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."

Monday, September 5, 2016

How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid
Narrated by Mohsin Hamed
Published March 2013 by Penguin Publishing
Source: my audiobook purchased at my library book sale

Publisher's Summary:
The astonishing and riveting tale of a man’s journey from impoverished rural boy to corporate tycoon, it steals its shape from the business self-help books devoured by ambitious youths all over “rising Asia.” It follows its nameless hero to the sprawling metropolis where he begins to amass an empire built on that most fluid, and increasingly scarce, of goods: water. Yet his heart remains set on something else, on the pretty girl whose star rises along with his, their paths crossing and recrossing, a lifelong affair sparked and snuffed and sparked again by the forces that careen their fates along.

My Thoughts:
I was wow'd by Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist so I knew it would be then next audiobook I would listen to as soon as I saw it. Like The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the book is written in the second person, here not even naming any of his characters.  I admire Hamid's ability to write from interesting new points of view. I also admire his ability to be political without being overt, to blend here a love story with the story of a world in flux, and his ability to make readers care about a character that is less than admirable.

"Less than admirable" is, Hamid is clear, not necessarily a bad person. Our hero is a man who sees, all around him, the toll that being poor exacts and the unscrupulous means that others will use to take advantage of those in need and the opportunities that life provides. Those same people whose palms had to be greased on the way up and who will also be happy to pull back down those who have become successful.

We're never told where our nameless character lives but that, too, is hardly important. Here's the thing - we can look at the way people take advantage of others, the shortcuts they take, the rules they will break, and judge them as wrong, as evil people. But if you know the history of the United States (and, for that matter, any other  world power), you know that exactly the same kinds of things happened here as this country grew and prospered.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this book is "the pretty girl" who remains "the pretty girl" to the end of the book, to her death as an elderly woman. Because, to our hero, despite the years and anything she might have done to survive and prosper, she remained the pretty girl. Wouldn't we all like to think that our beloveds will still think of us that way when our hair is grey, our faces are wrinkled, and we need a cane to walk?

In the end, How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia didn't wow me in the same way that The Reluctant Fundamentalist did. But it certainly has something to say about our world and it is certainly well said.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Life: It Goes On - September 4

Hello, three-day weekend! My brain needed this so badly. Between the funerals of two friends' mothers and saying a first goodbye to Mini-me, and a tribute last night to the Nebraska football player that died this summer, it's been an emotional week. Much reading will be involved and a major project will get finished.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: It's been a mixed bag this week. I finished Mohsin Hamid's How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia and started Eleanor Brown's The Weird Sisters. I listened to some podcast episodes: Reading Women, Happier, and NPR Books. I ended the week rocking old-school style, from Joan Jett and Billy Idol and The Clash to  Green Day and Nirvana and Radiohead. 

Oh god, how I love this movie!

Watching: I've been all over the place with my viewing this week. Caught some Real Housewives of Orange County, watched a couple of baseball games, lucked out and found Franco Zefferelli's "Romeo and Juliet" the other night, and, of course, college football. 

Reading: Well, this is embarrassing. I got so caught up reading Natchez Burning that I forgot to check my Netgalley account and my blogging calendar and just discovered that I have only three days to read Amor Towle's latest, A Gentleman In Moscow. Which I am loving and will be happy to spend the next couple of days with. 

Making: If you can't put tomatoes on it or in it, I probably haven't made it this week. We've done our usual BLT's, caprese pasta, and made several salads. It's the time of year when the tomatoes are ripening much faster than we can eat them so I've frozen quite a lot of them for use this winter - you know, when chili is on the menu.

Mini-me in traditional costume
Planning: On heading upstairs shortly to finish getting the guest room put together now that we have Mini-me's bed. I've got to move a dresser into the closet (because, as you all know by now, we have more furniture in this house than we know what to do with) and that involves cleaning out Mini-him's stuff he left behind. 

Thinking About: Using Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project to set up a template for my own happiness project. She started her project in January but I'm thinking of beginning my year in October. Or maybe not until I actually finish the book.

Enjoying: Knowing how much Mini-me was liked by the refugees he's been working with the past year. They are largely from Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar. Wednesday, on his last day, they held a leaving ceremony for him and gifted him with some traditional clothing and gifts. He was very touched and will really miss them.
Sam Foltz's nephews ran onto the field with the team, the Cornhuskers in a missing man formation for our first punt, and the banner the student body displayed. The Fresno State team waived the delay of game penalty the Huskers incurred because of the tribute.
Feeling:  So sad for the family of Sam Foltz, the Nebraska punter who was killed in a car accident this summer, proud of the tribute our football team and the student body paid him, and impressed with the class with which the Fresno State football team showed. 

