Monday, December 29, 2014

Three More Challenges - Because I Just Can't Help Myself

I don't suppose I really need any incentive to read books by women; they certainly compromise the majority of my reading most years. But given the great disparity between male and female authors, I've gotta make sure I'm keeping the ladies front and center. The rules for 2015 Women Challenge are:

* anyone can join;
* you don't need a blog to participate: if you are a non-blogger please leave a comment with a link (if you review elsewhere) to your review or with the list of the books you read and the level you choose;
* audio, e-books, bound books and re-reads are ok;
 * challenge goes from January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2015


Level 1: BABY GIRL - read 5 books written by a woman author
Level 2: GIRLS POWER - read 6 to 15 books written by a woman author
Level 3: SUPER GIRL - read 16 to 20 books written by a woman author
Level 4: WONDER WOMAN - read 20+ books written by a woman author

Because just once I want to be Wonder Woman, that's the level I'm signing up for.

Because I never miss this one this year War Through The Generations is easier than ever - "This year, read books — fiction, poetry, or nonfiction — about any war." I'm not sure what I'll read yet, but I'm bound to have something already on my shelves that has to do with some war that's been waiting patiently for me to remember it.

Given my appalling record reading non-fiction this year, I'm going to use the Nonfiction Reading Challenge as a kick in the butt to remind myself that there are a lot of great nonfiction books out there that will expand my world (many of which are already on my bookshelves!). 

If you need the same push, here are the rules:

The Challenge: Read any non-fiction book(s), adult or young adult. That's it. You can choose anything. Memoirs? Yes. History? Yes. Travel? Yes. You get the idea? Absolutely anything that is classified as non-fiction counts for this challenge.

Dilettante--Read 1-5 non-fiction books

Explorer--Read 6-10

Seeker--Read 11-15

Master--Read 16-20

This challenge will last from January 1 to December 31, 2015. You can sign up anytime throughout the year.

I'll be signing up for the Seeker level, although I'd love to reach the Master level. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Life: It Goes On - December 28

Oh my goodness, what a busy week it's been! I had hoped to work in more down time but it seems I'm incapable of doing that! Extra time? Why not make a batch of caramel corn? Extra time? Why not pick up a few more stocking stuffers? And, of course, there's always something you're not prepared for - like neither Hobby Lobby or Michael's having a full stock of wooden letters. Did everyone make crafts this year that necessitated the purchase of letters?

This Week I've Been:

Listening To: A lot of my favorite Christmas CD's. Or as much quiet as I could get, knowing that there would be a lot of noise in my week.

Watching: A few more Christmas shows, including "Love Actually," some college basketball and bowl games.

Reading: Today I will, finally, finish The Time Traveler's Wife (barring a disastrous final fifty pages, I'm going to wish I had included this in my favorites for the year) and From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Then I'll have to figure out both a new book for my nightstand and for my everywhere-else read. What to read next, what to read??

Miss H's zebra pjs were a huge hit!
Making: Finished up a cookbook for Mini-me to give to his cousin and two wall hangings for my sister-in-law and my niece (bottom left). Also ham, fried potatoes, cranberries, puppy chow, caramel corn, three kinds of cheese dip, sugar cookies, and egg casseroles. It's been a productive week!

Planning: A major revamping of our basement. Miss H gave me a big wallhanging which has inspired me to work on a new bar area in my basement (Aunt Jo, is that bar in your attic still up for grabs?!). It's time to make our basement a real grown up retreat!

Family, food, and presents - pretty well sums up the week!

Grateful for: All of my gifts (including books!), of course, and the time I had this week to make it possible for me to really relax and enjoy the celebration. Mostly, though, I'm grateful for the time to be with our families  and to continue traditions with our kids.

Enjoying: So many Christmas goodies; but, lordy, did it feel good to hit the treadmill today.

Feeling: Blessed. And spoiled.

Looking forward to: Easing back into routine. Although I'm pretty glad to have another day and a half off this week!

I hope your week has been good, no matter what, or if, you celebrate! What are you looking forward to this week?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas!

A very merry Christmas to all who celebrate the birth of Jesus!

From Omaha

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Happy Hanukkah

For those of you who celebrate, I hope you and your family have had a marvelous Hanukkah!

How The Holidays Killed My Reading

You see this book? It's really very good; I'm enjoying it a lot. But I started it over a week ago and I'm still not even half way finished with it.

Part of it is the time I've spent in stores that I might otherwise have spent reading. Or the time I've spent baking Christmas goodies. But, let's be honest, my biggest time suck the past couple of weeks has been Christmas shows...or, for that matter, any show which features Christmas in prominent scenes. I have never spent so much time in front of the television watching Christmas shows. For a girl who was feeling so grinchy a couple of weeks ago, these shows have helped me do an about face. I'm feeling very festive!

