Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties by Camille Pagan.

The book is being released by Lake Union Publishing on February 27, 2018.

Amazon says this about the book: From bestselling author Camille Pagán comes a hilarious and hopeful story about a woman on the verge of a nervous breakthrough.

At fifty-three, Maggie Harris has a good marriage and two mostly happy children. Perpetually anxious, she’s also accumulated a list of semi-reasonable fears: falling air conditioners, the IRS, identity theft, skydiving, and airbag recalls. But never once did Maggie worry that her husband of nearly thirty years would leave her.

On the day Adam walks out the door, everything that makes Maggie secure goes with him. Only then does she realize that while she’s been busy caring for everyone else, she’s become invisible to the world—and to herself.

Maggie cautiously begins to rebuild her life with a trip to Rome, a new career, and even a rebound romance. But when a fresh crisis strikes and an uncertain future looms, she must decide: How much will she risk to remain the woman she’s just become?

Monday, February 12, 2018

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline
The Hounds of Spring by Lucy Andrews Cummin
Paper Boats by Dee Lestari
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti
Paint Your Wife by Lloyd Jones
The Company They Kept edited by Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal
Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus
Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Hope Has Two Daughters by Monia Mazigh
After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara
Metis Beach by Claudine Bourbonnais
Smoke by Dan Vyleta
Coco Chanel by Lisa Chaney
The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled from India to Europe for Love by Per J. Andersson
The New York Time Footsteps by various authors
The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas

Reviews posted this week:

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Dog On it by Spender Quinn
A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

The Most Dangerous Duke in London by Madeline Hunter
The Hunting Accident by David L. Carlson and Landis Blair
Who Is Rich? by Matthew Klam
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Unslut by Emily Lindin
This Far Isn't Far Enough by Lynn Sloan
The Hounds of Spring by Lucy Andrews Cummin
Paper Boats by Dee Lestari
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

Friday, February 9, 2018

Life Skills and How to Teach Them

I love my children. I really do. And I think they're incredibly smart (my oldest child thinks I'm deluded and therefore my expectations for them are too high but that's another post entirely). But sometimes I do wonder if we've failed them, especially on the life skills front. Because, you see, my children are mostly not children anymore. Two of them are even official adults in the eyes of the law (not that I hope the law is anywhere close to making their acquaintance any time soon--or ever). By now they should have some life skills and common sense, right? Some of the stuff we had to know to be properly launched in the world don't even make it onto the radar of kids growing up today. They barely have to balance a checkbook and they certainly don't even have to know how to write a check. Pro tip though: if you pay a lot of money at one time for a child's activities, make that child write out that check for you so they can see the staggering amount you pay. Little buggers need to know how expensive they are. This also helps when you start giving them the I don't want to be a grandmother anytime soon and you can't afford a baby anyway talk. Another pro tip: give them this talk often, until no one is embarrassed by the subject anymore and even if you think there's no way that junior or juniorette are doing any of that anyway. (Although if your child is approaching 30 or older, you can probably stop telling them you're too young to be a grandmother.) Back to the topic at hand though: life skills.

I don't remember being taught life skills. They just seemed to come, right? I mean, when someone clipped the back corner of my dad's car and took the finish off of it, no one had to tell me that a little black Sharpie marker topped with clear nail polish was just as effective as a professional fix. (It's not, but it did delay the inevitable noticing of the boo-boo, for which I honestly wasn't at fault.) No one taught my sister that she should eat all of the ice cream but leave the empty carton in the freezer so that her sneaky little feast wasn't noticed immediately. (Leaving the spoon in the empty carton so that the spoons were missed sooner rather than later might have been a bridge too far though.) We just intuited these important skills. OK, all kidding aside and despite making us seem like underhanded little sneaks, I am only half joking about the fact that we seemed to pick up on things faster than my children do and I don't know why. It's not because my kids are dumb (at least not according to me; see above). Is it just that they're unobservant or have had too much done for them? If you know me, you know the latter isn't true given my fondness for telling my children I only had them to carry in my groceries, take the dog outside, load the dishwasher, etc.  So what gives?

