Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Audiobook Review: "Yes, Please" by Amy Poehler

Yes, Please Amy Poehler
Published: October 28, 2014
ISBN: 9780062350879
Genre: Humor / Memoir
Source: Personal Copy / Audible Download
Rating: 5 / 5
♦♦♦♦♦

Summary:
In Amy Poehler’s highly anticipated first book, Yes Please, she offers up a big juicy stew of personal stories, funny bits on sex and love and friendship and parenthood and real life advice (some useful, some not so much), like when to be funny and when to be serious. Powered by Amy’s charming and hilarious, biting yet wise voice, Yes Please is a book is full of words to live by.

My Thoughts:
Yes, Please by Amy Poehler?  YES, PLEASE!!!

I've always enjoyed Amy Poehler, even though I never got past the first couple of episodes of Parks and Recreation (oh look...it's on Netflix....).  I knew when I heard about this book that I wanted to get it on audio, but I was still a little nervous.  Too many times, I've heard very funny people read their own work and it was just...dreadfully boring.  I get it--being in a recording studio and trying to make sure that you pronounce everything correctly and that you don't talk too fast or too slow can be daunting.  But, too often, the narration just becomes too monotone (cough, cough, Mindy Kaling, cough cough).

I am very, very happy to say that this is not a problem with this book.  Poehler does a fantastic job of recording this--it is almost like she's sitting across the table from you just telling you about her life and life lessons,  And, let me tell you, she does not hold back.  I think there might be a temptation when you are writing about yourself to maybe make some of your negative aspects or experiences not quite so negative or to put some spin, but Amy Poehler doesn't do that at all.

There are laughs--bazillions of them.  But there are also some great passages that really made me think (one that sticks with me: Make "no" a complete sentence).  And there is a section at the end where she talks about her kids which literally made me cry.  I kid you not.

I haven't read the actual book, but from my experience with the audio book and from what other bloggers have said, I think I can safely say that this is a work that, while a great book, is much better in audio form.  There is just something great about Peohler's delivery.  And there is Patrick Stewart...reading haikus.  Need I say more?

This is also a great audiobook if you've never done the audiobook thing before.  Because it is made up of essays, it is easy to stop and start--although, trust me, stopping can be hard.

Just an FYI--this shouldn't be surprising, but this book is not safe for work (or, in my case, not safe for kids).  So, you know, get some earbuds.

And, do me a favor.  Get this audiobook--or book (although I recommend audiobook. I may still get the book, though...you know, for the pictures....)  This is just amazing and something that you will listen to over and over again.

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Book Review: "Curiosity Thrilled the Cat" by Sofie Kelly

Curiosity Thrilled the Cat (Magical Cats Mystery #1) Sofie Kelly
Published: February 1, 2011
ISBN: 9780451232496
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 / 5
♦♦♦♦

Summary:
When librarian Kathleen Paulson moved to Mayville Heights, Minnesota, she had no idea that two strays would nuzzle their way into her life. Owen is a tabby with a catnip addiction and Hercules is a stocky tuxedo cat who shares Kathleen's fondness for Barry Manilow. But beyond all the fur and purrs, there's something more to these felines.


When murder interrupts Mayville's Music Festival, Kathleen  finds herself the prime suspect. More stunning is her realization that Owen and Hercules are magical-and she's relying on their skills to solve a purr-fect murder.

My Thoughts:
Cozy Mysteries are what I read when I want to just relax and give my mind a break.  I will admit that I'm not the sort of mystery reader who consciously goes through the book looking for clues and challenges myself to solve the mystery before the reveal; instead, I read these more as a straight novel and just enjoy the story as I go along.

It had been quite some time since I last read a Cozy Mystery when I picked up this book. I really didn't know much about it other than it had cats (which I love) and that was the first in the series (which is a must for me).  Other than that, I went into this book with an open mind.