Just what have I watched?

* "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" - the original, only the original!
* "Auntie Mame"
* "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol"
* "White Christmas"
* "Holiday Inn"
* All three versions of "Miracle on 34th Street"
* "Love Actually"
* "The Santa Claus"
* "The Nativity Story"
* "Elf"
* "It's A Wonderful Life"
* "Bridget Jones' Diary"
* "A Christmas Carol" with George C. Scott

Have you been addicted to the shows this season? What have I missed (besides "Rudolph" which I will make sure gets watched yet this week!)? Starting Friday, it's back to the books, though!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Life: It Goes On - December 21

Four days left until Christmas! Well, three if you start celebrating on Christmas Eve, which we do. Are you all ready for the holidays? We are in pretty good shape and it even looks like the weather is going to cooperate so we won't have to worry about travel. Hope the same will be true for all of you.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'm officially in almost full Christmas music mode although I have also been loving the Damien Rice station on Pandora.

"Auntie Mame" starring Rosalind Russell
Watching: More Christmas shows and those shows that include Christmas scenes, including "Auntie Mame."

Reading: Almost no reading has gotten done this past week. It's not for a lack of a good book; I'm really enjoying The Time Traveler. Just too many other things that need to be done.

Making: Meatloaf, three kinds of enchiladas, tator tot casserole (an oldie but a goodie - always makes me think of my grandma), potato soup, puppy chow, and spritz cookies. It's been a good week in my kitchen!

Planning: On busting out most of the rest of what needs to be done for Christmas today. I've got this week off and I'd love to have a couple of days with nothing more to do than put my feet up and read.

Grateful for: All of the help The Big Guy's been giving me this year with gift shopping. God love him, he spent two hours helping me shop for throw pillows the other day. He deserves a medal, doesn't he?

Enjoying: Time with my kids this week, celebrating a birthday, making treats, and shopping. You know how much I love time with the three of them!

Feeling: Calm. It's not a feeling I'm accustomed to this time of year. I'm loving it.

Looking forward to: Time with our families and watching my kids open their gifts. That just never grows old even as they grow older!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

2014: A Year In Review

Do you do this every year as well - get to this point in the year and wonder how it has passed so quickly? When my kids were younger, I thought the years would slow down once they were grown up and I wasn't so involved in their lives. Not so much. On the other hand, when they were young, I was lucky to squeeze in four or five books in a year. Seriously. As of the other day, I reached 76 books read this year,  something 2004 me could not have imagined.

Best Bookish Things of 2014

 The Omaha Bookworms welcomed several new members this year (although we sadly said goodbye to a long-time member and dear friend). We had dwindled away to only four reliable attendees; this week we had nine at our meeting. It does make for a lot more side conversations and crowd control is harder, but so much fun to have so many opinions!

Omaha Lit Fest was, as always, terrific thanks to local author Timothy Schaffert, the Omaha Public Library, and wonderful panels of authors, including Melanie Benjamin and Rainbow Rowell. The event always kicks off with a fun evening of art, adult beverages, delicious treats and the chance to mingle with fellow book lovers. It's so much fun the The Big Guy has decided it's a can't-miss event for him, too.

The crowd packed The Bookworm this fall to see Rainbow Rowell read a bit but mostly talk about her writing and take questions from her fans. There were so many people who so badly wanted to have a few words that it took an hour and a half for me to work my way to the front of the signing line. It was work it - Rowell is every bit as funny, honest and real as you would imagine if you have read any of her work.

Best Books of 2014

This year I have broken the audio books out separately and the three that are on there are on the list because they were not just very good audio books, they were very good books. That short non-fiction list? It's not because I haven't read good non-fiction this year; it's because my non-fiction reading was really down this year, something I definitely need to rectify in 2015.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
Closed Doors by Lisa O'Donnell
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Still Alice by Lisa Genova
The Good House by Ann Leary
The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar
Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldeman
One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

Orange Is The New Black by Piper Kiernan
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

You Know When The Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon
I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron
What Is The What  by Dave Eggers

Honorable Mention:
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
This Dark Road To Mercy by Wiley Cash

How I Did With My 2014 Goals

At the end of 2013, I set these goals for the coming year:

1. Limit the number of books I accept for review. This one's going to be hard; every day there are interesting books coming to my attention. But I'd like my reading to consist of no more than two books for review every month and I've already got quite a backlog to work through as it is.