Just so you know what I'm up against, in the last couple of weeks I was present for life skills fails for both of my sons (I'm sure my daughter has had equally boneheaded moments, just not in my presence lately). I was driving with T. He's almost 16 and wants to get in the hours he needs in order to get his driver's license. As we were sitting in the car, he looked down at the gauges and told me that the car needed gas. I asked if the gas light was on and despite the fact that it wasn't and I knew for a fact we were completely fine on gas, I directed him to a gas station. Pumping gas for the first time, no time like the present, right? We pulled in and I handed him the credit card. I gave him no further instructions. I didn't even think about it. I mean, the gas pumps walk you through the whole thing these days so I assumed he'd be fine. You know what they say about assuming, right? It makes an ass out of you and me. And clearly real men don't read directions and all that and T. is nothing if not a real man. First he tried to pump the gas without paying first despite the screen clearly telling him to pay at the pump or pay inside before pumping gas.  ::sigh::  Once I had him hang the nozzle back up and start over, I thought we were in the clear. Imagine my surprise when he poked his head back into the car to ask, "When they say zip code, do they mean *our* zip code?" All I can say is that it's a good thing that I have a couple more years with this child to try and teach him how to live on the same planet the rest of us do.

But he's not the only clueless wonder in the family. Nope. Just a few days later, I agreed to take his older brother W. shopping to get some nice clothes for an upcoming wedding. It is important to note that W. is old enough to be invited to weddings that do not include the rest of the family. In other words, he's officially a grown ass adult. OK, a grown ass adult whose mommy still buys him clothes but college kids are perpetually broke and you don't even want to see what he'd choose himself (athletic shorts are unlikely to be wedding dress code at all but the most eccentric weddings). So his girlfriend and I took him shopping. He's not fun to shop with (neither am I, if I'm being honest, but this isn't about me) and I was hoping T.'s presence would keep him from being so darn grumpy. We loaded him up with pants that he needed to try on and kept browsing as he went off to the dressing room. He not only came over to us to show us the pants but he felt the need to chat and make goo goo eyes at T. for a rather extended period of time. I finally shooed him back to the dressing room but he immediately returned looking panicked. "Mom, everything's gone from my dressing room. All the pants you wanted me to try on. Even my pants are gone!" Yes, child had been out of the dressing room for so long that one of the store's workers had repossessed everything, including the jeans he had been wearing. He had no clue how to go about finding his jeans, never mind the rest of the pants to try on.  T. and I both might have snickered a bit. It seems to me that he should have had at least an inkling of what to do in this admittedly ridiculous situation though. Side note: what do you think they were planning on doing with the obviously well worn and hangerless jeans that didn't belong in the store? Unlike with his younger brother, I don't have years left to instill a life skill or two in him before setting him free. This one has already fledged. Sorry world!

So clearly I stink at preparing my children for adulting. I just don't know how they've failed to pick all of this basic stuff up. I mean, when I forgot which level of the parking garage I parked on the other day, I rode up and down the elevator, leaning out and looking for my car at every stop.  Floor 4, floor 3, floor 5.  And oh look, there's my car.  Problem solving life skill, right? Ok, so it might be genetic. ;-P

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Review: A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

When you look at a painting, do you ever wonder what the greater story outside of the painting is? Who are the people in the confines of the frame? What kind of life do they lead? Obviously the painting itself often gives the viewer clues but what else are we not told? Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth is certainly a painting that invites further speculation, especially once the viewer knows that there was in fact a real life Christina, Christina Olson, who inspired the painting. Christina Baker Kline has taken Wyeth's Christina and using the available historical information imagined a whole life for Wyeth's middle aged, spinster, Maine neighbor in her latest novel, A Piece of the World.