This was an enjoyable read for me.  I immediately liked Kathleen and found I could relate to her.  As is common in such books, Mayville Heights is full of quirky characters, although I will admit that a number of them sort of blurred together for me.  I have a feeling that they will become more distinct as the series progresses, so I hesitate to hold that against this book.

Another thing that I'm hoping will become clearer in later books (as you can tell, I've already decided to go further into this series) is how these two cats, Owen and Hercules, are magical.  In this book, their "magic" seemed to be limited to stealing and then getting stoned on catnip and walking through closed doors.  Still, I found these cats charming, even if their powers were a bit vague.

I thought I had figured this mystery out until the very end, which is a good sign.  I also didn't feel that there was an unbelievable jump needed for Kathleen to solve the mystery.  I also appreciated that Kathleen didn't act like a detective throughout this book  Frequently in Cozy Mysteries, you get a baker or librarian or what not basically doing police work and that was not the case in this book.

If you are looking for a new series, I would definitely recommend this book and series.  I'm hoping the following books are as good as this one!

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.



Monday, November 24, 2014

It's Monday! What are you Reading? (11/24)

This is it, folks, the home stretch to Thanksgiving AND the home stretch for NaBloPoMo...can I do it?  I guess we'll find out next Monday!



I'm in full Thanksgiving prep now...I need to clean the kitchen, pick up the turkey, make the dressing, and get ready for my in-laws all before Wednesday!  And then, I will be cooking my tushy off on Thursday.  I actually do enjoy it--if I can keep everyone out of the kitchen while I'm working.  I mean, REALLY!  Why do people WHO ARE NOT COOKING feel the need to hang out in the kitchen during Thanksgiving prep?

In other news, I spent several hours today going through my TBR list on my Kindle.  It was just completely under control and I was able to remove dozens of titles by going through and looking up reviews on Goodreads.  Now, I should actually be able to finish this list before my next milestone birthday!

Onto my reading report....

Last week, I finished reading...
Joining Jesus on His Mission by Greg Finke (for a church bible study.  No review).
The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister (review on 1/13/15.  Yes...next year)
Curiosity Thrilled the Cat by Sofie Kelly (review tomrrow).

Right now, I'm reading...
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Astor Place Vintage by Stephanie Lehmann
How To Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell (with my daughter)
Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman (very, very slowly....)

I'm also listening to....
The same things as last week!

I don't know how much reading I'll get down this week.  It will be busy, but I'm hoping for many opportunities to run off recharge my introvert battery with a bit of reading!



Sunday, November 23, 2014

YouTube Sunday: "The Book HUNKY - Jane Eyre" with Ron Lit

Here's another video book blog I discovered recently (who am I kidding?  Any video book blog is one that I just discovered).  I get a kick out of Ronnie and, honestly, could have posted any one of her videos here.  I chose this particular one for 2 reasons.  It has the fewest (if any?) f-bombs (not that it bothers me, but you know...) and it is about one of my ab-fave books, Jane Eyre.  Enjoy!


Friday, November 21, 2014

Saturday Snapshot - November 22

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

This time of year is incredibly busy and I can't say I've had much of a chance to take pictures.  However, I ended up going through my entire instagram feed and thought I'd share some of my favorites.  These aren't necessarily the "best" pictures, but they are ones that brought a smile to my face.

These are sorted oldest to newest, so we have to go back about 3 years to get this party started:

Watching Dad in the yard.  Notice, neither child is wearing pants. This is a battle I *still* fight!

My daughter had a Wizard of Oz themed birthday party and we got these legs for decoration.  The kids LOVED them.  They are currently sticking out from underneath my husband's and my bed.  I have no idea why.

There are a few pictures of my husband sleeping here, but notice what he is doing.  He fell asleep playing video games and didn't even put down the controller!

Speaking of sleeping, we were visiting my parents in Arizona for Easter and my father decided to take a nap while the Easter Bunny was hiding eggs.  Ooops!