2. Read at least 12 non-fiction books in 2014.

3. Read at least 15 books for the Classics Challenge.

4. Read at least 20 books written by authors from or set in countries other than the U.S.

5. Get back to my beloved fairy tales - Fairy Tale Fridays will return at least once a month.

6. Give myself permission to give up on books that aren't working for me.

So how'd I do? Pretty well on #1, which allowed me to make a decent dent in my older books. Clearly I failed on #2 and #3 was a bust as well. Both of those will move onto my goal list for 2015. I knocked #4 out of the park - #37 of the books I've read so far this year have been set outside of the U.S. or written by authors from another country. Fairy Tale Fridays was not a reliable feature in 2014, but it did come back periodically. I did better this year on giving up on books that weren't working for me than I ever have; even so it was only about 2 or 3 books. Given that my overriding goal going into 2014 was to have fun reading, I'm wishing I had been better with #6. There were a lot of books I finished that were just okay for me. 

I'll put together a new list for 2015 later this month but I imagine it will look very much like this year's list. Although, I'm not going to get overly stressed about it because, after all, it's supposed to be fun, right?!

Monday, December 15, 2014

First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen by Charlie Lovett

First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen by Charlie Lovett
Published October 2014 by Viking Adult
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Book lover and Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has recently taken a job at an antiquarian bookshop in London when two different customers request a copy of the same obscure book: the second edition of Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield. Their queries draw Sophie into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice—and ultimately threaten Sophie’s life.

In a dual narrative that alternates between Sophie’s quest to uncover the truth—while choosing between two suitors—and a young Jane Austen’s touching friendship with the aging cleric Richard Mansfield, Lovett weaves a romantic, suspenseful, and utterly compelling novel about love in all its forms and the joys of a life lived in books.

My Thoughts:
In all of that long title, it never once mentions that First Impressions is first and foremost an mystery revolving around the origins of Jane Austen's masterpiece Pride and Prejudice. That mystery drives the dual narrative, moving between Austen's beginnings as a novelist and Sophie's efforts to solve not only the mystery surrounding Austen's writing but also the murder of her beloved uncle.

To be sure, even when things got the most tense, there was never any doubt that all would work out for Sophie...and, for that matter, Jane. And there was not much mystery for me in who was the "bad guy" and who would win the girl. Plus you all have heard me say how tired I am of the dual narrative using a present day story to play off an historical story line.

Jane Austen
Still, all of that didn't take away from my enjoyment of this book. Maybe because I love Austen so much, I felt more kindly toward the dual narrative scheme this time, maybe because the two stories tied so well together. And even though I sometimes wanted to shake Sophie, I couldn't help but admire her determination and resourcefulness.

Lovett never overdoes his research, not while moving through Austen's life, from the beginning of Sense and Sensibility to her death, not while schooling his readers about the worth of old books and their place in our lives. Not surprisingly, Lovett was, once upon a time, an antiquarian bookseller. His love of books absolutely shines through in this book.

Happy 239th birthday, Jane Austen! I sometimes feel that we are taking away from your genius with all of our love then along comes a book that really does you honor while creating an entirely new story line for you.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Life It Goes On - December 14

Oh my goodness, have I had a productive weekend! It's a good thing, because I was starting to get that panicked feeling I'm so familiar with around this time of the year and I really was hoping to avoid it. The cards got picked up and will go out in the mail tomorrow, I'm almost finished shopping, and of the nine gifts that I'm making, eight are almost finished (seven will be done tomorrow).

Some good news for the book industry - we headed to Barnes and Noble to pick up some books we'd had set aside and found the parking lot packed and a long line to check out. We may yet make a trip to Half-Price Books to see if we can pick up a few bargains and experience this time of year has me expecting them to be busy as well.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Finally turned on the Christmas music on the radio - occasionally. The majority of my drive time has been spent listening to podcasts. Sadly, while listening to NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour,  I got an ear worm stuck in my head. They were having a discussion of their favorite Christmas movies and they played "Mr. Heat Miser" and "Mr. Cold Miser" from The Year Without A Santa. Take a listen and see if it doesn't stick in your head. Because I shouldn't be alone in this!

Watching: I am totally getting into watching Christmas movies - or movies that have Christmas in some of the scenes (like Bridget Jones' Diary). Elf, White Christmas, The Santa Claus and It's A Wonderful Life have all been on the agenda this week.

Reading: I finished Charlie Lovett's First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen and my review for that will post on Austen's birthday, December 16. I thought to read one more Austen-themed book to post this week as well but declared Lost In Austen a DNF (did not finish) after less than 50 pages. Instead I started The Time Traveler's Wife - finally. My friend Mari has been insisting I needed to read this for years.