Christina Olson lives with her younger brother Alvaro on the family farm in a large house, once proud now shabby and dilapidated, when Andrew Wyeth strides into her life. Brought to visit by family friend Betsy, who will shortly become his wife, the young painter with the famous father is enchanted by the taciturn, private siblings and their home, eventually using a room in the farmhouse as a studio and painting pictures of both Christina and Al. But the book is not about Wyeth; rather it is about the inspiration for what is arguably his most famous work, so in parallel with the time leading up to his painting Christina's World, the story moves backwards in time to Christina's life growing up, refusing to be the object of pity because of her increasing disability, determined to live life without concessions, and imagining a wider world and more opportunities for herself than are available in her small Maine town. It takes her through the disappointments of her life and draws her as a proud, stubborn, and prickly woman. She and her quiet brother live a hard and lonely life and if that and her increasing disability (perhaps as a result of polio when she was young or perhaps because of the neuropathology of C-M-T disease) toughens her and makes her unforgiving and cantankerous, it is perhaps understandable.

Baker Kline has done a marvelous job drawing Christina and the world she lived in. The novel is very much character driven and Christina is not always a likable character. She is flinty, frustrated, and selfish but she's also loyal, smart, and fully realized in these pages. She is betrayed over and over again and just as when she physically trips, she endures the pain, picks herself up, and dusts herself off, refusing to let any one thing level her. The novel has a somber tone throughout most of its pages. The reality of the woman behind the painting was so circumscribed by her disability while her yearning knew no bounds and that bleak and unfulfilled feeling comes through in both the novel and the painting. But the novel is also one of friendship and the deliberate choice to allow people in, as was the case with the Olsons and Wyeth. This isn't a splashy book; it's quiet and deliberate, engrossing in its glimpse into the story behind the picture.

For more information about Christina Baker Kline and the book, check out her website, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter or Instagram. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.
Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins for inspiring me to pull this off my shelf sooner rather than later.

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella.

The book is being released by The Dial Press on February 13, 2018.

Amazon says this about the book: A witty and emotionally charged novel that delves into the heart of a marriage, and how those we love and know best can sometimes surprise us the most—from #1 New York Times bestselling author Sophie Kinsella

After ten years together, Sylvie and Dan have a comfortable home, fulfilling jobs, and beautiful twin girls, and communicate so seamlessly they finish each other’s sentences. They have a happy marriage and believe they know everything there is to know about each other. Until it’s casually mentioned to them that they could be together for another sixty-eight years . . . and panic sets in.

They decide to bring surprises into their marriage to keep it fresh and fun. But in their pursuit to execute Project Surprise Me—from unexpected gifts to restaurant dates to sexy photo shoots—mishaps arise, with disastrous and comical results. Gradually, surprises turn to shocking truths. And when a scandal from the past is uncovered, they begin to wonder if they ever really knew each other after all.

With a colorful cast of eccentric characters, razor-sharp observations, and her signature wit and charm, Sophie Kinsella presents a humorous yet moving portrait of a marriage—its intricacies, comforts, and complications. Surprise Me reveals that hidden layers in a close relationship are often yet to be discovered.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Review: Dog On It by Spencer Quinn

There's a good chance I should never have picked up this book. I'm barely easing my way into the mystery genre; I am not a huge fan when an animal narrates a book; and my daughter, who, unlike me, is a mystery lover, didn't particularly love this book. I picked the book up anyway and while sometimes a book can overcome such enormous obstacles, in this case, it just didn't happen.

Bernie Little is a down on his luck, broke, divorced, private investigator whose personal life is in shambles. He misses his kid and has barely enough work to keep his head above water.  Need I mention he drinks more than he should?  But he does have Chet, his loyal K-9 partner, and the narrator of this first in the Chet and Bernie Mystery series. Life is beating him down when a distraught mother hires Bernie to find her missing fifteen year old daughter Madison.  As Bernie is starting his investigation, the girl returns home, lying about where she was and what she was doing. But there's no longer a case. Or is there? Madison disappears again but doesn't reappear this time and Bernie must deal with her mother, her unpleasant real estate developer father, and a cast of nasty bad guys on his quest to solve this missing persons case even as he deals with his ex-wife and a cute reporter doing a story on him in his personal life.