Looking forward to: Some baseball tomorrow - Miss H has picked us up some tickets for our Triple A baseball team. I'm going to need something to distract me because in the morning we will be sending Mini-me and Miss S off to Milwaukee with no idea when we will see them again.

Question of the week: If you're lucky enough to have a three-day weekend, how are you spending it?

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
Published May 2013 by Riverhead Books
Narrators:  Khaled Hosseini, Navid Nagahban, Shohreh Aghdashloo
Source: my audio copy purchased at my local library book sale

Publisher's Summary:
In this tale revolving around not just parents and children but brothers and sisters, cousins and caretakers, Hosseini explores the many ways in which families nurture, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for one another; and how often we are surprised by the actions of those closest to us, at the times that matter most. Following its characters and the ramifications of their lives and choices and loves around the globe—from Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to the Greek island of Tinos—the story expands gradually outward, becoming more emotionally complex and powerful with each turning page.

My Thoughts:
Read that summary and find yourself still wondering what this book is about? That's because And The Mountains Echoed is not so much a novel as a series of interconnected stories, with characters appearing and reappearing throughout the book. In the background runs the story of Abdullah and his sister, Pari.

Abdullah, 10 when the book begins, has raised Pari, 3, since their mother died giving birth to her and their father sank into a depression. Desperate poverty, and a connection through his new wife's brother, result in the children's father selling Pari to a childless couple in Kabul.

From there, the stories fan out, including Abdullah's family and the people involved with the house in Kabul - Pari's new mother, Nila, who flees to Paris with Pari to pursue a life she could not have in Afghanistan; Pari's new father who stays in Kabul, harboring a secret that could get him killed and cared for until his death by Pari's step-uncle whose guilt at setting up the sale of Pari will haunt him to his death;  the foreign doctors and nurses who came to the country care the victims of the violence tearing apart the country; Gholam, Abdullah's half-brother,'s son, who will tie the story back to what became of Abdullah's poor village in light of the wars; and then back to Abdullah, who lives out his life as the owner of Abe's Kabob House in California and who never stops missing his sister.

As with most collections, some stories are not as strong, less interesting and with characters that more are strictly good or bad. Perhaps that comes from Hosseini's own experience with the struggles that Afghanistan has been through since before the Russians invaded.  For the most part, the characters and stories are nuanced and beautifully told. Hosseini brings the larger sorrows of his country down to an intimate level, easier for

The narration is a bit tricky. All three narrators speak heavily-accented English and it can take a bit to fall into their rhythm and inflection. Yet, as this is a book about Afghanis, their voices lend a much more authentic feel to the stories, pulling readers thoroughly into the country.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Published August 2016 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary (abridged):
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. . Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

My Thoughts:
Publisher's walk a fine line - too little and readers won't have an interest, too much and they've lessened the reader's experience. You'll notice that I've abridged the publisher's summary. You can hardly have avoided hearing a lot about this book at this point. But, if you're lucky, you've managed to block out some of the specifics. You'll go into this book with only the bare bones of the story as a starting point. Because both the reader and the book deserve it.
"Truth was a changing display in a window, manipulated by hands when you weren't looking, alluring and ever out of reach. The whites came to this land for a fresh start and to escape the tyranny of their masters, just as the freemen had fled theirs. But the ideals they held up for themselves, they denied others."
Colson Whitehead plays both fast and free with the facts and slams them right in the reader's face.

In the pre-Civil War years, Whitehead imagines the underground railroad as an actual underground railroad. Riders never know when they board where they might end up, nor what they will find there. It is not the only creative risk he takes, imagining what might have been in Southern states as Cora's flight takes her north from Georgia.

But The Underground Railroad is no flight of fancy. It is brutal and horrifying and unrelenting. Whitehead will not allow readers to turn away from the realities and consequences of slavery.  And he will not allow white man to forget what their people have done.
"...created equal was not lost on her. The white men who wrote it didn't understand d it either, if all men did not truly mean all men. Not if they snatched away what belonged to other people, whether it was something you could hold in your hand, like dirt, or something you could not, like freedom. The land she tilled and worked had been Indian land. She knew the white men bragged about the efficiency of the massacres, where they killed women and babies, and strangled their futures in the crib."
The Underground Railroad is at once a book you can hardly stand to keep reading yet cannot put down. It is the rare book that more than lives up to the hype that has swirled around it.
"This nation shouldn't exist, if there is any justice in the world, for its foundations are murder, theft, and cruelty. Yet here we are."