Making: Lasagna, chicken and noodles, potato soup, and hot cocoa mix. You'd think it'd been cold here but we've had unseasonably warm temps.

Planning: On finishing all of the shopping and gift making by the end of the week so when I have next week off it will be all about relaxing.

Grateful for: Treadmills. I've been trying to recuperate my knee by walking outside all fall and it just was not working. Hit the treadmill this week and every day after I do that, the leg feels much better. I may finally get this sucker working right again!

The Inspiration
Inspired by: Pinterest. It's where I've found several recipes I'll be trying this week, some decorating ideas and a couple of gift projects.

Feeling: Festive. At last. Especially now that I've got things so well in hand.

Looking forward to: Book club Tuesday night and celebrating Mini-me's birthday Wednesday. And Friday because that will be the last time I'm at the office until the 29th! What are you looking forward to this week?

Happy Hanukkah to those whose celebration will begin Tuesday!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Classics Club - December Question

I've been a very bad Classics Club member, rarely remembering to play along with the monthly questions, never trying my hand at the spin to determine what classic to read next, and definitely not getting enough of my classics list read. But this month the question is right up my alley and I couldn't resist.

"Let’s talk about children’s classics! Did you read any classic works as a child? What were your favorites? If not, have you or will you try any classic children’s literature in the future? (We’re aware children often read at an adult level. Please feel free to share adult OR children’s classics that you treasured in childhood OR children’s works that you’ve recently fallen for.)"

I loved classics as a child, perhaps reading almost as many classics as modern books. I expect that may have something to do with the fact that, although we were frequent library patrons, most of the books I owned were gifts that were classics. I still cherish them and my shelves of books I keep for my "some day" grandchildren include these books. Some classics I read as a child but never owned have been purchased over the years to be read to my own children.

My favorites, in no particular order, except one and two which remain two of my all-time favorite books, are:

1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
2. A Little Princess by Francis Hodgson Burnett
3. Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
4. The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit
5. The Five Little Peppers And How They Grew by Margaret Sidney
6. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
7. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
8. Heidi by Johanna Spyri
9. Heidi's Children by Charles Tritten
10. A Children's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson
11. Daddy Longlegs by Jean Webster
12. Mr. Popper's Penguins by Robert Atwater

If I were to include picture books in this list, you'd also see: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, The Story of Ferdinand (among many of Munro Leaf's books), The Little Engine That Could, and the Babar books which I adore to this day.

Were you a reader of classics as a child? If so, what were your favorites?

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Published September 1992 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: bought this one

Publisher's Summary:
Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.

The Secret History tells of a small circle of friends at an esteemed college in New England, whose studies in Classical Greek lead them to odd rituals, shocking behavior--and murder.

My Thoughts:
Well, yeah. I can't tell you how much I wanted this to top The Goldfinch which I so enjoyed, which painted such vivid pictures for me. So many people have told me how great this book is, but...

Lacking the grand scope of The Goldfinch, The Secret History is almost claustrophobic in it's setting, almost entirely set on the campus of a small New England college in a small Vermont town. It also lacks, surprisingly, much action. I say "surprisingly" because, as you'll notice in the publisher's summary, murder is involved. Yet, at over 500 pages, the actual act of killing takes up very little space. So it's not a book that pulled me along. In fact, I really had to make myself pick it up and read it. Which isn't altogether a fault; in fact it may be considered a true mark of Tartt's success.

Tartt has populated The Secret History with a group of the least likable characters I've ever "met" in a book. Five arrogant, privileged intellectual friends (who struck me as more bored and looking for something to alleviate that than eccentric) befriend a blue-collar boy (Richard) hiding behind a lie of wealth. Or do they? And, for that matter, are they really even friends? They sure as heck are not nice people. Any time Tartt gave one of them a touch of sympathy, created a little softness, she quickly snatched it back. Even poor Richard, who should have been the most sympathetic character was more often someone I wanted to slap. Except for his awful parents, ever bad situation in found himself in was more his doing than the fault of anyone else.

I knew that every time I picked up this book, I'd just be frustrated with Richard, disgusted with the rest of the group, and disappointed with the so-called adults in this book who were almost nothing more than Charles Schultz adults - all noise and nothing helpful about them. My brain hurt reading this book. Seriously. Everyone's motivations were suspect. I was constantly second-guessing what I thought to be true about situations, characters. To read this book, you have to be all in. I couldn't sit and read on the sofa while the hubby watched television in the same room which is kind of my usual m.o. I still don't really know why some of the characters did what they did. And if you're okay with that, and you're okay with a slowly-paced, character-driven novel, The Secret History might appeal to you. I'm still trying to figure out if it appealed to me or not.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

2015 Challenges!

Ever since I started blogging, I've signed up for challenges. And every year I've experienced epic failure, finishing very few of the challenges. But in 2014, I've done very well, completing all but one of my challenges. Yea, me! So I'm all fired up for 2015. I'm sure I'll add a couple more challenges (the Historical Fiction challenge, for example). So far here's what I'm signing up for:

The Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge:

The Goal: To finally read 12 books from your “to be read” pile (within 12 months).

