"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Friday Quotes: The Trouble With Poetry

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from the book.
e Friday 56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56.

Check out the links for the rules and for the posts of the participants each week. Participants don't select their favorite, coolest, or most intellectual books, they just use the one they are currently reading. This is the book I'm reading right now---

Title: The Trouble With Poetry and Other Poems by Billy Collins

Book Beginnings:
"You, Reader"

I wonder how you are going to feel
when you find out
that I wrote this instead of you.

Friday 56:
"The Drive"

There were four of us in the car
early that summer evening,
short-hopping from one place to another,
thrown together by a light toss of circumstances.

Comment: the title of the poem is in quotes. The first stanza of each poem is all I gave you. In "You, Reader", Billy Collins teases the reader for not writing the poem before he did. It makes me smile to think of that sort of jab. "The Drive" is about a group of friends out for a drive when the driver starts making belittling comments about"you", which causes the narrator to start picturing the driver's head as a butcher might a cow, with a little map of cuts. He obviously is a comedic poet and i enjoy Collins a lot.

Anne's Cookbook: Fish Tacos with white sauce

Fish tacos, condiments, and white sauce
I go crazy for fish tacos. If they are on the menu, I order them. I crave them and make my hubby go to the local Mexican restaurant for Taco Tuesday quite often. If, however, the fish tacos do not have a tangy white sauce, I end up feeling disappointed. I even asked at my local Taco Del Mar if they would sell me some of their white sauce. The answer was NO. That sent me to the Internet is search of the perfect white sauce, which I've modified and included here.

Recipe for Fish Tacos with white sauce

Fish and marinade:
1-2 pounds of firm fish. I usually buy the frozen, packaged cod from Trader Joes. Or buy fresh.
1/4 cup canola or grapeseed oil
1 lime
1 garlic clove

Thaw fish. Cut into small pieces. Marinate for 15-30 minutes. Never over-marinate fish or it will get mealy. For the marinade use 1/4 cup of canola or grapeseed oil, juice of one lime, one garlic clove smashed, salt and pepper to taste. Place fish pieces on a sheet lined with parchment and bake for 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees F.

White sauce (can be made ahead of time for better melding of flavors)
1 cup sour cream, plain yogurt, and/or mayonnaise combination. (I like 1/2 cup of sour cream and a 1/2 cup mayonnaise, but I've made it with 100% yogurt and it is still good.)
1 tsp. dry coriander
1 tsp. dry oregano
1 tsp. dry dill
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. capers, chopped fine
1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, depending on how spicy you like your food or chopped spicy fresh pepper, like jalepeno
4-6 drops of Tabasco sauce
Juice of 1/2-1 lime
4 springs of fresh cilantro, chopped up
Salt, to taste

Mix together and refrigerate until fish is ready. If the sauce is too thick, you can milk it down to desired consistency.

Other condiments for the tacos, use what you like:
Shredded cabbage
Avocado slices
Pico de gallo and/or salsa and/or fresh, chopped tomato pieces
Grated cheese

Pico de gallo, I made it for the first time myself last night and it is so easy and good. Try it.
4 ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
1/2 onion, finely chopped
4-6 springs cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 jalapeno pepper, chopped very fine (use gloves to protect hands and eyes)
Juice of one lime
Salt to taste

Corn tortillas
We buy the soft corn tortillas and heat them one by one on the burner. It just takes a few seconds per side. But you can wrap them up in foil and throw them in the oven to heat as the fish is cooking.

Each person should make their own tacos to taste. Heat tortillas, add a few pieces of fish, a slice or two of avocado, a sprinkle of cheese, a dollop of white sauce, a spoonful of pico de gallo or salsa, and handful of shredded cabbage for the crunch. Fold in half. Eat, enjoy, repeat.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life...after life, after life, after life...

Last night as I was passing out our upcoming book to my book club friends, one of the members announced to everyone how she just couldn't do it. She just couldn't finish Life After Life by Kate Atkinson because it was so-o-o confusing. She had tried reading the book and gave up at the one-third mark, returning it to the library. I smiled and told the group the opposite.  Life After Life is not a book written in a linear fashion. If you like a story which starts at A and ends at Z, with an ordered march through the alphabet, this is not the book for you. But if, I told my friends, you understand that the main character, Ursula, keeps dying and starting over in her same life, then you can just relax and watch for the differences along the way.

Often, it seems, that lives turn on a dime when a certain event occurs and then life then spins off on a new trajectory, an uncharted path up to that point. When Ursula dies and returns to the exact same circumstances and time period as when she was first born, we see that small choices she makes along the way affect what happens next. One time she drowns, the next time she doesn't go in to the water. Another time a friend is murdered, the next time Ursula stands and talks to her causing the culprit to move on. Life is all about the decisions we make. But what if we all had a chance to remake those decisions to experience a different outcome?