Life: It Goes On - August 28

Well, it's not Sunday morning but at least it's not Tuesday this week! I was up bright and early, fixing my guys a hearty breakfast before the boys headed off to spend a few hours helping their grandparents. But yesterday was a busy day so I resolved to spend the rest of the morning reading. And then the power went out for a couple of hours. Certainly I could have continued reading but, for some reason, the minute I had the perfect excuse, I couldn't sit still, bouncing around from little task to little task.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I finished And The Mountains Echoed just as I left the library book sale with five new audiobooks. I decided to start Mohsin Hamid's How To Get Rich In Rising Asia, in no small part because it was the shortest book I had picked up. I'll be done with it before this week is out.

Watching: Infamous starring Toby Jones, Sandra Bullock and Daniel Craig which is the story of Truman Capote writing In Cold Blood. It takes on a whole new level of interest now that I've read The Swans of Fifth Avenue and I'm seeing Capote's swans in this movie.

Reading: Ashes of Fiery Weather and Natchez Burning and liking both of them a lot. There needs to be more time for reading in the coming days!

Making: For Mini-me's going away party we did a taco/nacho bar, sangria, and Texas sheet cake, including homemade pico de gallo, two kinds of beans, two kinds of meat, a couple of salsas - something for everyone. It's definitely something we'll do again.

Planning: A reorganization and rearranging of what used to be Mini-him's bedroom and will now be our guest room once we get Mini-me's bed this week. A chest of drawers and cedar chest need to find new homes (doesn't this sound like the story of my life?!) and the closet needs to be gone through.

Thinking About: Fall. There. I said it. I'm not to the pumpkin spice everything yet. But I am ready for real football!

Enjoying: Family time last night that included Mini-me's grandparents, two aunt/uncle sets, two of his friends that are like siblings and both of real siblings. Much laughter and my kiddos even tried to give me a Christmas card picture while they were all still together.

Feeling: Sad for my two friends who have lost their mothers this past week. Both ladies lived long lives (one had recently turned 99!) but it doesn't make losing your mom any easier.

Looking forward to: It's not a week I'm looking forward to with two funerals and putting Mini-him on a plane without an idea when we'll see him again. I anticipate an ugly cry. And that's The Big Guy. I can't even imagine me trying to drive back from the airport Thursday!

Question of the week: Those of you who have watched your children soar off into their futures far away from you, what's your best tip for surviving?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin

The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin
Published January 2013 by Random House Publishing
Source: purchased my copy from my local indie bookstore at the Omaha LitFest where Benjamin was speaking

Publisher's Summary:
For much of her life, Anne Morrow, the shy daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, has stood in the shadows of those around her, including her millionaire father and vibrant older sister, who often steals the spotlight. Then Anne, a college senior with hidden literary aspirations, travels to Mexico City to spend Christmas with her family. There she meets Colonel Charles Lindbergh, fresh off his celebrated 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic. Enthralled by Charles’s assurance and fame, Anne is certain the celebrated aviator has scarcely noticed her. But she is wrong.

Charles sees in Anne a kindred spirit, a fellow adventurer, and her world will be changed forever. The two marry in a headline-making wedding. Hounded by adoring crowds and hunted by an insatiable press, Charles shields himself and his new bride from prying eyes, leaving Anne to feel her life falling back into the shadows. In the years that follow, despite her own major achievements—she becomes the first licensed female glider pilot in the United States—Anne is viewed merely as the aviator’s wife. The fairy-tale life she once longed for will bring heartbreak and hardships, ultimately pushing her to reconcile her need for love and her desire for independence, and to embrace, at last, life’s infinite possibilities for change and happiness.

My Thoughts:
It's a little hard for me to have an opinion of this book as a novel independent of the story of the Lindberghs. Having listened to Benjamin talk about her writing process, and doing some research myself as I read the book, I know that the book is largely based on the facts for the famous couple's lives. That may be what also helps draw readers in - the line between what is fact and what is fiction blurs and that's always a good thing in a work of fiction based on fact, in my opinion.