Specifics: 1. Each of these 12 books must have been on your bookshelf or “To Be Read” list for AT LEAST one full year. This means the book cannot have a publication date of 1/1/2014 or later (any book published in the year 2013 or earlier qualifies, as long as it has been on your TBR pile – I WILL be checking publication dates). Caveat: Two (2) alternates are allowed, just in case one or two of the books end up in the “can’t get through” pile.

This is the one challenge I did not finish in 2014. Shame on me. I think I'll finish the year reading 7 of the 12 books I'd planned to read. Sad. But since my TBR shelves are the books I most need to focus on, I'm bound and determined to take another shot at it. There are more rules, of course, but this is the biggie.

Here's my official list (the first four are carryovers from my 2014 list):

1. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
2. The Portrait Of A Lady by Henry James
3. The Princess Bride by William Goldman
4. The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner
5. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch
6. Bloodroot by Amy Greene
7. Ape House by Sara Gruen
8. Still Missing by Chevy Stevens
9. Brain On Fire by Susannah Cahalan
10. White Dog Fell From The Sky by Eleanor Morse
11. Little Princes by Conor Grennan
12. Hearts West by Chris Enss

1. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
2. The Pillars of The Earth by Ken Follett

What's In A Name? 2015:

The challenge runs from January to December. During this time you choose a book to read from each of the following categories (examples of books you could choose are in brackets):

A word including ‘ing’ in it (The Time Of Singing, Dancing To The Flute, Lex Trent Fighting With Fire) My examples are verbs but you can of course use other words.

A colour (The Red Queen, White Truffles In Winter, On Gold Mountain)

A familial relation (Daughter Of Smoke And Bone, Dombey And Son, My Cousin Rachel) By all means include in-laws, step, and halves.

A body of water (The River Of No Return, Black Lake, Beside The Sea)

A city (Barcelona Shadows, Shanghai Girls, Under The Tripoli Sky)

An animal (Black Swan Rising, The Leopard Unleashed, The Horse And His Boy)

These always seem like they'll be relatively easy, but then there's that one category that you don't have the right book for. And I kind of refuse to get a book just to fit a category. Because, you know, that TBR pile I'm trying to work through. Here's what I'm thinking for this one so far:

Foodies Read 2015:

Since I generally don't go out of my way to pick up books that have to do with food, but always seem to have some around, I enjoy this challenge on a "lite" level.

1. Decide how many food books you want to read in 2014.
Pick one of the reading levels below:

Short-Order Cook: 1 to 3 books
Pastry Chef: 4 to 8 books
Sous-Chef: 9 to 13 books
Chef de Cuisine: 14 to 18
Cordon-Bleu Chef: More than 19

This year I'm stepping back to the Short-Order Cook level since I'm sure I'll have that many books that qualify but not sure I'll have more.

Finishing the Series:

This is a new one for me but, as I said not too long ago, one of my goals for the coming year is to finish up some series I've started. Here's the deal:
1) All books that are part of a continuing series qualify (i.e. Debbie Macomber's Cedar Cove, Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum, James Patterson's Alex Cross, etc. etc.)

2) It doesn't matter if you have 1 or 10 books in a series to complete it, it qualifies (i.e. if you only need to read one more Sookie Stackhouse book to complete the goal, that's fine) The goal is to complete a series from wherever you are up to until the last published book.

8) Choose a level....

Level 1 (Novice series reader) - Complete 1 series.
Level 2 (Testing the waters) - Complete 2 series.
Level 3 (Experienced) - Complete 3 series.
Level 4 (Expert series reader) - Complete 4 or more series.

I skipped some rules, obviously, but those are the key points. I'd love to finish a couple of series but I'll be realistic and figure that if this pushes me to finish one, I'm ahead. Going in as a Novice with my target to finish the Millennium series (you know, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo).

Life: It Goes On - December 7

It turned out, this week, that all I really needed to put me into the mood for the holidays was a quart of eggnog and some Handel's Messiah. The house is now decorated (although, as usual, it took longer than it should have) and I even watched "It's A Wonderful Life" last night. Now to start some Christmas baking!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I've been catching up on podcasts this week, listening to some really interesting stuff. On Radio Lab I listened to an episode about autism that was incredibly thought provoking. I haven't had a chance to pick up new books yet (and won't again this week) so it will more of the same for the coming week.