Even as I was reading the book I found myself thinking about Kate Atkinson as a clever writer. She, in a sense, played with her reading audience by saying through Ursula's incarnations, that as an author she isn't bound by all the choices she originally made for her characters and she could go back and show us a whole new set of circumstances if just one thing were changed. I agree with my friend that is sounds confusing, but once I settled in, I found the book to be tremendously exciting and fascinating.

Just think about your own life for a minute. Think back to some critical decision that you made or didn't make and then spend a moment pondering what would have/could have happened had you chosen differently. I know a person who divorced her husband after 25+ because he was emotionally abusive. She realized that in the beginning of her relationship she never said "stop it" when he was abusive. When she tried after 25 years, it was too late. How would her life have been different had she made a different choice, stood up for herself sooner? Another friend was engaged to be married but decided to end it when her fiance said he was planning to teach English in a foreign country after the wedding. She didn't think that is what she wanted to do. But now she lives alone caring for an ailing mother wondering "what if." We all have made choices which determined our path and I'm sure I am not the only one who has regretted some of those decisions.

What Atkinson does in Life After Life is to try out different choices and the results vary, some are not necessarily better. Ursula isn't able to keep her father from dying, nor is she able to prevent WWII from happening. But along the way the reader is able to see a few different sides of history and appreciate the choices that got the characters to that point. It is tremendously exciting to see the same scene but written from a different point-of-view. One never knew what was going to happen next. There was no chance of figuring out the plot before everything shifted. What fun.

I am terribly sorry that my friend gave up on the book before she found the magic with in it. I encourage you to do the same. Read past your confusion and frustration. Let the story carry you along. Watch for shifts in the trajectories that occur as decisions and choices change.

I listened to the audiobook of Life After Life expertly read by Fenella Woolgar. She did a fabulous job not only with the British accents but also with the German words. I recommend this audiobook with no hesitation.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. Hatchette Audio, 2013. The print version is 544 pages long.
hosted by Sue at BookbyBook

Monday, August 14, 2017

TTT: My favorite books read in 2017, so far

Top Ten Tuesday: My favorite books read in 2017, so far,
in reverse order that I read them.

Commonwealth by Ann Pratchett
c. 2016, adult, novel

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton
c. 2016, adult, memoir

LaRose by Louise Erdrich
c. 2016, adult, Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
c. 2016, adult, novel

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
c. 2017, YA, novel

Lab Girl Jahren Hope
c. 2016, adult, memoir

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin
c. 2017, YA, nonfiction

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
c. 2017,  YA, first book in a series

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
c. 2016, adult, Pulitzer Prize winning novel

The Uninterrupted View of the Sky by Melanie Crowder
c. 2017, YA, novel based on facts

The One-In-A-Million Boy by Monica Wood
c. 2016, adult, novel

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at Broke and Bookish.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sunday Salon, August 13

Weather: Finally relief from the heat and the smoke. It rained last night and today was cool and clear. Whew.
"It's a Jedi"
"It's a Jedi": Today our church hosted a baby shower for our daughter and son-in-law who are expecting our first grandchild very soon. The theme of the baby's nursery is Star Wars. The organizers of the event picked up on that theme and all the decorations were related to Star Wars, including the event banner which announced: "It's a Jedi!" In addition a clothes line full of onesies had Star Wars themed slogans including my personal favorite: "Storm Pooper" (front) with "Dark Side" (back). Ha! We are on the countdown. Three weeks to go.
String of onesies

May the forks be with you!
My daughters with a gift helper
"Hey Jude": When I was young I would attempt to wash dishes within the time period of The Beatles song, "Hey Jude" (7:11 min.) My family even teased me about it when we were together earlier this month. Well, on Friday I finally was presented with another timed activity set to "Hey Jude". This one in water aerobics. We formed a line of participants holding onto the ends of the float-noodle of the woman in front of her and another woman hung onto my noodle ends behind me and so on. Then we snaked around the pool for the whole song. Hilarious. I couldn't believe it was happening and it made me so happy. Ha!

Charlottesville: My heart is breaking for our country where white supremacists think they have a President who supports their cause, and it appears that he does. Yesterday was a disaster. I get chills every time I look at this picture taken the moment that the white terrorist drove his car into a crowd  sending people flying and killing one person. Susan Bro, the mother of the 32-year-old victim, Heather Heyer's mother said today of her daughter: "she was about bringing and end to injustice. Heather was not about hate, Heather was about stopping hate," Bro said through her tears. "Heather was about bringing an end to injustice. I don't want her death to be a focus for more hatred, I want her death to be a rallying cry for justice and equality and fairness and compassion." ---The Huffington Post.

