Friday, September 16, 2016

Bloggiesta - Fall 2016

I really hadn't intended on joining in Bloggiesta this weekend. In fact, I've been so bad about keeping up with my blog reader that I wasn't even aware it was coming up until a couple of days ago. But some changes in my schedule this weekend have resulted in some free time I wasn't planning on and because I'm feeling that guilt about being behind, I decided to join in the fun. I may be using that term loosely. I'm not sure I'll have a lot of time for the fun aspects; I'm more likely to be doing what I always do during Bloggiesta and getting things caught up. So here's the list of things I'll be working on - which probably looks pretty much like my list from this spring!

1. Empty my blog reader.

2. Respond to all comments from September and all Sunday post comments from August.

3. Clean up my email.

4. Make sure my blogging calendar is up to date.

5. Work on tags - I wish I could remember where I'd gotten with this project during the last Bloggiesta!

6. Check out mini-challenges.

7. Prep 3-4 posts.

8. Clean up the look of the blog.

Chances are I won't get to most of these, between football, friends, family, housework and reading. But it's a nice dream!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

Oh my, I feel like I'm really dropping the ball around here lately. I may be getting posts up here and there, and I am reading, but I haven't gotten around to responding to comments in ages and I'm barely getting around to browsing all of my blog friends' posts. 

I don't even have a very good excuse other than that The Big Guy has taken to using my desk chair to sit in to watch television and it's all but impossible to get him out of it. Which makes it all but impossible to get to my computer as often as I'd like to get there. 

I will be helped this month by a fortuitous email I received yesterday, an offer for the Nook Audiobook of Greg Iles' The Bone Tree which I was about to pick up for a review the end of the month. That sucker is more than 800 pages and I have yet to finish another book for a review next week and one that I'm reading with a group on Litsy. Being about to listen while I drive, clean, and even type this post is really going to help a lot! I've already "read" for almost two hours today. 

Because my September's been so loaded up with commitments, I've been hesitant to commit to too much in October, including R.I.P. XI (Readers. Imbibing. Peril.). I wasn't even sure I'd have time to read any books for Fall Feasting this year. But those are part of what makes blogging so much fun! Also, since R.I.P. includes thrillers, I'm thinking that I'm already reading for that challenge with Natchez Burning and The Bone Tree. So I signed up for that today and I'll spend some time browsing my books to later to find at least one more book that works for that and a couple that will work for Fall Feasting. I'm thinking maybe Sarah Water's Fingersmith for R.I.P. and maybe, finally, Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle for Fall Feasting which will also worth well for Nonfiction November. 

Last night a couple of book club friends and I went to hear Geraldine Brooks speak. If you ever get the chance to see her speak, I highly recommend it! She is open, funny, smart and an amazing storyteller and speaker. She talked about her history as a writer, her work as a journalist and how it influenced her writing as a novelist, making sure she doesn't use words in her work that take readers out of the time setting, and how she finds the voices for the characters in her historical novels, particularly the women. It helps, of course, that she's Australian, so she's got that accent going for her! She is married to Tony Horwitz, an American who is also a writer and an American Civil War fanatic (I think she'd agree that word is appropriate). His passion for that war helped inspire her Pulitzer Prize winning novel March. We were all very happy that we'd made the trip across town to see her!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles
Published: Hardcover April 2014, paperback August 2015  by William Morrow
Source: I have two copies - the hardcover borrowed from my parents and a paperback copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Raised in the southern splendor of Natchez, Mississippi, Penn Cage learned all he knows of duty from his father, Dr. Tom Cage. But now the beloved family doctor has been accused of murdering the African American nurse with whom he worked in the dark days of the 1960s. Once a crusading prosecutor, Penn is determined to save his father, but Tom, stubbornly invoking doctor-patient privilege, refuses even to speak in his own defense.

Penn's quest for the truth sends him deep into his father's past, where a sexually charged secret lies. More chilling, this long-buried sin is only one thread in a conspiracy of greed and murder involving the vicious Double Eagles, an offshoot of the KKK controlled by some of the most powerful men in the state. Aided by a dedicated reporter privy to Natchez's oldest secrets and by his fiancée, Caitlin Masters, Penn uncovers a trail of corruption and brutality that places his family squarely in the Double Eagles' crosshairs.

With every step costing blood and faith, Penn is forced to confront the most wrenching dilemma of his life: Does a man of honor choose his father or the truth?

My Thoughts:
Natchez Burning is the first in a trilogy of books; the final book in the trilogy will be published in March. When I was offered the chance to get first shot at that book by reading and reviewing the first two books in the trilogy in September, I didn't hesitate.  My parents are fans of Iles and have particularly enjoyed Natchez Burning and The Bone Tree (the next book in the series); I knew how much they'd love to get their hands on the new book early and because I love them so much, I was willing to reading 1600 pages to make that happen. Because that's just what kind of daughter I am!