Charles Lindbergh not does come off well here. Cold, manipulative, single-minded. He was a needy husband who managed to find the perfect girl to be his literal and figurative co-pilot. In a family where much was expected, Anne Morrow was struggling to chart her life course until she met Lindbergh. In Charles, Anne found both the man who would allow her to become something more than just "the little woman" but also the man whose shadow she would always walk in. The first licensed female glider pilot in the United States was also a woman who, even when Charles was almost never home any more, allowed herself to be ruled by her husband, keeping meticulous records of money spent, making home repairs he required, holding her children to the strict schedules he wrote. Life with Charles meant grand adventures but also a life that allowed for almost no privacy for decades.

Benjamin does a wonderful job of allowing Anne to tell her own story, from the shy girl who lived in the shadows of the Morrows to the woman who wrote best-selling books and finally became her own person. Benjamin does not paint her a saint - she was a woman who had affairs and, at least on paper, defended Hitler's regime. The book is largely told in flashbacks, Anne recalling their lives as Charles nears death. The through line is a series of letters outing his affairs that come into Anne's possession. It's a literary device that allows readers to see a part of Charles Anne did not actually discover until after his death. But it was good to see Anne really and truly get angry at that man who demanded so much of her and had, in fact, given her so little.

The Omaha Bookworms read The Aviator's Wife this month and can highly recommend it as a book club selection, not just because of its famous characters. Benjamin has pulled in from their lives themes including the cost of fame, mental illness, homosexuality, parent/child relationships, marriage and infidelity, abuse, and grief.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Life: It Goes On - August 23

Well, then. I don't suppose I can pass today off as Sunday, can I? Oh my, what a busy weekend we had and I'm still playing catch up. Which, you may have noticed lately, is going to be a big job!

Friday evening was prep for the bridal shower for my niece and, literally, all of Saturday was devoted to the actual event. It was a lot of fun and she got some great gifts for helping with entertaining. Sunday we were back in the car to head to The Big Guy's hometown for a baby shower and got home eight hours later. Fun to celebrate the impending grandparenthood of some of our oldest friends (in fact, the wife introduced BG and me!).

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Nearly finished with And The Mountains Echoed. It's really less a novel than a collection of tightly woven short stories which makes for an interesting listen.

Watching: I may have teared up a little as the Olympics came to an end the other night. The only thing that makes it okay is that The Voice is starting again. Although, I'm a little leery about Miley Cyrus as one of the judges.

Reading: Finally, finishing Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad. Let me just say this - all of the hype is true. I've also started Greg Iles' Natchez Burning which is really interesting following on the heels of Whitehead's book.

Making: Shortbread cookies (that recipe never left the house) and two kinds of sangria (which did). Because you can never have too much sangria, I made quadruple batches of both the red citrus and the peach basil.

Planning: A going away party for Mini-me, who leaves for a trip to California in a week and then is back for one night before his adventure in Milwaukee begins. Trying to spend as much time with him as we can get before then!

My mom, me, the bride, Miss H, my sister
Thinking About: 
How funny this pic of the hostesses of the shower with the bride looks. Miss H is already nearly 5'10" and then threw on some tall wedges. She makes the rest of us look like hobbits!

Enjoying: An unexpectedly rainy August. We have hardly had to water all summer. We get a few hot, dry days then a heavy rain that saturates everything. Of course, this means that it's more humid than usual this time of year which means my hair is a hot mess.

Feeling: A little overwhelmed. I really should have gotten more done while I was watching the Olympics the past couple of weeks!

Looking forward to: More family time this weekend. You know how much I love that!

Question of the week: What's your best tip for keeping all of the plates spinning at once?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart

Girl Waits With Gun  (Kopp Sisters Series #1) by Amy Stewart
Published September 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Publishing
Source: my copy purchased for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
Constance Kopp doesn’t quite fit the mold. She towers over most men, has no interest in marriage or domestic affairs, and has been isolated from the world since a family secret sent her and her sisters into hiding fifteen years ago. One day a belligerent and powerful silk factory owner runs down their buggy, and a dispute over damages turns into a war of bricks, bullets, and threats as he unleashes his gang on their family farm. When the sheriff enlists her help in convicting the men, Constance is forced to confront her past and defend her family — and she does it in a way that few women of 1914 would have dared.

My Thoughts:
I've seriously wanted to read this book since it came out just because I love that cover. I downloaded it a few months ago but decided it was time to read it when I downloaded the next book in the series, which will be published next month (Lady Cop Makes Trouble).