Book completed this week:
  • Longbourn by Jo Baker...for an upcoming book club meeting; please read my review by clicking the link here. It is the Pride and Prejudice story from the point-of-view of the servants. It filled out the original story.
Currently reading:
  • Ordinary Grace by William Kent Kruger---an award-winning mystery and coming-of-age story. I am enjoying the writing. Progress: 43%
  • The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems by Billy Collins---what can I say? I love poetry! Progress: 25%
  • Five Days in Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink...another book club selection, this one is nonfiction. Audio. 5%.
18 pairs of shoes: I have started the process of de-teacherfying my closet. I started with shoes. I got rid of 18+ pairs and then attacked my clothes and my initial swing through the closet net three bags of sweaters, blouses, and tops which I never want to see again! Next up my drawers.

From the kitchen: It felt like Girl Scout Camp around here for a few days while we experimented with meat packages wrapped in foil and cooked on the BBQ. Delicious. Here is how we made them: Into a large bowl cut up one turkey kielbasa sausage. Slice up one new-potato per person (I par cook them so they cook fully in the packet.) Slice up a half sweet onion. Add 1/2 pound of snapped green beans. Peel and cut into bite sized pieced of carrots. Add 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1-2 tsp of your favorite seasoning salt, black pepper to taste. Stir to combine the spices. Divide onto foil  pieces. Be sure to seal the foil packets carefully so they won't leak. Cook on medium heat (400 degrees) on the BBQ for 15-20 minutes, turning once. This reminded my girls and I of the days we spent cooking over a fire during Girl Scout activities. You can play around with your favorite vegetables and meats. It is a very versatile recipe. Have fun.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Review: The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

In the beginning of The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue, eighteen-year-old Henry "Monty" Montague is preparing for a grand tour of the continent before returning to Britain and his birthright as a lord. He will be traveling with his best friend and secret crush, Percy, and his younger sister, Felicity. Monty looks at this trip as his last hurrah. Nothing about the life of a lord is attractive to him, especially since it will mean separation from Percy.

Not long into the trip things go all crazy after Monty, who is very drunk, ends up in a very compromising position during a party at Versailles where he steals a trinket, which is actually a highly sought after key to a special type of curative alchemical treatment. At this point the planned grand tour devolves into a run and hide and seek endeavor to get away from their pursuers and to find the answers contained within the trinket box. Along the way the trio end up meeting some Spanish siblings, whose father concocted the special chemical being sought by everyone. As they escape again they end up at the mercy of some very inexperienced pirates. The whole book had a feel of a swashbuckling adventure set in the 1700s.

But below the surface of all the fun and excitement were much more serious topics of sexuality, love, feminism, racism, abuse, disease, and even alcoholism. Monty could be arrested for his bi-sexuality and he often drinks himself into oblivion to help disguise his feelings; Percy, who is half black,  has to deal with racism on a daily basis but is also plagued by the misunderstood condition of epilepsy; and Felicity wants to be a doctor but women of the day are not encouraged to have careers or even use their brains.  There is a lot of stories underneath the story.

The magical thing about The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee is even though the book is crammed full of very serious topics, it is extremely fun to read and often very funny. It strikes the right tone, serious topics with a light hand. The book, a tome weighing in at over 500 pages, reads very fast and is designed to keep the reader engaged from the first page to the past. Set in the 1700s it doesn't really come across as historical fiction, except for the existence of pirates and the court still in existence in France.

Today's teens will find a lot to like in this YA novel which has received quite a few starred reviews from reviewing publications. Here are a few of the comments they've published about the book:

✩ "Austen, Wilde, and Indiana Jones converge in this deliciously anachronistic bonbon".-Kirkus Reviews
✩ "...the romantic relationship that develops between Monty and Percy is sure to leave readers happily starry-eyed. -Publisher's Weekly
"This is a witty, romantic, and exceedingly smart look at discovering one’s place in the world." School Library Journal

I happily gave this book ✩✩✩✩✩ 

Because of it's length, it qualified for The Big Book Summer Challenge, hosted by Sue@ Book by Book.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Six Degrees of Separation ---Pride and Prejudice

Six Degrees of Separation with Jane Austen's book, Pride and Prejudice.

We begin here.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Published 204 years ago, Pride and Prejudice is Austen's masterpiece. It has never been out of print and has remained popular since its publication date.