I can certainly understand why my parents enjoyed this book - it is a roller coaster of a read, it is chock full of interesting (and questionable!) characters, and it is mired in the history of the South. We've traveled in the South, we've been to Natchez. I was not yet out of high school when we were there but, for my parents, I'm sure it was easy to picture the area. And for history buffs and people who have always stayed well-informed about the goings on in the world, the parts of the book set in the past must have brought back vivid reminders of the news they saw in the 1960's.

Iles does not pull any punches when it comes to the brutality in this book and there is a lot of it. As a reader, I have mixed feelings about that. Given that Iles clearly wants readers to understand this piece of his city's past, I accept that he feels it's essential for readers to have a very clear picture of the horrendous tortures that were carried out in the past. But it's a very tough read made all the more tough by the violence that continues into the present day parts of the story. I understood that Iles wanted me to know that powerful people and those filled with hate are willing to go to any lengths to achieve their goals. I just wasn't convinced I needed all of the details. Also, let's face it, I prefer to live in my happy little shell sometimes and it's hard for me to imagine that there are people out there willing to torture others when a gunshot would do the trick.

In the end, though, the question became which is scarier - a man filled with hate or a man who is so powerful that he will stop at nothing to get what he wants and keep what he has?

I can't see me pitching this to my book club (it is too long and too violent) but I can see where it would make an interesting book club choice given all of the themes Iles addresses. Racism, infidelity, the bond between friends, euthanasia, corruption, family bonds, trust issues, politics and the legal system, power struggles, forbidden love, and the truths parents may keep from their children. I enjoyed all of that a lot which made it well worth skipping over that parts that were too tough for me to read.

Of course, all of that is just my opinion; if you'd like more opinions, check out the full tour. Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for including me on the tour! I'm looking forward to reading The Bone Tree soon!

About Greg Iles
Greg Iles spent most of his youth in Natchez, Mississippi. His first novel, Spandau Phoenix, was the first of thirteen New York Times bestsellers, and his new trilogy continues the story of Penn Cage, protagonist of The Quiet Game, Turning Angel, and #1 New York Times bestseller The Devil’s Punchbowl. Iles’s novels have been made into films and published in more than thirty-five countries. He lives in Natchez with his wife and has two children.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Top Ten All-Time Favorite Non-Fiction

The ladies at Top Ten Tuesday have asked us this week to make a list of our top ten all-time favorite books of any particular genre. I've been thinking about a list of non-fiction favorites for a while so this one is easy-peasy (as my sister would say)! In no particular order:

1. Empress Of All Russia: Catherine The Great by Iris Noble - this is the first non-fiction book I ever remember reading for pleasure. I must have been eight or ten? Why did I love it so much? 40+ years later I remember being enthralled by the story of a woman who ruled a country.

2. Cocktail Hour Under The Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller - adventure, family, humor, history, Africa. I loved Fuller's account of her family's time as British colonists.

3. Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn - I loved the story of Flinn's school but most of all I loved the kick in the butt to make things from scratch, to use what you already have, and to be creative. This one lives with my cookbooks.

4. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot - I have never read  a book about science that so pulled me in. Skloot did such a great job of blending the story of this one woman, the family she left behind, the ethics of medical research, and the actual science. I would read it again.

5. This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett - where I discovered non-fiction essays and loved them. I love Patchett's writing and her honesty and humor in these stories about her life where wonderful.

6. Orange Is The New Black by Piper Kiernan - opened my eyes to life in prison for a woman, which is saying something considering both of my parents-in-law and sister-in-law all spent some time working in the Nebraska women's penitentiary. It's very disheartening..

7. Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi - horrifying murders, incredible stories of the people involved, the workings of the criminal and judicial systems. Started me on a whole new sub-genre.

8. Eleni by Nicholas Gage - opened my eyes to the tragedies of wars in other parts of the world and the terrible toll they take, before I'd ever read a book about World War II.

9.  In The Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White - leprosy. In the United States. Recently. I had no idea. White opens eyes as he writes about his life was changed when he was imprisoned in a building that also housed lepers.

10.  I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron - because Nora Ephron is always funny, but it turns out her own stories can also make me ugly cry. In my car. I loved it so much, I plan to pick it up in print one day so I can keep a copy.

Now that I've finished, I feel that I've made this list before. I wonder if I can find it and see what's changed on it. What would you have on your list?

2016 Big Book Summer Challenge

Remember in July when I jumped in late to this challenge, certain that this would be the year I would conquer Charles Dicken's Little Dorrit?

Yeah, that didn't happen. I think I read about 15 pages when I remembered all of the books that I'd committed to or had coming up on Netgalley.