Playing guitar with Daddy.

My father-in-law reading to his boys....

Just in case you were tempted....

Apparently, Daddy needed a nap

This was taken just this past summer.  I can't keep track of how many times my son was crawled up or into places he couldn't get out of!

Taken just last month...it was a beautiful day for the preschool Pumpkin Patch field trip!
So, I'm just warning you--you may be seeing lots of pictures of food next week.....

Thoughts on Laura Ingalls Wilder

A picture of Carrie, Mary, and Laura Ingalls,
taken at about the time of The Long Winter
As I've written a bit about in the past, I've been reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's books to my daughter.  We made it up through Little Town on the Prairie, at which point I realized that my daughter is young enough and Laura is old enough that she can't relate to her right now.  I'm sure that we (or she) will finish out the series when she's older.  I may finish re-reading it on my own, but I have THIS GEM coming to me next month (squeals in excitement!)

My daughter loves Laura, and I love that she loves Laura, but I have to say that it is not completely unproblematic,  There were times when I questioned my decision to read these books to my daughter, and there ended up being a few conversation coming out these books that one would not expect to have with a 5 year old.

There is also the Rose aspect.  There is a question about how involved Rose Wilder Lane was in these books.  Some say that she simply proof read and "cleaned" up the manuscripts.  Other people believe that she actually wrote them.  Personally, I think the truth is somewhere in the middle, but her presence--especially in the later books--is obvious.  Rose Wilder Lane was, along with Ayn Rand, one of the "mothers" of the American Libertarian movement.  I'm sure there are people who think this is oh-so-interesting--a number of people in my family might fall into that category--but I do not.  So, there is that.

I'm not going to write a full review of each book, but I am going to jot down a few thoughts on each.  Let me say, before I start, that--despite what I might say--I love these books, even with their flaws to the modern eye.

Little House in the Big Woods  My daughter and I loved this book.  However, I know a fair number of parents who read this to their kids and HATED it.  You see, there is not actually a plot to this book, which understandably rubs many the wrong way.  I guess I just spent enough time reading history books and memoirs to read it as that rather than a novel.  My daughter, however, related deeply to Laura in this book and I think that is what led her to want to read more.

Farmer Boy So, can I just say that this is a weird book?  It's about Almanzo, so that in itself is strange--it is sort of outside the LIW universe.  But, even more than that, this book is NOT like the others  From reading this book, it sounds like Almanzo (which, by the way, should be pronounced al-MAN-zoh, not al-MAHN-zoh, as is said in the TV series) grew up in this strange world of unlimited rich food,  Seriously.  After reading just one description of a "normal" breakfast (and there are many such descriptions), it is a wonder that these people didn't all die of heart attacks at 16.  There is one part where the 4 Wilder kids eat a whole barrel of sugar in, like, a week.

It's all incredibly unbelievable.  However, in The Wilder Life, Wendy McClure theorizes that the world of Almanzo's childhood is actually Laura's fantasy world--it is everything she did not have as a child.  It's an interesting theory and one that I can easily buy, but it doesn't change the fact that this book is weird!

Little House on the Prairie  This was the most problematic of all the books.  For one thing, this book is probably closer on the fiction side of the spectrum than any of the other books (besides Farmer Boy).  The chronology of the books is a bit off, but the events in this book took place when Laura was about 3 years old, not 5 years old as said in the book (and it should come before Little House in the Big Woods).  So, most of this came from "constructed" memories, not true memories.

This is also the book that raised the toughest questions with my daughter.  You see, Ma Ingalls--the sweet, unassuming Caroline Ingalls--was a raging racist.  This is the book that actually contains the sentence "The only good Indian is a dead Indian."  And, yes, Ma says it.  Oh, and guess what ONE SENTENCE my daughter decided to repeat over and over again?  Yeah....