Mr. Darcy's Diary by Amanda Grange
Pride and Prejudice has inspired countless retellings and stories about other characters in her books since the time it was first published. This book is part of a series about Austen heroes and tells the Pride and Prejudice story from Mr. Darcy's point-of-view.

Longbourn by Jo Baker
Tells the Pride and Prejudice story from the point-of-view of the servants working in Longbourn, the Bennet home. It fills out the details and gives the reader a broader understanding of what life was really like during the Regency period for the majority of people.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and Nancy Butler
In recent years it has been popular to take the original and change the format. This comic book was illustrated by Nancy Butler and published by Marvel Comics, making the book very accessible to readers not familiar with the original.

Cozy Classics: Pride and Prejudice by Jack and Holman Wang, Jane Austen
Speaking about accessible, 
this board book summarizes the whole classic down into twelve words: 
friends; sisters; dance; mean; sick; muddy; yes?; no!: write; read; walk; marry. 
Think about it. These words pretty much sum up the story.

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding
This was the first Pride and Prejudice retelling I ever read. It remains a favorite in that genre. It is set in modern times, with modern themes.

Emma: a modern retelling by Alexander McCall Smith
This is the only book on the list I haven't read yet. It is the third book in the Austen Project, started a few years ago, each of Austen's novels were rewritten by modern, popular authors.

Emma by Jane Austen
That brings us back around to Jane Austen, the original author and the genius of six classic novels set in the Regency period in England. None have gone out of print or out of favor. Emma, thought as her second most popular books was published in 1815. This is her only novel where the heroine has plenty of money and time to be involved in trivial pursuits like match-making.

6 degrees of Separation is hosted by Kate @Books Are My Favourite and Best.
Play along.

This activity also goes along with the Austen in August Challenge hosted by Adam at Roofbeamreader

Friday Quotes: Ordinary Grace

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from the book.
e Friday 56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56.

Check out the links for the rules and for the posts of the participants each week. Participants don't select their favorite, coolest, or most intellectual books, they just use the one they are currently reading. This is the book I'm reading right now---

Title: Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

Book Beginning:
Prologue--All the dying that summer began with the death of a child, a boy with golden hair and thick glasses, killed on the railroad tracks outside New Bremen, Minnesota, sliced into pieces by a thousand tons of steel speeding across the prairie toward South Dakota.
Friday 56:
"Being in love. Is it kind of gooey?" I asked my sister. 
She laughed. "At first it is lovely. Then it is scary. Then..." She looked toward the hills of town, toward the Heights. "It's complicated," she said.
Comment: this is a book club selection for me. So far I am blown away by the writing and the intricate plotting of this book. It is reading a bit like a mystery. A man, Frank, is looking back on his life when he was a thirteen-year-old. That summer he experienced death in many forms: murder, natural, suicide and it proved to be the summer when he shifted from boy to man. I am only about 1/3rd finished by I think it is very well done. Have you read any good Coming-of-age books you recommend?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Longbourn by Jo Baker

Diane Johnson, writing for the NY Times Review of Books, aptly titled her review of Longbourn by Jo Baker, "Pride, Prejudice and Drudgery." Unlike the many, many books written as continuations of Pride and Prejudice, Longbourn is the story of the servants of the Bennet family residing at thier ancestral home called Longbourn. Therefore, it in not a continuation of a favorite story but a filling in of the details. The outline of the original frames this tale but the details are about the drudgery of lives of the servants who serve the upper and middle class of the day.

Sarah, mentioned only briefly in Pride and Prejudice, is a housemaid and the majority of Longbourn is told from her point of view. In addition there are Mr. and Mrs. Hill, the housekeeper and cook and her husband who, though elderly, handles the horses and the wine cellar. Polly, a young servant of only twelve or so, is an orphan whose life as a servant is considerably better than the alternative, is a housemaid in training. James Smith, is hired as a footman but has a back story which unfolds like a mystery. He appears after several chapters and disappears around midpoint of the story, adding more mystery to his story.

While the Bennet girls are preparing for balls, or walks, or meals it is the servants who do all the work. If a hem is muddied, or a cloth torn, it is the servants who clean and mend. When the girls menstruate, it is the servants who washed out the rags, and with five girls menstruating at the same time, that would be no small task. If they attend a ball, the servants have to wait outside in the cold, or stay up to attend them when they return home. And think of the chamber pots that needed to be emptied every morning. Drudgery indeed.

Yet, like the servants in the popular TV series, "Downton Abbey", the servants of Longbourn have a life of their own. They have dreams and plans. They fall in love, and have crushes. They get sick. They feel lonely. They become victims of gossip, so must always live their lives with scrupulous attention to decorum, so as not to shame their employers.