I did, however manage to succeed at this challenge, listening to one book over 400 pages and reading another before Labor Day: And The Mountains Echoed on audio and A Gentleman In Moscow in print. I feel a little bit like I cheated, though, because I didn't even know how many pages either of these had when I started them. But we all know how mixed my success with challenges is, so I'm blaming victory!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Life: It Goes On - September 11

MSNBC is running, today, the Today Show coverage from that terrible day 15 years ago. I could not pull myself away from the television for a couple of hours. It was like reliving that terrible morning. For those of us who lived through that day, old enough to understand what was happening, I imagine it is a day none of us will ever forget. What I'm afraid we've forgotten, though, is the way this country pulled together as one in the aftermath to support those who had been most deeply affected, to support those in our own communities who put their lives at risk every day to run toward the situations the rest of us are running away from, and to understand that, while our country may have its flaws, we are better when we work together. 

George W. Bush said, on September 20, 2001, to a joint session of Congress:
"Americans are asking: What is expected of us? I ask you to live your lives, and hug your children. I know many citizens have fears tonight, and I ask you to be calm and resolute, even in the face of a continuing threat. I ask you to uphold the values of America, and remember why so many have come here. We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them. No one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of their ethnic background or religious faith."

This Week I'm:

Listening To: The Weird Sisters and NPR while I'm driving, podcasts while I'm working out (You Must Remember This, Happier, NPR Books, Stuff You Should Know).

Watching: Football and volleyball. Also, we happened to catch an excellent filmed version of the play "Barrymore" on PBS the other night. It starred Christopher Plummer and he was simply incredible.

Reading: Racing to finish Natchez Burning for review this week and so I can get back to Ashes of Fiery Weather and finish it. My house may need to clean itself this month - I have a lot of books to read!

Making: Oh, you know, all of the things with tomatoes. Yesterday, we made salsa and spaghetti sauce to freeze. Will probably make more of both of those this week.

Planning: I can't think of planning today. There are too many things swirling around in my mind and I can't focus on any of them.

Thinking About: See above. 

Enjoying: A picnic dinner with friends last night on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River valley. Don't tell my hubby I said that, though; I might have pouted before hand about going.

Feeling: Sad/happy - had to say goodbye to Mini-me and Miss S on Monday. I'm happy that they are finally getting to be together and starting their life together but oh how I will miss them both!

Looking forward to: A group from my book club and I will be seeing Geraldine Brooks speak this week. 

Question of the week: What is your most vivid memory of 9/11?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles

A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles
Published September 2016 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary:
When, in 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

My Thoughts:
I have been waiting for this book for more than four years. In 2012, Towle's debut novel, Rules of Civility, was  one of my favorite books of the year, perhaps, in no small part, because it was so unexpected. This time, I expected a lot of Towles - smart writing, a wonderful sense of place, characters I wanted to know. Towles delivers. I have already added this book to my list of favorites for the year. I doubt it will be knocked off the list at year's end.

One reviewer said that this book could have been set anywhere, given that nearly the entire setting is a fine hotel. I respectfully disagree. Through the patrons, the employees, and the newspapers the Count reads daily, the greater setting is made clear - from young Nina's stay with her father who is a party member to her own later affiliation with the party and the consequences of that, from the first appearance of "the Bishop" as an unskilled waiter clearly sent to spy on the employees to his rise in the ranks, from the early meetings of committees in the ballroom to the one-on-one meetings between the Count and a party official.

But...this is not a story about Russia, it's the story of one man who must learn to deal with the end of life as he has known it.
"As we age, we are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade. We are familiar with the songs our grandparents favored, after all, even though we never danced to them ourselves. At festive holidays, the recipes we pull form the drawer are routinely decades old, and in some cases even written in the hand of a relative long since dead. And the objects in our homes? The oriental coffee tables and well-worn desks that have been handed down from generation to generation? Despite being "out of fashion," not only do they add beauty to our daily lives, they lend material credibility to our presumption that the passing of an era will be glacial. But under certain circumstances, the Count finally acknowledged, this process can occur in the comparative blink of an eye."
Just as he begins to feel the walls coming in on him, the Count meets nine-year-old Nina, who is something of an "Eloise," a girl who has had the time on her hands to explore her surroundings thoroughly and who teaches the Count that there is much more to his world than he has ever known.
"Nina had not contented herself with the views from the upper decks. She had gone below. Behind. Around. About. In the time that Nina had been in the hotel, the walls had not grown inward, they had grown outward, expanding in scope and intricacy. In her first weeks, the building had grown to encompass the life of two city blocks. In her first months, it had grown to encompass half of Moscow. If she lived in the hotel long enough, it would encompass all of Russia."
Once again, Towles impresses with his wit, ability to bring to paint a scene, and fairness to his characters. I was utterly captivated by the Count. I felt sorry for him, worried for him, even teared up in the end. I kept thinking of the word "charming" as I read, but that seems to somehow discount how smart the writing is, how much Towles gives readers to consider. Mostly, I was struck by the heart of A Gentleman In Moscow.
"As a younger man, I used to feel the same way about my sister. Every year that passed, it seemed a little more of her had slipped away; and I began to fear that one day I would come to forget her altogether. But the truth is: No matter how much time passes, those we have loved never slip away from us entirely."