Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Sunday Salon: May 21, 2017

Sunday already? Another week has flown past... Twin A returned to NYC on Monday after a long weekend at home, I took my sister for her MS treatments on Tuesday and Thursday, and managed to cross the last winter catch-up appointments off my calendar. Summer-like weather descended for two days midweek before ending abruptly with violent storms. We spent all day yesterday on outdoor chores. The lawn, patio, and gardens look so much better, but I was in bed with a book before 9 PM, exhausted!

Finished this week//

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Gay has been on my radar for several years, but this was the first time I've read her. The essays here range from the personal to larger issues of gender, politics, and race. Some were deeply thought-provoking, while others were thoroughly entertaining (apparently there is such a thing as competitive Scrabble). All are well-written, logically structured, and interesting. Bahni Turpin's narration further added to my enjoyment.  I'd like to read more of Gay's nonfiction. Any recommendations?
My rating:

Current reading//

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
I always love Strout's writing, and this was a favorite a couple of years ago. It's also so short that I impulsively decided to reread it before beginning her new book, Anything is Possible. I'm finding it every bit as beautiful the second time around, and should finish later today.

The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman
The plot summary of this novel caught my eye when it was released last year. My sister gave me her paperback copy last weekend saying she thought I would love it. After 50 pages, I suspect she's right... I'll let you know for sure next week.

On audio//

by David M. Oshinsky
You knew there had to be at least one non-fiction in progress, right? I'm listening to this one, but also have a print copy from the library. Anything medical usually appeals to me and, after 100 pages, I'm thoroughly invested in this interesting history.

In the kitchen//

This Slow Cooker Banana Nut Oatmeal from The Lemon Bowl  was delicious, and it kept me full until lunch. I've made it twice so far and will be having the last of the leftovers this morning. The recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon of salt, but that made it too salty for our taste, so I cut it to a scant 1/4 teaspoon. It's such treat to wake up to a warm breakfast!

Later today//
It's Dock Day here on the lake. My family is coming over to help us put in our heavy old wooden docks (we really need to upgrade), then we'll have our first cookout of the season. The lake is high this year, and temperatures will only be in the 60s, so it might be tough work... glad the nephews will be here to help. Fingers crossed the weather holds.

How was your week? What are you reading today?

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Sunday Salon: Mother's Day

Good morning and happy Mother's Day! The sun is peeking though the clouds now, but it's been a cold and rainy week. The meteorologists are already making comparisons to coldest Mays on record. Seems we're in second place now, a dubious distinction for sure... I just want to wear sandals again!

There hasn't been much time for reading this week. I spent a couple of days driving a family member to treatments, and we're still trying to catch up after a winter away. Our patio, landscaping, and flower beds/pots are screaming for attention... if only the weather would cooperate.

Finished this week//

The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Winner of the 2016 Man Booker Prize, this book was compelling, dark, and disturbing - certainly not an "enjoyable" read. I'm glad I read it and would love to sit in on a book club discussion, but will not recommend this one to my group.

Current reading//

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay 
My current reading has been almost exclusively on audio. I continue to enjoy Gay's essay collection and have already recommended this to my daughters.

Up next//

I hesitate to add this heading, but my library hold of Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout arrived. I had been planning to read Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively, but will probably go with Strout instead. Final decision later tonight...

On the blog//
Book Brief: My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead

In the kitchen//
After a winter in my tiny Florida kitchen, it's a treat to return to a double oven, gas burners, and comparatively abundant counter space... not to mention all the kitchen gadgets and pans. I had two new recipes successes last week:

This Blueberry Cake from Simply Recipes was a hit at dinner last Sunday. It calls for an 8 or 9 inch springform pan and I found baking time needs to be at the low end of the range if you opt for a 9" pan... and maybe even less time than stated.

The Red Lentil Soup with Lemon from the New York Times was so good, I've already made it twice!

I have a relaxing morning planned today... coffee, reading, and perusing blogs before my husband makes breakfast. If the weather holds, we'll take Zelda on a long walk. Later we'll join my parents and siblings for Mother's Day dinner.

How was your week? What are you planning today?

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Book Brief: My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead

My Life in Middlemarch
by Rebecca Mead
narrated by Kate Reading
Blackstone Audio, 2014
9 hours and 37 minutes
source: purchased

One-sentence summary: (from publisher)
A New Yorker  writer revisits the seminal book of her youth - Middlemarch - and fashions a singular, involving story of how a passionate attachment to a great work of literature can shape our lives and help us to read our own histories.

