Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday, er Wednesday

The lovely ladies at The Broke and The Bookish challenged us this week to list the top ten books we've read in the past three or five years that we would add to our all-time favorite books list. I'm going with five years because this just happens to be the number of years I've been tracking my favorite books of the year.

From 2010:
1. The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar
2. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
3. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

From 2011:
4. Safe From The Sea by Peter Geye
5. Cocktail Hour Under The Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller
6. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

From 2013:
7. City of Women by David Gilliam
                                            8. Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen

From 2014:
9. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
10. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
11. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Sorry 2012, you had some great books but just not great enough to make the top ten (okay, top eleven). I could easily have added five or eight more to this list but these are definitely the books I find myself recommending again and again, the books that have really stuck with me over time.

Which of the books you've read in the last few years have you added to your all-time favorites list?

Monday, March 2, 2015

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Published April 2013 by Little, Brown and Company
Source: purchased my copy of the audiobook
Narrator: Fenella Woolgar

Publisher's Summary:
What if you could live again and again, until you got it right? On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war.

Does Ursula's apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny? And if she can -- will she?

My Thoughts:
Found on many "best of" lists in 2013, for some reason I just couldn't make myself pick it up. I hardly even read reviews of it. You know that movie "Groundhog's Day?" That's what I kept imagining. And while I sort of love that movie, I had no interest in reading a book with a similar premise. And then I read a review of it (oh how I wish I could remember which one of you lovely people wrote that review!) which convinced me to give it a chance. When last I made the journey to my local Half Price Bookstore, I chanced to find an audio copy of it and swooped it up.

I loved this book. Except, perhaps, for a tiny bit of disappointment in the ending. Still, it was my first five-star book of the year (my Goodreads rating). The narration was superb and played a big part in my enjoyment of the book but, as I wrote on Goodreads, my ranking there would have been the same, I believe, if I had read it in print. While the idea of getting more than one chance to live your life is not a unique idea where books are concerned, Atkinson's approach seems to stand alone.

Poor Ursula dies at birth, survives at birth only thanks to quick thinking, and is born healthy and vital. She dies as a young girl. She dies as a result of abuse. She dies in London during a German bombing raid. Terrible things happen to her and those she loves throughout her life but then don't happen in the next version of her life thanks to some  small change in Ursula's own behavior. It can be very confusing and more than once I was certain I had put the wrong disc in as a scene plays in a new life nearly exactly has it did in a previous life. I'm certain I would have been flipping back and forth in the book if I had read it in print.

What truly makes Ursula unique in the world of those who've lived their lives again and again is that she has some memory of the previous lives. It's not a clear memory, just some faint hint that makes her, for example, try again and again to prevent the Spanish flu from coming into her family's life. It's clear to her parents that somethings not quite right, ending Ursula up in counseling with a man who might just know what she's going through.

So, so many things to think about with Life After Life. I rarely reread a book and have never "reread" an audiobook. Life After Life will be the first.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Life: It Goes On - March 1

A few days ago the forecast for today was right in line with that old saying, "March comes in like a lion..." Today, though, it's sunny, warmish (which is all we can ask for right now), and calm. So hoping that March coming in like a lamb doesn't mean that it will then go out like a lion.

Mini-me's girl, one of Mama Shep's
boys, Mini-me, and Miss H
We're spending this first day of March celebrating birthdays: Mini-me's girlfriend and Miss H share a birthday. Unfortunately, Miss H had to work today so she didn't get to join us for dinner but we all bipped into her work to say Happy Birthday and we'll celebrate more tomorrow. So weird to not have any teenagers after 14 years of having one in the family!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I didn't get to the library this week for a new book so I've downloaded Jane Eyre from Librivox for a re-read. I never tire of it. For music, I'm listening to the Pixies station on Pandora.
Getting ready for birthday dinner #1

Watching: "Peaky Blinders" on Netflix, "Downton Abbey," and "Hacking The System" on the National Geographic channel. I now know how to survive for days without any power even if I haven't stocked up on water and other provisions ahead of time.

Reading: This week I read Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch and started The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion which I hope to finish today. Then it's time for some book club reading and review book reading. Good books but I've really enjoyed being able to just pick up whatever suited my mood!

Making: Taco Bowls in the crockpot (not sure why it's called that, there's no bowl to it but it was delicious), cheese manicotti with homemade noodles, hamburgers with avocado and fried egg, and both chocolate and coffee cupcakes.

Planning: On continuing my photo project. I spent several hours on it this week but there is still much to be done. Next up is to pull all of the photos out of photo albums and get them sorted and into boxes. Eventually the goals is to get all of the old photos scanned but that's a project for another time. How do you store all of your photos? How many photos have you printed since your camera went digital?

Grateful for: A very fun weekend; perfect for recharging my soul!

Enjoying: Being able to be there when Mini-me won a top prize at the opening of the annual student art show. I don't claim to understand much of what he does (although he will be happy to explain it to you and he always has a clear vision) but I've always known he had talent and it's fun to see others recognize it.