The Kopp sisters are all great fun - Constance who has no interest in traditional feminine roles, Norma who'd prefer to hide away from the world, and Fleurette who yearns to let the world she imagines become reality. The sisters have been living in isolation for more than 15 years but Henry Kaufman destroys their buggy with his automobile, Constance will not let it go. When her letters requesting damages go unheeded, she marches into his office, demanding he respond. His response lands him pushed up against a wall by the much taller Constance, embarrassing him in front of his less than respectable friends. Their threatening response leads Constance to call in the sheriff and his deputies as they try to catch Kaufman and his crew.

Girl Waits With Gun is filled with interesting characters, brings the time and place to life, and has, for much of the book, a tension that makes the book fly along. Unfortunately, about two-thirds of the way through the book, that tension all but disappears and a secondary story line takes center stage. That secondary story line, that of one of Kaufman's female employees whose child by him disappears, offers Constance the chance to stretch her wings and appears to be the springboard for the next book. It's an interesting enough story line, I just wish it hadn't overwhelmed the primary plot. The book is solidly based on fact and it may have been that, in sticking with the known facts of the case, Stewart was left with a gap and without a real climax to the battle between Kaufman and the Kopp sisters.

Still, I enjoyed the book and it's characters enough that I'm looking forward to the next book in the series. I hope that Norma's love of newspapers and their headlines carries over, that Fleurette continues to push the sisters to let her out more into the world, and that Constance's relationship with the Sheriff continues to develop.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
Published August 2016 by Amistad
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Publisher's Summary:
Running into a long-ago friend sets memory from the 1970s in motion for August, transporting her to a time and a place where friendship was everything—until it wasn’t. For August and her girls, sharing confidences as they ambled through neighborhood streets, Brooklyn was a place where they believed that they were beautiful, talented, brilliant—a part of a future that belonged to them. But beneath the hopeful veneer, there was another Brooklyn, a dangerous place where grown men reached for innocent girls in dark hallways, where ghosts haunted the night, where mothers disappeared. A world where madness was just a sunset away and fathers found hope in religion.

My Thoughts:
170 pages. Spare, airy pages. Just 170 pages.

That's all it took for Woodson to undo me. That's all it took for Jacqueline Woodson to bring back my own adolescence and friendships in much the same time period but in a place as different as possible.
"...I had Sylvia, Angela, and Gigi, the four of us sharing the weight of growing up Girl in Brooklyn, as though it was a bag of stones we passed among ourselves saying, Here. Help me carry this."*
From the opening paragraph, I wanted to wrap August into my arms. I never once wanted to let her go.
"For a long time, my mother wasn't dead yet. Mine could have been a more tragic story. My father could have given in to the bottle or the needle or a woman and left my brother and me to care for ourselves - or worse, the care of New York City Children's Services, where, my father said, there was seldom a happy ending. But this didn't happen. I know now that what is tragic isn't the moment. It is the memory."
August's father moved August and her brother to Brooklyn in 1973, leaving their beloved Southern farm and their mother. He tried to shelter them from the outside world and keep them inside their apartment. But every parent knows you can't protect your children from everyone forever.
"We had blades inside our kneesocks and were growing our nails long. We were learning to walk the Brooklyn streets as though we had always belonged to them - our voices loud, our laughter even louder. But Brooklyn had longer nails and sharper blades. Any strung out soldier or ashy-kneed, hungry child could have told us this."
In the 1970's, America was a country at war in Vietnam, New York was suffering from blackouts, starving children in Biafra were in the news, Son of Sam was killing young people in the boroughs of New York, white people were fleeing Brooklyn, and drugs were destroying lives in greater numbers than ever. It was a tough time and place to grow up. It was even harder being a girl. Sylvia, Angela, Gigi and August formed a barrier against the world around them. But barriers can't always hold up against parents, boys and sexual desire, and loss.

Woodson's writing is spare but impactful and vivid. Emotionally hard to read but even harder to put down.

I chose to read this book because I have been wanting to read Woodson's National Book Award winning book, Brown Girl Dreaming, and want to give myself a better understanding about what it's like to be black in the United States. Coming just after I read Jesmyn Ward's Salvage The Bones, Another Brooklyn stands as an emotional lesson about how different and difficult growing up as a young black woman is in this country. It is a lesson that makes me know I have much more to learn.

