Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Real Thing: Lessons on Love and Life From A Wedding Reporter's Notebook

It's been a long time since I opened up a book the day it arrived in the mail and was able to sit down and read it in one sitting.  (In fact, the last time I remember doing this was with Roger Rosenblatt's Making Toast which was published in 2011).  But, over spring break I had the pleasure of opening a package containing Ellen McCarthy's The Real Thing: Lessons on Love and Life From a Wedding Reporter's Notebook. And I was able to sit down and read and read, until I turned the last page of this book.  McCarthy's book is full of little bits of wisdom about relationships and marriage as well as stories about a variety of the people she came to know because of her job.

McCarthy spent several years as a wedding reporter for the Washington Post.  As a writer who enjoys writing about people, this job was right up her alley, despite the fact that her obtaining this job coincided neatly with a break-up with her boyfriend.  McCarthy was going to be spending a lot of times at weddings and with people in love while she got over her own broken heart.

McCarthy's book is nicely arranged by topic:  dating, commitment, breakups, weddings and making it last, providing a little something for everyone no matter what stage in a relationship you may find yourself.  But I would encourage readers to read and take to heart the advice offered in each section.

There are many little gems I have taken away from this book.  And already I feel as though I should be going through it again, marking passages to think about a bit more.

Just a few bits of advice I managed to take note of:

1.  Be kind to each other.  Look for a spouse who is kind.

2.  The lyrics from a Don Henley song in reference to always thinking that someone else has it better, "To want what I have; To take what I'm given with grace."

3.  The type of love that comes like a thunderbolt may not be the kind that lasts.

One of my favorite couples McCarthy introduced me to is octogenarians Betty and Edgar, a couple who had been wed for sixty five years.  W
hen asked if they believed that there wast just one special person they were destined to be with, the two laughed hysterically. They went on to explain that they believe that had they met other people they would also be happily married for sixty plus years - that's the type of people they are, the type that believe in commitment.

There are lots of other great stories and a treasure trove of wisdom in this book.  The Real Thing may become the essential guide for every couple to read and discuss prior to getting married.  Already married for seventeen years, I still managed to find this book fascinating and timely.

Other Books on Marriage:

Marriage and Other Acts of Charity by Kate Braestrup

Marry Him: The Case of Settling For Mr. Good Enough by Lori Gottlieb

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Given World

Riley has spent her life trying to find herself, or to find peace, after her brother Mick is  MIA in Vietnam.

Following Riley over the course of two and a half decades, it is easy to see that the loss of the older brother she idolized and adored has made going on with her own life impossible.  To add to her troubles, the boy she falls in love with, Darrell, has also been drafted, and unable to deal with losing another person she cares about, she breaks things off with him.

Riley keeps moving, settling for a time in California, and visiting Vietnam which is the last place her brother lived.  She tries drugs and makes friends with other people who are also struggling through life.  

One of my favorite parts of The Given World was the letter Riley's mother wrote her explaining how she could allow her child to leave, how losing Mick made it hard for her to go on as well.  This letter gave such a better picture into Riley's home life and revealed a lot about her parents, especially her mother.

It was hard to read Riley's story, which seemed self-destructive. She went from one bad decision to the next, yet I also always held out hope for her.  

The Given World is a beautifully written story about a woman whose heart has been broken and who tries to find a way to get by in life without the brother she loves.  What she eventually discovers is that running away doesn't take away the pain, and you can always go home.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sunday Salon

It's hard to believe Easter is just one week away - and hard to believe that today is Sunday already.

This coming week soccer practices start for Middle Sister and Little Sister (and my husband who is coaching Little Sister's team).  That will take up four evenings a week. Last week Big Sister started track practice.  I have a six week mentoring book study at school that begins tomorrow afternoon. I'm glad that I already have meals mostly figured out for the week which should help our suppers a bit.

This past weekend we had a work party for my husband at a co-worker's house.  Kids were welcome, but the adults were way more into the party than the kids.  By 8:30 the karaoke machine was going which the adults used until the end of our evening.  

And of course, what's a party without dressing up?  Even the adults added some wigs and tutus to their outfits.  It was a good way to end a busy week, but I am definitely not used to staying up late.