Watching: The lady Huskers in the NCAA women's volleyball tournament this weekend. Tonight I've discovered all of the Christmas shows on Netflix so I'm watching "White Christmas" while the Big Guy is preoccupied. I foresee a Christmas movie being watched on a regular basis in the coming weeks!

Reading: I finally finished The Secret History by Donna Tartt and my review will post Tuesday. Let's just say, it won't be glowing. Following on the heels of Jane Austen's First Love, I've picked up Charlie Lovett's First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen.

Making: Fire-roasted tomato soup, a hamburger casserole I think my mom invented to make cooking while camping easier, potato soup, and sourdough grilled cheese sandwiches. Nothing fancy for us this week.

Planning: Now that the Christmas decorations are up, it's time to get back to my "office" and get it finished up. There are some things that still need to be brought in and then it needs to be better organized.

Grateful for: Jeans days on Fridays - my company just announced that we'll be having them all of the time from now on. This makes me ridiculously happy.
You know it's cold when you need
so many extra blankets!

Enjoying: Afternoon with Miss H yesterday. She made BG, Mini-him, and me lunch yesterday then we worked to rearrange her room. When she moved in, the guys had an idea for the room arrangement that just did not work. We got furniture moved, her Christmas tree up, and curtains hung. It's very homey now and we had a good time talking laughing and talking after the guys headed home.

Inspired by: Home blogs loaded with holiday ideas.

Looking forward to: Celebrating Mini-me's 23rd birthday next weekend! What are you looking forward to this week?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Windows on the World: 50 Writers, 50 Views - Matteo Pericoli

Windows on the World: 50 Writers, 50 Views - Matteo Pericoli
Published November 2014 by Penguin Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
All of us, at some point in our daily lives, have found ourselves looking out the window. We pause in our work, tune out of a conversation, and turn toward the outside. Our eyes simply gaze, without seeing, at a landscape whose familiarity becomes the customary ground for distraction: the usual rooftops, the familiar trees, a distant crane. The way of life for most of us in the twenty-first century means that we spend most of our time indoors, in an urban environment, and our awareness of the outside world comes via, and thanks to, a framed glass hole in the wall.

In Windows on the World: Fifty Writers, Fifty Views, architect and artist Matteo Pericoli brilliantly explores this concept alongside fifty of our most beloved writers from across the globe. By pairing drawings of window views with texts that reveal—either physically or metaphorically—what the drawings cannot, Windows on the World offers a perceptual journey through the world as seen through the windows of prominent writers: Orhan Pamuk in Istanbul, Daniel Kehlmann in Berlin, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in Lagos, John Jeremiah Sullivan in Wilmington, North Carolina, Nadine Gordimer in Johannesburg, Xi Chuan in Beijing. Taken together, the views—geography and perspective, location and voice—resonate with and play off each other.

Working from a series of meticulous photographs and other notes from authors’ homes and offices, Pericoli creates a pen-and-ink illustration of each window and the view it frames. As we delve into what each writer’s view may or may not share with the others’, as we look at the map and explore unfamiliar views of cities from around the world, a new kind of map begins to take shape.

My Thoughts:
I love to get inside the heads of authors - their work process, their inspiration; Pericoli has, in Windows on the World, given me another way to do that. From Jakarta to Islamabad to St. Petersburg to Aberdeen, writers from around the world, who regularly give us new windows on the world, share the ways in which their own windows inspire them, put them into a mind to work, and even offer respite from work.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, of Lago, Nigeria, says of the view from her window:

"An ordinary view, with houses close together, cars crammed in corners, each compound with its own gate, little kiosks dotting the street. But it is a view choked with stories, because it is full of people. I watch them and I imagine their lives and invent their dreams."

Taiye Selasi writes of her window in Rome:

"My watch is the clock atop the Basilica of Our Lady in Trastevere, adding its chimes to the cheerful din of chatter, car horns, laughter."

Marina Endicott turns away from her window in Edmonton while she's writing but "When my eyes blear and I cannot focus any longer, the window is a way for my mind to blink, to clear my vision."

Matteo Pericoli's particular combination of experience, architecture and art, make for striking drawings to go along with the writer's thoughts and descriptions, putting the reader squarely in the writer's world.

This is the perfect book to keep on your end table or nightstand, to read a few pages at a time. Not only did it take me inside the minds of 50 writers, it took me around the world to get a real feeling for what life is like in each of these places. A real window on the world.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The List - Things I Must Do At Christmas

In an effort to try to get myself into the spirit of the Christmas season and to remind myself what's really important to me about it, I started thinking about what things I must do for the holidays. Because, let's face it, it's all gotten a bit out of hand these days. There is so much expected of us; such a push to spend, spend, spend; and it's all so in-your-face. And if those of us who celebrate Christmas get tired of seeing it and hearing it every time we turn around, imagine what its like for those who don't.