Chet's narration is uber cutesy as he tells the reader about digging holes and sniffing things. He's sometimes observant about the case at hand and other times he's completely off being a dog. As much as I like dogs, I don't think they should be narrating novels and this is a case in point.  This narration wasn't appealing, it was distracting and annoying.  Chet learns information about Madison's disappearance that Bernie comes to much later but since he can't communicate with Bernie, this is moot. In fact, there's a whole plot line with Chet being abducted that is completely extraneous and unnecessary to the story. It only serves to show the reader where Madison is and to give Chet an additional adventure to narrate. As this is the first in a series, in addition to the mystery, it also sets the stage for the future of Bernie's personal life. Unfortunately, it sets the stage for Bernie to be a stereotype, a characterization he never rises above, at least in this first book. This was clearly meant to be a cute and funny cozy mystery and it sometimes is but in general it was fairly mediocre.  On the plus side, it was an easy and quick read so you don't have to commit to too much time if you opt to read it. I personally won't be reading the rest in the series although cozy aficionados who are less bothered by dog narrators and all the cliches of the genre might find this more appealing than I did.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

If you have even a toe in the book world, you probably heard a lot about this book last year or the year before. So yes, I might very well be the last person on the planet to read it despite having had a copy of it forever. Somehow it just never made it onto my bedside table and I missed out on the whole conversation about it amongst lit reading types. I figured when one of my book clubs chose it for this month's book that it was a good time for me to finally tackle it and see what all the hype was about. And I'm so glad I did because the descriptions I'd seen of it don't quite catch the truth and reality of it (nor will I, most likely).

Opening in Ghana and chronicling 300 years, the novel starts out conventionally with the story of Effia the Beauty, a young Ashanti woman whose harsh and spiteful mother marries her off to the British governor of the Cape Coast Castle rather than to the chief of their village. Effia goes to live in the upper floors of the Castle while other Ghanians destined for slavery in the Americas, including Esi, the half-sister Effia never knew, are kept in appalling conditions in the dungeons while awaiting transport. The genealogical lines flow downward from these two women as the 7 generations of their descendants make their way in Ghana and in the US, caught up in the changing history and times they live in. This is an unapologetic and gritty look at the long reaching consequences of slavery and colonialism on two very different branches of one family.

The stories of each generation, told in individual chapters, focus on one descendant of Effia and one of Esi and they run parallel to each other on down through the family tree, showing the long arc of divergence and eventual convergence in this one representative family. Each chapter captures a brief snapshot of life for the character in question leaving large swathes of time out of the narrative, focusing the reader's attention on the historical moment almost as much as on the character themselves. Each story is a distillation of that historical generation's experiences in both the US and Ghana. The family tree in the beginning of the book comes in handy in keeping everyone straight and for comparing how far from the original sisters each person is, giving the reader additional perspective since the characters themselves progressively lose pieces of their familial history as time goes on. The novel is epic in scope but the chapters and stories themselves are each self-contained and tightly focused. The narrative starts out leisurely and captivating but speeds up in later chapters and the final chapters unfold with less nuanced pictures of the later characters' lives, highlighting their generation's historical moments more than their individuality and the ending itself, while clearly symbolic, might be just a little bit too much. Gyasi has written a sweeping and expansive novel of black history, in surprisingly few pages, that encompasses the biggest movements, tragedies, and outrages against a people in two different countries.  It tackles not only the horrors of slavery and colonialism but also the truth and shame of complicity.  The novel is unflinching in its look at inhumanity and institutionalized hardship but it also shows instances of deep and abiding love, acceptance, and perseverance. A worthwhile and important read, no wonder it won or was nominated for so many awards.

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