I'm still thinking about getting on the elliptical machine for a while.  I've eaten a lot of junk today, so I might not need to feel quite as guilty if I can at least burn a few calories.  And, I have a lot of stuff to work on for school.  There's nothing like waiting until the last minute to dig all of that stuff out.

Hopefully you've found a few minutes to yourself this weekend to read, relax and get ready for a busy Holy Week ahead.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Dear Hank Williams

Tate Ellerbee's teacher has assigned the class to write to penpals. While most children find a relative to correspond with, Tate begins to write to Hank Williams, a rising music star.  

Through these letters Tate reveals the struggles her family has had. And there are plenty.  Tate is being raised by her great aunt and uncle, having neither her mother nor her father able to care for her.  And as she deals with her heartache it is obvious how much the family she does have loves her.

Told entirely in letters, this story reveals what life in Louisiana in 1948 was like.  Holt includes a few historical notes in back explaining where she received the inspiration for her story and a bit more about the time period.

I love Holt's work, and this is no exception. Perfect for 4th-6th grade readers, who will no doubt fall in love with Tate.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday Five

It's time once again for the five things that have grabbed my attention this week.  Here's what I found:

What's up with me and navy stripes?  I just bought two navy shirts with a stripe but after seeing this Boden's Mariella T I would happily add this to my wardrobe as well.  It's just a little different than the traditional stripe.  And, there are other colors available, so I wouldn't have to do navy and white.

Eddie Bauer used to be my favorite place to shop.  In fact, it was pretty much  the only place I shopped. We no longer have a store near us, and even though I do order online, it's been a long time since I've done that. When we were in Minneapolis at the MOA I was able to stop by and see their clothes in person. I love this skirt and ended up getting it to wear for spring.

I don't think this picture does it justice, but when I saw this shirt in person, I loved the gold shiny-ness of it.  It would be perfect to dress up an outfit a little bit.  

I don't know what it is with exercise pants, but I love this newest pair that were in my Athleta catalog.  I'm thinking they might be a bit too warm to wear during the summer months, but I could definitely see wearing them in the fall and winter.

These sort of look like a couch I used to have, so maybe that's why I like them so much.  Unfortunately I am waiting for an email that says they are back in stock.  Looks like everyone else likes them, too.

So, what's caught your eye this week?  It seems like there's never a shortage of amazing things.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Paper Cowboy

I loved The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine, so I bought a copy of Paper Cowboy as soon as it was published and then looked at it longingly for a while.  Finally, over spring break I decided I should get to reading a book by an author I enjoyed so much before.

And of course I loved The Paper Cowboy.  

Tommy is interested in cowboys. He spends much of his time messing around with his friends, who aren't really all that nice. Neither is Tommy. He's a bit of a bully, picking on Sam, a boy in his class whose face was burned.  He also lifts a few yo-yos from the store Sam's dad, Mr. McKenzie, owns.  

Despite this side of Tommy, there is another, sweeter side to him as well.  He gets along well with his older sister, and is a good big brother to his two younger sisters.  

Although things aren't going very well in Tommy's house, anyway, things become even worse after his older sister sustains serious burns to her legs and spends months in the hospital.  The beatings Tommy receives from his mother increase, as she struggles with what we would now call postpartum depression.

It's the 1950s and when Tommy finds a Communist newspaper in the papers he collects for a paper drive, he decides to plant it at Mr. McKenzie's grocery store.
When the paper is used to wrap someones purchase, Mr. McKenzie is accused of being a Communist and people refuse to shop at his store.  There are some mistakes Tommy can't undo.

There are a lot of things going on in The Paper Cowboy, and Levine manages all of them well.  This is a book I can't wait to talk about with other readers, and plan on using with my book club.  I am anxious for what Levine writes next.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week's pick:  The Race For Paris by Meg Waite Clayton

Due out August 11, 2015

Product Description taken from Goodreads:

The New York Times bestselling author of The Wednesday Sisters returns with a moving and powerfully dynamic World War II novel about two American journalists and an Englishman, who together race the Allies to Occupied Paris for the scoop of their lives

Normandy, 1944. To cover the fighting in France, Jane, a reporter for the Nashville Banner, and Liv, an Associated Press photographer, have already had to endure enormous danger and frustrating obstacles—including strict military regulations limiting what women correspondents can. Even so, Liv wants more. 

