more or less mired in all year? Suddenly, I find it has lifted. Just like that, the thing that has always been my go-to when I needed a lift has come back to me - books.

Granted, that fog my brain has been in for months as I worked to plan, order and create, has lifted; and I have more free time again. Still, I was surprised when I found myself able to actually focus on a book for long periods. I started a book Tuesday that I will finish today and I'm eager to start a new one tomorrow. 

I suspect it will take a few days longer to completely get over the blues, especially as I continue to pull leftover tamales and tortillas out of the freezer and try to sell the wedding items we'll never use again (100 chair covers, for example). But, I'm happy to say that the therapy I've always counted on is, once again, working. I'm reading!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Life: It Goes On - July 4

Happy Fourth of July to my U.S. readers! We are celebrating in the most quiet way possible, still recovering from the past week. My neighbors are giving me all of the celebration I need; any window I look out of is giving me a great fireworks show.
photo taken by my brother
at the wedding reception

My kiddos got here last Saturday night and we went non-stop through this past Sunday night. My scheduled plan for the week sort of went out the window when they showed up a projects yet to be completed. But it all got done and the things that didn't happen weren't noticed by anyone else Saturday. We had a wonderful weekend that was everything my son and his bride wanted it to be. We even had our own fireworks show!

With company just all leaving on Monday, I'm only now able to finish putting my house back together. Needless to say, my week below will mostly be a recap of the wedding week. Next week, it will be back to business as usual. I'm sad it's all over but also really needing to get back to my routine.

This Week I'm:

Reading: Not one word from the Saturday before last until today. Might be the longest I've ever gone without reading a book. I did start The Widow of Wall Street today.

Listening To: Songs from the wedding playlist. The bride and groom put together all of the music for the reception, with lots of input from their siblings and parents. We had a glorious evening last week singing together and driving Mini-me crazy as we threw out ideas faster than he could decide on them and add them.

Watching: This will come as a shock, particularly to those who know The Big Guy, but I'm not sure the television was on anywhere in my house for an entire week. It was kind of wonderful.

Making: In the kitchen - runzas, manicotti, and we grilled. Mostly we made decorations for the wedding reception, including a fabric letters that spelled out the kids' names, Just Married, and the date that we mounted to barnwood. I also made the boutonnieres for all of the guys and put together the fresh flower bouquet for the bride as well as nosegays for the moms and my mom.

Planning: Nothing in the planning stages at the moment. Thank heavens!

Thinking About: My head is filled with memories from the past week. Time spent getting to know Ms. S's mother better, hearing all four of my kids out on the patio laughing and singing together, seeing my son's face as he saw his bride for the first time at the wedding, watching my parents dance at the reception.


Enjoying:  See pic. Bottom left is at the reception on Saturday night; bottom center and left are at the post-wedding dinner held by my parents in their backyard. You may notice the bridal pup curled up at their feet. He's a great dog but a constant "what do we do with Jasper" conundrum last week!

Feeling: So many emotions. I'm prone to crying at any moment. So happy for the kids, sad it's all over, sad to have them gone.

Looking forward to: A long weekend in Milwaukee. I don't know when it will be but I'm going to need one soon!

Question of the week: How to you get over the letdown after a big event?