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

Jacqueline Woodson is the bestselling author of more than two dozen award-winning books for young adults, middle graders, and children, including the New York Times bestselling memoir Brown Girl Dreaming, which won the 2014 National Book Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, a Newbery Honor Award, an NAACP Image Award, and the Sibert Honor Award. Woodson was recently named the Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York. Find out more about Woodson at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

*all quotes from an uncorrected proof and may not appear as quoted here in the final product*

Monday, August 15, 2016

Top Ten Books Set In The U.S. Midwest

This week the ladies at The Broke and The Bookish challenged us to pick a setting and then chose our ten favorite books from that setting. I had a hard time narrowing this one down - the American South? Africa? New York City? I toyed with the idea of an island theme but would have had to leave England off because it would have overwhelmed the list and since I just had to do that recently, I didn't want to do it again. So I started looking at my books read on Goodreads and got to thinking that maybe books set in the U.S. Midwest don't get enough love.

In no particular order, here are actually eleven of my favorite books set in the U.S. Midwest:

1. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather - or any Cather for that matter; they're all great and so beautifully paint this part of the country as the pioneers settled in the Plains.

2. A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick - dark, oh so dark. The isolation of rural turn-of-the-last-century Wisconsin and the decadence of big city Chicago all wrapped up in one novel. Plus, great characters and lots of surprises.

3. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell - Rowell's books all have a Midwest setting and she brilliantly portrays the people I'm surrounded by everyday and the cities I've lived in. This one is my favorite.

4. Some Luck by Jane Smiley - This one's the first of a trilogy I'm still on the fence about but I definitely appreciated Smiley's grasp of this part of the country and its people - the beauty and the minutiae of everyday life.

5. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote - in the 1950's, unless you lived in a city, you felt safe enough in your own home to leave the doors unlocked at night. Until one night two men changed all of that. Capote, who was most definitely not a Midwesterner, buried himself in the story and really captured the feelings of the people most closely impacted.

6. The Man Who Ate The 747 by Ben Sherwood - quirky and fun and heartfelt and utterly unique.

7. The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett - this was my second book by Patchett (following on the heels of Bel Canto). So unexpected different and such a nice surprise to find an appreciation for small town middle America.

8. The Round House by Louise Erdrich - you could, of course, include all of Erdrich's books here. She shines a light on a place and people that the rest of the country is all to ready to turn their backs on. Erdrich makes readers remember those whose ancestors were here first.

9. Last Night at the Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert - Rotert is a local writer who set this book in Chicago. She catches that balance between big city life and midwest values.

10. The Coffins of Little Hope by Timothy Schaffert - Schaffert understands small town Nebraska, the good, the bad, and the hopeful.

11. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - twisty, dark, terrible people. Not everyone in the Midwest is midwest nice. Although, Amy is a New Yorker.

I'd include all of Kent Haruf's books except they're set in the plains of Colorado and I don't really consider any part of Colorado as midwestern. Likewise, I consider Mark Twain's books, although set in Missouri, to be more Southern than midwestern.

If I'd included children's books, of course you'd also see the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder and L. Frank Baum on this list.

Book Riot has put together a list of 100 Must-Read Books of the American Midwest you might like to check out if you'd like to learn more. Not all of the books they have included are set in the Midwest so I wouldn't have included them on my list. But there are a lot there that I need to get to someday.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Life: It Goes On - August 14

School started here this week for most of the area school districts. Which means my commute just got about 10 minutes longer each way; I'll try to think of it as 20 extra "reading" minutes a day. For all of those families, summer may be essentially over but not for this girl, not until Labor Day! I'm going to love every minute of the next three weeks of summer. I'm a sweaty, ugly mess when it's really hot but I'd still rather look like that than be cold and bundled up for months

This Week I'm:

Listening To: As for books, still And The Mountains Echoed. It's quite lovely, a quilt of interrelated stories about Afghanistan. I'll be listening to it for a couple more weeks, particularly as I've been mixing it up with some news while I'm driving. I've found another bookish podcast to enjoy, Reading Women, and I've been letting 80's alternative music keep me moving when I'm working out.

Watching: As much of the Olympics as I can possibly work into my days. I love, love the swimming but I will really watch almost any of it. This morning I'm enjoying a field hockey match. I do wish they would do more stories about the athletes from other countries like they used to do.

Reading: Finishing up The Aviator's Wife for book club this week then I've got Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad to read before Netgalley archives it this week. I swear they change the dates on me all of the time - I had my Netgalley reads all scheduled then checked yesterday and found I needed to rearrange several things.

Making: Poutine one night, with gravy my friends brought back for us from Quebec (thanks, Cheryl and Bruce!) and cheese curds we brought back from Wisconsin. The Big Guy and I enjoyed it; Miss H was less enthused. This weekend I'm playing with recipes for lavender cookies. Otherwise, all things I can make with fresh produce, especially if I can include tomatoes, peppers, and herbs from my garden: pasta with basil, oregano, and grape tomatoes; grilled burgers with the rest of those cheese curds, avocado, bacon and fresh picked tomato with a side of white peaches; breakfast burritos with garden tomatoes and just-cut chives. I love eating this time of year when everything is so fresh and flavorful!