Feeling: Happy - got to spend lots of time with all of my kiddos this week. Miss H even spent the night here two nights.

Looking forward to: Birthday dinner number 2 tomorrow night with Miss H!

What are you looking forward to this week?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Autobiography of Malcolm X As Told To Alex Haley

The Autobiography of Malcolm X As Told To Alex Haley
Published 1964
Source: I bought this one for book club

Publisher's Summary:
Raised in Lansing, Michigan, Malcolm Little journeyed on a road to fame as astonishing as it was unpredictable. Drifting from childhood poverty to petty crime, Malcolm found himself in jail. It was there that he came into contact with the teachings of a little-known Black Muslim leader renamed Elijah Muhammad. The newly renamed Malcolm X devoted himself body and soul to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad and the world of Islam, becoming the Nation’s foremost spokesman. When his conscience forced him to break with Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity to reach African Americans across the country with an inspiring message of pride, power, and self-determination.

My Thoughts:
The Omaha Bookworms selected The Autobiography of Malcolm X for our February selection for a couple of reasons - we were looking for something to read in honor of Black History month and Malcolm X (born Malcolm Little) was born in Omaha. This one was a tough read for us, and not just because we're all middle-aged suburban white women. Even though the actual book is less than 400 pages, with the forward, the introduction, and the epilogue, it's a long read. Too long, too much detail, especially in Malcolm's life before Islam helped him change his life. He said "To understand that of any person, his whole life, from birth, must be reviewed." Eh, not so much. I wasn't the only Bookworm to admit to skimming liberally.

One of the Bookworms accidentally read the wrong book about Malcolm X, a book that postulated that The Autobiography of Malcolm X was entirely a work of propaganda. Thinking back on it that way, it certainly had that feel. The book goes into great detail about Elijah Muhammad's teachings, makes Brother Malcolm's marriage seem much more like an ideal Muslim match than the PR move the biography claims it to have been.

I know Malcolm was trying to shock readers with all of his terrible early escapades but this, this is where it really got weird for me. According to Elijah Muhammad (at least I don't think this is the story as told by all of Islam), of the first humans, Original Man, were a black people which included twenty-four wise scientists. All was well until one of the scientists, whose head was unusually large, started causing trouble. He was known as "the big-headed scientist." Seriously. And this is what convinced a troubled young man to straighten out his life.

Still, there's no denying that Malcolm X lead an interesting, unusual life. He was a man who took advantage of his time in prison to educate himself, becoming a voracious reader. Using his natural charisma, intellect, deep faith and even deeper hatred of whites, he made himself a force to be reckoned with and a leader of the American civil rights movement. But he was also a man who made enemies, particularly when he broke with Elijah Muhammad after a trip to Africa. I wish the book had been a hundred pages shorter in the beginning because the last 200 pages was so much more fascinating.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Life: It Goes On - February 23

Goodness, what a busy, for me, weekend we had! We had ourselves another mini-staycation Saturday.  The original forecast left us thinking that once we checked into our downtown hotel, we'd hoof it to our various destinations. Then we actually went outside. Holy buckets has it been cold here the past few days!

My pick for the winning animated short
We started by going to a showing of all of the Oscar-nominated animated shorts. I seriously KNEW which one would be the winner. And then it lost. To Pixar. That hardly seems fair. Should any Disney film have to be in its own category?

After drinks at one spot and dinner at another, we decided to take advantage of the ridiculously big suite our points had earned us. It was the size of the condominiums we used to rent every year. So big, we decided to invite Mini-him and his girl to hang out with us and take advantage of all of that room. We tried to teach them pitch. We probably shouldn't have had so much to drink before we did that. But, hey, none of us were driving!

View from our suite - Omaha kinda looks like a real city!
This Week I'm:

Listening To: Catching up on podcasts this week.

Watching: Big Guy came home Thursday to find me in the midst of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Carousel." He does not share my love of musicals so I've decided to take advantage of my half-days by watching one every week.

Reading: I ripped through The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins. It may not be this year's Gone Girl but it was one heck of a ride. Now I've started Nina Sankovitch's Tolstoy And The Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading. 

Making: Taco soup, roasted chicken one night which lead to chicken and dumplings another night, and nachos. And another soup. Which I swear was tasty but I can't recall what it was at all.

Planning: Continuing with 40 Bags In 40 Days. I've been working upstairs this week, although, truth be told, I'm doing more organizing than tossing.

Enjoying: Last night's annual Oscar party at Ms. C's house. She really spoils us - so much yummy food, fun cocktails, great laughs with friends old and new, and prizes. Did you watch this year? What'd you think of Neil Patrick Harris? We were underwhelmed. Lady Gaga's tribute to "The Sound of Music" left us all a little speechless. Wow, just wow. And could John Travolta have been any more creepy?

Feeling: Lethargic. Cold does that to me even though I know I'll be warmer if I just get up and move.

Looking forward to: Miss H's 20th birthday this weekend. Which may be a bit subdued with an entire weekend of snowfall in the forecast. If March comes in like a lion, it'll go out like a lamb, right? What are you looking forward to this week?