My thoughts:
When I first read Middlemarch in 2014, my intention was to immediately follow up with My Life in Middlemarch. Now here I am, three years later, finally getting to it... and if not for audible's recent BOGO sale, it might have taken even longer .

Mead's book is an interesting blend of memoir, biography, and literary criticism. And the writing is excellent, too. Learning a little about George Eliot's life was an unexpected bonus that's left me wanting to read more. It's also probably time to revisit Middlemarch.

The audio version is masterfully read by Kate Reading, a veteran narrator with hundreds of credits to her name. I've enjoyed several over years and it was a pleasure to spend my morning beach walks listening to this book.

A few favorite lines:
"Only a child believes a grown-up has stopped growing." 
"A book may not tell us exactly how to live our own lives, but our  lives can teach us how to read a book." 
"Middlemarch permits the reader to imagine other possible directions its characters might take, leading to entirely different futures, and as so often in life, love is the crossroads."
Bottom line:
My Life in Middlemarch is a wonderful book, despite its arguably narrow appeal. If you've read Middlemarch, you really owe it to yourself to read (or listen to) Mead's book.

My rating:

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Sunday Salon: We're Home!

Good morning from chilly, cloudy, rainy central New York. We haven't seen the sun since we pulled in our driveway, and snow is in forecast later today and tomorrow. Maybe next year we'll stay in Florida until Memorial Day!

Our road trip home was shorter and more direct than usual (traveling with a greyhound limits options), but we did spend an extra day in Charlottesville, VA. We visited Thomas Jefferson's Monticello and took the scenic route (Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park) out of town the next morning. We'll definitely be back.

The books//

As you'd expect, there wasn't much progress on the reading front this week. I'm 75% done with The Vegetarian by Han Kang... a very strange book, yet so compelling. I plan to finish it today and will probably end up recommending with caution.

On audio, I started Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay, a recent audible daily deal.  This is my first experience with Gay and her essays seem to be a nice mix of serious and lighter topics. (Who knew competitive scrabble was a thing?) Plus, it's always a treat to listen to Bahni Turpin.

The week ahead//

I've missed Sunday dinners with my family and look forward to celebrating my brother-in-law's birthday later today. It will be a busy week... so many appointments and lots of catching up around the house, inside and out, after a long winter away.

On the blogging front, it's time to get back to some sort of routine. I have a backlog of books to talk about, so let's see if I can make some progress there... and hopefully squeeze in some reading time, too!

How was your week? What are you reading today?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Current Reading: April 25

It's our last full week in Florida and there isn't much time for reading. My attention is instead focused on packing, end-of-season tasks, "one last time" activities, and the few things left on our to-do list. My sister assures me it's safe to head home. The snow has finally melted, but temperatures will only be in the 50s by the middle of next week. Sounds chilly to me... I was hoping for 60s.

On my kindle:
Before my wife turned vegetarian, I'd always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way. To be frank, the first time I met her I wasn't even attracted to her. Middling height; bobbed hair neither long nor short; jaundiced, sickly-looking skin; somewhat prominent cheekbones; her timid, sallow aspect told me all I needed to know. As she came up to the table where I was waiting, I couldn't help but notice her shoes - the plainest black shoes imaginable. And that walk of hers -  neither fast nor slow, striding nor mincing.
The Vegetarian
by Han Kang

How's that for an unusual opening? The Vegetarian has been on my 'to read' list for months, but Jillian's recent review pushed me to borrow the ebook from my library now. I've read about 20% of this strange, oddly compelling, short book (just under 200 pages). It feels like one that could (should?) be read in one sitting, but I haven't found a large enough block of time.  Here is the goodreads summary:
Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye's decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiraling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavor will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether. 
 A disturbing, yet beautifully composed narrative told in three parts, The Vegetarian is an allegorical novel about modern day South Korea, but also a story of obsession, choice, and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.
I can't wait to read more tonight!

On audio:

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
by Barbara Demick

With the addition of The Vegetarian, my reading has taken a all-Korean turn this week. I'm still listening to Nothing to Envy, a book which follows the lives of six North Koreans over fifteen years—a period which includes Kim Il-sung's death in 1994, the rise of his son Kim Jong-il, and the devastating famine. Before beginning this book, I was embarrassingly uninformed about North Korea, so am appreciating the much-needed background and history. With another three hours to go, I plan to finish before we begin the drive home. Do you have recommendations for further reading on North Korea?