Planning: Putting the finishing touches on the bridal shower for my niece this weekend. The lavender cookies are an experiment for that. Beyond that, a going away party for Mini-me who will leave for his new life in Milwaukee in a few weeks.

Thinking About: The rioting in Milwaukee. It's only a few miles from where Miss S lives.

Enjoying: Tomatoes from my garden!

Feeling: Lazy. We had nothing we "had" to do on the calendar this weekend and without that push, I've kind of putzed around all weekend.

Looking forward to: Book club Tuesday, bridal shower on Saturday, and a baby shower next Sunday.

Question of the week: What's your favorite season?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

Never a good week when you're not able to post a single book review for the entire week but that's how my reading's been going lately and it's not likely to get better with the Olympics on for more than another week yet! I actually have finished a couple of books one is a book for review and the one I just finished yesterday I decided to hold off on the review for another week when I'm also likely to be needing one.

Cleaning up my Facebook saves again and thought I'd share a couple of things. shared 11 Fascinating Books That Will Turn You Into a True Crime Junkie. I've long been a fan of true crime books. I can't recall when I first started reading them but Vincent Bugliosi's Helter Skelter and Joseph Wambaugh's The Onion Field are two that have always stuck with me. I lived a very sheltered youth; there was only about one murder a year in Lincoln at that time and while we might not have left our front doors unlocked, we likely could have. True crime books opened my eyes to a bigger more dangerous world. These days, I'm more likely these days to pick up a book about an historical crime than something more recent. I think I get enough of stories that scare me in the news. But the ones on this list, they do intrigue me.

In June The Washington Post gave us 37 Books We've Loved So Far In 2016.  In case you missed any of these and needed some more books to add to your list of books you want to read!

Gretchen Rubin asked if her Facebook followers look at the titles on bookcases when they visit someone's home. I know I do (and I may be guilty of being a little judgy sometimes, I'm embarrassed to admit. Do you do this?

I love this infographic from Electric Lit!  As National Whiskey Day was only a couple of weeks ago, I thought you might enjoy seeing the impact that drink has had on literature.

Buzzed put together a list of 31 Books You Need To Bring To The Beach This Summer, compiled from reader recommendations. The Millions has a much different take on summer reading with A Summer Reading List for Wretched A*#holes Who Prefer To Wallow In Someone Else's Misery. What kind of reading do you prefer for the summer?

Penguin Random House has compiled a list of 22 Unforgettable Love Stories In Fiction.  I don't consider myself much of a love story reader but I have read eleven of these so maybe I like love stories more than I thought I did!

And, finally, in the year of the first female presidential nominee, a list from Book Riot of 115 Reading Recommendations for Books by Women.  I've only read 20 of these, despite reading predominately books by women. How many of these have you read?

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Life: It Goes On - August 7

New books have been making their way into my house at a pretty good clip the past few weeks but I haven't been getting nearly enough reading done. I thought I would certainly read some on our trip but my navigator job always seems to be more demanding than expect it to be. Now that the temps have cooled off a lot, I'm hoping to snatch some patio evening time for long stretches of reading - one of my fave things to do in the summer. Although...Olympics. So.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I've been all over the place with my listening the past couple of weeks. Some of the time I'm listening to my audio book, some of the time to podcasts, some of the time to music. I'm as ADD with my listening as I am with my reading lately!

Watching: Um, did I mention the Olympics? All sports, all of the time. Very glad to have missed the French gymnast breaking his leg, though.

Reading: I raced through Jacqueline Woodson's Another Brooklyn while we were traveling, but otherwise, I'm all over the place. I think I've finally settled on Amy Stewart's Girl Waits With Gun for now.

Making: Tacos, sandwiches, grilled steaks - easy summer fare. Last night, Mini-me and I worked together to make a black bean and grilled corn salad that we served over quinoa he made. He's a huge fan of quinoa; I am not. Well, I wasn't. But he make have convinced me to give it another chance.

Planning: A bridal shower for my niece and a going away get together for Mini-me before he takes off for his new adventure.