There is an argument that this is just reflecting what people felt at the time and that sentiment is very troubling to me.  I don't doubt that people felt that way--I know that they did!--but that doesn't make it okay.  And just saying, well, that's the way it was is like saying slavery is okay because that's just what people did.

And here is where I'm torn.  As an adult, I can recognize this as a popular and UGLY sentiment in a period of time.  However, my daughter does not see that.  Laura idolizes her Ma and Ma can do no wrong and then there is this.  I'm not saying the book should be banned or edited, but I wish I had taken this into account and maybe, well, skipped this book until my daughter was older.

The site of the Ingalls home on Plum Creek
Walnut Grove, MN
On the Banks of Plum Creek This is probably my favorite book of the series. And it has Nellie Oleson, and that is all I really need to say about this.

By the Shores of Silver Lake We also greatly enjoyed this one.  It helped that we read about Laura and her mother and sisters arriving in De Smet as we were actually driving into De Smet.  I mean, how cool is that????  The one interesting thing is that Laura talks about how grand the Surveyor's house is--where they get to stay rent free (and, literally, eat everything in sight) on winter.  That house still stands and I would guess is is maybe about 1000 square feet.  We didn't get to tour this house, but we will the next time we go (and there will be a next time!)

The Long Winter So, this is an interesting book in a couple of ways.  For one thing, it is kind of a downer.  There is evidence that the Ingalls were not quite as isolated as depicted in this book, but it is definitely not a book you want to read when you are down in the dumps.  I mean, nothing terrible happens, no one dies, but....

The second point is that this is probably the most accurate description of what Seasonal Affective Disorder feels like.  I have battled with bouts of that and I realized that Laura Ingalls Wilder was writing exactly what I felt during those times.  The term she frequently uses is "dumb and stupid" which, to our modern ear, would initially mean something else but it is a very, very accurate descriptor.

This is also the first book where I started noticing strange episodes that didn't really fit into the plot but were more like rants about Libertarianism.  Mr. Edwards (who never, ever has an orangutan in the books--sorry, Michael Landon) shows up out of the blue--he hadn't been seen since Little House on the Prairie--to go off on how he defrauded the government by lying about his situation so that he wouldn't have to pay taxes!  And this is supposed to be a good thing!  Rose Wilder Lane strikes again!

Nellie Owens, one-third of the deliciously evil Nellie Oleson.
She was Laura's foil when the Ingalls lived in Walnut Grove.
Little Town on the Prairie  At this point, we are entering YA territory--which is all fine and good, but my 5 year old could no longer relate.  Personally, though, I quite liked this book.  There are hints of romance and Nellie Oleson returns!!! (Nellie Oleson is actually a composite of 3 girls from Laura's childhood.  In reality, the "Nellie Oleson" from Laura's time on Plum Creek is not the same one that shows up in De Smet).

There are some more soap box speeches from Rose in this book, which is annoying, but my daughter didn't even notice it and, for me, it gave me a chance to indulge in adolescent eye rolling.  It was probably fortunate that my daughter wasn't too attached to this book so that we didn't have a repeat of the "The Only Good Indian.." episode when we came to the scene where Pa performs in a skit in blackface  Ugh....

So, all in all, am I glad I read these books to my daughter? Yes.  She found a heroine to look up to who breaks the mold and is a strong female role model.  In retrospect, I probably would have postponed Little House on the Prairie and Little Town on the Prairie until she was older, but she now has the books on her shelf and she can re-read them when she feels ready.  Or before our next visit to Laura-country....


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop: Thanksgiving Yummies....

This week, Mama Kat suggests:
Share a Thanksgiving recipe you will be cooking up this month.

I'm a pretty good, albeit frequently disinterested, cook.  Sometimes, I just don't think I have it in me to cook one.more.meal.  Yet, there are times when I really put my chef on and Thanksgiving is one of those times.