What are you reading this week?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Book Brief: Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen

Her Royal Spyness: A Royal Spyness Mystery
Royal Spyness, Book 1
by Rhys Bowen
narrated by Katherine Kellgren
Audible Studios, 2010
8 hours and 9 minutes

Publisher's summary:
Georgie, aka Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, cousin of King George V of England, is penniless and trying to survive on her own as an ordinary person in London in 1932.

So far she has managed to light a fire and boil an egg... She's gate-crashed a wedding... She's making money by secretly cleaning houses... And she's been asked to spy for Her Majesty the Queen.

Everything seems to be going swimmingly until she finds a body in her bathtub... and someone is definitely trying to kill her.

My thoughts:

A lot of bloggers enjoy Rhys Bowen's novels and now I understand why. After a couple of nonfiction audiobooks, I was in the mood for something completely different - "Georgie" to the rescue! Bowen takes full advantage of her heroine's position (34th in line to the throne and flat broke) to create an endearing character while delivering some unexpectedly comical scenes.

Katherine Kellgren's British accent added to my enjoyment. Her pacing and delivery were pitch perfect. I will certainly continue listening to this series.

Overall, Her Royal Spyness reminded me of a light-hearted Maisie Dobbs.  In fact, I'll likely reach for the next book in this series before catching up with Maisie.

My rating:

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Current Reading: April 18

What Possessed Me?
If I hadn't been naive and recklessly trusting, would I ever have purchased number 10 Turpentine Lane, a chronic headache, masquerading as a charming bungalow? "Best value in town," said the ad, which was true, if judging by the price tag alone. I paid almost nothing by today's standards, attributing the bargain to my mother's hunch that the previous owner had succumbed while in residence. Not so off-putting, I rationalized; don't most people die at home? On moving day my next-door neighbor brought me a welcome loaf of banana bread along with the truth about my seller. A suicide attempt . . . sleeping pills . . . she'd saved them up until she had enough, poor thing. And who could blame her? "Strong as an ox," she added. "But a whole bottle?" She tapped the side of her head. 
"Brain damage?" I asked. "Brain dead?"
"Her daughter had to make the awful decision long distance."

On Turpentine Lane
by Elinor Lipman

Elinor Lipman's books are just plain fun to read. Her latest novel, On Turpentine Lane, is delivering the quirky characters and snappy dialogue. I've come to expect. I grabbed it off my library's "new fiction" shelf and started reading right away. Here's the goodreads summary:
At thirty-two, Faith Frankel has returned to her claustro-suburban hometown, where she writes institutional thank-you notes for her alma mater. It's a peaceful life, really, and surely with her recent purchase of a sweet bungalow on Turpentine Lane her life is finally on track. Never mind that her fiancé is off on a crowdfunded cross-country walk, too busy to return her texts (but not too busy to post photos of himself with a different woman in every state.) And never mind her witless boss, or a mother who lives too close, or a philandering father who thinks he's Chagall. When she finds some mysterious artifacts in the attic of her new home, she wonders whether anything in her life is as it seems. What good fortune, then, that Faith has found a friend in affable, collegial Nick Franconi, officemate par excellence .
At the 50% mark, this novel has been the perfect complement to my decidedly more serious audiobook...

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea 
by Barbara Demick, narrated by Karen White

This one has been in my audible library and on my kindle for quite some time, but seemed especially appropriate this week. Published in 2009, it's an eye-opening account of everyday life in North Korea. I'm hoping it's still current enough to provide insight as I continue to follow the news.

Here is the goodreads summary:
Nothing to Envy follows the lives of six North Koreans over fifteen years—a chaotic period that saw the death of Kim Il-sung, the unchallenged rise to power of his son Kim Jong-il, and the devastation of a far-ranging famine that killed one-fifth of the population.  
Taking us into a landscape most of us have never before seen, award-winning journalist Barbara Demick brings to life what it means to be living under the most repressive totalitarian regime today—an Orwellian world that is by choice not connected to the Internet, in which radio and television dials are welded to the one government station, and where displays of affection are punished; a police state where informants are rewarded and where an offhand remark can send a person to the gulag for life.  
Demick takes us deep inside the country, beyond the reach of government censors. Through meticulous and sensitive reporting, we see her six subjects—average North Korean citizens—fall in love, raise families, nurture ambitions, and struggle for survival. One by one, we experience the moments when they realize that their government has betrayed them.   
Nothing to Envy is a groundbreaking addition to the literature of totalitarianism and an eye-opening look at a closed world that is of increasing global importance.
I've been listening on my morning walks and it's kept me going the entire hour, despite rising temperatures. I'm in Florida until early May.

What are you reading this week?


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