Encouraged by her husband, the editor of a New York newspaper, she’s determined to be the first photographer to reach Paris with the Allies, and capture its freedom from the Nazis.

However, her Commanding Officer has other ideas about the role of women in the press corps. To fulfill her ambitions, Liv must go AWOL. She persuades Jane to join her, and the two women find a guardian angel in Fletcher, a British military photographer who reluctantly agrees to escort them. As they race for Paris across the perilous French countryside, Liv, Jane, and Fletcher forge an indelible emotional bond that will transform them and reverberate long after the war is over. 

Based on daring, real-life female reporters on the front lines of history like Margaret Bourke-White, Lee Miller, and Martha Gellhorn—and with cameos by other famous faces of the time—The Race for Paris is an absorbing, atmospheric saga full of drama, adventure, and passion. Combining riveting storytelling with expert literary craftsmanship and thorough research, Meg Waite Clayton crafts a compelling, resonant read.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

TLC Blog Tour: Dennis LeHane's World Gone By

I've been meaning to read Dennis LeHane for years so when I was offered his latest book to review, I jumped at the chance.  World Gone By is the third novel in LeHane's Joe Coughlin trilogy.

Set in Florida and Cuba during World War II, this story picks up ten years after the second novel ended.  Having not read the previous two books in this trilogy, I had to do a little reading and research before I felt like I understood some of the back story and could enjoy this novel.  I would recommend reading the first two books in the series instead of treating this like a stand alone novel.

Joe Coughlin has tried to leave his career with organized crime for the sake of his son, Tomas, a sensitive boy.  But, when he is told by a woman in prison that he is the mob's next target, Joe begins to do a little investigating, unearthing a whole set of questions and secrets.

This is a gangster novel, and LeHane has managed to weave many threads together into a complex story.  I definitely had to pay attention while reading, and as my first experience with LeHane, I can see why so many friends have recommended his work to me. He is a master storyteller with an ability to develop complex characters and plots.  

My next visit with LeHanes' work will be reading the first two Coughlin books, and I am looking forward to getting to know Joe a lot better.

This book was sent to me to review by TLC book tours.  The opinions shared are my own.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Martian

The Martian by Andrew Weir is a book that is a bit out of my comfort zone.  I am definitely not a science fiction/fantasy reader, yet after reading Diane's review I knew I definitely wanted to try this one.

And despite it totally being not my kind of book, I loved The Martian.  This is a book that I just tore through.

Mark Watney is an astronaut whose crew left him behind on Mars thinking him dead.  Watney is most certainly not dead, but he might as well be.  He is alone on a planet without any way to communicate with Earth, and a limited amount of food and water.

But Watney is also brilliant (he works for NASA, after all).  I'm not sure I understood all the math and science Watney shared - all about making oxygen and making water along with a bunch of other science stuff. But I did get that Watney wasn't going to have enough food (or air or water) to survive until someone could come back and get him.

So Watney uses his intellect and his innovativeness (is that a word? innovativity?) to find a way to grow potatoes since he needs to extend his food supply.  This involves collecting his waste and making sure he has bacteria in soil. And making more water.  And amazingly enough, he can do it.  Whatever horrible obstacle comes his way, Watney is so smart he can figure out how to deal with it.

At first he is sure that no one on Earth knows he is still alive.  But a lowly worker at NASA, whose MA is being underused, notices some subtle differences in the cameras trained at Mars.  This observation allows him to have some contact with NASA and work on a plan to return to Earth.

And of course, even though being stuck on Mars does seem like enough of a challenge, Weir throws in a lot more for Watney to contend with.  Being in contact with NASA might seem to have solved a lot of problems, but as time passes there are plenty more obstacles to overcome, which means I had to race through this book to see how things end.