I make a mean Thanksgiving dinner--I think I inherited this from my mother who made hundreds of holiday meals.  Sometimes she'd make more than one large meal for one holiday.  I remember a time where she made 3 Christmas dinners over two days (a Christmas Eve lunch, a Christmas Eve dinner, and then a Christmas dinner) so that everyone could fit a home-cooked meal into their schedules.

I am not that crazy.  If you don't make it to my Thanksgiving dinner then you are just plain out of luck.  I haven't yet settled on all the details for this year's dinner, but here are a few guarantees.  I will include links to recipes where I can and please excuse my liberal use of the Food Network.

First off, the bird.  This year, I'll be using a this recipe from Anne Burrell. I used another one of her recipes last year--it looks like it was the same technique, but a different flavor profile--and it was quite tasty.  I'm a believer in brining but, folks, there is no way I can brine a bird in my fridge.  Instead, I've developed an method using a Coleman and ice bags.  I know, high tech.

I may be the chef, but the hubs is in charge of carving

My dressing recipe (I don't do stuffing because I'm not a fan or salmonella) is also from Food Network.  I don't even know who these guys are--I certainly haven't seen their show--but the recipe is excellent.  And it can be made a day or two in advance and then just popped into the oven after the bird is out.  I've made this for the past several years, always to rave reviews.

I may make this recipe for a veggie dish.  I've made it in the past and it is delicious, but it is something that needs to be whipped up right before serving.  It's done on the stove, so oven space is not an issue, but it is usually so hectic in the kitchen at that time. If it were up to me, I'd make these (which I make at least once a week), but the oven issue kind of rules that out.

I'm trying to avoid Green Bean Casserole.  I hate the stuff, but my husband loves it so who knows how that one will turn out.  As for dessert, we'll be getting a pumpkin pie from Costco.  I make a fantabulous pumpkin pie, but I hate making pie (and it is one.more.thing I'd have to make).  Costco's pumpkin pie is better than most and my husband loves it, so there you go.  I will, however, will be making Pumpkin Ice Cream Pie, which I'll actually make up today and freeze until the big day.

And, as I promised, a recipe.  This is for Corn Pudding and it is a staple for Thanksgiving in my family.  The first time my husband had it, he fell in love with it.  It's pretty simple and it is one of those dishes you just put in the oven with the dressing and what not once the bird comes out.  It isn't the fanciest of dishes, but it is yummy!

Thanksgiving Corn Pudding
2 cans of cream-style corn
1 can of corn niblets
1 sleeve of saltine crackers, finely crushed (reserve 1/4 cup for topping)
1 teaspoon dried mustard

Pepper to taste
1 tablespoon butter

Directions

1. Mix all ingredients EXCEPT the reserved 1/4 cup of saltine crumbs and butter and pour into a buttered casserole dish.

2. Cook for about 35 minutes at 350 degrees. Just before the time is up, melt the butter and combine with the reserved saltine crumbs.

3. When the 35 minutes are up, remove the casserole and sprinkle the crumb mixture over the pudding. Return to the oven for an additional 10-25 minutes. The pudding will be done when the center isn’t sloshing around.


Mama’s Losin’ It

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Book Review: "Big Little Lies" by Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies Liane Moriarty
Published: July 29th, 2014
ISBN: 9780399167065
Genre: Women's Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 / 5
♦♦♦♦
Summary:
A murder… . . . a tragic accident… . . . or just parents behaving badly?  

What’s indisputable is that someone is dead.   But who did what?
  
Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:   Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?). 


Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.   

New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.

My Thoughts:
This is yet another case of me being late for the party.  It seems everyone has been reading Liane Moriarty, yet this is the first of her books that I've picked up.  I actually have a couple of her books on my e-reader waiting to be read, but I decided to start with this one as it is the most recent and is currently getting quite a bit of buzz.

Folks, I could not put this book down.

I can relate to it--not with the murder or abusive husbands, but with the having kindergarten-aged children as my youngest started kindergarten this year.  And, boy oh boy, am I glad that she isn't at the school in this book.  Yikes!