Thinking About: How much fun we had in Milwaukee. If you live there, you already know that you have a great city. I'm pretty sure that a lot of the rest of the country has no idea. Maybe we'll just keep it between us. I wouldn't want it to get too crowded because that German Fest we went to the first night was all the crowded I could handle!

Enjoying: Spending time with cousins from Denmark who have been visiting with my parents.

Top: the new digs, German Fest; Middle: Wind Point Lighthouse, Atwater Beach, Milwaukee Museum of Art; Bottom: Wind Point Beach, Milwaukee River riverfront walk, North Beach Park

Feeling: Happy. You all know how much I love spending time with my family and seeing them all having so much fun together and so happy was the best! I thought we'd never get Miss H out of the water!

Looking forward to: Right now I'm not looking forward so much as trying to stay in the present.

Question of the week: The Big Guy likes the beach but he's more of a mountain person. I like the mountains, but I'd much rather spend vacations on the beach. Are you a mountain person or a beach person? Or, maybe, a city vacation person?

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Leaving Lucy Pear by Anna Solomon

Leaving Lucy Pear by Anna Solomon
Published July 2016 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary:
One night in 1917 Beatrice Haven sneaks out of her uncle's house on Cape Ann, Massachusetts, leaves her newborn baby at the foot of a pear tree, and watches as another woman claims the infant as her own. The unwed daughter of wealthy Jewish industrialists and a gifted pianist bound for Radcliffe, Bea plans to leave her shameful secret behind and make a fresh start. Ten years later, Prohibition is in full swing, post-WWI America is in the grips of rampant xenophobia, and Bea's hopes for her future remain unfulfilled. She returns to her uncle’s house, seeking a refuge from her unhappiness. But she discovers far more when the rum-running manager of the local quarry inadvertently reunites her with Emma Murphy, the headstrong Irish Catholic woman who has been raising Bea's abandoned child—now a bright, bold, cross-dressing girl named Lucy Pear, with secrets of her own.

My Thoughts:
Leaving Lucy Pear came to my attention through an email from the publisher. I'd never heard of it but I was preapproved for it through Netgalley and it was different than the other things I've been reading lately so I decided to take a chance. I'm glad I did.

Book clubs will find that Leaving Lucy Pear makes a good selection. There is a lot going on in it and so much to talk about. Solomon explores homosexuality, infidelity, sexual and physical abuse, bigotry and intolerance, workers vs. bosses, prohibition and illegal alcohol, unrequited love, mental illness, truth, family dynamics and, most importantly, what it means to be a mother.

You'll think I didn't like the book when I tell you that, while all of those themes in one book make for a great book club choice, the book might have been stronger and more emotionally compelling if Solomon had pared back a little.

Solomon has created some great characters here and some really wonderful storylines. Bea and Emma are, as they should be, strong, interesting and complicated characters and I enjoyed "watching" them interact with each other and grow. I would actually have liked to know Lucy better; she sometimes disappeared in the story. But then, the story isn't necessarily hers.

The arc of the story, from the moment Bea sneaks out of the house to leave her infant daughter out in the pear orchard to the point when Bea, Emma, and Lucy come together played out in a way I really enjoyed. There is no happily-ever-after here, which is not to say there is not some happiness found or that the ending isn't just as it should be (which is kinda sad, to be honest).

I've gotten kind of bad about picking up unknown books in the past few years. I mean, I've got all of these great bloggers telling me about so many books that I want to read that I rarely pick up something I know nothing about. Leaving Lucy Pear is a good reminder that there's a lot to be said for taking chances.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday - Ten Books I've Read Set Outside the US

I missed this theme a couple of weeks ago but thought it was too good a topic to pass up. I love books that take me to places I've never been. Like Katherine of I Wished I Lived In A Library, I'm going to exclude England because I could fill the list just from there (I mean, Jane Austen, the Brontes, Dickens).

1. Italy - Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
2. Kenya - Cocktail Hour Under The Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller
3. Russia - City of Thieves by David Benioff
4. Jamaica - The Book of Night Women by Marlon James
5. Bangladesh - A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam
6. Germany - City of Women by David Gillham
7. Canada - The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay
8. India - The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar
9. Chili - Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende 1
0. Ireland - Faithful Place by Tara French 1
1. Iran - Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
12. Afghanistan - The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
13. Greece - Eleni by Nicholas Gage
14. Vietnam - The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli
15. Sierra Leone - A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of A Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

 Oops - got a little carried away there! I could easily keep adding new countries - I've read so many great books from all over the world. This is a good reminder to keep looking for books set outside of the U.S. and England! Do you have a favorite country to read about?