In no particular order, here are the things I must do for Christmas:

1. Find time to get the five of us together to frost cookies and dip pretzel sticks. It's absolutely one of my favorite things to do.

2. Decorate my mantel and put out my creche. Honestly? I'm getting a little tired of the hassle of rearranging the furniture to put up the tree. I'm sure I will but it's not something I feel I need to do for me.

3. Get Christmas cards sent. I haven't left myself enough time to get them sent the past couple of years. I want people to know we're thinking of them.

4. Find a way to balance finding gifts people will really appreciate and stressing about buying them.

5. Drink some eggnog and watch A Christmas Carol.

6. Enjoy one of the free events the city offers throughout the season.

In a perfect world, there would be time for hand-crafted gifts, perfectly wrapped presents, hosting a holiday party, caroling as we deliver goodies to the neighbors. But this is not a perfect world; it's my world and I'm going to do the best I can to make the next month as stress free as possible.

What things must you do in December to make your holidays work for you?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

December: A Month of Favorites - Five Faves By Theme

The lovely ladies of Estella’s RevengeGirlxoxo, and Traveling with T are hosting December: A Month of Favorites because, as any blogger knows, it can be tough to blog in December what with the reduced amount of time to blog and read. They've kindly provided bloggers with ideas to help make at least the blogging part of December easier. I'm passed on the introduction because I would have had to keep stats for the year and you may have noticed that I suck at keeping stats of my reading. Yesterday GirlXOXO asked us to list five books that are faves for any theme. So, of course, I'm posting yesterday's prompt today. Because that's how I live these days.

Five Books That Surprised Me

These aren't five books that necessarily surprised me because there were surprising moments in them; rather they are books that surprised me because of how much I unexpectedly liked them. 

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion - I knew what it was about, I knew it was an award winner. Still I was surprised by Didion's candor and by how profoundly this book impacted my thinking about grief.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami - Yeah, yeah, I know he's supposed to be a genius and beloved by many but I also knew that his stuff was out there. I was, honestly, peer pressured into reading this. I wanted to be able to say that I'd at least tried Murakami. I'm certain I didn't entirely understand it but that didn't stop me for enjoying it. It made me think...and that's a good thing.

Safe From The Sea by Peter Geye - Unbridled Books offered me this one and I have so much faith in them that I accepted it despite it being something I would not ordinarily have picked up. It's a story about a father and a son and their relationship and how was I going to relate to that? So, so well written and so moving. I cried. Twice. And I do not usually cry when reading.

In The Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White - a memoir of an egotist convicted of a crime and sentenced to federal prison in Carville, Louisiana, a prison that is also home to the last people in the continental U.S. disfigured by leprosy. The story of these people was fascinating and White's own story of growth was well-worth the reading. 

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell - Sci-fi? Space travel? Me? Again, I was peer pressured into reading this one after so many people raved about it. It is far more about humanity, faith, and man's place in the universe. It grabbed me up and never let me go.

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
Published October 2008 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Narrated by Phil Gigante
Source: this audiobook purchased at my local library book sale

Publisher's Summary:
At the heart of this vibrant saga is a vast ship, the Ibis. Its destiny is a tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean; its purpose, to fight China’s vicious nineteenth-century Opium Wars. As for the crew, they are a motley array of sailors and stowaways, coolies and convicts.

In a time of colonial upheaval, fate has thrown together a diverse cast of Indians and Westerners, from a bankrupt raja to a widowed tribeswoman, from a mulatto American freedman to a freespirited French orphan. As their old family ties are washed away, they, like their historical counterparts, come to view themselves as jahaj-bhais, or ship-brothers. An unlikely dynasty is born, which will span continents, races, and generations.

The vast sweep of this historical adventure spans the lush poppy fields of the Ganges, the rolling high seas, the exotic backstreets of Canton. But it is the panorama of characters, whose diaspora encapsulates the vexed colonial history of the East itself, that makes Sea of Poppies so breathtakingly alive—a masterpiece from one of the world’s finest novelists.