Lest you think the book sound tedious, all about dusting, and washing out rags, fetching water, and rubbing down horses, it really is a wonderful story. Jo Baker obviously did her homework so the book reads as a nice companion to Austen's work. Baker includes details in her work lending to its credibility and takes characters we already know and love and twists their story around a bit for interest. For example, Margaret Hill (Mrs. Hill) and Mr. Bennet had a fling before he married Mrs. Bennet and started a family; Mr. Bennet wasn't nearly as kind and thoughtful as in the original and Mrs. Bennet was a bit more sympathetic; Mr. Wickham is even more dastardly than in the original book; and Lydia has a sweet side and a sweet tooth. Mr. Darcy barely shows up and Mr. Collins isn't nearly such a bumbling fool. Jane and Elizabeth are still kind but also oblivious to the needs and desires of the servants. In one exchange, Sarah asked Elizabeth if she knew anything about the disappearance of Mr. Smith. Elizabeth looks at Sarah blankly before exclaiming, "Oh you mean Smith, the footman. When you called him Mr. Smith I thought you meant someone of my acquaintance, a gentleman."

Austen, who was raised in an upper, middle class family like the Bennets probably was just as oblivious to the servants as was Elizabeth. She didn't mean to be snobby, it just was a condition of the time.

The real interest in the book for me were the stories and characters that were not in Pride and Prejudice, or were only briefly mentioned---slavery, the Napoleon War, and life outside of servitude. New characters were added to tell these stories and they added a fullness and richness I wasn't expecting.

As I finished up Longbourn and added it to my 'completed books' list at Goodreads, I happened to notice all the poor reviews for it at that site. It seemed like all the reviews were variations on the same thing---"OMG. Longbourn isn't Pride and Prejudice and Baker isn't Austen, so I couldn't stand it." I was shocked at the shallowness of the reviews. Of course it isn't Austen, but Longbourn does a great service to the original, it fills out the story and gives us insights into life for everyone during the Regency period. I, for one, liked and appreciated the book a lot.

As a devoted Janite, I am glad I read it. But I didn't just do it for myself, I also read the book to fulfill my commitment to read a Jane Austen-related book this month in the Austen in August Challenge and it is an upcoming book club selection. I wonder what the gals in my club will think of the book?

Have you read it? What do you think of it? Do you like to read Jane Austen retellings and/or continuations? I am a sucker for them but they always lead me back to the originals.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The One-In-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood

Some characters just reach out and grab you and refuse to let go. That is the case of the 11-year-old unnamed boy in The One-In-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood. "The boy", as he is known throughout the novel, is a friendless, idiosyncratic kid who loves to make lists from the Guinness Book of World Records. He is assigned to work on a Boy Scout badge by helping Ona Vitkus, a 104-year old woman who still lives alone. In addition to filling her bird-feeders, the boy interviews Ona about her life. In a series of ten sessions Ona reveals aspects of her long life, which started in Lithuania. She also agrees with the boy that becoming the oldest living person with a driver's licence would be a good goal to get into the world record book. On Saturday the boy does not show up for his duties. The next week his father, Quinn, shows up instead and shares that the boy died suddenly from a rare condition where the first symptoms are usually death.

Quinn, an itinerant musician, didn't know his son well and is racked with guilt about not being around for his son. When he volunteers to fulfills the requirements for the boy's badge, Quinn has no idea that both he and his x-wife would get sucked into the dream of earning a world record and helping Ona earn a spot in it.

The novel is not laid out in chronological order. Through the ten-part series of interviews we meet and get to know Ona Vitkus and a bit more about the boy. As Quinn starts to work with and befriend Ona, we learn about his back story and about his relationship with his son and his x-wife. Throughout the story we come to love all four of the flawed characters, but for me if was the boy who stole the show.  He clearly had a passion and in his short 11-year life he was able to bring people together and healing to all of their relationships. His end is just about the sweetest ending I have ever read in literature, one filled with love and intense insight.

Yesterday I blogged about book endings and how frustrating it is when a book ends on a sour note or is in some way unsatisfying. That is not the case with The One-In-a-Million Boy. This book ends on a very satisfying note. I am sure I sighed as it ended.

This is a book club selection for next month. I look forward to our discussion. I bet we will spend a bit of time trying to figure out why the author did not name the boy.

I listened to the audiobook read expertly by Chris Ciulla. I say this because I have come to realize that often books I love in the audio format are very different in the print version. I can recommend this version without a moment of hesitation.

Source: The One-In-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood, Dreamscape Media, LLC. 2016.