I really liked the three women.  I could understand why Celeste stayed with her husband, which is saying a lot in today's climate (that's all I say to keep myself from crossing the line into Spoiler Land).  And Moriarty does another great job with Jane by creating a character who is completely framed by her past.

And Madeline....there have been many times in my reading life when I've hated characters I was supposed to love, but I think this might be the first time I loved a character I was probably supposed to hate.  Madeline has a short temper, is clique-y, and has no qualms about starting trouble wherever she goes....and I simply adored her!

Now, I must end my gushing because there was something about this book I really did not like.  You see, it fell into one of my biggest pet peeves.  It took some serious topics--which I commend Moriarty for tackling--and treated them almost too lightly in too much of a satirical light.  To be fair, while I was bothered by this in Big Little Lies, it was far less than in some other books (such as Julia Fierro's Cutting Teeth).  Perhaps that the setting of this particular book--moms of kindergartners--was a bit too close to me, but I couldn't help feeling uncomfortable with some of the tone of this book.

But, while I was uncomfortable at times, I was never so uncomfortable that I would actually put the book down, so that is saying something.  I'm also to accept that Moriarty never goes so far that I felt that the book even nears the line between my own discomfort and general inappropriateness.

In the end, I did enjoy this book, even though I wished at times things were toned down a bit.  It also introduced me (finally) to a great author who deserves all the accolades she is currently enjoying.

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Book Review: "Away" by Amy Bloom

Away Amy Bloom
Published: June 24, 2008
ISBN: 9780812977790
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Goodreads First Reads Program
Rating: 2 / 5
♦♦

Summary:
Panoramic in scope, Away is the epic and intimate story of young Lillian Leyb, a dangerous innocent, an accidental heroine. When her family is destroyed in a Russian pogrom, Lillian comes to America alone, determined to make her way in a new land. When word comes that her daughter, Sophie, might still be alive, Lillian embarks on an odyssey that takes her from the world of the Yiddish theater on New York’s Lower East Side, to Seattle’s Jazz District, and up to Alaska, along the fabled Telegraph Trail toward Siberia. All of the qualities readers love in Amy Bloom’s work–her humor and wit, her elegant and irreverent language, her unflinching understanding of passion and the human heart–come together in the embrace of this brilliant novel, which is at once heartbreaking, romantic, and completely unforgettable.

My Thoughts:
I really, really thought I would love this book.  The summary sounded fascinating and I was quickly pulled in by Bloom's writing.  She has a poetic voice that I found hypnotic.  Unfortunately, that was not enough to save this book for me.

I tried to put my finger on what went wrong for me and I came up with two big problem areas.  The first was the story itself.  From the summary, it sounds like this is one of those vast novels, but then you look and the book is less than 300 pages.  There are basically 3 sections of this book--New York, Seattle, and Canada/Alaska and Bloom just sort of drops the reader in each one--and I had a lot of trouble buying how Lillian got to Seattle and then to Alaska.  Bloom also dives a bit in to the world of the soap opera dramatics, which did not appeal to me.  I felt that a lot of what happens to Lillian just wasn't necessary and I would have rather that Bloom had used those pages for something else.

The other problem was Lillian herself.  I just never felt any connection with or sympathy for her--which is strange because I can understand the desire to find your child, but it just didn't ring true for me with Lillian.  I never felt that I was able to get into her enough to feel her compulsion to go on her trek to find her daughter.  Instead, she seemed like such a survivor (and I don't mean that in an entirely positive sense) that I couldn't see her give up her comforts to return for a daughter she was told was dead.

It's a shame as I think that Bloom is a fantastic writer and this book sounded great, but it just didn't work for me.

I won a copy of this book through the Goodreads First Reads Program.  I was encouraged, but not required, to post an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.



Away
by Amy Bloom
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