My Thoughts:
Do you ever read those publisher's summaries and wonder if the person who wrote them actually read the book? This summary says that the purpose of the Ibis is to fight China's Opium Wars. That may well be the purpose of the Ibis in the upcoming books that make up the trilogy Sea of Poppies is a part of but it was only just discussed in this book. The Ibis sailed into India to be refitted - in it's past it had been a slave ship; the intention now was to make it a ship to carry opium. First, though, it would carry a cargo of indentured servants to the Mauritius Islands. The very fact that the ship has these multiple identities allows Ghosh to delve into a myriad of subjects that helped keep the novel interesting despite sometimes long passages about the workings of ships and the very distracting voices employed by Phil Gigante.

Sea of Poppies is, undoubtedly, one of those novels which just should not be read by only one narrator. Gigante does a fine job of narrative parts of the book and the Englishmen's voices. But he struggles with the Indian characters' voices (the majority sounded like caricatures and one even sounded Asian) and there are just so many characters that it's difficult for one person to give them each individual voices. On the other hand, Gigante does an admirable job of pronouncing Indian names, places and phrases making the audio version of the book preferable what my brain might have done to them had I read this book rather than listened to it.

Ghosh has created a novel full of interesting, multi-dimensional non-Caucasian characters, with developed histories and motives. His English characters were more one-dimensional, interested only in money, appearances, and keeping up the British Empire. I know this kind of story's been told before from the British point of view, where the "white man's" motivations all appear noble and, perhaps, that's why Ghosh elected only to explore the darker side of their motives. No doubt about it, there were darker sides and I thoroughly enjoyed getting schooled on this part of history - the fact that it was the British that brought opium to China and that opium represented the only way that Britain could offset their massive trade deficit with China.

It's a grand adventure that really ramps up as the book gets going and by moving back and forth between characters Ghosh really pulls his readers along on the journey. With it's exploration of caste and color, blend of humor and drama, and historical setting, Ghosh has crafted a novel that feels much shorter than it is.

I enjoyed Sea of Poppies very much...right up to the end. Which doesn't feel like an ending at all. I wasn't aware when I started this book that it was part of a trilogy. Had I been, I'm sure I would have passed on it; I rarely start series, knowing how bad I am at finishing them. Other reviewers have said this book works well as a stand alone novel. I felt more like I had reached the season-ending cliffhanger of a television series.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Life: It Goes On - November 30

What a wonderful, long weekend! We had lovely Thanksgiving celebrations with both sides of our families. I even managed to not over eat either day - well, not to the point where I had to take a nap, anyway!

We're fundamentally opposed to shopping on Thanksgiving Day (and also, kind of over the whole idea of fighting the rush and standing in long lines), we waited to do our Black Friday shopping until Friday. But it just wouldn't be the same if we didn't get up early to go, so six of the ladies on my side of the family headed out about 7 a.m. to go grab up some bargains after a quick coffee stop. It's as much about being together as it is about the shopping and I wouldn't miss it for the world.

Yesterday temps here reached into the 70's and by the end of the day I think every man on the block had been out putting up Christmas lights, including The Big Guy. The city had kicked off the holiday season Thursday night so we went off to a couple of areas in town to see the lights, enjoy some seasonal music, and view some Christmas window displays and what a beautiful night to do it!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'll be pulling out the Christmas music shortly to listen to while I start the decorating today but will stick to some lesser played pieces. I'm sure I'll get all of the "Jingle Bells" and "Silent Night" I need before we get to Christmas so I can't quite start those yet.

Watching: Today's press conference by the University of Nebraska Athletic Director announcing the firing of our football coach. It's been a roller coaster ride with Bo Pelini these past five years. I think he's essentially a really good person and the players love him but our expectations in this state are higher than what he can deliver.

Reading: I'm planning to finish The Secret History, Sea of Poppies, and From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler this week. Since I've already read this month's book club selection, I'm not sure what I'll pick up next. I'll have to see what's left to read for my challenges.

Making: Some chicken dishes - a version of stroganoff and a pot pie using a stuffing crust instead of pie crust (both new creations we'll do again), guacamole, and cinnamon rolls.

Planning: On putting the finishing touches on the guest room this week, finishing up the Christmas decorating, and continuing the work on "my" room. A few pieces left to be brought in and a fair amount of organizing to do and then I can begin really using it. Can't wait!

Grateful for: Family, family, and family!

Enjoying: The long weekend with time for celebrating and lots of productive work around the house. Wish we could have a four-day weekend every month.

Feeling: Still unmotivated to put up my holiday decorations. Even though I'm doing it.

Looking forward to: It's too early to say summer, isn't it? Gotta find a way to make myself look at the good as we head into the long months of winter. Ideas?

What are you looking forward to this week?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to my U.S. readers! I hope that, no matter your circumstances and surroundings today, you are finding some time to give thanks for the blessings in your life. We will be blessed to be  surrounded by family, celebrating with an abundance of food and our own crazy holiday traditions.