Although this is a book about Watney surviving being left on Mars, I enjoyed the humor in it as well.  Little things, like Watney falling asleep during an episode of Three's Company where Mr. Roper misinterprets something that Jack does, had me chuckling to myself.  

So, even if you aren't a fan of science fiction, The Martian is a book that should have wide appeal.

Read Alikes:  pretty much anything by Michael Crichton

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sunday Salon:IKEA, MOA and Other Minneapolis Things

First of all, I just need to warn everyone that this post is pretty much a rundown of everything we did on our spring break trip to Minneapolis.  This is the third year (or maybe the fourth? we can't decide) that my friend (and co-worker) Crystal and I have taken our five daughters  - 3 are mine, 2 are hers- on a little shopping trip over break.  This is also the first time we stayed overnight.

Minnesota is much like Iowa.  If you don't like the weather, blink once, and it will probably have changed.  So, our children prepared for a bit of everything.  Flip flops and snow boots.

Middle Sister ready to be served at one of IKEA's model kitchens.  This is proof that my photography skills aren't always horrible.  All except for Big Sister photo bombing in the background.

Little Sister was all about pushing our cart around.  

And what impressed me?  These little carts that carried our food from where you selected it to the table where you ate.  Quite handy.

Middle Sister declared this airport-like people mover the highlight of her trip so far.  It doesn't take much.

 On to our second stop: The Wild Rumpus Book Store.  Not only do they have books, they also have a menagerie of wild and not-so-wild animals that hang around . The clerk who helped me with my purchase said that at last count there were 24 animals including: chinchillas, ferrets, cats, hairless rats, and chickens.

Even the bathroom is exciting at The Wild Rumpus. This picture hangs right above the toilet - done by famous illustrator Chris Raschka.

Little Sister was delighted to get a chance to pet a chicken.  And of course, I picked up a few books I can't wait to share on this blog.

My friend Crystal is great at spontaneity, so when we drove by a store in a cute neighborhood with some big letters that must have come from big signs sitting out front for sale, and I suggested we stop there, that's exactly what we did.  We had no idea we had stumbled across Hunt and Gather, one of the absolutely coolest, retro, dealers of "stuff."

These pictures just don't do it justice.  I think we could have spent all day in there. I was sucked in by a violin case containing hundreds of match books - remembering some of the designs from my own childhood, and explaining to the girls what matchbooks are. Can you see all those canned items behind the girls? They aren't edible anymore, but they are cans (and cans and cans) of food that people use to decorate their homes.  Who knew?

Despite the fact that Crystal's youngest daughter was concerned that I might not find Dick's Last Resort funny, I enjoyed it a lot.  

Middle Sister might not have liked it quite as much because she and our waiter did a nice job of giving each other a very hard time.  Thus the name "Butt Nugget" on her hat.  Notice, she is still smiling.

Big Sister is proud of this hat.  

And Little Sister even wore hers yesterday while playing in her bedroom (but not with naked Barbies).

This is the pictures I sent my husband showing Middle Sister zip lining across the MOA.  Yes, she is high above us, having a grand 'ol time.

KD, on the right, hasn't missed a day of practicing her viola in something like three years. Middle Sister is always a bit skeptical of this. So, she had her French Horn packed as a bit of a joke. But, ha! The joke's on her!  She wound up practicing a bit herself. 

And Day Two: The MOA.  Shopping with all five girls at The Apple Store.  They were all busy listening to music on Beats headphones.

Lunch at Johnny Rockets: burgers, fries, music from the 50s and 60s, and a big peanut butter chocolate milk shake.  I didn't eat again that day.

All my girls are enjoying Legos from time to time. I am thankful for the Legos Friends series and that Little Sister is totally obsessed with them right now.

Crystal, my partner in crime, with her new dreads and do-rag.  

We finished off the day with shopping, shopping, and shopping and managed to make it home around 10:30 at night.

The rest of the break has paled in comparison, but it has been nice to have some time off to read, relax and get ready for spring.

The forecast calls for snow tomorrow, which hopefully won't stay around very long.  This break has given me a chance to do a lot of reading and I am lucky enough to also have found a bit of time to get some book reviews written and scheduled to post.